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Thursday, April 8, 2010

Auctoritas or Echoes of a Text?


Quoting, extensively quoting from a former text may show that one is aware that everything worth saying has already been said. This is consistent with the Indian idea of a cyclical time or of an beginningless one. In both cases, all possibilities have already been enacted. One can only add new forms to well-established contents, as proposed by Jayanta Bhaṭṭa in the prologue of his Nyāyamañjarī or by Vedānta Deśika in a maṅgala.

Better, this habit may become itself a kind of fashionable thing to do. Authors such as Jayanta do much more than they avow and many others conceal innovations in old forms. In the West, one is lead to think at the Aquinas, who has been accused of "innovation" in his interpretation of some aristotelian loci, and who, notwithstanding this tendency, omits even to say where his opinion is expressed in the Summa Theologica. Similarly, Patañjali's Mahābhāṣya is often still enigmatic for today's researchers, since they cannot distinguish between Patañjali's new ideas and what he refers from previous thinkers. More in general, in India, just like in the Western Middle Age, claiming to say something new would have diminished the authority of one's statements. Authority had, in fact, to do with the auctoritas, and, consequently, with the auctores one was quoting from.

In order to add authority to one's text, hence, one needed to quote from authoritative ones. Did one also need to name the authorities one was quoting from? Yes, insofar as the author's name (or reference to his name) stressed his authority. But in case of very well known authors and texts, such as the Bible or Peter Lombard's Sentences, the reference could also be quite causal and imprecise. The audience would have been able to collocate the quote immediately.

The answer is even less univocal in the Indian śāstric tradition. In fact, one notices cases where an authority is explicitly named in order to confer authority on one's text. For instance, Madhva used quotes from the Sacred Texts, often unknown ones –or perhaps even made up ones– in order to confirm his most innovative conclusions.
On the other hand, within a school borrowing from one's predecessors was licit and one did not care to name one's source. This might be due to the fact that the individual author felt himself as part of the tradition and, hence, as its legitimate heir could use everything in it. Else, it is also possible that the audience immediately recognised such implicit quotes of former, authoritative texts, once embedded in a later text. It is worth remembering, in this connection, that listeners and readers were only cultivated people in classical India. One did not need to address the requirements of a lay reader. I dare not say that every quote could be identified and correctly attributed to its author, rather that the listener could recognise it as part of the school's lore and, hence, as authoritative and correct.

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