This is to alert BrownPundit readers to a series I’ve begun on Zenpundit, my other punditry-posting place. It’s about Ioan Couliano’s argument in his book Eros and Magic in the Renaissance that the Renaissance art of Magic was essentially a matter of conjuring desire in the recipient by means of visual imagery, and that the Art has been revived with great success in the present day, in the form of commercial advertising.
Roughly speaking, then, Magic is the defendant, modernity-secularity-technology is the prosecution team — who don’t bother to call witnesses because, m’lord, it’s plain obvious that magical thinking is superstitious nonsense — and a bucket-load of TV commercials form the evidence presented by the defense.
But wait a minute — here’s magic:
Whether you’re secular or a devotee, that photographic image is magical in that a simple hand-gesture conjures up a flute. The flute isn’t there, objectively speaking — and yet there’s a flute, Krishna is quite obviously playing it, and indeed its mellifluous power of enchantment has drawn the lovely Radha to his side.
About Krishna’s flute — you may know far more than I, but at least I can point to Denise Levertov and Edward C Dimmock’s poem in Songs in Praise of Krishna — from the Bengali: .
Radha is terrified on her way to the forest
O Madhava, how shall I tell you of my terror? I could not describe my coming here if I had a million tongues. When I left my room and saw the darkness I trembled: I could not see the path, there were snakes that writhed round my ankles!
I was alone, a woman; the night was so dark, the forest so dense and gloomy, and I had so far to go. The rain was pouring down — which path should I take? My feet were muddy and burning where thorns had scratched them. But I had the hope of seeing you, none of it mattered, and now my terror seems far away. . . . When the sound of your flute reaches my ears it compels me to leave my home, my friends, it draws me into the dark toward you.
I no longer count the pain of coming here, says Govinda-dasa
And what does all this have to do with advertising?
My response is that the Krishna and Radha in this photo were captured, and Krishna’s flute conjured, by the eye of a pro commercial guy:
JEREMY HUNTER began his career in advertising – as a television creative, working for Young and Rubicam, Leo Burnett, Ogilvy and Bates, along the way winning a number of international awards in Cannes, Venice, New York and Los Angeles. During this time he worked with some of Britain’s most iconic film directors – John Schlesinger, Ken Russell, Tony Scott, Dick Lester, Nic Roeg, Richard Loncraine as well as Oscar-winning Editor Jim Clark and photographer Terence Donovan.
That’s the resume of a contemporary magician.
In case you’re interested, the posts in my Magic and Commercials series on Zenpundit to date are:
[ exploring various versions of how the world of concepts can itself be conceptualized ]
Have patience with me: Omar Ali has invited me to post here, an honor I greatly appreciate, and I am introducing myself.
I’m an outsider. I’m your guest, and I only just arrived.. To be precise, I’m a Brit, resident in the United States:
If I’m to write on BrownPundits, I need to you know how ignorant I am in many respects, before I shed some of what knowledge I do possess — and also to focus myself in the Brown direction, because this place is devoted to “a discussion of things brown” — and while I’ll no doubt wander far afield as I post, I want to acknowledge and honor the purpose of this blog as I introduce myself here.
My interest, my fascination, my obsession even, is with the weave of the world. And indeed, if my friends Omar Ali, Ali Minai, and Hasan Asif can be any indication, the Punditry of Brown extends intellectually across all of history, geography and genius, to encompass the world of ideas and the world world to which the ideas refer in their combined entirety..
And thus the weave of the thing. That’s how the Kathasaritsagara, or Ocean of the Streams of Story, comes in to my story. Somadeva Bhatta’s concept of the oceanic streams of story caught Salman Rushdie’s eye, and Rushdie reference to it —
He looked into the water and saw that it was made up of a thousand thousand thousand and one different currents, each one a different colour, weaving in and out of one another like a liquid tapestry of breathtaking complexity; and Iff explained that these were the Streams of Story, that each coloured strand represented and contained a single tale. Different parts of the Ocean contained different sorts of stories, and as all the stories that had ever been told and many that were still in the process of being invented could be found here, the Ocean of the Streams of Story was in fact the biggest library in the universe. And because the stories were held here in fluid form, they retained the ability to change, to become new versions of themselves, to join up with other stories and so become yet other stories; so that unlike a library of books, the Ocean of the Streams of Story was much more than a storeroom of yarns. It was not dead, but alive.
