STEPS TOWARD A SCIENTIFIC INDOLOGY
Te development of a new ideal of science at German universities during the nineteenth century has been well documented.5 Scholars note that around the late eighteenth to early nineteenth centuries, the term Wissenschaft took on grand idealist associations of a system of total and comprehensive knowledge. This system integrated both the transcendental principles of knowledge with the more specialized disciplines that developed from out of these principles and carried forward the work of enabling knowledge of the objective world……..
To be Continued......
STEPS TOWARD A POSITIVIST PHILOLOGY
Oldenberg further deepened the comparison between Indology and classical philology in later writings. As he expressed it in a 1909 address to a congress of German philologists, it was not just the “existence of material relationships” between the cultures of Greek, Roman, or Christian antiquity on the one hand, and Indian antiquity on the other, that legitimated the comparison between the two. Rather, it was the fact that “from a purely formal perspective, methodologically, the tasks that the Indologist has to solve are in every way comparable to those of the classical philologists, albeit, in other respects, not identical at all.”42 Here he distinguished between two aspects: (1) the object and aims of the science; and (2) the method of treating the field. As regards the first, he argued that “for both sciences the task is to summon up the existence of past civilizations [Volkstums] from their grave, to reinvigorate their manifestation, to understand the causal processes at work in them. The doorway here, as there [in classical philology], is language, grammar, and the lexicon. . . .Then the same holds for the Indologist as for the classical philologist, to hew a trail through monstrous masses of literature, to cleanse the texts, to put the old and the new, as much as possible, in their place.” Indology specifcally was faced with the task of a “reconstruction” of “the history of India.”43 Oldenberg, however, conceded that expectations had to be set “especially low” concerning the possibility of a comprehensive and coherent account of the history of India.44 In its place, he advocated specialized investigations focusing on “the religious essence of India in its evolution, law, [and] the plastic arts.” Political, economic, or social history remained beyond the ambit of Indology. Instead, Oldenberg argued a narrower claim. Indology was to research “all areas of spiritual activity out of the texts and monuments, just as the classical study of antiquity [klassische Altertumswissenschaft] does it in its own feld with such great success.”
This narrowing of focus to what might be called the spiritual history of India (as compared to its material history) was conditioned partly by what Oldenberg called the “existential conditions” under which German scholars operated.46 As he noted, “On the one side stood those who work in India locally and on site [an Ort und Stelle], obviously mostly Englishmen, alongside them anglicized Indians: there are administrators, jurists, military ofcers, practical school-teachers, as a whole not Indologists according to the German mould [nach deutschem Zuschnitt].”47 These workers came in for high praise: Oldenberg noted that they had collected manuscripts, inscriptions, works of art, and ethnological and folkloric material. Yet, this work was only preparatory to truly critical scholarship and the latter was done (or was to be done) by German academics. Oldenberg comments: “There are fruits in Indology that only the purposeful [zielbewußt] philological and historical method is capable of picking. To these fruits the hands of the workers, of whom I have spoken, do not always reach.” He continues: “Now the others: we philologists, in particular, the German philologists. Many of us have not seen India at all; for obvious reasons we cannot come so easily to Benares as one comes to Rome or Athens. Thus, we are all too exposed to the danger that something of the ultimate vitality of life is missing from the pictures that appear to us, that what we take to be the cloud trails of the Indian sky are ultimately only the vapors of our own study-rooms.”48 Nonetheless, Oldenberg argued that there was “rich compensation” for these shortcomings:
“If we may not feel ourselves immediately certain of [possessing] a feeling for the Indian present, we nonetheless see with greater acuity in the distance of Indian antiquity, that is, in the period that is important, above all, to us. . . . We know the Hindu less well than our [British] colleagues, who live in his land and breathe his air. But to us, I declare, the opportunity has been given to know the Aryan of ancient India better than these [our colleagues].49”
It is with respect to this task that Oldenberg considered classical philology to be the science par excellence upon which Indology had to model itself. He concluded:
“Here I have reached the point at which I was aiming. My task is to speak of the relationship of our science [Wissenschaft] to classical philology. Now if we trust ourselves to be able to look back into those ancient horizons, without constantly going astray in their murky depths, then we owe this above all to that philology, the great teacher, from whom we learn to work as philologists!” 50
What made classical philology the paradigmatic science for Oldenberg? Although German successes in classical philology might have partly fuelled these—admittedly somewhat hyperbolic—claims, there is good reason to look more closely at his reasons. Partly hyperbolic as they were, his claims nonetheless expose deep shared commitments (with philology) to certain principles of scholarship.
