"The four major topics that constitute this publication were originally
read as papers at a seminar held at the Tamil University, Thanjavur (August
7 & 8, 1982) in fulfilment of the assignment I had there as a visiting
As a University teacher engaged in both teaching at undergraduate
level and supervision at postgraduate level, I have often felt the need
to go into the historiography of Tamil Literature and the periodization
done in that history, for I felt that some of the attitudes like
glorifying the past, equating literary quality with dynastic-eminences,
which forbid the students from having a comprehensive view of the
socio-literary developments in Tamil, lay deeply embedded in the
ideology that underlies the periodization.
The imposition of the notion that the literary expression of a community
is best understood in relation to the rulers of that community and the
dynasties to which they belonged could lead and has led to literary
deductions which run counter to verif iable truths relating to the genesis
and social relevance of literature...
What is 'literary history' and why is it essential? Is there any
dufference between a literary history of a language or country, and history
of its literature?.. Let us put the question in a slightly different manner.
'Why do we need a history of literature? Why not take the entire
history as a 'simultaneous order' and study it in that manner?..
...If literature is an irreplaceable form of knowledge to arrive at
truths that ensure our being adequately human, then a chronological review
of it should enable us to identify
those efforts in time which had argued and helped to maintain that
'humanness'. So instead of the usual, much-too-condemned process of coming
to literature through the theory of 'reflection' (literature as mirror
reflecting the images of life), it is also possible to reach centrifugally
from the matrix of literature to humanity at large...
On the one hand, the work of art is a product of its time, a
mirror of its age, a historical reflection of society to which both the
author and the original audience belonged. On the other hand, it is
surely no idealism to assume that the work of art is not merely a
product, but a producer of its age; not merely a mirror of the past but
a lamp to the future...
Literature... creates the mode of consciousness and this can in a
historical perspective become an indicator of national consciousness...In
consciousness of the
literary heritage was a cause and an index of Tamilian nationality
The discipline we now call literary history has arisen out of and is
determined by a particular mode of literary and historical consciousness.
Without going into the specific characteristics of this mode of (national or
nationality) consciousness, we can say that it has been shaped by the
historical fact that the Tamils had to live under and share with non-Tamils
a culturally alien polity, which led to language as the major identity
marker of this group. In other words, the mode of literary consciousness has
been determined by the fact that Tamils have been living with other language
groups. The manner the Tamilian looks at Tamil Literature is largely
determined by this fact. The need to emphasize the antiquity and to argue
out the question of influence from other languages arose because of the fact
we have to emphasize the significance of Tamil in a multi-lingual situation
in which Tamil enjoyed no hegemony..."