Tuesday, 13 November 2012

Rebecca Gould & Sheldon Pollock's Bollocks

What does this sentence mean?

This oeuvre further demonstrates that it is possible to attain seemingly unattainable depth by virtue of those very same engagements that run the strongest risk of superficiality: i.e. saying silly, superficial things, can help other people feel they have attained 'unattainable depths'. One way of being sure to say silly, superficial things, is to be stupid and have a reckless disregard for the truth. Someone or other reading you will feel they have 'attained seemingly unattainable depths'. But, the question arises, how does one make a living out of telling stupid lies? The answer is to pose as a Professor of something nobody is interested in. If you only report valid results your readership will be tiny and, in any case, you will find you are wrong 90 per cent of the time. The other way to go is to just strategically pile up bad translations of source material and pad it out with seemingly politically correct tendentious logorrhoea. Nobody is going to point out your stupidity because you are a Professor of something stupid by definition. But, your stupidity productively enables stupidity in others so suddenly you have a readership outside your own shitty little lavatory stall.

In drawing attention to Dr. Rebecca Gould's seminal study of the methodology of Prof. Sheldon Pollock, I seek to celebrate my own unprecedented discovery that words sometimes mean something and it is entirely as a logical consequence of this extraordinary insight of mine that a sentence like the following almost becomes meaningful- 'Pollock's unprecedented discovery is not just that texts encode a political relationship to the world, but that literary languages themselves are instruments of power; Latin and Sanskrit helped to shape rather than merely reflect the realities that the scholar of premodernity reconstructs.'
Latin is a different language from Sanskrit. It has a different history. It therefore follows that Western hegemony is somehow preordained because-
'Causality is a questionable category of analysis in any philosophically aware literary history, and it would be inaccurate to imagine that there could ever be a single reason for the dominance of the Western world in modernity. It is nonetheless necessary to juxtapose the historical fact of European hegemony with the world that Pollock describes with unparalleled detail and sophistication. In the Latin cosmopolis, by Pollock’s account, language mastered space, while in the latter case, the “language of the gods” (the Sanskritic term for Sanskrit) saw itself as transcending the coordinates of space and time. '
Gould's argument goes as follows- Pollock says Latin 'knew' the limits of its Empire. Sanskrit didn't. So Latin remained connected to History and Reality while Sanskrit migrated away to some transcendent realm.
The problem here is that there are some Latin writers who don't know the limits of Latin obtaining at their time of writing and some Sanskrit writers who do know the geographic limits of Sanskrit at their time of writing. Yes, England was a hegemonic power in India and the Latins had once colonized England but that still does not justify this line of reasoning. Latin didn't master space. Irigenia wrote in Latin, did that enable him to 'master space?'. Carvaka wrote in Sanskrit, did that enable him to migrate to the realms of the Gods?

Gould and Pollock are making a very simple methodological error- viz. thinking words are actually people who can have projects and ambitions and super-powers from being bitten by radio-active spiders. Thus if some guy says in Latin' Latin has a center' then suddenly Latin gets that magic power.  If someone says in Sanskrit 'verily this language is divine' then right away that Language gains the super-power of being free from Time and Space. What if I were to say 'Hindi tera gand marta hai'? Well, if Gould is right, then Hindi would immediately be guilty of sodomizing you and so Urdu would get all jealous and there'd probably be a Nuclear War.

