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The Indian Theory of Suggestion (dhvani) Author(s): V. K. Chari Source: Philosophy East and West,

The Indian Theory of Suggestion (dhvani) Author(s): V. K. Chari Source: Philosophy East and West, Vol. 27, No. 4 (Oct., 1977), pp. 391-399 Published by: University of Hawai'i Press Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1397981

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V. K. Chari

The Indian Theory of suggestion (dhvani)

The purpose of this article is to outline the main premises of the theory of poetic suggestion developed by the Sanskrit critics. This theory is available to us in Anandavardhana's classic work Dhvanydloka [The Light of Suggestion] written in the ninth century. Anandavardhana and his commentator Abhina-

vagupta (tenth century)-both from Kashmir-headed a new critical move- ment which has since found wide acceptance among Sanskrit critics through the centuries. The Indian theory of suggestion, it must be observed at the outset, was essentially a semantic theory and had none of the mystical overtones associated with its counterpart in the West. It was an extension of the elaborate theorizing about language that was being pursued in ancient India by the Vedic exegetes, the grammarians, and the logicians. The theory of poetic suggestion in the West was developed mainly in the context of the Romantic-Illuminist doctrines of Blake, Coleridge, Poe through Mallarme to Yeats, which presupposed a metaphysic of phenomenal versus supersensuous reality, of microcosm versus macrocosm, of correspondences and double existences. But unlike the Western concept, the Indian theory speaks of no magic, of no occult significances. Dhvani is primarily a theory about levels of meaning. It understands suggestion simply as a special function of language, and it inquires into the conditions in which a word or sentence may give rise to a meaning other than the literal.

This special verbal function, it further claims, is the exclusive province of poetry and one that differentiates it from common discourse. Then, again, in Western criticism suggestion is often thought of as a figurative, especially metaphoric, mode of expression. In the Indian theory, however, it is distinguished from the figurative mode (alamkara). The Sanskrit critics, for instance, had no conception of a "symbol," which in modern poetics is accepted as the chief vehicle of suggestion. A symbol, when it is shorn of its magical trappings, would be seen as a condensed metaphor (samdsokti) or a type of transference based on the unilateral identification of the tenor and the vehicle (sadhyavasinalaksand). Or it would be seen as an object or situation which serves to excite an emotion owing to its association with a set of circumstances (uddipanavibhava). The two well-known functions of language recognized by nearly all schools and noticed in the Vedic language by such ancient exegetes as Jaimini and Sabara were the primary or literal meaning (abhidhi) and the transferred or metaphorical sense (laksanag or gunavada). But in their anxiety to differentiate

poetic meaning from the conventional meaning

(scientific texts), the Dhvani theorists claimed that there was a third potency of

language, too, called suggestion (vyanjana), which was the proper function of poetic language. But they had to fight a long philosophical duel with the

of the scriptures and the sstras

V. K. Chari is a member of the Departmentof English, Carleton University,Ottawa, Canada.

NOTE:

This paper was first presented in Toronto, October 1976, at the meeting of the American

Society for Aesthetics.

Philosophy East and West 27, no. 4, October 1977. ?

by The University Press of Hawaii. All rights reserved.

392

Chari

traditionalists who maintained that the secondary function was quite sufficient to account for all meanings that the denotative capacity of words could not explain, and, hence, that there was no need to postulate an additional activity. The Dhvani critics also had to meet the argument of the rhetoricians (the school of alamkara) that suggestion was none other than figuration and so could be subsumed under it. In fact, the theory of Dhvani was advanced as a rival to the figurative poetic of the rhetoricians who had dominated the early phase of Sanskrit criticism. The Dhvani theorist searched for a principle of definition that was wider and more central than even figuration and that explained the efficacy in poetry of both figurative and nonfigurative language. The basic postulate of the Dhvani theory is that suggestion is a supernumer- ary meaning. Utterances possess their literal meaning, but they also convey a further sense (dhvanir nama arthantaram). And the activity whereby the com- prehension of an additional meaning is caused must be accepted as suggestion, because the denotative function of words can only yield the syntactical meaning and rests there having exhausted its function (viramya vyaparabhiavt). Thus what results after the primary operation has ceased can only be suggestion.1 The second premise of this theory is that where the suggested meaning arises,

it is necessarily always the predominant element and the literal meaning

subordinates itself to it. This is the principle of subordination (upasarjanTbhava

or

gunibhiva). Such subordination is demanded by the very nature of suggestion

as

another meaning. For a principle of construction required by the Mimam-

sakas (exegetes) and accepted by all schools of thought as being axiomatic, is unity of meaning (arthaikatva). A sentence has to convey a unified sense if its very nature as a sentence is not to be upset. The Dhvani theorist meets this

difficulty by making one of the meanings principal and the other subordinate.

