Thursday 29 November 2012

The Gita as Dutch book

We've all heard of Pascal's wager- one should bet that God exists, even if that seems very improbable because there's an infinite pay-out and anyway what have you got to lose?
The problem is that in life we are making not just one bet but a series of connected or coherent bets- like an accumulator- such that Pascal's wager involves one in smaller lower fungibility or uncertain arbitrage bets with different time horizons. The intuitive idea I'm trying to get at here is that betting on God might mean your daughter, the dentist in Ireland, dies because the doctors aren't allowed to conduct a procedure that aborts her unviable foetus.

But, even in the simplistic sorts of models Economists use, two related problems inevitably arise. One is that when you offer a fair bet you are assigning a probability to an outcome. If the  price of the bet is 'to believe x' then that price does not stay constant as new information becomes available. Bayes' Law shows how that price changes over time. I'm assuming that it is more costly to believe a more improbable thing but even if we drop this assumption there's another reason why this will be the case. That has to do with your ability to 'lay-off' risk or increase the reward for risk without increasing your 'downside' exposure by running a book.
I'm not up on the literature but it seems a reasonable guess that philosophically inclined gamblers in the ancient world- like Yudhishtra, in the Mahabharata, or Ghalib, our Ghazal King- spent a lot of time considering under what circumstances it would be profitable to run a book, that is offer a bunch of bets, consistent with Pascal's wager.
The Italian Probability theorist, de Finetti formalized this notion as follows-  A person who has set prices on an array of wagers in such a way that he or she will make a net gain regardless of the outcome, is said to have made a Dutch book
Fudging things a bit, the Dutch book theorem conveys the notion that coherent betting creates Dutch books whose 'fair odds' are probabilities as estimated by the agent.
This raises the question, what is the Dutch Book such that Pascal's wager, by itself, shows us a path to find the 'best' Scripture? This notion is interesting once we admit errancy in Scripture reception as itself a determinant of its content- i.e. the signal is designed to be rationally repairable. Now, Pascal was certainly smart enough to work out whether his Jansenist reading of the Bible was indeed a Dutch Book- let alone the best possible Dutch Book. The fact that he did not make that claim- nobody is taught Probability theory in the Bible- itself tells a stupid bloke like me that it's not a profitable avenue of inquiry.. 
But what about the Gita? I read it as the 'dual' of the Just King's education in Probability theory. So am I committed to the notion that the Gita is a Dutch book ? One reason why I might indeed be maintaining this position is my belief that the Mahabharata is a series of balanced games with homothetic preferences- i.e. everybody pretty much wants the same sorts of things, has the same information or ability to get that information if they want to, and the guy offering the wager has to give the other fellow first pick.  So if I say 5 to 1 we have a White Christmas, you and I have access to the same Weather forecasts and it's your choice as to which state of the world is going to pay-out for you.

Now, assuming that new information about the world- which changes 'the price' of the Pascalian wager- arrives from totally independent sources, let's say all the causal chains involved are totally separate and identically randomly distributed- then it appears common sense to say there is no profitable Dutch book, or such a book is empty. How can you offer a bunch of people as smart as yourself a series of bets and come out ahead regardless of the outcome? Bookmakers and Casinos and Stock brokers and so on make their money on 'the spread'- the margin between the price at which they buy and sell- or else they have 'insider information' or are better at complex maths or something of that sort.
However, this might not be the case because of something inherent in the subjective way we adjust our expectations and calculate probabilities. Of course, if we had some assurance that everything that is knowable is stuff we can know, this does not pose a problem. But what if there are latent variables outside our ken? Well, in practice we know that there are lots of things we can't directly observe or measure but perhaps there's always a good enough workaround so long as things aren't hopelessly entangled.
De Fenetti introduced a distinction between 'independent sequences' which are 'exchangeable' in the sense of being just as random as each other, and exchangeable sequences arising out of dependent sequences. In other words, subjectively there is wiggle room between things being random because all causal sequences are independent and their appearing interchangable though they are in fact not independent at all. It is the 'latent' variable which introduces this wiggle-room and makes me wonder whether I haven't been confusing independence for exchangeability in broader ways.

