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Imagining India in Central and Eastern Europe
Location Room 211
Date and Start Time 30 July, 2016 at 09:00
Sessions 2


  • Martin Hříbek (Faculty of Arts, Charles University in Prague) email

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Chair Ajay Sinha, Martin Hříbek

Short Abstract

Production of knowledge about the Orient has not been an enterprise of a monolithic 'West' but rather of European national communities with different histories and interests. This panel focuses on representations of India in literature, art, and scholarship produced in Central and Eastern Europe.

Long Abstract

The debate on Orientalism(s) does not seem to lose its edge after almost forty years since Edward Said brought it to life. Arguably the major development has been the decentralisation of the 'Western' construction of the 'East'. Discussions of Orientalism without the Empire, of colonial versus non-colonial Orientalisms, and of nesting Orientalism have made the concept more differentiated. The scope and methodology of studying the representations of the Orient have been further broadened by hermeneutic approaches or notions like transnational entanglements.

This panel calls for comparative perspective to explore literary, artistic, and scholarly representations of India produced by language communities and nations of Central and Eastern Europe, a region itself poised on the shifting sands between conceptual East and West.

Participants are invited to present papers unpacking discourses on India, localised and embedded in individual national or ethnic discourses of the region, across a wide range of primary material from travelogues, novels, poetry, and visual arts to records of intellectual and political encounters and traditions of Indological studies. Contributions are welcome to address issues including, but not limited to, questions such as: How the construction of otherness from or affinity with India served national emancipation movements? How the imagining of India transformed over time and in what geopolitical context? What turn did it take in the postsocialist period and is that imagery changing in the looming geopolitical instability in Europe?

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


'Refugee from Nazi Germany': Alex Aronson, his "western eyes" and Rabindranath Tagore

Author: Gautam Chakrabarti (Freie Universität Berlin/)  email

Short Abstract

This paper will attempt to locate Alex Aronson's European sensibilities and his self-perception as “a very private person”, while in Rabindranath Tagore's cosmopolitan but also rural idyll, against the backdrop of an emerging intercultural educational paradigm that was anchored in Indic universalism

Long Abstract

In 1933-45, a number of German and Central European Jewish scientists, artists, writers and musicians had come to India. One of these unwilling émigrés, Alex Aronson (1912-95), came to India in 1937, from London, to teach English at Rabindranath Tagore's path-breaking world-university at Santiniketan, the Viśvabhārati, and left behind a trenchant and perceptive study of the Nobel Laureate, "Rabindranath through Western Eyes", as a mark of his respect for and gratitude to the latter, before moving to Israel and settling in Haifa. Aronson's book and his other work, "Brief Chronicles of the Time", were composed of interesting vignettes and observations on Tagore's 'Weltanschauung' from a rationalist but not drily-analytical perspective, which, nevertheless, remained somewhat unimpressed by the 'East'. However, Aronson seems to have responded positively, even sentimentally, to the emotional depth of Tagore's creative personality, which was palpably rooted in a spiritual-metaphysical sense of Hinduism. This makes one feel that the former's Jewish sensibility—exemplifying early-20th-century secular European Jewish engagement with Indic spirituality—was keyed to respond to Hindu mysticism and ontology, despite his rejection of the ritual-cosmogonic aspects of Eastern religiosity. The proposed paper will attempt to locate Aronson's European sensibilities and his self-perception as "a very private person" (from his letter to M.Kämpchen, 30th April, 1990), while in Tagore's rural idyll, against the backdrop of an emerging intercultural educational paradigm that was, despite the presence and active contributions of numerous Euro-American visitors, quite anchored in Indic universalism, which can be said to have been the core of Tagore's rooted cosmopolitanism.

Witkacy's deconstruction of the 'Spiritual Journey to India' myth in 'Farewell to Autumn'

Author: Krzysztof Iwanek (Hankuk University of Foreign Studies)  email

Short Abstract

This paper seeks to analyse the Indian motifs in S.I. Witkiewicz’s 'Farewell to Autumn', as an example of critising the 'spiritual journey to India' myth.

