Narrative Cultures and the Aesthetics of Religion 9789004421677, 900442167X

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Narrative Cultures and the Aesthetics of Religion
 9789004421677, 900442167X

Table of contents :
Contents
Preface
Illustrations
Notes on Contributors
Introduction. Narrative Cultures and the Aesthetics of Religion: An Introduction
Part 1: Encounters: Vernacular Religious Storytelling
Chapter 1. One Ritual—Many Stories: On Making Sense of a Hindu Ritual
Chapter 2. Narrating Spirit Possession
Chapter 3. How to Sense a Ghost: On the Aesthetics of Legend Traditions
Chapter 4. Studying Religions as Narrative Cultures: Angel Experience Narratives in the Netherlands and Some Ideas for a Narrative Research Program for the Study of Religion
Part 2: Identities: Narrating and Counter-narrating Gods and People
Chapter 5. Feeling Narrative Cultures: Analyzing Emotions in Religious Narratives with Examples from Old-Babylonian Ninurta Myths
Chapter 6. Aztec Pictorial Narratives: Visual Strategies to Activate Embodied Meaning and the Transformation of Identity in the Mapa de Cuauhtinchan No. 2
Chapter 7. Transmedial Narrative Cultures: Upanishadic Spirituality in the Indian Tele-Serial ``Upanishad Ganga''
Chapter 8. Storytelling and Mediation: The Aesthetics of a Counter-narrative of Atheism in South India
Part 3: Arts: Narrative Craft beyond Words
Chapter 9. Braiding Ropes, Weaving Baskets: The Narrative Culture of Ancient Monasticism
Chapter 10. Immersing in the World of Radha and Krishna: Visual Storytelling in the Context of Religious Practice
Chapter 11. Foundational Narratives in Chan/Zen Buddhism and the Observation of the Ineffable: Two ``Public Cases'' (gong'an/koan) of the Gateless Barrier of Chan Lineage
Chapter 12. Poetic Imagination in Scientific Practice: Grand Unification as Narrative Worldmaking
Afterthoughts. What Happens When the Story Is Told? Reflections on the Aesthetics of Narrative Worldmaking and Aesthetic Sensation—Afterthoughts
Subject Index

Citation preview

Narrative Cultures and the Aesthetics of Religion

Supplements to Method & Theory in the Study of Religion Editorial Board Aaron W. Hughes (University of Rochester) Russell McCutcheon (University of Alabama) Kocku von Stuckrad (University of Groningen)

Volume 14

The titles published in this series are listed at brill.com/smtr

Narrative Cultures and the Aesthetics of Religion Edited by

Dirk Johannsen Anja Kirsch Jens Kreinath

Cover illustration: Lappisk offermål, colorized copperprint from Knud Leem, Beskrivelser over Finmarkens Lapper, København 1776. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Names: Johannsen, Dirk, editor. | Kirsch, Anja, editor. | Kreinath, Jens, 1967- editor. Title: Narrative cultures and the aesthetics of religion / edited by Dirk Johannsen, Anja Kirsch, Jens Kreinath. Description: Leiden ; Boston : Brill, 2020. | Series: Supplements to method & theory in the study of religion, 2214-3270 ; volume 14 | Includes bibliographical references and index. Identifiers: LCCN 2019053862 | ISBN 9789004421660 (hardback) | ISBN 9789004421677 (ebook) Subjects: LCSH: Storytelling–Religious aspects. | Narration (Rhetoric)–Religious aspects. | Aesthetics–Religious aspects. | Senses and sensation–Religious aspects. | Religion and culture. Classification: LCC BL628.7 .N37 2020 | DDC 208–dc23 LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2019053862

Typeface for the Latin, Greek, and Cyrillic scripts: “Brill”. See and download: brill.com/brill-typeface. ISSN 2214-3270 ISBN 978-90-04-42166-0 (hardback) ISBN 978-90-04-42167-7 (e-book) Copyright 2020 by Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, The Netherlands. Koninklijke Brill NV incorporates the imprints Brill, Brill Hes & De Graaf, Brill Nijhoff, Brill Rodopi, Brill Sense, Hotei Publishing, mentis Verlag, Verlag Ferdinand Schöningh and Wilhelm Fink Verlag. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, translated, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without prior written permission from the publisher. Authorization to photocopy items for internal or personal use is granted by Koninklijke Brill NV provided that the appropriate fees are paid directly to The Copyright Clearance Center, 222 Rosewood Drive, Suite 910, Danvers, MA 01923, USA. Fees are subject to change. This book is printed on acid-free paper and produced in a sustainable manner.

Contents Preface vii Dirk Johannsen, Anja Kirsch and Jens Kreinath List of Illustrations xi Notes on Contributors xii Narrative Cultures and the Aesthetics of Religion: An Introduction Dirk Johannsen and Anja Kirsch

1

Part 1 Encounters: Vernacular Religious Storytelling 1

One Ritual—Many Stories: On Making Sense of a Hindu Ritual Brigitte Luchesi

17

2

Narrating Spirit Possession Katharina Wilkens

3

How to Sense a Ghost: On the Aesthetics of Legend Traditions Dirk Johannsen

4

Studying Religions as Narrative Cultures: Angel Experience Narratives in the Netherlands and Some Ideas for a Narrative Research Program for the Study of Religion 91 Markus Altena Davidsen and Bastiaan van Rijn

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66

Part 2 Identities: Narrating and Counter-Narrating Gods and People 5

Feeling Narrative Cultures: Analyzing Emotions in Religious Narratives with Examples from Old-Babylonian Ninurta Myths 125 Laura Feldt

6

Aztec Pictorial Narratives: Visual Strategies to Activate Embodied Meaning and the Transformation of Identity in the Mapa de Cuauhtinchan No. 2 155 Isabel Laack

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Transmedial Narrative Cultures: Upanishadic Spirituality in the Indian Tele-Serial “Upanishad Ganga” 185 Annette Wilke

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Storytelling and Mediation: The Aesthetics of a Counter-narrative of Atheism in South India 219 Stefan Binder

Part 3 Arts: Narrative Craft Beyond Words 9

Braiding Ropes, Weaving Baskets: The Narrative Culture of Ancient Monasticism 249 Ingvild Sælid Gilhus

10

Immersing in the World of Radha and Krishna: Visual Storytelling in the Context of Religious Practice 270 Caroline Widmer

11

Foundational Narratives in Chan/Zen Buddhism and the Observation of the Ineffable: Two “Public Cases” (gong’an/kōan) of the Gateless Barrier of Chan Lineage 293 Martin Lehnert

12

Poetic Imagination in Scientific Practice: Grand Unification as Narrative Worldmaking 314 Arianna Borrelli What Happens When the Story Is Told? Reflections on the Aesthetics of Narrative Worldmaking and Aesthetic Sensation—Afterthoughts 345 Jens Kreinath Subject Index

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Preface Dirk Johannsen, Anja Kirsch and Jens Kreinath

The cover illustration of this anthology shows a circumpolar wasteland. Five people gather around a fireplace with no shelter. Scattered stones, sticks, and bones complete the composition. Without context, the picture allows for a range of interpretation. For a conference on narrative cultures and the aesthetics of religion held in 2016 at the University of Oslo, Norway, the picture served to evoke a storytelling situation. The power of narrative imagination makes the world its canvas, and a miraculous tale may capture people’s attention—even when they are exposed to Norway’s harsh, icy weather. Of course, this is not the picture’s story. It is a copperplate print from Knud Leem’s eighteenth-century Description of the Laplanders of Finnmark, their Vernacular, Lifestyle and Idolatry, Illustrated by Many Copper Engravings (1767). Socalled Descriptions were an important genre in the absolutist Danish monarchy. Their purpose was to chart peripheral territories by providing detailed accounts of both the natural and human resources and of the obstacles one could expect when trying to exploit them. The copperplate illustrates what Danish authorities saw as the major obstacle to a sustainable settlement plan for the Finnmark: the indigenous Sami population. Discussing “the Laplanders idolatrous sacrifices,” Lutheran priest Leem alleges how the Sami conduct sacrificial meals as a core element of their “pagan cult” (Leem 1767, 428–50). Since Olaus Magnus’ Description of the Northern Peoples ([1555] 1996–98), early modern ethnographic literature had depicted the religion of the Sami as a demonic cult with a strong leaning towards weather magic, making them immune to the cold and empowering them to conjure snowstorms and walls of ice. In his influential demonological treatise On the Demon-Mania of Witches ([1581] 1995), French political philosopher Jean Bodin imagined that controlling the borealis would give the Sami the potential to harm all of Europe, an argument echoing throughout the intense seventeenth-century Finnmark witch-hunts (Hagen 2015). Leem bases his account of the Sami religion on the records of these witch trials but provides a different interpretation of the nature of the alleged cult. The sacrificial meal is not a demonic act, he argues, but an anachronism. Reindeer, cattle, or seals were slaughtered and cooked; their blood was then sprinkled on some stakes, both single and crossed ones with a hidden meaning, as seen in the front of the picture (Leem 1767, 428–29; 437–38). The bones were carefully collected. After the meal, they would be left behind for the idol

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to revive the animal. In the guise of ethnography, Leem tells a migratory legend. The “resuscitated eaten animal (An animal is eaten. When his bones are reassembled, he revives)” is listed as narrative element or script E32 in Stith Thompson’s Motif-index of Folk-literature (1955–1958) where it is documented with reference to Irish, African, Swiss, English, Jewish, Indian, Native American, and Old Norse traditions (Thompson 1956, 408). It is the latter tradition that Leem had in mind when imagining Sami sacrificial practices. He locates the Sami in an alternative narrative culture, rooted in Old Norse mythology. In collecting the bones, he suggests, the Sami reveal themselves followers of the Old Norse God Thor, even though they may no longer realize it, having forgotten his name (Leem 1767, 438). In Snorri Sturluson’s thirteenth-century Edda, Thor slaughters his two goats Tanngrisnir and Tanngnjóstr every evening. As long as the bones remain intact, he can revive the goats to their former condition (Sturluson [1220] 1964, 70). Their pagan practices, priest Leem tries to convince his readers, were not dangerous acts of magic but a sign of being stuck in an obsolete mythology. Not witch-hunters but missionaries were required to control the Finnmark. It was about time to bring a new narrative, the gospel of Christ, to the remote regions. In the Description of the Laplanders of Finnmark, the copperplate picture illustrates a new colonial approach to the Sami’s religion by literally disenchanting it. Leem rejuvenated a learned narrative culture based on demonological imaginaries by reframing them as mythological imaginaries. Magic turned into myth, and the poetics of romanticism soon cultivated the enchanted view of storytelling, according to which the world was but a canvas for the narrative imagination (Thoreau 1849, 306). In romantic readings, early scholars of comparative religion discovered Leem’s account of the rejuvenated animal as evidence that already the Old Norse religion had roots in timeless “shamanic” practices and a universal magical mentality (Daa 1869, 149–70). With the romantic chronotope (Bakhtin 1981) used to emancipate the study of religions from both the diachronic study of history and church-centered Christian theology, geographical and social periphery trumped chronology. In the scholars’ re-configured storyworld, the copperplate illustration of a ritualistic practice of eighteenth-century indigenous people seemed more authentic and intimately connected to the core of religion than thirteenth-century poems, written down by the learned Christian Snorri Sturluson. The convoluted story of the picture shows the complexity and dynamics of narrative cultures. It illustrates that stories are never “merely expository, but rather, partisan” (Bruner 1990, 85). They can be shared, borrowed, or stolen. It matters who tells them, who listens, and who is excluded from the storytelling setting—in this case, the protagonists themselves. It also illustrates how a new

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framing, genre, or chronotope changes a story’s disposition, making even contradictory conclusions seem natural. Where people are entangled in stories (Schapp 2004), every reiteration connects to new narrative strands in the web of stories that shapes their thinking and their perception. In the way it was recounted by Leem and retold by later scholars of religion, the myth of the revived animal is not even complete. The dramatic potential of the narrative script E32 remained dormant: What if the bones break? Inevitably, this is what happens to Thor when a peasant child cannot resist eating the marrow. The animals end up limping and disfigured, and the utopia of a never-ending supply of food is forsaken. Breaking the script makes the story and adds another layer of storytelling dynamics. The myth of a God reviving slaughtered animals to provide an abundance of food was obsolete from the first moment it was told. Still, it inspired religious discourse and the discourse about religion for centuries, turning generations of scholars into co-narrators. This anthology results from a multi-year collaboration of scholars of religion who convened in the Aesthetics of Religion network (AESToR.net), funded from 2015–2018 by the German Research Foundation (DFG). The international conference “Narrative Cultures and the Aesthetics of Religion,” held June 16–18, 2016 in Oslo, brought together members and friends of this network to discuss religious storytelling practices in aesthetic terms (Koch & Kreinath 2016). From the organization of the conference to the preparation of this volume, many people contributed to our exploration of narrative cultures. First and foremost, we are grateful to Katharina Wilkens and Anne Koch for initiating the Aestor.net, all of its members for engaging in the topic, and our scholarly narrators who attended the Narrative Cultures conference. We are tremendously grateful to Amanda Olsen, MA in Cultural History from the University of Oslo, who accompanied the conference project at an early stage, and to Kai-Erik Westergaard, MA in History of Religions from the University of Oslo, who joined her in conducting the three days of the conference. For the conference anthology taking shape, we thank Annette Wilke for hosting an author-workshop at the University of Münster and Melanie Möller and Anne Wahl for co-organizing this workshop; Adrian Hermann for organizing an Aestor.net meeting at the University of Bonn; Kirsten Berrum for helping with the graphic design of the cover illustration; Alexandra Grieser and Hubert Mohr for valuable input; Lauren Vardiman and Bailey Fimreite for their language editing, and Bailey for indexing the volume. We also want to thank all those who further supported us directly or indirectly in transforming the Narrative Cultures conference into an anthology. We would also like to thank the German Research Foundation for granting the AESToR.net project and the Department of Culture Studies and Oriental Languages (IKOS), University of

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Oslo, for financial and administrative support. Finally, we thank Tessa Schild, editor of the Religious Studies section at Brill, for patiently guiding the publication process of Narrative Cultures and the Aesthetics of Religion.

