Wrestling with the angel: Fight all night (Further thoughts on intercultural philosophy)

I hope that readers will bear with me while I keep on exploiting the metaphor of wrestling with the angel. There are a few more indications, in fact, we can take out of it. First, Jacob fights. He does not just encounter the angel, he fights with him. Similarly, in order for the encounter with another philosopher to be really transformative, one should not just engage with a restatement of one’s ideas, and rather look for points of difference and not just of harmony. One is not transformed with the encounter of the n-th philosopher who agrees with oneself.

Then, Jacob fights all night. He fights while not being completely sure about the strength of his adversary, whom he cannot see. He tests his adversary’s and his own strength throughout a long wrestling. Similarly, although a short quote by a Chinese philosopher or an Arabian one might embellish our articles and impress our readers, this is not what I mean when I am talking about a fruitful transformative encounter. For that, one needs time and ongoing engagement.
An easy device in this sense is to engage with a full text, not just an impressive quote. By engaging with the full text, this unleashes its potential for a cross-cultural fertilisation, insofar as the same question is given a different answer, or vice versa, or the context is completely different. It is not irrelevant whether the discussion about the existence of free will in Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta, for instance, is prompted by the problem of the validity of the injunctions of sacred texts asking one to do something (see Freschi, ”Free will in Viśiṣṭādvaita Vedānta”, Religion Compass). In this way, one can go beyond a trivial restatement of what one knew with a different voice. It takes time, but we are doing philosophy, not emergency surgery.

About elisa freschi

My long-term program is to make "Indian Philosophy" part of "Philosophy". You can follow me also on my personal blog: elisafreschi.com, on Academia, on Amazon, etc.

2 Replies to “Wrestling with the angel: Fight all night (Further thoughts on intercultural philosophy)”

  1. Thanks for this, Elisa. I agree, and this is why I have focused increasingly on Buddhism in my posts of recent years – it has made much more of an impact on me than non-Buddhist Indian thought has (though I am starting to wrestle a bit more with Gandhi and alaṅkāra śāstra).

    I think the point about the whole text is important – I might even extend that to an author’s corpus beyond the single text, when there is an author we can identify. I’ve had some thoughts in the past on LoAW about why it is important to look for coherent authorship, in a sense that I think comes very close to your comments about wrestling. I think this is even true of composite texts composed by multiple writers, including texts like the Zhuangzi that can be challenging to read in such a way.

  2. Thank you, Amod. In fact, your post about your methodological discussion with Janet Gyatso helped me thinking about these issues (I will add it to any publishable version of these ideas).

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