[INDOLOGY] Malhotra and plagiarism

Nasadasin nasadasin at gmail.com
Thu Jul 23 06:40:52 EDT 2015


Dear Prof. Wujastyk,

>> You criticize Koenraad Elst, and indirectly me (among others), for viewing the matter of Rajiv Malhotra's "plagiarism" as part of a wider civilizational or cultural encounter. You see it parochially, as a question of professional ethics. This, as I argued before, misses the essential point that Malhotra is not an academic, in particular not an Indologist, and does not pretend to be one. It is presumptuous to convict him of violating the tenets of a profession whose ideas and methods he devotes much of his energy to challenging. I suggest that you are trying to set fire to what you wrongly construe as a local straw man while missing or ignoring the fact that he is actually part of the avant garde of an army forming, and already beginning to threaten, from beyond the disciplinary borders. Malhotra does not belong to Indology or RISA; he is not just an academic outlier or outsider--the sort of crank that he has been portrayed as here--and you will fail to understand or genuinely counter him if you do not look more deeply at what is at play in the context of what I would call the Malhotra phenomenon--a pervasive post-colonial, and partly diasporic, rage at having been unseen, misperceived, ignored, denied, and refused empathy (even when idealized) for three hundred years, and counting. Think of Ralph Ellison's "Invisible Man." It is that sort of rage we see at work in Malhotra, and I am certain Elst is right to perceive that it will be fueled rather than quenched by what will be seen as "Micky Mouse" (trivial, tempest in teapot) accusations of academic plagiarism. I argued before that Malhotra is more like a journalist or public intellectual, and compared him to the writers in Weimar Germany who wrote below the fold in newspapers about cultural matters like contemporary art, socialism, depth psychology, and volkisch revanchism, in other words, about the zeitgeist of their times. I suspect that they, too, often left out attributions and even "plagiarized" when citing other writers. Abhor him as you will--and as a Texas Ph.D. in Sanskrit I share, to some degree, the "horror"--Malhotra is much too important to dispose of as a buffoonish professional Indianist manqué (even ultra-manqué). He is another branch of the tree that produced Sri Aurobindo, Tagore, and Sudhir Kakar (to cite someone in my field ), Indians who challenge, from an Indian vantage, Western perspectives not only on India but on the West itself. On our need for this, see Christine Maillard's excellent l'Inde Vue de l'Ouest which shows how the post-Enlightenment West formulated itself in part through its encounters with cultural others. This is still necessary, and people like Malhotra, however unempathic their barbs, are good for us because they prod us in that direction. (And, yes, he should fix his mistakes and apologize for them forthwith.
Respectfully,
Al Collins, PhD, PhD

