"No Indian text comes without a context"

No Indian text comes without a context, a frame, till the 19th century. Works are framed by phalaśruti verses—these verses tell the reader, reciter or listener all the good that will result from his act of reading, reciting or listening. They relate the text, of whatever antiquity, to the present reader—that is, they contextualise it. […] Texts may be historically dateless, anonymous; but their contexts, uses, efficacies, are explicit. The Rāmāyaṇa and Mahābhārata open with episodes that tell you why and under what circumstances they were composed. Every such story is encased in a metastory. And within the text, one tale is the context for another within it; not only does the outer framestory motivate the inner sub-story; the inner story illuminates the outer as well. It often acts as a microcosmic replica for the whole text. In the forest when the Pāṇḍava brothers are in exile, the eldest, Yudhiṣṭhira, is in the very slough of despondency: he has gambled away a kingdom, and is in exile. In the depth of his despair, a sage visits him and tells him the story of Nala. As the story unfolds, we see Nala too gamble away a kingdom, lose his wife, wander in the forest, and finally, win his wager, defeat his brother, reunite with his wife and return to his kingdom. Yudhiṣṭhira, following the full curve of Nala's adventures, sees that he is only halfway through his own, and sees his present in perspective, himself as a story yet to be finished. Very often the Nala story is excerpted and read by itself, but its poignancy is partly in its frame, its meaning for the hearer within the fiction and for the listener of the whole epic. The tale within is context-sensitive—getting its meaning from the tale without, and giving it further meanings.

Attipat K. Ramanujan, Is there an Indian way of thinking? An informal essay, in McKim Marriott, Ed., India Through Hindu Categories, New Delhi: Sage, 1990, pp. 42-58.

Our surmise is that Ramanujan's statement would also turn true in many instances of non-Indian texts and of non-fiction. We would like to assume, without being able to prove it, the validity and fruitfulness of Ramanujan's approach to Narrativity and Indexicality as specific features and core values in Indian modes of thought—and in philosophical texts from India. Far from disqualifying Indian philosophical literature from belonging to Philosophy as discipline, this assumption which gives a truth value to Narrativity and Indexicality forces us to work towards a reassessment of the discipline as it has been defined since Hegel and towards a dismantlement of the European philosophical citadel.

In the philosopher's mother tongue

22 September 2009

This website's pages have been composed in French, and will not be translated. It is assumed that visitors are prepared to read and decipher "all the languages that they have not been knowing" (a humorous definition of polyglottism by George Sand), since they share with us the presupposition according to which thought — including rational thought — is context-dependent. This website's language policy is based on two principles:

  • This website does not convey [referential] information but [indexical] knowledge;
  • Philosophical knowledge gives primacy to [indexical] meaning over [context-free] reference.

These are presuppositions, which nobody is forced to accept, but this website — a personal endeavor — is not a compilation of factual information, nor is it a blog meant to be packed with dates, names and references. I am pursuing arguments and addressing issues which might not be accurately presented if they were not ethnographically situated and phrased in their own specific language.

In our practice of philosophical writing, we privilege our mother tongue and the classical rhetoric of our mother tongue. In our practice of philosophical readings, we extend the scope of the Principle of Charity to include the diversity of tongues and styles. We feel obliged to maximize the rationality and meaningfulness of all the most indexical intricacies of synonymity or voice pitches in French or Sanskrit, or in any other philosophical text that we shall make a point to read in its original version.