Long Abstract

This article seeks to analyse the importance of Indian motifs in S.I. Witkiewicz's Pożegnanie Jesieni (Farewell to Autumn). I start with claiming that while India and its aspects are depicted in a very general and sometimes erratic way in the novel, Witkacy's Farewell to Autumn can't be simply summed up using Edward W. Said's (and Erazm Kuźma's) method. India, and the East as such, is not described here as a simple mirror image of the West nor any myth of it is being construed. My conclusion is that rather with dealing with the image of the East, the novel deals much more with the image of certain Europeans that were fascinated with the East. In my opinion Hela's conversion to Buddhism, a crucial point in novel's plot, is indicative of this. However, following Jan Tuczyński, I find it possible that the final moment of the book, Atanazy's death, may point out to finding a common ground between elements of Witkacy's philosophy and a certain concept from Indian classical schools of thought. If that is the case, than Witkacy might have meant that a true dialogue between the West and the East should be based not on a superficial, 'spiritual' journey to the East, but on a meaningful philosophical search to find common elements in Western and Eastern schools of thought.

Knowledge and power in Indo-Czech entanglements

Author: Martin Hříbek (Faculty of Arts, Charles University in Prague)  email

Short Abstract

In this presentation I look at Czech Orientalist discourse on India. Focusing on the work of the Indologist and diplomat Otakar Pertold I explore whether that discourse was only self-referential and directed inward, or there was a nexus between representation of India interests in India.

Long Abstract

Specific Orientalisms of peoples in the Central and Eastern Europe provide an important terrain to study the discursive practices of constructing East and West.

While the Saidian presentation of Orientalism pertains largely to the Great Britain and France, several studies of German Orientalism point out its specificity, namely its inward direction. Czech imagination about the Orient was largely derived from German sources but at the same time contributed to Czech opposition to the German cultural hegemony. That discursive strategy, sometimes termed self-orientalisation, construed affinity of Czechs with nations of the East. It was indeed directed inward to the domestic population.

However, the central question I pose is whether Czech Orientalist perceptions of India were only self-referential and directed inward, or there was a nexus between representation of India and commercial as well as political interests in India. And if so, than to what extent and through which channels it was conceived and made effective?

As a case study of an Indo-Czech entanglement over which such a possibility will be explored is the life and work of Otakar Pertold (1884-1965), professor of Indology, Comparative Religion, and Ethnology in Prague, the author of the first Czech textbook of Hindustani (1930) and also the first Czechoslovak Consul General to Bombay (1920-1923). His combined role of a scholar, a populariser, and a diplomat, who was in charge of political as well as economic affairs, makes for a particularly suitable case for a study of knowledge/power in the context of Czech Orientalism.

Imagining India: Croatian present knowledge spheres

Authors: Marijana Janjić (Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences)  email
Lana Oresic (Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences)  email

Short Abstract

The paper will review the image of India as it exists in the public space (science, art, politics, media) from 1990 onward, after the downfall of Yugoslavia.

Long Abstract

The connections between people of Croatia and India go far back into the past, that's at least what indologists in Croatia claim. The question of public awareness of those connections is altogether a different one. For that reason, this paper will look into the structure of knowledge about India present in science (indological study in Croatia), politics (Croatia has loosened its political and economic ties with India unlike Serbia), media (what does average Croatia read or listens about India), culture and art (Croatians have developed a 'travelomania' after 1990 and India features in the travelogues often). With this in mind the paper will review following questions: how is the production of knowledge on India intertwined between those spheres? Does science influence public interest? Does economy and politics develop a new interest in the knowledge production? Whose needs are in those relations satisfied and whose are yet to be.

Imagining and performing India in the repertoire of Russian Ballets (19th and 20th centuries)

Author: Tiziana Leucci (CNRS)  email

Short Abstract

My paper analyses the ballets staged in Russia whose plots related to India, particularly its dancing girls known as bayadères or bayaderka (terms of portuguese origin). I’ll show how they were composed by taking inspiration from the European travellers’ accounts and the contemporary Orientalist scholarship.

