Sunday, 11 November 2012

Is Indology part of the Humanities or the sub-Humanities?

Prof. Sheldon Pollock holds that the reader of the Ramayana has no means of knowing what Rama feels or whether he feels and, furthermore,  'Rama's 'true feelings' will remain secret, properly so, for they are quite irrelevant to the poem's purposes.' 
In his essay on Bhatta Nayaka, we get a clue as to why Pollock might maintain so grotesque a view
If it makes no difference whether 'rasa is engendered, inferred or manifested in the character' then why do Porn movies have a sound-track of groans and moans? Why does Jackie Chan take the trouble to do his own stunts and tell us about it? Why do we feel Amy Winehouse's singing is in a different class to Kylie Minogue's? No doubt, there are people who make no such distinction. They will beat their meat even if the porn actors show no enthusiasm for their joyless labor. The existence of this class of people enables bad Art to survive. But, theirs is a damaged subjectivity. If everybody was like that Society would be dysfunctional. The Evolutionary Stable Strategy is that they remain a minority.
Now the Mimamsa ritualists had a certain axe to grind, a fact Pollock very well knows, yet he himself, without himself practicing those rituals or even coveting the ends that those rituals purport to attain, affirms precisely the same view-point.
Why?
The answer, I suppose, is that there's something missing in his make-up. The reason people like the Ramayana is because they feel for the characters. The characters suffer and the reader feels empathy. Human Society, for reasons that Evolutionary Psychology explains, contains a majority which has this quality and seeks to further develop it. If the minority, who lack this quality, got dictatorial power and  re-wrote every book according to their own taste- the vast majority of people would stop reading because there would be no good books. Literature would be produced by the sort of Computers Orwell describes in 1984.
What, I wonder, is the 'unique kind of experience and knowledge' one can gain from the Ramayana if its characters are considered not to have any feelings? Well, one invaluable nugget is driving instructions for flying cars and another is how to build a bridge to Sri Lanka and a third is Pollock's hieratic model of Hindu Kingship.
I suppose, there were and perhaps still are some people who believe in the flying car and the bridge to Sri Lanka and so on. But we know them to be idiots. When Subramaniyam Swamy mentions the Ram Setu, we know he is being hypocritical and that his assertions in this matter are wholly strategic and not at all alethic.

Initially, I gave Pollock the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps his writing on the Ramayana was a politically correct response to the Ram Janmabhoomi campaign. But, his essay on Bhatta Nayaka suggests a more alarming possibility. He just isn't hard-wired to 'get' Literature. Had he stuck to Latin and Greek, he'd have been found out. Indology, on the other hand, comes under the rubric of, not the Humanities, but the sub-Humanities. Good thing too. If they just lower the bar a little further- us Economists can take over. Amartya Sen is already half way there. Come to think of it Subramaniyam Swamy was once an Economist. OMG it's already happening! AAAAARGH! This is like the time I watched all the Planet of the Apes films back to back while high on cough syrup. No, Helena Bonham Carter, I don't want a hummer. Never thought I'd say it- but there it is.

5 comments:

  1. [The answer, I suppose, is that there's something missing in his make-up.]

    That would mean that Pollock is a psychopath, but I'm sure the truth is that he's just talkin'.

