The Future of the Past and the Past of the Future
I: The Past of the Present
This paper, which is unfolding in the present moment, is in fact my present to Professor Prafulla C. Kar. I consider it a special delight and honour to write it for a Festschrift dedicated to him. However, only portions of this paper are being written afresh; a lot of it was already done earlier. In that sense, what is now in the present was actually born in the past. In this opening section, I will focus therefore on that past during which this paper originally took shape. The narrative of remembering the past is one way of paying tribute to the person who, at least partly if not chiefly, designed it. But there is another reason for this method: this Festschrift itself, after all, commemorates the past of a scholar-professor who has reached a certain age, a certain threshold in his career. What I undertake in this paper is thus way of paying homage to all pasts and how they shape our presents and futures. Thus am I moving towards my future by actually embracing, retracing the past.
I wrote the first draft of this paper on the 17th of December 2000 on my laptop in a rather dirty guestroom in Aurangabad. The guesthouse belonged to the Senior Secondary Board of Maharashtra. It was a badly maintained building, as government buildings tend to be, with paan stains on the stairway and in corners. But the premises were guarded 24 hours because of the presumed confidential nature of the work that went on the premises—conducting examinations and announcing results.
I was there because I was attending a seminar on “The Future of Tradition” organized by none other than Prafulla bhai under the auspices of the Forum on Contemporary Theory and Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar Marathwada University. My paper was scheduled on the last day, which I thought was a blessing because the truth is that I had no paper to speak of. Just some scribblings. But the seminar turned out to be so stimulating, with scintillating presentations by the likes of Fred Dallmayr, Satya and Chandra Mohanty, Sura Rath, and Paul St. Pierre that I felt both shamed and frightened. Shamed because I had nothing of comparable virtuosity, frightened, because I knew I had to crank something out to save face.
The seminar itself, as many of the seminars that Prafulla bhai has organized, was an extraordinary event. Not just for the intellectual content and vivacity, but for the things that happened around it. We had some memorable journeys to Grishneshwar, the jyotirlinga near Aurangabad. This was an ancient temple rebuilt in recent centuries by Ahalyabai Holkar. It had an exquisite Ganesha and a golden spire. The next day we went to Ajanta and Ellora. The latter was simply a revelation to me. An epic in stone built over seven hundred years, with Jaina, Buddhist, and Hindu shrines huddled together like ancient friends. From the relatively static and placid images of the Buddha I could not help marvel at the enormous dynamism and vitality of the grandest temple of the whole range, the great Kailasha at Ellora. Carved layers upon layers in stone this massive structure moved me as few other places in the world have, with Shaivite and Vaishaivite images cheek by jowl.
But that was not the end of the series of surprises. There was Bibi ka Maqbara, the tomb of Rabia-ud-Durrani, Aurangzeb’s first wife. Aurangzeb, the last great Mogul after whom that city was named, is actually buried elsewhere, in Khuldabad. But we came to that modest grave of his by an amazing and complex journey. A friend and I were drawn into a maze of visits to Sufi shrines all over that area. Our journey started at the famous Panchikki, the water driven grinding wheel devised by the Baba Musafir Shah, or the Saint who came from far off central Asia (we were told Russia!) but settled down in Aurangabad. The water driven grinding wheel ensured large and regular supplies of flour and bread for the poor. There, the keeper of the mosque, Sheikh Mohammad Usman spoke to us at length and asked us to visit the Shannur Miya Baba’s darga. Musafir Baba was a Naqashbandi, while Shannur Mian was a Chisti. And the Chistiya silsila is the greatest sufi order of India, started by the venerable Garib Nawaz, Khwaja Moiuddin Chisti.
At Shannur Mian’s darga we were directed to Lala Mian. This wizened old man received us cordially, asked what had brought us to him, blessed us and then said, the really great hazarats were in Khuldabad, the “valley of saints,” which was about 35 kilometres away. So off we went there, on a borrowed motorcycle. When we finally reached Khuladabad late in the evening, we found it be a city with the graves of 1400 saints, including the grave of Auragazeb. This was a very humble grave which, it is said, the emperor had paid for by selling embroidered skull caps and copying the Koran. Auragazeb was buried next to a great pir, Hazarat Burhanuddin Chisti, a disciple of Hazarat Nizamudding Aulia. There were tulsi plants growing out of Aurangzeb’s grave!
