Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Do we have to write in a dry, unadorned style?

I recently read Friedhelm Hardy's Ideology and Cultural Contexts of the Śrīvaiṣṇava Temple. The official reason for it is that I am working on Vedānta Deśika and I am hence indirectly interested on Śrīvaiṣṇavism in general. But there is an additional reason, which is the intrinsic pleasure I derive in reading Hardy (or Steven P. Hopkins). He is not just a scholar, but also a writer, and has not the scholar inhibition which usually prescribes me (and others) a dry style. In fact, he also translated many Śrī Vaiṣṇava poems in a lyric way, which does not only reflect their historical significance, but also their poetical value. Consider the following verses of the Periyatirumoli about Viṣṇu:

Was he a thief?
He came like a big black bull and said to my daughter:
"Come! Come!"
He took her by the hand which white bracelets adorned,
and they abandoned the mother who gave birth to her.

I do not read Tamil, but am inclined to think that Hardy is quite good in conveying the idea of the thief-God, who is at the same time seductive and threatening in His power.

I tend to implicitly assume that a dry style is more "scientific" than an imaginific one. This might be, but Hardy's style has the advantage of making more people reading him (I adore Oetke's articles, but often have to force me into reading them) and of giving one a side-glance into the style of the texts he deals with. Of course, at least in my case, the style has to be functional to what it conveys. Although I like Hardy, I am strongly ennoyed by imaginific styles which only make Advaita Vedānta (for example, but many imaginific writers deal with Vedānta or Buddhism) look confused and imprecise.

What do you enjoy reading? And do you write in the same style?


Jayarava said...

There are a few good writers on Buddhism. Jan Nattier is a very good writer. Some of Richard Gombrich's articles are quite scintillating. Most Buddhology writing is execrable though.

elisa freschi said...

I also like Gombrich, but I do not know Jan Nattier. From the on-line catalogue of my library, I see that I could read (or at least have a look at) "A few good men", "Once upon a future time" or "A guide to the earliest Chinese Buddhist translations". What would you recommend?

krishna said...

Hi Elisa,
recently I had the occasion of reading Kurtis Schaeffer's "Dreaming the Great Brahmin", on the reception of Saraha's work in Tibet and in my opinion this is another example for what you are saying. In the book there is indeed an English translation of a Tibetan commentary on the Doha verses by Saraha. If you get a glance to that translation (unfortunately, no original Tibetan is referred in the book), you'll find a – in my opinion – good stylistic rendering. The verse passages are indeed translated in a somehow lyric way (thus rendering as much as possible the original sound/savour of the tantric poetry), whereas the passages in prose are translated according to the typical didactical style of lots of Buddhist commentaries.
This is, I think, a well done work, that respects not only the message and/or content, but also the – so to speak – aesthetic value of the original text.
:-) k

elisa freschi said...

Thank you, Krishna, I will have a look at his book. Saraha is a very good example of what I have been arguing about in the past (see this post: and, in a Buddhist context,, namely, that form might have a philosophical or soteriological purpose in itself. Hence, it is really important to try to reproduce the form as well as the content (unlike in the case of scholastic commentaries, where the content is surely the most important part).

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