References Bakhtin, Mikhail M. 1981. “Forms of Time and of the Chronotope in the Novel,” in The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays by M.M. Bakhtin, 84–258. Edited by Michael Holquist, translated by Caryl Emerson & Michael Holquist. Austin: University of Texas Press. Bauman, Richard. 2004. A World of Others’ Words: Cross-Cultural Perspectives on Intertextuality. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing. Bodin, Jean. [1581] 1995. On the Demon-Mania of Witches, translated by Randy A. Scott, with an introduction by Jonathan L. Pearl. Toronto: Centre for Reformation and Renaissance Studies. Bruner, Jerome. 1990. Acts of Meaning. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Daa, Ludvig Kr. 1869. Om Nationaliteternes Udvikling. Kristiania: J.Chr. Abelsteds Forlag. Hagen, Rune Blix. 2015. Ved porten til helvete: Trolldomsprosessene i Finnmark. Oslo: Cappelen Damm. Koch, Anne & Jens Kreinath. 2016. “Narrative Cultures and Aesthetics of Religion: Storytelling – Imagination – Efficacy, Oslo 16.06.2016–18.06.2016,” H-Soz-Kult: Kommunikation und Fachinformation für die Geschichtswissenschaften. Accessed August 13, 2019, www.hsozkult.de/conferencereport/id/tagungsberichte-6661. Leem, Knud. 1767. Beskrivelse over Finnmarkens Lapper, deres Tungemaal, Levemaade og Forrige Afgudsdyrkelse, oplyst ved mange Kaaberstykker (Description of the Laplanders of Finnmark, Their Vernacular, Lifestyle and Idolatry, Illustrated by Many Copper Engravings). Copenhagen: Det Kongel. Waysenhuses Bogtrykkerie. Magnus, Olaus. [1555] 1996–1998. A Description of the Northern Peoples, 3 vols. Edited by Peter G. Foote. New York: Routledge. Schapp, Wilhelm. (1953) 2004. In Geschichten verstrickt: Zum Sein von Mensch und Ding. Fourth edition. Frankfurt/Main: Klostermann. Sturluson, Snorri. [1220] 1964. The Prose Edda: Tales from Norse Mythology, translated by Jean I. Young. Berkeley: University of California Press. Thompson, Stith. 1956. Motif-Index of Folk-Literature: A Classification of Narrative Elements in Folktales, Ballads, Myths, Fables, Mediaeval Romances, Exempla, Fabliaux, Jest-Books, and Local Legends. Revised and Enlarged Edition. Volume Two: D–E. Copenhagen: Rosenkilde & Bagger. Thoreau, Henry D. 1849. A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers. Boston & Cambridge: James Munroe and Company.

Illustrations Figures 1.1

Girls with mothers and brothers at the sacred fish pond in Andreta, April 15, 1984; photograph taken by Brigitte Luchesi. 18 1.2 House shrine with images of Ralī and her brother Bastu in front of a color print showing God Śiva, Dattal, April 13, 2015; photograph taken by Brigitte Luchesi. 31 1.3 Group of girls with a priest gathering around the sacred fire during the wedding ceremonies for Ralī and Śiva, Dattal, April 13, 2015; photograph taken by Brigitte Luchesi. 38 4.1 Structure of the prototypical angel experience narrative. 102 6.1 Left side of the Mapa de Cuauhtinchan No. 2. Digital reproduction by Isabel Laack. Copyright: Ángeles Espinosa Yglesias. 164 6.2 Series of natural disasters, Mapa de Cuauhtinchan No. 2. Digital reproduction by Isabel Laack. Copyright: Ángeles Espinosa Yglesias. 168 8.1 Main entrance of the Charvaka Ashram during the Nastika Mela 2014; photograph taken by Stefan Binder. 230 8.2 Busts depicting Payasi, Buddha, Periyar Ramasami, B.R. Ambedkar, K.B. Krishna, Tripuraneni Ramaswamy, Jyotirao Phule, and Savitribai Phule (from right to left); photograph taken by Stefan Binder. 231 8.3 Bust of Makkhali Gosala with inscriptions at the backside of the Charvaka Ashram; photograph taken by Stefan Binder. 238 10.1 The sorrow of Radha. Folio of the Second Guler Gitagovinda, Pahari region, India, around 1775. Copyright: The Metropolian Museum of Art. 280 10.2 Cunning Krishna. Folio of the Second Guler Gitagovinda, Pahari region, India, around 1775. Copyright: Museum Rietberg, Zürich. 283 10.3 The south wind cools itself in the snows of the Himalayas. Folio of the Second Guler Gitagovinda, Pahari region, India, around 1775. Copyright: Museum Rietberg, Zürich. 287 12.1 The merging of coupling constants at high energies. Reproduction by Arianna Borrelli from http://www.particleadventure.org/grand.html. © 2014 by the Particle Data Group. 335

Table 4.1

Strategies of plausibility construction in angel experience narratives. 106

Notes on Contributors Stefan Binder is a post-doctoral researcher at the Centre for Modern Indian Studies at the University of Göttingen. He is working on audio-visual media practices and the aesthetics of time among Shi’i Muslims in Hyderabad and is currently developing a project on masculinities and queer communities in urban India. He received his PhD degree from Utrecht University, Netherlands, for an anthropological study of organized atheism and lived secularity in South India. He has also published on subjectivity in relation to meditation practices in Buddhist modernism in Germany as well as on the relationship of science and religion in medical literature. Arianna Borrelli is a historian and philosopher of premodern and modern science currently working at the Center for Advanced Study on Media Cultures of Computer Simulation (German Research Foundation Project 1927) at Leuphana University in Lüneburg. Focus of her research is the relationship between scientific knowledge and the strategies employed to mediate it. She published the monograph Aspects of the Astrolabe: ‘Architectonica Ratio’ in Tenth- and Eleventh-Century Europe (2008), and co-edited with Alexandra Grieser a special issue of Approaching Religion on The ‘Beauty Fallacy’: Religion, Science and the Aesthetics of Knowledge (2017). Markus Altena Davidsen is a university lecturer in the sociology of religion at Leiden University, the Netherlands. His key interests include non-institutional religion and religious narratives as a comparative category. For his doctoral dissertation, The Spiritual Tolkien Milieu: A Study of Fiction-Based Religion (2014), he received the Gerardus van der Leeuw Dissertation Award from the Dutch Association for the Study of Religion. As editor he recently published Narrative and Belief: The Religious Affordance of Supernatural Fiction (2018, Routledge). Laura Feldt is Associate Professor of the Study of Religions, University of Southern Denmark, head of the research program Authority, Materiality and Media, and Editor-in-Chief of Numen – International Review of the History of Religions (with G.D. Alles). She works in the areas of ancient Mesopotamia, ancient Judaisms and Christianities, and religion and contemporary popular culture. Her publications include The Fantastic in Religious Narrative (2012), Wilderness in

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Mythology and Religion (ed. 2012), Reframing Authority – the Role of Media and Materiality (ed. 2018, with C. Høgel), and Marginality, Media and Mutations of Religious Authority in the History of Christianity (2019, ed. with J.N. Bremmer). Ingvild Sælid Gilhus is Professor of the Study of Religion at the University of Bergen, Norway. She works in the areas of religion in late antiquity and new religious movements. Her publications include Laughing Gods, Weeping Virgins (Routledge 1997), Animals, Gods and Humans: Changing Attitudes to Animals in Greek, Roman and Early Christian Ideas (Routledge 2006), New Age Spirituality: Rethinking Religion (edited with S.J. Sutcliffe, Acumen 2013), New Age in Norway (edited with S.E. Kraft and J.R. Lewis, Equinox 2017), Evolution, Cognition, and the History of Religion: A New Synthesis (edited with A.K. Petersen, L.H. Martin, J.S. Jensen and J. Sørensen, Brill 2019) and The Archangel Michael in Africa (edited with A. Tsakos and M.C. Wright, Bloomsbury 2019). Dirk Johannsen is Associate Professor of Cultural History at the Department of Culture Studies and Oriental Languages (IKOS), University of Oslo, Norway. His research focuses on narrative cultures, popular religion in the nineteenth century, cognitive approaches, and trolls. Recent publications include “On Elves and Freethinkers: Criticism of Religion and the Emergence of the Literary Fantastic in Nordic Literature,” Religion 46/4 (2016): 591–610, and “The Prophet and the Sorcerer: Becoming a Cunning-Man in Nineteenth-Century Norway,” Folklore 129/1 (2018): 39–57. Anja Kirsch is visiting professor at the Institute for the Science of Religion at the University of Bern and a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Basel, Switzerland. Her main interest concerns the relation between religion and the secular in contemporary and historical perspective. In her current project, she examines the narrative cultures of secular and religious groups in nineteenthcentury European discourses on secularity. Recent publications include “Red Catechisms: Socialist Educational Literature and the Demarcation of Religion and Politics in the Early Nineteenth Century,” Religion 48/1 (2018): 8–36; she co-edited Socialist Imaginations: Utopias, Myths, and the Masses (with Stefan Arvidsson & Jakub Beneš, 2019). Jens Kreinath is Associate Professor of Sociocultural Anthropology at Wichita State University. He conducted ethnographic research on Christian-Muslim relations in

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Hatay, Turkey, with a focus on saint veneration at shared pilgrimage sites. His research interests include religious minorities in the Middle East, visual anthropology, semiotics of ritual, and aesthetics of religion. Kreinath co-edited Dynamics of Changing Rituals (2004) and Theorizing Rituals (2006–2007) and edited The Anthropology of Islam Reader (2012). Most recent publications include “Tombs and Trees as Indexes of Agency in Saint Veneration Rituals: Bruno Latour’s Actor-Network Theory and the Hıdırellez Festival in Hatay, Turkey,” Journal of Ritual Studies 33 (2019): 52–73 and “Aesthetic Sensations of Mary: The Miraculous Icon of Meryem Ana and the Dynamics of Interreligious Relations in Antakya,” in Figurations and Sensations of the Unseen in Judaism, Christianity and Islam, edited by Birgit Meyer & Terje Stordalen, 155–71. London/New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2019. Isabel Laack is Privatdozentin at the Institute for the Study of Religions at the University of Heidelberg, Germany. Her research interests are sound and music, visuality, rituals, and material text practices with a specialization on Mesoamerican religions and contemporary European spirituality. She has published numerous articles, including “Sound and Music in the Study of Religion” (MTSR 27/3, 2015), and the monographs Religion und Musik in Glastonbury: Eine Fallstudie zu gegenwärtigen Formen religiöser Identitätsdiskurse (2011) and Aztec Religion and Art of Writing: Investigating Embodied Meaning, Indigenous Semiotics, and the Nahua Sense of Reality (2019). Martin Lehnert is professor of East Asian Religion and Philosophy at the Ludwig-MaximiliansUniversity of Munich. He holds a PhD from Albert-Ludwigs-University of Freiburg on the reception and reproduction of Sanskrit Buddhist exegesis in Chinese commentarial literature of the early Ming period. His recent publications deal with the doctrinal and institutional organization of Buddhist commentarial work, the religious dimension of moral pragmatics, and linguistic artifacts of esoteric and Chan Buddhist literature. His research interests include the formation of authority in religious systems of meaning and the literature of medieval esoteric Buddhism in China and Japan. Brigitte Luchesi was senior lecturer at the Department of the Study of Religion at the University of Bremen, Germany. Her research focuses on Hindu religions in North India and Germany. She has published various articles on questions concerning the use of visual material in the presentation of religions, the creation of religious spaces, and the making and use of Hindu cult images. The most

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recent one is on changes of religious practices by new technologies in rural North India in K.A. Jacobsen and K. Myrvold (eds.), Religion and Technology in India (2019). Bastiaan van Rijn is a PhD candidate at the Science of Religion institute of the University of Bern, Switzerland. His project focuses on experimentation with religious experience by scientists and laypeople in nineteenth-century Europe. His master’s thesis The Mind Behind the Cards: Searching for the Source of Tarot Divination’s Popularity through a Cognitive Analysis (2017) was awarded the Cornelis Tiele MA Thesis Award by the Dutch Association for the Study of Religion. Caroline Widmer is curator for Indian Painting at the Museum Rietberg, Zurich. She wrote her PhD on Buddhist narrations, namely on identifying the “religious other” in the texts of the Pali Canon, thus combining the fields of religious studies, Indology, and narratology. Besides organizing exhibitions as well as overseeing and researching an important collection of Indian paintings, her current position allows her to pursue questions of religious storytelling also in the field of art and (art) education. Annette Wilke is professor for the Study of Religion at the Westfalian Wilhelms University of Münster, Germany (em. since 2019). Major fields of research are textual studies and fieldwork in Hindu traditions (sound in Hinduism, Advaita Vedanta, Tantra, reform and diaspora Hinduism), cultural hermeneutics, aesthetics of religion, ritual studies, mysticism, religious transfers, and contemporary religion. She has been member of the working group for the Aesthetics of Religion, AESToR.net, and the Cluster of Excellence Religion and Politics, and also published widely on religion and the senses. Her publications include Sound and Communication (2011) and Religion – Imagination – Ästhetik (2015). Katharina Wilkens is guest lecturer in the Interfaculty Study Program for the Study of Religion at the University of Munich, Germany. Grounded in an aesthetics of religion perspective, her research interests include spirit possession and exorcism in the context of ritual healing, the drinking of Holy Scripture across various religions, and most recently, narrative imagination in East African travelogues. She has published Holy Water and Evil Spirits: Religious Healing in East Africa (2011) and, together with Anne Koch, is editor of the Bloomsbury Handbook of the Cultural and Cognitive Aesthetics of Religion (2019).