Azam Shah, Aurangzeb’s son, is also buried there. After Burhan Shah’s darga, we next went to his disciple, Hazarat Zainuddin’s, tomb and shrine. The latter was the khazi of Mohammad Bin Tuglaq. When the capital was shifted he came along too. He was as purist, but was converted by Burhanuddin to sufism. Then went to darga of Hazarat Khattal Husseini, the father of Bande Nawaz Gesu Daraz. This was the last darga that we visited that evening. It was very secluded, very quiet, and very peaceful. A little boy took us around. He said he was an orphan. A beautiful boy with large eyes. We gave him some money for eid. It was a full circle for me because I had now visited all major dargas of the Chistis in India, from the root guru, Khwaja Moinuddin Chisti to Gesu Daraz in Gulbarga. I was told that Khuldabad is where the Sai Baba of Shirdi had got his enlightenment. This was the place where another mystic, Meher Baba, had bowed down six thousand times before a shirine!
There were other surprises in store for me on the last day of the seminar too. That’s when another newly discovered friend and I went to the Aurangabad fort, climbing all the way to the top. Called Devgiri, or the hill of the Gods, this mountain fastness was the citadel of the Yadavad. In 1294, the last Yadava king of Devagiri, Raja Ramachandra, was defeated by the Sultan of Delhi, Allauddin Khilji. Later, his son Shankara was put to death for defying Delhi. The first Muslim building, the Jama Masjid, was built in the fort. We noticed that today it is again a temple, whose deity is Bharat Mata or Mother India! When we climbed up, we paid extra to go through a secret dark passage, which the guide lit for us with a traditional mashal, a wooden torch, with a flaming tip of cloth soaked in oil.
Naturally, the paper I wrote for that conference had to be special too. It came to me on the very night before my presentation. I stayed up late, tapping away on my notebook, getting a printout next morning at the business centre of Hotel Vedant. This paper, given its unique tone and tenor, stayed undisturbed in my computer for two long years. I considered it practically unpublishable until I was invited to contribute to this Festschrift. Now, almost miraculously, it has got a second life. Though I wanted to revise it substantially, I finally decided not to alter or augment it much, so as to preserve its original flavour as far as possible.
In a certain sense, when I wrote it I was totally unaware of what its future was going to be. Now that that future has almost become the present, I can only narrate its past as best as I can, as I have done in the preamble disguised as a travelogue above. To that extent, the very coming into being of this paper illustrates how our existential journeys, nay, the existential destinies of even the papers we write, have "always already" been shaped by a past that we can never totally leave behind. Similarly, the future into which we may wish to head off heedless of the past will always be incomplete because we are, in Martin Heidegger’s famous phrase, "thrown projects": thrown out of a past “we cannot get behind” into a future “we can never get beyond.”
II: The Future of the Past
Last evening I saw Professor Kar appraching me at the Vice-Chancellor’s dinner. It was like “the past coming to meet me as the future” to twist Heidegger’s formulation a bit. He came to give me an indication of my future, of what I was supposed to do in this panel today. It is a future that I am, alas, no longer able to forestall or postpone because it has become my present now. Professor Kar said, “Tomorrow, you will have the benefit of hindsight, which the other speakers have lacked. That will place you in a better position to reflect upon our future. In a sense, then,” he continued, “it is this retrospect from which the prospect will emerge.” Let me confess that I had a sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach at that point. It was as if I could notice a design in his words that had eluded me before. It was a design in which I had been placed at a certain point not accidentally, but with great deliberation. I felt a sense of time closing in upon me with little room for escape. The uncertainty associated with my role in this seminar was at last clearing, but in such a manner as to place me in situation that would perforce expose nothing but my own inadequacy. The privilege of hindsight which Professor Kar was conferring upon me, was only an outcome of his own foresight like the past taking hold of the future and thrusting it into a present—that is a gift—which the recipient would find it hard to accept, let alone relish. But a gift is a gift, which one ought never to look in the mouth. It is this idea of the gift that I would like to relate to our deliberations.
