I wonder if anyone, even Google knows who first designed the words: Explain with reference to the context. Thereafter, it became a fashion to give pieces from poems and prose, and ask the students to explain them with reference to the context.
My issue with this issue is the idea of independent life of the text, in the context of the ideas of the ‘murder’ of the author [why death?]. If the text can be interpreted as per the whims of the readers, and if it has nothing to do with the author, what it has to do with the context either?
I think when we ask the students to explain passages with reference to the context, we are going against these theories which declare that text is independent and must be interpreted as an independent entity.
So, the first thing that comes to my mind is that the question paper setters must change their style of asking questions.
Explain [without reference to the context] the following piece of poetry.
You do not need to mention the name of the author. If you mention the name of the author, or you write anything about him, it will be taken as prejudicing the explanation.
The major issue lies with the word ‘explain’. Explain is a word with a negative atmosphere. Explanation is sought from people who have committed some fault. Suppose you come to office late, you will be issued an explanation letter.
Now, why we subject poor students to these explanations? Are they on any penal assignment? I think explanation word itself puts them in an uncomfortable position.
Better wording of the question can be:
Interpret the following piece of poetry according to your imagination. The answer carries ten marks.
2 marks will be cut if you refer to the poet’s name.
2 marks will be cut if you refer to the name of the poem.
3 marks will be cut if you give the biography of the poet.
2 marks will be cut if you give details of his times.
1 mark will be cut if you mention the name of any other writing by the same poet.
This is what our proponents of the ‘murder’ story want.
I shall wish our teachers of English to try to practice this for a year. And see the results.
For me, I have a different tale to tell. I do not believe in the ‘murder’ story. I believe that a poem or a writing is like the offspring of a poet, carries his DNA and neither the poem, nor the poet, can ever disown each other. In order to understand what he said, we shall have to study the conditions of his times. The history, the environment are absolutely important to the understanding of a poem.
It is going too far in verbal jugglery to think that the ‘author is dead’ or he has been ‘murdered’. All those who believed in the death of the author or the idea that text carries no meaning, I think were drugged with too much wisdom. No doubt life is becoming meaningless, and words are losing their sanctity, still how will literature stem the tide of degradation if its own structures lose their essence?
Dr. Jernail S. Anand.
Dr. Jernail Singh Anand, the author of 150 plus books, is the receipent of the Charter of Morava, the highest Serbian International Award in Creativity, at the 60th Belgrade International Writers Meeting . His name was engraved in the Poets’ Rock in Serbia, a rare honour for an Indian author. He already holds The Franz Kafka Literature Prize, Maxim Gorky International Literary Award, Cross of Peace, and Cross of Literature (Italy) awards.
Dr Anand is Founder Chairperson of the International Academy of Ethics, and an Honorary Member of the Association of Serbian Writers, Belgrade. He is Prof Emeritus in Indian Literature at The European Institute of the Roma Studies and Research Belgrade. Dr Anand is credited with the theory of Bio-text (critical theory). His work has been translated into more than twenty world languages. Author of 9 epics which are regarded as modern classics, Anand has organized 4 International Literary Conferences, latest of them, in Chandigarh.