re Kalanos the gymnosophist

zydenbos at zydenbos at
Tue May 7 01:06:16 UTC 1996

Replies to msg 06 May 96: indology at (c.j.oort at

 cjon> From: c.j.oort at (C.J. Oort)
 cjon> Subject: Re: re Kalanos the gymnosophist

>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.

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

I fear that your comment is not relevant. I did not refer to students in Europe
who study ENGLISH and ENGLISH LITERARY THEORY, like you did -- in that
particular context, it is perfectly understandable that Leavis has a role to
play. European students of SANSKRIT may read about Dandin and Abhinavagupta,
but to my knowledge nobody else does. And I wish to stress here that this has
absolutely nothing to do with Abhinavagupta's qualities as a literary thinker,
which I find noteworthy.

I was thinking of people on mainland Europe who thought about literature in
general, who developed theories of literature and who had absolutely no reason
to be Anglocentric in the way our Indian colleagues tend to be (due not to any
deliberation of their own, but due to historical linguistic reasons, which is
my point). I did an exam in general literary theory at Utrecht in the mid '70s,
and in class there was just a passing mention that Leavis existed. During my
two years in Germany, nobody ever mentioned Leavis: he is just as much out of
the picture as Abhinavagupta is, and basically for the same reason.

I'm not aware that Leavis played any major role in thinking about literature
in, say, Germany or Russia, nor in the Netherlands -- among those who did not
study English as their main subject! This too is part of my point, which you
apparently missed. Ask a Dutch scholar of Dutch literature what he thinks about
Leavis or Richards; and then ask a native Kannada-speaking scholar of Kannada
literature the same question. The glaring difference of response which you will
see is not a debatable issue. 

Hence I do believe that my statement holds good. And, as I stated in an earlier
message, many more parallel statements can be made concerning India, which are
equally valid. In the quick transmission of ideas, in the development of
schools of thought, and also in the initial predisposition of persons who are
confronted with a new idea, the role of language can hardly be underestimated.

Robert Zydenbos
Internet: zydenbos at

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