In other words, just when I was about to say with great confidence that the Gita aint a Dutch book- sure it's  great poetry, & good for instilling shradda piety, but no way, no how does it constrain me to embrace Occultation and Occassionalism for purely Rational reasons- I come a cropper because I can't deny latent variables exist nor that Evolution is Probabilistic nor that I'm a dumb fuck knows shit from poetry or piety- i.e. maybe my response to the Gita is Rational and it's only coz I got such low bandwith Rationality that I didn't realize that was the only signal I was getting.
What makes things worse is that 'Evidential decision theory' allows for the possibility of backward causation. In other words, the claim made by Ved Vyasa or Valmiki or Tulsi or whoever, that who ever listens to their work gains salvation without any further mental effort or even volition on their part, turns out to be apodictically true- at least for genuinely stupid people like me. Why? 
Well, to quote Prof. Huw Price, the possibility now exists that 'without inconsistency, we might claim to be able to bring about past events. Dummett shows that we can accommodate a belief in backward influence, so long as we are prepared to give up the assumption that before we decide how to act, it is possible for us to find out whether the past event in question has already occurred.'
How this is relevant, is because the random question 'is the Gita a Dutch Book?' has just revealed that  I don't know what I believed about the Gita- there's a backward influence of the Dummett kind because it is impossible for me to know whether some element of what made up my 'belief'- or De Finetti 'coherent' speculation- had or indeed has already come to pass. 
As I go on to say in this previous blog postThe fact is, it is never possible, on a sufficiently fine-grained phenomenology or theory of the world, to determine that any occurrence is truly 'Past'- which also means Gibbardian 'hyperstates' and judgments made by 'hyperagents' have no road to supervenience with respect to 'prosaic factual properties'; everything is always in a sort of 'mixed inference' or else a Frege-Geachian flux till Beenakker's boundary resolves Hempel's dilemma as the Cosmic cows come home. Thus any Agency and Intentionality-based 'inwardness' we can have knowledge off must be reverse mereological and Time arrow reversed as indeed is what we would expect if our minds evolved on a stochastic fitness landscape.
So, thank You Great Hindu God, yeah, thanks ever so much- why didn't you make me something sensible, like a Mormon or a Scientologist? What? You thought I was Gay? Look I've explained all that. Yes, as a horny 16 year old,  I did put an ad in Time Out- 'gay South Indian boy wants to meet gay non-Manglik  for gay times'- but I never thought P.Chidambaram would respond. Okay, it was with a cease and desist order, coz I used his wet veshti picture, still, you can't say he doesn't look a bit like Pippa Middleton from behind.

Li Po at Nalanda

There was a long tradition in China of attributing innovations in prosody to the influence of Sanskrit. Prof. Victor Mair has written some interesting papers on this topic.
The Chinese may have developed a theory about tonality and established rules for the alternation between heavy (guru) and light (laghu) syllables and so on through contact with some other foreign language but what is interesting is that the Chinese poetic genius did not shrivel up and die after coming into contact with Brahminical  literature.
Indeed, Prof Francois Martin goes a step further and even suggests that the Chinese genius for landscape appreciation itself may have been reinforced by Sanskrit literature-
What has all this to do with Li Po?
Let us hear from an Indian Professor of Chinese descent-
'...China had two great poets, Li Bai and Bai Juyi, both belonging to the Tang Dynasty, who styled themselves as “upasakas”. Li Bai (701-762), whose poetic gems are suffused with the aroma of Chinese whiskey, has left behind a poem “who am I?” which reads:
“Blue-Lotus Upasaka is my self-styled title,
An angel from Heaven I’m banished to this world,
My fame has been buried beneath the liquor of the pubs
And I have measured thirty springs with my wine cups.
Who am I ? Why on earth should anyone thus inquire?
I am Golden-Millet Maiterya’s next life.”
(See Tan Chung, Classical Chinese Poetry in the Classics of the East series, Calcutta: The M.P. Birla Foundation, P. 143, with translation modified.)
This “Golden-Millet Maiterya” was the legendary Indian Buddhist layman, Vimalakirti whose Chinese name reads “wei-mo-jie” (the transliteration of the Sanskrit). Another famous Chinese poet, Wang Wei (701?-761) had a second name in “Wang Mojie”, i.e. he tried to demonstrate in both his names that he was “Wang Vimalakirit” -- “Wang” being his surname. Here we see Li Bai and Wang Wei vying with each other to claim themselves as the reincarnation of Vimalakirti who was the Indian symbol for a man highly enlightened (even more enlightened than the Bodisattvas) but remained married in the mundane world. I dare say that all the Chinese intellectuals who had self-styled themselves “Jushi” had cast themselves in this Vimalakiriti mould.'
(Do read this whole, magnificent, book here. The distinguished author is the son of the Most Venerable Tan Yun Shan about whom I've blogged earlier)