That is why, despite this trick that he has played on me, I am personally very grateful to Prafulla bhai and the other organizers of this seminar for allowing me to be a part of it. We have had three very fruitful days of enriched sharing, at various levels, academic, social, and intercultural. Our forays not only into multiple intellectual and historical territories have not only enhanced and uplifted us but also filled us with a sense of wonderment and humility. Our multiple pasts, many of which are thankfully still with us, tell us of the grandeur and the pathos of the human enterprise, of its enormous resources of hope and also its tremendous follies and sorrows. If this story were seen as one of unending and repetitive dukkha, then the present, indeed presence itself with its unrelenting metaphysics of being, would be so inexorably oppressive as to suggest its radical negation in an eternal anti-foundationalism. That would be the only “solution,” the only end to this overwhelming story of individual and collective misadventures.
This meaning of presence is inherent in the word itself—present means being, that is, being at a specified time and place, being at hand, being available or in attendance. This sense of present is so strong that it lends itself to grammar as the tense by that name, the present tense, indicating an action as taking place now. Etymologically, the word comes from the prefix pre, meaning before, and esse, or to be. This same esse occurs in the word essence. To be present, literally, means to be before being. In other words, the word suggests a powerful priority, something that Jacques Derrida found so repugnant. Derrida called this the “metaphysics of presence” in his famous book, Writing and Difference. Presence, in Derrida, refers to that unifying, transcendental point that guarantees ultimate legitimacy and power to discourse. The word that Derrida uses for presence is the Greek parousia, which suggests both presence and being present. Of course, Derrida is also referring to the theological sense of Second Coming of Christ on Judgement Day. It is this priority of the present which is so oppressive in its inescapability. That is what Heidegger meant in his famous phrase “always already.” Whether we like it or not, our lives have been forestalled, preempted, seized, even usurped. By whom or what? By Time itself, which is the essence of being, which is ever present in all our endeavours. Father Time, with his sharp sickle, with his fatal scythe. This is the Name-of-the-Father that Freud and Lacan later considered the symbol of repression and control—the symbolic father more powerful than the real one. Time the Father is always mowing us down, slicing off permanence from our acts, shoving us to our deaths. It is this sense of the present that postmodern theory has tried to resist so assiduously, for instance in Julia Kristeva’s famous essay, “Women’s Time.”
But there is another sense of the word present. Etymologically, it means to place before—before being spatial, not temporal—to bring into someone’s presence. Here esse would refer to the being before whom (pre) someone or something is placed. As in “May I present to you so-and-so or such-and-such a person.” This means not only to introduce or exhibit or offer for viewing, but also to give, to bestow. To that extent, present also means the gift that is handed over. In this sense, presence need not be the rigid, phallocentric, and metaphysical as in Derrida, but more in the nature of eternal giving, of the gift as in Cixous’s “The Laugh of Medusa.” In the latter essay, Cixous contrasts the realm of the “gift” with the realm of the “proper”—the endless libidinal giving as opposed to the restrictive regime of proprietorship. I would argue that our present is thus a supreme gift which time cannot steal from us. Because, peculiarly, only the present is not in or of time. This is the eternal presence into which Ramana Maharshi invites us with his non-discursive silence. Only the past and the future are in and of time. The present is a present because it is untouched by time. Therefore is it something to celebrate, nurture, cared for in such a manner that its memories become seeds of hope that sprout into a better future for all of us in times to come. Why not regard this conference also as a present, a gift, that even as it fades into the past is possible to cherish as a gift, an act of grace, and of sharing—the satsang—that Professor Dallmayr referred to at the beginning of our discussions?