Gould finds much to marvel at in Pollock-  like this 'His masterly analysis of a fifth-century inscription from Karnataka ably reveals the limitations of former scholarship that dismissed prasasti texts as mere documentary records. “If as a genre prasasti can be said to be about anything,” Pollock concludes, “it is as much about exploring the capacities of the Sanskrit language for the production of praise as the content of praise itself” (137). From here, we are initiated into a social world that privileges the aesthetic priorities of literature. This world—and here is the shocking part—is entirely new, in spite of the fact that it is situated in medieval South Asia. The most important lesson to be drawn from the pra´sasti readings is that literature was the location as well as the form of a political articulation of power. After reading about a world wherein literature can write politics, the student of literature and theory is led to ask, what implications does this have for the meaning of the political in the world we inhabit now?'
The odd thing here is that Gould is a native English speaker. She must have graduated High School. So she must have been taught about euphuism in Elizabethan England. Furthermore, she is a Persian scholar. She must have read thousands of euphuistic chronograms. So why does she find it so startling that medieval India had a euphuistic genre or panegyric which was as interested in 'exploring the capacity of the language for the production of praise as the content of praise itself?'.  The truth is Literature has always and everywhere been both 'the location as well a form of the political articulation of power'. So has Architecture. So has cooking. So has hair dressing. However, if Gould thinks it Literature was the only form of the political articulation of power in medieval India she is simply mad. Or, is it really the case that there are 'scholars' out there who believe that some genre of writing exists which has magic properties? You put up an inscription in this type of language and suddenly everybody treats you like an absolute monarch. But even if Gould believes that this happened sometime in the past, how can she believe that something like that is available today, in our modern world? Look at the question she asks-
'After reading about a world wherein literature can write politics, the student of literature and theory is led to ask, what implications does this have for the meaning of the political in the world we inhabit now?'
So, according to Gould, what should students of literature and theory do right now? Oughtn't they to continually experiment with different languages and genres- maybe write a computer program to make things quicker- till they hit upon a formula which has this magical property of creating political power? After all, Dr. Faustus could keep the plague out of a City by just writing some Latin on a poster. So the Faustian, Eurocentric, Dr. Gould must be doing the same thing, mustn't she? Except, I don't believe she is. She isn't really mad, it's just that she's writing a praise poem to Pollock for some reason of academic politics and so she doesn't have to bother with logic or facts or even the pretense of basic intelligence.

Apart from this novel theory of language, Gould also has some great insights into Eurocentrism.
 Is there any possible world, not actually run by Nazi robots from the 28th Century, where the following sentence is not nonsense?
'Eurocentrism is the conditioning possibility for contemporary knowledge, and Pollock’s work more than any other helps us to make sense of this predicament as well as how to move beyond it.'
 Suppose I want to know about Urdu poetry- specifically that of Ghalib. Is Eurocentrism a conditioning possibility for my knowledge? No. Eurocentrism can only mislead me and impoverish my reception of Ghalib. Islamocentrism, on the other hand, redeems every line Ghalib writes and makes it poignant and philosophically interesting. But maybe my knowing stuff about Ghalib isn't 'contemporary knowledge'.

What about Sanskrit literature- what if I want to know about the Ramayana? Can Sheldon Pollock help me learn about the Ramayana? No. He says that we can't know what any character in the Ramayana feels or why they decide to do something. According to him, no one in the Ramayana believes himself or herself to have any freedom of action. This would be fine if Pollock had some Eurocentric theory to explain things. Suppose he says, Rama says x because he believes that he has no freedom of action and thus has to say whatever the Deity of the Ramayana wants him to say. It so happens that Deity is some dead European guy. So, I can now tell you what happens in the Ramayana on the basis of my having read that dead White European guy. For e.g., when Rama says 'Hi hi, holy Rishi dudes, can I protect you from some demons?'- what is actually happening is that the sciatica of the Aryan Weltshmerz is treating itself to a hypolkeimenon spa because...urm...anything else would be decadence and anyway read your Hegel why don't you?

The problem with Pollock is that he isn't offering anything to replace the traditional Indian reading of the Ramayana. He simply says- this reading is wrong. There isn't a Freudian or a Marxist or David Ickean reading to replace it. The Ramayana is meaningless simply. This is certainly a novel point of view. Perhaps that's what makes it 'contemporary'. But why drag Eurocentrism into it? There are many people with various sorts of cognitive impairments who will find not just the Ramayana but any book or film or play utterly meaningless. We may congratulate Pollock at arriving at the same conclusion by himself but where is the proof he isn't simply mentally impaired?
Rebecca Gould isn't an Indologist. She herself points out Pollock's contradictory assertions in the first page of her essay but does not draw the obvious conclusion- viz. Pollock talks bollocks.  A guy who says 'x is true' and then 'x is not true' is not smart- he's stupid. He has lost the ability to reason. That is not merely a Eurocentric view, it is an Indocentric, a Sinocentric an anywhere-centric view.
Gould concentrates on the question 'how does newness enter the world?' The answer is the same whether you are European or Zulu. Newness, apoorvata, enters the world either
1) when a cause and effect relationship previously unknown gains currency. Something new came into my life when I bought a laptop. True, initially, I just wrote on its surface, but when someone showed me how to turn it on and use the keyboard I evolved into a great Hindutva blogger.
2) when a lag occurs between cause and effect- this is Mimamsa 'apoorvata' 'novelty or meaningfulness'  obtains in the gap between the cause and its as yet unfructified, apurva, effect. A type of literary theory exists which can look at hysteresis effects of this sort. Indeed, such theory might even be said to an advance on that of Gramsci in that it is based on more up to date Economics. But Pollock is entirely innocent of any such thinking.
You may argue- granted, Economics is a science which studies both the types of 'newness' listed above. But isn't it Eurocentric? The answer is no. Europe just isn't particularly interesting for Econ and hasn't had any paradigmatic 'newness' for about a hundred years now. So, Economics is not Eurocentric nor is Physics nor is Literature nor is Philosophy.
But even if all these disciplines were Eurocentric, it still would not license self-contradiction as a mark of some great intellectual depth. There have been some very stupid Europeans but, as a whole, Europeans have never considered the inability to make a logical argument a proof of anything but stupidity.
Even if Europe has traditionally used Indology as a dumping ground for its imbeciles, Pollock isn't European so there is no good reason for his Indology to be so stupid. After all, many Americans look up difficult words before using them in sentences to ensure that what they write isn't utterly stupid. Why can't Pollock do the same thing?