A further premise is that inasmuch as the extra meaning is arrived at through

the agency of the expressed or the secondary meaning it is necessarily an "indirect" meaning; and indirection or concealed significance is the chief

source of charm in poetry (gopyamanasaratvat). Therefore it would be a fault

to render the suggested content explicit by naming the idea or emotion, or by

discoursing about it. The suggestive mode, then, is essentially a presentational mode, not discursive, although these Indian theorists do not deny the efficacy

of conceptual language or statement when such language is employed for the

proper end of poetry, which is the evocation of a mood (rasa). The question of an additional or unstated meaning raises some semantic problems. When can a sentence be said to convey a meaning that is not stated

by its words? The most plausible and generally accepted answer to this is:

only when there is an impasse in construction or a break-down of its syntactical or logical sense. As a writer on logic explains: "A sentence does not seek another sense than the literal when it is satisfactory by reason of the fitness

of the connection among the literal meanings of its component words. But

when the connection fails it is made up by a meaning tropically hinted at by

393

any of the words" (Udayana, Nydyakusumanjali). Thus, in the example "Stratford-upon-Avon" (a dead metaphor, though), there is a syntactical incongruity (anvayinupapatti), for it is not possible for a town to stand on the stream of a river. So we invoke a secondary meaning "on the banks of the Avon" to resolve the incongruity, for sentences must at all costs make sense. Again, in the poetic example "Your thighs are apple trees/Whose blossoms touch the sky" (Williams) there is a logical incongruity (titparyinupapatti) for the poet could not have literally meant to identify the thighs with the apple trees. So we understand the sentence as a certain way of fancying thighs on the basis of a perceived resemblance. Similar are such other cases as "There go the lances" (synecdoche), "Protect the curds from the crows" (meaning

"from all predatory animals"), and so on. Most figurative expression is of this

nature-it

But suggestion, according to our theorists, does not occur at this level of

involves an implicit incongruity.

metaphoric meaning (laksana). The metaphoric function is a certain super- imposed activity of the word located in the "intermediate sense" (santarirtha-

nisttha). The denotative meaning is directly conventional

immediately as the word is being pronounced. But the secondary meaning is not so apprehended, but only indicated owing to the intervention of the primary meaning. The secondary meaning is thus, no doubt, an unstated meaning, and there seems to be no harm in accepting it as a suggestive function. But for the Dhvani theorists this is not the case, for suggestion, as they main- tain, is distinct even from the secondary function. In the words of Mammata:

"It cannot be denotation as there is no usage in respect of it; it is not the secondary function because of the absence of the necessary condition (namely,

impediment to the literal sense)" (Kivyaprakisa, II.15). But how is this dis- tinction between the suggestive and the secondary functions demonstrated? Their argument is that there is a suggestion which arises out of the secondary sense and which is presupposed by it, namely, the motive element (prayojan- amsa) or the purpose for which one resorts to an indirect meaning of this sort. And this element is not itself subject to any impediment and is not ex- plained by the secondary function (Dhvanydloka, 1.17). A dead metaphor ("Stratford-upon-Avon," for example) is no doubt understood at once as though it were a conventional meaning, but all intentional metaphors must presuppose a motive for their use. When, for instance, a man speaks of "a hamlet on the Ganges" he is probably thinking of the coolness and sanctity associated with the river, and that accounts for his saying "a hamlet on the Ganges" rather than "a hamlet on the banks of the Ganges," because the associations of coolness and sanctity, which he wants to emphasize, are not carried by the land mass along the river, but by the river itself. Thus in this case we admit the secondary sense in "the banks of the Ganges" to remove the incongruity, and a tertiary sense or suggestion in the associated meanings conveyed by the word "Ganges." We cannot also conflate the two functions

and is grasped

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Chari

and admit the secondary function in "the banks of the Ganges as qualifiedby

sanctity ,"

"the banks of the Ganges," and not "sanctity," which is the effect element (phalaimsa) of that knowledge. If the knowledge of the secondary sense, "the banks," were also to include the knowledge of the associated coolness and sanctity, then no "purpose" (phala) would be had as distinct from the "object" (visaya) of knowledge. Moreover, it is not necessary for resolving the in- congruity of the primarymeaning to import the notion of coolness and sanctity also. Thus by analyzing this paradigm case we arrive at the following three stages of meaning:

1. The word "Ganges" takes us to the sense of "stream" by the direct relation

of word to meaning;

2. the sense of "stream" takes us to its related meaning of "the banks of the

stream" by an indirect relation of one meaning to another meaning;

3. and the second meaning "the banks of the stream" suggests the third

meaning of "coolness," and so on by a further removed relation of the second

meaning to the third meaning.

