Friday, 28 September 2012

Prashant Keshavmurthy & the Gadamerian Gestapo

N.B- this post has been revised on the basis of a negative comment.

Sanskrit poetry came into existence, so the story goes, when the Sage Valmiki witnessed the slaying of one of a pair of love birds amorously conjoined and spontaneously uttered a metrical couplet (shloka) in expression of his woe (shoka). The Grammarians maintain that this couplet is also an epitome of the Ramayana and, as such, could be said to call the events of that Epic into Being. Similarly, there is an Islamic tradition that when God asked 'am I not your Lord?', Adam and the sons of Adam replied 'Bala' which means both 'Yea!' and 'Woe' which is why Existence is full of sorrow.

Abu Mansur Maturidi, a tenth Century Turkish theologian, familiar with the doctrines of the Brahmins, passed on a story to the effect that Adam's grief at, his son, Abel's slaying- which apparently took place in India- first unsealed the fountainhead of Arabic poetry. A couple of centuries later, Awfi- perhaps the first literary theorist of Persian poetry, though  he resided in what is now Pakistan- mentions this legend and Dr. Prashant Keshavmurthy of McGill University has drawn our attention to it in a very well written essay-

Click here for the rest of Dr. Keshavmurthy's essay.
One passage I would like to highlight is that in which Awfi interrogates the nightingale & the rose-

   The problem here is that it is a fact of nature, not convention, that the mystic rose- so worthy of the rhapsodies of that winged and pious preacher, the nightingale- must, in bloom of riper days, tear its skirts and not from wantoness for, though that masculine music has stopped, the ballet has still not reached its denouement.
The rose's full blossoming falls in a season when the nightingale- which was believed to be a purely male species- has fallen silent. This conforms to that silence beyond the music of the spheres where the mystic rose unfolds itself to itself.

The Iranian Encyclopedia has this to say-  It is only during the mating season that male bolbols sing; then they become silent, though roses may continue to bloom for some time, which provides an answer to a question posed by Ḥāfeẓ (p. 160): “O Ḥāfeẓ, who can be told about this strange circumstance that we are bolbols silent at the time of roses?” Bolbols are “physically and behaviori­ally very unobtrusive birds, thus often going unnoticed; their presence is betrayed only by their singing”; furthermore, the male and female are alike (Hüe and Étchécopar, loc. cit.). These features seem to have led Persian poets and others to consider bolbols a species without females, so that the males direct their sexual desires toward roses. Persian mystical lore thus has developed around the gol o bolbol “rose and nightin­gale” motif, comparable to thešamʿ o parvāna “candle and moth” theme. The bolbol as bīdel (a disheartened lover), ʿāšeq-e zār (a miserable lover), šeydā (maddened by love), and the like was supposed neither to sleep nor to eat. In one metaphor the bird has “in his beak a rose petal of a lovely color;” Ḥāfeẓ, p. 290); sometimes, however, he is mast“drunk” (cf. ʿAṭṭār, p. 42, “the bolbol entered [the birds’ assembly] mast-e mast(com­pletely inebriated),” not with wine but with love of the gol. In fact, according to ornithologists, bolbols do feed on insects, worms, and berries; white-eared bulbuls also eat dates, causing serious damage to the crop in southern Iran (Hüe and Étchécopar, loc. cit.). Their supposed “drunkenness” can be explained by their amatory behavior during the mating season (note that mast also means “rutting” in modern Persian).

Dr.Keshavmurthy suggests that Awfi is grounding 'an account of the psychological origin of poetic fiction' in the trope of 'hairat' (astonishment, amazement, being arrested) as arising from a simulated naivety.
Yet, this is far from naive and is actually quite witty and satirical. The mystic rose is doomed to  wither in the vase of literature except of course it is not longer that which it signifies. The 'diegetic world of the ghazal' simply does not have the property of being outside Time or free of Autumn's blighting touch or disconnected from the rhythms of the natural world or 'its burgeoning polysemy which human senses can't cope with'. The reverse is the case.
Keshavmurty thinks Awfi is 'performing or siting the psychological origin of poetry in a failed mimesis of Nature's cycle of season'. But this is patently absurd! It is the Persian carpet, not the Persian poem, whose 'diegetic universe' is outside Time and change of Season. Time is the ineluctably modality of the audible as Space is of the visible. To confuse a ghazal for a kilm is as vulgar an error as mistaking the marble of Praxiteles for the methexis of Plato

My own feeling is that the material he so ably presents is best, that is most economically, approached from the, for poetry, eternally poignant, Rose & Nightingale, tashbih/tanzih antinomy rather than the chrematistic productivity of Gadamerian 'temporal distance' as a Credentializing availability cascade in which actual living traditions are the one thing not used for 'filling in the yawning abyss' between the text and ourselves because no such gulf exists- it is a modish mise en abyme merely, unless Hermeneutics really is Hell, nor we out of it.

