In his Preface to the book, Syed Amanuddin describes his project as an attempt to develop a "system of critical/humanistic inquiry based on certain concepts of East and West seen in relation to Third World texts with attention to South Asian and West African literatures in English." A noteworthy project, but the book does not quite succeed. It is an uneven book—sections of it are useful, but most of it is banal.
Amanuddin organizes his book in five chapters, each of which, he claims, might be read as an independent essay. Perhaps the most useful of these chapters/essays is the third one called "Perceptions East and West" in which he discusses in detail Indian, Chinese, and Japanese theories of aesthetics. Amanuddin succinctly explains the Indian concepts of rasa, riti, and dhvani; the Chinese notion of shen; and the Japanese theories of aware, yugen, and satori. He then compares these theories to Aristotelian catharsis and Wordsworthian poetics. To a reader educated only in Western aesthetics, this book offers a useful introduction to other, non-Western theories of aesthetics. However, this book is provocative not because of what it says but because of what it deliberately evades.
The first issue evaded is why Amanuddin has decided to focus only on South Asian and West African literatures in English. Should not an attempt at formulating a theory of Third World criticism also include Latin American, Caribbean, and other literatures? At least the reader should be provided with a rationale for the theorist having focused on only some of the literatures of the so-called "Third World."
Another issue that Amanuddin does not address is the role of politics in the shaping of "Third World" literature. Amanuddin's "humanistic" critical inquiry considers the art object in isolation because he feels that "A poetic text must justify its existence by its inherent poetic elements—not simply as a record of events, customs, beliefs, and myths of a people. A novel must justify its existence by its fictional elements—not as a socio-political or anthropological document." Amanuddin never quite probes the relationship between actual events and their fictional rendering in a novel. If to understand Indian poetics we need to understand Bharatha, a fifth-century scholar, then one wonders how Bharatha's aesthetics may be applied to postcolonial Indian texts that have been shaped by the politics of decolonization.
In addition to unaddressed issues, this book poses some other problems. The documentation in the text is often shoddy. There is no bibliography or a list of works cited appended to any of the chapters/essays. Often the citations are by only the last name of the author. No page numbers are given. Even on the rare occasion when the name of the author and the name of the work are mentioned, the name of the publisher and place of publication are omitted. Consequently, any attempt at tracing Amanuddin's interesting sources will be time consuming. Furthermore, the book is marred by a large number of typographical errors. Peter [End Page 878] Lang needs to pay more attention to its proofreading and editing. Overall, I would say that this book is worth skimming through, but it is not one that will occupy a prominent position in one's personal library.