Gould asks ': How is literature born from the nonliterary and textuality from the oral? How does modernity emerge from the past? How does vernacular consciousness arise in contexts where it did not exist before? '
Surely, there is no great mystery here. The 'literary' is collocational and literary effort is a collocational tatonnement which is going to exhibit the same dynamic properties as other Social processes. The question of 'vernacular consciousness' is a non-question at least for Europe. Kids learned their mother tongue from their Mommy. Then some of them went to School. But they could still talk to their Mummies and the other kids who didn't go to School. During some periods this mother tongue came closer and closer to the scholarly language, during others it moved away from it. The thing can be modeled as collocational availability cascades.
What has Pollock to say that is at all interesting in this regard?
Okay, from time to time, someone might say 'this is a sacred language' or some group of people, like the Magians, may say 'common people mustn't be allowed to read our hieratic Pehlevi' and there might be a Socio-Economic or Theological motive for this. But, this isn't particularly interesting and addresses no broad epistemological  curiosity or other Research Program we might have.
Gould asks the question-  'How is the desacralizing process Pollock deems central to the shift within ancient Indian history from the Sanskritic culture of the Vedas into the Sanskrit of kavya (implicitly, Pollock seems to argue, a secular institution) marked historically? How do worlds come into being without antecedents? How can we describe and discern what has never been said before? How, in short, is newness born?'

One reason asking questions is normally a good thing is because you can rule out various sorts of response in advance. My question, 'where is the toilet?' is framed such that I can rule out as irrelevant or nonsensical every politically correct or Eurocentric response.  You may say that my desire to defecate is an example of 'something new entering the world' and therefore that Pollock is relevant. However, my view is that, he is not an appropriate toilet except maybe for handicapped people.
There is no evidence that Vedic Sanskrit was ever sacred- in the sense of not being used for ordinary purposes- and thus there is no question of any desacralizing every happening. I suppose it is possible to argue that some Non Indo Aryan speaking communities preserved Sanskrit as a purely sacred language. That is why no Sanksrit words are to be found in the dialects of their priestly castes. What? There are thousands of Sanskrit words in their dialects? Books on Medicine and Geography and Maths were composed in Skt? Oh! Well I guess Skt never was sacred at all. What about the epigraphic evidence? Is it not the case that people used vernaculars because Skt was too sacred? Nope. Sorry. Not true. Okay, but hang on, is everything Pollock writes total Bollocks? 'Fraid so.
The Sraman religions adopt Skt because they wanted to avoid confusing Commentary with Scripture- but their Scripture was in Prakrit. There is no division between 'sacred' and non-sacred languages. The Family Purohit to the Thai Royal family chants both Old Tamil and Skt. verses. MS Subbalaxmi or Yesudas sang both Skt and Vernacular language Sacred compositions. Sikh Savants used Braj Bhasha, Tamils preferred Telugu.
Gould asks the right question- how does newness enter the world- but doesn't draw the obvious conclusion. Sacrality itself is something new. Where does Pollock import it from?
Is it really reasonable that a language can somehow just up sticks and migrate out of Historicity into some Transcendental realm?
Of course it is Vivek. OMG you are so ignorant.There are many examples of this happening. Remember, I told you not to bother learning Swahili when you were 7?  That was because Swahili itself had said 'don't bother learning me.' You said 'if I don't learn you, Swahili Madam,  Mrs. Mwanga will slap me so hard my teeth will rattle'. 'Don't worry, Swahili replied, you just tell Mrs. Mwanga that Swahili has recently decided to 'separate itself from daily life to define for itself a universal sphere which is transregional and outside time'.
Guess what? Swahili was lying. It just liked getting you into trouble with Mrs. Mwanga is all.
But don't blame Swahili too much. The fact is Mrs. Mwanga did not realize that 'Eurocentrism is the conditioning possibility for contemporary knowledge, and Pollock’s work more than any other helps us to make sense of this predicament as well as how to move beyond it.' That's why she slapped you.

