The Language Disciplines: A Figure for the South Asian Humanities

Talk by Andrew Ollett, Junior Fellow, Harvard University’s Society of Fellows, PhD, Columbia University (2015)
According to an origin story that the Jain monk Jinasēna told in the ninth century, the arts and sciences began when R̥ṣabha, who would later become the first enlightened being, “taught textuality” vāṅmayam upādiśat) to his two daughters. What does it mean to “teach textuality”? Can this question help us to think about the theoretical foundations of the South Asian humanities? This talk will develop one answer to this question. According to Jinasēna, a triad of “language disciplines” — grammar, metrics, and poetics — forms the necessary point of departure for any voyage into the textual past. They are “disciplines” because we do not simply leave them behind once we have acquired the requisite linguistic skills. They are present in every act of understanding. As the eleventh-century scholar Abhinavagupta shows us, the language disciplines also suggest certain theories of understanding, in that the phenomena they track, and the categories they use, require us to conceive the process of expression, and conversely the process of interpretation, in new ways. Jinasēna shows us that “teaching textuality” means teaching the disciplines that make an understanding of the textual past possible, and
Abhinavagupta shows us how to find the theory in these disciplines.

Thursday, February 21, 2019 - 5:15pm
Foster 103