[INDOLOGY] The study of Sanskrit as the epitome of uselessness

Karttunen, Klaus J klaus.karttunen at helsinki.fi
Tue Mar 24 06:22:40 EDT 2020

In 1943 the Finnish author Matti Hälli (1913–1988) published a detective story “Sopimatonta kuolla yliopistolla” (Improper to die at the university). A student is poisoned in a lecture of aesthetics. When the police is wondering, how few were attending the lecture, the Professor defends himself saying that the Professor of Sanskrit has just one single student. At that time there was no Professor of Sanskrit, but the language was taught. In fact, one single student at that time was quite possible. When the first year Sanskrit at Helsinki ended in spring 1972, we were only three (and I was the only one to continue in the next term).

From: INDOLOGY <indology-bounces at list.indology.info> on behalf of Matthew Kapstein via INDOLOGY <indology at list.indology.info>
Sent: 24 March 2020 11:38
To: Tieken, H.J.H. <H.J.H.Tieken at hum.leidenuniv.nl>; Christophe Vielle <christophe.vielle at uclouvain.be>
Cc: indology <indology at list.indology.info>
Subject: Re: [INDOLOGY] The study of Sanskrit as the epitome of uselessness

This reminds me that one of my teachers, the great Prof. Padmanabh Jaini, lost several students in the late 70s because the job market seemed particularly bad. They switched to law and easily passed the special examinations, the "Law Boards," for entering American Law Schools. Jaini joked that the field could be saved and even expanded by converting Sanskrit to a pre-law required course.

Matthew Kapstein
Directeur d'études, émérite
Ecole Pratique des Hautes Etudes, Paris

Numata Visiting Professor of Buddhist Studies,
The University of Chicago
From: INDOLOGY <indology-bounces at list.indology.info> on behalf of Christophe Vielle via INDOLOGY <indology at list.indology.info>
Sent: Tuesday, March 24, 2020 4:32 AM
To: Tieken, H.J.H. <H.J.H.Tieken at hum.leidenuniv.nl>
Cc: indology <indology at list.indology.info>
Subject: Re: [INDOLOGY] The study of Sanskrit as the epitome of uselessness

The Classicist Nuccio Ordine has published a stimulating (useful) essay "De l'utilité de l'inutile" (English translation: The Usefulness of the Useless").
where Sanskrit studies, together with Classics, are given as an example of (useful) usefulness, cf. p. 95 of the Engl. Transl.:
See also it in his oral presentations:
Quel danger courons-nous actuellement ? Dans une université-entreprise, quand un professeur de sanskrit aura deux étudiants, le Conseil d’administration de l’Université pourra dire que celle-ci ne peut pas se permettre le luxe de payer un professeur de sanskrit pour deux étudiants. Demain, cela sera pour dix étudiants en grec, et après-demain pour quinze étudiants en latin.

Le 24 mars 2020 à 09:49, Tieken, H.J.H. via INDOLOGY <indology at list.indology.info<mailto:indology at list.indology.info>> a écrit :

Dear List members,
Last night I started reading Ever After by Graham Swift. On p. 3 of the pocket edition (Vintage International) of 1993 we hear the protagonist think:

"Before they [academics] are sixty, they are emulating one of the many varieties: ... the wide-eyed, latter-day infant, helpless in all mundane matters but possessed of a profound understanding of Sanskrit."

A few months ago I was reading Nader tot U (1969) by Gerard van 't Reve gain. One of the characters has to fill in a profession on an official paper. In the end he decides to fill in "indoloog", which is considered to be better than "general in the Hungarian army" or "stratenmaker of zee" (general dogsbody) (p. 113). There is some confusion if indoloog refers to a civil servant in the Dutch Indies here (Indie verloren, rampspoed geboren) or to an indologist, which is later resolved by remarks about gurus and bhakti. I was amazed to see that I had bought the book in the summer of 1970, just a few months before I started with the study of Sanskrit.

Are there more accidental references of this type to sanskritists or indologists in literature?
(Leaving aside Lee Siegel's novel about Professor Roth being killed by Monier-Williams Sanskrit dictionary.)

With kind regards Herman

Herman Tieken
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The Netherlands
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