Saturday, July 30, 2011

Mythology is the issue

[If you think that you and your sympathizers are doing Heehs a disservice by giving him the importance that you are bestowing upon him, you are mistaken. Because it is people like yourself who have made Heehs larger than life. In fact, Heehs seems to occupy some of your lives more than Sri Aurobindo does. Subhas "Subjugating Jugal": Savitri Era at 4:29 PM, July 30, 2011 5:38 PM]

Several passages from Peter reflect nothing but pure personal speculation that has no place in a biography purporting to be an objective record of facts and events. The most striking example of this type concerns his treatment of Sri Aurobindo’s motives in writing the play Vasavadatta. This is just plain silly, so silly that one should not even take offence to it. Sri Aurobindo explored all facets of human nature in his literary creations, and to think that what he wrote must be an echo of his own inner thoughts and feelings is baseless. But again, is it hostile? To say so is simply giving Peter too much ‘credit’, if one may use the word, for his abilities, as this would imply a level of subtle shrewdness that he nowhere shows himself capable of – he wields his pen more like a bludgeon than a scalpel. 
Being foolish and deliberately trying to denigrate Sri Aurobindo are completely different things, and we are doing a disservice to ourselves and the community by mixing them up – this point cannot be repeated enough. Could not Peter simply be trying to be too clever by half, to fulfill his desire to somehow be accepted by mainstream academia, something that has not yet come his way? When this obvious and straightforward option of explaining his excesses is available, why must we overestimate his capacities, his scholarliness, and posit something far-fetched and complicated that just isn’t there? 
Here lies the delicious irony: both the Right and the Left overrate the calibre of Peter Heehs – the difference is one side sees masterly Machiavellian manipulativeness, and the other sheer academic brilliance. The boring reality is that Peter has done a commendable job of gathering information, in many places his account is highly readable and refreshingly objective, but, again ironically, he is guilty of the same shortcoming he himself has seen in hagiographical accounts: in parts he could not resist inserting his own personal opinions amidst the recounting of the events in the life of Sri Aurobindo. And with refinement and subtlety not being his forte, he was always bound to ruffle some feathers. Yet we must not forget that the arguably offending passages are relatively few in number in a book of over 500 pages, and these should not be allowed to colour too strongly our perception of the book as a whole – herein lies the importance of reading at least substantial parts of the book before forming an opinion, because then one sees that the hostility hypothesis put forward by Rightists who quote selectively does not hold water.]

[RK said... Dear Govind, I like your honesty. You might find this surprising, but I also agree with the points you mention, about subtexts and contexts. Yes, I have read the book, in full. The contentious portions I have read and reread numerous times - casting myself in various roles, as a so-called devotee, an aspiring yogi, an intellectual, a lay-reader, an Easterner, a Westerner, and finally just as myself, the composite mix of all these personalities.
And now I will surprise you once again. I don't find the book particularly outstanding. There are even statements in it I disagree with, strongly. There are portions, long passages, I find inspired and beautiful, at times even revelatory. I am impressed with the quantum of research, and the scope of his attempt, though at times I wished Peter would let down his intellectual guard, and speak about Sri Aurobindo with more open admiration and love. But this is his book, and not mine. So I am not enamoured of TLOSA. But really, Govind, even after reading it as many times as I did, I failed to find the "denigration". There is nothing in the book that 'cancels out' what is good, turns all the rest into 'poison'. Utter nonsense to say these things. … RK 12:04 AM, November 23, 2010 RK 12:05 AM, November 23, 2010 A.A.D. 8:22 PM, November 25, 2010]

Assuming the author of all these as one, it can easily be argued that the issue is definitely not Heehs (or his removal). Not even whether the book is good or bad or tolerable. The issue, to me, is what happens to the mythology with which I have lived all these years? Should it be allowed to be vandalized by all and sundry? It’s purely a personal perception where other perspectives are not of much help, howsoever considered or valuable they may be. To recall an old ad-line, Why should I compromise? [TNM55]   

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