Having said this, I must return to my assigned task of teasing out the future implications of this conference which, even as I speak, is retreating into the past. In that sense of trying to understand the meaning of this meeting, what is the future of the past? From where I am located, I see at least three major paths or trails leading into the future from here. But before I describe them, I must also admit that the important question which Professor Dallmayr set for our deliberations, the question of the future of tradition, hasn’t been addressed adequately or directly. There is a sense of incompleteness or frustration in our not having been able to do justice to it. Indeed, it would not be totally incorrect to say that this question, except for a few papers, did not receive direct attention at all.
For instance, in the various readings of Gopinath Mohanty’s Lava Bilaya it is clear that persistence of tradition is to be discovered or recovered not necessarily through the repetition or endorsement of it in the expected, what one would think to be the traditional manner, but its recovery takes place in unexpected, unusual, and challenging ways. In other words, tradition does not necessarily renew itself in traditional ways, but in radically unpredictable ways. This discovery, however, necessarily leads us into a sort of aporia, if not a mystical conjuncture because having learned this we have already negated the possibility of its repetition. We cannot outwit the game because in order for the game to work, it must appear real to us. If we are to open ourselves to experience something akin to what Tarun Roy does, then we cannot be sure that it will happen to us has it has with Roy nor can we be certain that it will happen to us in a necessarily different way. In other words, it is the uncertainty, the indeterminacy, the sheer otherness of the epiphany which makes it so. It is this immaculate and unreachable core of tradition which accounts for its persistance, rather its presence, which protects it from all our willful and unthinking attempts to destroy it, which makes it sanatana in deed. Yet, barring insights such as these, I would venture to say that many of our discussions did not really address the task that Professor Dallmayr had set for us. Though it is rather late to redress this at this stage, in the valedictory session of the conference, I might make such attempt later.
Now to the three passages to the future that I’d promised. As an aside, it would be useful to remember that past comes from the Latin word for a step. The past, then, is related to pass and passage. It not only suggests an end, but also a way, a path, a passage. So let us look at the three passages to the future that this conference gives us. I shall speak not only of these three possibilities but also of the manner, the method of their offering. All three possibilities or approaches of the future are related; if I were to try to classify them, I think I would call them ways of empowering the vernaculars, both of the present and the past, both creative and critical. And common to all them, to this whole process of recovery that we have been engaged in, is the idea and reality of translation. I shall try briefly to touch on all these possibilities now.
The first, I think, is the foregrouding of a text such a Laya Bilaya. For several years, a few of us in India have been emphasizing the futility, indeed, the counterproductivity of treating Indian English literature as a separate and autonomous category of study. The rise of Indian English literature was a result of decades of efforts by great stalwarts such as Professor K. R. Srinivasa Iyengar and C. D. Narasimhaiah to create a space within English departements in India for the study of our own literature. I believe that this was an attempt to decolonize English studies in India and therefore must not be dismissed out of hand. But it was, at best, a half-way house. Expanding English studies so as to bring in Indian texts does only partially challenges the legitimacy of English Studies as the dominant liberal arts program of study in India. We are in a sort of double bind here, because the demand and need for English continues in India and therefore we cannot sever our links with the language. But in perpetuating the study of the language through academics structures inherited from the colonial regime, we also perpetuate our own cultural subordination. English departements in India therefore cannot be dismantled easily, but to decolonize them partially, Indian English and other non-British or American literatures, were brought into the curriculum.
This inclusion, however, was appropriated by the emerging disciplines first of commonwealth and more recently of postcolonial studies in which the mediation of English was taken for granted. This resulted in the reification of Indian English literature has a self-sufficient and valid subject of study, according it the status not just of Indian English but of Indian literature itself. Indian English modernists, especially poet-anthologists like R. Parthasarathy, Arvind Krishna Mehrotra, Eunice De Souza, and others naturalised this conflation by dropping “English” altogether. So Indian English literature became simply Indian literature, which was very useful when it had to be read and taught abroad. The casuality in all this ws the very rich literature written in various Indian languages, which remained vernaculars, so to speak. In the process, the textual represenation of India itself underwent and continues to undergo a serious and debilitating distortion. Which India, whose India do these Indo-Anglians write about? Whose India and which India, then, comes to be marketed all over the world through the engines of international awards and print capitalism. I would certainly not like to set up a binary opposition between the rhetoric of English India and that of vernacular India. The sad truth is both, vis a vis the West are vernaculars and must assist and cross fertilize each other, but as long as the dominance of the one over the other continues, corrective measures need to be taken.