Introduction

Narrative Cultures and the Aesthetics of Religion: An Introduction Dirk Johannsen and Anja Kirsch

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From the Cultural Study of Narratives to the Study of Narrative Cultures

With roots in comparative mythology and the edition of “sacred texts,” the study of religions has a distinct tradition of analyzing narrative sources. Initially, the seemingly finished products caught most of the attention: epical, mythical, or, in some form, canonized narratives crafted by religious specialists. Scholars assembled them into mythologies or disassembled them into motifs. They were con-textualized, inserted into massive webs of intertextual references, and identified as paramount to religious communities. This academic endeavor, firmly established in the nineteenth century, was motivated by the idea that a common story is crucial for a shared identity. A myth was found at the core of every “primitive” religion, the “world religions,” political movements, and, of course, nations. Classical notions—such as that mythological tales gain their relevance in that they illustrate shared beliefs or rituals and provide comfort and orientation in the midst of chaos by translating the natural and social world into anthropomorphic experientiality—require, however, a highly selective reading. They imply a master narrative with stable cultural conventions regarding the types, function, and place of narration. Thus, they disregard precisely the actual acts of storytelling and those elements of narrative efficacy that help listeners enjoy a thrilling tale, engage with it, and get involved. For example, stylistic features used to create and simulate rather than to explain and explicate mysteries such as discontinuities, gaps, breaks of scripts, and ambiguity tend to be omitted from an analysis that proceeds from abstract master narratives. Whereas storytelling in its vernacular use is interactive and aesthetically framed, myths may be more about creating a range of interpretation, posing questions rather than providing answers. This volume studies the aesthetics of narrativity in religious contexts by approaching narrative acts as cultivated and situated modes of engaging with reality, shaped by the experiential character of the stories told and the sensory qualities of their performances.

© Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2020 | DOI:10.1163/9789004421677_002

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In recent decades, the notions of a relatively static corpus of religious narratives and stable narrative communities have been challenged by detailed case studies as well as insights from the philosophy of language and semiotics (for example Eco 1979; Fish 1980; Ricœur 1984–88; Bakhtin 1986), folkloristics (Dégh 2001), anthropology (Skultans 2008), media studies (Ryan 2004), aesthetic response theory (Iser 1980), post-structuralist narratologies (Fludernik 1996; Heinen & Sommer 2009), and cognitive studies (Boyd 2009; Geertz & Jensen 2011). In cultural studies, the new approaches broadened the scope towards the reception and appropriation of vernacular storytelling in dynamic social and cultural environments, placing emphasis on the “cultural positions and power practices of the narratorial agencies” (Domokos 2013, 307) and the acts of narration, reception, and interpretation. In the study of folklore, this led to the introduction of the concept of narrative cultures (Bacchilega 2015). A simple but fundamental insight crucial also to the study of religions was that stories remain unfinished: they are told, revised, fragmented, and retold, always aligned to previous and parallel performances (Bauman 2004; Rüpke 2019). They are shared across borders of social domains and cultural units, and across the borders of religious communities. They can be used not only to “create and maintain religious worlds” (Jensen 2017), but also to compromise them (Koschorke 2012). A slight change of tone, frame, or focus may transform a testimonial of faith into one of superstition (e.g., Dégh 2001), a touristic travelogue into a pilgrim’s story (e.g., Frey 1998), or allow a fantasy novel to become a divine revelation (e.g., Davidsen 2018). There are no typical literary features or formal elements exclusive to religious storytelling (Brahier & Johannsen 2013). As religious traditions gain plausibility through narratives while providing narratives to make sense of the world (Grieser 2013, 320), narration in religious discourse comprises the full range of styles and genres (Finnern 2014), from macro-narratives of ultimate justification to micro-narratives only a specialized audience would even recognize as religiously framed (Kreinath 2015). In the study of religions, therefore, the concept of narrative cultures can serve to acknowledge this complexity and situatedness in which narratives develop their potential across the boundaries of identity rhetoric, cultural domains, and social clusters (Johannsen & Kirsch 2017). This volume takes an approach to narrative cultures that highlights the aesthetic formation and impact of narration in religious discourse. Studying stories in conjunction with the role the act of storytelling plays in enculturalizing the senses and the world, the contributors explore the efficacy of narrative formats and formulas in religious contexts through the methodological lens of the aesthetics of religion. Referring to sensory perception in the sense of aisthesis, not to a philosophy of art or the study of beauty, the aesthetics ap-

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proach has been established to provide a “connective concept” (Grieser 2015) to study religion as a sensory and mediated practice (Cancik & Mohr 1988; Mohr 2006). Connecting research on embodied cognition (Koch 2013) and theories of perception (Grieser 2015), recent works in this field have provided a wealth of new takes on the role of sensory knowledge (Mohr 2000), body functional techniques (Mohr 2004; Koch 2007), and the imagination in religious practice (Traut & Wilke 2015a). By expanding the scope of the study of cultural systems of perception, for example with regard to the role of sound or smell in religious communication (Wilke & Moebus 2011; Guggenmos 2019), the aesthetics of religion approach counters the text-centered intellectualism in the study of religions, posing questions of how “religion becomes culturally and historically ‘effective’ beyond categories of doctrines, confession, and belief” (Grieser 2015, 17). It approaches the study of canonical texts, sacred places, and veneration practices as aesthetically interconnected through the perception of bodily senses and other forms of embodied cognition (Grieser & Johnston 2017; Koch & Wilkens 2020). The insights gained in these studies allow for a fresh approach to those sources that were most fundamental to the text-based study of religions (Feldt 2017; Kreinath 2017): myths, epics, and the scriptures, as well as memorates and legends, koans, conversion narratives, even testimonials posted on internet websites. Introducing narrative cultures as an integrative framework of analysis, we aim to build a bridge between classical content-based approaches to narrative sources and the aesthetic study of religions as constituted by sensory and mediated practices. The contributions to this volume contextualize stories not only in a network of texts, but also in their wider perceptual space and impact. From an aesthetics of religion perspective, narration can be conceived as a “sensory practice” (Grieser & Johnston 2017b, 3; Grieser 2013, 321) indispensable to understand religions as comprehensive “panoramas of perception” (Mohr 2006, 1440). It can also be conceived as an “imaginative practice” to mediate between sensation and meaning (Traut & Wilke 2015b, 18). Imagination has recently been rediscovered as a key term for the study of religions (Traut & Wilke 2015a; Hanegraaff 2017). Imagination, or the ability to see something “as something else,” Traut and Wilke argue (2015b, 18), bridges everyday and sacred realities and is, thus, crucial to religion. In difference to classical conceptions of the imagination as a mental faculty of the encapsulated homo clausus (Pettersson 2002, 12), current approaches emphasize its shared and historical nature, with religious contexts providing collective structures of perception and modes of communication that both create and rely on popular imaginaries (Pezzoli-Olgiati 2015). “[P]robing into the ‘mechanics’ or poetics of popular imagination” allows to refocus narrative and semiotic analyses from the text to

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the interplay of thought and perception, the “reworking of symbolic material, involving both public and individual memory, senses, affects and also memories of earlier imaginings” (Klinkmann 2002, 9, 76). The techniques, spaces, and politics of imagination as well as their history are focal points of aesthetic studies. In narrative, the mediation between sensation and meaning takes the form of the storyworld. In Narrative as Virtual Reality, literary scholar Marie-Laure Ryan (2015) contrasts two modes of studying storytelling, which the aesthetic approach would strive to integrate: the poetics of interactivity and the poetics of immersion. Narratives can be approached as games, interactive in that they have blanks to fill, references to discover, symbols to decode, and layers of meaning to reveal. This form of engagement with narrative texts is as common in literary studies as it is in the philological study of religions. However, Ryan reminds us, there is a reality beneath the surface of the text. Narratives can be approached as worlds that open up to the recipient and become immersive. Narrative effects alluded to where readers describe feeling ‘captured’ and ‘drawn into’ the text or novelists describe how a story seems to ‘write itself’ with characters ‘coming alive,’ Ryan argues, point towards the “virtual reality” of the storyworld (Ryan 2015, 61–84). This reality effect might be even more pronounced in many of the religious narrative cultures studied in this volume, where narrative traditions are situated in and entangled with devotional, ritualistic, and embodied cultural practices. As Merlin Donald points out, everyday stories “shape our semantic spaces” as much as foundational myths, “leading to a consensual definition of a shared virtual reality that is the core of oral culture” (Donald 2001, 296). Religions cultivate narratives and these narratives, in turn, cultivate our senses and our imagination by providing “governance of human cognition and emotion” (Geertz 2011, 9). “Symbolic and simultaneously perceived as real” (Kreinath 2014, 56), the virtuality of religious storyworlds can be immersive beyond the storytelling act, and, as many of our contributions point out, have a lasting effect in reshaping perceptions of reality through aesthetic ideologies (Meyer 2009; Aktor 2017; Kreinath 2019). In this key, the study of narrative cultures becomes an exploration of how religious storyworlds unfold and collapse, are developed, subverted, and blended with the sensation of physical time and space to be integrated into our perception of the world.

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Overview of the Contributions

What modes of narration are employed in religious discourse? Which textinternal or text-external techniques are used to convey meaning or trigger de-

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bate? How do narratives generate consensual spaces and create shared imaginations? Which sensory and bodily practices are involved in the immersion into a storyworld? These are only some of the questions that the contributors to this volume elucidate on. Exemplified by studies ranging from analyses of the iconicity of canonical texts to adaptive, multimedia, and polyphone practices of vernacular storytelling, all contributions aim to broaden the scope of the study of narrative sources and formats in the study of religions. Studying the sensory aesthetics of storytelling in religious contexts becomes a methodological laboratory to connect and coordinate various approaches, topics, and disciplines. The case studies utilize aesthetic analysis to address narrative cultures from antiquity until today in regions ranging from Mesopotamia and Mesoamerica to Europe, East and South Asia, and Africa. The differing fields of expertise among the authors regarding the regions and areas of specialization, their historical or ethnographic approaches, and methodological decisions allow for a documentation of a broad spectrum of storytelling formats in religious discourse and practice. The shared perspective on narrative cultures highlights sensation and imagination as socially and religiously formative, in-formative, trans-formative, and de-formative processes. Three parts address aspects of narrative cultures with regard to vernacular religious storytelling, the aesthetics of identity narratives, and narrative practices beyond words that allow for new ways of storytelling. 2.1 Part 1: Encounters: Vernacular Religious Storytelling The first part is devoted to ethnographic and historical case studies of vernacular religious storytelling contexts and traditions. Stories of encounters between observers and participants in a ritual, between traditional and academic narrative cultures, and between people and supernatural entities become starting points for theoretical reflections on the immersive character of sensory storyworlds. The contributions to this part analyze the polyphony of narration in religious contexts as well as the structural features of religious narratives to detail how narrative formats become persuasive, create immersive storyworlds, and shape perceptions. In One Ritual–Many Stories: On Making Sense of a Hindu Ritual, Brigitte Luchesi encounters the multi-layered ritual tradition of Ralī Pūjā. Attending the North-Indian Hindu ritual performed by unmarried girls and directed to a local form of the goddess Parvati, she studies how both the performers and the participant observer immerse themselves in a dynamic and sensory narrative culture. In her analysis of the interplay of performances and their observation, of questions and commentaries, Luchesi shows the entanglement of perception and interpretation in creating the ritual’s storyworld. Trying to make sense of the details of ritual events enacted with only a minimum of spoken words,

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Luchesi details how the long-term ethnographer becomes a co-narrator tasked with connecting the ritual’s intertwined narrative strands. In Narrating Spirit Possession, Katharina Wilkens explores the vernacular storytelling on spirit possession and acts of exorcism among Muslims and Christians in Tanzania as mediated through bodily practice and narrative features. In a comparative analysis of utterances of uncertainty and doubt as structural features of both autobiographical narratives and established miracle stories, she shows how the different genres shape the performative situation and the translation of the phenomenon in the encounter with academic discourse. While framed by different epistemological constraints, both narrative cultures resolve uncertainties and ambiguities by shifting from one genre to another to connect argument and belief to aesthetic knowledge. Like Wilkens, Dirk Johannsen takes inspiration from the work of Lauri Honko and his approach to folkloristic experience narratives. In How to Sense a Ghost: On the Aesthetics of Legend Traditions, he reads historical Norwegian legends of encounter as a sensory practice. The storyworld of the legends is dubious but immersive. Translating Honko’s approach into the cognitive framework of predictive processing, Johannsen outlines how legends provide aesthetic scripts suited to alter perceptions by micro-managing the recipient’s attention economy. As regimes of attention, he argues, narrative cultures augment religious perceptions of reality. Stories of encounters, this time with angels, are also the topic of the part’s last chapter. In Angel Experience Narratives in the Netherlands and Some Ideas for a Narrative Research Program for the Study of Religion, Markus Altena Davidsen and Bas tiaan van Rijn show the narrative constitution of “heavenly helpers.” Detailing the narrative mechanisms that connect mundane experiences and events with the supernatural realm, the authors develop a model of narrative persuasion to connect the study of vernacular religious cultures with insights from cognitive and narratological approaches to the study of religions. The chapter concludes the part by outlining a general narrative research program for the study of religions that conceptualizes religions as narrative cultures. 2.2 Part 2: Identities: Narrating and Counter-narrating Gods and People Whereas the first part focuses on vernacular narratives in both performative and mundane storytelling settings, the second part pays attention to what is often perceived as ‘big’ stories: myths, epics, and accounts of a shared past. As was the case with the vernacular narratives of encounter, ‘big’ stories are never static. Ownership to these stories often change, they become adapted or actualized in the process of reception, and counter-narratives provide the

