Thursday, 18 October 2012

Vishva Adluri, Sheldon Pollock & 'Deep Orientalism'.

Sheldon Pollock was just a naive young shiksa playing the Barbara Streisland role in Summer Stock revivals of Funny Girl and Schindler's List when Edward Said wrote a very silly book called 'Orientalism' which was about how like there were these European professors and they said some awfully mean  things about A-rabs, okay?- and then coz like Foucault said Knowledge is like about Power, okay? and like them mean old Europeans had some power, okay? and like many Arabs didn't have as much, y'know? and that's like real important, dude, coz it's like 'Orientalism'? And that's bad okay?
The problem with Said's thesis is that the Europeans who had power didn't care about the stupid prejudices of European professors because in Europe and America and everywhere else, Professors have no power and are widely regarded as shitheads. Moreover, people with or without power are perfectly capable of making stupid, ignorant and prejudiced comments about any topic under the sun and so they didn't need Professors egging them on to treat some Arabs, who didn't have much power, badly because that's what  evil bastards do in the ordinary course of things.

Anyway, Said's book was a best-seller and so Sheldon Pollock wanted to write something even sillier because that's how Professors compete with each other. Amazingly enough, in 1993, he actually managed to write a paper even stupider than Said's book. In this paper he claimed that German Indologists- an industrious but low I.Q bunch of pedants who produced dictionaries and grammars and translations- i.e. who did some donkey work- were in fact so influential that they managed to get the German people to sign up for Nazism and Genocide because unlike English or French Orientalism 'which were directed outward at conquering and subduing foreign races', German Indology was 'potentially directed inwards towards the domination of Europe itself'.
German scholars protested that this was nonsense. The German people, like German politicians, cared nothing for German Indology. Latin was of interest to Catholics, Hebrew and Greek were important for Protestants- the Germans are a Christian nation- but Sanskrit did not matter, Pali did not matter, the religious observances of the Hindus or Buddhists or whatever was a matter of profound indifference to them. True there were all sorts of silly mystical ideas floating around. But these would have existed even if India had never existed. The India of the Aryans was on a par with the lost continent of Atlantis or the Tellurian civilization which survives under the Earth or the flying monkeys of Oz or the talking Triangles of Flatland.

No doubt some Indologists showed some marks of 'scientific method' in their donkey work. Indubitably, some Indologists, like every other type of Scholar, jumped on the Nazi bandwagon or provided material for Nazi ideologues, but Indology was no more complicit in the burgeoning of Nazism than Meiji era pornography or Mayan numerology.

The question facing Indian intellectuals is whether they can write something even stupider than Edward Said or sillier than Sheldon Pollock. Sadly, the answer is no, not yet. But Prof Visva Adluri comes close. Defending |Pollock's 'Deep Orientalism',  from a German critic he writes-
In other words, Pollock is saying, German Indologists were compiling their dictionaries and getting on with other such donkey work in a rational and methodical manner- let's call that 'scientific method'. True, they occasionally expressed some ideas of their own which were utterly stupid. let us term that stupidity- ideology. Adluri now makes his stunning argument. Since something German Indologists did was 'scientific' rather than 'ideological', and since like all other branches of Scholarship, Indology too jumped on the Nazi bandwagon, it therefore follows that it was the 'uncritical acceptance of the rhetoric of Science' which made German Indology unusually susceptible to being harnesssed to the most diverse and inhuman of ends.' 
Schrodinger knew a lot about both Science and Indology. He wasn't susceptible to being 'harnessed to the most diverse and inhuman of ends'. Andre Weil knew a lot about both Science and Sanskrit- he decided not to fight in the Second World War because that's how he interpreted the message of the Gita. Why was he not susceptible to 'being harnessed to the most diverse and inhuman of ends?' Clearly there were a lot of people in Europe who were extremely susceptible to being harnessed to the most diverse and inhuman of ends. But many if not most of them did not display an 'uncritical acceptance of the rhetoric of Science'. They did display an uncritical acceptance of the rhetoric of Hitler- but Hitler's ranting wasn't Science.

Adluri defense of Pollock, he tells us, is not based on showing that some Indologists were Nazis but that 'scientific' German Indology, by reason of its uncritical attachment to the rhetoric of Science, was somehow bound to express itself as a drive to dominate Europe. He quotes the example of Jakob Wilhelm Hauer-
Is Adluri right? Was Hauer a 'scientific Indologists' or just an 'ideologue'? Let us look at the facts. Hauer was humbly born and went to India as a Missionary. He learnt a bit of Sanskrit and, like the ultra-lovable American Missionary Samuel Stokes- Himachal's Johhny Appleseed-  abandoned Christianity under the influence of the Gita. He came back to Germany and after some further studies managed to get a teaching post. He also started up a new Religion of his own.
 So- what's your verdict? Was this guy a 'scientific linguist', like Saussure, or was he an 'ideologue' like Savitri Devi?
Recall, British India would have interned Hauer had he been in India in 1914.  Conditions in the Camps weren't always good. Tiny Rowland's parents were interned in India and it turned him against Britain permanently.
Savitri Devi too turned against the Brits because she was half Greek and (why?) misinterpreted British policy as a 'betrayal' of her nation (Eugenides shows that the Greek tragedy in Smyrna was 'self-inflicted' by a worthless windbag of a drug addled Athenian self proclaimed Alciabiades.)
People, even seemingly intelligent people, do stupid things. So what? How does a selective doxography of stupidity advance any Research Program?

