Sumana Roy, a professor of literature at Ashoka University near Delhi, wrote a wonderful recent essay in the Chronicle of Higher Education identifying significant problems with the way Indian literature is taught, in both American and Indian universities. In American universities Indian literature is expected to represent India, to provide a moral or political message about the country and its political life – and, Roy thinks, this American understanding has then been imported into India itself. When Indian universities teach English-language Indian literature, they are asked questions like “Analyze Amitav Ghosh’s The Shadow Lines as a critique of the nation-state” and “Write a note on Velutha as a Dalit character in Arundhati Roy’s The God of Small Things”. Yet in the same departments John Donne is studied as “a metaphysical poet”, Virginia Woolf as “a stream-of-consciousness novelist” and so on. European and American writers, Roy thinks, can be appreciated and enjoyed for their aesthetic qualities; Indian writers are supposed to send a message.Continue reading
Last winter my wife and I made a wonderful trip to Sri Lanka. Before I say anything about the trip’s philosophical implications, I just want to note that you should go there if you have the money and time to travel off-continent. This cradle of Theravāda Buddhism has spectacular beaches, deliciously spicy food, and no less than eight UNESCO World Heritage Sites in a country the size of West Virginia or Latvia. Sri Lanka’s friendly and cheerful people make a great deal of their living from tourism – and it saddens me to think that last year’s well-publicized bombings might devastate that living, especially since one’s actual risk of being a victim of terrorism is no greater in today’s Sri Lanka than it is in France. They and their country deserve better. Please visit Sri Lanka. You won’t regret it.
But to return to the topics of this blog. We visited several of said Buddhist World Heritage Sites, including Buddhaghosa’s home of Anuradhapura (whose great stupa is larger than any other ancient building save the Pyramids). We talked about Buddhism with our tour guide there. We passed many Buddhist temples and shrines on the road. I read the Mahāvaṃsa, the old historical chronicle of Buddhism’s arrival in Sri Lanka. And all of it was very far from the Buddhism I profess – even though they and I would all claim to be Theravādins. Continue reading
This semester I’m teaching Indian philosophy and spent a lot of time thinking about pedagogy. It’s hard for me to do that for very long without thinking about the best teacher I ever had, Warwick Armstrong, who taught me as a McGill undergrad over twenty years ago. I tried to contact him recently to let him know what a difference he had made, and found that that would not be possible: Warwick Armstrong is no longer with us.
I missed my chance to tell Warwick how great he was. But I can at least let the world know. Continue reading
We think these days a lot about Buddhist ethics, which often involves some thought about Buddhist politics. We tend to think a lot less about Buddhist aesthetics.
Now there’s an obvious explanation that could be given for this: the Buddhist dhamma teaches that worldly pleasures mire us in suffering. So aesthetics, insofar as it deals with pleasurable phenomena like art, is something Buddhists should avoid. In response I give you this:
My undergraduate degree was in sociology and geography, with a focus on urban studies. That world often seems far away from the cross-cultural philosophy that drives me now – but not always.
Since “urban sociology” existed as a subfield and seemed to be the one I was trying to study, I once did a term-paper project asking the question: what is urban sociology? The answer I found most interesting and compelling was provided by the Australian sociologist Peter Saunders, in his Social Theory and the Urban Question. Continue reading
It was about five and a half years ago now that my dissertation on Śāntideva was approved and I could receive my PhD. Most doctoral graduates try very hard to turn their dissertations into a published or at least publishable book. I can say with some confidence that that will not happen.
There are two key reasons for this, and I’ll address the second next week. The first, which I will discuss here, is practical and political. I have removed myself from the meatgrinder that is the faculty job market, and that fact creates new possibilities for me. My dissertation has been available free online here to you the readers ever since Love of All Wisdom began. I sent a link to the blog to a friend and colleague of mine; as soon as he received it, he sent me a Google instant message full of shock: “You posted your entire dissertation! Aren’t you interested in publishing it as a book?” His surprise was understandable. What publisher would want to sell a book whose contents are available for free? By making my diss free and easily available, it would seem, I had just made it that much harder to get on the traditional path: get your diss published, get tenure. Continue reading
This post will be a little less philosophical, strictly speaking at least, than is usual here. Readers have found my autobiographical explorations interesting in the past, and I hope this will be similarly so.
I recently returned from India, to have a traditional Indian wedding ceremony. (I’ve been married for two and a half years, but my Indian friends and relatives could not attend that ceremony, nor did it have Indian gods presiding over it.) It’s an unfortunate irony that I have been able to get to India much less frequently ever since I started studying it. My previous trip was at the beginning of 2005; it had been eight years between that trip and the one I just returned from, whereas in my childhood the years between trips were no more than three. And I’m very glad to have had this trip, for it made quite a different impression on me from the previous ones. Continue reading
I’ve written a fair bit lately about conservatism, of both literal and innovative (reactionary) varieties. There is much I find admirable and valuable in conservative views; but I would be quite hard-pressed to say I agree with them. Certainly I do not live a life compatible with them, as I am frequently reminded when I read them. One of the reasons I have been drawn to these worldviews is precisely because they are so alien to me. I can see the consistency and power in these views, but my own temperament is typically far away from them. And that’s part of why I see them as such an important counterbalance.
A few months ago I was having a conversation with a friend of mine who is particularly given to pithy epigrams. We were discussing the Stata Center: a brightly colourful building on the MIT campus, designed by architect Frank Gehry, which is designed deliberately to look chaotic, unfinished, random. It’s not a building that leaves many people feeling neutral. My friend disliked its artifice, disjoint from the things around it. I said I thought it would be terribly inappropriate in the middle of a historic neighbourhood, but that it’s just right for a school like MIT, so focused on progress and the future. She didn’t think it was appropriate anywhere, and added: “Frank Gehry hates the real world.”
I’ve been thinking about that quote while reading articles by Patrick Deneen and others at Front Porch Republic, who would probably agree with my friend about Gehry’s architecture (though not about much else). Continue reading