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storyworlds with new connotations. Showing that these dynamics are not exclusive to modern settings, the first two contributions to this part carefully approach lost narrative cultures of Mesopotamia and Mesoamerica, exploring their discursive nature as well as their sensory and emotional wealth. The two following contributions explore the aesthetics of current re-narrations of Indian epics to re-enchant and to disenchant a shared history. In Feeling Narrative Cultures: Analyzing Emotions in Religious Narratives with Examples from Old-Babylonian Ninurta Myths, Laura Feldt contrasts different mythical accounts of the ancient Mesopotamian hero-god Ninurta to discuss the entanglement of narrative and emotion in religious discourse. With the hero-god turning into a laughingstock, Feldt shows how stories interlink to create an encompassing emotional panorama through which people can engage with the deities. Understanding narrative analysis as a tool for cultural analysis, Feldt develops a general framework to analyze how narratives stimulate emotional responses. In Aztec Pictorial Narratives: Visual Strategies to Activate Embodied Meaning and the Transformation of Identity in the Mapa de Cuauhtinchan No. 2, Isabel Laack approaches the storytelling practices of a culture using a nonphonographic, visual writing system. In analyzing the unique pictographic map that tells the story of the primordial migration of a group of Aztecs, Laack draws on the theory of embodied metaphors to develop a reading that highlights how sensory and bodily experiences are powerfully encoded in visual pictography to convey the multi-sensorial story of a community’s fate. Annette Wilke’s chapter Transmedial Narrative Cultures: Upanishadic Spirituality in the Indian Tele-Serial “Upanishad Ganga” explicates how one of India’s most successful reform movements, the Chinmaya Mission, uses imagination and montage in its TV series Upanishad Ganga to span a period of 4,000 years of cultural memory alluding to traditional Hindu sacred literature. Applying Monika Fludernik’s notion of experientiality and Wolfgang Iser’s theory of aesthetic response, Wilke shows how new media create striking new possibilities of Hindu narration, where the play with common representational conventions serves to raise the epic’s attractiveness as identity markers for a new generation of spectators. An increasingly popular counter-narrative to this new identity narration is presented in Stefan Binder’s Storytelling and Mediation: The Aesthetics of a Counter-Narrative of Atheism in South India. Based on ethnographic fieldwork, Binder presents a model to analyze narrative encapsulation as a strategy of the Indian Atheist Movement, which uses a deep history of atheism to counter the story of Hinduism being the original religion of India. In reconstructing how advocates of Atheist organizations inscribe themselves into the existing

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narrative culture, using it to create a narrative aesthetics of the secular, Binder concludes the part by theorizing how counter-narrations become intellectually believable and aesthetically effective. 2.3 Part 3: Arts: Narrative Craft beyond Words After approaches to vernacular religious storytelling settings and overarching narrative frameworks in the first two parts, the third and last part of this volume (un-)covers much more exclusive storytelling practices: those of monks, religious specialists and elites, and those of scientists. It is an exploration into the borderlands of narrative practices, where some stories remain untold, while the untellable becomes a story. The art of storytelling, as presented in this part, encompasses techniques of the body and of the imagination, practices that change the mode of perception and reconfigure the relation of logos and mythos. The contributors unveil how weaving baskets, contemplating images, pondering paradoxes, and reflecting mathematical formulas constitute rich but esoteric narrative cultures. In Braiding Ropes, Weaving Baskets: The Narrative Culture of Ancient Monasticism, Ingvild Sælid Gilhus explores how biblical narratives were integrated into the daily lives and practices of Egyptian monastics in Late Antiquity and how the monastics immersed themselves in the biblical storyworld. She argues that repetitive and seemingly mundane practices were not only a means of the ascetic regime of monastic bodily discipline but were also immersiontechniques that provided a rhythm to further the internalization of Christian narratives. Synchronizing the storyworld with the body and the senses, the practices connect the tangible aesthetics of economy and the spiritual aesthetics of the scriptures. Caroline Widmer reveals the narrative layers of a precious late eighteenthcentury series of Indian miniature paintings of the Gitagovinda from the devotional bhakti movement. In Immersing in the World of Radha and Krishna: Visual Storytelling in the Context of Religious Practice, she analyzes the relation between text and images in the story of the dramatic romance between the God Krishna and the milkmaid Radha, showing how the complex narrative structure of the text translates into visual readings of the story. In the interaction of plot and scene, of described emotions and their translation into body postures, the story becomes a guide to the cultivation of emotions. The narrative culture studied by Martin Lehnert stands in a stark contrast to the sensual storyworld of the Krishna-bhakti. In Foundational Narratives in Chan/Zen Buddhism and the Observation of the Ineffable: Two “Public Cases” (gong’an/kōan) of the Gateless Barrier of Chan Lineage, Lehnert analyzes the narrative techniques used where nothing can be said. He studies the aesthetic formation of koans, short exemplary texts or sequences used in the context

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of monastic learning and practice in Zen Buddhist traditions. His analysis of the “iconicity of the obvious” allows him to identify the diegetic features of the eidetic emplotment that define the koans’ characteristic narrative style as a “communication about the communication of the ineffable.” In challenging the primacy of linear oral narration, the koans evoke a mode of perception, which avoids precisely the introspective descriptions relating to cognition often seen to be a strength of linguistic modes of representation. In the last chapter of this part, Arianna Borrelli approaches an equally unfathomable field that tests the limits of narration: theory building in modern physics. Proceeding from the popular expectation that scientific knowledge takes the form of rational and objective models, her contribution Poetic Imagination in Scientific Practice: Grand Unification as Narrative World-Making details how mathematical statements are bound together by words, diagrams, and images, which, together with the symbolic formulas, create theory as a multimedia construct telling a story. Based on an aesthetics of knowledge approach, Borrelli concludes the part by showing that narrative elements are by no means expendable metaphors but constitutive even to the formulation of scientific theories. 2.4 Afterthoughts Following the three parts, Jens Kreinath synthesizes some of the main insights developed in the various contributions to reflect on the aesthetics of narrative worldmaking and religious sensation. Based on a survey of his archival, literary, and ethnographic research, Kreinath tells the story of his encounter with the Armenian Christian community at the Musa Dağı in Hatay, Turkey. The apparent lack of an elaborate tradition of storytelling in their culture of commemorating the survival of the Armenian genocide leads him to raise the question how the descendants of the community of Armenian Christians who resisted the Young Turks’ deportation order of 1915 tell their story of survival. Using the case as a template that helps integrate the different aesthetic and narrative themes of various contributions, Kreinath reflects on the interconnectedness of encounters, identities, and arts to answer the methodological question that links narrative cultures with the aesthetics of religion: What happens when the story is told?

References Aktor, Mikael. 2017. “Grasping the Formless in Stones: The Petromorphic Gods of the Hindu Pañcāyatanapūjā,” in Aesthetics of Religion: A Connective Concept, edited by Alexandra Grieser & Jay Johnston, 59–73. Berlin: De Gruyter.

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Bacchilega, Cristina. 2015. “Narrative Cultures, Situated Story Webs, and the Politics of Relation,” Narrative Culture 2 (1): 27–46. Bakhtin, Mikhail M. 1986. Speech Genres and Other Late Essays. Austin: University of Texas Press. Bauman, Richard. 2004. A World of Others’ Words: Cross-Cultural Perspectives on Intertextuality. Malden: Blackwell Publishing. Boyd, Brian. 2011. On the Origin of Stories: Evolution, Cognition, and Fiction. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Brahier, Gabriela & Dirk Johannsen, eds. 2013. Konstruktionsgeschichten: Narrationsbezogene Ansätze in der Religionsforschung. Würzburg: Ergon. Cancik, Hubert & Hubert Mohr. 1988. “Religionsästhetik,” in Handbuch religionswissenschaftlicher Grundbegriffe, edited by Hubert Cancik, Burkhard Gladigow & KarlHeinz Kohl, vol. 1, 121–56. Stuttgart: Kohlhammer. Davidsen, Markus A., ed. 2018. Narrative and Belief: The Religious Affordance of Supernatural Fiction. London: Routledge. Dégh, Linda. 2001. Legend and Belief: Dialectics of a Folklore Genre. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Domokos, Johanna. 2013. “Towards a Polycultural Narratology: Some Suggestions for Further Analysis,” in Kultur – Wissen – Narration: Perspektiven transdisziplinärer Erzählforschung für die Kulturwissenschaften, edited by Alexandra Strohmaier, 30–20. Bielefeld: transcript. Eco, Umberto. 1979. The Role of the Reader: Explorations in the Semiotics of Texts. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Feldt, Laura. 2017. “The Literary Aesthetics of Religious Narratives: Probing LiteraryAesthetic Form, Emotion, and Sensory Effects in Exodus 7–11,” in Aesthetics of Religion: A Connective Concept, edited by Alexandra Grieser and Jay Johnston, 121–43. Berlin: De Gruyter. Finnern, Sönke. 2014. “Narration in Religious Discourse (The Example of Christianity),” in Handbook of Narratology, edited by Peter Hühn, Jan Christoph Meister, John Pier & Wolf Schmid, vol. 1, 435–46. Berlin: De Gruyter. Fish, Stanley Eugene. 1980. Is There a Text in This Class? The Authority of Interpretive Communities. Cambridge: Harvard University Press. Fludernik, Monika. 1996. Towards a ‘Natural’ Narratology. London: Routledge. Frey, Nancy. 1998. Pilgrim Stories: On and Off the Road to Santiago. Berkeley: University of California Press. Geertz, Armin W. & Jeppe S. Jensen, eds. 2011. Religious Narrative, Cognition and Culture: Image and Word in the Mind of Narrative. London: Equinox. Grieser, Alexandra & Jay Johnston, eds. 2017a. Aesthetics of Religion: A Connective Concept. Berlin: De Gruyter.

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Grieser, Alexandra & Jay Johnston. 2017b. “What is an Aesthetics of Religion? From the Senses to Meaning – and Back Again,” in Aesthetics of Religion: A Connective Concept, edited by Alexandra Grieser & Jay Johnston, 1–55. Berlin: De Gruyter. Grieser, Alexandra. 2015. “Aesthetics,” in Vocabulary for the Study of Religion, edited by Robert A. Segal & Kocku von Stuckrad, vol. 1, 14–23. Leiden: Brill. Grieser, Alexandra. 2013. “Erzählte Gemeinschaft: Zur Multi-Funktionalität kollektiver Narrative und der dynamischen Rolle von Religion,” in Konstruktionsgeschichten: Narrationsbezogene Ansätze in der Religionsforschung, edited by Gabriela Brahier & Dirk Johannsen, 319–33. Würzburg: Ergon. Guggenmos, Esther-Maria. 2020. “Smell as Communication,” in Bloomsbury Handbook of Cultural and Cognitive Aesthetics of Religion, edited by Anne Koch & Katharina Wilkens, 219–28. London: Bloomsbury. Hanegraaff, Wouter. 2017. “Religion and the Historical Imagination: Esoteric Tradition as Poetic Invention,” in Dynamics of Religion: Past and Present, edited by Christoph Bochinger & Jörg Rüpke, in cooperation with Elisabeth Begemann, 131–53. Berlin: De Gruyter. Heinen, Sandra & Roy Sommer, eds. 2009. Narratology in the Age of Cross-Disciplinary Narrative Research. Berlin: De Gruyter. Houtman, Dick & Birgit Meyer, eds. 2012. Things: Religion and the Question of Materiality. New York: Fordham University Press. Iser, Wolfgang. 1980. The Act of Reading: A Theory of Aesthetic Response. Baltimore & London: Johns Hopkins University Press. Jensen, Jeppe S. 2017. “Narrative,” in The Oxford Handbook of the Study of Religion, edited by Michael Stausberg & Steven Engler, 290–303. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Johannsen, Dirk & Anja Kirsch. 2017. “Religiöse Gemeinschaftsbildung,” in Erzählen: Ein interdisziplinäres Handbuch, edited by Matías Martínez, 274–80. Stuttgart: Metzler. Keane, Webb. 1997. Signs of Recognition: Powers and Hazards of Representation in an Indonesian Society. Berkeley: University of California Press. Klinkmann, Sven-Erik, ed. 2002. Popular Imagination: Essays on Fantasy and Cultural Practice. Turku: Nordic Network for Folkloristics. Koch, Anne. 2007. Körperwissen: Grundlegung einer Religionsaisthetik. Open access, University of München, urn:nbn:de:bvb:19-epub-12438-7. Koch, Anne. 2013. Religionsästhetik jenseits der Massendinghaltung. Keynote, University of Göttingen, Conference of the German Association for the Study of Religions. https://www.academia.edu/6138179/Keynote_Religions%C3%A4sthetik _jenseits_der_Massendinghaltung. Koch, Anne & Katharina Wilkens, eds. 2020. Bloomsbury Handbook of Cultural and Cognitive Aesthetics of Religion. London: Bloomsbury.

