Wednesday, October 28, 2009
In classical Indian literature and philosophy, most texts have an author. Indologists and Sanskritists have been challenging these attributions almost since the beginning of Indology. Thus, we have learnt that Vyāsa, Patañjali, Gautama, the Buddha, etc. are not the authors of the texts attributed to them, which are, instead, often the result of centuries of re-elaborations.
In the last ten years, however, the trends is inverting. Alf Hiltebeitel's Rethinking the Mahabharata, Federico Squarcini's (and Daniele Cuneo's) interpretation of Manu and Ronald Davidson's attributions of Tibetan texts in his recent Tibetan Renaissance are all instances of how the issue of authorship has gained increasing importance in South Asian studies. All these scholars have detected authorial traits in texts which had been thought to be almost authorless by the preceding generation. They have (convincingly) argued that Indian texts are part of a network of authors, that they react against previous texts and directly influence succeeding ones, that Indian authors have a clear agenda. Somehow, these scholars are turning back, though in a theory-loaded way, to the Indian traditional approach to texts as authored.
One might imagine a counter-trend agains the overstress on authoriality to emerge in some 50 years. So, one is left with the problem of using trends without clinging at them.