Thursday, 4 August 2011

Gita is Sita- in epoche

    Epoché means ‘suspension’- pausing and standing back to question one’s fundamental beliefs and values. The Gita’s dramatic appeal is that it marks a suspension of action- the two armies have assembled, clarions has been sounded on both sides, hostilities are about to commence, but, suddenly, the relentless forward thrust of the narrative is arrested, not by the Cassandra cry of a clairvoyant, nor the chastened counsel of a Seer; but, utterly unexpectedly, by impetuous Arjuna who, for the first and only time in his life, confesses himself daunted, not, it is true, by the imminent hazard of death in combat but rather by an immanent prevision of the wretchedness of a Victory that can only be secured by the unrelenting carnage of those so near, if not dear, in blood.

     Arjuna’s hesitation parallels that of Hamlet.  Neither Hamlet nor Arjuna is afraid of being killed or suffering damnation. Nor are they tempted by Power or Pelf. Still, one may argue, Hamlet’s dilemma is quite different from Arjuna’s. After all, the murdered King's ghost might be the Prince of Liars, in disguise, trying to get Hamlet to damn himself by killing an innocent man- one to whom, moreover, he owes a triple duty of obedience as nephew, step-son and subject.

   Indeed, it is tempting to see both our puzzled Princes as cursed with what might be called the blighting Gandharva gift of 'backward induction'- id est, the anti-Epimethean criterion for judging action's cascade by working backwards, testing for optimality, from the final consequence . If Hamlet kills his Uncle, while the latter is at prayer, the end result is that the King gains heaven while the Prince is damned for all eternity. Similarly, Arjuna's victory means his cousins gain Heaven, for slain in battle in accordance with their warrior code, while the Pandavas, as the heads of the clan, become responsible for the misery, loss of status, and perhaps prostitution and miscegenation of the womenfolk left behind.
   However, the moment Hamlet articulates the eschatological consequence of slaying the King at prayer, it immediately seizes to be binding- he himself can't be damned since the action's intentionality is to send his sin-stained enemy to Heaven, by taking his place in Hell. But- and this is Hamlet's Protestant dilemma- the Son thus only keeps with faith with the Father by breaking troth to the latter's Unholy Ghost.
Thankfully, at least for the purposes of this essay, this objection does not hold water.
    It's like the Examination question 'was Hamlet mad, or merely pretending to be mad?' which maddened three generations of my male ancestors. already mightily over-strained in their wits by the universal scramble to secure- what?- a but humble Babu's berth, at so many Rupees per mensem.

    The fact is, Hamlet viscerally believes the ghost to be telling the truth. He is stirred to the very depths of his soul to act and act immediately reckless of consequences. Yet, he does not act. We feel there is something of the malaise of modernity, something neurotic or Oedipal, some amphibolous or sceptical ‘unhappy consciousness’, at work in Hamlet’s febrile brilliance in devising a further empirical test to establish something he already knows in his bones to be true. Shakespeare emphasizes Hamlet’s great intellectual and imaginative power to show that, at some level, our scholarly Prince, to whom the name Pyrrho would not be unknown, must understand that this further empirical test, too, yields not certainty but doubt. Perhaps, at the staging of Hamlet's 'Mousetrap'- what appalled the King was actually some apparition sent by the Devil or, more prosaically, the sudden realization that his nephew suspects him of the foul crime of fratricide. Thus, for Hamlet, dutiful son to a Father who is also Unholy Ghost, Pyrrhonian doubt and delay yield not ataraxia, that is tranquillity, but a disorder of the phrenes, a sort of madness, less medicinable for feigned.

