Literature as a Great Cultural Artefact

Literature is what gives humans an aesthetic pleasure and also has some kind of moral in it. The foremost requirement of literature is that it should be in the written form and should also be for a creative purpose. Literature includes fiction, drama, poetry and sometimes nonfiction like essays, articles and short stories. Most of the times, literary works are based on creative imagination. Literature has huge significance in humans’ lives. It is far more important than just being a historical or cultural artefact because it represents an age, a language as well as people, culture and traditions of a specific epoch in history.

World history bears witness to the fact that every civilization and every generation produced diverse forms of literature. Today, if we are able to know about the traditions, cultures, caste and creed, customs and costumes, food and the living styles of the past, it has been possible only because we analyzed and tasted those with the help of literature.

Rich and diversified literature had been being produced by the prolific authors, skilful poets and great literati of higher calibre through all ages in history. This includes not only the Subcontinent but every nook and cranny of the world. Basically, these men of letters tried to portray the most exact picture of their particular age and culture. That is why it is said that every writer, poet, author and a critic is the representative of his age.

Not only the literature has huge importance but the language also helps us a lot to recognise and comprehend the strands of a particular era in which that literary work was produced. It is a universal fact that every age and time has its own worth and value. Peoples’ priorities have been different in different times and it is only because of the requirement and shadow of the circumstances. Themes and topics are also helpful in this recognition journey. Literature has introduced us to a new world of experience with vast horizons. We read books and enjoy writings, we relish the comedies, moan on tragedies spread on the canvas of language in form of poems, stories and plays. Life is too short to experience each and every thing written by the great minds and fertile hearts. This is God’s blessing that has taken the shape of literature as it guides humans regarding do’s and don’ts that may guarantee success in a particular situation.

A good writer better knows what he is going to impart to his readers and what effect he desires to evoke in the readers’ hearts. Through this creative process, he becomes privy to how would people react after reading his piece of literary work. One of the most revered and renowned poets of Pakistan, Muneer Niazi, once said, “Even the book knows in whose hands she is; and she doesn’t reveal all her secrets to everyone.”

An intelligent reader can easily decipher the message and style of a particular literary piece with the help of its language. For instance, the language of 14th century, which is nowadays called old version of English, can be easily recognized. Geoffrey Chaucer was one of the most prominent figures and a renowned poet of that age. His poems, especially in his most lauded work, “The Canterbury Tales”, are about the characters of different people and their manners of daily routine life, which depicts a bright chapter of the culture of those days. Then the time progressed, and we see that in 16th century, which can be called the most fertile age for the production of literature, towering figures like William Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe, Ben Jonson and others produced excellent works of literature which have a profound impact on our minds even today. Theirs was the Elizabethan Age, which is a part of the Renaissance Period. The Renaissance literature is considered the second greatest literature, after Greeks, ever produced.

Shakespeare and his contemporaries took kings and princes as their main characters. Marlowe took the supreme scholar in his play. They wrote tragedies, comedies and histories in a refined manner. But there was a doubt in the writings which can be seen clearly and it was the impact and a distinguished effect of the age, as Shakespeare said: “To be or not to be, that is the question!”

During 17th to 19th century, the literary genre and main emphasis remained on novel and poetry. The most renowned novelists Thomas Hardy, Charles Dickens, Jane Austen and George Eliot belong to this age. In poets, we have William Wordsworth, John Keats, Percy Bysshe Shelley or P.B. Shelley, George Gordon Byron or Lord Byron and many others who gave the gift of best kind of poesy to this world. The literature of this epoch in history led generations towards modern age and tried to take the reader out of the unclear picture of the Dark Ages, and from the tales of ghosts and wandering souls which were full of superstitions. The literati tried to show and predict the lighter side of a man’s social and cultural life through thinking and imagination on the real grounds, through belief and trust.

Finally, modern age started and we have so many young and brilliant writers and poets including Virginia Woolf, T.S Eliot, W.B Yeats, etc., who presented new ideas for humans to move forward without having any fear or superstition in their hearts with the support of modern culture. Topics of this age’s belles-lettres became totally different, and man’s priorities became to move forward with a jet speed. Languages were also modernized and were formed on scientific basis. Philologists and experts worked a lot on the scientific grounds to make the language more refined and effective.

In Urdu literature also themes, language and characters are full of life but here we can also see the shadows and impact of the ages and culture. Ghalib discussed the women with wine, Hakeem Momin Khan Momin created an extremely imaginative poetry and Allama Iqbal expounded the philosophy of “Khudi” in his exemplary works. In novelists, we have the literary giants like Saadat Hasan Manto, who was mostly accused of promoting obscenity due to his language and adoption of vulgar themes. It was so because Eastern tradition did not allow him to present these sorts of topics with the typical language. And he replied well to his critics by saying, “You make the society clean, and my writing would be clean in itself.” In Punjabi Literature, Warish Shah with his “Heer” and Mian Muhammad Bakhsh with his “Saiful Maluk” portrayed the real culture of Punjab and disseminated the message of truth, love and divinity.

This is the real soul of a literary piece of work which presents the real face of a society. And this is one of the main characteristics of this great cultural artefact, based on truth and imagination with the solutions to many problems. Whatever critical paradigm we use to discuss and analyze literature of any age and of any language, there is still an artistic quality to the works. Literature is essential to us because it speaks to us, it’s universal, and it educates us ethically and culturally. Even when it is ugly, it is beautiful!

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