And a very useful way of correcting this imbalance is to teach vernacular texts along with or independently of Indian English texts. Or to put it in another way, to aruge that it is impossible and undesirable to teach Indian English texts without placing them alongside vernacular texts. In other words, it is pointless and unproductive to study Raja Rao, Mulk Raj Anand, R. K. Narayan, Salman Rushdie, Anita Desai or Arundhati Roy or what have you in isolation to Tagore, Senapati, Thagazhi, Manto, Premchand, and so on. I agree that there may be different ways locating international writers like Rushdie or Naipaul, but here again, an Indian English context would prove to be inadequate. We would have to read them with other diasporic writers or with writers such as Marquez, Grass, and so on for a better understanding. In either case, Indian English as an autonomous category would need interrogation. But to study vernacular texts, we would have to contend with the difficult issue of translation. And translation, again, into English. Once again, the power and the dominance of the target language, willy nilly casts its shadow. It also underlines the comparative nature of our project. To be Indian, in other words, is to be comparative. But, on the decolonizing cline, translation would be one step ahead, from Indian English, to Indian texts translated into English. Similarly, multilinguality and multiculturality in our context is an advancement over English monlinguality and monoculturality.
What has happened in this conference is that for perhaps the first time a vernacular text has been foregrounded for serious discussion in this manner. The text has been liberated from its linguistic, regional context, and even national context, without violating or denying any of these contexts, and brought into a discursive space which is comparative in both an intra-national and an international sense. The text begins to shine, is illuminated impressively when we have apart from the Oriya, Oriya English, Indian English, Hindi, Bengali, French North American, and Oriya-English diasporan perspective applied to it. These multiple perspectives not only enrich our experience of the text in extraordinary ways but also underscore the scope and need for academic exchange and cooperation.
It is equally important that this initiative has come from the North American academy, which is the primary site for the production of knowledge—that is, if knowledge is power. We in India, even as we resist this hegemony, would be foolish to deny it. To discuss Laya Bilaya in this manner would be to institutionalize insurgent knowledges. When some of us in India talk about the need to read and study vernacular texts, our words are often lost or ignored. Of course, we must not let this lack of recognition deter us. The nature of working for alternatives is that we must forego the fruits of our work for at least three generations—at any rate, that is what we should be prepared to do. We can refuse to let any of our Mphil or PhD students solely study Indian English texts, for instance, so we are not entirely powerless. But when support comes from the U.S. academy for this work, it is bound to have a great impact. We need, at this stage, be over-anxious of the dangers of appropriation in this project. Some appropriation by the dominant culture may actually make us more visible. This initiative of Satya Mohanty and Paul St. Pierre therefore is very welcome. It certainly opens up spaces and opportunities which are extremely useful.
The second trace into the future that I should like to highlight is that provided by Chandra Talpade Mohanty in her presentation on problems and challenges in institutionalizing Womens’ Studies in the US. What Satya’s and St. Pierre’s efforts have done for our creative writing, Chandra’s presentation can do for our criticism. If her account is to be believed, the latest buzz word is the internationalization of Womens Studies. Now I know that this is also the trend in other disciplines such as U.S. Studies, which were essentially U.S. centric to begin with, not just in postcolonial sudies which are by definition international. But what internationalization means for us is that no longer can the US or the Western academy ignore what is said or published in other less visible countries. Older excuses such as we can’t get hold of this or that journal or who reads a book published by a local publisher will not do. Paradoxically, the the very power and reach of the Western academy which will defeat such arguments. In its obsessive desire to be both inclusive and fair, it will have to contend with knowledges which it had hitherto ignored. Now, while we can be happy about our being read with a little more attention, it also places a greater professional responsibility on us to take ourselves and our work seriously. They’re going to be reading us, if not today then tomorrow, so we can no longer afford to write the kind of rubbish we do habitually, out of our own self-contempt as a colonized and marginalized people.