It is at this final stage that the suggestive function enters. Abhinavagupta lays down the rules of suggestion as follows: "A further (unsaid) meaning, relation-

ship to the secondary meaning, and inadequacy of the conventional meaning

-these

Dhvanyaloka, 111.33). Can another meaning arise out of a statement that is not so vitiated by incongruities? Can it imply or radiate a supernumerarymeaning not directly expressed by its own words? The Dhvani theorists believe that it can: (a) when an expressed idea invites an extended application to something outside itself as in Whitman's line "O powerful western fallen star," referring to the death of Lincoln. Here the "fallen star" works as a symbol for the dead hero and hence it may be seen as a metaphor. But the Dhvani critic would explain that

the incongruity implied in the identification is not felt to be a prominent factor here, so that the symbolic extension is achieved largely through the expressed sense itself. (b) The suggestive power of an unimpeded, stated meaning (vacyartha) is, however, seen more clearly in emotive statements. Emotions are no doubt presented in language directly by the expressive power of words which are descriptive of the objects and circumstances of the emotive situation. Hence they are said to be manifested by the primary denotative function of words (vacyasamarthyaksipta). In emotive expression there is not even a trace of incongruity. Consider Wordsworth's presentation of the brokenhearted old shepherd's state of mind after the tragic desertion of his son Luke: "many and many a day he thither went / And never lifted up a single stone" ("Michael"). Here the action of not lifting up a single stone is a be- havioral expression (anubhiva) of the character registering the pathos of his

because the object of the apprehended secondary meaning is

are the regulative principles of the suggestive function" ("Locana,"

395

situation. And the emotion evoked by it is tragic grief. Now the Dhvani critics argue that the sentence describing the objective circumstances of the emotion (vibhdivdi) can only reach us as far as the objective circumstances and cannot deliver the emotion itself. Emotion is not the meaning of the sentence but a further sense coming in its wake. Hence it is claimed to be something beyond the reach of the denotative function. Moreover, it cannot be evoked by a simple mention of its name. The word "pity" does not arouse pity. The ex- plicit naming of the emotion "pity" a few lines earlier in the Wordsworth poem would then have to be regarded as a superfluityor, at best, as a reiteration of what is already fully realized by the objective factors described. Thus, emotive meaning (rasadhvani) is shown to be both an indirection and an additional meaning, although it follows in the wake of the expressed sense.2 An unstated meaning can be more readily admitted in homonymous words (ninarthasabdas). Suggestion based on such words is derived from the power of the words alone, as opposed to their meanings, because of the unsubstituta- bility of synonyms for such words. But, according to our critics, a simple punning expression (paronomasia) is not to be admitted to the rank of sugges- tion. It is only when that expression points to another figure as metaphor or paradox, through the power of the context, that we have suggestion. A parono- mastic expression conveys two (or more) meanings, of which one may be

other noncontextual (aprikaranika), or both

contextual. But all of the senses of the word are still expressly stated by the word itself, and, hence, they belong to its denotative function. It is only when

the context points, without explicit mention, to a relation, such as that of similitude or opposition, between the two meanings that we have the proper suggestive function (Dhvanyaloka, II, gloss on 21). An unstated meaning may be recognized also when an utterance is left incomplete either syntactically or in terms of its logical implications. The

Dhvani theorists would not, however, admit suggestion in elliptical or holo-

"Fire!"), because the

supplying of the missing words is something required for the completion of the expressed sense itself and not another meaning of that sentence. They do

not also see any suggestion in logical implication, entailment, presupposition, and so on (for example, "The former is running" implies that the latter is not; "Devadatta cooks" presupposes that he knows how to cook, and so on). But such implications are not even needed for the completion of the sentence. A sentence is to be taken to be complete if it possesses a minimum consistency and has no expectancy outside itself (Bhartrhari, Vikyapadiya, 11.3, 445). A school of language philosophers (Mimamsakas) would like to include in the sentence-meaning all that is intended by its words (yatparah sabdahsa sabdir-

account for all the meanings of a

sentence, both stated and unstated. But both Bhartrhariand the literary critics

reject this extended activity of words (dTrghadlrghavyapara) on the ground that

contextual (prdkaranika) and the

phrastic constructions (for example, "Door!