— it’s a universal mapping of the sort that enchants the likes of Jorge Luis Borges and Umberto Eco, librarians both, encompassing the realm of human thought in narrative terms. And it’s one subcontinewntal form of the universal map, or model, or metaphor — the Net of Indra in the Avataṃsaka Sutra would be another.
Outside the subcontinent — but well within the compass of Brown Punditry– there are other such metaphors for the whole of the whole. Teilhard de Chardin’s oosphere is another, as is Sir Tim Berners-Lee’s >World Wide Web, in which complex weave of thoughts we now find ourselves.
But for my own purposes, the most interesting figure of the whole, the universe as we are able to think and name it, conceptually speaking, is the Glass Bead Game as described by Hermann Hesse in his Nobel-winning novel of that name
My own personal predilections run from cultural anthropology through comparative religion to depth psychology, and from violence to peace-making. But that’s a huge sprawl at best, and to bring all that into some kind of focus, to learn how to map that immense territory, and the vaster universe beyond it, I turn not just to strong>Hesse’s novel, but particularly to the Game which he describes in that book:
The Glass Bead Game is thus a mode of playing with the total contents and values of our culture; it plays with them as, say, in the great age of the arts a painter might have played with the colors on his palette. All the insights, noble thoughts, and works of art that the human race has produced in its creative eras, all that subsequent periods of scholarly study have reduced to concepts and converted into intellectual values the Glass Bead Game player plays like the organist on an organ. And this organ has attained an almost unimaginable perfection; its manuals and pedals range over the entire intellectual cosmos; its stops are almost beyond number. Theoretically this instrument is capable of reproducing in the Game the entire intellectual content of the universe.
You’ll see how that description covers much the same ground as Rushdie’s description of the Kathasaritsagara, and Edward Tufte’s image of the Ocean of Story which I’ve placed at the top of this post could also be a depiction of Hesse’s great Game.
There are many voices in the Ocean, and many voices in the Game, and they are interwoven: they form which a musician would recognize as a polyphony — their concepts and narratives at times clashing as in musical counterpoint, at times resolving, at least temporarily, in a refreshing harmony.
And what better model of the world can we contemplate at this moment, that one in which a multitude of at times discordant voices wind their ways to concord?
Johann Sebastian Bach is the master of contrapuntal music, and, be it noted, a great composer for and improviser on the organ. And it is Bach whose music I listen to as I approach the business of modeling the world of ideas.
My mantram ca 1999/2000 was:<To hold the mind of Bach..
Where Bach devises and holds in mind melodies that collide and cohere, I want us to hold thoughts in mind — at times clashing thoughts — and learn to weave them into a coherent whole..
That’s my approach to making the Glass Bead Game which Hesse conceptualized, playable. And my playable variants on Hesse’s Game, the HipBone family of games, will be the topic of my next few posts — thanks to the kind inquiries of my BrownPundit friends, and Omar’s generous invitation to me to post here.
And perhaps, if you’re interested, we’ll play a few rounds of my games, or explore across the world of ideas and your and my interests, what I’ve come to think of as the HipBone style of thinking..
Charles Cameron is a poet and game designer, managing editor of the Zenpundit blog, and now an invited guest at BrownPundits. You can hear a discussion of the overlap between the Glass Bead Game and Artificial Intelligence featuring Omar Ali, Ali Minai and myself on this BrownPundits podcast — with an appreciative bow to Razib Khan.
Writing in the journal India Review, Korean scholar Heewon Kim says,
This article reviews the approaches used to understand the BJP-led NDA government’s policies toward religious minorities and argues that far from marking a radical departure, there are more continuities than discontinuities in these policies with previous administrations.
For all kinds of keyboard internet warriors, this conclusion would come as a disappointment. But it is only the boring conclusion to a truly banal argument.
There seems to be an understanding among many that Hindu-Muslim conflict is primordial, immemorial and ultimately irreconcilable. Partition is seen as incontrovertible proof of this view.