    Hamlet has a friend in Horatio but, poor Yorick being dead, no interlocutor of equal intellectual stature. Thus, Hamlet is a tragedy and doubly a tragedy for this Prometheus fetches no fire for Mankind by his foresight. Our Epimethean Arjuna, on the other hand, has not just a friend but something like an equal for interlocutor- Krishna. Thus, the Gita is a Divine Comedy. It is a ‘balanced game’. Both Arjuna and Krishna have supernatural knowledge of the outcome. Both are acting not as principals but as agents. Arjuna is obeying his eldest brother, actually Karna, who, however, if not a brother, is the loyal friend, of Duryodhana, chief of the Kauravas. But this means Arjuna will end up killing not just his own people but the partisans of the side which, but for Karna's decision regarding Righteousness, he himself would have considered right.

    Interestingly, Arjuna's chakshushi vidya (second sight) is constrained by his true master, Karna's, Dharmic decision not to disclose that he is the eldest of Kunti's sons so that Yuddhishtra is not obliged to give up his claim. Be it noted, however, this Dharmic decision- which precipitates not just the Kurukshetra war but also the destruction of Lord Krishna's people- is the decision of an agent rather than a principal. Interestingly, Karna's promise to Kunti to slay only one of her sons reflects Arjuna's own scruple against shedding the blood of his own kin. In the end, whether Arjun kills Karna or Karna kills Arjuna, the number of Kunti's sons is conserved as 5.

    One may argue that Arjuna, unlike Karna, has a moral objection to killing. Unfortunately, this notion is not supported by the text. Arjuna's qualm is against killing his own people- for whose womenfolk he will become responsible for on their death- that too for mere material gain. This is pure Hamilton's rule kin selection- not a Conscientious Objection to War at all. Unlike Karna, who does not have chakshushi vidya (second sight), Arjuna  knows he will survive- not so his cousins. Karna merely believes that he will win against Arjun but, otherwise, holds death in battle to be the surest path to winning Heaven. This is a case of loser takes all. In any case, Karna's friendship and obligation to Duryodhana arose in the context of the latter's determination to crush his cousins by force of arms. Indeed, by choosing to fight mighty Bhima rather than goody-goody Yuddhistra in the final duel of the MhB, Duryodhana confirms to us that Karna's Dharmic decision was consistent with Duryodhana's own preferences.
    Indeed, Duryodhana's war aims makes perfect sense politically. Men become Kings and Kings become Emperors by crushing potential rivals pour encourager les autres . Empires are a good thing- they move a fracitious people from thymotic, tribal, heteronomy  towards a Universal, Bureaucrato-legalistic, autonomy thus yielding a great advance in material Civilization. Yuddhishtra's repeated acceptance of a challenge to a dice game, as part of his bid to be recognised as Bharat's primus inter pares, put paid to his own, more traditional, more Brahminical, bid for Empery. His losing in the second dice game results in an Adullamite exile, during which he is forced to learn Game Theory for himself (Duryodhana outsources his Game Theory) and thus his alliance at Kurukshetra, though numerically smaller, has greater esprit d'corps at the top by reason of lateral ties and community of interest between commanders as opposed to  mere fealty to his own person. In the end, Yuddhishtra is not just a man of pinciple, he is the only actual principal rather than agent in the Mahabharata. After all, Duryodhana's father is alive. True, his father is a Regent, therefore a mere agent rather than principal, not a King. Precisely for this reason, like Bhima, Duryodhana sees the physical crushing of enemies as a legitimate act. He wishes to avenge his father who was passed over for the Kingship despite being Pandu's older brother. Similarly, when Yuddhishtra, despite being elder to Duryodhana, is forced to languish in exile rather than rule as King, Bhima declares his attention to avenge his elder brother by himself utterly destroying the Kauravas, Indeed, this is what triggers Yuddhishtra's Vishada (sorrow), which is only dispelled by hearing the Vyadha-Gita (Vyadha means butcher- Ashwattaman 'speech to Karna in 4.50 shows meat-vendors were proverbial for acquiring wealth through deceit and fraud)  after which he can learn Statistical Game Theory from the story of  Nala.

