Reading Lukacs’ reflections on Tagore one would be reminded of the harm that a colonial atmosphere could bring upon a mind irrespective of ideological alignments. It is silly simply to say Lukacs is blinded by colonial optics. What however is significant is the intellectual apparatus available to Lukacs, or better still, that Lukacs chose to avail himself, is incapable of cognising significance beyond certain European structures of views and feelings.
It would be interesting to read Amartya Sen on Tagore after reading Lukacs. Here is Sen, a fellow Bengali, who finds in Tagore a vision of multiculturalism. Both are good reads.
George Lukacs on Tagore:
Tagore himself is — as imaginative writer and as thinker — a wholly insignificant figure. His creative powers are non-existent; his characters pale stereotypes; his stories threadbare and uninteresting; and his sensibility is meagre, insubstantial. He survives by stirring scraps of the Upanishads and the Bhagavad-Gita into his works amid the sluggish flow of his own tediousness.
Amartya Sen on Tagore:
Rabindranath did come from a Hindu family—one of the landed gentry who owned estates mostly in what is now Bangladesh. But whatever wisdom there might be in Akhmatova’s invoking of Hinduism and the Ganges, it did not prevent the largely Muslim citizens of Bangladesh from having a deep sense of identity with Tagore and his ideas. Nor did it stop the newly independent Bangladesh from choosing one of Tagore’s songs—the “Amar Sonar Bangla” which means “my golden Bengal”—as its national anthem. This must be very confusing to those who see the contemporary world as a “clash of civilizations”—with “the Muslim civilization,” “the Hindu civilization,” and “the Western civilization,” each forcefully confronting the others. They would also be confused by Rabindranath Tagore’s own description of his Bengali family as the product of “a confluence of three cultures: Hindu, Mohammedan, and British”.1
Rabindranath’s grandfather, Dwarkanath, was well known for his command of Arabic and Persian, and Rabindranath grew up in a family atmosphere in which a deep knowledge of Sanskrit and ancient Hindu texts was combined with an understanding of Islamic traditions as well as Persian literature. It is not so much that Rabindranath tried to produce—or had an interest in producing—a “synthesis” of the different religions (as the great Moghul emperor Akbar tried hard to achieve) as that his outlook was persistently non-sectarian, and his writings—some two hundred books—show the influence of different parts of the Indian cultural background as well as of the rest of the world.
Amartya Sen: “Tagore and His India”
Free Tagore books at Project Gutenberg.
Tagore special issue of Parabaas journal.
Buy Gitanjali at Amazon.
Tagore on Gandhi buy from Flipkart
Ashis Nandy’s discussion of the divergence between the attitude toward nationalism in Tagore and Gandhi is interesting. His book on this is: “Illegitimacy of Nationalsim: Rabindranath Tagore and Politics of Self.”