‘Ardor,’ by Roberto Calasso

21mishra-blog427Pankaj Mishra at The New York Times:

To this philosophical skepticism about modernity, Calasso has contributed a bracing genealogy of ideas, which transcends many contemporary conceits about literature and philosophy: Proust becomes a Vedic seer, and Prajapati, the Vedic deity of procreation, emerges as the predecessor of Kafka’s K in his form-defying books. Their ostensible range of subjects — from Talleyrand and Tiepolo to Greek and Indian myths — disguises a continuity of themes and preoccupations: the power and sovereignty of the mind and its relationship to the world, the basis of political and social order and the inescapable role of violence. He also has a reputation for mining arcane texts, which will no doubt be enhanced by his deployment in “Ardor” of the Satapatha Brahmana, a notoriously dense eighth-century B.C.E. commentary on Vedic rites.

Calasso uses it to range broadly on the Veda, its “self-sufficient, self-segregated world,” and “the rigor of its formal structure.” The Vedic Indians did not build great empires or monuments. Rather they sought an intense “state of awareness” that “became the pivot around which turned thousands and thousands of meticulously codified ritual acts.” Calasso is aware that most of his readers would regard the ritual of sacrifice as barbarous. But he sees in this contemporary recoiling an uneasy confession: that “this world of today is detached from and, at the same time, dependent on all that has preceded it.” Sacrifice was the means to acknowledge and contain violence through religious ritual and practice.

more here.