neo-Orientalism (i)

Robert Zydenbos zydenbos at GMX.LI
Tue Nov 7 11:37:00 EST 2000

Excuse me for returning to this once more, to set something
straight. What is happening here is a bit interesting, because it
further illustrates what I wrote about last time.

Am 7 Nov 2000, um 6:01 schrieb Lakshmi Srinivas:

> --- Robert Zydenbos <zydenbos at GMX.LI> wrote:
>  [...]
> Let me jog your memory a little here. My original
> retort was prompted by yet another comment about
> Vivekananda by you. This time you were saying that the
> image of Indian spirituality in the West owes itself
> to Vivekananda.

Sorry, but I never have claimed such a thing (see below, with exact
quotes). Furthermore, the image of Indian spirituality in the West
already began with the Greeks in antiquity. Try reading Halbfass'
book _Indien und Europa_, which is also available in English
translation (chapter one), which all serious Indologists know about.

Whatever is the origin of the image of 'the materialistic West and
spiritual India', I maintain that it is true that Vivekananda
popularised it, both in the West as well as in India. Cf. the articles
about V. by Paul Hacker, or the lengthy chapter on V. by H.-J.
Klimkeit in his _Der politische Hinduismus_ (Wiesbaden:
Harrassowitz, 1983). And *please read* what I wrote at the time
(and what *you* have quoted! I am taking these words of mine from
*your* message) -

---begin quote---
> This is more of the same, viz. another faulty
> comparison, this one popularised by Vivekananda, who

> has done a lot to propagate the myth of 'spiritual
> India' vis-a-vis the 'materialist West', where such
> a contrast does not really exist; but the myth has a
> certain political use
---end quote---

Excuse me if I do not see here a statement to the effect that
"image of Indian spirituality in the West owes itself to
Vivekananda". (I would not mind if you, or anyone else, would first
read me before criticising me.)

> I merely happen to remember that a clear generation before V,
> popular authors were writing in such images. So you don't know it.
> What's more: you think it's not relevant.

Again, what you are doing here is what we could call
'Occidentalism': your deciding that forgotten 19th-century British
literature is relevant for me, with my background, and in the context
in which I am writing. On the basis of what is it relevant? As I wrote
last time: there must be a way of demonstrating that something is
relevant, and mere chronology is insufficient.

(What makes it worse is that what you wrote is totally beside the
point. Let me now jog your memory a bit, and in the proper way: I
was writing in response to what an Indian wrote, who actually
expressed (in his reply to me, on the list) that he agreed with that
Vivekanandan stereotype!)

Most of the remainder of your reply is more unwarranted projection
and sarcastic distortion, e.g.,

> Maybe now, you want to say "Kipling, who?"

So I do welcome your:

> I do not propose to waste my time on the rest of your
> questions in the subject line Neo_Or i and ii.

Perhaps you will succeed in de-Occidentalising and discovering
that 'the West' and 'Westerners' and 'Indologists' are not a
monolithic block, and that Indologists (at least not all of them; at
least none that I know of) are not people whose idea of India goes
back to an obscure 19th-century British writer whose name I have
already forgotten.

If you do succeed in such a discovery, you may also succeed in
reading more (self-)critically, ceasing from further unwarranted
projections, and making worthwhile contributions, as you have
done before. Until then, you should be more modest in your
comments on presumed "rant" in others.


Robert Zydenbos
Institut für Indologie und Iranistik
Universität München

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