Saturday, December 12, 2009

Edmund Wilson in Banaras; Pericles and Plato in Hampi

Peter Watts alert from The Pinocchio Theory by Steven Shaviro
Peter Watts is a brilliant science fiction writer — I have written about all four of his novels on this blog (Starfish, Maelstrom, Behemoth, and (at greatest length) Blindsight).

A note on Orientalism from The Joyful Knowing by Mike Johnduff
So, I divorced literary theory from critical theory a bit last time. But I did so not to knock at the latter so much as show how literary theory is really doing something else, something less critical in the sense that people have been lately been referring to it--that is, negatively, and with its Kantian overtone. This isn't to say that ideology critique isn't also what we do in literary studies

Dec 11, 2009 another great Gibbon half-sentence from Object-Oriented Philosophy by doctorzamalek
He’s always able to say a lot very elegantly before he hits his first semicolon:
“The arts of negotiation, unknown to the simple greatness of the senate and the Caesars, were assiduously cultivated by the Byzantine princes…”
But the theater of action under discussion here is Persia, and Gibbon just can’t ever quite make Persia as interesting a theme as it really is.

Mirror of Tomorrow Re: Social Philosophy of Sri Aurobindo and the New Age by Kishor Gandhi—an Appraisal by RY Deshpande
paulette on Sat 12 Dec 2009 Permanent Link We should also take into account that the Greek civilization, like all others at that time, was based on slavery; the preceptors and law-codifiers were slaves; women were not part of the political system, but beautiful subjugated foreign ladies were brilliant, cultivated entertainers of the wealthy; homosexuality and even pederasty were current, and so was sexuality under whatever form. [...] Regarding historicism, here is another example, rescuing me from the shock of reading, regarding the dharma-fulfillers emperors of Hampi -- one thousand years after Pericles and Plato!:

“Beautiful maidens seem always to have been present, and concubines frequently accompanied the king. The literary sources portray the Vijayanagara ruler surrounded by women who adore him and spoil him, and with whom he cannot resist flirting; in this respect, he is considered as an irresistible erotic figure. Even when he leaves the palace, the king is rarely without the company of his favourites. The foreigners comment appreciatively on the dress, ornaments and varied accomplishments of these ladies, confirming that some were educated and talented courtesans. [the equivalent of the Greek hetaeras, high class cultivated courtesans?] However, the women who were seen with the king on these more public occasions are to be distinguished from the royal queens and family members who were confined to segregated and strictly guarded zones within the palace.” [From “Hampi”, John M Fritz & George Michell, pp.35-6.]

Dec 11, 2009 The Selfishness of the Selfless from One Cosmos by Gagdad Bob
One important area in which Christianity and non-dualism radically diverge is over the question of hope. In the former, not only is hope permitted, but it is one of the theological virtues. In contrast, in non-dualism there is nothing to hope for and no one to hope for it, for neither sappy hope nor the dopey hoper are within the scope of the Real.

A couple of days ago, some astute commenter -- Warren, it was -- mentioned that one of the benefits of non-dualism is that it authorizes one to indulge one's impulses without having to feel guilt or shame before the transcendent Other. Non-dualists may dispute this characterization, but they really don't have an ontological leg to stand on, for just who is doing the disputing? And just what are they pulling if we have no legs? (Not that there's anything wrong with that.)

Is it any wonder that the list of self-styled non-dualists and "independent gurus" who have set up shop in the West -- e.g., Da Free John, Chogyam Trungpa, Deepak Chopra, Krishnamurti, Rajneesh, and all the rest -- reveals a litany of duplicitous sexual, financial, and spiritual abuse? They are always -- either conveniently or inconveniently -- blindsided by the very desires they deny and claim to have transcended.

Coming up: The Middle Stage's Books of the Year from The Middle Stage by Chandrahas
Coming up over the next fortnight on The Middle Stage: as in 2008, two long essays on the best fiction and the best non-fiction that's come my way this year. On Written For Ever: The Best of Civil Lines
It is immediately clear from Advani’s anthology that the magazine published some outstanding non-fiction in its heyday (the late eighties, when three issues came out in quick succession). Dilip Simeon’s “O.K. TATA: Mobiloil Change and World Revolution”, an essay about a truck driver who discovers that his khalasi, or helper, is a Naxalite, evokes life on the road in the most sumptuous detail, while Ramachandra Guha’s “An Anthropologist Among The Marxists” describes with a giddy devotion the author’s first-hand knowledge of the various Calcutta factions of Marxism gleaned as a doctoral student in Calcutta. Alongside Pankaj Mishra’s “Edmund Wilson in Banaras” (published elsewhere), these essays must rank as two of the greatest in modern Indian prose. Indeed, Simeon’s piece deserves further praise for the acuity with which it transforms the substantially non-English world of truckers into an English that never seems incongruous.

Meeting Prithwindra Mukherjee, Article and interview by Sunayana Panda '79, The Golden Chain, August 2009: There are many in the world who can speak several languages and quite a few who read more than one language, but rare are those who can express their abstract thoughts in more than one language in writing. Even in India, where there are so many official languages, urban Indians have great difficulty in writing even in one Indian language correctly.

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