re Kalanos the gymnosophist

lusthaus at lusthaus at
Mon May 6 08:43:40 UTC 1996

Robert Zydenbos writes:
> German
>and French philosophy on the whole show different tendencies

Sure. And so do Sartre and Merleau-Ponty from each other; and so do
Heidegger and Husserl from each other. French and German philosophies are
however not the self-isolated linguistic communities you are suggesting. As
Tom Rockmore has shown, Heidegger's popularity in France and the USA is
directly due to the efforts of French thinkers after the war - most Germans
were not interested in his thought (or wartime sentiments) at that time.

> (cf. e.g. Jean
>Grondin's remarks in his _Der Sinn fuer Hermeneutik_, introduction.

> Try to find an Indian colleague who reads any Indian language other than
>his own with a degree of ease, or who reads non-English foreign publications.

They are indeed rare, but those exceptions are the shining stars. I had the
good fortune to study with J. Mohanty for several years, and while he would
not speak German in class (he'd ask German students to pronounce certain
words), his *reading* of German texts (and Greek, etc.) is impeccable. All
the examples you cite of contemporary Indian intellectual provincialism are
perhaps best seen as symptomatic of what ails India today. India will not
regain its intellectual significance for the world until it outgrows that
self-imposed myopia. If that's true, than the Sanskrit-only movement is
going exactly in the wrong direction, though to add to your list of
provincialisms, most of the Indians I know have little to zero
comprehension of Sanskrit (unless a word or phrase sounds similar to what
they do speak).

>(As for Nietzsche: we should not take all his statements at their face value.
>Many of them had a polemical and provocative intention.)

I never take Nietzsche at face value; I made that comment to show (1)
Germans "knew" about French thought, (2) some admired it and thought it had
something to teach their own. Again, the point is to differentiate the
elite - amongst whom you will find the multilingual cosmopolitan thinkers -
from the provincials who see their own efforts at reappropriating their own
past as either maintaining or fixing the status quo.

> First the English language is there;
>afterwards come the soap operas and CNN and MTV via satellite, which would be
>meaningless without a basic knowledge of the language.

In Taiwan MTV is broadcast from Japan in Japanese with Chinese subtitles.
In fact most of the cable TV offerings in Taiwan are from Japanese
satellite. Yet few if any younger Taiwanese speak Japanese. CBS Evening
News is broadcast in Taiwan in English in the morning, and yet few
Taiwanese understand a word of it without the Chinese subtitles. CNN might
be on cable there, but I didn't run into it.

> New Delhi's desire for
>high-tech things and the BJP's desire that India should be a nuclear-weapons
>power, however ugly, are perfectly understandable from the point of view of a
>culture that feels threatened by America.

Is "America" a typo for Pakistan, which is getting support for its own
nuclear program from China?

[stuff omitted]
> And this is why there is a grass-roots movement in India aimed at
>reviving Sanskrit as an actively used language.

I question the legitimacy of the word "reviving" in that sentence.

> le> Further, since before the time of the Buddha and
> le> MahAvIra (both who
> le> deigned not to speak Sanskrit, and whose followers turned to
> le> Sanskrit only
> le> after many centuries, and even then often in Prakrit forms),
>But does this switching to Sanskrit not confirm my view? Pali and the various
>forms of Prakrit (N.B.: not one single variety of Prakrit!) which Jaina authors
>used could not survive in the course of time as pan-Indian media for the
>exchange of ideas. Only Sanskrit could.

N.B. If my use of the plural word "forms" was not clear enough, then thank
you for clarifying my intent (though, according to the grammar I learnt,
the phrases "forms of Prakrit" and "Prakrit forms" are synonymous).

The switching to "Sanskrit" as a professional language is a sign of their
increasing professionalism. It marked the sovereignty of the elite over
thinking (precisely the problem that Buddha cited as the reason why he
refused to speak Sanskrit). It was a professional lingua franca, which
Jainas or Buddhists from all over India or the Buddhist world could find
useful when interacting with their brethren of other tongues, and which
also helped facilitate interreligious debates (in the flesh and textually)
between the various "Indian" traditions. Yes, it served a professional
pan-Indian function, and I've not tried to dismiss or belittle that, but it
was not the *formative* factor in the development of those non-Vedic
traditions, and as we grow more aware of the history of regional
developments of Hinduism, the importance of the non-Sanskrit innovations is
becoming more apparent. Similarly, are Sikhs not Indians simply because
they never Sanskritized the Adi Granth (and have no plans to do so,
according to the latest I've heard)? Do you want to reduce Sikh political
actions and motives to mere language? What about the Sants, Kabir, etc.?

Dan Lusthaus
Macalester College

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