EESE Review # 3

Horst Turk, Anil Bhatti, eds.; Kulturelle Identität: Deutsch-indische Kulturkontakte in Literatur, Religion und Politik

[Cultural Identity: German-Indian Cultural Contacts in Literature, Religion and Politics],

Göttinger Beiträge zur internationalen Übersetzungsforschung, 15 (Berlin: Erich Schmidt, 1997), XLII, 272 S., DM 68,-

The volume comprises, mainly, the proceedings of an interdisciplinary symposium held at New Delhi in 1993/94 under the auspices of the University of Göttingen "Sonderforschungsbereich" on literary translation. This slightly heterogeneous collection of essays does not only deal with specific cultural contacts between Germany and India (as the title suggests), but discusses a wide range of issues connected with Western conceptions of India, Indian identity/identities and theoretical aspects of the 'translatability' of cultures, in a literal and a metaphorical sense. It provides a lot of material which should be of interest to Anglicists investigating Anglo-Indian and Indo-English literatures, and quite a few approaches to the problems connected with what Edward W. Said calls "orientalism".

In his extensive introductory essay, Horst Turk pursues the ambitious (perhaps too ambitious) project of theorizing the notion of cultural identity and looking for a concept which does justice to the philosophies of Kant, Fichte and Cassirer as well as to the Upanishads, the Bhagavad-Gita and the proclamations of Gandhi.

The articles which follow can roughly be divided into two groups, one of them discussing the reception of Indian cultures by Western scholars, poets and intellectuals, the other dealing with original manifestations of Indian identities. The first group is headed by Anil Bhatti's essay on language, translation and colonialism ("Zum Verhältnis von Sprache, Übersetzung und Kolonialismus am Beispiel Indiens"; 3-19). Bhatti gives a comprehensive account of the origins of Indological studies in the second half of the eighteenth and first half of the nineteenth centuries. He emphasizes the interest of the British in acquiring a "colonial competency" (5) by studying Indian languages. As Bhatti demonstrates, early colonizers such as Warren Hastings were conscious of the usefulness of a knowledge of these languages for the pursuit of imperial interests.

Ulrich Barth discusses the various comments made by Max Weber on Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism in the context of Weber's attempt to interpret religions, from a sociological point of view, as constituents of national cultures ("Max Webers Darstellung der hinduistischen Religion"; 20-58).

Andreas Poltermann's topic is the fascination Oriental, and Indian, wisdom exercised over the Schlegel brothers, Humboldt and Goethe ("Den Orient Übersetzen. Europäisches Zivilisationsmodell und die Aneignung orientalischer Weisheit: Zur Debatte zwischen den Gebrüdern Schlegel, Humboldt und Goethe"; 67-103). Poltermann sets their "Romantic orientalism" against a theoretical discussion about cultures and cultural transfer, a discussion informed by Herder, Marx, Benjamin and Said.

Hermann Krapoth provides a fascinating survey of the approach towards India taken by the French writer Romain Rolland ("Religion und Politik in Romain Rollands Inde. Journal [1915-1943]. Der Dialog mit Gandhi und Tagore"; 107-120). Krapoth focuses on Rolland's encounters with Gandhi and Tagore and discusses Rolland's renderings of Gandhi's and Tagore's ideas; providing a case study of how there can be forms of mutual understanding but also misunderstanding between 'Eastern' and 'Western' thought.

Horst Turk discusses the difficulties of approaching Indian culture through the medium of the Marathi autobiography by Daya Pawar, Balute, and its German translation ("Balute: Intellektuellenszenarien im kontrastiven Vergleich", 158-190) . As Turk demonstrates, this translation is in many ways unsatisfactory, because it 'translates' Marathi phrases into concepts familiar to German readers.

