Wednesday, 28 April 2010

We need Goethe

Samri the magician created a golden calf which could produce sounds. Many started worshipping it and Moses asked one of them, "If it was a miracle that you required in order to believe, then I showed you so many but you defied me. Samri showed you only one and you came to believe. Why is that?"

The conversation is perhaps imaginary but it serves a purpose and Mawlana Rumi spells that out in his Masnavi. Souls tend to get impressed by what is according to their own condition.

In Pakistan, we often say that our education system has given too much importance to Western literature at the cost of our own, but saying that is rather like missing the whole point. Whether it is Western literature or our own, the educational and academic institutions have shown a tendency towards falling for the worst rather than the best - just like the worshipper of the golden calf who defied the miracles of Moses but bowed down to the magic of Samri.

One of the greatest names of the West which we have ignored is Goethe. Iqbal said about him, "It is not until I had realised the infinitude of Goethe’s mind that I discovered the narrow breadth of my own." Consequently he modelled his second book of poetry, A Message from the East (1923) after Goethe's Divan. After this, if we exclude Goethe from our sylabbuses we shall be cutting ourselves away not from German heritage but our own.

Still, we find that Goethe is not included anywhere in our syllabuses. Instead, we find the syllabuses to be filled with those degenerate Western writers who were catalysts to the fall of their own societies rather that contributors to its rise. Western writers representing trends that were described by Iqbal as "poison" for societies breathe that poison into our classrooms while those Western writers who had been strongly recommended for us by Iqbal have been ignored! So, it's not about East or West after all. It is rather about choosing good instead of bad even when the good can be more useful.

Recently, through some comments from a respected American reader of these blogs, I realized that Goethe has not been marginalized in Pakistan only. Connie L. Nash writes, "I don't remember him ever coming up as a student anytime during my many many years of study - even when I took lots of humanities, literature, philosophy and international writers as optional studies for my own interest."

I am inclined to conclude that we have been living in an age when the seats of authority in humanities and literature came to be occupied by trends that were diamterically opposed to the sense of life represented by the likes of Goethe and Iqbal. In this age, some lip service was done to these geniuses, since they had become too legendary to be ignored. However, their life and work was not approached according to how they would have liked it to be approached but instead it was interpreted from a point of view against which these benefactors had been warning the humanity.

One result was that most biographies of Goethe and Iqbal do not corroborate their works. The other result is that a modern reader does not know why to study these writers, or how. I hope to touch upon these issues in subsequent posts but perhaps at least for Pakistan it is time to rediscover that great connection with the German thinker which our own national poet established on such strong foundations and left behind for us as a lasting legacy.

1 comment:

Connie L. Nash said...

Here is the line in this post above with which I most resonate - which includes MANY peers in America: "a modern reader does not know why to study these writers, or how."

How ironic that I have come here to The Republic of Rumi in the latter stage of my life to learn from your Pakistani scholars about some of our Western geniuses.

I am most grateful for this opportunity and I appreciate the time and clarity offered here.