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Saturday, December 3, 2011

Some walks in the philosophical woods

Michel Angot published something long unheard within the history of scholarship on Indian philosophy. In fact, after the time of G. Jhā, hardly someone attempted a complete translation of a master-piece of Indian philosophy such as the Nyāyabhāṣya. Hence, one cannot but congratulate the author for his braveness and for the very fact that he presents to the reader the translation of the complete system of Nyāya in its essential fundament, i.e., the Nyāyasūtra attributed to Gautama and its earliest extant commentary, the Nyāyabhāṣya attributed to Pakṣilasvāmin/Vātsyāyana. Translating it all has the double advantage of helping the reader in better understanding Nyāya and the translator himself in better evaluating the role of each part of Nyāya. No big effort is needed to remember instances where the emphasis on just one part of a system has lead scholars to misunderstand the relationship of this part with the rest and the general purpose of the system itself (Jayarava often enough underlines the case of the Buddhist "atheism", although deities such as Indra and Brahmā do play a role in the Pāli Canon).

Beside the translation, the book also includes a very long introductory study (242pp.), which deals not only with Nyāya, but also with very broad issues, such as the existence of philosophy in India. Further examples of topics are: whether there is an ''Indian" philosophy (pp.26-32, the final view is that ''Sanskrit philosophy'' would make mostly better sense), whether we can possibly use a Western language (and its terminology) to translate and understand Sanskrit texts (pp. 33–37), comparativism (pp.46-50), the real purpose of the Mānavadharmaśāstra (p. 59), the correct interpretation of the first gloss on Pāṇini's Grammar (p.66) and so on. Evaluating the book is, hence, extremely complex. If one were to ask me whether to buy Angot's book or not, my answer would be: it depends on you. If you want to take a ''walk in the wood" of Indian philosophy, this book is excellent. It offers one much food for thought, as if one were having dinner with a brilliant company. If, by contrast, you want to read a rigorous essay, you might find Angot's one disturbing. Part of it is not Angot's fault but the publishing house's one. The book almost lacks margins, so that one will not be able to add notes, arrows or the like. Furthermore, it lacks any index and does not have a complete table of contents, so that one can only dive in the dense, space-less but content-full introduction and read it all, with no reader-friendly help. Similarly, the book is flawed by far too many misprints, also to be charged to the publishing house…

What do you look for while reading a book?

I started discussing Angot's book in this post (on the role of doubt in Indian philosophy), then wrote this one (on philosophy in India), this one (on the purpose of translations), this one (on the concept of "possess" in Sanskrit) and this one (on the concept of duty).


ombhurbhuva said...

Was this book printed in India? I've seen the lack of index before and wild typos that may have originated from unchecked scanning. Or is it one of those Print On Demand books which I haven't yet seen. For a work of that sort I would consider an index vital. My copy of Sankara's B.S.B. is bulging with post it notes to serve as an index.

elisa freschi said...

no, the publishing house is the well-known Les Belles Lettres. I agree with you: the lack of an index is really ennoying. I keep on looking for things I do not find… The only excuse I can find in the case is that the volume was already bulky enough. Or maybe Angot himself did not want it?

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