A singular case of mutual cultural influence of Indian and German literary traditions is discussed by Vibha Surana: In his novella "Die vertauschten Köpfe" ('The Transposed Heads') Thomas Mann adapted an Indian story which is part of the eleventh-century Kathasaritsagar collection. The Indian writer Girish Karnad, in turn, wrote a dramatized version of the story in which he drew upon Thomas Mann's novella ("Die Kopfvertauschung in Die vertauschten Köpfe - Vetalapanchavimsati - Hayavadana", 212-230).

It is from the second group of articles, however, that Western scholars of Indo-English literature can learn most. Vasudha Dalmia discusses Indian attempts at defining an Indian nation, proceeding from a speech made by Hariscandra in 1884 ("Constituting the Hindu Self in the Late Nineteenth Century", 59-66). As Dalmia shows, the term "Hindu" refers both to a religion and a geographical unit, thus raising questions as to the Hindu claim "to represent Indians at large" (65).

Rajendra Dengle introduces the reader to two autobiographies written in the Marathi language: Ram Nagarkar's comedy Ramnagari and Daya Pawar's Balute ("Ramnagari, Balute und Er: Ansichten eines Kastenlosen", 121-138). Both authors deal with the topic of caste, the protagonists being a low-caste barber (Ramnagari) and an untouchable "Mahar" (Balute). Their literary techniques of representing the humiliations suffered by members of low castes, however, are quite different from one another.

Martin Fuchs takes up one of the two texts discussed by Dengle, Pawar's Balute, analyzing it from the point of view of its depiction of social identity and placing it in the context of "subaltern studies" (142) ("'Wie weggeworfene Steine'. Identität und die soziale Macht der Diskurse: Daya Pawars Balute", 139-157).

Rainer Lotz compares two well-known novels which are concerned with women who are trapped in unhappy marriages and finally die tragically ("Opfer der Ehe: Eine vergleichende Untersuchung zu Form und Wirksamkeit von ethischen Konzepten in Theodor Fontanes Effi Briest und Premchands Nirmala", 191-208). In spite of the thematic closeness, the novels convey different messages and thereby elucidate basic cultural differences: While Fontane, following Flaubert, criticises the social and educational systems and the moral code of bourgeois society, Premchand praises his heroine's adherence to her role, and only finds fault with individuals, such as Nirmala's husband and her relatives, for failing to do their preordained duty.

The autobiographical novel (written in Hindi) of an intellectual is the subjekt of the article by Angelika Malinar ("Multiple Perspectives and the Problem of Identity in Ajneya's Sekhar: ek jivani"; 231-251). In this novel, which is set in the 1920es and 1930es, a young Indian intellectual's "quest for self-knowledge" (233) is inextricably bound up with the colonial situation: Sekhar is "fighting at the same time against British rule and against those features of "traditional" Hindu society which restrict individual freedom" (233).

Balasundariam Subramanian attempts to tackle the question of the "translatability of Cultural Key Concepts" (with reference to Indian Writing in English, discussing Raja Rao's novel The Serpent and the Rope as an example ("Translating Cultural Key Concepts: The Example of Indian Writing in English", 252-259). As Subramanian shows, Rao contrasts European notions of happiness with Indian concepts, which unlike the European ones "cannot achieve fulfilment without being yoked to dharma or virtuous conduct" (257).

In the concluding article, Pramod Talgeri surveys the problem of Indian nationhood from a historical and theoretical perspective ("The Consciousness of Double Exteriority: The Problem of Identity Formation and Nation Building in the Midst of Multiculturality", 263-272). Talgeri points out that the concept of nationhood is itself a European one and should not be taken over by Indians uncritically, the less so as any ethnocentrism is at variance with the demands of multiculturalism.

The present volume provides a wealth of information and insight. Its particular value is due to the fact that it takes note of the Indian cultural heritage and literary traditions in Sanskrit, Persian, Hindi, Marathi and other Indian languages. While some of the contributors to the volume are obviously not experts in these languages, they are at least conscious of the fact, unlike some "Postcolonial critics" who do not know any Indian language and are blissfully unaware of the existence of Indian literary traditions in languages other than English.

Thomas Kullmann (Göttingen)