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On Tagore

Reading the Poet Today

Amit Chaudhuri

Infosys Prize for outstanding contribution to the Humanities in Literary Studies

Rabindranath Tagore is widely regarded as a romantic poet, speaking of beauty and truth; as a transcendentalist; a believer in the absolute; a propagandist for universal man; and as a national icon. But, as Amit Chaudhuri shows in these remarkable and widely admired essays about the poet and his milieu, his secret concern was really with life, play, and contingency, with the momentary as much as it was with the eternal. It is this strain of unacknowledged modernism, as well as a revolutionary life-affirming vision, that gives his work, Chaudhuri argues, its immense power.
Acute, challenging, and path-breaking, Amit Chaudhuri’s collection will become a classic reading of Rabindranath Tagore and the way he is perceived today.
On Tagore was awarded the Rabindra Puraskar, the West Bengal government’s highest literary honour, in 2012 in recognition of the ‘significance, in the English language, of its critical analysis of Tagore’s works’.


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A Pact with Nature


63 Edward Said’s Orientalism, published in 1978, gave intellectuals and writers (themselves, like Said, often migrants) from once-colonised nations a language that liberated and shackled in almost equal measure. The liberations that Said’s critical perspective provided, which gave both Europeans and non-Europeans a shrewder and more unillusioned sense of the subterranean ways in which power operated through the cultures of Empire, are now so familiar that we might make the mistake of taking them for granted: which would be foolish, as Eurocentrism is alive and well, and takes new and unexpected forms with every political epoch. Besides, as Said himself knew, the force of his critique has diminished 64 On Tago re and ossified over the years into professional interests and job profiles: this was something he was clearly troubled by. The limitations of Said’s seminal study have to do with the idea it’s given us about how the postcolonial might engage with the coloniser’s (that is, European, or Western) culture, and with history; and, explicitly, how the European engages with non-European antiquity. And so we’re left with a somewhat monochromatic type where both the postcolonial and the European are concerned: a type whose relationship to European or Oriental culture, as may be the case, is defined almost exclusively by questions of power and appropriation, and whose own culture and past are at once static and strangely blurred. Orientalism, at least at first glance, doesn’t seem to tell us or explain where its author, in all his many-sidedness, comes from...

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