Li Po (Li Bai) drank a lot- he drowned drunkenly trying to rescue the reflection of the moon- how is he an upasak? The answer is provided by Vimalkirti's 'Field theory' of Buddhahood- an update on the Avatamsaka Sutra's Occassionalist monadology- whereby a relationist dynamics is added to what is otherwise reflection simply. I think this is comparable to 'adi vigyan'- the original science of throwing off your own evils onto a reflection- evolving into Shantideva's 'paratama parivartana'- whereby swopping selves saves both parties. Meditators, he tells us, dive into Hell to rescue all beings. Thus, it appears, those who are born intoxicated have no fear of intoxicants. Those destined to rescue all Hell-dwellers are joyous simply. Shantideva, who lived around the same time as Bai Juyi , is sometimes depicted as having a transgressive life-style- drinking wine and shacking up with a washer-woman- but what is unquestionable is that he and Bai Juyi shared a bottomless compassion for the common people. There is a story that the latter's mother drowned in a well, while bending down to admire the beauty of some flowers, and this led to a charge of filial impiety being made against him by his enemies because he had written a poem titled 'the new well' and another on admiring flowers. 

Sadly, Shantideva's Nalanda- ably enough served by the existing Institute there- is now connected with Amartya Sen's projected International University. What we moderns term Scholarship, it seems, is not just too leaky a vessel to cross the Ocean of Samsara, it is not even sufficiently sea worthy for a simple booze cruise to rescue the Moon's reflection and thus cast up at the Tavern at the end of the river of stars.

Yet Sen was born in the Shantiniketan of Tan Yun Shan. There is a lesson here which, as Gandhi was wont to say, all who run may read.
Mind it kindly.

Tuesday 27 November 2012

Ipseity, Alterity & the conjuration of the Subaltern.

Can Critical  Philosophy, post Godhra, still be considered a Baudelairian exorcism of ipseity, rather than a Baudrillardian ethic of alterity, when answers randomly canvassed, from the most ideologically diverse theorists of the Subaltern, to the question 'where is the toilet?' all so consistently cash out as 'my mouth'?

 Take Sumit Sarkar- outside and shoot him- no, I jest, I jest- that's the job of the Naxalites- but, seriously folks, he was right to point out that Subaltern Studies stopped being about really marginalized folk- tribals and manual scavengers and so on- and turned into Foucaldian whining about Eurocentrism- so his approach to answering the question 'where is the toilet?' begins with a recognition that the disposal of 'number two' is a subaltern form of WORK. Since Subaltern studies gobshiterry should be about genuine subalterns, like manual scavengers (bhangis), the mouth of a Subaltern Studies savant is indeed the nearest toilet.
Ranajit Guha's approach is more 'roundabout' (as the Austrian Economists would say) and Spivak's is more Literary Capital intensive but both reach the same conclusion because Guha lectures in Vienna and  the word toilet comes from the French toilette and Spivak can speak French, so basically, yes, the nearest toilet is her mouth.

No change there then.
Personally, I blame David Cameron.
That boy aint right.

Is Public Justification empty?

Perhaps a truly Private Language is impossible because, as Wittgenstein argued, we would have no way to check we were using a word properly. I suppose one way round the problem is to engage an auditor to maintain a Dictionary and a Grammar and so on for your Private Language and perhaps Relationships and Communities have evolved to provide that 'external audit' function.
What about Public discourse, or what is called 'Public Reason theory'? Is there a way to be sure it will always be meaningful? If so, then it is sensible to speak of a Rawlsian 'Public Justification Principle' - whereby everybody has 'sufficient reason' to back every Law- because absent a 'well-ordering' of Social States 'sufficient reason' faces a halting problem- i.e. Public Reason theory wouldn't be meaningful in any Public sense. Applying Binmore's 'folk theorem' -whereby there is always some game theoretic mechanism to replace the need for external coercion- we can get away from some of the problems in that literature and focus on the basic question of whether, under the most benign possible circumstances, Public signals and Private signifying exhibit a symmetry relationship such that something we can all agree to call 'Meaning' is minimally conserved.
One way to prove that this can be the case is to attempt a General Equilibrium Analysis of  'externally audited' Private language and its aggregation as Public signals.
A naive way of expressing Noether's theorem, for non dissipative systems, is to say that the existence of a conserved property or Law is evidence of a Symmetry or vice versa.
Thus, for Classical or Marxist Economics, 'Labor' and 'Capital' are meaningful terms and 'Laws'- like the Iron Law of Wages- can be derived or, at a higher level of complexity, the project of a Sraffian Economics, or a Hilary Putnam/Amartya Sen type normative Economics can be sustained.
This is of general interest, because, for Neo-Classical Economics, a scandal, in the shape of the Sonnenschein-Mantel-Debreu theorem, has arisen such that its notion of General Equilibrium becomes empty or 'anything goes'- i.e. we have a non-dissipative system, under standard assumptions of individual rationality, or even homothetic preferences, such that no testable hypotheses arise nor is there any way of telling if the Economy is behaving pathologically.
Of course, one way out is simply to say that one wants whatever outcome one is lumbered with. All states of the Universe are gross substitutes for each other. Perhaps, in some mystic or teleological sense this is actually the case for states of the World, but, surely, Discourse isn't exclusively or even mainly about states of the World?
Sir Alfred Sherman once said 'A Bishop who stops believing in God can go in for Socialism or Sodomy but an Economist who renounces faith in his profession is unemployable' Well, we know he was wrong about Economists, they can always toss coins for Big Finance or shill for Micro Finance or  grow fins for an ornamental Think Tank or bottom feed as part of a Credentialist Academic Ponzi scheme, but surely a champion of Public Discourse can't afford a similar agnosticism with respect to whether Language itself breaks public signalling/private signifying symmetries and simply throws away information?

