Sunday, 10 April 2011

Sheldon Pollock' s 'othering' and 'brothering'- outs him as crypto-Hindutva

Prof Pollock writes ' the ‘Ramáyana’ is a tale of “othering,” the enemy is non-human, even demonic, and the war takes place in an unfamiliar, faraway world; the ‘Mahabhárata’ is a tale of “brothering,” the enemy are kinsmen—indeed, as the protagonists say, almost their own selves—and the war takes place at home.'

Are the Ramayana and MhB really related in the way Prof. Pollock suggests? Both stories feature exemplary bands of brothers. There is no fraternal conflict. Karna merely has to reveal his true birth for the great blood-letting of Kurukshetra never to occur. However, Destiny has willed otherwise. Humans are merely the instruments of the Divine Plan. Lots of demons (Pollock's 'othering') get slain in both Epics because that's what heroes do. Indeed, Ghatotkacha, though part of the Pandava family, has to die because he is a 'Rakshasa' whom Krishna has marked down for death. 
By contrast, in the Ramayana, a Rakshasa, the younger brother of the villain, becomes a sort of junior brother of Lord Rama and receives the throne of Lanka as a gift. 
In both Epics, brothers are shown as tenderly affectionate as well as utterly loyal to each other. Pollock's distinction is meaningless. Yet he makes it anyway. Why? Perhaps because, though he says he won't, he still interprets the Ramayana in a racialist way. The Rakshasas are actually Dravidians or Mundas or some such subaltern race. So, it's like how the Ramayana views the non-Aryans as demons and like totally inhuman y'know? And that's bad, okay?

No, not okay. It isn't true. Rama is not a King. He's an 'un-King'. He's a forest dweller. He gets on fine with forest tribes, the vanar monkey-people, animals, birds and so on. How can the Ramayana be 'the privileged, if not the sole, South Asian narrative of hieratic politics?' Three Kingdoms are dealt with- one human, here the younger Brother yields to the elder while all show exemplary filial piety- the second, Vanar (monkey-people) where there is a conflict between brothers (not 'others, Prof. Pollock,  brothers) but moral culpability is reduced by lack of pre-meditation and the Epimethean and impulsive nature of the species, and finally the Lankan Rakshasas where conflict between brothers can rise to the level of Ethics and Public Policy.

Is absolute filial piety, such as that of the Ayodhyan Court, really politics? That too 'hieratic' Politics? I don't see how. Not enough happens at Ayodhya; there isn't enough of the sort of stuff politics feeds on viz. dealing with famines and rebellions and wars and so on. Compare Lord Ram with King David. 'Hieratic politics' is meaningful with reference to the latter- what on earth has it to do with Ram's Ayodhya? 
Okay, there is some politics and intrigue amongst the Vannars and in Lanka- but monkeys and ogres aren't protagonists of 'priviliged narratives of hieratic politics- at least not in South Asia, which Prof. Pollock has actually visited.
In defence of his thesis that the Ramayana is about 'othering' Pollock says something incredibly foolish viz. that  Ravana's moral alterity arises from his 'reckless polygyny'.  Is this guy meshugganah? Can he not know that Ram's father, King Dasharatha, was also polygamous? The second reason Pollock advances for Ravana's 'othering' is that he was a tyrant. But Lanka was a peaceful and prosperous country. Ravana was a King, a strong one- somewhat better than Emperor that he did not order the massacre of Shramans while fattening Brahmins. Why is Pollock making this ridiculous assertion? It's because his thesis is false and he himself knows it, but the real thesis he wants to present is not politically correct so he'll undermine its opposite by appearing to support it.

