Thursday, 24 March 2016

Why my style is so baroquely bad.

(The following is excerpted from an Email exchange with someone who thought a comment I'd made on an article in the Guardian was well written)

My ancestors were poverty stricken Priests in South India. The only luxury they could afford was indulgence in an ornate literary style. To the extent that such 'euphuism' displayed a purely technical mastery of an arcane subject- e.g. Paninian Grammar, or Hindu Theology, or Mathematics or Astronomy- my ancestors could hope to be called to the Court of a Prince and given some lucrative bureaucratic post.

However, this created a tension between the 'haves' and the wannabe 'have nots'. The former, already comfortably ensconced at Aristocratic Courts, pretended that their labored lucubrations captured the artless raptures of rustic shepherdesses whereas parvenu Pundits displayed a merely technical virtuosity.
Thus, in India, what Pareto called 'the circulation of the elites', has always been characterized by bloodless Classicists claiming to be Naturalistic Romantics fighting a rear-guard action against the Euphuism- i.e. the complex mannerism- of genuine rustics with a proto-scientific or technical bent.

This gives rise to the stock figure of the Brahmin 'vidushak'- the comedic boon companion whose boastful erudition is Scholastic merely though disclosing a shrewd knowledge of the World.

After Hindu India was conquered, Persian and then English came to be treated as dead languages in which a merely bookish erudition could be displayed in a more or less bizarre style. The Iranians complained of the otiose, baroque and pitilessly metaphysical 'sabak-e-hindi' Indian style while the, more materially secure, Victorians relished the comic incongruity of 'Babu' English.

Since, in Sanskrit aesthetics 'rasabhasa'- i.e. the use of a high style for low matter or what Pope called 'bathos' or the art of sinking- is considered the hallmark of 'hasya'- the comic mode- and since 'hasya' is said to contain all other modes, the 'Babu' Indian, generally from a very poor, provincial, background, took pains to adhere to this stereotype believing it represented a metaphysical 'merging of horizons'. Thus the Indians, prior to Independence, were addicted to high falutin nonsense, which nevertheless, on examination, was highly amphibolous and speculatively metaphysical.

If all this seems rather vague, as I suppose it is, consider this vignette from a book by a Oxford educated English School Master in India-

Reading through what I've written- and so punitively linked to- it occurs to me that I do indeed, like a benighted provincial, magnify more or less obscure authors- in this case Rene Girard, the Proust scholar who ignorantly discovered that satire means 'goat song', the lament for the scapegoat- but then 'rasabhasa', bathos, demands precisely this sort of sacrifice.

One point I should make, Indians of my class and level of intelligence- i.e. garrulous but low I.Q retards with nothing original to say- is that we have been well enough schooled in a sort of sham Oxbridge maieutics to run with the hounds when Upper Class English Paideia gives tongue to its foundational puzzlement at really simple things- 'but what do you mean when you say 'mean'. I'm sorry, no doubt I'm being terribly dim, but I really don't understand'- while still running with the hares of Continental phenomenology such that no Indian will deny that some oxymoronic collocation like 'the Transcendental turn in Neo-Liberalism's project of nakedly singularising its own crisis' isn't something they thoroughly grasped and 'depassed' while in Grade School.

In this context, I may mention that Socratic maiuetics was but a couvade midwifery- no men got pregnant and the totemic animals, or Platonic Ideas, thus delivered into the world for the Academy to hunt, didn't actually exist. By contrast, Agnodice- who was indicted for corrupting, not the youth, but the women of Athens- was able to lift her skirts and gain acquittal because she was a genuine midwife and her pursuit of medical knowledge had saved the lives of many of her sisters.

This, no doubt, is why Tagore writes- 'I sit like a beggar maid, drawing my skirt over my face, and when they ask me, what it is I want, I drop my eyes and answer them not.'

India has contributed to the comedy of the Humanities declining into sub-Humanities through the pseudo Leftist whining about being Bengali or Parsee- a bit like Anthony Burgess or David Lodge initially whining about being R.C- of such Academic giants as Gayatri Spivak (vide, Homi Bhabha ( not to mention Amartya Sen and... actually practically everybody with an Indian name who has a penchant for self-publicity.

