Chicago Tamil Forum Keynote: Rhetorical Modes and Emotional Formation in an Old Tamil Anthology

May 4, 2023; 5pm

Foster Hall 103

Professor Martha Ann Selby, Sangam Tamil Chair in the Department of South Asia Studies at Harvard University 

In this talk, I will explore how poetic convention dictates expressions of grief and sorrow in love, while providing examples of poems in which literary rules fall away to render grief and loss in more acute forms. I will delineate the different hues of grief and loss in love that we encounter in the poems of Kuruntokai, an old Tamil anthology of short poems from the early decades of the third century C.E. I will look at the poems set in four different female voices, examining the ways in which emotional ecologies shift and change across voices and contexts, and I will argue that in many contexts, it is the voice of the heroine, left alone in love, which gives the clearest and most direct expression of grief, for it is in her voice that all poetic artifice falls away as she addresses her own heart or turns to her girlfriend in confidence. I will pay particular attention to the neytal landscape, that of the seashore, the most appropriate setting for ira kal, “lamentation.” I will include meditations on non-lexical morphemes, how they carry emotion, and specifically, how they present particular problems for the translator.