Door!"

thah), so that purport (tdtparya) alone could

396

Chari

the word (samketa) does not cover such meanings and that there would be no restriction on the scope of meanings, and a sentence may never come to a

stop. They declare that the import of a proposition is only of the words actually used (upattasabdirtha eva tatparyam:Kdvyaprakisa, V.47, Gloss). The Dhvani critics believe, however, that beyond the purport of a sentence, which is restricted to its own words, is another level of meaning which arises, not as

a logical entailment as in the preceding instances, but owing to the power of the context. Thus in the example "the sun has set" the purport extends only to the declaration that the sun has set. But the same sentence can convey a wealth of suggested meanings in different contexts, such as "this is the time to meet your lover," "let us go home," "let us pack up our merchandise," and so forth. (Kavyaprakisa, V.47: Gloss). The suggestive function thus occurs at this final stage when the sentence has come to rest after delivering its purported meaning. But these assumptions of the Dhvani theory were challenged by the language philosophers, the logicians, and the old school of rhetoricians, all of whom promptly denied the existence of any special semantic function called poetic

suggestion. Anandavardhana, the first systematizer of the theory, anticipated various objections and tried to answer them in his book. The first objection comes from the rhetoricians who argue that suggestion is already implied in

the figurative principle and hence that there is no need to posit a new theory

of language. In the example "Your thighs are apple trees" there is no suggestion

based on metaphor, as the Dhvani critic would assume; there is only metaphor.

And even metaphor could be poetically effective (suggestion or no suggestion); no one has placed an injunction against it. So what the Dhvani critic calls suggestion is none other than figurative expression.3 Again, the Dhvani critic has argued that a simple figure like simile, based on expressed sense, or a meta- phor, based on the secondary function, is not properly a suggested meaning and hence is to be regarded as an inferior mode of expression. This is also unnecessarily restrictive, for a good deal of poetic beauty may be shown in the famous similes of Kalidasa. And, as the Dhvani critics themselves admit,

is not all language, direct or indirect, literal or figurative, charged with emotion

(rasiksipta) in the context of poetry? The language philosophers, too, seem to have a valid point against the Dhvani theory. The principle of monosemy, on which they take their stand and which the Dhvani theorist also accepts, requires that a sentence be a complete and unified utterance. For both parties contextual force is the sole determinant of meaning, since words in isolation carry no stable meanings; and for the Dhvani critic it is all important for the operation of suggestion. No meaning can, in fact, occur outside of a context. Even whole sentences have to be provided with a context to become meaningful utterances. But the example

cited by these critics in support of their theory "the sun has set" is not even

a complete utterance, although a complete locution, in the absence of any

397

indication as to its "purpose" ("illocutionary force"), which only a context

can provide for it. As

but the meaning of a sentence is its purpose (Viikyapadiya, II.113). If, thus, meanings function so integrally according to their contexts of use, the Dhvani critics' attempt to limit the purport of a sentence to merely its grammatical

sense and to invoke another transcendent power called suggestion to account for what is only its most legitimate meaning sounds like a strange piece of casuistry. In the case of homonymous words, too, the contextual factors either rule out the unwanted meaning or dissolve it into the unified meaning of the sentence. So here also there can be no question of a second meaning and no need to assume a suggestive function. Another serious objection has come from the logicians who have charged the Dhvani critics with "mentalism." They argue that what these critics call

suggestion is not a verbal activity at all, but inferential reasoning (anumana, srtirthipatti). When the meaning of a sentence gives rise to another meaning, that other meaning itself is not cognizable by means of the word, but through a further reasoning activated by the meaning of the word. As Bhartrhari,too, has pointed out, the passage from word to its meaning is the proper scope of verbal meaning; but the passage from one meaning to another would be a case of inference (VP, II. 336). Mahimabhatta, in his polemical work Vyakti- viveka, has argued that words have only one power: the denotation of their meanings accepted by usage. The word as such can neither surrenderits own meaning nor give rise to another. It only seems to convey different meanings owing to differences in the conditions of its use (simagrivaicitryit). Thus what is claimed to be another meaning of the word is only another use of the same word. The Dhvani critics reply that inasmuch as the other meaning arises from the words themselves it is still verbal meaning. It may be said to be inferred, no doubt, but it still comes out of the verbal apparatus (sabdasamagri), and hence there is no confusion of categories (pramianas). Plausible as this may be, one wonders whether the Dhvani critics are still not guilty of men-

