[INDOLOGY] In defense of MLBD

Gruenendahl, Reinhold gruenen at sub.uni-goettingen.de
Fri May 23 10:29:37 UTC 2014

John M. Ellis' book "Literature Lost - Social Agendas and the Corruption of the Humanities" (New Haven & London : Yale UP 1997) has a chapter on "Activism and Knowledge"  (140-159). There Ellis disusses three examples of social/political activism in the humanities, with interesting observations on the role of the "multisignature letter" as a means of suppressing publications, etc. From these examples he concludes (157f.):

"The prevalence of these episodes in which scholars organize them­selves into gangs shows how academic life is degraded when po­litical commitments become central to it:
minds become too closed to inquire."

Ellis  took contemporary developments in the American humanities as
"warning signs of an unhealthy condition that has arisen because a great principle -- that of knowledge for its own sake -- has been compromised."
There will be those who argue that that principle was illusory in the first place, or perhaps that I should not have drawn on Ellis' book, but rather to so-and-so's -- both of which would confirm Ellis' point: "Intellectual curiosity is flexible, moral fervor is not. One seeks answers, the other already knows them"  (1997:223).

In 1997, when Ellis published his book, Indologists educated in the philological tradition may still have seen little cause for concern because the said condition had not yet affected Indological departments in Europe, although it had evidently taken root in some quarters of U.S. academia as early as 1988:
(some of the names listed there may sound familiar)

In view of this chronology and of Ellis' book, there can be little doubt that this "corruption of the humanities" (Ellis' title, quoted approvingly here!) has its roots in U.S. academia. Meanwhile, (presumed) social and political agendas are all over the place, in European humanities and elsewhere. In my view, the recent campaign on the INDOLOGY list shows that only too clearly. In the absence of reliable data -- my request to the INDOLOGY committee has so far remained unanswered -- I can only assume that the views expressed by the activists of this campaign do not represent those of the majority of list members, but those of a relatively small but vociferous punditocracy (or commentariat -- whatever seems more politically correct).

My sympathy is with all those who have argued against this campaign.

I consider it a historic irony when those who have had their share in promoting this development now shed crocodile tears over its consequences -- at least when they affect their nearest and dearest (in the case of Oldenberg, e.g., or an  Indian publisher / book seller, no such concerns are raised).

Reinhold Grünendahl

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