From the fifteenth to the eighteenth centuries, the major cultures of southern India underwent a revolution in sensibility reminiscent of what had occurred in Renaissance Italy. During this time, the imagination came to be recognized as the defining feature of human beings. More than Real draws our attention to a period in Indian history that signified major civilizational change and the emergence of a new, proto-modern vision.
In general, India conceived of the imagination as a causative agent: things we perceive are real because we imagine them. David Shulman illuminates this distinctiveness and shows how it differed radically from Western notions of reality and models of the mind. Shulman's explication offers insightful points of comparison with ancient Greek, medieval Islamic, and early modern European theories of mind, and returns Indology to its rightful position of intellectual relevance in the humanities.
At a time when contemporary ideologies and language wars threaten to segregate the study of pre-modern India into linguistic silos, Shulman demonstrates through his virtuoso readings of important literary works—works translated lyrically by the author from Sanskrit, Tamil, Telugu, and Malayalam—that Sanskrit and the classical languages of southern India have been intimately interwoven for centuries.
The patient unraveling of the complex articulations of select Indian poets and commentators is the job that David Shulman has undertaken in this pioneering effort towards the production of a history of the imagination in South India... Apart from advancing a thesis about early modern south India and the attainment there of a transfiguration comparable to the Italian Renaissance (which is in keeping with much of his earlier work), Shulman interprets for us some of the major works of the pre-modern period in relation to both other works of world literature, such as those by Montaigne or Vico, and to modern critical attitudes. We are once again joined then to the 'simple trembling life' of the image on the page, marveling at the modernity of the ancient and early modern imagination, as it leaps out of its contexts and finds its place in Shulman's argument with a luminous and, crucially, a present-day life of its own.
More than Real provides a thorough, coherent, and extremely perceptive historical analysis of the nature and inner workings of imagination in India. It is hard to compare Shulman's work with any other book because nobody has ever tried to accomplish anything remotely similar. I doubt very much that a comparable history of imagination in the West or the Muslim civilization exists, although More than Real lays the foundations for such work. The book is exhilarating, and readers will learn something new from it not only about South Asian civilization but also about themselves.
With extraordinary range across languages, texts, and thought worlds, but with a special attention to south India in the early modern period, David Shulman shows us how the imagination works and how it has changed across space and time: in one place as pathological, for example, in another as therapeutic; at one time fictive and hence false, in another, fictive and hence real. This is mind-opening--and astonishingly imaginative--scholarship.
A work of great learning, insight, and maturity. Shulman displays the pleasures that come with the reading of Indian literature as he works from the inside out to teach us what imagination is and what it entails. More Than Real is a tour de force that moves confidently through literary and religious texts and through South Indian languages, listening carefully to learn about something that we already care about, what imagination teaches us about ourselves and the world we live in.
- 352 pages
- 6-1/8 x 9-1/4 inches
- Harvard University Press
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