Title: Majmua Muhammad Hassan Askari – مجموعہ محمد حسن عسکری
Author: Muhammad Hassan Askari
Number of Pages: 1275
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dissent_travel_literature (verified owner) – September 2, 2019
There is a tendency among many literary circles in Pakistan to consider literary criticism is Urdu to be merely provincial and myopic. They believe, implicitly though since it’s considered rude these days to admit it openly, that anything written in Urdu or other regional languages, literature or criticism, doesn’t mount to much literary credence because it is not aware of the broader trends of literary imagination and the politics of aesthetics. For them in particular and for literature students in general, Hasan Askar’s collected works are a must read because they encompass the political zeitgeist of their time while providing a criticism on literary works from various linguistic and national backgrounds. Askari is acutely aware of the cultural rhetoric of communism and capitalism which is the ethos of the cold war era’s clash on the cultural side. He is also aware of the literary works being produced in this era and he provides a rich exploration of the potential of the aesthetic in challenging or reinforcing political norms of the time. What may put some readers off, and I should include myself in them if I am being honest, is the religious turn his literary criticism takes in the end. One would be smitten by the ways in which Askari is able to deconstruct the grand narratives of modernity and their influence on the production of literary works. You would find him being acutely aware of the development of a literary ethos under a Communist regime in Russia. Not only is he aware, he is also deeply critical of the ways in which a particular ideological orientation is directing literary production to suit its own gains. In a similar manner, he would engage with any established notions for art for art’s sake and its contrary school, providing examples from a wide range of literary works in French, English and other languages. For a secular reader however, all of this brilliance in identifying the contradictions of the grand narratives of literature would come to an anti-climax when he would espouse a certain religious orientation. This however should be an interesting aspect of Askari’s work as well, the ways in which the critique of modernity may lead to a religious orientation as an alternative. We can argue with certainty that his conceptualization of Islam wouldn’t be similar to an orthodox and fundamentalist interpretation that we have come to know so painfully in the public sphere.
I was fortunate enough to receive a review copy for this book from ParhLikh. In my opinion, this books forms an important collection of Cold War era literary criticism and it is better than any book of literary criticism I have read by a Pakistani author in any language. People interested in French and Russian literature should definitely consider reading Hasan Askari because of his acute literary observations on the subject matter. Students who may find it difficult to read texts of literary criticism in English can also read Askari’s works to develop an understanding of different motifs of various schools of criticism. Finally, for those who argue that Urdu language was or is not broad or innovative enough to contain the vocabulary of literary criticism, this book provides the most damning refutation.
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