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Koschorke, Albrecht. 2012. Wahrheit und Erfindung: Grundzüge einer Allgemeinen Erzähltheorie. Frankfurt/M.: Fischer. Kreinath, Jens. 2014. “Virtual Encounters with Hızır and Other Muslim Saints: Dreaming and Healing at Local Pilgrimage Sites in Hatay, Turkey,” Anthropology of the Contemporary Middle East and Central Eurasia 2 (1): 25–66. Kreinath, Jens. 2015. “Framing,” in Vocabulary for the Study of Religion, edited by Robert A. Segal & Kocku von Stuckrad, vol. 2, 44–47. Leiden: Brill. Kreinath, Jens. 2017. “Aesthetic Dimensions and Transformative Dynamics of Mimetic Acts: The Veneration of Habib-i Neccar among Muslims and Christians in Antakya, Turkey,” in Aesthetics of Religion: A Connective Concept, edited by Alexandra Grieser & Jay Johnston, 271–99. Berlin: De Gruyter. Kreinath, Jens. 2019. “Aesthetic Sensations of Mary: The Miraculous Icon of Meryem Ana and the Dynamics of Interreligious Relations in Antakya,” in Figurations and Sensations of the Unseen in Judaism, Christianity and Islam: Contested Desires, edited by Birgit Meyer & Terje Stordalen, 155–71. London: Bloomsbury Academic. Meyer, Birgit. 2009. “From Imagined Communities to Aesthetic Formations: Religious Mediations, Sensational Forms, and Styles of Binding,” in Aesthetic Formations: Media, Religion, and the Senses, edited by Birgit Meyer, 1–18. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. Mohr, Hubert. 2006. “Perception/Sensory System,” in The Brill Dictionary of Religion, edited by Kocku von Stuckrad, vol. 3, 1435–449. Leiden: Brill. Mohr, Hubert. 2004. “Religion in Bewegung: Religionsästhetische Überlegungen zur Aktivierung und Nutzung menschlicher Motorik,” in Münchener Theologische Zeitschrift 55 (4): 310–24. Mohr, Hubert. 2000. “Wahrnehmung/Sinnessystem,” in Metzler Lexikon Religion, edited by Christoph Auffahrt, Jutta Bernard & Hubert Mohr, vol. 3, 620–33. Stuttgart: Metzler. Morgan, David. 2005. The Sacred Gaze: Religious Visual Culture in Theory and Practice. Berkeley: University of California Press. Pettersson, Bo. 2002. “On the Study of Imagination and Popular Imagination: A Historical Survey and a Look Ahead,” in Popular Imagination: Essays on Fantasy and Cultural Practice, edited by Sven-Erik Klinkmann, 11–50. Turku: Nordic Network for Folkloristics. Pezzoli-Olgiati, Daria, ed. 2015. Religion in Cultural Imaginary: Explorations in Visual und Material Practices. Zürich/Baden-Baden: Pano/Nomos. Plate, S. Brent. 2005. Walter Benjamin, Religion and Aesthetics: Rethinking Religion through the Arts. London: Routledge. Ricœur, Paul. 1984–1988. Time and Narrative, 3 vols. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Rüpke, Jörg. 2019. “Memory, Narrative, and the History of Religion,” in Evolution, Cognition, and the History of Religion: A New Synthesis. Festschrift in Honour of Armin

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W. Geertz, edited by Anders Klostergaard Petersen, Ingvild Sælid Gilhus, Luther H. Martin, Jeppe Sinding Jensen & Jesper Sørensen, 536–46. Leiden: Brill. Ryan, Marie-Laure, ed. 2004. Narrative across Media: The Languages of Storytelling. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press. Ryan, Marie-Laure. 2015. Narrative as Virtual Reality 2: Revisiting Immersion and Interactivity in Literature and Electronic Media. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press. Skultans, Vieda. 2008. Empathy and Healing: Essays in Medical and Narrative Anthropology. London: Berghahn Books. Traut, Lucia & Annette Wilke, eds. 2015a. Religion – Imagination – Ästhetik: Vorstellungs- und Sinneswelten in Religion und Kultur. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht. Traut, Lucia & Annette Wilke. 2015b. “Einleitung,” in Religion – Imagination – Ästhetik: Vorstellungs- und Sinneswelten in Religion und Kultur, edited by Lucia Traut & Annette Wilke, 17–73. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht. Wilke, Annette & Oliver Moebus. 2011. Sound and Communication: An Aesthetic Cultural History of Sanskrit Hinduism. Berlin: De Gruyter.

Part 1 Encounters: Vernacular Religious Storytelling



Chapter 1

One Ritual—Many Stories: On Making Sense of a Hindu Ritual Brigitte Luchesi

For Didi Contractor

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Introduction: My First Encounter with Ralī Worship

In the spring of 1984, Didi Contractor invited me to visit her in Andreta, the village she lived at that time, to see the events taking place near a small stream which is famous for its sacred fish. When I arrived there, I could see several groups of girls and women accompanied by a few male companions who were approaching the stream from all directions. They were carrying baskets, boxes, and even small palanquins, and when these were opened at the riverbank small, elaborately dressed and decorated clay images appeared, in most instances three of them. The girls carefully handed them over to their male companions who stepped into the water and immersed them one by one. Other small clay items, pieces of clothing, and dried flowers followed. The girls and women stood watching, many of them with tears in their eyes, while they were repeatedly singing a song. My first clumsy inquiries revealed to me that the event was related to the worship of Ralī. I came to understand that Ralī is a local name of the great goddess Pārvatī, and that the other two images were those of Śankar (Ralī’s husband Śiva) and Bastu, her brother. The focus of this chapter is on a Hindu ritual called Ralī Pūjā which is widespread in the Kangra region of the North Indian State of Himachal Pradesh. I saw part of it for the first time in 1984. Although I was immediately intrigued, I had to postpone further inquiries among practitioners to a later stay in Kangra. In the meantime, I searched for written descriptions and explanations in the libraries. The most promising came from two publications that date back to the time of British colonial rule in India: the Punjab District Gazetteer for Kangra from 1904 and the Glossary of Tribes and Castes of the Punjab and NorthWest Frontier Province ([1919] 1980) by the British government official Horace A. Rose. Both present a story about the origin of the ritual that captivated me because it seemed to explain exactly what I had seen. At the same time, how-

© Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2020 | DOI:10.1163/9789004421677_003

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Figure 1.1 Girls with mothers and brothers at the sacred fish pond in Andreta, April 15, 1984 Photograph taken by author

ever, it raised a number of questions that remained unanswered, especially the question: why was a story about suicide chosen to explain a rather joyous series of worship acts for a divine couple? Hoping to get to know the ritual in its entirety, but also to get firsthand accounts from practitioners, I began to use every opportunity to participate. In contrast to merely reading and interpreting a story already published more than a hundred years ago, the practice of participant observation is usually a multisensory undertaking. This fact is of high import for the study of aesthetics of religion; it indicates that not only should all sensory perceptions of the observed persons be taken into account, but also those of the observer. The participating person is given the chance to listen to the practitioners—to all their utterances, commentaries, explanations, possible stories and songs—and to note the way they are expressed. She may see with her own eyes what is done in the course of the ritual and may try to make sense of the various bodily expressions and gestures used while performing it. She may be asked to physically engage in the actions at hand, as for instance to help handle the cult paraphernalia. Her olfactory and gustatory senses are equally involved. In addition, she may become aware of the affective state of the participants which usually helps to come to a better understanding of the things heard and observed. The following account consists of two parts. The first discusses the portrayal of Ralī Pūjā in the reports of the British government officials and the continuing impact of their interpretations. The second describes what I learned by

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participating in a series of Ralī Pūjās and by interviewing the participants on site. Since no one could tell me a separate story or legend about this pūjā, I focused on the ritual and its practices as such. Inspired by the contributions in two publications, Ritual and Narrative (Nünning et.al. 2013) and Konstruktionsgeschichten (Brahier & Johannsen 2013), I wondered if they did not tell a story as well. With the help of participants—young girls as well as adult women— who became my teachers, I was finally able to discern three narrative strands or stories which I will present at the end. I would like to add that I deliberately choose to write in the first person. It helped to spell out my part in the ongoing making and remaking of the narrative culture of Ralī worship.

2

Looking for Information in Existing Publications

2.1 Horace A. Rose In search of written information on Ralī Pūjā, I immediately consulted H.A. Rose’s Glossary of the Tribes and Castes of the Punjab and North-West Frontier Province, an indispensable companion for anthropologists and scholars of religion who are interested in the customs of this area. Horace Arthur Rose (1867–1933), a British administrator in India, had been Superintendent of Ethnography for Punjab from 1901 until 1906; in 1902, he also was made Superintendent of the Gazetteer revision. In this capacity, he gathered and compiled geographic, economic, and cultural information about the area in question. When later in life he wrote the three volumes of the Glossary, he could build on this body of knowledge. He mentions Ralī Pūjā in the first volume (397–99). The entry in the main text is short, but it is supplemented by an unusually long footnote. Rose introduces the topic in the context of Devī (Goddess) worship in the Northwestern parts of British India, for which he cites, among other examples, the Gangor1 festivities in Hissar during which images of Śiva and Pārvati are married and finally immersed in water. This reminds him of Ralī worship in Kangra where images of the same deities are made, then married and “thrown” into a pool or river. The ceremonies start in Chet2 and end on the first day of the following solar month. They are, as Rose stated, “traditionally supposed to commemorate the suicide of a woman married to a boy much younger than herself, but a different explanation has 1 Gangor (Gangaur), a festival in March-April, still widely celebrated by married and unmarried women, especially in Rajasthan. 2 Chet (Caitra) is the name of the solar month which lasts from middle of March until middle of April. The next solar month is Baisākh which starts with the festival Baisākhī on April 14.

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been suggested.” After the word “explanation” the footnote is inserted which starts out with two incomplete references: “Kāngra Gazetteer, 1902.3 Golden Bough II, p. 109.” The first is obviously meant to elucidate the statement about the commemoration of the suicide, the second clearly points to the author of this title, Sir James Frazer.4 Rose introduces the story in the first part of the footnote as a “legend.” This story immediately attracted my attention as it seemed to apply to the event I had witnessed. I therefore quote it in full: Once upon a time a Brahman gave his full-grown daughter in marriage to a child. When the ceremonies were over and the bride was being sent to her husband’s house, she saw how things really stood. So in her despair on the road she stopped the ḍoli-[palanquin]bearers by the banks of a river, and called out to her brother Bastu: ‘It has been my fate to be married to a child, and I live no more. But in future, in memory of my wretched fate, let girls make three toy images of earth, one of me, one of my husband, and one of you, my brother Bastu, and let them worship these images for the whole month of Chaitr (March-April) every year until they be married. Then let them marry these images, as I was married, on the 1st of Baisākh, and on the 2nd or 3rd day thereafter let them take the images in a ḍoli to the banks of a river, and there let them drown them in it. And let this be done in honour of me Rali, the bride, Shankar, my husband, and you, Bastu, my brother. The blessing that shall spring forth from this rite shall be that she who performs it shall never marry an unsuitable husband.’ Saying this she sprang into the river and was drowned, and in their grief at this, her husband and brother drowned themselves also. Ever since the worship of Rali, Shankar, and Bastu, has become universal throughout the district of Kāngṛa. Then the names of three chief fairs are given and some details mentioned: The “children” sing many songs in honour of Ralī; they adorn the images with wild flowers; they bathe daily during the month in question and fast on the first, second, and fourth Monday. The images are dressed up according to the means of the parents of the girls and are finally “thrown into the river with songs and ceremonies.” As the name of the author is not given, I assumed that Rose wrote all this.

3 The date is most probably wrong and should read “1904.” Cf. the date given in the Punjab District Gazetteer, Kangra District 1924-5, 206. 4 In fact, to the six-volume edition of 1900.

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The text of the third long paragraph—denoted as a reprint from the Indian Antiquary, Volume XI, p. 297—reports more details about the ritual in its entirety, but it comprises no story. Looking for a longer version of the story, I consulted the mentioned Kangra Gazetteer. Here I encountered the two texts again, identical to those in the Glossary. The only addition to the text with the “legend” is a bibliographical reference: Panjab Notes and Queries, Vol. II, 1884, Section I. When I finally consulted this original source, I found the author’s name underneath the note, which made it clear that it was not written by Rose, but by a certain Sardāru Balhārī. The other additional information in the Gazetteer is the name of the author of the reprinted text from the Indian Antiquary; to my surprise, it was “R. C. Temple,” a name I was quite familiar with as he is the author of the three-volume Legends of Panjab, first published in 1884. As Temple’s short article in the Antiquary is the earlier one (1882), I will start with this author and his contribution. 2.2 Sir Richard Carnac Temple Richard Carnac Temple (1850–1931), a British military and civil officer in colonial India, became interested in the folklore, history, and ethnology of India when he interrupted his military career in 1879 to serve as the Cantonment Magistrate of Ambala in the Indian State of Punjab—to which the Kangra District belonged during those years.5 He was a member of various folklorist and anthropological societies and wrote for several scholarly journals. While in Ambala, he himself founded a folklorist journal in 1883 (Panjab Notes and Queries6), which he edited until 1887, and became co-editor and proprietor of The Indian Antiquary in 1884. He opined that knowledge of the folklore of the non-British subjects proves itself valuable for both the ruler and the ruled. He wrote in 1914: “We foreigners cannot hope to understand them rightly unless we deeply study them, and it must be remembered that close acquaintance and a right understanding begets sympathy, and sympathy begets a good government. . .”7 It is uncertain whether he had visited Kangra and witnessed

5 Temple served for years in the British Indian Army; later on he became the British Chief Commissioner of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands, see Enthoven 2004, 80–81; see also Naithani’s article on Temple (1997) entitled “The Colonizer-Folklorist.” 6 The subtitle of the journal bespeaks the manifold interests of its editor: “A Journal of Oriental Research in Archaeology, History, Literature, Languages, Philosophy, Religion, Folklore &c., &c., &c.” 7 Temple, “The Science of Folk-Lore,” Folk-Lore Journal, IV (1886), 193–212, 208–9, cited in Dorson (1986), 347.