First and foremost, there were the technical aspects of the discipline. Here Oldenberg argued that there can be “absolutely nothing humiliating for us [i.e., for the Indologists] [to learn from philology] for this is simply a self-evident state of afairs.”51 As he clarifed,
“Our science [Wissenschaft] is still too young, still too little established for us to be able to learn and to teach the techniques of the philological art in our own feld of work in their complete conformity to law [Gesetzmäßigkeit] and detail. All the experiences, through whose conscious mastery tentative refection is transformed into a skilled technique of research—we could not possibly have had them ourselves in the necessary richness and determinacy; hence, we must take them over from those who have had these experiences before us. We must observe the possessors of such experiences at work: where can this occur better than in the workshops of Lachmann or Mommsen?52”
Second, there were the concrete methodological steps to be learned from the philologists. Oldenberg argued that
“the art of inquiry that also applies to the Indologist is practiced here [that is, in the workshops of Lachmann and Mommsen]; it is here that he [the Indologist] learns to recognize the seams in the form of what has evolved historically [Gestalt des Gewordenen], through which research penetrates to the processes of becoming [Vorgängen des Werdens] lying behind it [i.e., behind the outward form]; he learns with a confdent hand to collect all the firm points and to forget none of them for each and every problem, setting out from which [points] the state of the unknown points, which we are in search of, can be determined. Are there Indologists in training among those whom I address? I do not know of any more suitable advice to give them than to take classes with the teachers of classical philology. They should not slavishly imitate them, but they should learn to apply in other felds and to other conditions what manifests in terms of universal norms in the works of these [teachers] in the most vivid form.53”
Third, there were the aims of scholarship, which once again were explicitly borrowed from philology. As Oldenberg exemplifed vis-à-vis the Ṛgveda, Indologists had adapted and further developed the tools of philology for their own needs. The kinds of questions they had raised concerning the text, too, echoed the specifc origin of their concepts and methods in philology.
“The textual transmission of the Ṛgveda, already quite firmly established in very ancient times; seemingly in many of the most minute details of an admirable faithfulness: does it nonetheless permit, and if so to what extent, free reign to the conjecture that strives beyond the old state back to the original state [of the text]? [And, further,] the explanation of the Ṛgvedic text that is laid down in imposing works handed down by the old Indian scholars; does our exegesis have to demonstrate respect before this Indian knowledge [Inderwissen] or must it on its own responsibility hew open its own paths?54”
Oldenberg also emphasized the critical potential of philology, in both correcting the transmission and in offering an alternative access to the text than the commentarial tradition:
“Whoever stands closer to my subject knows how diametrically opposed the views are. What I consider to be correct, I will indicate. . . . It can only appear correct to me to examine the text without all the literal faith in words [Buchstabenglauben] in the traditional text with the methods of classical philology, as precisely as we are able to examine this: then we learn, I declare, to recognize that the exemplary transmission is nonetheless not infallible and in some places we learn to improve it. And similarly I can only consider it correct to once again examine the traditional explanation of the Ṛgveda with the methods of classical philology: we then learn to see through it as completely untenable and in many, I hope in the most places, we learn to find better [explanations].55 “
Although the parallels between Oldenberg’s views and Roth’s views (discussed earlier in chapter 4) of tradition are striking, we ought not overlook the fact that the new philology, especially as it developed in the hands of scholars such as Heyne and Wolf, was equally skeptical of tradition.56 Oldenberg could therefore claim to be well in the mainstream of philological ideas. The new philology, with its critical methods, emphasis on a return to the sources of tradition, disdain for commentarial glosses or interpolations, and preference for literal and historical readings, held out the promise of revolutionizing the understanding of the Veda. It not only ofered to build incrementally on existing readings; it was a completely new approach, rooted in completely diferent expectations and in a completely diferent understanding of texts. Further, its aims were antithetical to those of the tradition: whereas tradition considered the Veda to be a revelation and a source of infallible knowledge concerning supersensible reality, philology would regard it as a human and historical testament. As Barbara Holdredge notes in her comparison of the Veda and the Torah, the very purpose of studying scripture underwent a sea change.57 If the Indologist could not see the antimetaphysical biases of his approach, it was because the new philology implicitly underwrote his antitraditional, antiauthoritarian refex. Indeed, Oldenberg did not think there was a signifcant diference between the critical stance espoused by philology and the criticisms of tradition advanced by Indology. As he expressed it, “the technique of interpretation” was “in both felds [i.e., Indology and philology]” “partly identical and partly closely related.” “For the scholar of the Veda, who is tempted to translate faithfully according to the Indian commentators, the contact with classical philology is like contact with fresh air. The future of Veda interpretation, this is my conviction, depends not insignifcantly upon whether we succeed in dispelling the airs of the commentators’ knowledge by such a fresh breath of air.”58
In a nutshell, then, the positivist philology advocated by Oldenberg as the foundation for Indology had the following features:
1. It drew on established methodological canons, made available to it by classical philology.
2. Under the infuence of what Sheehan has termed the “documentary impulse” it studied Indian texts as physical, historical, and cultural artifacts, but not, at any event, as literary works.
3. It focused on texts not as they functioned within the life of the community, but as reconstituted by the scholar.
4. It replaced commentary by criticism, where the salient feature of this criticism would be, as Schleiermacher has it, its suspicion.59
5. It privileged historical investigations, though, conditioned by the fact that German scholars lacked firsthand access to India, these investigations would not take the form of positive historical research, but of identifying the historical processes at work in the evolution of Indian texts.
