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  • Classical Indian Thought and the English Language: Perspectives and Problems ed. by Mohini Mullick and Madhuri Santanam Sondhi
  • Alessandro Graheli (bio)
Classical Indian Thought and the English Language: Perspectives and Problems. Edited by Mohini Mullick and Madhuri Santanam Sondhi. New Delhi: Indian Council of Philosophical Research and D. K. Printworld, 2015. Pp. viii + 320. Price 850 Rs, isbn 13 : 978-81-246-0827-2.

Classical Indian Thought and the English Language: Perspectives and Problems, edited by Mohini Mullick and Madhuri Santanam Sondhi, contains the proceedings of the workshop "Rendering of the Categories of Classical Indian Thought in the English Language: Perspectives and Problems," held in New Delhi in December 2011. Of the ten papers included in this volume, those by Sudipta Kaviraj, S. N. Balagangadhara, and Claus Oetke concern methodological issues of broader application, so they will be reviewed here in greater detail.

Each paper is followed by the response of a discussant and by a debate in the form of selected questions and comments from the audience at the workshop. The most relevant points raised in these discussions will be recapitulated in the second part of this review, along with my own comments. [End Page 306]

Sudipta Kaviraj begins by asking a general question: why should we read classical texts at all? He evaluates two distinct methods of relating this "we" to the "classical texts." One is the hermeneutic method, which he takes in the sense of Hans-Georg Gadamer's hermeneutics, and the other is the historical one, specifically the approach of Quentin Skinner and the Cambridge school. In Gadamer's hermeneutics, Kaviraj explains, historicity is understood as a double historicity: the historical existence of the text and the historicity of us readers, and this view is contrasted with the contextualistic practice of the Cambridge school, which aims at reducing the impact of modern understandings on past events and discourses. Kaviraj takes the hermeneutic approach quite seriously, though he ultimately seems to favor the historical one (pp. 14–15). He thinks that Gadamer oversimplified "the nature of the historicity of texts by turning it into a two-language process," a limitation that leads to a problem in the application of the hermeneutic method to "cultures of great actual continuity." This happens because "sometimes it is impossible to read a text like the Gītā from a temporal distance," since such a text is "mediated by intermediate interpretive texts or commentaries," so much so that "the enterprise of 'going back to the text itself' … is a deliberately innatural strategy" (p. 15).

Elaborating on the "we" of his original question, Kaviraj sees four possible types of interest in classical literature (pp. 27–28): an interest in "short" history, that is, in the modern reception of a given work; an interest in "long" history, back to the time when the original work was composed; an interest in philosophy, which does not necessarily need to be historical; and a pragmatic interest in some practical field such as Āyurveda or Yoga.

Kaviraj explains his distinction between "long" and "short" history by means of Gadamer's notion of "effective history" (Wirkungsgeschichte), that is, the historian's awareness that "although in a tradition of interpretation of past texts some earlier cultures might not be directly used by current interpreters, the effects of their prior interpretations still remain effective" (p. 22). In long history the genealogical chains behind historical events are taken into consideration, while in short history the present events are connected just with the immediately preceding stage (p. 23). Thus, the concept of continuity or rupture of a tradition becomes a matter of subjective awareness of the historian, rather than an objective event.

Kaviraj also proposes a strategy to counter the decline of Sanskrit knowledge by making it more accessible. To do this one needs to bypass "the linguistic constraint," that is, to disconnect "the content of the knowledge from the language in which it is stored" (p. 32), just as it has been done with the original Greek of Aristotle or the philosophical German of Hegel. Lastly, he advocates an interdisciplinary conversation by which traditional Sanskrit scholars could learn from social scientists "why the world on which they work became so...


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