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The Indo-German Identification

The Indo-German Identification: Reconciling South Asian Origins and European Destinies, 1765-1885

Robert Cowan
Volume: 86
Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: Boydell and Brewer,
Pages: 236
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  • Book Info
    The Indo-German Identification
    Book Description:

    In the early nineteenth century, German intellectuals such as Novalis, Schelling, and Friedrich Schlegel, convinced that Germany's cultural origins lay in ancient India, attempted to reconcile these origins with their imagined destiny as saviors of a degenerate Europe, then shifted from "Indomania" to Indophobia when the attempt foundered. The philosophers Hegel, Schopenhauer, and, later, Nietzsche provided alternate views of the role of India in world history that would be disastrously misappropriated in the twentieth century. Reconstructing Hellenistic and humanist views of the ancient Brahmins and Goths, French-Enlightenment debates over the postdiluvian origins of the arts and sciences, and the Indophilia and protonationalism of Herder, Robert Cowan focuses on turning points in the development of an "Indo-German" ideal, an ideal less focused on intellectual imperialism than many studies of the "Aryan Myth" and Orientalism would have us believe. Cowan argues that the study of this ideal continues to offer lessons about cultural difference in the "post-national" twenty-first century. Of great interest to historians, philosophers, and literary scholars, this cross-cultural study offers a new understanding of the Indo-German story by showing that attempts to establish identity necessarily involve a reconciliation of origins and destinies, of self and other, of individual and collective. Robert Cowan is Assistant Professor of English at Kingsborough Community College of the City University of New York.

    eISBN: 978-1-57113-717-3
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

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  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Introduction: History Is Personal
    (pp. 1-8)

    Orientalism in Germany drew on two separate sources, the relationship between the Ottoman and Holy Roman (later Habsburg) Empires on the one hand, and the “Oriental Renaissance” spurred by the translation of Sanskrit texts into European languages on the other. While the foundational scholarly text for the study of this latter form of German Orientalism, Raymond Schwab’s La renaissance orientale, was published as long ago as 1950, the German case has received much less attention than its English or French counterparts until rather recently. Certainly such eminent scholars as A. Leslie Willson (1964), Ernst Behler (1968), Léon Poliakov (1971), and...

  5. Prologue: Original Attributes, 425 B.C.–A.D. 1765
    (pp. 9-30)

    By the dawn of the eighteenth century, Europeans had already held formed beliefs about India for over two thousand years. The core of these ideas was the notion that in India primordial knowledge older than that of Europe was guarded by high priests and demonic beasts, for two traditions of viewing India had developed: a vision of an enlightened land of primeval wisdom, or a savage place dominated by monsters. At the same time, beginning during the Protestant Reformation some European thinkers developed the idea that all Europeans were ethnically “Germans,” and they described the earliest Gothic tribes using terminology...

  6. I. L’Âge des Ombres, 1765–1790s

    • 1: As Flood Waters Receded: The Enlightenment on the Indian Origins of Language and Art
      (pp. 33-48)

      At the start of the eighteenth century, “Germany” consisted of approximately eighteen hundred separate territories, each with distinct sovereignty. While the citizens of the Germanic states felt that their cultural development had been retarded by the Thirty Years’ War (1618–48), a certain unity existed among them, centered not so much on a feeling of “nationalism” per se — for the modern conception of nations was just developing — as on a sense of Germanic culture.

      The political consequences of the war between Catholics and Lutherans, which embroiled most of Europe, were twofold. On the one hand, Germany was divided into many...

    • 2: Seeds of Romantic Indology: From Language to Nation
      (pp. 49-72)

      A cult of the German language and mythology rose up around Klopstock’s poetry in the 1780s and ’90s, but classical mythology retained devotees such as Winckelmann, Goethe, and Gotthold Ephraim Lessing. The possibility of a poetic vision as subjective as Klopstock’s had been presented in literature by Goethe a decade earlier, and in philosophy by Immanuel Kant still earlier. The subject of this chapter is the role of such subjectivity within a wider vision of the universe beyond the human senses. It will address three developments in German thought that foreshadowed the appropriation of Hindu and Buddhist ideas by the...

  7. II. Textual Salvation from Social Degeneration, 1790s–1808

    • 3: Hindu Predecessors of Christ: Novalis’s Shakuntala
      (pp. 75-88)

      Young intellectuals throughout Europe enthusiastically greeted the French overthrow of absolutism in 1789. The political upheaval seemed to provide, among other things, for an additional stimulus to accelerate the ongoing drive toward emancipation from all conventional rules in the arts. Many German critics and poets agreed that mechanical rules such as the Aristotelian unities in drama, which the Elizabethans had cast aside in the late sixteenth century, stifled creativity. Inspired by the ideals of the French Revolution, young German writers would attempt to develop new forms that embodied the issues of their generation. The Early German Romantics’ subsequent rejection of...