I would like to offer another perspective. In my view, taking into context the entire history of the twentieth century, the Hindu-Muslim conflict in India is rather benign, mainly due to the low real stakes in this conflict. I base this view on my readings of Russian, Chinese and Mexican history, especially the scale and intensity of armed conflict seen in inter group rivalries within those countries.
The forces of industrialization and democratization unleashed by England starting from 18th century proved immensely destabilizing to all world civilizations. This period saw extremely volatile political competition between groups harboring competing, irreconcilable visions for the future of various countries. In Russia, China and Mexico, this competition took the form of conservatives (usually capitalists), versus radicals (usually leftists). In the Muslim world, such competition has appeared in the form of secular regimes being pitted against Islamist movements, and increasingly, sectarian conflicts amongst various conservative movements.
The stakes for both sides in these conflicts were extremely high, and no accommodation with the opposing group was sought. This is evident from the sheer scale of warfare seen in these conflicts. The death tolls in each country ran into the multi millions, with decades of devastation.
Such high levels of conflict are not seen amongst Hindus and Muslims in India. The real stakes in Hindu-Muslim arguments are simply too low to militarize the conflict. On the table in other world conflicts, were programs of massive wealth transfer via land reform, extreme and eternal concentration of political power and utter suppression of language and religion. In contrast, Hindus and Muslims mostly argue about long dead kings, culinary choices and obscure theological points.
The simple truth is that even the establishment of a Hindu state will not alter the ground realities for India’s Muslims. Nepal was a Hindu monarchy for many decades, and its 5% Muslim population showed no interest in challenging the regime. Interestingly, the eventual overthrow of Nepal’s Hindu monarchy was carried out by a leftist movement (comprised of Hindus) in a civil war, much like the pattern seen in Russia, China and Mexico.
In many ways, India’s immense diversity and the sheer scale of its minority population, has restricted conflict to elite sparring rather than total war, which has very much been the norm across the world. But it has also prevented a genuine confrontation between the masses and the elites, the often mentioned lack of a revolution in Indian society. For a left vs right conflict in India, Hindu would need to fight Hindu. But the very presence of the Muslim seems to have softened any edge in this conflict.
I asked MJ to prepare a small discourse for my Cheti Chand Celebration. I wanted it to be on the survival of Hinduism through the ages, as Cheti Chand is precisely about that (in aSindhi context).
I was rather offended by this lovely video (made by the Baha’is for Norouz). At 00:28 the man says (in rather over-flowery Persian, I feel the Farsi used here was far too ornate, trying to sound poetic without really achieving that) that Norouz was important for Baha’is but especially important for Persians.
Baha’i faith can never be a vehicle for Iranian Imperialism since the promise of our Faith is world encompassing (let your vision be world embracing) and it vindicated my decision to stop celebrating Norouz after marriage in favour of Cheti Chand.
I had a minor disagreement with a fellow Baha’i on this who is also Desi. I didn’t attend the community celebration over the weekend because I argued that as a religious, not cultural, holiday (and so close to Cheti Chand which is in 2 weeks) I would prefer to observe it in a more solemn manner.
He had initially suggested a Hindu-Baha’i dialogue, which I thought about but decided against. Hinduism is the oldest religion on earth and Baha’i Faith is the youngest; we have much to learn from them rather than the other way around.
The Holocaust brings to one’s mind deep anguish and pain, even though not many of us lived during the times when Hitler’s army ran riot over millions of Jews across Europe. It was one of the darkest hours of humanity and the barbarism of the Nazi cruelly added another chapter to the oppression that the Judaistic faith has had to face over the centuries.
What if I were to say that there is another faith (rather a `way of life’) and people who have undergone as many trial and tribulations, if not more, over millenia?
Shocking, right? I speak of Hinduism, arguably the oldest extant religion (not quite a religion though, as much as a way of life) today. Of Sanatan Dharma, or the ‘eternal way of life’ as it is usually called. The Vedic faith that developed and prospered in the Indian subcontinent before having to face wave after wave of slaughter, deprivation, insult and pain. This article is a brief walk down our civilizational memory lane to look at the story of what can be called one of the most ancient and pristine renditions of spiritual humanism, and what made it so resilient and strong to withstand these relentless storms of history.
