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Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Double perspective

I am spending a few days in Cambridge, which means that I could spend some time with some of the most interesting PhD students in the field of Indian linguistics, ranging from the Vedic time to late Sri Lanka's Pali Grammars.
Of course, talking to them is partly interesting because I am myself interested in linguistics and in the history of ideas in general. But I wonder whether a more general feature of the set of "interesting discussions" depends on the ability to work having in sight a double perspective.
On the one hand, one focuses on a small part of the general history (it would not make sense to endeavour to reconstruct anything bigger than a small fragment, if one wants to work directly on its documents), on the other, one gains through that a modified perspective on the background. One might, for instance, focus on the scribal features of a certain manuscript, leaving aside its content. This will certainly be useful to the ones who are working on that same manuscript or on very similar ones. But it is hardly the case that it will be interesting to others, unless one is able to draw a general picture out of it, one that includes the development of scribal habits, the social history of copysts (does a "bad" manuscript mean that the copyst was paid for writing it all, so that he would not care to make it as correct as possible? Does this again mean that the manuscript was not meant to be read?...), the contact with adiacent areas as reconstructable through the borrowing of features of manuscripts' decoration etc., etc. The same applies to philosophy (who would care for a difference in a logical formula unless it had an impact on one's understanding of free will?), history (who would care for the usage of cereals in Syria in the 1st millennium? But it might be interesting to understand that a cereal is pretty rare and that hence its offering within a rite means that the Goddess is a central figure of the Pantheon...) and possibly any other field of research.
Is the distinction between double-perspectivists and single-perspectivists more significant than that between Indologists, Philosophers, etc.? What is the readers' experience?


Jayarava said...

Elisa, I live in Cambridge!
Call me 07986063161

Aleix said...

Dear Elisa,

I would like to contact Mr. Alastair Gornall. You've probably met him (according to your post). Would you mind to act as a gobetween? Thank you in advance! :)

elisa freschi said...

Of course I do not mind. Would you send me your email address? Mine is here

Aleix said...

By the way, I agree with your post. I recently attended a conference by Carlo Ginzburg and he was asked to explain what is the use of "microhistoria", the research in the detail or rarity, etc. He said the ideal method can be summarized in three words: BACK AND FORTH.

elisa freschi said...

Yes, absolutely. I was in fact thinking of Carlo Ginzburg and I discussed his method with several other colleagues in Cambridge.

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