    • 4: Reconcilable Indifferences: Schelling and the Gitagovinda
      (pp. 89-106)

      René Gérard notes that, particularly from 1798 on, with his concept of the Weltseele (World-Soul, or the soul of nature), Schelling was convinced that “modern philosophy was in the process of rejoining ‘primitive’ philosophy.”¹ The system that Schelling was developing in these few years following the composition of his friend Novalis’s Hymnen an die Nacht iterates Novalis’s theme of the arrival of a new universal religion destined to restore the knowledge of forgotten mysteries and the message of mystical Christianity. Schelling believed that the European skeptical and idealist systems could be brought together in a way that was consistent with...

    • 5: Fear of Infinity: Friedrich Schlegel’s Indictment of Indian Religion
      (pp. 107-128)

      Friedrich Schlegel continued the tradition of locating the origins of the Germans in India, but eventually took an adversarial stance against South Asian religions. In Über die Sprache und die Weisheit der Indier (On the Language and Wisdom of the Indians, 1808) he described Hinduism and Buddhism as not only pale imitations of the perfected Christianity to come, but essentially nihilist. He thus established a viewpoint about Asian religion that would prove detrimental to the interpretation of Asian religious texts well into the twentieth century. The primary problem for Schlegel’s encounter with Hinduism and the reason for his eventual attack...

  8. III. Alternate Idealizations, 1807–1885

    • 6: Hegel’s Critique of “Those Plant-like Beings”
      (pp. 131-141)

      The Hoch- and Spätromantiker did not share the same zealous fascination with India as did the Frühromantiker, yet between 1808 and mid-century, Indology in Germany and France began to become a legitimate area of study, particularly due to the efforts of figures such as the linguist Franz Bopp and the philologist and Orientalist Max Müller. Only shortly after the publication of works such as Schlegel’s On the Language and Wisdom of the Indians, developments in continental philosophy, German nationalism, and evolutionary biology began presenting theories and associations that would largely determine views of origins and destiny through the end of...

    • 7: Schopenhauer’s Justification for Good
      (pp. 142-161)

      Mann’s quote may be true and one could argue that Asian philosophy, which often emphasizes cultivating detachment from what Nietzsche would call the “all-too-human,” would naturally appeal to one who was already detached in many ways, as was Arthur Schopenhauer. One of Hegel’s primary rivals, Schopenhauer was out of step with his contemporaries in the tradition of German idealism. He was, however, one of the most avid readers of the English Indological publications discussed earlier. His interest in Hindu and Buddhist topics began around the age of twenty-five, just after he submitted his doctoral thesis at Jena University, “Über die...

    • 8: Nietzsche’s Inability to Escape from Schopenhauer’s South Asian Sources
      (pp. 162-176)

      The Congress of Vienna did not create a unified Germany after the defeat of Napoleon, but rather a set of loosely confederated states. Therefore, those who sought a unified Germany looked to cohesion of culture. George Mosse remarks of the middle decades of the century:

      The revolutions of 1848, which seemed at first to give Germany another chance for unity, only resulted in frustration. The search for national roots, for a national stability upon which to form a true union was intensified between 1848 and 1870, and was accompanied by an increasing opposition to modernity. The modern world had denied...

  9. Epilogue: Destinies Reconsidered, 1885–2004
    (pp. 177-185)

    The influence of Nietzsche on successors such as Oswald Spengler and the misappropriation of Nietzsche’s thought are well documented both as Zeitgeist and a foreshadowing of dark things to come. “The late nineteenth-century development of a ‘post-liberal mood’ has long been recognized as a cultural and political watershed,” argues Steven E. Aschheim:

    Historians have variously labeled this “change in the public spirit of Europe” [footnotes Mosse] as the revolt against positivism and materialism, as a generational rebellion against the liberal bourgeoisie, as the era of the discovery of the unconscious, and as the age of irrationalism and neo-Romanticism. Underlying and...

  10. Conclusion: The Intersection of the Personal, the Philosophical, and the Political
    (pp. 186-192)

    Hegel argued in The Philosophy of History that political revolutions did not matter to Hindus because they did not change one’s lot in life, which was governed by the caste system. One is apparently born into the level of society at which one belongs based on past performance. Better performance will only result in a higher ranking in a future lifetime, so no matter how well you run in this race, you still finish in same spot in which you were placed. More recently, Pankaj Mishra perhaps better sums up what Hegel was trying to get at in the South...

  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 193-218)
  12. Index
    (pp. 219-226)
  13. Back Matter
    (pp. 227-227)