The department of English conducted a discussion on the topic, “The Semiotics of Literary Discourse,” on Friday, November 17, 2011. The keynote speaker was Mr. H.S. Gill, professor emeritus in the School of Language, Literature and Culture Studies, at the Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU).
About the Speaker
Prof. H.S. Gill first started teaching in Punjab University, Patiala in 1968. Then after teaching abroad for sometime he joined JNU in 1984. He is also an eminent translator and has translated many Sikh religious texts to English. Presently he is a professor emeritus at JNU. He is working on a Punjabi dictionary and has previously written an article on the Punjabi language for the Britannica encyclopedia.
Prof. Gill started his lecture with his definition of a literary discourse and then went on to tell his audience on how to differentiate between a literary and non- literary discourse. He also explained the process of creation of a literary discourse.
Defining Literary Discourse
He spoke about the fact that a literary discourse is in fact analyzed by a number of scholars who come from different disciplines, as a matter of fact from disciplines other than literature.
He explained that in literature there aren’t any facts. Instead there are perceptions; we perceive things. He added: “In literature, there are no right or wrong way of perceiving things.”
He further explained that a literary discourse is how a person existentially experienced an event. “A literary discourse is what I would call an existential discourse,” said he.
He elaborated by saying that it is an existential experience of a given situation and it is different from other discourses as it is a very specific articulation; which is not at all the case if it is a non-literary discourse such as a social science discourse.
He distinguished a literary discourse from other types of discourse by saying, “A literary discourse is the universal truth.” Further distinguishing it he added: “A literary text deals with existential experiences of human beings in all types of human situations.” That is not the case for medical or historical discourses for instance.
Creating a Literary Discourse
About the creation of a literary discourse he enunciated that it begins with something one existentially experiences and after certain time and space one tries to recollect it and analyze and perceive it in a certain specific manner.
When an author writes, those experiences enter into the created text and sometimes this part is far more important than the manifest and logical one. Then it is the function of the reader to see how these existential experiences are equated.
Near the end of the discussion, Prof. Gill added, “Literature is also a discipline.”
He explained that one cannot start asking questions of facts from a literary text. As a literary person, these facts aren’t as important for the writer as is his perception.