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    1. Yes, but this is the problem, he's lost his self-censor. Had he remained a Classicist and said something equally foolish about Aristotle, everybody would have come down on him like a ton of bricks. Actually, back in the Seventies, there were still plenty of retired ICS officers who had studied Skt. to qualify for a pay increment and they'd have taken Pollock to task if he ventured too far down any rabbit hole. That sort of countervailing pressure on the Indologist no longer obtains.
      But I wouldn't say 'psychopath' just a sort of autistic hypo-mentalism such that the reciprocal nature of rasa is negated. Now, a certain sort of Mimamsa apologist has every reason to negate the reciprocal element in ritual essentially because then the inner state of the priest ceases to be relevant. Within Christianity, the dogma that the priest's state of grace or lack thereof is irrelevant to whether he can validly baptise or conduct Mass, is similarly motivated. But, Christianity brings in a complex ontology here, contemplating the difficulties of which countless good people have attained soteriological felicity. Is the same true of the position Pollock affirms re. the Ramayana? Can it be that either for a Scholar- such as yourself- or a simple sinner, like me, that the Ramayana can confer any benefit if all its characters are seen as 'herteronomous' or that no 'rasa' can be attributed to its characters? In Greek, the term methexis is used for this 'participation' in the rasa of the characters of the play. But methexis is a tough concept- the brightest minds in Europe have puzzled over it, were Pollock writing about a Greek poet- say Sophocles- he'd have to be hugely more circumspect. He may be able to make the same point- actually Carl Schmitt's essay on Hecuba- (Hamlet asks 'what is Hecuba to me that I should feel distress at the imaginary suffering of this imaginary person)- is a classic example of a guilty man trying to give a Mimamsa type excuse for his conduct- the Jews weren't real you see, it was all some complicated political game, I am not guilty of anything because I'm really smart, look, even Shakespear, who is about feeling sympathy for unexpected people, like Shylock or Othello or even Richard the hunchback, is actually not about that at all. There was some esoteric politics going on and I, Carl Schmitt, the great Legalist philosopher, didn't do anything wrong because I'm in the know, dontchasee, this is what Vogelin termed 'gnosticism'- people 'in the know' don't have to have empathy or sympathy because nobody is really suffering and even if they are- shame about Anne Frank- what's really important is my incredible cleverness in seeing something about the Law which people like Leo Strauss and Agamben and Zizek are gonna drool over.
      My problem with Pollock is not that he doesn't respond to Ramayana or whatever the way I do. The elite type of Bhramins (whom, as a class, I respect just as much as I respect Shramans) no doubt had people like this. Maybe such people are necessary. I guess it's helpful if the camera-man for a Porn film is totally asexual- still, the fact is Porn is a bad thing. But, gotta say, Hinduism or Catholicism or Islam or whatever aint Porn. Okay, maybe, that just goes to show how stupid and ignorant and 'pariah class' I am. But, at least, I write in a way that is stupid and ignorant and hateful. Pollock aint doing that- if his is an elite argument, he has to bring elite values into play in advancing it. That means being clever, that means being suave- jus' talkin' don't cut it.

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  2. [Had he remained a Classicist and said something equally foolish about Aristotle, everybody would have come down on him like a ton of bricks.]

    But aren't the classicists and all the rest of the humanities talking the same kind of crap at this point?

    I guess Pollock may actually have support for what he's saying, within the literature from which he's saying it, but those theoreticians were probably just talking too. As you say, everyone who responds to stories is responding to the characters -- even when the facade of the character is momentarily lifted, ironically: I'm thinking of the famous later Ramayana, the Adhyatmikaramayana I think, in which a selfconscious irony often prevails: I've never read it, but one moment in particular is famous, in which Sita says to the vacillating Lakshmana, "Well OF COURSE you have to go after the deer! have you ever heard of a Ramayana in which Lakshmana didn't go after the deer??" Euripides' occasional satirization of hs mythic material also comes to mind. People can laugh at such momentary ironic asides and then get back into the characters.

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    1. Well, I have read the Adhyathmayaramayana and a lot else besides- in that particular instance there is a full blown occasionalism such that we taste the specila ontological rasa of the hiatus valde deflandum, or epoche, such that apurvata arises, though the apurva effect is already known. I have analysed this as analogous with the Ibn Arabi's concept of cocnetp of barzakh or Tibetan bardo and its concomitant in the 'Story of the Stone'
      I'm afraid, you haven't really advanced anything relvant or new here.
      Euripides opens the door to romance and romance doesn't satririze its origins in the Aesychlean sense. Satire aint the same thing as facetiousness.
      Look at the Valmiki Ramayan- why does Lord. R say 'kindly marry laxman, or Vibhishana or so and so. Why does he name these people? Clearly so they can't say anything when Sita decided to Suttee. If they open their mouth she will bitterly berate them for lusting after her body.
      Adhyatma and other Ramayanas are duals useful for the hereditary caste who transmitted this wonderwork.
      Aeschylus mocks his material, so does Sophocles, Euripedes appears to us more romantic but there's a lot we don't know because we aint Greek.
      I am Indian, I do know about the Ramayana, Unlike Pollock who merely translated it, I've actually read it.
      If Sita does not enter the fire, Ram's Mum and Dad and everybody who was killed in the War don't come back to life- so of course you have to go after the deer and of course I have to go into the fire. But, like Christ's sacrifice on the cross where he actually quotes a Psalm from his Mum's zaboor which shows he knows he dun bin coming back- that don't cancel the Passion, the Harrowing of Hell.
      You say 'Pollock may actually have support within the literature & c'- you are wrong. There is no warrant in any relevant literature to support the notion, for Hindus, that Rama is heteronomous, all the characters in it are heteronomous, there is no rasa in it which we derive from it save by methexis.
      I would be interested to hear why you think differently.

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  3. [I would be interested to hear why you think differently.]

    Oh, I didn't want to give that impression. When I meet people who know a lot I make a lot of stabs in the dark.

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