re Kalanos the gymnosophist

c.j.oort at c.j.oort at
Mon May 6 17:08:54 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
Dear Mr Zydenbos,
I do'nt want to be a nit-picker, but because you mentioned F.R.Leavis I
would like to comment about my experience of taking a degree in English (
I'am a native speaker , however an American) at Leiden University in the
'60's, Leavis was the cat's pyjamas as far as English literary theory was
concerned, eventhough he wrote a very, sometimes grammatically, obscure
English.  Perhaps you are too young to know the impact Leavis had on a
generation of "English " European scholars.  This message only to underline
that we must tread softly with our statements.
Met vriendelijke groeten,
Marianne Oort

C.J. Oort
tel: 31-(0)70-5116960
fax: 31-(0)70-5140832

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