23 Aug 2009

Savitri is "Fictional Creation", says Heehs! -- by R.Y Deshpande

The Lives of Sri Aurobindo published last year by the Columbia University Press dismisses Sri Aurobindo’s Savitri as a possible source for getting some idea about the yoga-sadhana of Sri Aurobindo. Here is what we have on p. 398: “Because his talks entirely ceased and his correspondence virtually so, there are no first-hand accounts of Sri Aurobindo’s sadhana after 1941. One is tempted to mine Savitri to make up for the lack. Sri Aurobindo’s accounts of Aswapathy’s voyage through the worlds of matter, life, and mind before reaching “the kingdoms of the greater knowledge,” and Savitri’s transit through the “inner countries” until she reaches the inmost soul certainly are based on his life and the Mother’s experiences; but the poem is a fictional creation, and Sri Aurobindo said explicitly that “the circumstances of this life have nothing to do with” its plot. [ref: 144, Letters on Poetry and Art, p. 276]

Let us examine the phrase “fictional creation” being supported by the reference from Letters on Poetry and Art.
This letter is dated 10 November 1936 and was addressed to Amal Kiran in response to his query. The way it is printed in the Centenary Edition is as follows: “Savitri is represented in the poem as an incarnation of the Divine Mother. This incarnation is supposed to have taken place in the far past times when the whole thing had to be opened, so as to ‘hew the ways of Immortality’.” —1936. (p. 729) When the 1954 University-edition of Savitri was prepared, Amal had made an error in reading “This incarnation” as “The narrative” and a correction was pasted before the book was released. The Mother was terribly upset with Amal and even remarked to the effect that he was too sure of himself.

From the letter as printed in the Centenary Edition one gets the impression that it is a single letter, dated 1936. But actually it has two dates:

“Savitri is represented in the poem as an incarnation of the Divine Mother.”
(3 November 1936.)

“This incarnation is supposed to have taken place in the far past times when the whole thing had to be opened, so as to ‘hew the ways of Immortality’.”
(10 November 1936)
In the following is the full correspondence between Amal and Sri Aurobindo, as presented in the Lives’ ref 144, Letters on Poetry and Art, p. 276:
Amal: What a flight!—nobody can describe so marvellously our Mother. Isn’t Savitri she and she only?

Sri Aurobindo: Savitri is represented in the poem as an incarnation of the Divine Mother.
(3 November 1936)

Amal: If Savitri is represented as an incarnation of the Divine Mother, Aswapati must be meant to represent Théon.

Sri Aurobindo: What has Théon to do with it?

Amal: If Aswapati is he, I’ll learn about his role from the poem—but couldn’t you say something about him in direct reference to Mother and yourself?

Sri Aurobindo: This incarnation is supposed to have taken place in the far past times when the whole thing had to be opened, so as to “hew the ways of Immortality”. Théon and the circumstances of this life have nothing to do with it.
(10 November 1936. )
The fallaciousness of the argument that Savitri is a “fictional creation” comes out in several respects. The first important point is Sri Aurobindo’s statement here pertains to one of the earliest drafts of Savitri belonging to the 1930s. What validity has it to the sadhana of the 1940s about which our author is opining? In fact none. He is comparing this draft of the epic with a short composition—Is this the End—written on 3 June 1945. I just fail to understand the sense of history of one who claims himself to be a historian.

The second point is of a slightly different nature. While our author dismisses Savitri as a possible source to get material about Sri Aurobindo’s life of the period, Amal himself wanted to learn from the poem about the role of Théon. This means that it was always considered not as a “fictional creation” but as a ‘mine’ for the biographical material.

Now let us look into the following from the Lives: “Sri Aurobindo said explicitly that ‘the circumstances of this life have nothing to do with’ its plot.” What does than mean? “this life” refers to whose life? Is it Théon’s life or Sri Aurobindo’s? Amal was talking about Théon and Sri Aurobindo had bluntly asked him what Théon had to do with it. A clarification was sought about Théon “in direct reference to Mother and yourself.” Therefore the answer was vis-à-vis Théon, that Théon had nothing to do with it. This also implies the validity of the plot in the context of leaning about the life of the concerned. How does it then become a “fictional creation”?

To base one’s argument to suit one’s motivations or intentions is hardly the method of objective research. But it is precisely with such kind of arguments and reasons that The Lives of Sri Aurobindo is infested with it. It is also amazing that intelligent supporters of the biography should fall prey to these illogicalities and absurdities.


The Lives of Sri Aurobindo and the Recycle Bin:

Apropos of the previous comment of mine here is a thoughtful private observation from an American friend, and she as an academician deeply studied in Philosophy:
I know how upset you are with the book, The Lives of Sri Aurobindo, but people of limitation are always trying to explain the experiences of great people—with no success because they haven't received the intuitive, overmind and supermental identity. I wonder if most people who read this book look at the details as you do. You are an Aurobindian scholar and beautiful poet. Peter is neither. Why not let the book die a natural death? Why keep it alive? I read it and having studied Sri Aurobindo since 1964, realized that the author of Lives and I didn't agree on many (most) points. In my opinion, Sri Aurobindo is one of the great masters of all time. I consider him the Plato of the East and really of the world. Peter's book will one day land in the recycle bin. Sri Aurobindo's work will last forever.

I think anyone deeply involved with Sri Aurobindo's work will take this so-called biography with a grain of salt. Of course, that's just an opinion.

R.Y. Deshpande's Reply:

Thanks for your very balanced and mature comment. I understand a certain necessity of taking Sri Aurobindo to people, and in the case of this biography to the academic audience. After all, the biography has been published by an academic institution, Columbia University Press, and one of the legitimate ways of dealing with it is to see it from an academic point of view. In that respect I find this publication by the University Press very flawed, defective. The example which we’ve here, and there are any number of them, is quite illustrative of it. In fact that makes me wonder how they—CUP—at all brought out something which does not come up to the truthful academic standards. Or is it that they just didn’t examine it carefully enough, that they went more by the promoters of the book instead of carrying out a peer review? Does it not cause damage to their own prestige? One of my concerns was, in the larger interest, to highlight this utter lack of academic objectivity. The academic façade had to be pulled down. If people who claim to be scholars and academically minded and diehard rationalists don’t look at these details and yet support the work, then it becomes a matter of unease and distress.

But you say something more than that, that I’m “upset with the book”, and I’m not going to deny it. What does one expect from a book on Sri Aurobindo, that his spiritual autobiography that is Savitri is a “fictional creation”? Isn’t that striking at the very roots of his and the Mother’s yogic tree under which we live or try to live? Would not Blake ask for his bow of burning gold and chariot of fire the moment he would hear Savitri is a “fictional creation”?

And remember you needed not a biography to come to Sri Aurobindo—your soul took him there; it has its own way of discovering that for which it had taken the birth, that it had already decided prior to it being born in this world of ours. Isn’t that wonderful, precious? It is that we cherish in our life when turned towards spiritual pursuit in which we may succeed or we may not, but the satisfaction is always there of doing it or trying it. The sad thing about the biography is, it is portraying a spiritual giant dismissing all his spirituality. It is this want of spiritual perception which must be the cause of all opposition to The Lives of Sri Aurobindo.


1 comment:

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