Why and how to Read Romanticism: Ibrah as a Mode of Comparative Reading for Pakistani Students of Literature and Culture


  • Iftikhar Shafi


The paper argues that reading Romanticism through the Sufi literary tradition, a mode of reading that the paper calls ibrah, may be instructive today in terms of understanding and possibly resolving some fundamental critical issues in the contemporary Pakistani literary and cultural context. The argument proceeds by establishing that the contemporary literary and cultural problems, first in their western context, may be seen as fundamentally Romantic in nature symptomizing a particularly Jewish mode of existence. This the paper achieves by referring to the so-called postmodern revisions of Romanticism by some major western critics. Secondly, the paper seeks to investigate through some of the central literary figures in the Pakistani literary canon how the impact of the western literature and culture and a subsequent distancing from a rich cultural tradition has forced the Pakistani literary and cultural consciousness to ‘own’ these problems, hence falling itself into a Romantic / Jewish predicament. Although the comparative studies, East and West, have mostly focused on the apparent inspirational and aspirational similarities between Romanticism and the Sufi literary tradition, this paper rather focuses more upon the differences that exist between their traditional / religious provenances and attempts to develop a cultural critique that may suggest a critical and theoretical reorientation for dealing with our contemporary ‘Romantic’ situation