Friday, August 20, 2010

Foundations of Indian Culture: the Veda, the Upanishads, & the Gita

Volume 14
Vedic and Philological Studies (TO BE PUBLISHED)
Writings on the Veda and philology, and translations of Vedic hymns to gods other than Agni not published during Sri Aurobin do's lifetime.
The material includes (1) drafts for The Secret of the Veda, (2) translations (simple translations and analytical and discursive ones) of hymns to gods other than Agni, (3) notes on the Veda, (4) essays and notes on philology, and (5) some texts that Sri Aurobindo called "Writings in Different Languages". Most of this material was written between 1912 and 1914 and is published here for the first time in a book.
Volume 15
PDF last updated: 15 Aug 09
The Secret of the Veda
Essays on the Rig Veda and its mystic symbolism, with transla tions of selected hymns.
These writings on and translations of the Rig Veda were published in the monthly review Arya between 1914 and 1920. Most of them appeared there under three headings: The Secret of the Veda, "Selected Hymns" and "Hymns of the Atris". Other translations that did not appear under any of these headings make up the final part of the volume.
Volume 16
Hymns to the Mystic Fire (TO BE PUBLISHED)
All translations of Vedic hymns to Agni; and related writings.
The material includes all the contents of Hymns to the Mystic Fire(translations of hymns to Agni from the Rig Veda, with a Foreword by Sri Aurobindo) as well as translations of many other hymns to Agni, some of which are published here for the first time.
Volume 17
PDF last updated: 15 Aug 09
Upanishads-I : Isha Upanishad
Translations of and commentaries on the Isha Upanishad.
The volume is divided into two parts: (1) Sri Aurobindo’s final translation and analysis of the Isha Upanishad. This small work contains his definitive interpretation of the Upanishad. It is the only writing in this volume published during his lifetime; (2) ten incomplete commentaries on the Isha. Ranging from a few pages to more than a hundred, these commentaries show the devel opment of his interpretation of this Upanishad from around 1900 to the middle of 1914.
Volume 18
PDF last updated: 15 Aug 09
Upanishads-II : Kena and Other Upanishads
Translations of and commentaries on Upanishads other than the Isha Upanishad.
The volume is divided into two parts: (1) translations of and commentaries on the Kena, Katha and Mundaka Upanishads and some "Readings in the Taittiriya Upanishad"; (2) early translations of the Prashna, Mandukya, Aitareya and Taittariya Upanishads; incom plete translations of and commentaries on other Upanishads and Vedantic texts; and incomplete and fragmentary writings on the Upanishads and Vedanta in general. The writings in the first part were published by Sir Aurobindo during his lifetime; those in the second part were transcribed from his manuscripts after his passing.
Volume 19
PDF last updated: 15 Aug 09
Essays on the Gita
Essays on the philosophy and method of self-discipline presented in the Bhagavad Gita.
These essays were first published in the monthly review Arya be tween 1916 and 1920 and revised in the 1920s by Sri Aurobindo for publication as a book.
Volume 20
PDF last updated: 15 Aug 09
The Renaissance in India with A Defence of Indian Culture
Essays on the value of Indian civilisation and culture.
This volume consists of three series of essays and one single essay: (1) "The Renaissance in India", (2) "Indian Culture and External Influence", (3) "Is India Civilised?" and (4) "Defence of Indian Culture". They were first published in the monthly review Arya between 1918 and 1921. In 1953, they first appeared in a book under the title The Foundations of Indian Culture.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Agency is always a human-nonhuman collective

In Akeel Bilgrami’s contribution to Varieties of Secularism in a Secular Age, “enchantment” refers to the historical belief that God or his divine expression is accessible to the everyday world of “matter and nature and human community and perception.”

