2 Apr 2009

Sri Aurobindo was unable to restructure his articles

Regarding his writings in the Arya, our biographer says that Sri Aurobindo was “unable to restructure” his articles constrained as he was by the publication schedule of a monthly periodical. There wasn’t scope to redo those compositions as they had to be rushed to the press. In other words, Sri Aurobindo left them in that raw form as they were typed out. If we go by our standard modes of assessment of writings, this observation might sound perfectly acceptable and there should be every reason to question the style that was adopted by the author. But the question is: can one really apply such considerations to a Yogi’s writings, one who says that he received all that he had written in a state of silent mind? Either we dismiss the claim, of that ‘silent mind’ by calling it humbug or nonsensical or funny or absurd, not worth paying attention to; or else we might pause for a while and ask ourselves the question if that could really mean something special to a spiritual person. In any case, much later when Sri Aurobindo was revising the Arya chapters for publication in a book form, he had no previous constrains of a periodical. Yet his style did not differ much from the earlier one.

As an example of constrains of a periodical, the biographer cites The Synthesis of Yoga in which “one part is too long, another too short.” But there are, in his opinion, other criticisms also, criticisms which could be levelled at the entire Arya writings. He says: “The style is involved and, by modern standards, frequently obscure. Like other writers trained in classical tradition, Aurobindo loved the periodic sentence, in which clause follows clause, until sometimes the point of the statement is lost in a maze of qualifications. He was the last generation to write like that in English. The twenty-first century reader of Dryden, Ruskin, Aurobindo, Virginia Woolf, or continental writers such as Michel Foucault, must develop what British literary critic Philip Davis calls ‘immersed attention’ to be able to profit from this style.”

But what has Sri Aurobindo common with these three authors, that he should have been grouped with them? Dryden’s greatest achievements were his satires; Ruskin was concerned with social justice and influenced the formation of Labour movement; Virginia Woolf as a novelist experimented with the stream-of-consciousness carrying psychological and emotional motives. In great contrast to all this, Sri Aurobindo was presenting his spiritual realizations and the associated mystical-intuitive metaphysics in a language that had substance and rhythm and the power of vision coming from the corresponding domains of expression, the beauty and the harmony which belong to the worlds of the spirit. It is a mistake to put these disparate things together which only goes to show, more than the sheer insensitivity of the author, his total lack of understanding of both. We should consider ourselves lucky that, he does not put together Harry Potter and The Life Divine.


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