Still, gotta say, kids, don't try this at home.

Gould writes 'The distinction made in Sanskrit texts between worldliness (laukika) and the this-worldly (alaukika) is one of the central taxonomies informing Pollock’s own investigation. Though kavya denied its worldliness during the early epoch of flourishing (the third century BCE to the first century CE), Pollock’s operative presumption is that literature is always related to power, that in fact it creates and even constitutes forms of political life, as well as being inflected by these forms. “Poetic images,” he notes elsewhere, “are, in a non-trivial sense, historical facts.” His historical phenomenology of the premodern South Asian aesthetic enables us to perceive the intrinsically political content of literature for the South Asian world, and for others as well.'
What on earth can Gould possibly mean? People talk. Power is about people who talk. So, sure Literature like tailoring and plumbing and cooking and everything else has some relationship to Power and its lack.  Pollock himself sees a 'hieratic conception of Hindu Kingship' in the Ramayana and some 'othering/brothering' nonsense in the Mahabharata. So, Pollock in a non-trivial sense is talking bollocks.
But Gould is a happy camper. She now gets to talk about how Reality is actually constructed, not by what really happened or could possibly happen, but by stupid Professors saying foolish, self contradictory things.

Thus she writes-

 'The argument that art “shows us that representation can sometimes be the only way the real and the true come to be known” is the dominant keynote of his oeuvre. Fine, but Pollock also believes that Literary Representations, like the Ramayana, can't tell us anything about what characters feel or what their true motivation is.
 As an ontology of representation the insight is a valuable one, (how is it valuable? to whom is it valuable?) but even more important is the complex consistency (consistency? Gould keeps pointing out Pollock's self-contradiction, how has he suddenly become complexly consistent?) with which the theory unfolds in his work; at a certain point, the insight ceases to be theoretical. Much like poetry, it becomes not just a statement about reality but a tool in its construction. (but, if it poetic, rather than part of a Research Program, then its author must be regarded as what Bourdieu calls a 'Prophet' or 'total intellectual'- i.e. Pollock would be the Satre or Heidegger of Indology. In other words, there would be every reason to take Pollock to task, especially in view of the Institutional Power he wields, rather than pen his praises.)
'Drawing inspiration from Pierre Bourdieu’s analysis of social power and domination, Pollock’s interest lies in the forms of concealment and embodiment that the interaction between text and context takes, in literature as
well as history. Pollock does not know the context, nobody does, and is shaky on the text because he is stupid and is missing some vital gene for empathy This relation between text and context describes Pollock’s understanding of the relationship of literature to the world generally and stands in contrast to more familiar approaches of treating texts as reflections moving in one direction, from the real to the unreal. Nonsense. Nobody treats 'texts as reflections moving in one direction, from the real to the unreal'. Instead they treat texts as having some factual matter and some imaginative material.' The latter view gives us binaries between texts and the world that have resulted in the implicit degradation of literature as a mode of engaging with reality.The implicit degradation of literature is what happens when worthless PhD shitheads like you vomit on texts.  In the readings we encounter in Pollock’s work, texts both reflect and create worlds, and the indeterminacy of that encounter is appreciated with a depth that alters the way in which both are perceived.' Sheer fantasy. What worlds has Pollock created?  He doesn't have the imagination, the empathic faculty, to do any such thing. His books are dreary nonsense.