Is there any way forward- perhaps work being done in some discipline I haven't heard of- such that Public Discourse doesn't cash out as pathological memetics which acts as enabler for all the mischievous Preference Falsification Avalability Cascades that have plagued us over the last 20 years?
I don't know- but I'd sure to love to find out.
I wish I could be optimistic about the answer, but given the invidious nature, for Economics, of problems of aggregation- e.g. the Capital controversy between the 2 Cambridges', or the well known problems of Social Choice- the greater likelihood seems to me to be that Public Discourse is doomed to either a Procrustean bed of ideology, such that polysemy is constrained, and symmetries are artificially enforced or else to an 'anything goes' emptiness unable to gauge its own morbidity or seek for its own cure.

Thursday 22 November 2012

The fourth PhD of Dr. Fu Manchu

They have a saying in China- “Science students look down on language students; language students look down on history students; history students look down on politics students; politics students look down on their teachers.”

What about Development Studies?
Wikipedia tells us- In the 1933 novel, The Bride of Fu Manchu, Fu Manchu claims to hold doctorates from four Western universities. In the 1959 novel, Emperor Fu Manchu, he reveals he attended Heidelberg, the Sorbonne, and Edinburgh.
'Yes, but isn't it true you also attended Cambridge?' Sir Denis Naylor Smith asked through clenched teeth as slippery succubi slithered all over him.
'What of it?' Dr. Fu replied, 'Good school, Cambridge, nothing wrong with it at all.'
'In Physics maybe,' Sir Denis replied, 'but, correct me if I'm wrong, your Doctorate was in Development Studies.'
'You lie, round-eyed swine!' Dr. Fu replied, his jade mask of Oriental inscrutability slipping from his slitty eyed face, 'I just got a MPhil is all. I never went all the way. I mean, I was just a mixed up kid trying to break into the Takeaway delivery business. was a confusing time. Anyway, lots of people have MPhils in Development Studies- doesn't mean they are all Gay.'
'Like Rahul Gandhi?'
'Damn you, Naylor Smith! You just had to throw that in my teeth didn't you? Why do you think I keep trying to blow up the World? Will you people never let me forget? I...I just wanted to be loved, to give something back, to make the world a better place. But you people got your hooks into me and forced me into Development Studies. Oh what's the use. Everything is spoiled. I just don't want to live anymore. Come, poisoned fingernail, lacerate the throat of the Master you have so faithfully served.'

Wednesday 21 November 2012

Steve Landsburg on debt & taxes

Landsburg's latest post has put a cat amongst the loony right, Tea Party, pigeons.
How high should taxes be? High enough to cover expected outlays going forward — but no higher. That’s because any additional revenue would be used to pay down the federal debt, which is a bad idea...Because deadweight loss (i.e. the economic damage due to the disincentive effects of taxes) is roughly proportional to the square of the tax rate, it turns out that the latter — the policy of paying interest forever without ever making a principal payment — is (at least roughly) the policy that minimizes the present value of deadweight loss.
There are two types of errors in this argument
1) During a National Emergency or a Recession, Taxes shouldn't be 'high enough to cover expected outlay'. Governments should run a deficit. Not to do so is to risk making everyone radically worse off. Thus, not borrowing during a War runs the risk of defeat and conquest, and trying to balance the budget during a recession may cause mass unemployment and a 'liquidity trap' such that Investment remains depressed though interest rates are very low. However during Peace time and/or during a boom, tax revenues should be higher than spending and the Debt should be allowed to fall so as to put the breaks on Aggregate Demand and act as an 'automatic stabilizer'.