   Like Duryodhana, like Arjun, like everybody except Yuddhishtra in this Epic, Krishna, too is an agent, not a principal. Indeed, every avatar is an agent, not a principal, only put on earth to fulfil the Godhead's purpose. But, Krishna,in the Gita, is doubly an agent. Unlike his elder brother, Balram who, despite his partiality for Duryodhana, refuses to have anything to do with the blood-letting vishodhana at Kurukshetra, Krishna is committed to serving Arjuna as his charioteer, and thus unaware, by reason of being an agent rather than a principal, that actually Arjuna is none other than the Rg Vedic Hari, or chariot horse ever approaching night (this is the other side of the coin of Madhava’s reading of R.V 6.47.18) and thus His own self-slaying in Visvarupa goes in vain.
    Thus, it becomes apparent, the whole of the Gita is a, so highly cerebral as to be hilarious, proof  or demonstration that agents, as opposed to principals, neither kill (even themselves) nor are killed and thus are exempt from Philosophy which, as Socrates pointed out, is nothing but a practising of Death.  Which is another way of saying the Gita aint Hamlet, it’s friggin’ Rozencrantz and Guildenstern are dead.

     Hamlet’s dilemma- which is Agrippa’s trilemma- viz. how prove your belief is true when any proof anyone finds acceptable is still only a matter of belief- is actually pretty productive, not in deontic fields (stuff about ethics and values) where it cashes out as some sort of historicist hermeneutics, but alethic (positive, Scientific, factual) disciplines where it fuels the drive for more and more finely grained empirical instruments and observation.

     For ‘Second Order discourse’- i.e. Philosophy- it is noteworthy that Western Phenomenology and Occassionalism arise out of this trilemma. The former excuses its existence as follows- ‘I’m human. I see the world not as it is but as a human being. Yet, though human, I’ve got the concepts of doubt and certainty. So there must be some human ‘work’ I need to be doing before I can say ‘I’m certain about this’ or ‘this is a matter inherently riddled with the infirmity of doubt.’
     The problem here is that the Phenomen/Noumenon distinction, once its central concern is grasped, becomes immediately redundant- it is a distinction without a difference. Take that last sentence. It’s not actually a statement about what everybody believes. It’s a statement of what I believe. Surely, I should have said ‘In my opinion, the problem here is that....etc’. But, to constantly prefix every sentence I write with ‘in my opinion’ is simply a waste of words. It’s redundant. I mean, I sign this ‘Vivek Iyer’ though I know very well that it is only in my own opinion that I’m ‘Vivek Iyer’.  Mum, for example, is under the impression that I’m actually chamatha ‘good little’ Bikki whereas, less embarrassingly,  for my doting Dad, the words ‘badava’ (not from Urdu for pimp but ancient Aztec for ‘handsomer than Shah Rukh’ who, I may tell you, was my junior at School) and ‘rascal’ (ancient Maya ‘brilliant boy bound to become a Supreme Court Judge’) suffice to define me.

     As for Occassionalism- the notion that the set of things which lie far beyond the human ken- i.e. what we call God precisely because we can’t know what we name- is the actual efficient cause of everything and all the explanans we use either don’t exist or can’t exist, remaining incapable, in any case, of ever actually interacting with anything, thus cutting us off from being able to account for, or even properly perceive, causal processes- this notion, qua Philosophy, too is redundant. I suppose, in some cultures, it is de rigueur to prefix ‘God willing’ to any statement that implies agency- ‘Okay, you treat me to choley batore and your Hindi homework will get done, God willing’- but, it’s semantically redundant and serves a purely phatic purpose.

    In calling the Gita an epoché, quite obviously (in the idiot savant tradition to which all writers in Western languages on the Gita belong) I am systematically replacing any actual free reading of it with a fractious, and fatuous for fiercely reductive, reading into it- which is why, as you perusing this post, have already determined, I receive no soteriological benefit from it whatsoever- other than that of a Reverse Mereological, or Post-Modernly Meropean,  muddying of the Geeta’s waters providential to save my own self-fathered Caliban community which remains exclusively concerned with, though dying of thirst, not glimpsing its own reflection in that peerless and pellucid pool.