In the wake of Schiller’s critique of Kantian morality as too disembodied (echoed in Foucault’s work on ethical ascesis), I understand ethics as requiring both  principled beliefs (and duties) and also a set of  moods, sensibilities, and bodily comportments hospitable to carrying them out.  My contention is that the intensity of the compound mood of enchantment (wonder/disturbance) could serve as one impetus to ethical action, insofar as it contributes the energy or motive force needed to render human bodies capable of jumping the gap between mere conviction that a course of action is good and the actual doing of the deed.  What Spinoza called the “joyful” affects are needed to energize a body called upon—by habit, sympathy, or reason—to love, forgive, treat with compassion or minimized harm to (an ontologically diverse range of) others.    In short, I think that, under the right circumstances, the mood of enchantment, which entails the experience of the outside as making a call, can be an important part of ethics.
Bilgrami, too, is interested in the ethical implications of enchantment. He begins with the intriguing claim that the call from outside serves as the very condition of possibility of human will and therefore agency: to desire to have or to do something is to experience that thing or activity as “desirable rather than as desired,” as, in other words, a response to an external call.   What is more, the very experience of ourselves as moral subjects depends upon this experience of a world of outside objects: “in the very moment and act of perceiving values without, we also perceive ourselves within, as subjects rather than as objects.  The experience of value without and agency within are not two different and independent experiences.” In short, “it is only because the world itself contains desirabilities (or values) that we perceive that our agency really gets triggered or activated.  The very possibility of agency therefore assumes an evaluatively enchanted world.”
Based as it is upon an assertion of the constitutive interdependence of the notions of subject and object, this argument makes good sense.  But it also reveals the extent to which Bilgrami and I have different views of human agency—what composes it, how it is activated and sustained.  I think that human agency is best conceived as the effect of a perspicuous configuration of human and nonhuman forces.  When humans act, they do not exercise exclusively human powers, but express and inflect the powers of a variety of “foreign” bodies internal to them, including bacteria in the human gut, heavy metals absorbed into flesh, words and sounds from human and nonhuman cultures, etc.  There is a difference between these nonhuman actants and a human (compound) individual, but neither considered alone has real agency.  The locus of agency is always a human-nonhuman collective.

Even though Aristotle is driven towards concretion in both (a) asking the question “What is being” in terms of “What is primary being”, and (b) in offering an exhaustive categorial determination of all things in the world, he seems to fall short of the step that would yield fuller concretion. In fact, it is implausible to hold that any claims to the concretion of being can bypass or underestimate the ‘who’ of the question of being.

The question of meaning of Being cannot be isolated from the one who interrogates. In the act of asking the question: ‘What is being?’ Aristotle seems to gloss over the fact that Being is an issue for the one who asks that question. To lay it out in another way, in merely keeping to the ontical-categorial framework, Aristotle devalues the ontological priority of the question.

It is to address this skew that Heidegger’s Dasein steps into the picture. In asking the question of meaning of Being, rather than simply ‘What is Being’, Heidegger creates the need for Dasein itself and retrieves the quest for being. Dasein is that ‘being which is concerned in its being about its being’ (Heidegger: Being and Time). Da is a German word referring to place, though it also has a temporal aspect to it – ‘there/here, at this time’. Sein, on the other hand means ‘to be’ or ‘to exist’. This renders Dasein a meaning of ‘existing-there-or-here-then’. The essence of Dasein lies in its existence and not in its substance.

In his ontological framework laid out in Categories, with great emphasis, Aristotle attempts to distinguish substance from subject and yet his subject appears most substance-like, without any subjectivity. Aristotle’s main complaint against his predecessors is the absence of logical clarity of terms in their systems, but he himself doesn’t clarify what he means by a ‘subject’ and how it is to be properly distinguished from a substance, even in situations which appear to demand an explicit articulation. It is interesting that Aristotle uses multiple instances of ‘a man’ to illustrate his discussion of being in Categories, Physics and Metaphysics. But he uses it as a mere substantive ‘man’ and not as a subjective ‘man’. A particular entity like a man, the locus of primary being for Aristotle could satisfactorily be replaced by a particular table or a clay pot and is therefore dramatically different from the Dasein of Heidegger. This is because even though Dasein can be conceived of as merely ontical like a clay pot, the fact that it has the possibility to be concerned with whether its being is merely ontical (or not) is an issue for it, is certainly ontological in character.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Cognition, computation, & music

