re Kalanos the gymnosophist

lusthaus at lusthaus at
Sun May 5 06:59:36 UTC 1996

Robert Zydenbos writes:
> Cf. the
>well-known phenomenon that Anglo-Saxons (as well as modern English-educated
>Indians!) are ignorant of anything that has not been written in or translated
>into English, and even show a tendency towards instant contempt.[...] Cf.
>the close relations between
>British and American thought, in spite of the ocean between the two countries,
>whereas the German and French philosophical traditions are quite distinct,
>though the two countries are adjacent.

One shouldn't conflate the attitudes and activities of common folk with
that of the intellectual elites. American "artists," e.g., typically went
to Paris, not London, to learn their craft. 20th century French philosophy
is inconceivable without German philosophy (Bergson's hegelianism; Sartre,
Merleau-Ponty, Levinas, et al. dependent on Husserl, Heidegger, Neitzsche,
etc.). In the 19th century, e.g., Nietzsche repeatedly writes that he
preferred French intellectual culture to that of Germany; etc. etc.

In fact the lingua franca throughout the world today, including Europe, is
English (or perhaps one should say "American"), and while American culture
is exerting its influence internationally, especially among youth, neither
Berlin nor Delhi are New York.

While obviously linguistic groupings can be signs of a certain cultural
solidarity, especially when combined with an active denigration of the
"other", language is rarely the sole factor. The Chinese and Greeks
considered themselves surrounded by barbarians. Yet the Chinese were,
historically, more aligned with Koreans (who spoke a completely different
language, though their literati were literate in Classical Chinese) than
with non-Han groups who often spoke Chinese and were for significant
periods rulers of China. Cultural identity was not reducible to common

>Perhaps we should also reflect on what "Indian" means. Isn't "India", as a
>cultural entity, something closely tied with the spread of Sanskrit as a medium
>of intellectual exchange?

That's one way to look at it. Another is: The Indo-Europeans parted company
somewhere around eastern Iran/Afghanistan, one group becoming the Persians
and the other the India-invading Aryans. The "good" gods were called Devas
in India, and the cruder, envious deities were called Asuras; The
Zoroastrians called their main deity Ahura (mazda), and we Indo-European
speakers inherited their term for the anti-gods as "devils." We also got
the other side of the story, since we consider god(s) "divine." It doesn't
take a great leap of insight to realize that the two groups diverged from a
common source, speaking a common language, and that one group's "devils"
was the other's "angels."
        Further, since before the time of the Buddha and MahAvIra (both who
deigned not to speak Sanskrit, and whose followers turned to Sanskrit only
after many centuries, and even then often in Prakrit forms), no one was
born into a family whose native language was Sanskrit. Especially the
Paninian Sanskrit seems to have been almost as artifical a language as
medieval Latin.

That's not to deny the importance of Sanskrit and its accouterments in the
development of Indian identity (or identities); but it suggests that one
also has to look elsewhere.

Dan Lusthaus
Macalester College

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