The third possibility has to do with Professor Dallmayr’s journey with and to the Warkaris. We cannot hope to compete with you, Sir, in reading Heidegger—though I must confess some of us are doing precisely that—but perhaps, we have a better chance with Jnanadev. Your paper, in its very lack of any special claim to superior knowledge, encourages us to look in our own backyards for the sources and possibilities or recovery. As Ananath Murthy would put it, our attention has been absorbed for too long in what we see in the front yard to have made us blind to the richness of what is available to us more immediately.
All three possibilities that I have outlines have a common trope of recognition and translation running through them. Recognition from the other, from the more powerful other, is so important for the recovery of self-esteem. But such recognition should remind us once again that as long as we don’t, cannot recognize ourselves, no amount of support from outside will help. Encouragement, support, recognition from the metropolitan academy would be underserved and useless if it does not lead to higher self-esteem and commitment to our own cultural environment. If such recognition only leads to further dependency and subordination, I am afraid, the incomplete project of decolonization may as well be totally abandoned.
This brings me to the second common denominator in all these three initiatives—that of translation or comparativity. I don’t have too much time to dwell on this issues here, but I’d only like to say that both translation and comparativism are important ways of dealing with the homogenizing tendencies of globalization. Rather than becoming monolingual and monocultural ourselves, we should us the opportunities of shared linguistic and cultural spaces to bring into focus precisely those vernacular knowledges which would otherwise be silenced. To put my formulation in the fashion of a sutra, I would say that while tradition marginalized the tribal and modernity exterminated it, it is only postmodernity with it advanced communication systems that might actually give the tribal its just space in a world order.
I realize, of course, that in highlighting these three initiatives, I might have undermined my own project of empowering alternatives, by exalting the alien, the powerful, the North American. Let me invoke Gandhi here: “We who seek justice will have to do justice to others” (21). Tell me, what would this conference have been without these initiatives? Just another boring meeting mitigated by a few interesting asides. Since we can’t get there on our own steam, there is nothing shameful in asking for or acknowledging some help. I think this is the spirit of the synergy between the Forum and the Indian Studies Program in the first place. What the three initiatives that I have outlined have done is to give us some crucial intellectual inputs; they have brought a new energy to an energy-starved Indian academia. But this does not mean that the work the others have done is not important; among ourselves we shall acknowledge and strengthen it in other ways.
Before I end, I want to make a tiny observation about the manner in which some of these exciting new possibilities that I am about to outline have been created. There is a curious overlap and coalescence between the past and the future in the very manner in which these initiatives have come to us. As someone remarked to me yesterday, this is an Oriya conference. Luckily, the person saying it was an Oriya herself, so no slight or ethnic slur can be imputed. What we see is a sub-national, linguistic, regional, network in operation, transformed and modernised of course, as a new caste of academics and writers. That this caste is trans-national now only makes it more effective. When Indians from from villages to cities, they are not necessarily deracinated; they are translated or transplanted into newer networks of community and ethnic bonding. The Oriya component, you will admit, has blended very well with other ethnic components such as the Gujarati component from Baroda or the Marathi component mostly from Aurangabad, and the non-enthic, “modern” components, the Vedanta and the non-Vedanta components, the Indian and the imported components, all of which of course acquire the features of new ethnicities in themselves, to make this conference another instantiation of not just the persistence of the past but of its future possibilities in the time of globalisation.
III: (In)(con)clusion: The Past of the Future
I admit that though I have spoken at some length about the future of the past in my presentation, at least in the specific sense of the future of this very conference which is now almost past, I have so far failed to do any justice to the other part of the title, the past of the future. I have a simple explanation for this. This part of the title not in the paper I had proposed; it was added at his own initiative by Prafulla bhai. So, what I’ll do is rather than disowning it, I’ll simply refer you to notes that follow. In them you will find the necessary ingredients for a paper which can only be written in the future. In that sense, these notes will constitute the past of the future that is yet to be born.