The Primacy of Grammar - Nirmalangshu Mukherji - 2010 - 296 pages - Preview A proposal that the biolinguistic approach to human languages may have identified, beyond the study of language, a specific structure of the human mind.
Editorial Reviews
"It is a sign of maturity for any given field that a philosopher should reflect on its foundations. When the philosopher understands the field in its technical minutiae, it is a privilege, even a contribution. Moreover, given its approach and scope, a work like Mukherji’s should reach a wide audience beyond linguistics, which is vital for the dissemination of the biolinguistics project that he elegantly introduces." —Juan Uriagereka, Department of Linguistics, University of Maryland

"This wide-ranging monograph provides a masterly and lucid overview of Chomsky’s ‘biolinguistics’ enterprise and builds on it to offer a novel account of the nature of the human faculty of language. The core of that faculty is our tacit knowledge of grammar, the unique domain where the methodology of the hard sciences has been fruitfully applied to human cognition. In a tightly argued and challenging discussion, Mukherji goes on to suggest that there is a single computational system (essentially Chomsky’s CHL—the computational system of human language) underlying all of language, music, mathematics and logic (the ‘hominid set’). He defends this speculative thesis with insightful discussion of music, both Indian and Western, and ends with the striking suggestion that CHL is the unique computational system in nature. Mukherji’s work is likely to trigger admiration and outrage in equal measure. It is an elegant achievement." —Neil Smith, Department of Linguistics,
University College London
Product Description
The contemporary discipline of biolinguistics is beginning to have the feel of scientific inquiry. Biolinguistics—especially the work of Noam Chomsky—suggests that the design of language may be "perfect": language is an optimal solution to conditions of sound and meaning. What is the scope of this inquiry? Which aspect of nature does this science investigate? What is its relation to the rest of science? What notions of language and mind are under investigation? This book is a study of such foundational questions. Exploring Chomsky's claims, Nirmalangshu Mukherji argues that the significance of biolinguistic inquiry extends beyond the domain of language.

Biolinguistics is primarily concerned with grammars that represent just the computational aspects of the mind/brain. This restriction to grammars, Mukherji argues, opens the possibility that the computational system of human language may be involved in each cognitive system that requires similar computational resources. Deploying analytical argumentation and empirical evidence, Mukherji suggests that a computational system of language consisting of very specific principles and operations is likely to be involved in each articulatory symbol system—such as music—that manifests unboundedness. In that sense, the biolinguistics approach may have identified, after thousands of years of inquiry, a specific structure of the human mind.
A Bradford Book About the Author

Nirmalangshu Mukherji is Professor of Philosophy at the University of Delhi.

Enormous, illusory, powerful, and spectral presences as the “defining” features of the human condition

I want to begin my contribution to this discussion on the politics of spirituality by highlighting the tension-fraught relationship between theoretical self-reflexivity and empirical study. […]
Further, I would suggest that this ethos of autology resonates with certain political traditions that embed self-sufficient self-service into their conceptual armature, notably the liberal democratic one. Freedom and the self. Individuals that choose their own way, breaking away from tradition. Spiritual and not religious. It is in this sense that circular definitions of spirituality and more linear, “objective” studies of spirituality in the world can come together. If one admits the nebulous swirl of self-grounding groundlessness as a feature of the world and not simply a feature of (misguided) analysis, then one may come closer to understanding the social construction of spirituality and the role that spirituality can play in the formation of the polis.
I take as my foundation an interest in and commitment to understanding religiosity in its more unconscious, habitual, automatic, instinctive, and just plain unclear dimensions. I start here not only because of the implausibility of the image of the human as a theoretically transparent, self-aware, self-possessing entity (who believes that or ever did?), but because equally implausible, or at least incomplete, is the characterization of knowledge through terms of transparency, awareness, and possession. If one instead follows the lead of, among others, Herman Melville in his suggestion of the enormous, illusory, powerful, and spectral presences as the “defining” features of the current human condition, then an interest in religion will not look to its clearest dimensions but to its vagueness. And this has driven my interest in spirituality. […]