2) That deadweight losses of taxation are the only relevant efficiency cost.  The 'crowding out' effect of Govt. spending, or the burden of servicing Govt. debt, does not matter because of 'Ricardian Equivalence'- i.e. the notion that consumers save more if they anticipate higher taxes in the future.
The problem with this line of argument is that it begs the question. It assumes the very result it sets up its equations to solve for. It's a case of garbage in, garbage out.
If consumers were the perfectly rational creatures assumed by Ricardian Equivalence, there would be no lasting deadweight loss of taxation. Elasticities of Supply and Demand would be zero in the short run and infinity in the long run. There would also be no citizens left to pay Govt. debt. They'd all have emigrated or formed a new country. 
Why does this not happen in practice? The answer is that there is uncertainty in the Economy. A fully anticipated Budget Deficit or Surplus wouldn't matter. It would tell us nothing new. But an unanticipated level of Debt does tell us something new. It tells us that we as a nation aren't as wealthy as we thought we were. We have to scale back our consumption of both private and public goods and services. We expect to see the Govt. tightening its belt same as the rest of us. During a War, or during a Depression, we may see the necessity of the Govt. running large deficits and incurring high levels of debt- but we still won't be sympathetic to measures which we consider wasteful or ostentatious. Why? Well, we may not have perfect information or rationality, but we do have some information and some rationality. If the Govt. spends money in an unproductive way, we become fearful that the productive capacity of the Economy will suffer in the long run. Our country will have lower income and worse infrastructure. To compensate, we might save more or emigrate or simply scale back our own aspirations and levels of economic engagement and interaction, preferring to be self-sufficient as far as possible or else to adopt a feckless attitude to life- indulging in more alcohol or drugs or crime than we would otherwise have done.
The problem with 'deadweight loss' type arguments is that human beings have a lot of in-built behavioral plasticity. They can side-step markets  controlled by the 'stationary bandit' of the State and find unregulated or illegal markets or types of production and exchange which they may choose to see as hedonically rewarding precisely because it frustrates what they may perceive as an inequitable or irksome State policy or practice.

Tuesday 20 November 2012

Witzel, Witzelsucht & the origins of Religion.

Prof. Michael Witzel's Casaubon like magnum opus- unifying all mythology by means of comically obsolescent scholarship- is due to drop in a couple of months. Meanwhile here is a link to a paper of some interest in itself, which provides a plausibly Scientific sounding- i.e. guaranteed to be obsolescent- justification for the exercise. Essentially, two different claims are made- one is that myths are fragile, ecologically sensitive, and have low fidelity transmission, second that myths have deep genealogy. There may have been some model of memetic epigenetic effects which made this not utter moonshine- but such models have ephemeral 'half lives' and in any case are not robust. Still, it is the very ludic obsolescence of the underlying model which will make Witzel's book worth reading but that is not the topic of this post.
Instead it is the medical phenomena known as Witzelsucht- about which Wikipedia has this to say-
Witzelsucht (from the German witzeln, meaning to joke or wisecrack, and sucht, meaning addiction or yearning) is a set of rare neurological symptoms characterized by a tendency to make puns, tell inappropriate jokes or pointless stories in socially inappropriate situations. Ironically, however, the person is insensitive to humor produced by themselves or others around them. They do not understand that their behavior is unnatural, therefore are nonresponsive to others’ reactions. This disorder is most commonly seen in patients with frontal lobe damage, particularly right frontal lobe tumors or trauma.

The causal connection between Religious ideation and frontal lobe epilepsy is both ancient and widely recognized today not least thanks to Karen Armstrong's candor on the subject. What makes Theology interesting is that it is part of what Witzel has called 'a highly correlated system' which, in a sense, seeks to impose a curb or discipline upon a type of mental activity not uncommon and which would be bound to shape the Evolutionary Stable memetic endowment of any given Society.  If a lot of privileged discourse is indeed a type of  ethological 'displacement activity'- and Witzelsucht, like philosophy, is clearly a displacement activity- then there are also going to be Tardean mimetic effects which alter dynamics.

Mythologies, as opposed to Visionary ideations, if arising from Witzelsucht, are less amenable to the discipline of intensive correlation. Indeed, the distinct feature of myths as opposed to totalizing narratives is that they point to the impairment of the very faculty to which they otherwise appeal. They are the Fermat's Last Theorem of the great wits and  comedians, the shaggy dog stories which true Lords of the Ludic exchange the way Mathematicians exchange conjectures that tremble upon the verge of being transgressive to received axioms.

How does this relate to the origins of Religion? It doesn't except in the sense that if there were no noise Evolution wouldn't be Information theoretic. But that, surely, isn't saying much.

Scold the Environment not the Economy

If the Environment is misbehaving is it not because it is totally corrupt, materialistic and awards itself huge pay increases when the rest of us are having to tighten our belts? I mean look at the Amazon rain forest- it has these ridiculously tall trees some which even have their own micro-climate! Why is the Environment behaving so badly? What is the point of scolding the kids to turn down the thermostat when the Environment is recklessly warming itself on a global level and melting the ice caps? Do you know how much energy the Environment wastes every time it indulges in one of those hurricanes or cyclones? I don't but its the sort of thing you probably have an i-phone app to calculate.

