South Asian Aesthetics

University of Pennsylvania, Fall 2014

Session 14: Time


Rumāl with scenes from the Rāmāyaṇa. 18th century, Kashmir. Cotton with silk, tinsel, and metal embroidery. Metropolitan Museum of Art.

“In the dark times
Will there also be singing?
Yes, there will also be singing.
About the dark times.”
— Bertolt Brecht.

Coordinator: Corey

Time: does art exist within it, or does art create it?  Time might initially seem to be a straightforward and unproblematic phenomenon, but the closer we look at certain forms of art, music and literature, the more we begin to see how they actually shape our experience or awareness of time.  Stories and poems, for example, shape our understanding of time through the structures of their narratives and through their modes of performance.  Visual art has the potential to represent events diachronically or synchronical– a potential very effectively exploited by South Asian painters and sculptors.  Finally, music is not an object but rather an event in time– and as such can mark, measure, extend or contract time in fascinating ways.

The readings for this session explore the ways in which art both exists within and shapes time.  Regula Qureshi’s article “Exploring Time Cross-Culturally” on Sufi qawwālī raises interesting questions about how time is experienced during the performance of religious singing in the Sufi mystical tradition of Islam.  The short section from Kenneth Bryant’s work on Surdas’s poems about Krishna, Poems for a Child God, asks us to reorient our understanding of poetry from ‘text’ to ‘event’, and shows us how such an approach can illuminate how a poet achieves marvelous effects.  Molly Aitken’s “Parataxis and the Practice of Reuse” touches upon questions of how time and narrative are represented in paintings from the early modern period (some of the same paintings we saw earlier in Session 11 and Session 12 on visual aesthetics).  The excerpts from G.H.R. Tillotson’s Paradigms of Indian Architecture explore how the built environment can shape our sense of time as we move through it, especially when that architecture also includes representative and symbolic forms (including sculpture, but also repetition, scale, etc.).  Finally, Paul Ricoeur’s seminal work Time and Narrative provides a point of comparison from the European tradition.

Conceptual readings:

  1. Qureshi, Regula. “Exploring Time Cross-Culturally: Ideology and Performance of Time in the Sufi Qawwālī.” The Journal of Musicology 12, No. 4 (Autumn, 1994). 491-528.
  2. Bryant, Kenneth. “A Poem in Time.” In Poems for a Child God. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1978.
  3. Aitken, Molly. “Parataxis and the Practice of Reuse, from Mughal Margins to Mīr Kalān Khān.” Archives of Asian Art, Vol. 59 (2009), pp. 81-103
  4. Tillotson, G.H.R. Paradigms of Indian Architecture: Space and Time in Representation and Design. Surrey: Curzon, 1998.
  5. Ricoeur, Paul. “Time and Narrative: Threefold Mimesis.” In Time and NarrativeTranslated by McLaughlin and Pellaeur. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990. 52-87

Case studies:

  1. Rumāl (scarf) with scenes from the Rāmayāṇa. 18th century. Cotton with silk, tinsel, and metal embroidery. Metropolitan Museum of Art.
  2. Sabri Brothers. Mere Hamsafar Mere Hamnawa. Sound recording. Oriental Star, 1993.
  3. Blackalicious. “Chemical Calisthenics.” Sound recording. Def Jam. 2007.

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