The Tagore Debate - A Metacriticism. 


Published in MM on February 13, 2007

Critical thinking which Mukto-Mona promotes, also involves a critical look at widely held views and beliefs on personalities and offer contrarian factual data if applicable. This is an integral part of critical thinking, to those who apotheosize such personalities it may seem as nit picking, cynical thing to do.... , 27298,27271,27190,27166

Once again it is unfortunate that criticism of Tagore is being labelled as Tagore bashing, mud slinging, Tagore hating, bringing Tagore down etc, and also attributing the criticism as reflecting a lack of "understanding" Tagore, "ignorance/stupidity" of the critic etc. We are very familiar with such intolerance by religious zealots against criticism of prophets or religious doctrines, declaring such critiques as "religion bashing", "hate mongering". It is certainly alright to disagree with the views of critics and fans. But the disagreement does not have to involve such judgmental remarks about the critics or fans. One can debate on the veracity or mendacity of factual data, but debating which " subjective view" based on such data is right or wrong, when the data itself is not in dispute, is not amenable to a rational debate and is meaningless. Only if, based on the agreed on data, one draws a conclusion which can be right or wrong in an objective way (i.e a logical proposition), then such conclusion is amenable to a rational debate. A trivial example might be helpful in illustrating this. A and B both agree that each of their cup of coffee contains 100 grams of caffeine. But A says that the coffee is too strong , but B disagrees and says its not strong enough. On such disagreement there really cannot be a rational debate on who is right or wrong. But if A says that there is more caffeine in the cup of coffee than in a can of coke, while B disagrees that there is less, there can be valid debate and the debate can be settled objectively, by referring to nutritional charts. Most critics at least so far here does not seem to be disagreeing on any factual data on Tagore. Of course it is possible that the critic may not know some other factual data that a fan might point out and claim that the critic was wrong in his/her view for not knowing/ considering the additional data. Again, if the view of the critic was objective type and needs revision in view of the added data, then the fan is valid in criticizing the critic. There are examples of such cases. But if the view still remains a subjective one even with the new data factored in, there is no logical way to dismiss that view as right or wrong. Critics and fans (Of course many fans can be critics too, I believe all critics here are also Tagore fans) must be careful while engaging in such debate. It does require some mental discipline. I think that the critics in this forum are all appreciative of the genius of Tagore as far as I can see. But critical thinking which Mukto-Mona promotes, also involves a critical look at widely held views and beliefs on personalities and offer contrarian factual data if applicable. This is an integral part of critical thinking, to those who apotheosize such personalities it may seem as nit picking, cynical thing to do. But it really does not have to be. The rationalist Prabir Ghosh has cited many such contrarian facts about Buddha, Vivekananda, Ram Krishna, Ghandi and other famous personalities in his books on the "Aloukik noy Loukik" series. Nothing unreasonably cynical or hateful about it. Demystifying is part and parcel of critical thinking. We also see such critical analyses with contrarian factual data presented quite commonly in scholarly books on Tagore like that of Dutta and Robinson, but no one will probably call them mudslingers, Tagore bashers, hatemonger of Tagore etc etc. But in this forum some members have indeed used the terms mud slinging, Tagore bashing/hating to characterize critics/ criticisms of Tagore. I would be very interested in knowing which exact view/statements/ conclusions qualify as mudslinging/ Tagore bashing.

There is some parallel between the way many fans make defensive arguments against critics of Tagore and the critics of religious prophets. For example, point was made by one fan that it is unfair to criticize Tagore because he was after all a human and then the same fan immediately went on to glorify Tagore, much of which no critics can differ. This seems to be self- inconsistent and seems to be a tactic to preclude any criticism of Tagore, effectively implying that why criticize Tagore when we already know that he is human. Its like having it both ways, precluding all criticisms by issuing the "He is only a human" disclaimer and then only resorting to glorification only and thus effectively raising him up from human level. We see the same defense by religious apologists to deflect criticisms of their prophets by issuing the same disclaimer and then resort to glorification and elevation to more than human level. Such disclaimers are only aim at delegitimizing any criticism leaving no option but to glorify only.

Finally my own clarification on the debate that has sprung from a comment by Bonna and resulting in the following comment by Raman Shah:

My point was that just dont wrongly claim that Rabindranath was a "Debota" or "people" think that he was a "Debota" and then thro' your criticism show that he was not a "Debota" at all.

I am not sure if Bonna claimed that Tagore was Debota or that she didn't, its not a verifiable or falsifiable conclusion, if by "claim" Raman is implying what Bonna really meant, not affirming in clear terms. We cannot go into the mind of anyone and know what really one means. Debota itself is a vague term. If we accept it to mean a being that is above all criticism, then obviously Bonna did not claim or imply that. On the other hand it is possible that one can claim that "people" think that Tagore was a Debota and then criticize Tagore. Nothing illogical in that. When A claims that "people think B is such and such", it does not logically follow that A also thinks that B is such and such. We can give examples of ranking personalities as greatest such and such based on result of popular polls. Example are Michael Hart's ranking of prophet Mohammed as the greatest, Sheikh Mujib as the greatest Bangali etc. These are mere tabular ranking based on statistical data, a computer can do that. The pollster himself/herself does not have to believe that those greatest personalities are beyond criticism or that they are indeed greatest in an absolute sense. So in case Bonna was just stating the fact about the wide popularity and apotheosis of Tagore and his impact on Bengali culture, there would be nothing illogical about criticizing some aspects of Tagore by her nevertheless.

- Aparthib

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