For far  too long we have been taught to say nice things about the Environment- especially seeing as it is constantly getting raped in unlikely places which can't be good for its morale. However, what I say is the Environment is a damned slut! How about it learn Krav Maga, put on an extra set of underwear and take some fucking responsibility for its actions instead of spending so much time out of its gourd in seedy Third World dives or hillbilly country or other such random places? I mean,  how often do you hear about the Environment getting raped in the Home Counties? No doubt the quality of the 'raves' and the drugs and so on aren't up to its usual high standards and maybe it will actually have to work for a living to pay its Council tax but that's what we call being a grown up, dear. Try it sometime.

I'm not saying one shouldn't regularly scold the Economy & whack it on the nose with a rolled up newspaper and definitely revoke its couch privileges. But, fair's fair. How come the Environment gets a pass every time it fouls up but the Economy doesn't?

It is not enough to recover the portion of Adam Smith, actually the greater part, which consisted in saying snide things about the Economy, nor the Ricardian tradition as modified by Marx and Sraffa- which frankly was counter-productive and actually made being bourgeois kinda cool- what we have to do is go back to Aquinas and Aristotle, or even further back to the Ape-people, when scolding the Environment made up the greater part of Public discourse.

I think Kaushik Basu has written a book about this. I don't know if this is true, but next time the Environment gets high and turns into one of those hurricanes or cyclones or tsunamis, just you a toss your Game Theory textbooks into is maw. That will teach it.
Not that it isn't all David Cameron's fault.
That boy aint right.

Monday 19 November 2012

Bal Thackeray, George Fernandes and India's 'damaged modernity'

George Fernandes slept on Chowpatty beach before managing to gain a subsistence wage as a proof-reader. Bal Thackeray had to leave School in the sixth Standard because his family couldn't afford the fees. He too was barely making a living as a cartoonist with, the Leftist, Free Press Journal. R.K. Laxman (R.K. Naryan's younger brother), a colleague of his, was forced to leave because he wouldn't undertake not to make fun of Communists . Thackeray too was forced out because of his stand against South Indian immigrants. Along with Fernandes and a few others he set up a short lived magazine before finally gaining success on his own.
Both Fernandes and Thackeray were from educated families. Thackeray's father had attended Calcutta University while Fernandes's father belonged to Mangalore's educated upper middle class.  Yet Independent India offered them little. The Gandhian gerontocracy was firmly committed to the notion that the younger generation should be poorer and have worse prospects than they themselves had enjoyed. The Communist gerontocracy went a step further and dreamed of the blood of the young incarnadining not just City streets but also remote forest paths.
Independent Leftists, like Krishna Menon were either utterly mad or, like J.P & Lohia, committed to a Gadarening nativist stupidity which showed no signs of ever bottoming out.
 Fernandes, who embraced Socialism as an alternative to the Priesthood, might have had the makings of an acolyte but even that offer was no longer on the table. The sand of Chowpatty beach still clung to him and the future surely lay with Old Etonians like Kumaramangalam or Barristocrats like Jyoti Basu.  Fernandes developed into an All India leader at a young age by default not the Grace and Favor of a well entrenched Leftist Establishment. Meanwhile, Thackeray was taking  a different route, accepting Mrs. Gandhi's Emergency and concentrating on being a big fish in a small pond. The escalation of sharp practice by Industry during the Emergency, however, was bound to create a Worker backlash which the gerontocratic Communist-led Unions would be unable to capitalize on. However, Fernandes and Thackeray understood that the cards were stacked against the Mumbai textile workers and came out against Datta Samant's over-bold initiative. After the Police joined the Strike, it became clear that the Center would prefer to simply destroy the Textile industry in Mumbai rather than permit the emergence of an Independent Union movement.
The tragedy here is that India needed to follow Hong Kong and Singapore and South Korea in continually upgrading and improving conditions for workers as part of a properly thought out program of Urban planning. Querulous old people had neither the enthusiasm nor basic cognitive skills to envision or implement any such thing. People like Fernandes and Thackeray, in the Sixties and early Seventies, could have been part of this process. Perhaps their role in destroying the Indian Labor movement counts as a contribution. But, the greater fault, surely, lies with the gerontocratic nature of both Nationalist and Socialist ideologies in their various Indian incarnations.
I suppose the truth is, Thackeray and Fernandes, and the late unlamented Chandra Shekhar, had impressive political careers precisely because were incapable of changing the fundamental nature of Political Power- viz. the banding together of senile 'primal fathers' against potentially rebellious sons. This, it seems to me, is the true source of India's timeless 'damaged modernity'.