    What? Sorry, didn't quite catch ... Oh! You’re saying ‘No, no dear fellow- you are not muddying the waters of the Gita at all! Nor is anything you write difficult to follow. Perish the thought! This essay of yours is itself that Liriopean lake enriched by Narcissus’s love-struck gaze. Indeed, Vivek, as your esteemed Father says, you are truly a badava (in post-modern Urdu, not pimp but broker) enabling every Caliban to attain the beauty of Narcissus, at least in his own eyes, by gazing at the Pierian spring-fed pool of your Prose.’

    Well, you said it- not me! Still, I must admit, in your artless way, you have hit the mark.  Arjuna’s Agrippan Trilemma or Vishada- the fact that.backward induction renders every intentionality untenable- is nevertheless a starting point for a Grothendieck Yoga- uniting eidetic fields, such as sight and foresight, on the basis of greater generality by, not an abstract Husserlian reduction, but something purely human and existential- viz. the fact that Man is as an alethic fact and his deontics matters for his alethic survival and propagation. In other words, the Mind Body problem is solved by the fact that Minds can be evaluated by the degree to which they help or hinder Bodies to survive.

    Which in turn leads to Game Theory-which Yuddhishtra, lacking a Sakuni for Agent, himself has to learn as Principal- not to mention Evolutionary Biology, Mathematical Politics and all the other usual idiocies of our Age and idols of my tribe.

     To summarise, the fact that the Gita is structured as an epoché- but one in which both Krishna and Arjuna have certainty re. alethics (what will be) but not deontics (what ought to be)- is a necessary and sufficient condition for its elaboration of an Occassionalist doctrine. However, precisely because we can predict or explain its appearance, this Occassionalist message is not gratuitous and substantive but strategic and instrumental. Thus, it can't be its own meaning because it lacks ‘apurvata’. As a correspondent of mine informs me ‘  According to Mimansa hermeneutics, only those injunctions are Scripturally valid which have no worldly explanation or merit in that they point to invisible results beyond human understanding. Thus, if the Law Book says 'the King, modestly clothed, should listen to petitions while facing East'- the phrase 'modestly clothed' has a common-sense explanation, viz. that the King should not over-awe the petitioner by appearing in rich garments. Thus the King may omit this requirement without sin. However, since the injunction 'while facing East' has no common sense explanation, the King commits a Sin if he hears petitions in any other posture.

      The corollary is that if a textual simulation of one Philosophical blind alley occasions, as its  corrective, the traversal of another, especially if that cul de sac is Occassionalism, then, clearly, the meaning of the text can’t be taken as anything but a ‘plague on both houses’ so to speak.

    I'm not saying insha (deontics) doesn't cash out as khabar (alethics) or that we can never get an is from an ought or vice versa. What I am saying is you can't get either deontics or Theology out of the Gita. This is because, as in the case of Phineas slaying Zimri and Kosbi, the halachah revealed is halachah vein morin kein (a Law such that knowledge of it forbids the very action it otherwise enjoins). Why? Phineas is agent simply, not principal. Hence his elevation to the status of Kohain by Ha'shem.

      Thus, my conclusion is, the Gita as epoché shows there is a symmetry between Phenomenology and Occassionalism- they are duals of each other but redundant and empty save in the context of their unmeaning duel in which neither can slay or be slain because both are mere agents, mere instrumentalizations, of their own univocal Principal. This impasse, as much as epoché, both yields and illustrates the Supreme hermeneutic Principle that the meaning of a Text is always what can’t be explained, anticipated, or instrumentalized for any paltry purpose of pedagogy or polemics.

    You disagree? No. You don’t really.  I know the truth about you. That humiliating truth hidden in your heart’s deep cave. I know your shameful secret. What is it?
    I will tell you. Not because I want to humiliate you but because no one, and there are many people inside your head, no one except you will understand what I’m saying.