The Rakshasas are shape-shifters who like eating human flesh. They are slain in both the Ramayana and the Mahabharata. But some Rakshasas are good and some are bad. The Ramayana does not end with a 'final solution' to the Rakshasa problem. The throne passes from one Rakshasa- whose death was fated at the hands of Vishnu's avatar- to his brother. Pollock quotes Merutunga's Prabandhachintamani (1304) where the Solanki King Jayasimha Siddharaja (1094-1143) puts a scare into the Mleccha (barbarian) ambassadors by making it appear that King Vibhishna, Ravana's brother enthroned by Rama, had recognised that the current incarnation of his Saviour was the Solanki King and that he was ready to come to his aid with his Rakshasa hosts should the need arise. Clearly, the Ramayana- or the notion of the King as the incarnation of Lord Rama- were not associated with demonizing anybody, let alone the Rakshasas. On the contrary, since Vibhishana is a Ram-bhakt (devotee of Ram) his help is to be sought precisely because he belongs to the  same race as his brother. What Pollock does not say- but becomes apparent from his own post-Babri essay- is that the Islamic invaders behaved like demons towards the Hindus and that, for the first time, an entirely new aspect of Lord Ram was revealed- viz. his status during the Lankan war as an un-King, the opposite of a King, one maddened by grief who yet remains steadfast in taking the battle to the enemy  and routing him upon his home-ground. In other words, the un-King as the locus of resistance to an irresistible and Satanic Imperial power, turns Lord Ram's compassionate and tender nature into a model of an engaged caritas which aims at the overthrow of a hateful and inhuman Imperium, that too by means of a popular 'subaltern' uprising. Pollock quotes a letter from Shivaji labelling Aurangazeb as a 'div' (devil) and appealing for help against him. Muslim sources- the Pashto poet Kushal Khan Khattak for example- indicate that Aurangazeb's transgressions were of sufficiently grave a character to justify the description.
In this context, the destruction of the Babri Masjid- not by an order of the State, nor by the disciplined action of uniformed members of a para-military organization, but by a vast multitude of ordinary people with Political leaders merely looking on, so to speak, acquires a semiotic significance which Pollock's writings otherwise signally fails to make. But, was this his perhaps unconscious intention?

As with Witzel's,  Pollock's Indology quickly unravels to reveal a sort of ultra- Purva Mimamsa type of Brahminism which every Brahmin lineage I've ever heard about has explicitly repudiated and whose brief historicity was an aberration, a cancerous hyper-trophy, rather than, soteriologically speaking, an organic development.

Pollock really ought to know better and does know better but why should that stop him? Philology no longer means close reading it means uttering modish sound-bites, and constantly showing one's credentials as an anti-Fascist- precisely because this is both the origin and occulted trajectory of one's praxis- though only variants of Fascism demand this of scholarship.

Pollock's cryto-Hindutva is compounded by misogyny. He writes- ‘Shakúntala’ is a ‘Mahabhárata’ play, and ‘Rama’s Last Act’ seems designed as a ‘Ramáyana’ counterpart to, and competitor of, Kalidasa’s masterpiece. Like the two epics the two plays share a deep resemblance. In their core they are stories about love, rejection, recovery, and ultimately—because this is the very reason behind the rejection— political power and its perpetuation. The star-crossed love of Dushyánta and Shakúntala is mirrored in that of Rama and Sita. The women, both of whom are pregnant, are repudiated because of doubts about their fidelity and (implicitly) the paternity of the progeny they are carrying. This is followed by a soul-searing acknowledgement of guilt on the part of the husband, reunion with his wife, recognition of the legitimacy of the offspring with the aid of quasi-divine agents (Marícha in ‘Shakúntala,’ the magical anthropomorphic weapons in ‘Rama’s Last Act’), and reconciliation of husband and wife. Both works hereby aim to emend and aesthetically enhance their epic models.'

It seems Pollock simply won't accept that women have equal agency and in the case of Sita, equal divinity, with respect to the men they have espoused. Read the Cliff Notes, Prof! In Kalidasa's play, some Rishi or the other curses Shakuntala that her husband will forget her. Sita always resides within the heart of Ram. She can't be parted by him. Birha is a Maya. Thus in neither case  is there a  'repudiation' of a pregnant woman by reason of 'doubts about their fidelity and (implicitly) the paternity of the progeny they are carrying'.

Customary morality, Hebrew or Hindu, states that if your wife runs off or is abducted or whatever then curse her for a slut and take a new wife. Don't go to war over it. Women aren't worth it.
As regards polygny- it is a duty of the King. By taking a new wife a war or rebellion might be averted. An uxorious King is a threat to the commonweal.

Prof. Pollock's view only makes sense if the heroes of the Itihasasas were in reality not ideal human beings but greedy, suspicious, despots with little capacity to love. For this view to make sense, all the characters Pollock mentions must have been extremely important historical figures for whom mercenary court poets manufactured the exculpatory propaganda which has come down to us as epics.

This is silly. Perhaps, Prof. Pollock thinks Buffy the Vampire Slayer is a thinly disguised exercise in exculpation for Hilary Clinton or that Harry Potter stands for the boy Cameron triumphing over the evil wizard Tony Blair.