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the Ralī ritual first-hand, or simply learned about it from an assistant or acquaintance. He is known to have worked with numerous assistants who gathered information for him, especially so-called munshis, a term which was used for “secretaries, translators, record keepers, organizers, and the like” (Naithani 1997, 3). As a rule, these Indian helpers were not mentioned; only a few are known.8 At the outset of his short—yet quite informative—account of Ralī Pūjā, which is the earliest I could find so far, Temple informs the reader that “the Ralī is a small earthen image of Śiva or Pārvatī” (297); it lasts through most of Chet and ends on the first day of the next month. He emphasizes that only girls do it and that “it is in vogue all over the Kāngrā District” (298). He then describes the procedure: the participating girls go out with small baskets, collect flowers and a certain grass, and throw them into a heap around which they stand and sing. This is done for ten days. Then they stick branches into the heap, on top of which two clay images are fixed, one representing Śiva, the other Pārvatī. The images are made by a “painted-image-maker” (chitrerā9). The girls assist this person, which is considered “good work.” They then divide themselves in two parties and marry the images, “leaving out no part of the ceremonies, not even the bārāt.”10 The parents of the participating girls pay the marriage feast jointly. On the first day of the next month (Baisākh), the girls take the “ralīs” to a river, “throw them in the water and weep over the place, as though they were performing funeral obsequies” (298). The boys of the neighbourhood often “worry them by diving for the ralīs” and waving them about. Before mentioning some of the places where the immersion occurred, Temple points out, that the object of the fair is “to secure a good husband.” As mentioned above, he reports no story.11

8

9 10 11

Naithani (2006) has started valuable exploration work by documenting Ram Gharib Chaube’s contribution to the realization of William Crooke’s book (Popular Religion and Folklore, orig. 1894). Temple’s interest in linguistics is evidenced even in short contributions like this one. In the last paragraph, he deals with the word chitrerā. Marriage procession of the bridegroom and his kinsmen. It should not go unmentioned that the well-known anthropologist and philologist James G. Frazer took notice of Temple’s description and nearly completely included it in the second edition of his Golden Bough from 1900. The passage reappears in all following editions. Frazer saw a close resemblance between some of the European spring rites, which he had described on the preceding pages, and the custom in Kangra (which he spelled Kanagra) District. Frazer understood the immersion of the images and the mourning for them as equivalents of the European customs in which the dead spirit of vegetation is thrown into water and lamented over. He points out that in India, as often in Europe, the

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2.3 Sardāru Balhārī Unfortunately, I was not able to learn much about this author. His name indicates that he was Indian, probably a Sikh. Whether he was employed by the British administration, maybe even by Temple, or whether he was an independent researcher interested in Indian folklore, I could not determine. Apart from his short text on Ralī Pūjā, he has written short accounts on several folklorist topics which were published in various ethnological and folklorist journals.12 The fact that his article appeared only one year after Temple’s report on the first page of the thirteenth monthly issue of the Panjab Notes and Queries, which Temple had founded shortly before, may be taken as evidence that Temple appreciated Balhārī’s story, as well as the additional information about the ritual. In fact, he used his position as editor to refer to his own “somewhat differing” account. Balhārī does not mention who told him the story or “legend,” as Rose came to call it. According to the editor, the “account was taken from the ceremonies at Chari,” a place three miles west of Dharamsala, the administrative headquarters in District Kangra. As the immersion of the Ralīs was a public event and apparently always accompanied by fairs, Balhārī could have taken part without invitation and asked anyone who was willing to provide information. Was it one of the male village representatives? Or even a participant woman or girl? One may assume that Balhārī understood the local dialect. The printed version of the story, however, does not seem to be a literal translation into English, but rather a condensed rendition in a style that brings to mind certain Western folktales. Starting with “once upon a time,” it immediately describes the event which gave rise to the sad decision of the main character to drown herself because she had been married to an unsuitable husband. She advises young girls to follow a certain ritual in order to protect themselves from experiencing the same “wretched state.” The story ends with the remark that the prescribed worship of the three main characters (who are named but not called deities) has become “universal throughout the District of Kāngrā,” a phrase reminiscent of Temple’s “in vogue all over the Kangra District.” In the manner

12

rite is performed by females. As to the notion that the ceremony helps to procure good husbands, he contends that it “can be explained by the quickening and fertilizing influence which the spirit of vegetation is believed to exert upon the life of man as well as of plants” (108). Rose was aware of Frazer’s explanations and shortly refers to them in his main text in the Glossary but is not convinced by them: “this theory leaves many points unexplained.” I, too, will not follow up on Frazer’s theory in this context. Among them: The Indian Antiquary, Panjab Notes and Queries, The North Indian Notes and Queries, The Journal &Proceedings of the Asiatic Society of Bengal. He also contributed to the District Gazetteers for Kangra and Chamba.

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of an aetiological myth, the story not only explains how the ritual came about but also the reason it is done: to get an adequate husband. The event and story seem to be closely interconnected. 2.4 Once Again H.R. Rose The brief review of the previous history of the two texts on Ralī Pūjā that Rose presented in the Glossary highlights two facts: Rose made use of material already published in the Gazetteer of 1904, which had been found in two separate folklore journals, either on his own or by one of his employees. He did not start with the earlier—i.e. Temple’s—account but gave precedence to the one by Balhārī. The reason for this arrangement seems to be that the “legend” reported by Balhārī goes well with his—already quoted—notion, that the Ralī ceremonies are “traditionally supposed to commemorate the suicide of a woman” married to a much younger man. His fascination with this possibility can be deduced from the “interesting question” which the story raises for him, namely whether such a custom ever existed. For answers, he refers the reader to a scholarly publication13 and cites a proverb from the Simla Hills but does not attempt to express his own opinion. This makes it difficult for the reader to see the direction of his thoughts. It is also not easy to determine his position in the scholarly debate on the relationship between myth and ritual, prevalent at his day.14 Like Balhārī, he connects the ritual with a story but does this with a minimum of words. The story seems to explain the origin of the ritual, which in turn is said to commemorate the past event. But is the ritual really explained by this assumption? Should one not ask how it is possible to commemorate a person by “throwing” images into the water, which for a full month have represented deities, as he himself had written? How does the suicide topic fit in with Rose’s overarching chapter on “The Cult of Devī”? And what is the significance of the comparative examples from Hissar, the Shimla Hills, and Attock, added by Rose? Why, one may ask, did Rose not try to give a succinct account of his own? To answer these questions, one should consider Rose’s role as author and editor of a publication meant to cover information on countless topics pertaining to a huge area. Rose, it should be remembered, held several administrative offices, among them the post of Superintendent for the Gazetteer revision and the Ethnography of Punjab. Between 1902 and 1906 his primary tasks were to oversee the ordered influx of geographic, demographic, economic, and cultural information and its meaningful compilation. It was during this period, 13 14

Kinship and Social Organisation by the British social anthropologist W.H.R. Rivers (1914). On this debate see for instance Ackerman (1991).

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and presumably not least because of Rose’s initiative, that folklore and ethnographic data were included into the Punjab government publications. In the preface to the Glossary which Rose wrote years later—he had become a judge by then—he confides that he lacked the time and leisure to engage in more thorough investigation and scientific research himself, especially with regard to the worship of the Devī (1919, I, ii). He nevertheless hoped that the publication would “be acceptable not as a work on the religious and social observance of the Punjab people so much as a compilation of raw material on which more systematic investigations may be based” (ibid.). For him, the foremost object of his work for the Ethnographic Survey was to “rescue from oblivion” and bring to record what otherwise would perish” (ibid., vii.). Another passage is equally telling: Inquiries into religious beliefs, social uses and custom too often ignore what is already known and start with the supposition that the field of investigation is virgin soil. It is of the highest importance to an investigator to find out first what work has been done and to build on it. (ibid. ix) These quotations clearly show that Rose did not see himself as a theorist or “systematic” researcher when he prepared the Glossary, but as a sort of auxiliary providing the base material for later sound research. He ventured to assemble, in a comprehensive opus, what had already been published in a number of separate works pertaining to geographically smaller areas. He consulted the previous Census Report and the various District Gazetteers, as well as the scholarly books and journals, to extract noteworthy details about the region in question. His aim—or at least one of the aims—was, as he emphasized, to facilitate the work of future scholars, which no doubt was a meritorious undertaking in a time without internet. One can probably assume that he also must have thought of providing English-speaking administrative officers with yet another reference work that could be held at hand in the offices. At first appearance, compendia and works of reference like the Gazetteers and the Glossary seem to comprise only bare facts, impartial numbers, and statistics. A closer look reveals, not surprisingly, a number of rather partial descriptions, explanations, and hypotheses, especially in the paragraphs on “Population.” In the example at hand, the method of data presentation itself is used to make sense of an unknown and strange custom. By simply placing Temple’s description and Balhārī’s story next to each other, it is suggested that the latter explains the occurrence of the ritual. The various rites, especially the final immersion of the figures which tends to confuse outsiders, become explicable. The collocation even allows one to question whether there might

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have been a former custom which permitted the marriage between a grown-up woman and a child—the ritual-cum-story a survival of a forgotten practice? The primary emphasis on compiling activity leads to the addition of still other pieces of information, like the worship of Pārvatī and Śiva in Hissar and other places. The compiler who recollects them because of certain outward resemblances—as for instance, the immersion of the figures or the lamentation—makes the link between them. It is up to the reader to verify the usefulness of the hint, i.e. a factual relationship between the different rites. 2.5 Impact of Rose’s Version on Later Authors Rose’s aspiration, voiced in the introduction to the Glossary, to provide “raw material on which more systematic investigations may be based,” made me curious whether scholars or authors of popular accounts have made use of his material. The search in libraries and on the Internet produced some results. The first were the remarks on Ralī Pūjā in the Punjab District Gazetteer for Kangra from 1924-125 (204ff.). As expected, these notes drew on the previous accounts, especially the 1904 edition of the Gazetteer. Balhārī’s story is reprinted in the last paragraph, introduced by the words “The origin of the custom is derived from a story that a Brahman. . .” which means that the description and story are even more closely connected than Rose had portrayed. The first two paragraphs which describe part of the month-long worship add a few new details; for instance, the practice that at the outset a cowry is buried at a spot in the house where the worship is performed twice a day, in the morning and evening. “Small clay images representing Shankar a man and Rali a girl” are made on the tenth day. The marriage takes place “with all due detail” including the samut and sand ceremonies. A Brahman performs havan (fire ceremony). A horoscope is worked out, and the priest reads mantras. The description ends with a reference to the immersion on the second day of Baisākh “to the grief of all the girls who weep profusely while they are teased about it by the boys” (205). This part is clearly built on Temple’s account. The names of a few new places where these fairs occur are added. In this account, the ritual is again clearly represented as a custom that can be traced back to a story. And this depiction of Ralī Pūjā also reappears in several later publications. So, for instance in Travels in the Western Himalayas by M.S. Randhawa, a well-known Punjabi civil servant, botanist, and writer, who describes a “strange sight” he encountered near Baijnath: A batch of young girls weeping and wailing were proceeding towards the river, while a number of boys were standing on the high bank enjoying the sight. The girls threw a couple of images in the river and pretending

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to be grief-stricken, uttered a loud wail. The boys who were watching this mock funeral laughed loudly. We tried to find the origin of this strange fair . . . and learnt that it is born of the universal desire among young girls to get good husbands (1974, 93). Randhawa then repeats what he had read in the 1924-25 Gazetteer without, however, giving the reference. Balhārī’s story is introduced with the words: “this strange and beautiful custom has a historical background” (ibid). More recent references to the story have been found in a description of “Ralī Pūjān” by Prem Pakhrolavī (n.d., 117–19),15 in a collection of Dogra legends by Ashok Jerath (1998, 5), and in short newspaper articles published on the occasion of special holidays, like the article “Clay images fair on girl’s sacrifice” in the The Tribune, the English newspaper of the area, shortly before Baisākhī (April 12, 2001). Under the heading “Trades and Fairs of Himachal,” the online version of the Himachal Tourist Guide, contains the following lines for the month of April: In April, Rali with its clay models is marked in Kangra. Legend has it that the beautiful Rali was married against her wishes and on the way to her husband’s home, she leapt into a stream. The husband jumped in after her and trying to save both, Rali’s brother also dived into the fast flowing water. All three died. Today, clay models are made in every house to mark that day, while unmarried girls pray for grooms of their choice and the newly-wedded ask for happiness and prosperity.16 These examples show that not only was the scholar of religions interested in the old descriptions of Ralī Pūjā, but writers of popular books and journalists, too. It may not be superfluous to add that these writers are usually persons who can read and write English. They use the old reports and carry them on, sometimes omitting certain details, adding others, and changing some. For example, it says in the short presentation of the Tourist Guide that the girls who perform Ralī Pūjā do it to get “grooms of their choice” instead of Temple’s unspecific “good husbands.” The author of the Tribune article adds details which he must have observed himself to those he obviously took from the old reports. However, the pivotal part of the narratives remains in all cases identical: the

15 16

I thank Elisabeth Conzelmann-Hesse for translating this article for me from Hindi. http://www.himachaltouristguide.com/index.php/april-fairs-festivals-of-himachal, accessed September 2, 2018; identical text under http://123himachal.com/fairs.htm.

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origin of the rites is traced back to or connected with a suicide incident, and the performers of the rites are said to hope to avoid conditions which may lead to disastrous consequences like drowning themselves. We still get descriptions of Ralī Pūjā which explain the immersion part with the help of a legend which was first published nearly 140 years ago. It is likely more correct to say that this legend is rediscovered, because much of the old material that was hard to come by in former days if you were not a government official is now accessible for all on the Internet. What may not be known to all is that the original texts on Ralī Pūjā were collected and compiled by two British civil servants—both stationed in India during British colonial rule—and an Indian person, Balhārī, who was in close contact with them. There is no doubt that the two officials were genuinely interested in the folklore of the Indian people in the areas where they were stationed, and that they spent much of their spare time collecting and documenting folklore material. It is nevertheless a fact that some of the writings of these authors found entrance into official government publications like the District Gazetteers. The ultimate purpose of these publications was to inform the British officials of the people they had to manage and thereby facilitate their administrative work. Furthermore, the folklorists gathered information in their capacity as administrators. We do not know how local people reacted when they or their assistants showed up and asked questions. As said before, Temple normally had bards brought to his place and recorded their stories there. Who among the people out there in the villages was entitled to answer the questions from British officials? Were women and girls, i.e. the actual practitioners and experts, among them? And did the answers which were given really conform with the knowledge of the informant?