1. Does the past have a future? Or is it finished? Over? In the sense that it has no future at all? Apparently, some pasts have, or shouldn’t have, any future. (Does slavery have a future? It shouldn’t, though it certainly has a past.) Does the future have a past? Some futures have pasts, and some don’t. Some are relatively new. For example, bio-technology doesn’t have much of a past. But there is another is another sense in which all future is contained in the past. Like the code inside the DNA. Like involution and evolution. Like brick and building. Like the oak in the acorn. But there are different kinds of causality involved here. In one (DNA), we are talking of sequentiality; in the other (involution and evolution) of correspondence; in a third of magnitude; in a fourth (acorn and oak) of multiplication and differentiation. But the most complex causality is in Karma because it includes and subsumes all these kinds of causality; what is more, it also includes a way of undoing or transcending them.
2. In The Foundations of Indian Culture, Sri Aurobindo talks of the past and of the future from the point of view of the present. The present is terrible; the past was better, but measured against the future, both are inadequate. Similarly, the East seems terrible, the West wonderful, but compared to the future, both are inadequate.
3. It shall come to pass; the past as the future. The past is the future, only the future doesn’t know it. And the future is the past, but only in so far as the past is the future. The past is related to pass; pass means a step in Fr and Latin. Tradition also means to hand over. The past in this sense is a way, a path, a step. It has a code of its own. It points to a future. It is not merely the past. The past is a passage to the future. It is a process, a journey,
4. The present gets appropriated by either the past or the future, depending on what predominates. For example, with traditionalists, the present is appropriated to the past; for the modernist, it is appropriated by the future. Progress is the appropriation of the present by the future.
5. The important thing to understand is the relationship between them, not what they are individually. If so, then there are cultures which favour the past; everything great happened in the past. The past cannot be improved. History, then, is seen as an inevitable decline and fall from the once glorious and perfected state. This is, by and large, the Hindu view. It is based on the idea of our divine origin. The notion of the yugas comes from this story of decline. A variation of this is history as a cycle.
6. The Judeo-Christian story is different; its is characterised by an original perfection followed by a fall superadded to which is redemption or a new perfection. Each religion had its own version of this story as do Freud and Marx.
There are very few cultures which are optimistic enough to promise a future perfection based on a flawed past. Sri Aurobindo does. For him, history is a spiral in which the descents are temporary and must be followed by a higher rising.
7. Past as an adjective implies an ending, a finishing, a termination; past as a noun implies an early life or a bygone career, especially one marked by a tragedy or scandal. In that sense all futures have a past. But all pasts do not have a future; needn’t have a future.
Future comes from Latin via the French. In Latin it is the future participle of esse, to be. In that sense, the future doesn’t exist independently of the being in time that Heidegger talked about; it is merely a modification of the present. Adj: that which is about to come, but also in the sense of prospects, possibilities. The future, in other words, is nothing but the present, which is also the past. Time is not only continuous, but without demarcation.
Presence and absence. The Buddhists solved the problem of suffering by positing not an eternal presence but a radical absence. But present also means gift, offering; also attention, awareness.
8. Fred Dallmayr mentioned Walter Benjamin and Theodor Adorno; they talk of remembering the past, of never forgetting its agony. But if the Brahmin and the Rabbi were to have a dialogue, the Brahmin would say, let go of the past. Let it pass. Move on. The Rabbi would reply, you have never suffered as I have so you can afford to say this. The Brahmin replies, but that is only another way of saying that you are God’s chosen people; chosen first for glory, now for suffering. Raja Rao offers us a version of such a dialogue in The Chessmaster and His Moves. The dialogue, as many such dialogues, must remain inconclusive.
Aurobindo, Sri. Foundations of Indian Culture. 5th impression. Pondicherry: Sri Aurobindo Ashram, 1985
Cixous, Helene. “The Laugh of Medusa.” Trans. Keith and Paula Cohen. Signs 1.4 (1976): 975-93.
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