"The four major topics that constitute this publication were originally read as
papers at a seminar held at the Tamil University, Thanjavur (August 7 & 8, 1982) in
fulfilment of the assignment I had there as a visiting research fellow.
As a University teacher engaged in both teaching at undergraduate level and supervision
at postgraduate level, I have often felt the need to go into the historiography of Tamil
Literature and the periodization done in that history, for I felt that some of the
attitudes like glorifying the past, equating literary quality with dynastic-eminences,
which forbid the students from having a comprehensive view of the socio-literary
developments in Tamil, lay deeply embedded in the ideology that underlies the
The imposition of the notion that the literary expression of a community is best
understood in relation to the rulers of that community and the dynasties to which they
belonged could lead and has led to literary deductions which run counter to verif iable
truths relating to the genesis and social relevance of literature...
What is 'literary history' and why is it essential? Is there any dufference between a
literary history of a language or country, and history of its literature?.. Let us put the
question in a slightly different manner. 'Why do we need a history of literature? Why not
take the entire history as a 'simultaneous order' and study it in that manner?..
...If literature is an irreplaceable form of knowledge to arrive at truths that ensure
our being adequately human, then a chronological review of it should enable us to identify
those efforts in time which had argued and helped to maintain that 'humanness'. So
instead of the usual, much-too-condemned process of coming to literature through the
theory of 'reflection' (literature as mirror reflecting the images of life), it is also
possible to reach centrifugally from the matrix of literature to humanity at large...
On the one hand, the work of art is a product of its time, a mirror of its age, a
historical reflection of society to which both the author and the original audience
belonged. On the other hand, it is surely no idealism to assume that the work of art is
not merely a product, but a producer of its age; not merely a mirror of the past but a
lamp to the future...
Literature... creates the mode of consciousness and this can in a historical
perspective become an indicator of national consciousness...In fact
consciousness of the literary heritage was a cause and an
index of Tamilian nationality consciousness...
The discipline we now call literary history has arisen out of and is determined by a
particular mode of literary and historical consciousness. Without going into the specific
characteristics of this mode of (national or nationality) consciousness, we can say that
it has been shaped by the historical fact that the Tamils had to live under and share with
non-Tamils a culturally alien polity, which led to language as the major identity marker
of this group. In other words, the mode of literary consciousness has been determined by
the fact that Tamils have been living with other language groups. The manner the Tamilian
looks at Tamil Literature is largely determined by this fact. The need to emphasize the
antiquity and to argue out the question of influence from other languages arose because of
the fact we have to emphasize the significance of Tamil in a multi-lingual situation in
which Tamil enjoyed no hegemony..."