3

Witnessing Ralī Pūjā

3.1 Back in Kangra in 1989: No Trace of Balhārī’s Story In 1989, five years after my first encounter with Ralī Pūjā, I visited Kangra again in March/April, during the time of the month-long worship. My declared aim was to learn more about Ralī Pūjā in direct encounters with practitioners and get hold of the story Rose had told. The three accounts by Temple, Balhārī, and Rose had provided me with a certain amount of information regarding the time of the rite, its length, locations of Ralī fairs, the worshippers, and elements which characterize the ritual. However, some details remained unclear to me. When exactly are the images made? Why do the reports sometimes speak of two and sometimes of three figures? Is Ralī worship found in all

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castes? Do the mentioned songs play an essential part? And most important of all: why is this worship performed? Only Temple had given a straightforward answer: “to secure a good husband.” In the cases of Balhārī and Rose, the answers are only implied: By commemorating the suicide of a woman who allegedly was married to a male child much younger than herself, one may avoid this “wretched state.” I started my inquiries by asking all my friends and acquaintances in and around Andreta about Balhārī’s story. To cut a long story short: None of these persons knew it. I was told many times that I should be aware that Ralī is no ordinary girl but the goddess Pārvatī, and that Śankar is another name for the great god Śiva. To them, the immersion of the images has nothing to do with suicide through drowning. To hand over the figures to water is the necessary final part of Ralī Pūjā; it must be done because they had been used in acts of worship. That is all there is to it. I never heard any other legend connected with the Ralī rites. I was unable to make out whether Balhārī’s story had faded into obscurity or never existed in the form he had written it down. I speculated that the author may have joined—unconsciously or consciously—several unrelated pieces of information into a single story. After all, he wrote in the company of men like Temple and Crooke who had been extremely interested in folklore stories. I finally put Balhārī’s story aside and decided to start proper fieldwork with groups of girls who did Ralī Pūjā in my vicinity, which meant either staying in their homes for some time or visiting them frequently. Unlike the British collectors, I did not content myself with interviewing one or two main informants and visiting a public waterplace, where the most prominent of the few public Ralī events takes place but instead made up my mind to see all rites and activities which mark a complete Ralī Pūjā. Most of them are confined to the domestic realm. As already said at the beginning, this method of ongoing participant observation usually offers a greater range of possibilities for coming closer to an understanding of the object of investigation than mere interviewing.17 It may create an intimacy between practitioners and researcher which in turn facilitates the verbal as well as non-verbal communication between them. It may bring forth situations in which the observer is invited to actively participate in the various events, and it allows the scholar to notice and even share the affective states of the studied individuals. I will thematize a few of my actual field experiences below while trying to answer some of the above questions. For the sake of clarity, however, I would first like to give a brief

17

On fieldwork as research method in the aesthetics of religion see Kreinath (2020).

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overview of the Ralī rites. It is mainly based on my participant observations in the 1990s.18 3.2 Ralī Pūjā—a Short Overview Ralī Pūjā must be done for a full month. It starts on the first day of the solar month of Caitra (middle of March) and lasts until Baisākhī, the first day of the next solar month. Both dates are considered highly auspicious. The worship is performed by groups comprising unmarried girls of nearly all ages and occasionally newly married women. The core, however, consists of teenagers between fourteen and eighteen years.19 In most cases, they belong to neighbouring houses; one of these houses is where the joint worship takes place. All girls who are ready to observe the rites for the whole month make a solemn pledge to do so on the first day. Usually each of them buries a cowry in the place which is selected as a temporary locus for worshipping the goddess and her two male companions—Śiva, her husband-to-be, and her brother. At first, all three are represented by very simple earthen figures—small clay balls with eyes and mouth fixed to them—made by the girls themselves. From now on, the girls gather regularly in the morning to worship the deities just as their elders did: they go out to pluck flowers and a certain type of grass (dūb) and to fetch wet earth to prepare ritually clean spaces (caukā) in the courtyard, on the threshold to the room with the shrine, and, finally, in front of the shrine. On these caukās they then paint ritual designs (apan). One of them will start the worship (pūjā) by placing petals and blades of grass on the designs, adding rice grains and sprinkling water on them. This is followed by applying the same substances to the images (mūrtis). The flowers are not thrown into a heap, as Temple has it, but gracefully offered and then arranged around the images. Over time, there are so many of them that the small mūrtis almost disappear underneath. The worship ends by waving incense and a light in front of the images. Several of these actions may be accompanied by short songs, most of which are only used in Ralī Pūjā. The same sequence is followed in the evening. Often a round of generally known devotional songs are added. Some girls or young male relatives may accompany the singing with drums and other instruments while other girls may start to dance. 18 19

In the early 1990s, I was able to be present at most if not all major steps of the pūjā in nine households. For descriptions of Ralī Pūjā see also Luchesi (1993; 2002). Girls who have done Ralī Pūjā together usually call each other “sahelī ” for the rest of their lives; the term denotes a particularly close relationship between female friends. See Narayan (1986, 52–53).

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Figure 1.2 House shrine with images of Ralī and her brother Bastu in front of a color print showing God Śiva, Dattal, April 13, 2015 Photograph taken by author

After fourteen days, another set of clay images is manufactured. They are always more elaborate then the first ones and commonly made by elderly women who are known for their craftsmanship. The girls practice by forming additional small figures and decorative objects. When dry, the images are painted and dressed. The images of Ralī and her brother are put up in the already chosen place, while Śiva’s image will have a shrine in another house and is worshipped only by a fraction of the girls who are now considered to be Śiva’s “family.” Occasionally the images are bought readymade from professional potters (kumhār) who produce standardized ralīs (as the set is usually called) by using molds. These readymade images are also lovingly dressed by the girls. It is striking, however, that these sets usually only consist of Ralī and Śankar.20 A special program takes place on Mondays. The girls fill a small basket with flowers, in the middle of which they put a picture of a goddess. Singing special songs, they visit the neighbouring households and ask for money or other contributions for the approaching marriage of Ralī with Śiva. This important act is performed near the end of the month-long worship, along with a fire ceremony (havan). The marriage rites are led by the Brahmin family priest and take place in Ralī’s “home,” i.e. the home of the family that had agreed

20

Over the years, the number of Ralīs made by potters increased significantly compared to homemade ones, and elaborately painted specimen have become quite expensive.

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to sponsor this important event for the benefit of their daughter. During the ceremony, this girl will act as Ralī’s mother, and another girl as her father. The same role distribution takes place on the side of the groom. The only kinship role that is not taken over by a girl is that of Ralī’s maternal uncle (māmā); it is assigned to a real brother of “Ralī’s mother.” As is done in a wedding of a human couple, a wedding canopy is erected and all major marriage ceremonies are performed, among them the anointment of Ralī with turmeric past, the oil ceremony in which the bride’s relatives and friends apply oil to the top of her head, and the donning of the appropriate wedding outfit. The same is done with Śiva’s representation in the other home before it is taken, in a full-scale marriage procession, to the bride’s place. For the most important act in a wedding, the circumambulation of the fire by bride and groom, which finalizes a wedding, the girls carry the figures around the fire. Thereafter, the newly wed bride receives presents; oftentimes, a klirā (a string of cowries), a common local farewell-gift for a bride, is given to Ralī. The wedding festivities end with a meal for participants and guests, among them, the grown-up women who have accompanied the different ceremonial steps by singing traditional wedding songs. One or two days later, the images are taken to a watercourse where they are immersed as described above. I would like to add that I never saw the images being “thrown” into the water, as the earlier observers reported; they were very cautiously and referentially plunged into it. With this act, a Ralī Pūjā is complete. Goddess Ralī has gone, but will reappear a year later, provided that the girls, along with their families, decide to repeat the pūjā in the parental home of one of the other girls. Traditionally, the yearly pūjā sequences are repeated until all the girls have once acted as Ralī’s mother. 3.3 Learning to Make Sense of Ralī Pūjā With the previous description, I have tried to present general features that can be observed when comparing different instances of Ralī Pūjā, but it cannot be called a comprehensive, objective depiction of Ralī worship. Although I tried to avoid comments and interpretations, the account is informed by several factors including the foreknowledge I had gathered from the old descriptions. Other factors are the research conditions under which I observed the ritual events, my research interests, and the hope of finding a story. A comparison between my account and those by Temple, Balhārī and Rose shows that the basic construction of my account is like theirs; I have only supplemented a number of details which I found. My portrayal also resembles theirs in that I say nothing about the social class and caste affiliation of the girls who perform Ralī Pūjā nor about the way I got in touch with them. I will try to make up for these omissions now.

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My main data in the 1990s came from high-caste and fairly well-off families in Andreta and the surrounding villages: from Brahmans, Sūds, and Rājputs. I was able to make their acquaintance thanks to several middle-aged married women whom I already knew and who all belonged to higher castes, especially the sisters Urmila and Nirmela Sood, Veena Dogra, and Saroj Singh. They found out from their relatives and neighbours whether there was a group of girls around that was planning to do Ralī Pūjā. They also introduced me to their parents and explained my project to them. Not having much Hindi or Pahari, the local language, I would have had difficulties explaining my project to them. Even more importantly, it would not have been appropriate for me, as a female foreigner, to enter an unknown household alone and uninvited. After the proper introduction was made, I could usually visit them whenever the pūjās and related activities took place. In two places, I stayed for several days. I always appeared with my working tools: note book and pencil, tape recorder and camera, and twice with a video recorder. The last three items were still something exceptional in the eyes of my hosts in the 1990s. In general, they liked to be photographed. Normally I was made to sit and just watch what the girls were doing: preparing the place of worship, making designs, doing pūjā, fabricating the images or helping to make them, painting and dressing them. In some instances, I felt clearly out of place, like when I—a woman in her fifties—went out with the girls to the fields in the morning to pluck wild flowers, which is one of the few opportunities they have to spent time without adults. They politely took me along, but I avoided doing this too often, as I felt much more relaxed when I could stay with the adult women of the household, among whom there was usually an elderly lady who was especially inclined to help and inform me. The girls as well as the women showed me a number of things, among them how to “write” a design with white liquid on the floor or how to prepare red paste. And they tried to answer my questions. I, on the other hand, had to learn to ask questions whenever I did not understand what I saw or heard, as my interlocutors seldom explained or commented on their own because they assumed that I already knew what I was observing. I had to explain to them that certain Hindu rituals, like Ralī Pūjā and other types of worship observed by women, were not part of the knowledge I had grown up with in the West. Although many of my questions must have sounded silly in their ears, they were usually patient and helpful. Naturally, I repeatedly asked why Ralī Pūjā is done. I had expected to hear the answer Temple had given: “to secure a good husband,” but it was rarely phrased in those exact words. I was told that it is “śubh kām” (auspicious work) or that it is for “suhāg” (happy married life). The importance of still another

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reason they put forward I underestimated for quite some time. It was Urmila Sud who had told me already very early that the pūjā is meant to educate the girls. Her sister Nirmela repeated the statement in English: “It is for the education of the girls,” and Veena tried to make me understand by using the English word “training.” Upon my question: “Trained in what?,” she enumerated: to perform pūjā, to make apan (drawings on the floor), to make a space pavitr (ritually clean), to make small bundles or rings of dūb grass. This was the moment when I realised that not only myself but the girls, too, were undergoing an educational process. I learned what they were learning and at the same time we—the girls and their educators on the one hand and I on the other—learned something from each other. One of the aims of the learning process was to be able to do pūjā in the way that was the accepted one of the families in question. Another was to teach the girls to manufacture cult figures on their own, not only for this but also for other occasions. This made me aware that a number of the prescribed actions form part of other acts of worship or vratas (vows) performed exclusively by women. In this context, the question which had occupied me for so long, namely why the images are immersed, found a concise and uncomplicated answer: all things and paraphernalia used in a pūjā should be handed over to water, preferably flowing water. The images were deliberately made of un-kilned clay to allow a fast dissolution. But why did the girls seem so sad, often even in tears, when the images were about to be immersed? This question was usually answered with a counter question: Is it not sad to have to part with Ralī who had been in the house for so long and whom they had worshipped twice a day and repeatedly entertained with songs and dance? I had to agree because I myself, too, got wet eyes each time the images which had been treated so lovingly for many days disappeared in the water.21 Other questions were answered in a similar way: I had asked why the immersion of the images was not done by the girls themselves like in other cases when they bring used pūjā paraphernalia to a flowing water. Why is it a boy, or, more precisely, the brother of the girl who acted as Ralī’s mother during the wedding? Answer: Did I not know that it is the task of mother’s brother (māmā) to take the bride away from her parental home? Others just said: “It is māmā’s work,” leaving it to me to make the connection. The role of the brother—be it the brother of Ralī or the real brother of the girl, who acted as Ralī’s mother—was a topic of many discussions, especially in those cases where a separate clay figure of Ralī’s brother 21

Ralī images like all cult images used in domestic worship are treated with great affection comparable to the attitude toward a beloved member of the household, see Luchesi (2020).

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Bastu was made and worshipped as well. As far as I knew, Hindu mythology does not mention a brother of Pārvatī. The response was usually quite emotional: No, no, Ralī does have a brother, just as her “mother” should have one, even if it is a cousin-brother as a substitute. He is absolutely needed to look after his sister and, later on, her children. As will be shown below, several of the songs the girls sang clearly express this point. My question of why a marriage ceremony for Ralī and Śankar must take place was met with equal incomprehension if not disbelief. “Everybody knows” that Pārvatī and Śiva married; all the gods are married, even the ascetic Śiva—and people should follow their example. There were also situations when explanations seemed to be made up on the spot. While I was watching in Monica’s home in Dattal how she and the other girls learned the technique of Ralī making from Gyanu Devī, I wondered why Ralī’s image was taller than that of her bridegroom. I had expected an answer that emphasized the importance of the goddess. Gyanu Devi started to tell a story about goddess Pārvatī whom her female friends had laughed at because her husband was not dressed appropriately and looked unkempt. I could not make out whether she was referring to a popular story about Śiva as bridegroom or whether she invented the comment following the well-known description of “Śiva in hideous form” in the Śiva Puraṇa.22 But being smaller is not a “hideous” feature mentioned in the Puraṇa. The possible connection seems to be rather the inappropriate rig-out of the groom. Śiva’s unusual appearance is nearly always thematised in the context of Ralī Pūjā by depicting Śankar with snakes around his neck and shoulders, that is as the meditating ascetic coming from the wilderness. My continuous questions and the numerous answers by my female hosts— as men usually kept away from our sessions and discussions—gradually increased my knowledge about Ralī Pūjā. I soon stopped looking for an associated legend of the kind Balhārī had reported. Concentrating on the explanations of my interlocutors, I began to wonder if these same explanations did not contain stories or, at the very least, elements of stories. They seemed to put into words what the ritual sequences expressed through various actions and short song lines. The correspondence between the explanations and the ritual forms of expression drew my attention to the possibility that the ritual itself can be a narrative medium. Those who share the cultural background associated with it usually easily understand what may be told by it. Outsiders,

22

Śiva Purāṇa, Rudra-saṃhitā, part 2, 43. 59–61. English translation by J.L. Shastri (1950, 635), available online: https://archive.org/details/SivaPuranaJ.L.ShastriPart2/page/n185.