It’s a wonderful article and his Nazi article is interesting. It reminds me of the German female presenter who said publicly that at least the Nazis brought autobahns (she was immediately fired and I can’t find the link).
It is interesting to note that there are no temples of significance in North India (the Sun Temple of Multan, Somnath) and it seems the initial Islamic conquests (Ghazni-Delhi Sultanate) were particularly destructive (was it more in line with the Turkish invasion or the Arab conquests is subject to debate).
My view is that the history of Islam in the Subcontinent is fundamentally problematic (it did not grow through conversions but was facilitate by evangelisation under the aegis of Muslim conquest). However while acknowledging that it doesn’t mean one should throw the baby out with the bathwater.
So it squares up nicely with my Islamophobia, Hinduphilia, Urdophilia and Hindiphobia.
I don’t think Islam or Hindi belong in polite society though I happily noted a hijabi women wearing a Burberry scarf this afternoon. If one is going to mar one’s looks with a hijab then at least wear a designer one. That’s why I don’t have much issue with Arabs wearing hijab since they do so with so much Elan than South Asian Muslims (they wear black hijab with a duskier skin tone- bad combination; I rarely see South Asian Muslim women wear the Hijab well, they seem to think enforced ugliness is a virtue).
As for Hindi’s vulgarity (it is probably as vulgar as Islam, if not more), this clip was just shocking:
I cannot believe people talk like this. While the content is important, this sort of Hindi is crude and ugly that it lacks either the polish of Urdu or the flow of Hindustani. This is probably what they proudly call Hinglish (it’s really disturbing tbh) and then they threw in some Sanskrit word (Shahtruk or some such)..
I do feel Hindus have much misdirected rage instead of castigating, humiliating and abusing Islam at every opportunity as they should; they instead do so at Islamicate culture (and by extension the Islamicate state, Pakistan).
The full name is bhagwani i.e. the colour of bhagwan which Forbes translates cloth dyed with geru (red ochre), another common name is jogirang i.e. the colour worn by religious mendicants. I collected a few samples and am told that they are all shades of cinnamon brown; the popularity of the colour may be judged from the blazons, seeing that tenne is in every instance only a representative of the lighter shades, and murry (sanguine) in most instances a representative of the darker.
Ṛtaniti and Satyashrama: New Age Dharmic Politics
I see the meta-dynamics of the Universe quite clearly, particularly being a student of Physics myself. A set of laws here, a manner of movement and interaction between entities and forces there. The Universe could have been a vast number of possibilities (in the multiverse picture, they all exist independently) but it is what it is. There is a certain order in the Universe, seemingly self-organizing but yet directed. This is what ancient Indian philosophers and seers called Ṛta. That which maintained this order and respected the nuances of this reality was the Truth or Satya. You may start feeling that I will embark on a detour of philosophy and spirituality next. Not quite. After a lot of reflection and meditating on the nuances of these concepts, I feel there are two core ideas and nuances that matter when one speaks of that wisdom that maintains the universal order (Ṛtaniti).
An Economy of Social Capital, Personal Social Responsibility and e-Democracy
However, having said that, I also strongly believe in the idea of Swadharma: the tendencies and capacities of the individual, and a system that provides for opportunities and liberty to the same. Some are born with innate abilities to solve mathematical conundrums. Some are born athletes or singers or artists. Not only at the level of abilities but also comfort in undertaking certain pursuits, every person is distinct. Only when this idea and reality is respected can society remain harmonious and efficient. In today’s age, we have a rush to pursue certain kinds of activities. These are guided by aspects of remuneration and prestige many a times, over and above the comfort and interest of the individual in pursuing them.
In this essay, I have looked at some core ideas of ancient Indian philosophy and tried to synthesize by reasoning and reflection a truly Indian political philosophy – Satyashrama. Today people speak of Hindu nationalism and communal politicking in the same breath. Today people talk of fascism and a culture that has always believed in tolerance and dignity of the individual since times immemorial, again, in the same breath.