Friday 16 November 2012

Kapil Sabil's Ebay feedback

So, okay, the 2G auction was a flop. But- and this is the crucial question for high powered Economic theory- how does this affect Kapilji's Ebay feedback? The reason I ask is that I've bought the old Hugh Hefner style smoking jacket he put up for auction recently and it isn't marked as dispatched yet. My fear is that if his Ebay feedback turns negative and his rating goes down then his incentive to dispatch the jacket in a clean and merchantable condition- i.e. no boogers or used condoms in the pockets- is greatly reduced. After all, a bit more negative feedback from me isn't going to deter him. On the other hand, thinking about it, maybe that aint necessarily a bad thing. After all, that money the CAG tells us has been scammed off the Public must have gone somewhere. And there was me hoping for just some naughty pix of Shiela Dixit in the inner pocket...

The Silence of the Dead- part 2

M.N. Srinivas has left us a piquant memoir on F.B. Steiner- which contains the following anecdote of a typical exchange between him and Prof. Radcliffe Brown.
Steiner's letter to Gandhi dwells upon his closeness to his murdered parents- he had told them about the Mahatma and they used to discuss Gandhi at home 'the way one talks about a father'- but Srinivas highlights another theme in Steiner's epistle- its bemoaning of his ancestors' decision to migrate to Europe rather than Casteist India where they would have enjoyed the benefits of fossilization and freedom from Thought in an exemplary manner. Sadly, the 2 Chief Rabbis of Jerusalem, some ten years prior to Steiner's letter, had forced the 'white' and 'brown' Jews of Cochin to give up their own color, or should I say 'Varna', based discrimination and to permit black Jews entry into their synagogues.
 Thus, it turns out, Gandhiji- who had been defeated in debate by the Vaikom Namboodris, Karma being the Silence of the vast horde of the Dead which out-shouts the slogans of the Satyagrahis ( though, as a British 'fair play' compromise, three roads were opened while Christian and Muslims were also banned from using the supposedly private fourth road from which 'low castes' had been illegally excluded by a previous High Court judicial review)- Gandhiji was quite right to condemn Zionism- it was already tampering with the caste system of the Indian Jews and, as Arjuna pointed out in Steiner's own beloved Gita, once that sort of thing starts happening, who knows where it will all end? St.Valentine's day and dating-shating? Chee, chee, it is all too unseemly and not Cricket or tickety-boo at all
It is in this context that 'Sanskritization' Srinivas slyly points up Steiner's own poetic attraction to dusky beauties- most notably a West Indian table tennis player- so that, as Gandhi was wont to say, 'all who run may read'.
Mind it kindly.
And murli Manohar Joshi.

The silence of the dead- part 1

The 'sluagh'. in Irish and Scottish folklore, was the spirit horde of the restless dead, and the 'slogan', the Highland Regiment's battle cry, was an evocation of the army of the dead, sluagh-ghairm tanmay (sluagh "army", "host" + gairm "cry"), who were invited to come join the living and vent their malice upon the foe-men  thus adding to their own ranks.
On the other hand, the Danish 'trickster-hero', Hamlet, who scares off the English by propping up corpses so as to give the appearance of having a huge army at his command, pays Rationality's tribute to the even more terrifying silence of the dead- which indeed is modernity's slogan.
 Elias Canneti, in 'Crowds and Power', suggests that there are 'World Historical Personalities' who go one up on Hegel such that their consciousness hungers not merely for the destruction of every other but something more radical, which is to be the lone survivor of the departed crowd of the now unanimous living and dead. Thus Mohammad Tughlaq, depopulating Delhi, or the Xhosa Chief Sarhili, who agreed to the slaughter of the tribe's cattle in order to bring its dead warriors back to life, are considered by Canetti to be prototypes of Hitler in his bunker, still repeating his hateful slogans and hoping to survive a universal slaughter.
Behind this curious doctrine, propounded against the unlikely backdrop of McMillan's 'you've never had it so good' triumphalism of  Consumerism and Slum Clearance and the manic construction of New Towns and ambitious Council Estates where 'you can only see the old houses in the faces of the people', is another inversion- that of Marx's doctrine of the Vampirism of Capital, 'dead labor', which dictates the disposal of that living creative power which alone is productive of Value- whereby the crowd, mass-man, becomes the Monopoly Capital of the 'survivor'- an Ancient Mariner obsessed with his own narrative and celebrating his own wedding at Cana by turning all wine into the blood of the host of the departed Dead.
Two Barristers, Jan Smuts, considered the creator of the League of Nations, and Mohandas Gandhi, supposedly the father of Indian Independence, like the Xhosa Chief Sarhili, had much truck with the horde of the dead, initially adopting policies ruinous to their own people, before seeing that the living and the dead form a holon, as does Capital and Labor, as does the Paramount Power and 'subaltern' classes- and, moved by the terrifying silence of the dead, both broke with the power of the slogan, the political Capital they could have virtually monopolized, in favor of a self-willed diminunendo, a looming ever smaller in their own Wagnerian Twilight of Public acclaim, till even their still small voice of conscience, or rat's squeak of rationality, became unanimous with the benign and silent Eumenides of the un-departing dead.

