Help preserve cultural diversity (Was: Language barriers --- financial barriers)

Paolo Magnone paolo.magnone at UNICATT.IT
Mon Mar 23 05:22:04 EDT 2009

Dear Friends,

I bitterly repent having ever quoted Hegel, and especially Macaulay, as 
it seems to have done nothing but distract from the main argument.

Of course, it *is*
> reductionist and essentializing to present Macaulay as the 
> representative voice of Anglophone attitudes to India [:]
when you make an example, you might as well pick an extreme one to make 
your point stand out the better. In other words, Macauley was certainly 
not meant to represent the average anglophone attitude to India, but 
only to typify that attitude *at its worse*: I thought I had added 
enough cautionary words to make that clear. (I take Dominic Goodall’s 
subtle point on the suitability or otherwise  of Macaulay to demonstrate 
matter-of-factness; I still think his parliamentary bombast must be some 
sort of matter-of-factness raised to visionary heights  :-).

As for Hegel, thanks to Reinhold Grünendahl for his clarification; 
however, here again, I was aware of Halbfaß’s assessment of Hegel’s 
many-faceted relationship to India, but the interest of choosing Hegel 
for me lies exactly in that, although in many ways he was, as Glasenapp 
(quoted by Halbfaß) styled him, “the prototype of the Westerner, who saw 
Western thought as the measure of all things” (but on the other hand, in 
the frame of his system of the progressive unfolding of the Spirit, his 
appreciation of what he regarded as a civilization of the past could not 
have been unreserved: as Greece itself, India must have been 
/aufgehoben/); still, in his “Vorlesungen über die Philosophie der 
Weltgeschichte” he could pronounce those words, displaying a cultural 
sensitivity which is far removed from Macaulay’s.

As for there not (any longer) being German indologists with a longing 
for the ineffable, I suppose I shall have to take Grünendahl’s word, 
albeit not without regret :-) For in my opinion this is one of the worst 
blights upon much of present-day indology: while, for instance, the 
overwhelming majority of biblists are motivated by the thought that they 
are dealing with something extremely precious, it seems more and more 
(Western) indologists could not care less about the actual content of 
the Indian scriptures they are studying, but just treat them as a 
playground to display their methodological acumen. On the other hand, 
the deep sympathy towards the  Orient that was once characteristic of 
German Romanticism need not necessarily have something to do with
> [wanting] to reverse the course of history according to a
> presumed "Oriental" model
and I am at a loss to see that there should be an intrinsic connection 
between the two.

To finally come to what interests me more, when Luis Gonzalez-Reimann 
reminds me that
> [r]egardless of Macaulay fanciful opinion about the 'pre-eminence' of 
> English, the fact is that, today, English is the most practical 
> language for international communication, scholarly or otherwise. This 
> is not an ideological, political or imperial matter, but simply a 
> pragmatic one.
excuse me, Luis, but this is a truism. How should I ignore this simple, 
“pragmatic” fact? (although it is ironical that I should be brought back 
to pragmatism, which is a close kin to “matter-of-factness”, exactly 
while I am denouncing its one-sidedness). Of course, we all write and 
publish and internationally communicate in English, and this same forum 
bears testimony to it. This is a very welcome *choice* we all have. But 
some would have us cease altogether from writing in anything but English 
for scholarly purposes, which — to add one more consideration, apart 
from the perspective of cultural diversity — would amount to effectively 
demoting our mother tongues to the level of vernaculars unfit for 
scientific discourse. And some are even going to the length of 
advocating the adoption of English for dissertations in all countries. 
Now, speaking of pragmatism, let us be pragmatic: how should a young 
student, who (with the levels of student literacy falling everywhere) is 
hardly at ease with his own mother tongue, be expected to handle a 
foreign language with all the subtlety and stylistic accomplishment that 
I (at least) insist on requiring? All we shall get is haphazard jobs, 
and we shall have rendered a poor service to indology and to the 
students themselves, who will have missed an unrepeatable opportunity to 
learn to wield their language beyond the elementary requirements of 
everyday life. (On the priceless pedagogical value of writing a 
dissertation, here in Italy we have an all-time classic, much popular 
with generations of students: Umberto Eco’s /Come si fa una tesi di 

Paolo Magnone
Lingua e letteratura sanscrita
Università Cattolica di Milano

Jambudvipa  - Indology and Sanskrit Studies (

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