Gould does not know Pollock's subject. She may be forgiven for taking his 'great discoveries' at face value. What is unforgivable is her phrasing the right questions and then giving Pollock a pass on them. The result is she has to write something as entirely vacuous as the paragraph quoted above.
Pollock's insight, she tells us is that 'Theory does not explain the world'- nonsense, good theory does, bad theory doesn't- 'it provides an entry into it'- no, Life provides an entry to the World.

' It follows that contemporary theory is inadequate even for understanding modernity, insofar as an object is best understood by taking into account realities external to it. No, Dr. Gould, what follows is that you and your ilk use the word theory for ignorant nonsense which is inadequate even for understanding how to make a logically coherent argument, let alone write meaningfully about a topic you know nothing about.Theory that arises from the modern condition shares many modern limitations, including, most damagingly, colonialism, a structure that has acquired new life in much post- and presumably anticolonial theory. Post Colonialism is a Credentialized Ponzi scheme based on a failed Research Program. Pollock Bollocks aint a way forward but a bandwagon to be jumped on to by careerist academics who have nothing interesting to say. When engaged deeply, theory has the capacity to bring about change; indeed, theory might be defined as a conceptual stance that enables one to generalize from the particular and thereby to, as Nietzsche puts it, reshape the universal into what has never been heard before. Nonsense.  Maths changes the World. Neitzche was bundled off to the madhouse. Maths defeated Hitler. Nietzche could not save him. No change in the meaning of culture, power, identity, and selfhood can ever come about that is not theoretical; newness does not enter the world except via a philosophical transformation. A vanishingly small number of people, throughout World History, have known about Philosophy. Of those who knew about it, virtually everybody thought it crap.  Historical changes necessarily bear a relation to material conditions, but the lessons they have to offer cannot be reduced to the empirical realm. History doesn't offer lessons, it provides data sets. Positions are altered and beliefs are transformed according to what is perceived as being right or wrong with the world, in other words, according to the theory one engages and the ideologies one perceives as bearing the deepest relationship to truth. Nonsense. Ideologies are shite. The very word ideologue means 'worthless shithead' in English. Work that engages most deeply with European theory alone will never be more than that, regardless of the critique it may assume. Because European Theory is worthless shit and virtually all Europeans know it. If the work of provincializing Europe can only take place through an engagement with European intellectual history, it is equally true that this provinicialization can only be fully attained by an engagement with premodern, pre-European realities. Rubbish, watching American cop dramas is quicker and more painless. The advantage of premodern and pre-European as cognitive categories is that they have actual, historically documentable, existences (Not so, premodern is meaningless. Why not just says 'days of yore' and be done with it? Modernity is a failed Research Program like Racial Science or Marxism.  Pre-European too is problematic. English history tell us some Englishmen came to Tamil Nadu at the time of Alfred the Great. How do we know they didn't change something fundamental? English history also tells us some Alans (from a part of the world Gould studies) came to London 2000 years ago and then went back home. The truth is, 'Europe' is a term with zero explanatory value.) whereas post-European and postmodern exist much more on the level of hypothetical realties. We have not yet entered the “post” stage of world history. Wow! Guess what guys? The World hasn't been blown up. We haven't entered the 'post' stage of World History. Little Becky Gould sure must be smart to have worked that out for herself. Except she didn't Sheldon Pollock helped her with her homework.

Europe was 'provincialized' by Science, by Technology, by people voting with their feet for stuff they thought made them look cool or stuff they thought tasted nice. Post-Europeanism is Big Macs and Sushi and Computer games and a lot of kids with PhD's in Post Modern this or that waiting tables and praying for a Green Card.

Oh dear. I can't believe it took so long for me to get Dr. Gould's point.  Pollock is McEuropeanism, McTheory, McOrientalism.  And Gould is right, Pollock Bollocks will drive the genuine article out of the market.


5 comments:

Anonymous said...

Did you know Sheldon Pollock is the father of Dichen Lachmann from tv shows like the Dollhouse & the Last Resort? Give him a break.

windwheel said...

Okay, looked this up- it isn't true but got to say yeah that would totally change my mind.

Anonymous said...

Made you look- ha ha.

windwheel said...

I will hunt you down and beat you with my hockey stick. Well I would but you reminded me to give Dollhouse another try. Nothing Joss Whedon made could be all bad.

अश्वमित्रः said...

I wish you would post your recent analysis of Shulman-on-Mishra here.