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.

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.
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.

Saturday 10 November 2012

Ghalib's ghazal 61

N.B. I've revised the first couplet on the basis of an excellent comment received.  I suppose I may add that my version of this Ghazal is based on the notion that the beloved's duty of cruelty is of an amr al taklifi (as opposed to takvini) sort- i.e. it is a supererogatory imitatio dei.

My Ramadan heart trembles at the Sun's dark duty of refulgence
Upon that desert thorn I'd fall as Night's dew of indulgence.

Marvel not that Zuleikha's mirrored chamber's mascara has run!
Again Jacob's eyes argent tain the mise en abyme of his son.

Majnun was still learning two letters of Thy Name
When Night and the Desert ciphered my fame

Charred pieces of my heart for the salt cellar so compete
Death is the elixir makes my undoing complete

The coquette's duty of cruelty of which Thy Devotees sing
Is that Black Sun which shines on the back of every thing

Again Dusk stains the clouds that half-forgotten hue
Of the flower garden afire for parted from you
To bear witness to such coquetry e'en Paradise its Peace barters
Doomsday is the wind winnowing the dust of us martyrs

Ghalib, quarrel not with the Confessor if he collar you by force
Think, how driven was Despair to his hand take recourse?

See Prof. Frances Pritchett's 'desertful of roses' site for Urdu script and detailed commentary.
laraztā hai mirā dil zaḥmat-e mihr-e daraḳhshāñ par
maiñ hūñ vuh qat̤rah-e shabnam kih ho ḳhār-e bayābāñ par

nah chhoṛī ḥaẓrat-e yūsuf ne yāñ bhī ḳhānah-ārāʾī
safedī dīdah-e yaʿqūb kī phirtī hai zindāñ par
fanā-taʿlīm-e dars-e be-ḳhvudī hūñ us zamāne se
kih majnūñ lām alif likhtā thā dīvār-e dabistāñ par

farāġhat kis qadar rahtī mujhe tashvīsh-e marham se
baham gar ṣulḥ karte pārah'hā-e dil namak-dāñ par
nahīñ iqlīm-e ulfat meñ koʾī t̤ūmār-e nāz aisā
kih pusht-e chashm se jis ke nah hove muhr ʿunvāñ par
mujhe ab dekh kar abr-e shafaq-ālūdah yād ātā
kih furqat meñ tirī ātish barastī thī gulistāñ par
bah juz parvāz-e shauq-e nāz kyā bāqī rahā hogā
qiyāmat ik havā-e tund hai ḳhāk-e shahīdāñ par
nah laṛ nāṣiḥ se ġhālib kyā huʾā gar us ne shiddat kī
hamārā bhī to āḳhir zor chaltā hai garebāñ par
Plain meaning as given by Pritchett.
My heart trembles at the trouble (or pain) taken by the shining sun
I am that drop of dew/'night-wetness' that would be on a desert thorn
Even/also here, His Excellency Joseph didn't leave off chamber-adorning
The whiteness/whitewash of the gaze of Jacob wanders/travels/spreads on the prison-cell
I am oblivion-{instructing/instructed/writing/copying} in the lesson of self-lessness since that era/time
When Majnun used to write lām alif on the wall of the schoolhouse
To what an extent I would have found freedom from the trouble of salve/ointment!If the pieces of the heart had agreed among themselves over the salt-dish
In the clime/region of love/affection there's no account-book of coquetry such
That there would not be a seal/stamp of/from the back of the eyes on its title page

Now, having seen the sunset-stained cloud, there {comes / would have come (?)} to my memory
That in separation from you, fire used to rain down on the garden
Except for / apart from} the flying/flight of the ardor of/for coquetry, what will have remained permanent/eternal?!

Doomsday is a mere/particular/unique/excellent swift/brisk breeze on the dust of the martyrs OR A mere/single swift/brisk breeze is Doomsday on the dust of the martyrs

Don't quarrel/fight with the Advisor, Ghalib-- if he would use force/severity, so what?
Even/also our power, after all, operates on the collar