Mrittunjoy Guha Majumdar – Mj to his friends – likes to be called a student of science, society and sensibilities. He is currently pursuing his postdoctoral research in Physics in the University of Cambridge and is the current Vice President of the Graduate Union of the University of Cambridge.
Having completed his PhD at 25 from the University of Cambridge, he looks forward to exploring Physics at greater depths in the future. His current work relates to studying the symmetries in physical systems and their correlation with entanglement patterns in these systems. This work, being done in collaboration with the Hitachi-Cavendish Laboratory, is all the more relevant given the industrial interest in the application of quantum entanglement in quantum computation. Mrittunjoy enjoys actively engaging with the world of science popularisation, policy and diplomacy, as much as pure research. He has worked actively with the Department of Science and Technology, Government of India, and bodies such as the Cambridge University Science Policy and Exchange (CUSPE) and BlueSci – the science magazine of Cambridge University, in these areas, both in India and the UK.
My understanding is that “Vande Mataram” is a hymn to the mother goddess and thus goes against the monotheistic nature of Islam. It also comes from an anti-Muslim novel.
If Majlis is a group that includes both Indians and Pakistanis, then its logo probably shouldn’t refer to an Indian nationalist slogan which Pakistanis shouldn’t be expected to be comfortable with. Many Indians wouldn’t like it if the logo included “Pakistan Zindabad!” or something like that.
Then it is perfectly logical to change the name “Majlis” to Assembly or something neutral. The point is that Islamicate culture never seeped into the Subcontient through peaceful trading routes.
It was accompanied by violent conquest and if we have to ask Indians/Hindus to accept Islamicate culture, with its extraordinarily bloody history, then we have to accept the difficult bits of Indian nationalism.
I find Pakistanis are always focussed on “retaliation” and are the masters of cutting off their nose to spite off their face. Then they complain as to why their country is teetering on bankruptcy and not thriving (Survival is not enough).
In real life though I simply will never accept any alteration to the traditional logo, no matter whatever some Pakistani says. It is a matter I will simply not compromise on..
Another BP Podcast is up. You can listen on Libsyn, iTunes and Stitcher. Probably the easiest way to keep up the podcast since we don’t have a regular schedule is to subscribe at one of the links above.
You can also support the podcast as a patron (the primary benefit now is that you get the podcasts considerably earlier than everyone else…). Would appreciate more positive reviews.
Today we talk to Ajay Verghese; Ajay is an assistant professor of political science at UC Riverside and has written extensively about ethnic and religious conflicts in pre-colonial, colonial (i.e. British Colonial, not earlier Turko-Mughal colonists) and independent India. We talk about Hindus, Muslims, religious conversion, conflicts, and other fun stuff.
Posted on by AnAn - Comments Off on I now support quotas on (South) Asian Americans at elite universities (a)
Video gets especially interesting 16 minutes in. Some main take aways:
Almost half of all people in the world are Asians. Having a similar ratio of Asian students at elite US institutions is being “diverse”
Many different parts of Asia are extraordinarily diverse with many different cultures (Vietnam, India, China, Indonesia). Allowing Asians into elite American institutions enhances diversity.
Asians top every metric for admissions except personality profiles, where Asians consistently rank far lower than any other group.
Mass discrimination against Asians creates segregation at schools since non Asian kids need to receive different separate remedial classes. Many non Asian kids at elite institutions upon entry lack the math skills to take entry level classes.
Asians use to be America’s only reliable Republican voting block (for example backing George Herbert Walker Bush in 1992 and Bob Dole in 1996). The 2016 and 2018 elections are the first time Asians have overwhelmingly voted Democrat. Asians now vote more Democrat than Latinos.
Many Asians think they can change Democrats from the inside. And they have had some success. They have persuaded many Democrats to vote for Asian interests on affirmative action.
In the last 6 minutes they discuss how the massive over representation of Asians at elite educational institutions is causing a major shift to the left
There are surveys of incoming freshman students. They reflect America and their parents. Or center right.
Exit surveys of senior students find that they have shifted sharply to the left. They trend left to socialist to communist upon graduation.
