Hari Narayan Apte's Concept of Vidagdha Literature
Panel:‘Vernacular’ Theorisations of ‘Literature’ in Modern South Asia
I offer a philosophic-aesthetic interpretation of the distinctive concept of “vidagdha literature” put forth by Hari Narayan Apte (1864-1919), a pioneer modern Marathi novelist, in his lecture titled “Vidagdha Vangmay” delivered in 1911.
Apte deals with fundamental questions in literary aesthetics: What is literature? Is it different from science? Is it just entertainment? What kind of understanding does it provide? He draws on four major sources: Sanskrit poetics, Western poetics (Aristotle or Thomas De Quincey), his own experience of creating a new kind of fiction, and the contemporary ideologies of social and national reform. Apte’s notion of vidagdha literature is a result of the synthesis of some of the major ideas from these sources.
In distinguishing literature from science, Apte repeatedly says that a literary work does not make a direct statement. He also appears to restrict himself to recycling the oft-maintained views that literature’s beauty lies in implicit, suggested meanings or that literature presents truths in a palatable, sugarcoated ways.
In my view, the conceptual twist given to the notion of vidagdha is the most striking aspect of Apte’s view. In Sanskrit poetics, a vidagdha work of literature means a skillfully crafted composition that caters to the taste of a person of cultivated aesthetic sense. Apte connects vidagdhata to the literary work’s capacity of revealing truth. A novel is vidagdha if it gives us “satyabhas”. This does not mean that a work of literature creates an illusion of truth, but, to speak in a Heideggerian vein, that it is an appearance of truth; it becomes a site where truth discloses itself.