     You think your mother’s face is Beauty.
 You are rushing to see her and tasting the delight already.
     But, when you see her, you realize you never saw her before. You never knew what is Beauty. She is saying ‘Eat now. Don’t look at my face. Look at your plate. What is wrong? OMG! Still a child even at this age? You want I should feed you with my hand? Ooof oh! Enough already. Can’t you see, guests have come. Go look to them. What’s wrong I say? Why this tear in your eye? Oh.... must have lost that fancy job abroad and come back crying... Good. Thank God! I always knew it would happen. I said, go not abroad.. But who listens to me? Anyway, now you are back- your life will be Gold.’
But, you haven’t lost your job, nor have you really come back.
    True, you never listened to Mum- tho’ Mum’s words are the Gita- but now you realize you never actually even properly looked at that Sita.
Her Beauty.
Sita shoba kahe bhukane?
Mukh bin nain, nain bin bane
Of Sita’s splendour,only hacks have sung
 Tulsi, tongue lacks eye, eye lacks tongue!


  1. 'a Reverse Mereological, or Post-Modernly Meropean, muddying of the Geeta’s waters '
    WTF is this supposed to mean?
    In any case I just don't see what Phenomenology has to do with Hamlet or Arjuna.
    The Gita is Sita? Why?
    More confused than usual aren't we? What is it we've been smoking I wonder?

  2. Merope mistakes her son for her son's killer and raises her hand to kill him in his sleep. Meropean refers to a situation similar to that faced by Merope- the most famous dramatic situation in Classical literature- just as Oedipal refers to a situation similar to an situation faced by Oedipus.
    Reverse Mereology refers to the part exceeding the whole. Post Modern means suspicion of grand narratives such as Freud's Oedipal theory of history.
    Does this clarify things?
    Phenomenology is about finding out what can be known with certainty about things as far as we can know things. It does this by 'bracketing'. Yoga is a Phenomenology because it looks inwards not outwards. One doesn't go off looking for Moksha but finds it looking within. Arjuna's Vishada (depression) is called a Yoga for this reason. He is looking within.
    Sita is someone who can not be ravished or kidnapped or separated in any way from Ram. However, the dramatic interest of the Ramayana arises because the reverse appears to be the case.
    Think about this for a second.
    Do you now see why the Gita is Sita?
    If not let me know.

  3. No, since you ask, this does not clarify things.
    What IN THIS CONTEXT does Meropean mean?
    I still don't get how Phenomenology is like Yoga or has something to do with Arjun.
    I honestly don't know what you're getting at here. I suppose your point is that it doesn't matter what you're getting at because the Gita, like Sita, can't be 'got'. So you deliberately write nonsense because you think all writing about the Gita is nonsense.
    Fair enough, if that's your view. But why drag Phenonmenoalism and Occassionalism and epoche and deontology and what not into it?
    The other thing- please for God's sake space your paragraphs and indent your first lines and so on rather than expecting us to wade through a great slab of typeface.

  4. @Sanjay- I re-read the post and it's a case of fair cop, on both counts,Guv.
    The background to all this- the source of the 'dhvani' that is my lakshya- is I'm a vatsalya bhakti guy- that's my creed- i.e my brand of devotional theism is that based on the love dialectic between parent and child.
    Mention of Narcissus in my oeuvre invokes Liriope his Mum-
    'As Venus' rose from the brine, so Liriope's son from the lake
    'to break a water-sprite, God bade her waters break'
    'Long life, the oracles, opine, if he himself never know'
    All eyes yearn the sight, slain by what they show.'

    Merope links to Liriope in a sense. Her only justification for her killing her son is that her only son has been killed.
    In the case of both, something has gone wrong with the Mother-child gaze- and hence the pillai-bhakti dialectic.

    Certainly all writing about the Gita is nonsense, and sure, it can't be ravished or subjected to a Lankan captivity.
    Why not drag other nonsense- arrant nonsense like Phenomenology and Occassionalism and epoche and deontology etc- into it? Ex falso quodlibet.