This is a link to a video of Prof. Pollock bewailing the decline of philology's status in the Academy . But what is the point of his philology if he makes such recklessly false statements about books he has himself translated? The real problem,as his own work illustrates, is not with philology as such but with hermeneutics. The latter cashes out either as

1) Triumphalist Historicism or Strategic Essentialism of a chip-on-the-shoulder type wholly unconcerned with what books actually say.
2) Heideggerian mystagogy- thought at its most thoughtless- that seizes upon Technics as its own foundational problematic so as to render its practitioners not 'problem-driven' (Pollock knows such disciplines grow and burgeon in an alethic and utilitarian manner free of faux navel-gazing and foolish stabs at gesture politics) but wholly absorbed in their own foundational problematic as an impossible discourse.

This brings me to the question, what is hermeneutics for? Books are meant to be loved and teased and mocked and quarreled with- that's philology. They aren't meant to be worshiped or taken as having any sort of authority or insight. Books are shite in the same way we are shite. Get shit-faced with a book. Don't fucking take no shit from it.

Okay, if you're making a living being a Rabbi or a Priest or whatever- sure, what you're doing is hermeneutics- but you're doing it  the same way you do your Tax Return- viz. by working backwards from what you can afford to pay.

The other thing about philology is that it began to die when it entered the Academy- like Jazz when it decided it was too good for the dance hall.
Pollock bewails the demise of philology in India. But, that's good news. Why? Because he's talking about the fucking Universities. Does he not know the type of criminal that infests Indian Arts Depts? He goes boo hoo, the Bikaner Royal Family won't let me photograph their manuscripts. He doesn't say that if they let him do it- and, sure, he's a good guy and would actually do what he promised and not like wipe his arse on even a single leaf of Indic incunabula or use it to roll a joint- they'd then have to let in every fucking Gangster of a Professor who will simply steal everything in sight and rape the light fittings. After all, for the last thirty years, academic orthodoxy in India is that Brahmins are the source of all evil. Since some Brahmins were literate, all Indic texts are inherently evil. In any case, all that shit is probably pornographic so this is something both Saffron and Red can agree upon.

Hermeneutics is 'othering'. Philology could be 'brothering' but isn't coz Hermeneutics made it its bitch. . Neither have any relevance to Itihasa. That's stuff to do with loving not books but babies- a burgeoning popular vatsalya not Pollock's all-blighting vedanta.

P.S. funniest line ever- 'The Ramanand Sagar T.V series is the latest (Valmiki's being the first) attempt to establish a HEGEMONIC  VERSION of the Ramayana.' Yup, you heard me right- that's Ramanand Sagar we're talking about. What was Pollock smoking? I want some. 

The problem with Pollock is that he goes on repeating drivel from failed hermeneutic programs- utterly forgetting to seek for answers to the open problems he himself cites. If Philology is in trouble it's because of Pollock and his ilk. Problem driven readers, if enabled to access relevant texts and research for free- not Professors acting as shills for a corrupt, credentialist, pay-wall protected, Academic publishing racket- can revitalize Philology. Not Governments, not the always risible demand for more disciplinarity discourse, not the Academy- a nightclub where all the lap-dancers have retrained as bouncers- not fucking illiterate bloggers like me, not... hang on a sec. ...I didn't mean that...I know what I said  but I expected you to kinda shake your head and say 'no, no dear fellow- not illiterate surely'... No, I'm not getting riled up.... I'm perfectly calm....well, up your hole with a ten foot pole! ... really? That's the best you can come up with? Up my hole with an eleven foot pole? Is that supposed to be witty? Look, just fucking grow up okay? I will write to your headmaster and tell him about those naked pics of your Mom you sent me.... okay, okay, so it was your Gran... listen, you little shit, you're pimping your own fucking Gran okay? That doesn't give you the moral high ground here... Well, yeah, sure I'd still like to meet her... Okay then. That's your Hindi assignment I've emailed you, so just give me her phone number and we're all square... Sheila Dixit is your Nanee? That was her in those photos?... Fuck yeah! I'm a Congress supporter- well I am now!...I'm not sure about the strap-on thing but, it's true, I do look a lot like Ram Vilas Paswan...Cool. Look forward to it... yeah, you too. Go have fun with your gulli danda. I certainly plan to with mine! Many thanks for the new pics.

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