Long Abstract

My paper proposal analyses some of those ballets staged in Russia, whose plots related to India, its palaces and kings, its temples and priests, and expecially its dancing girls, better known as bayadères or bayaderka (terms of portuguese origin). I will also show how those ballets were composed by taking inspiration from both the European travellers' accounts in India and the knowledge of Orientalist scholarship. In my intervention I will focus particularly on the 19th and 20th century Russian choreographic productions, which were the offsprings of the interaction between local Russian artists and scholars, with those writers, choreographers, dancers, musicians and music composers coming from India and other Eastern, Central and Western European countries. Those ballets featured the best choreographers, dancers, painters and librettists of the time, and contributed a great deal in the dissemination amongst contemporary European audiences, of the artistic and literary knowledge about India, its culture and related socio-religious customs, widely portrayed in those plays. A special attention will be given to the study of the ballet 'La Bayadère' (Russian : Bayaderka), firstly represented in St. Petersbourg in 1877 which, in its revised versions, is still performed today by the major ballet company in the world.

Orientalism in a photograph

Author: Ajay Sinha (Mount Holyoke College)  email

Short Abstract

In 1938, the Indian dancer Ram Gopal travels to Warsaw, where a critic compares him to an American dancer. Ram Gopal's photographs by an American photographer shows Orientalism as a nested exchange of gaze and representation binding the dancer, the dance, the critic, and the photographer.

Long Abstract

In 1938, the Indian dancer Ram Gopal travels to Warsaw, where a critic, Tadeus Zielinski, writes glowingly about the dancer bringing to life the heroes of a Greek tragedy which an American ballet dancer, Isadora Duncan, had evoked decades earlier. My paper explores the trans-cultural force field that brings together the Indian dancer, the American dance, and the Polish critic, and calls it Orientalism. In a set of photographs of the Indian dancer by an American photographer, Carl Van Vechten, just a few months prior to the Warsaw concert, I examine Orientalism's force field in a nested exchange of gaze, representation, and self-presentation, guided by the following questions: What is the Indian dancer showing to the camera? What is the American photographer seeing on the other side of the lens? What is the role of the camera in their dissimilar investments in the visual image? The photo shoot in New York captures a rare moment of cultural encounter, border-crossing and self-fashioning in front of the camera that moves the history of global photography beyond what Alan Sekula calls "the limits of national identity". I refine Sekula by arguing for the fundamental role of Orientalism in shaping the national and regional imaginaries of actors in this photo shoot.

Is there a Viennese school of Indian Art History? Early considerations on Indian and Oriental Art by Viennese scholars at the beginning of the 20th century

Author: Verena Widorn (University of Vienna)  email

Short Abstract

The paper deals with the methodological approach to Indian and Oriental Art by students of Josef Strzygowski, such as Stella Kramrisch, Emmy Wellesz, or Ernst Diez, at the Viennese Institute of Art History in the first half of the 20th century.

Long Abstract

The paper deals with the methodological approach to Indian Art by Viennese students, such as Stella Kramrisch, Emmy Wellesz, Ernst Diez, or Heinrich Glück, in the first half of the 20th century. This circle of young art historians - all of them became well known and highly appreciated scholars in the field of Asian or Oriental art - were on the fence of the rivalry between the different representatives of the Viennese Art History Institute. Trained and highly influenced by the ideas and world view of their teacher Josef Strzygowski, they established a new notion of this hitherto rather unknown research area and put a special focus on the study of the "Nature" of Indian fine art and its artistic value - a method highly propagandised by Strzygowski. But they thoroughly and successfully also applied the new formalistic and comparative method emphasized by Alois Riegl or Max Dvořák. However, until recently there was a tendency (especially in Vienna) to exclude Strzygowski and his students from the long tradition of the so called Viennese School of Art History. But are the methods developed by the members of the Viennese School of Art History only applicable for European art? The focus of the paper lies on a careful analysis of the applied methodology of the earliest publications of Kramrisch and her colleagues on Indian art written mainly in German (and therefore hitherto hardly considered by the international community).

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.