6 . Finally, there was the claim to being Wissenschaft, legitimated not only in terms of specifc methodological precepts, but also in terms of a powerful rhetoric of scientifcity
Although presented as making contributions to a positivist, historicist philology, there were signifcant problems with Oldenberg’s conception of Indology. Oldenberg might recall the names of Gottfried Hermann and Karl Lachmann, but the German Indologists’ knowledge of philology remained tenuous at best. They neither had the secure grasp of language demanded by Hermann nor the secure grasp of critical edition demanded by Lachmann. Their reconstructions of various Ur-texts of the Mahābhārata and Bhagavadgītā (studied in the preceding chapters) were evidence that they had not grasped the basic principles of textual criticism. For the most part, their philology could be summed up as what Heyne once described as “the vanity of wanting to seem brilliant through emendations.”60 Further, their penchant for studying the Veda from a documentary perspective needs to be seen in its historical context. Although Indologists did introduce new modes of contemplation, those modes in the final analysis are also not free from suspicion. It is perhaps true that thetradition did not develop historical modes of contemplation (or, at least, not to the same extent and in the same way as modern scholarship). As Oldenberg exclaimed, “historical development tends to be more weakly, more nebulously formed in India than in the West. And it lies in a transmission before us that does everything [possible] in order to obscure its image completely: this transmission without firm dates, which often confuses old and new to a seemingly hopeless extent, which continuously presents us with illusions with the pretentious [anspruchsvoll] wisdom of its masses of commentaries that only owe their existence to the sophistry of the scholastics in place of genuine thoughts and institutions.”61 Oldenberg also wrote that, “the more we . . . know of the history of India,” the more it appeared “as an incoherent rise and fall of accidental events.” “These events lack a secure hold and the meaningful sense such as that the power of a national spirit [Volksgeistes] that wills and transforms its will into deeds lends history [Geschehen].” “Only in the history of ideas, above all of religious thought,” do we fnd “firm ground.” “One may hardly speak of history in another sense here . . . [and] a people that has no history, naturally has even less of historiography.”62
These claims of a defcient historical consciousness among Indians were, doubtless, at least partly rhetorical. By highlighting the historicist dimensions of their research, Western Orientalists could make a powerful case for their own profession. Yet, what emerged at the end of this process of divestment of the text of its traditional social contexts and meanings was not a text emptied of all religious authority, but one whose authority had, to use Sheehan’s terms, been reconstructed and recuperated elsewhere: in the academies of Western scholars
Sheehan demonstrates in painstaking detail how changes in attitudes to the Bible in the eighteenth century led to the development of “nonliterary techniques . . . for evaluating documents.”63 Once the Bible lost its source of legitimation in a single, unifed church, scholars began to undertake the “recuperation of a text whose authenticity and authority could no longer be guaranteed by . . . theology.”64 In this project, scholars turned to various domains and disciplines, especially philology. The Bible came to be seen as a document rather than as a carrier of theological truths. As Sheehan describes the process, the “idea of the textual unconscious was key to the documentary impulse. By divorcing the physical features of the manuscript from its literary content, and by using these physical features to historicize the manuscript, both Maubillon and Montfaucon successfully removed the question of literary content from the domain of serious scholarship.”65 Yet, while these methodological innovations were essential to the discovery of the academic Bible, they were also conditioned by this discovery, indeed, made possible and necessary by it. The cultural Bible became the legitimation for a positivist philology that was, in turn, tasked with the investigation of this very text qua cultural artifact. “As a tool for teaching, a subject of scholarly research, and a disseminated document, the authority and authenticity of the Bible were guaranteed—in these domains—by the exercise of philological scholarship.”66 Hence, for Sheehan, the central problem for a study of the Enlightenment Bible (and its attendant methods) cannot, following a popular narrative, be that of an overcoming and an emancipation of religious authority, but its “reconstruction and recuperation.”67
Western scholarship on Indian scriptural literature would trace a similar trajectory, first projecting and then deconstructing the category of scripture. The radically reconstituted texts that emerged at the end of this process were mere simulacra of their originals. Legaspi has elegantly defned “scripture” as a text that “functions in an authoritative and obligatory way within the context of a community shaped by a coherent economy of meaning.”68 If we accept his defnition, we can see why the Orientalists’ attempt at projecting an autonomous study of Indian texts was destined to fail. On the one hand, the Orientalists claimed justifcation for their work in the fact that they were ofering a nonconfessional take on Indian texts. On the other, the texts studied by them had lost all reference to their originating communities. They were no longer the texts they had originally been. The “knowledge” the Orientalists attained in this process was thus pertinent only for them, premised on objects that existed only for them. Yet, before we set aside the work of the Indologists, it is useful and illuminating to consider exactly what kind of knowledge it was that was attained in Indology and what the epistemic foundations of this knowledge were. These questions will lead us ineluctably into a wider question concerning the understanding of scientifc method in the nineteenth century.
To be Continued....