In another piece I treated the techniques for managing spiritual experience in national parks. Here I turn to the self-reflections of park visitors on their spiritual experience, focusing particularly on the implications of that experience for their relationship to the collectivities of community, nation, and state. […] Hints of the influence of management on spirituality can be seen in references to the atmosphere of the parks. One respondent said, “I just feel that national parks are just such a beautiful example of God’s handiwork and God’s creation. […] The state works most powerfully in the parks through absences: through managing space in such a way as to remove or minimize polluting stimuli, including its own speech (interpretive panels and ranger talks obey a strict principle of economy, of not getting “in the way”). In those absences and silences, circles form. Perceptions of the environment, however intensively managed that environment may in fact be, turn into experiences of nature, self, and god. The political dimension of such experience is largely unspoken. But in its particular embodied characteristics, such experience is structurally dependent on a certain exercise of state power. In this way the politics of spirituality may have little to do with thoughts about elections or particular government officials. But it has much to do with creating a space for significant governmental presence in both personal and collective life.

Steven B. Smith reviews the Faye book for the Claremont Review of Books.
“In his single-mindedness to convict Heidegger, Faye overlooks the fact that Heidegger's life work was focused almost single-mindedly on one problem, the problem of Being. Our forgetfulness of this problem—this fundamental problem—is what he regarded as the root of modern nihilism. ForHeidegger, everything turned on a recovery of the problem of Being, without which life would become increasingly shallow, forgetful, and meaningless. He posed the question—if not perhaps with the greatest clarity, certainly with the greatest depth—who has responsibility for Being? At its best, his work is a call for a renewed sense of responsibility. It is the merit of Faye's book that he shows us how Heidegger, who did nothing but preach responsibility for Being, abnegated this responsibility because he did nothing but think of Being.”

Monday, August 09, 2010

Roy Bhaskar, Stengers, Haraway, Hayles, Luhmann, Protevi, and Toscano

Are we restricted to Derrida, Deleuze, Merleau-Ponty, Heidegger, Husserl, Levinas, Lacan, etc., or are we able to treat thinkers like Lewontin, Oyama, Stephen J. Gould, Luhmann, and so on as key thinkers.
An interesting feature of speculative realism and other new trends in philosophy is that they all propose a new canon. While Badiou is not a speculative realist, we nonetheless see him proposing to treat Cantor and Sartre’s later thought (largely ignored and passe today) as key references. Graham recommends Zubiri, Gasset, Latour, and Suarez as key points of reference. Meillassoux resurrects Hume (never popular or revered in continental circles outside of Deleuzians). Brassier champions the Churchlands and Laruelle. Morton makes Darwin a key point of reference. Bogost draws attention to thinkers like McLuhan and Wolfram. I hope to have made some small contribution by introducing Roy Bhaskar, Stengers, Haraway, Hayles, Luhmann, the developmental systems theorists (along with Protevi and Toscano), and a number of biological theorists. Changes in the canon are also changes in patterns of thought and in what it is possible to say and think.

Additionally, it’s my view that a number of Continental texts are designed as labyrinths such that they are rhetorically put together in precisely such a way as to trap the reader and provide no means of moving on. A good deal of Hegel is like this. Derrida is certainly like this. Lacan is like this. Much of Luhmann is like this. Deleuze is like this. (Note that I’ve cited four thinkers here who are huge influences in my own thought). These texts are put together in vague, elliptical, allusive, and polysemous ways so as to prevent the reader from pinning them down. In the case of Hume, Kant, Descartes, and Spinoza, I can readily pin down the claims they’re making and their arguments for these claims. In the case of the above listed thinkers, by contrast, I become a slave to the text, forced into an infinite labor of interpretation that never ends. Shouldn’t there be a point where we can move on?