talizing meaning when they try to assign even the motive for metaphor to a special linguistic function. Precisely where the verbal operation ceases and the mental processes step in is perhaps difficult to determine. The Dhvani

critics themselves suggest no difinite limits to the scope of verbal meaning.

is an extranumerary

meaning of words is open to serious objections. Is there a special semantic function called emotive meaning (rasadhvani) as opposed to the expressed sense and is it indirection? When they are claiming a special status for emotive meaning, these critics, of course, are not thinking of the psychological res- ponses in the reader, for they recognize that the "perlocutionary" effect of a sentence is not its meaning and does not enter into its explanation (Dhvanyiloka, 1.4: "Locana"). They further admit that the evocative power does not inhere in the words but in the objects and expressions which the words describe; the

Bhartrhari says, words only have dictionary meanings,

The Dhvani

argument that emotive meaning too

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Chari

power of the context is only transferred to them (Dhvanyaloka, III.3-4:

"Locana"). Words are parasitic upon their contexts and uses. Even the sound qualities of words, their overtones and reverberations (anuranana), cannot

operate independently or in a fixed manner; they have but a delegated power owing to their contexts (vibhavadisamyogapranatvit).But, the Dhvani theorists argue, emotion is still another meaning of the sentence conveying the emotive signs (objects and symptoms) because it can be got only indirectly through the primary meanings of that sentence.4 Empson, too, in his The Structure of

sense (Sense B)

corresponding to the emotion (B! or B Shriek) generated by the meaning of the sentence (Sense A). This line of argument seems to conceal a trap. Emotions,

being psychic states, cannot anyway be directly communicated; they have to be inferred from their criteria. So what point is gained by separating them from their objective signs, which are their inalienable conditions and their sole mode of being, and then assigning them to a separate semantic activity? Then, again, in what sense does the expression of emotions in the only way

in which they can be expressed, namely, through their sign-situation, constitute an indirection, and how, too, can this situation be said to subordinate itself to bring forth an emotive sense? In the Dhvani critics' argument one thus notices a certain awkwardness of maneuver. The Dhvani critics have, no doubt, rendered a great service by giving the concept of suggestion a firm semantic footing and by removing the imprecision that often vitiates our discourse about it. With their logical and psychological acumen, they have brought immense clarification to our understanding of the ways of language in poetry. But it is doubtful whether they succeed in making out a foolproof case for poetic language being a specialized function. Their final contribution is, however, to the doctrine of rasa or poetic emotions. As they themselves show, rasa is the starting point as well as the culmination of poetic semantics.

Complex Words (p. 57), has argued that there is an emotive

NOTES

1. Kavyaprakdsa,III, 22: yo arthasya anydrthadhfheturvydpdrovyaktireva sd.

2. In a suggestion of this type, when the primary sense conveys another, unexpressed sense, it

does not stultify itself, but, like a lamp illuminating a jar, simply reveals the other meaning without cancelling itself. See Dhvanyaloka,III, gloss on 33.

3. See Induraja's commentary on Udbhata's Kdvydlamkdrasdrasamgraha, N. D. Banhatti, ed.

(Poona, 1925), pp. 85-89. Indurajaargues that the principle of dhvaniis already covered by figura- tion and so there is no need for a separate theory of suggestion. He asserts further that in the expression of the emotions there is no extranumerarymeaning: atas ca rasddisvabhivyanjakatvasya nirthintarata.

4. The Sdhityadarpana,V, gloss on 270, states the case thus: Rasa is not a matter of conventional

meaning because the representation of the objects and expressions (vibhavadi)through the literal sense of words is not the same as the evocation of emotions, nor are the objects and expressions

399

of the same form as the emotions they give rise to. See also Kavyaprakasa,IV, gloss on 25. Granted that emotions are not identical with their characteristic signs, because of the cause-effect relation- ship subsisting between the two. But, in what sense can the effect, namely, rasa be said to be "suggested" ratherthan "manifested" by its causes, and that too "indirectly" ratherthan "directly"?