magic / directions in Indology?

Wed May 29 12:56:10 UTC 1996

On Sat, 25 May 1996, George Thompson wrote:

> Jan Houben's recent remarks offer an interesting challenge to all
> Indologists, particularly in light of the previous remarks of Michael
> Witzel ... concerning 'the general contempt for
> "textual studies"' -- in particular among his American audience. 

> Witzel on
> the one hand calls for the editing of more texts; Houben on the other urges
> us to get current with our theory [anthropological theory in particular].

Two aspects of our work. There are several more. Good, philologically sound,
culturally well informed (and preferably idiomatic) translations for
example. Or the "still digging", anthropologically informed but
indologically centered field work among the various communities of the 
subcontinent, not to forget the current frontiers of Hinduism
among the "tribals" (not my term) in Orissa, Nepal etc.

We also have much salvage anthropology/indology to do, especially now that
we notice the increasing pace of "modernization" of the subcontinent. 
That, incidentally, has always been part of my work since the seventies.
(In one case I may have just caught the last vestiges of a unique Tantric
reinterpretation of a Vedic ritual). etc. etc. The same is true as far as
search for MSS and oral traditions is concerned.  Informed specialists
have to be on the lookout for disappearing remants of tradition (written
and oral) before they die out now due to neglect and simple old age of the
transmitters/MSS. Unfortunately too little of this is carried out by our
South Asian colleagues. 

> Witzel urges us to return to the Ivory tower [assuming that the editing of
> texts is an Ivory tower sort of preoccupation], while Houben suggests that
> we have become irrelevant by staying there.  Clearly, we are being called
> in two different directions here.

Certainly not, see last paragraph.Many directions.  -- Madhav has already 
answered this at length.
Anyhow, I have always deplored (I think also in writing) the loss of 
connection with anthropology that occurred after the Twenties...

> This is an issue which "the American audience", in particular, should
> perhaps confront. 

That was the intention. It is difficult to see this from the inside.  The
problem of "us" and the OTHER styles of scholarship...
Apart from blinders, there also is the problem of what is useful for 
one's career.... If  you don't follow the trend, as grad. student, no 

Since I have experienced the academic atmosphere in Germany, Nepal/India,
Holland, the US, Japan -- always for years, and while working there, -- I may
perhaps be deemed competent to make some comparisons. 

Regarding types of work, the simple fact of the matter is that thorough
work like the great mathematician Grassmann's Rgveda Dictionary endure and
are constantly used to this day, and even Griffith's RV translation since
no one else bothered to produce a new, complete one in English for the 100
years, or similarly, R. von Roth's/D. Whitney's Atharvaveda edition and 
translation, to quote just our oldest sources... 

I am sure that in the same way Staal's two "brick colored" vols. on the
Kerala Agnicayana or Robert Levy's description/interpretation of the
religion/society of the very traditional (almost medieval) Hindu town of 
Bhaktapur in Nepal (Levy, "Mesocosm") will endure

I have my doubts about certain other types of work, expressed already last 

M. Witzel
617 495 3295

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