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Light Of Asia

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Occult Olcott, HS 9. Past Lives 2. Philosophy 3. Pilgram 2. Poems 4. Powell, AE 6. Quotes Call this historicism as presentism, a historicism that treats today as a reality constituted by multiple deep pasts.

Light of Asia

I have recently explored this critical landscape on the v21 blog and elsewhere. In this golden age of television, the serial publication of the Victorian novel can seem a lot more interesting than the adaptation of Victorian novels into lavish theatrical productions, a practice that resonates better with the bestseller-to-blockbuster pipeline of s Hollywood. The risk of presentism, in other words, is that we might return to a kind of Whig history in which the past functions primarily to lead to ourselves. Specifically, I have found it instructive to read Victorian literature, as she defines it, not just through its contemporary afterlives but also through its uptake by subsequent periods — in particular, to revisit nineteenth-century texts that we no longer consider important but represented seminal works to readers in the s or the s.

Recently, for instance, I have written on The Light of Asia , an epic poem about the Buddha published by Edwin Arnold in Lecourt a; b: Arnold no relation to Matthew taught for years in India before returning to London in the seventies to work as a journalist and poet. Although The Light of Asia was but one of several adaptations of Asian religious works that he published over the following years, it would become an especially celebrated bestseller, going through dozens of editions in multiple languages and inspiring both stage and screen versions.

Eliot would recall the poem fondly as something that had expanded his mental horizons as a young man Clausen ; Franklin Meanwhile the poem also had a major impact upon emerging Buddhist nationalisms from Ceylon to Japan to Burma. While we think of this vision of Buddhism as a phenomenon of the twentieth century — the modernist rebellion against Victorian religious morality, or postwar Baby Boomer frustrations with middle-class materialism — it might better be described as Victorian Protestant earnestness turning its righteous gaze against Protestantism itself, an evangelical anti-formalist polemic that has latched onto a non-western religion in order to chide its own culture.

Recognizing it as such reveals that the line between presentism and historicism, reading the past through the lens of our priorities and assessing it on its own terms, can be quite hard to draw. Not only do we frequently receive the past as mediated by other periods, but the stances from which we criticize particular historical epochs may rest upon foundations built within them.

This is just standard dialectical history, of course, but it reminds us that presentism can never be completely present, and if done self-consciously can encourage a great sensitivity to the complexities of the past. Moreover, reading Victorian texts as they influence us through intervening cultural moments can strengthen historicist practice by highlighting how, in reframing the past around our own concerns, we inevitably take part in a certain history.

Tracing the multiple afterlives of something like The Light of Asia , however, puts anachronistic reading itself into a kind of historical perspective by showing that such willful comparison of literary materials out of period is not some gesture against history but rather the latest episode in the history of what Levine calls affordances: the way in which literary forms are both in control of their own history and not, suggesting a certain set of imaginative possibilities that only others can realize for them Levine Indeed, a global, cross-period historicism might actually embolden an anachronistic hermeneutic by letting us compare the ways that we reframe nineteenth-century literary materials with how other periods have done it — letting us see, that is, how our anachronistic readings take part in the ongoing process by which forms are used and reused, disseminated and appropriated.

My own copy of The Light of Asia , an edition published by Roberts Brothers in Boston, belonged a professor at a small religious college in northern California where my mother works. His copy, in turn, was inscribed in pencil by a Margaret Burr back in I cannot say what either reader made of the poem, though I assume that their takes differed from mine, which is driven both by memories of a teenage interest in Buddhism and by a scholarly preoccupation with the history of religious studies.

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But it fascinates me that we are part of the same history, dependent in some sense upon that imperial encounter in South Asia a century and a half ago. Discordant in frequent particulars, and sorely overlaid by corruptions, inventions, and misconceptions, the Buddhistical books yet agree in the one point of recording nothing -- no single act or word -- which mars the perfect purity and tenderness of this Indian teacher, who united the truest princely qualities with the intellect of a sage and the passionate devotion of a martyr.

Even M. Barthelemy St. Hilaire, totally misjudging, as he does, many points of Buddhism, is well cited by Professor Max Muller as saying of Prince Siddartha, "Sa vie n'a point de tache. Son constant heroisme egale sa conviction ; et si la theorie qu'il preconise est fausse, les exemples personnels qu'il donne sont irreprochables. Il est le modele acheve de toutes les vertus qu'il preche; son abnegation, sa charite, son inalterable douceur ne se dementent point un seul instant. Il prepare silencieusement sa doctrine par six annees de retraite et de meditation; il la propage par la seule puissance de la parole et de la persuasion pendant plus d'un demi-siecle, et quand il meurt entre les bras de ses disciples, c'est avec la serenite d'un sage qui a pratique le bien toute sa vie, et qui est assure d'avoir trouve le vrai.

Forests of flowers are daily laid upon his stainless shrines, and countless millions of lips daily repeat the formula, "I take refuge in Buddha!