re Kalanos the gymnosophist

zydenbos at zydenbos at
Mon May 6 04:05:16 UTC 1996

Replies to msg 05 May 96: indology at (lusthaus at

 le> Subject: Re: re Kalanos the gymnosophist

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

Of course language never was a door that was shut forever and for everyone (our
Kalanos thread is based on the very assumption of exchange of ideas across
linguistic / cultural boundaries!). I do maintain that in spite of this, German
and French philosophy on the whole show different tendencies (cf. e.g. Jean
Grondin's remarks in his _Der Sinn fuer Hermeneutik_, introduction. Grondin, by
the way, is neither French nor German but Canadian, like myself) [note, for
those who know me: all right, I am bi-national]. And the fact remains that
language can be an enormous hurdle, and India provides excellent examples of
this. 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.

The examples which India provides are literally innumerable. Visit an Indian
university library and count the number of titles dealing with a minor British
thinker like Bradley, who is virtually unknown just across the water on the
European mainland. Indian colleagues tend to believe that F.R. Leavis and I.A.
Richards are the alpha and omega of literary criticism, while European
colleagues disregard them altogether. An astonishing number of Indian literary
people (scholars and creative writers) believe that T.S. Eliot is the greatest
poet of the century, no doubt also because they cannot read the French and
German contemporaries at whom Eliot must have had more than a close look. The
list of examples goes on and on.

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

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

If we were to vote for a lingua franca for use in INDOLOGY, my own vote would
go to German, as a language with which a long and consistent tradition of
academic excellence in this field is associated. But all that does not count.
New York as a hub of American culture does not count either. What counts is
where Wall Street and the Pentagon are. (That India once was British territory,
and that English comes from Britain, is merely a happy coincidence.) This is an
ugly, brutal fact, but it remains true (which is all right, in a way, since
after all we do need a common linguistic medium here, and now the matter has
been settled right away).

The use of English, and modern popular Americophilia remarked upon earlier by
Lars Fosse, is another example of how the spread of a language and a culture
need not depend on total military subjugation: in this case economic strength,
backed by military strength, is enough. 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. 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. All of which is highly tragical, in
the classical Greek sense of the word.

 le> Cultural identity was not reducible
 le> to common language.

Quite true. Croatian and Serbian are virtually the same language, though
happenings in the former Yugoslavia indicate a lack of sense of ethnic and
cultural commonness.

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

 le> That's one way to look at it. Another is: The Indo-Europeans
 le> parted company
 le> somewhere around eastern Iran/Afghanistan, one group
 le> becoming the Persians
 le> and the other the India-invading Aryans. The "good" gods [...]

What I find missing in this view is the very important non-Aryan component in
Indian culture; and this component is precisely a chief cause in the
development of Sanskrit as a language distinct from Avestan. Prof. Kuijper and
others have written extensively on the Dravidian and other influences in the
formation of Sanskrit, and this is what makes Sanskrit "Indian" besides it
being, purely historically, a branch of ancient Indo-European. Sanskrit could
not have developed elsewhere, and after it assumed its definitive form in
India, it remained the pan-Indian language, unequalled by any other language
ever after. And this is why there is a grass-roots movement in India aimed at
reviving Sanskrit as an actively used language.

 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.

 le> no one was
 le> born into a family whose native language was Sanskrit.
 le> Especially the
 le> Paninian Sanskrit seems to have been almost as artifical a
 le> language as medieval Latin.

But this does not matter (nor does it matter that many ancients who wrote in
Koine Greek were not born Greeks, or that Germanic people in northern Europe
wrote mediaeval Latin, or that Indian Muslims wrote in Persian and Arabic). Or
rather: it _does_ matter, in the sense that it confirms my view (see my
previous paragraph).

Robert Zydenbos
Internet: zydenbos at

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