Theses Doctoral

Poetry's Afterthought: Kalidasa and the Experience of Reading

Subramaniam, Shiv K.

This dissertation concerns the reception of the poet Kalidasa (c. 4th century), one of the central figures in the Sanskrit literary tradition. Since the time he lived and wrote, Kalidasa’s works have provoked many responses of different kinds. I shall examine how three writers contributed to this vast tradition of reception: Kuntaka, a tenth-century rhetorician from Kashmir; Vedantadesika, a South Indian theologian who lived in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries; and Sri Aurobindo, an Indian English writer of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries who started out as an anticolonial activist and later devoted his life to spiritual exercises. While these readers lived well after Kalidasa, they were all deeply invested in his poetry. I wish to understand why Kalidasa’s poetry continued to provoke extended responses in writing long after its composition. It is true that readers often use past literary texts to various ends of their own devising, just as they often fall victim to reading texts anachronistically. In contradistinction to such cases, the examples of reading I examine highlight the role that texts themselves, not just their charisma or the mental habits of their readers, can have in constituting the reading process. They therefore urge us to formulate a more robust understanding of textual reception, and to reconsider the contemporary practice of literary criticism.

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More About This Work

Academic Units
Middle Eastern, South Asian, and African Studies
Thesis Advisors
Pollock, Sheldon
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
October 7, 2019