There are some genuine scholars- Anwar Shaikh (actually Pakistani, but his Mom was a South Indian Christian) for example has written a good book about Capitalism's Crisis which has just come out- but they write simply and convey useful information and make falsifiable predictions and offer substantive prescriptions.

I'm sorry, I've written at too great a length- cacoethes scribendi is a terrible, for terribly lower middle class Indian, affliction- and that too in my typically turgid and tortuous style. Thank you for your kind words. I am in fact thinking of putting together a book called 'Meta-metaphoricity & Ontological dysphoria' in which the introductory chapters at least are written in a plain unvarnished style such that all references are clarified. I wonder whether you'd be interested in glancing at such chapters and giving me your opinion?


...I used to listen to the BBC before, at 14, I finally got to watch it. My parents, of course, worshiped at Lord Reith's altar. For me- I'd been warned against anything American as essentially tawdry and lacking in what F.R Leavis called 'cultural continuity'- the over-drawn shadows I saw upon the screen were infinitely more real, more meaningful, than the squalid tragicomedy of my troglodyte adolescence in a dormitory suburb.

I wasn't alone. A lot of working class lads or 'ethnics' or displaced Scots and so on in the Sixth Form felt exactly as I did. The Beeb was the arbiter of taste and what embittered our enjoyment of such youthful hi-jinks as we permitted ourselves was the knowledge that, as comedy sketches, they were irremediably ITV.
Recalling one such adventure to a young Eng Lit Prof from Preston, I wrote the following poem-
When I was 17
Back then tanning salons were the last word in hi-tech; their receptionists, glacially blonde & remote
I appeared a 2 'O' level Bank Clerk, she, a PhD, in her lab coat
'Help me, for Christ's sake! That sun-bed set off a chain reaction- I look a nigger!'
Like a headless chicken she ran, Career blown, my finger on the trigger.

As Graham Greene said 'Pity kills. No one is safe when Pity is prowling around.'

...Genuine insights in Economics and Philosophy are best, or most usefully, served by as sparse, easily digestible, finger food. I hope you will share yours with me...

What I am doing when I write in an otiose manner is 'critical philosophy'- or as I prefer to call it 'Socioproctology'. A genuine insight, baldly expressed, is productive of new ideas- i.e. has a direct link with a cognitive action whose valency is 'high entropy' (i.e. something unpredictable or novel) and thus all genuine thought has this self appointed pooper-scooper who thus legitimates holding its leash. My point is that this genuine insight is now embedded in something which neuters its fecundity.
Still, so long as we readers settling down with a big book, cease to be but flatulent grazing animals and turn instead into 'persistence hunters' then, the questing fewmets of Academia are turned to a good purpose.

This is a topic I explore in a book (cannibalised from my blog) whose pdf is available here

BTW, there's a novel I'm about a third of the way through- it isn't about India and so might be somewhat more accessible. I could send you the first bit, if you think you might have time to glance over it. Essentially, the theme is relevant to Econ & Philosophy because there is a certain amount of pessimism re. the possibility of a Mathesis Universalis, or Gibbardian 'Revelation Principle' or Muth Rational saltation to truly democratic Social Welfare optima which is actually unwarranted by the underlying Maths.
Basically, outside one's narrow specialism, we all (Leftists as much as Bleeding Heart Libertarians) believe nonsense like
1) Godel and Tarski proved no language can consistently contain its own truth predicate- though, Kripke provided a workaround long ago.
2) Non Dictatorship, or computational  non verifiability of an 'NP' Oracle, means Crises are inevitable. Hysteresis rules. Actually, results in this field- e.g. Razborov Rudich militate to the opposite conclusion.
3) Problems of Reflexivity and Preference Revelation hollow out Rational Moral Science so we should go back to bogus Virtue Ethics or Sen & Nussbaum type pi-jaw. Once again, the Math says otherwise.

It's not easy making Maths the main character in a novel about 12 young people attending a Seminar and falling in love with and betraying each other. Still, it's worth my time writing this novel coz it motivates me to- not keep up with the Math, I was always too stupid- but the poetry of Math.

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