What’s Interdisciplinary Approach to Literature?

The last time NAAC (National Assessment and Accreditation Council) and UGC (University Grants Commission) teams visited my university, I learnt many things. The long months of preparations, the committees and sub-committees, the arrival and the departure, the feasts, the catechism, the caravan of cars, the meet and the exit-meet - all gave me much food for thought. But all that is not my topic here. I just wish to concentrate on one term that caught my attention - interdisciplinary approach.

In all their papers as well as interactions, the visiting guys seemed especially impressed by interdisciplinary approach. Out to get at things by asking smart questions, the smallest mention of interdisciplinary approach brought a momentary reverence in their eyes. Like Comparative Literature, Dalit Literature, Gender Studies, this term too has joined the elite club of fanciful phrases. No matter Dalit Studies is being tackled in a phony manner and is further causing walls in the society. No matter, growth of Gender Studies and crime and discrimination against women in educational institutions are rising in the same proportion. It does not matter at all; what matters is that interdisciplinary approach is doing the rounds. It's the current catch of the butchering mill. 

Let's see a scene. The hallowed man on dais scares the lesser lot sitting before him. He discusses interdisciplinary approach. 'It's a way of criticism', he tells. He talks in all his grand, and stiff ways till you're convinced that he knows all that's worth knowing on the subject. You're convinced that interdisciplinary approach is indeed some kind of school of criticism or philosophy or may be psychology. 'But how come it's applicable to all subjects'- your grey matter itches. By the end of the bombing lecture, you can go and bow down before the hallowed man on the dais and pray to him to bless you with interdisciplinary approach because you're convinced that it's a very tricky, weighty, unapproachable, awful, and deified stuff. 

It always happens like that. The jargon, 'the high seriousness', and abundant use of unnecessary words kill the essence of things. Let us, in our own small way, ask, what's interdisciplinary approach? Is it really some hidden ghost? Can it be tamed? Can we, with all our imperfections, hope to become interdisciplinary in our approach?

Well, I, too, claim to use an approach that crosses the strict demarcations among various subjects. I've been sensing it and accepting it for quite some time now – almost a decade and half. I had, you know, a sort of déjà vu. I picked it before it became a fashion in the elite academic circles.

So, what's interdisciplinary approach?

You read a novel, a poem or anything else and it has a deep impact on you, then your response to it is bound to be interdisciplinary. For example, you read a story about a girl and you say. 'This girl is deeply attached to her father?' And then you say, 'Girls are, usually more attached to their fathers' – quite an accepted fact. After you've thought it out like this, the psychologist comes and tells you that its Electra/Oedipus complex you're talking about. Your approach becomes interdisciplinary. But the point is that your approach was interdisciplinary at the first place itself even before the psychologist came, and gave you technical terms. In fact, to think is to be interdisciplinary. Life, itself is multi and interdisciplinary. That's the point.

I read a book on India and I say, 'Oh God my country's really poor. The gap between haves and have-nots is really wide'. When I say this, my thinking is interdisciplinary. I don't need the economist to come and formally take me into interdisciplinary benches. We're all interdisciplinary. Vision, perception, and analysis - all are incomplete if they're not going beyond the narrow limits of a subject. Knowledge itself is incomplete if its rot crossing subject or discipline barriers. 

That way, we can say that interdisciplinary approach to the study of literature in particular and knowledge in general is a more relaxed, assimilative and accepting kind of approach. It basically allows deviations. It is opposite to very neat and strict patterns of study. It gives freedom. It ends artificial barriers that separate one form of knowledge to another. This critic said this, that critic said that - it feels a deadly affair to me. Can a book evoke real responses? That's the critical criterion for me. We, in fact, need to go back on our super specialization stance. What we need, perhaps, are more Aristotles who knew all that was worth knowing in their times - biology, anatomy, philosophy and what not. And yes, Sigmund Freud was also interdisciplinary in his methods. A devoted reader of, Shakespeare, he derived details of human nature from the bard. It is interesting to note that 1920 onwards, almost all schools of, criticism owe their origin to disciplines other than criticism. Anthropologists, philosophers, culture historians, psychologists - all have found universal patterns in understanding life and knowledge. Knowledge from one branch has been used to enhance understanding of another branch of knowledge.’

Anything that connects knowledge to life is at once multi and interdisciplinary. I see Raj and I say. 'He's a miser'. I think of Neha and I say, 'She's religious'. When I think of Kiran, I know she's sincere about her studies. What am I doing? I'm connecting each person with a corresponding idea" So it happens with books. Just like a human being, each book declares its own corresponding idea or ideas. A man who withdraws his book from common wealth prize short-listing simply because he doesn't agree with the word 'commonwealth', needs to be studied in some sort of historical perspective. He doesn't agree with a period of history - history of the subjugation of his motherland by aliens. How can we hope to get him without some historical knowledge at hand? I can't think of mystic poets without going into quantum mechanics. Reality as perceived in the structure of an atom and as perceived by mystic poets is almost identical - same words, same phrases, same tone! It gives a unique kind of pleasure to know that what Einstein reached through theory of relativity, Kabir reached through Nirgunvad'. It goes on to prove that the basic texture of all knowledge is remarkably similar. 

Once we see things in this light, we'll get parallels everywhere – corresponding ideas. What we read will take a shape, a meaning, and an inerasable impression. 

So, that's interdisciplinary approach for us. Let's not get mental indigestion caused by overuse and show of intellect" Let not the hallowed man on the dias take away tire pleasure of reading from us. Let him not scare us. Let not jargon put us off. Let's read. Let's relish our reading" Let's feel what we read. Let's get affected by what we read. 


More by :  Prof. Shubha Tiwari

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Views: 4527      Comments: 2

Comment Very well explained sir, Thankyou so much

08-Jul-2021 06:06 AM

Comment Simplified to the core indeed!

Its really helpful to learners of literature and criticism.

Dr. Naushad
20-Sep-2016 09:47 AM

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