Rarely do I learn more from a scholarly book than I have from Stefanos Geroulanos’s An Atheism that Is Not Humanist Emerges in French Thought. Geroulanos’s central thesis is compelling but simple: French antihumanism, in its theoretical mode, was based on a radicalized “negative anthropology,” i.e., the idea that man is a negating animal, as articulated in a widespread rejection of neo-Kantianism, first by Heidegger and then passed on to French thinkers like Bataille and Blanchot, largely via Alexandre Kojève and his “end of history” argument. Instead of the homo absconditus that Ernst Bloch was to locate in Karl Barth and Rudolf Bultmann’s “Protestant anthropology,” we have here a “last man,” heir to those “negations” of the world named freedom, history, and individuality, whose historical realization reveals that humanness is ultimately based upon a relation to death. And to the degree that this antihumanism continues to order thinkers like de Man, Derrida, and Foucault, it has also shaped many Anglophone intellectuals of my generation. Geroulanos tells a story that thus illuminates us too. […]

Hulme, Maurras, and Eliot’s antihumanism is important because it takes us to the border where atheist antihumanism, in its search for an institutional base, meets orthodox and reactionary Catholic antihumanism. Little illuminates the difficulties of occupying this border more than Action Française’s highly charged relation to Catholicism, which, despite the breadth of the movement’s support among French Catholics, would culminate in its formal prohibition by Pius XI in 1926 (the same year, interestingly, that Carl Schmitt broke with the Church). And I think it likely that the antihumanism that develops in and out of Heidegger and Kojève, and which Geroulanos illuminates so well, is also, at certain moments, shaped at this border.
One remembers, in particular, Maurice Blanchot. As a young man, he had been a radical, sometimes terror-embracing ultra-rightist in Action Française’s slipstream. But, as Geroulanos shows, he receded into post-Kojèvean antihumanism from about 1942 (in a world where the institutional barriers to secular nonhumanisms were breaking down). But, while a “negation of God,” Blanchot’s thought is famously hard to call irreligious. Let’s say that it is as if Blanchot chooses the other side of Pascal’s wager: he makes a bet against God, a bet that the world is not just immanent and Godless but “catastrophic.” That’s a wager that can’t pay out—it’s staked in a kind of madness—except insofar as it rescues you, if not exactly from atheism, then from mundaneity. At this point, maybe “atheist antihumanism” can be conceived of as positioned against ordinary social being, and belongs in that sense to the right, even where (as was the case for Blanchot in the 1960s) its sponsors join the radical left. At the very least, it is where the world is judged catastrophic in terms that Maurras and Racine and Pascal, those conservative nonhumanists, share.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Foundational text for contemporary Indian political thought

Indian Political Thought: A Reader Edited by Aakash SinghSilika Mohapatra (London & New York: Routledge, 2010). 

In our time of globalization, people in the West are increasingly looking beyond the limits of the West for insights and teachings. It is very important and fascinating to find out what is happening today in India in terms of political philosophy. This Reader is timely and very much needed as there is simply no comparable text is in fact a 'who's who' in contemporary Indian political thought.  -- Fred Dallmayr (Notre Dame, USA)

A significant attempt to construct a foundational text for contemporary Indian political thought, this volume meets a deeply felt need. -- Shashi Tharoor (former Under-Secretary General for the United Nations) 

Integral Pluralism: Beyond Culture Wars - Fred Dallmayr - 2010 - 231 pages - Preview
He also revisits the work of Gandhi as an example of integral pluralism in practice. Novel in its insights and accessible in tone, Integral Pluralism promotes the peaceful coexistence of different cultures.
The Promise of Democracy: Political Agency and Transformation - Page 234 -Fred R. Dallmayr - 2010 - 254 pages - Preview
anamnestic 'capitalization' and the amnesic exposure to what would no longer be identifiable at all.” Unfortunately, the distinction between the unexpected advent and the absolutely ...
Comparative Political Theory: An Introduction - Fred Dallmayr - 2010 - 292 pages
This book is meant as an introduction to a new field of scholarly inquiry, a subfield of political science called "comparative political theory."