Indeed, what can we say about our learned hermeneut's tashbih to the texts he permits us to cherish when what comes to pass thereby is not an epistemic break- all such rupture being our rasika rapture- but an impassable tanzih with respect to himself? How else are we to read in Maturidi's knowledge of Brahmanism or speculate, in the mirroir sans tain of Keshavmurthy's text, on the similarity of Maturidi's origin story for Arab metrical verse and that of its Sanskrit counterpart which, of course, Keshavmurthy must have imbibed with his mother's milk?

Instead what we get is all the obligatory, apple polishing, linguistically tortuous and literally meaningless, genuflections to gadarening Gadamer and other such swine-  even Judith Butler gets a Hosanna!- while no attempt is made to address the blindingly obvious question that has popped into the reader's mind viz. how come this Hindu guy reading Awfi doesn't think- 'well, Valmiki's couplet is also supposed to be a sort of prophesy- it encodes the whole Ramayana- so that has bearing on the question of whether prophets are prohibited poetry, indeed this fact might have been quoted, sub rosa, to support an esoteric hermeneutic, such that a passionate or figurative tashbih type utterance itself has alethic or even self-punitive force resolving the Nightingale & the Rose tashbih/tanzih antinomy re. univocity- such as is suggested by the Adamic  'bala!'- or else pointing to its bracketing in a barzakh of the Ibn Arabi type, and all this can happen within orthodox Hanafi tradition- which is all like way cool!- so lets see if Mutaridi's kitab al Tawhid itself can be mined for anything suggestive in this context coz that's the guy famous for knowing from Brahmanism'.
  In other words, why isn't Keshavmurthy doing a, Leo Strauss, 'persecution and the art of writing' kinda Catskill shtick instead of touching base with the gormless vacuity of goddam Gadamer?
  I dunno. I'll ask him. But he's scarcely likely to confess that people with PhD's gotta watch out for the Gadamerian Gestapo otherwise they get rounded up and cattle trucked to gas chambers. You remember the Bhopal disaster? It was a cover up. Fact is the victims weren't slum dwellers at all but actually posh JNU trained Professors who forgot to quote Gadamer every second sentence.
For which I personally blame David Cameron. That boy aint right.


Anonymous said...

I don't understand what point you are making- if any. This is a very good and scholarly essay which makes the important point that scholarly writers of Islam had a Scientific attitude and sophisticated approach. You may disagree but why not quote your sources and debate properly rather than resorting to ad hominem attacks? You are saying Imam al Maturidi was influenced by Brahmin Religion. Where is the proof? I have never heard any such thing. In fact that school is more strict than Ashari with respect to fate of infidels. If you are just depending on Wikipedia, as is shown by the link you give,then may I please inform you it is not reliable and anyone can just edit it as they like. No doubt the learned people had knowledge of other Religion but this does not mean they were influenced.
Gadamer stresses continuity of textual sources and strict standard of scholarship. Maybe that is your personal grudge against him but please display your great wisdom by showing what is the alternative? How else are scholars supposed to work? They can't just write any nonsense that comes into their heads. That job is left to ignorant bloggers who only display their own stupidity for all to see.

windwheel said...

I agree that Islamic scholars had a Scientific attitude and sophisticated approach. I've no quarrel with you there. Also, yes, I'm relying on Wikipedia, so I might be totally wrong about Maturidi knowing about Brahmanism. I've just Googled this but can't find anything at this moment but will ask around and get back to you.
I suspect that there is something out there I'd find interesting and that it will involve a type of mantic utterance as self-fulfilling prophesy such that the utterer, though intelligent and having equal access to relevant facts, or valency of belief, nevertheless damns himself and this type of utterance is important for the Mutaridi/Ashari distinction.
In Econ, I'm thinking about all the reasons why there will be negative return Investment even with perfect information and this has relevance to that.
So for the moment, I'll say to you 'Fair cop, Guv'- I still think I'm right but, okay, conceded, I haven't really presented an argument.
But give me another bite at the cherry- i.e. let me get back to you in a couple of days in this comments section and then by all means pulverise me again- if you can.

windwheel said... is the source of the claim that Mautridi knew something of Brahminism but maybe there is some ideological or sectarian issue here which makes this unreliable.
Actually, poor old Keshavmurthy probably couldn't bring up Valmiki for fear of being labelled a Hindutva fanatic so once again Strauss trumps Gadamer.
I must correct you on one point- you write- 'Scholars can't just write any nonsense &c.'- this is highly insulting to Scholars. They can and do nothing else. Your envy has blinded you. BTW your mother, whom I'm doing, never liked you and all your friends think you smell bad. Just thought you ought to know.