Sent from my iPad

> On Jul 23, 2015, at 12:25 AM, Dominik Wujastyk <wujastyk at gmail.com> wrote:
> 
> Dear Prof. Elst,
> 
> I wondered, as I began reading your post, whether there were quotation marks missing from the sentence beginning, "After all, he had only quoted a Westerner...."  Were you meaning to quote Malhotra, I asked myself, or were you speaking in your own voice?    As I read on, I realized that you are speaking in your own voice.  When I reached your second paragraph, "Established Western scholars who only talk to one another...",  it became obvious to me that you are willing to speak judgementally and dismissively of a whole profession on the basis of a criterion that has something to do with geography, rather than intrinsic merit or careful, engaged and informed scholarship.  It is also possible to read your statement as a specific insult to the other members of the INDOLOGY list, that you consider them "western scholars who only talk to one another."  As you probably know, insulting members of this list, from within the list, is not a behaviour that is tolerated by the managing committee of the INDOLOGY forum.  
>  
> I personally do not believe there is an east-west divide in intellectual ability or viewpoint.  I do not believe in "The West" as a category of thought that has anything useful to offer, and certainly not as a method of categorization that has any intellectual reality or merit. It has been my observation through many decades of engagement in academic life that there is good and bad scholarship to be found in all parts of the world and at all times in history.  Wouldn't it be lovely if it scholarly excellence were so easy to establish!  If scholars could be judged as good or bad because of being "western," or "Jewish," or "Hindu" or "Black," "White," "female," or any other regional, racial or gender category.  But it is not so.  Whatever colour we are, whatever part of the world we live in, we all have to work very hard to understand difficult ideas, and to make judgements that demonstrate integrity and knowledge.  
> 
> And this hard work involves much careful study, much discussion with friends and colleagues, the exposure of one's ideas to teachers, peer reviewers, and at conferences.  Intellectual work consists of composition, exposition, and debate, said Sa-Skya Pandita in the thirteenth century.  This is what it means to be a worthwhile academic.  It is not a matter of winning or losing, of being more insulting than the next person.  It is not a political contest.  It is a matter of developing more subtlety, deeper insight, and a finer sensibility towards truth.  Even someone whose ideas are shown to be wrong is a "winner," since we all strive for truth.  Most important of all, intellectual life is not a matter of defending oneself.  Good academics are very interested in ideas and knowledge; they are not much interested in personality and personal conflict, or in prestige or public perception.  
> 
> You present yourself as having performed the lonely task of providing the members of this list with links to Malhotra's responses.  But you err in thinking that the subset of members of this list who are interested in the accusations of plagiarism against Malhotra would not be following the debate in the media, just as you are.  This list is not the be-all and end-all of indological debate.  It is a forum where just some specialist questions are asked and answered.  You are not personally called upon to promote a particular point of view in a debate that does not concern you, for the supposed good of others.  You do not have the right or the responsibility to set the agenda for what others should be thinking about.  The members of this list have quite as much experience as you in reading public media and in making up their own minds about what they think.  
> 
> You, apparently Malhotra, and others have made at least two important category errors in your responses to this matter.  First, at the heart of this discussion, it is not Malhotra that is the main topic.  It is the plagiarism in his writings that is the issue.  There's a difference.  Malhotra has responded with mighty indignation as if he personally has been attacked, as if he is in a titanic struggle between The Indian Tradition and The West, and pointing out his plagiarism is a sly attack on India or Hinduism.  This is theatrical nonsense.  Malhotra seeks to redefine the terms of the discussion and place himself at the centre of things, perhaps because his goals are political not academic.  He reduces the matter from an discussion about academic ethics to a cheap bar-room brawl between himself and Nicholson.  The reality is, there are questions hanging over his academic writing, that appears by the criteria of the Princeton guidelines to contain plagiarized passages.  
> 
> Second, it is not a war, a battle or a titanic inter-cultural struggle.  We would all increase our understanding of the issue if we avoided military metaphors.  They don't help; they rarely help.  The second category error is to see this matter of plagiarism as a war, a contest or an east-west struggle.  It is what it is, no more, no less.  Professional groups develop practices that help them: climbers use ropes, sky-divers use parachutes.  The academic profession has evolved behaviours that have been shown by centuries of experience to help in the search for right knowledge.  Plagiarism does not help.  It appears that Malhotra has committed plagiarism, according to the criteria accepted by the profession (the Princeton criteria, for example).  What next?  The author may do nothing, or he may correct his books, or he may try to prove that he has not plagiarized.  Everything else is meaningless bluster.
> 
> Sincerely
> Dominik Wujastyk
> 
> 
>> On 22 July 2015 at 17:08, <koenraad.elst at telenet.be> wrote:
>> 
>> Dear listfolk,
>>  
>>  
>> After having provided the link to what Malhotra has to say to Andrew Nicholson's attack on him (linked even earlier), here is the link to what he is doing about  it: http://swarajyamag.com/culture/nicholsons-untruths/  Briefly, in agreement with the publisher, he is throwing Nicholson entirely out of his book, replacing him by Indian authors writing on the same unifying-Hinduism efforts. After all, he had only quoted a Westerner because that is more prestigious and unsuspect, but there is a lot of better knowledge about Hindu tradition among Hindus themselves. In the spirit of decolonization, he is taking this opportunity to highlight Indian scholars in the "decolonized" second version of Indra's Net. The broader context of which the present controversy forms part, is given here: http://www.firstpost.com/living/decolonising-indology-rajiv-malhotra-wont-follow-rules-set-west-2356234.html
>>  
>> Established Western scholars who only talk to one another, might not realize it, but as I notice in non-mainstream media, Malhotra is turning the tables on his attackers, and is coming out of this affair with increased prestige.
>>  
>> While some of you have provided links to the attacks on him, it has fallen to me to provide links to his responses. Given your apparent interest in the affair, this must have been a useful service. Amid the holy indignation about plagiarism by a man who has amply referred to Nicholson and quoted him many times, thus annulling the very rationale a plagiarist would have, I find it more anomalous that so many academics consider it perfectly normal to hear (and act on) only one half of the story. As Hegel said, "das Wahre ist das Ganze" (truth is the whole). But no, the fact that I have made his voice audible has served as proof among several scholars that I must be in agreement with him, or even in his pay. The latter allegation, and conspiracy theory, sure to be a hit among fishwives, betrays an interesting mentality: the assumption that defending someone's right to be heard implies agreeing with him. By that principle, even Hitler and Stalin were champions of free speech -- at least the free speech of those who agreed with them. It ought to be obvious to scholars that hearing a position and agreeing with that position are two different things. Well yeah, while the affair loses its steam, it becomes time for me to formulate my own thoughts about it, tomorrow or so.
>>  
>> Fortunately, we can conclude on a positive note. We should take heart from the complaint uttered here that, while so many people signed a petition opposing the pulping of Wendy Doniger's book, so few have now signed the petition demanding the pulping of Malhotra's book. At that time, I wrote that there may be many things wrong with Doniger's book (indeed, a great many), but that banning it is not the answer. It seems that today, a healthy majority here thinks that to the few things wrong with Malhotra's book, banning is still not the right answer.
>>  
>>  
>>  
>>  
>>  
>> Kind regards,
>>  
>>  
>> Koenraad Elst     
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