My own observation is one that several leading academic professors have also noted. High School Asian American kids, particularly Desi ones, often have contempt for their parents, Asia, older Desis, Asian culture and Asian religions. They are often deeply ashamed and guilty about their Asian privilege and about the ways Asians practice “white supremacy”, racism, bigotry, prejudice, sectarianism, hate, oppression, exploitation towards others. There is a sense that the reason Asians are so successful around the world is because Asians steal from others. This phenomenon extends to undergraduate students but is still not common among Asian Americans over 22 years old.
How much of this phenomenon is being driven by self hatred, self loathing, guilt and a contempt for Asian and Desi cultures and religions? What if anything can be done about this?
As a partial aside, Brown Pundits podcast plans to interview some practitioner Dharmics (including Buddhist, Jain, Sikh) professors in academia. One question we can ask them is how much anti Dharmic phobia comes the indoctrination of Dharmic children in high school and undergraduate university against Dharmic faiths.
I haven’t written anything this week and I was going to flush out my thoughts on my written diary or locked blog but an interesting observations came upon me, which I would share.
I’ve noticed with Vidhi’s science-intensive path that it’s very uncharacteristic for our northwestern cultural streams. Sindhis, Punjabis and the lot are into different professions.
I also noticed that religious difference didn’t make so much of a difference (Sikhs in some ways are surprisingly similar to Muslims but one must not over-hype their kinship, their loyalties with the Hindu population will always come first) but it seemed that a region’s exposure to Islamicate ways reduced their inclination for science (the Gunpowder Empires were advanced in military tech but were reknowned for their aestheticism).
As an aside to deny that Hindu criticisms of the Mughals is not grounded in communalism is laughable. Louis XIV (whose reigns roughly coincided with the latter two Mughal Emperors) was renowned for his profligacy (Versaille is the mini-Taj of Western Europe) and his constant wars of conquest (Aurganzeb comes to mind). Nevertheless after a Revolution or so the French remain profoundly proud of their “Sun King” in a way the Hindu Right Wing do not towards the Mughals.
Back to the Brahmins; there are 5 sets of Brahmins who capture the Indian imagination.
(1.) The UP Brahmins who are the core of Hindu doctrine and society. Without them there wouldn’t be a coherent Hindu society or population (there are 20 million UP Brahmins).
(2.) The Bengal Brahmins who are the periphery of the Hindustani belt (but still very much a part of it with Bengal being significant in the Mughal era and core heartland in the Colonial one), emerged as a core of a more “Hindu cultural identity.” Is it any wonder that the Indian national anthem is in Bengali?
(3.) The Kashmiri Pandits. Unique among Brahmins they were a minority among an overwhelming Muslim population. Surrounded by Muslims, they Mughalicised, became the Hindu Mughals and the political class of independent Indians.
(4.) The Maratha Brahmins. On the Edge of Aryavarta and the heart of the Deccan; they became the Hindu warrior class after the Rajputs were entirely coopted by the Anglo-Mughal establishment (the Rani of Jhansi was a Maratha).
(5.) Finally the Brahmin class, which sparked my initial thought. The Tamil Brahmins, furtherest away from the Islamicate world in every way possible (their Islam is similar to the Kerala, TN, Ceylon, South East Asian one) and most obsessed with the hard sciences. It’s pretty obvious Vidhi wouldn’t have been on her scientific path if she had grown up in the North.
In some ways the “millennia of humiliation” (not my words) splintered the Hindu response 5-ways, which is why any reconstruction of Hindu identity rests on a multi-regional response.
Ps: Shocking in a case of life imitating art – I was just browing girmit’s last comment and found out that the commentariat were discussing the exact same thing..
This may be related to a phenomenon Razib and Omar and their guests observed in the last couple of podcasts: of academics and others on the left in western countries having (and expressing) a really dim view of Hinduism and Hindu civilization, even vis a vis Islam and Islamic civilization.
My guess is that whenever a colonial atrocity is pointed out, even with sufficient evidence, people automatically think of the caste system, untouchability, Sati, etc. at the back of their minds, and that makes them come up with excuses for the coloniser. (Almost no other religion or civilization seems to have so many negatives associated with it in the Western mind, Yoga and stuff notwithstanding.)