Pluralizing Orientalism: A Century of Bhagavadgita Translations in Historical Perspective

Eder, Milton

     In this dissertation, I demonstrate that methodological and empirical improprieties exist in the recent critique of Western discourse about the Orient advanced by Edward Said, and, following Said, Ronald Inden. While selecting ideas Michel Foucault used to study discourse, both Said and Inden inadequately represent the complexities of discourse within the Western archive. I begin by describing ideas of Orientalism. I then outline how this study of interpretations and translations of the Bhagavadgita provides a more inclusive archaeological representation of Orientalist discourse."
     As a recurrent point of departure for the modern study of Indian civilization, the Gita presents an excellent opportunity to test the claim that there is a uniform culturally defined, Western Self-identity inherent in discourse. . . . By examining the equivalents used in translations of the Bhagavadgita to designate Self/Other relationships, I locate ways in which the translations establish multiple relations of Self to culture. I examine the interpretations and Bhagavadgita translations of Kashinath Trimbak Telang (1850-1937), Rudolf Otto (1869-1937), Franklin Edgerton (1885-1963) and J.A.B. van Buitenen (1928-1979), to review how each translator situated the text within Indian religious thought, their views of Sanskrit language in relation to Indian civilization and their observations on Western discourse about India. By historically mapping the Gita interpretations and translations within the 'careers' provided for these four scholars, discontinuities in the Self/Other opposition within Indological discourse appear. . . . The careers of these four Orientalists provide an opportunity for us to see that in addition to comprising meaningful communication, translation is inherently a means for cultural comparison. By identifying the interpretation and translation of 'Self' and 'Other' in the work of four scholars over the last century, this study demonstrates that an Orient/Occident structural opposition yields an overly simplistic view of the Self/Other discourse relation in the Western archive.