Vishava Adluri teaches Philosophy- yet this is the argument he makes-
 Grunendahl says- look these guys didn't become Nazis because they were doing 'scientific' Indology- there were other reasons, for example that they were just predisposed to be Nazi type shitheads. Adluri says- sorry, Grunendahl, nice try but no cigar. Your argument might be persuasive if you guys (that is German Indologists) had distanced yourself from them.
Adluri's argument is simply mad. If German Indology really is conceives of itself as 'scientific'- or as Wissenschaft- then it thinks of itself as being like Chemistry or Maths. The fact that a guy is a Commie or Nazi or whatever does not change the Science he does. He still gets credit for his Scientific discoveries. At least that's what happens in Liberal Democracies. Adluri teaches in America but he does not know this. So why is he making such a ridiculous argument? The answer is that he thinks the fact that there was even a little bit of 'science' in Hauer means that Pollock is right; it was that bit of Science which turned Hauer Nazi. But here is the problem. Hauer was a stupid man. He loved the Gita. So he read whatever he wanted into it and said everything else was an interpolation. This isn't doing 'science' at all. Scientists have to be disinterested. Hauer wasn't. It doesn't matter what contemporary German Indologists think, unless you can show they are not morons but Adluri provides evidence that they are all worthless shitheads.
Adluri's inability to reason matches that of the German Indologists. All he has proved is the common sense view that Professors are stupid donkeys. That's one reason why they have no influence or power. They may be good at arse-licking but so are a lot of equally worthless sociopaths who don't got from education.
Adluri quite correctly shows the worthlessness of German Indology- which refuses to actually learn from India (okay, Paul Thieme was an exception because he taught for a couple of years in Allahabad)- but what Pollock or he himself is doing is exactly the same thing.

In other words, Pollock's 'Deep Orientalism' is right because German Indologists were stupid donkeys who, unfortunately, were German and hence suffered from Germanism. But what is this 'Germanism'?
Adluri evokes, in the second sentence of the passage quoted above, Hegel's struggle for Recognition as well as the notion of alterity. Is he suggesting that these concepts only have relevance to German people? Why? Is it in their D.N.A? Perhaps it has to do with their potty training? Surely, instead of talking about Indology, Adluri should talk about Germany and why it creates these savants who 'by reason of an uncritical acceptance of the rhetoric of Science' end up 'harnessed to diverse inhuman ends'. Or is Adluri saying that Indology somehow worsened Germanism, that it made that disease more virulent? Yet there were Scholars of all sorts of other things, besides Indology, who were attracted to Nazism.
The answer to this question is that, yes, Adluri really does have a theory of 'Germanism'.  What is it? Let us see how a German Indologist, Grunendahl, summarizes and responds to Adluri's astonishing discovery.
'Thanks to Adluri’s “own research” we now see what this agenda (i.e. German Indology as being complicit in Nazi ideology) is about, namely, “that German Indology was always far more preoccupied with the rivalry with its European peers than with legitimizing colonization” (which colonization this might have been is not specified, and probably awaits further research); in fact, “one can notice a preoccupation throughout its history with claiming a ‘European’ identity for itself,” an outrageous claim indeed, it must be said, “albeit one that also takes into consideration its unique place among other European nations” (2011: 266). One stands in awe at the profundity of these insights, and realizes only too clearly that common sense is indeed an urgent desideratum here, to say nothing of evidence-based research.' 

Said's 'Orientalism' passed muster as a sort of protest against racial stereotypes and 'essentialism'. Pollock's Deep Orientalism- on the evidence of Adluri's essay- is not interested in rejecting racial stereotypes but in reinforcing them with the stupidest, most parochial reasoning possible.
Why is he doing it? Everybody knows the Germans were deeply provincial pedants and shitheads.True they were industrious in a mindless sort of way. That's why they were good at the philological donkey work in their PhD factories. Yes, like all deeply provincial pedants incapable of reasoning they had a great opinion of themselves. American Indologists aren't any better. But whereas the Germans tried to conquer Europe and failed and were conquered instead, America hasn't been conquered. But that's scarcely Pollock's fault.
Returning to Adlui's theory of Germanism, the authentically German, Grunendahl writes- 'In this endeavour, too, Adluri merely echoes Pollock, who “had set the stage for radically rethinking…[the] scholarly dogmas on India” (257) by declaring that “in a post-colonial and post-Holocaust world,…these traditional foundations and uses of Indology have disappeared,…crumbled” and led to a feeling of “impotence” and “loss of purpose” (Pollock 1993: 111, 113); in short, Indologists “no longer know why they are doing what they do” (88). Consequently, we can only expect an “Indology beyond the Raj and Auschwitz” (114) from “self-consciously responsible scholarship in late twentieth-century America” 
"As Pollock’s post-Orientalist messianism would have us believe, only late twentieth-century (and now twenty-first-century) America is intellectually equipped to reject and finally overcome Eurocentrism” and “European epistemological hegemony,” that is, “a pre-emptive European conceptual framework of analysis [that] has disabled us from probing central features of South Asian life, from pre-western forms of ‘national’ (or feminist, or communalist, or ethnic) identity or consciousness, pre-modern forms of cultural ‘modernism,’ pre-colonial forms of colonialism”

So now you know.
Personally, I blame David Cameron.
That boy aint right.


elisa freschi said...

:-D Quite an interesting comment at the end of a tirening exchange of articles/accusations/emails among the people you mention! Especially as for Pollock's over-evaluation of the power of Indology teachers in Germany and as for the myth of Indology as science.

Anonymous said...

I hope you got to read The Nay Science and realized where you misunderstood Adluri.

windwheel said...

Adluri should have read me. I have a non-historicist reading of the Mahabharata which has 'apoorvata'- i.e. doesn't cash out as mystagogic shite- but then, so does every non-pedant who reads it or hears it recited or just watches it on TV.