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Scènes d'action et voix intérieure
Un roman indien comme Kayar
n'est ni le roman européen ni l'épopée

séminaire du 1er avril 2010

Dans Kayar, l'alternance entre le récit (l'histoire événementielle et politique du Kerala à travers des scènes d'action) et le discours (la pensée rapportée, le flux de conscience et l'imaginaire de quelques personnages choisis) prend la forme d'une alternance entre les moments d'engagement dans le monde social et les moments de renoncement et de repli dans la vie intérieure. Alternance traditionnelle dans l'idéologie hindoue entre la Pravrtti et la Nivrtti, l'Agir et le Non-agir.

Cette structure est pour nous exemplaire à double titre: elle est scénographique, et elle est spécifique des littératures indiennes. Scénographique en effet, cette alternance entre le dehors et le dedans, l'espace public et l'espace privé, les scènes d'action et le monologue intérieur; j'y reviens par ailleurs. Spécifique de l'Inde en effet, cet entrelacement du récit et du discours qui rapproche le roman indien de l'épopée et qui l'éloigne du modèle romanesque européen.

Triloki N. Madan, Images of the World. Essays on Religion, Secularism, and Culture, New Delhi, OUP, 2006, pp.359–360:

[Chapitre 13 intitulé: The Private and the Public. Considerations of Cultural Context]

As a first and rather simplistic illustration of the differences of connotation of the terms under consideration, we may consider dictionary meanings. The Chambers English-Hindi Dictionary (Awasthi and Awasthi 1985) renders 'private' as ashâskîya (nongovernmental), asârvajanika (non-collective), nijî (personal), vyaktigata (individual), gopnîya (secret), and so on. In contrast, 'public' connotes shâskîya (governmental), sâmûhika (collective), prakata (explicit), etc. Some of these terms (such as nijî or prakata) appear to be original words in Hindi but others (notably ashâskîya or asârvajanika) may well be lexical fabrications in the setting of cultural and linguistic contact. Examination of Hindi literary texts suggests that the English terms have significations — in Trilling's words 'a culture's hum and buzz of implication' (1951: 206) — that literal translation fails to capture. This obviously is the reason why many Hindi litterateurs reproduce phonetically the original English words 'private' and 'public' in their compositions: thereby they represent sensibilities that are a product of inter-linguistic communication and cultural hybridization.

Let me illustrate the foregoing point. In an insightful address on the novel in comparative perspective, the distinguished Hindi prose writer Nirmal Verma (2000) observes that it was inside a nineteenth-century preserved house in Bergen (Norway) that he had the inspiration (ilhâm, 'revelation') to conclude that it must have been inside such homes that the European novel had its birth. Contrasting the openness and wholeness of the epic poem to the enclosed and fragmentary character of the novel, he dwells upon 'privacy' — the English word is written in Nagri script — and its correlate, the individual, in their interrelatedness — 'vyakti kî praivasy', the individual's privacy (Verma 2000: 60) — as the critical condition for the genesis of the novel. He conceptually links the epic to relatively open spaces and collectivities, such as audience halls, battlefields and domestic compounds, and employs sârvajanik as the generic Hindi term for them, but apparently does not feel the need to use the English word 'public'.

More to the point, Verma denies the contradistinction of the private and individual, on the one hand, and the open and collective, on the other, in the context of the novel in the non-Western world. In it the private and the collective are not 'separate' but 'mirror images' of each other. The novel here is said to acquire its form in the space between the mythological epic and the European novel. He writes that it is not itself an epic or a replica of the original novel, but is inspired by collective mythic rituals and constructed from inter-individual relationships (ibid.: 61). Verma's elaboration of the foregoing argument does not concern me here. The point I wanted to make about the significance of cultural difference in the use of words like 'private' and 'public' is, I trust, clear enough.

One may, of course, abandon these words altogether, and opt for analogous but culturally rooted terms that might facilitate a more nuanced presentation of Indian perspectives on the distinctions under consideration. One could, for instance, invoke the distinction employed in early classical Tamil poetry (ca. 100 BC-AD 250) between akam and puram poems. The former pertain to, in A.K. Ramanujan's felicitous phrase, 'the interior landscape', and the latter are about the 'exterior', or the external domain. The former are about personal experience, more precisely about romantic love. The latter are about action, most notably about war. The puram poems may not be said to be wholly lacking in the subjective dimension, but the action, particularly when it ends in heroic death, is unlike the lovers' tryst, for everyone to see and admire (see Ramanujan 1985). It is noteworthy that while Ramanujan considers 'public' an acceptable denotation of the word puram, he does not render akam as 'private'. What Nirmal Verma found in the old Bergen house, we might well say, was the interior landscape, not privacy but interiority.

Dans le droit fil de cette analyse, je m'interroge sur ce qui constitue l'individualité des personnages dans cette saga qui n'est ni tout à fait un roman ni tout à fait une épopée. Je suggérerai l'idée qu'ils se partagent clairement en deux catégories. Les personnages du dehors (puram) et les personnages du dedans (akam). Je m'intéresse particulièrement aux personnages du dedans, les héros et les héroïnes du type akam et je voudrais suggérer que leur individualité n'est pas de nature biographique. Ils se définissent moins par leur implication dans l'intrigue que par leur caractère, leurs états d'âme et leurs décisions intimes ou, pour pour préciser ce que j'entends ici par décisions intimes, ils se définissent moins par leurs actions dans le récit et les scènes d'action que par leur travail sur eux-mêmes dans leur vie intérieure.