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however, may need basic training or tuition, ideally by knowledgeable informants. These persons usually do not remain unaffected by this task. By explaining details to uninformed outsiders who go on asking questions about actions considered to be self-evident by them, they often start to reflect and re-interpret them, too. The interplay of questions and answers leads to a jointly produced web of factual information, opinions, and explanations which may bring forth narrative strands formerly not expressed in spoken words. These strands can condense into complete stories. For me, the three following stories emerged. 3.4 Stories Told by Ralī Pūjā 3.4.1 The Story of Learning How to Perform a Proper Vrata Vrata means “vow.” Usually it is a promise made to a deity to perform certain actions and to refrain from certain activities in return of a desired result. Many women in India observe some sort of vrata (see Pearson 1996). In Kangra, it is very common for women to do a special pūjā and to fast on certain weekdays for a particular number of years. Even more common is the keeping of fasts on special holidays determined by the yearly religious calendar, like on Karva Chauth for the wellbeing of husbands, on Bhai Dooj for that of brothers, and on Hoi Mata for sons. In the case at hand, young girls are doing a vrata to obtain suhāg, i.e. a happy married state. They start out on the prescribed day (the beginning of the solar month of Caitra) with the pledge to follow the various prescriptions connected with Ralī worship for the full month. This pledge (saṃkalpa) is a formal resolution which marks the following acts as ritualistic ones that are in accordance with acknowledged religious rules (see Michaels 1998, 164f., 257f.). There is not only a formal beginning but also a formal termination or “dismissal” (visarjana) of the deities, which forms part of most ritual encounters with deities in Hindu religions. In connection with vratas, the dismissal is combined with the submersion of the cult images that had been made for the special worship. Not only the images but also all perishable paraphernalia used in this worship—flowers, food morsels, clothes—are put in flowing water. Well-known examples in this respect are the goddess images used for Durgā Pūjā in Bengal which are immersed in the Hoogly at the end of the nine-day long Navarātra festival. They represent a type of images that are specially made for a certain occasion; their use is only temporary. The Ralī images belong to the same category of ephemeral images. They are deliberately made of dissolvable material so that they may be returned to the basic substances of the world—earth and water—easily. In Ralī Pūjā, two sets of cult images are used. The first images look like spheres or cones decorated with a face; they can be easily made by the girls

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themselves. For the preparation and painting of the second set of fully humanlike, three-dimensional figures, they usually need help and instruction by experienced elder women. After having been installed, these images are treated like very special guests, as is typical for all forms of Hindu image worship: they are refreshed by sprinkling water, honoured through the burning of incense and the offering of flowers and food, and greeted by respectfully bringing the hands together and by waving a burning light before them. In addition, songs, drumming, and dances may entertain them. When I started fieldwork, it was common to accompany some of these actions by short songs, which explicitly comment what is done. So, when washing utensils for worship and preparing the ground for a ritual design (caukā) in the courtyard and on the threshold, girls sang: I am making a caukā at the place of worship, oh Dāmodar [name of Viṣṇu]. Five Pāṇḍavas, [and] the sixth, Nārayāṇ, came for the time of worship. I am washing the utensils [for worship], oh Dāmodar. Five Pāṇḍavas, [and] the sixth, Nārayāṇ, came for the time of worship. I am rubbing kumkum [red paste] in the place of worship . . . Other actions are named in the following lines, as for instance offering “phūl” (flowers) or “dhūp” (incense). Then, when applying a mark with red paste on the foreheads of the images, girls used to sing: Rub and make a mark on Ralī’s forehead. Rub and make a mark on Śankar’s forehead. Rub and make a mark on Bastu’s forehead. These prompts were followed by others, which named all the items that are offered: water, flowers, incense, food. These songs clearly contain instructions pertaining to the basic elements of a pūjā. It should also be noted that one clearly gets to know who the recipients of the devotional acts are.23 The rather monotonous daily performances become more varied as soon as the wedding preparations start; then several family members and neighbours get involved. In most cases, the marriage ceremonies are replayed in full detail. All participants know their roles and act accordingly. A much-used opportunity for exuberant hilarity, turbulent dancing, and shouting is the bārāt, the wedding procession of the groom Śiva, which is usually made up by girls of all ages who act as Śiva’s male relatives and friends. 23

Lately, however, the use of these songs has decreased.

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Looking at the ritual in its entirety, the aspect of learning cannot be overlooked: The girls learn to perform the basic religious practices which women in this cultural and religious milieu should know. They learn by following the examples of those who already know them, whether these are elder girls or adult women. They replicate the ritual designs, the gestures, the way to perform worship and to make cult images. And they learn to follow the instructions of the ritual experts par excellence, the Brahmin priests, who transmit them often non-vocally, i.e. by gestures. 3.4.2

The Story of the Necessity of Marriage and of the Performance of Proper Marriage Ceremonies Ralī Pūjā is closely connected with the view still widely held in Himachal Pradesh that a girl should marry. The model is none other than the goddess Pārvatī who became the wife of Lord Śiva. But unlike Pārvatī, who chose her partner herself, the spouse of a Himachali girl should ideally be chosen by her family. He should live in another place and belong to a completely different household, which entails that a bride must leave her familiar surroundings to live in a strange place with hitherto unknown people. What, at first glance, appears to be merely a charming and playful enactment of the goddess’ wedding is actually a depiction of the very moment when a newlywed woman is about to leave her parental home for good. By guiding the images through the various steps—dressing, anointment, oil-application, circumambulation of the

Figure 1.3 Group of girls with a priest gathering around the sacred fire during the wedding ceremonies for Ralī and Śiva, Dattal, April 13, 2015 Photograph taken by author

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fire, and the farewell from home—the girls rehearse what they are soon likely to experience themselves. The most conspicuous narrative means in this context are the images of the deities which are handled by the girls in the way puppeteers would do with their immovable “actors.” In addition, the girls themselves are performing the roles of family members, sometimes equipped with various props like moustaches and male clothes, which makes for laughter but does not affect the seriousness of the whole event. In most cases, adult women accompany the ritual sequences with songs, which—like in a human wedding—narrate the individual steps, as for instance: “Now mother’s brother is bringing water”; “Now Ralī is going around the fire. . . .” All in all, the picture of a successful marriage ceremony is created, which conforms to the conventional rules of the caste in question. 3.4.3 The Story of the Sister-Brother Bond One of the most striking features of Ralī Pūjā is the presence of Bastu, the brother of the goddess. As already mentioned, Pārvatī seems to have no brother in the Purāṇas and other mythological texts.24 Why do many people consider Bastu indispensable for a Ralī Pūjā? In Kangra, as in most Indian regions, the brother of a bride plays a most significant role during and after the marriage of his sister. He is the recognized representative of her family of origin and free to visit her in her conjugal home to ensure her welfare. These functions are extended to his sister’s children, for whom he is a māmā, mother’s brother. As such, he has a decisive role in all their life-cycle rituals. In light of this, it is not surprising that real brothers, too, are assigned an important role in the otherwise female-dominated Ralī rituals. This may be understood as a means to make the human brothers aware of their future role towards their sisters and sisters’ children—socially, economically, and emotionally. They should behave like Bastu who, in several of the songs sung by the girls, is described as an ideal brother, a giver of desired gifts,25 a supporter and rescuer in times of need, and as the one who is emotionally closest to Ralī. The notion of the helping brother is emphasized in the song which still can be heard while the immersion of the images takes place, and which brings tears to the eyes of the singers:

24 25

In contrast, for instance, to the South-Indian goddess Minākṣī. In many depictions, this goddess is shown with her brother Viṣṇu giving her in marriage with Śiva. E. g.: “Go, Brother Bastu, to Delhi town/ when you come back from Delhi/ bring colourful patterned bangles.”

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Into the river Ravi, into the river Ravi sister Ralī fell. Come, brother Bastu, dive, get sister Ralī out, get sister Ralī out. These lines are not confined to the final part of Ralī Pūjā but can be heard quite often, for instance, when the girls float small baskets filled with flowers for worship in water. After the first verse naming Ralī and Bastu, the following verses name the participating girls and their brothers, thus clearly projecting Bastu’s role onto their own brothers. In another song, Bastu is referred to as the “one born of the same mother.” Here the paramount importance of a lasting relationship with the brother is unmistakably expressed. Sprinkling water on the images the girls sing: One drop for Ralī, the second drop for Śankar, the third drop for Bastu. Give blessings, mother. One lākh [100.000] years, one karoṛ [10.000.000] years, a hundred thousand times ten million years sisters and brothers should be together. Here, too, a story with an unequivocal message is told to all who are willing to listen: that the positive future of a girl is thought to depend not only on the choice of a good marriage partner but also on the enduring relationship with the brother, who represents her natal family.

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Concluding Remarks

Ralī Pūjā no doubt narrates a complex story or maybe better: several intertwined stories. First, all persons involved—practitioners, listeners, and observers—are told how this special ritual should be performed. One is also made aware that girls in this particular part of North India are supposed to marry, and that there is a proper procedure which one should follow. A synopsis of all three strands reveals a complex narrative which is about transmitting ritual competence and preparing female adolescents for life as grownups. They supplement and complement each other. There may still be other stories intertwined in the overall narrative, but the task to discern them has to be postponed.

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By presenting and commenting the strands I encountered in the course of participant observation, I am also indicating that I became part of the narrative culture of Ralī Pūjā. Having been with the girls when they fulfilled their pledge and sharing their delight when they served and entertained the gods (they had asked to be present) or their sadness when they had to part with them, made me a co-partner in their experiences as well as in their storytelling. Both, the girls and I, became immersed in the storyworld of the Ralī ritual. Despite the identical word, this type of immersion has nothing to do with the final fare-well practices of the pūjā in question. While the latter denote the termination of the month-long presence of the deities and the removal of the now useless images by plunging them into water, “immersion” in the metaphorical sense points to the state of practitioners and observers who immerse themselves in the stories that are produced while performing the ritual acts. This narrative immersion persists beyond the termination of the particular religious ritual.26 Unlike the British administrator Rose, I do not assume that the Ralī ritual is due to a legend. Rather, I believe it was the ritual which “gave birth to stories” (Ryan 2013, 41; see also Kreinath, in this volume). It provided the frame for the development of various additional activities as well as stories. Although this frame is relatively strict—invitation of the deities cum pledge, daily repeated worship acts, climax in form of a fire ceremony plus marriage rites, final dismissal of the gods—there is considerable freedom for individual arrangements within these limits. Written instruction is only available for the fire ceremony and the related marriage rites, both of which are conducted by a priest on a single occasion. In the other cases, one may insert parts of one’s own customs, or add certain details ad hoc; that is, there is room for imagination and creativity which enrich the narrative world. Opportunities for new designs arise especially when making the images, decorating the shrines, and performing the wedding rites. The traditional practice of fashioning the cult images at home brings young and old together and offers room for instruction as well as discussions about the proper appearance of the ralīs. It also stimulates the youngsters to fashion additional figures, such as drummers and tiny monsters as part of Śiva’s entourage, which is another way to expand the narrative spectrum. The shrines are always decorated according to the taste and inventiveness of the practitioners. As said before, the marriage ceremonies make for a wide range of additional events, like meticulous dressing and adorning of the bridal pair or an exuberant procession with the groom Śiva. For these

26

On theories of immersion in narratology see Ryan 2001, especially chap. 3.

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events, a number of additional wordless media may come into play: expressive gestures and body movements of the participants or the use of the cult images in a puppet show manner. Although my stories differ in part from what Temple and Rose have reported, I was basically pursuing the same goal as they: to make sense of a ritual which was as unknown to me as it was to them. The differences in our accounts are mainly due to the fact that I, unlike Rose, gave up looking for an explicit legend which could explain the final sequence of the ritual events. Instead, I looked for stories embedded in the ritual itself that could explain the continuous actuality and importance of Ralī Pūjā in Kangra. For this, I turned to ongoing participant observation of the whole ritual as my main research method. As already mentioned, this method offers the possibility of multisensory experiences which have proved useful not only in the study of the aesthetics of religion but also in the field of narrative studies. The researcher who uses this opportunity thus opts for a special openness towards the objects of her research. She does not rely solely on printed reports and stories communicated by speech, but looks at nonverbal forms of storytelling as well. Here the various performative activities have proven to be particularly informative. The researcher may be given the additional opportunity to actively participate in some of these performative acts which may allow for a more immediate— physical and emotional—understanding of the stories expressed by these performances. Ideally, this understanding is in line with the ideas and experiences of those who “tell” the stories. Finally, the stated openness can not only help to expand the existing knowledge of the researcher but also to correct it. This may lead to new research questions which in turn may generate new findings. In the case at hand, it became evident that the Ralī Pūjā narrates more than only one story. Since the form of this pūjā is not fixed once and for all and different worshipers may perform it differently, it can be assumed that new stories connected with this ritual will arise. Over time, the narrative strands recounted here will presumably be supplemented by others, thus contributing to the already existing diversity of the storyworld around the Ralī ritual.

References Ackerman, Robert. 1991. The Myth and Ritual School: J.G. Frazer and the Cambridge Ritualists. New York & London: Routledge. Balhārī, Sardāru. 1884. “Ralī worship – Kangra.” Panjab Notes & Queries 2, no. 13 (October): 1.

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Brahier, Gabriela & Dirk Johannsen, eds. 2013. Konstruktionsgeschichten: Narrationsbezogene Ansätze in der Religionsforschung. Würzburg: Ergon. Dorson, Richard M. 1986. The British Folklorists: A History. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Enthoven, R.E., revised by M.G.M. Jones, 2004. “Temple, Sir Richard Carnac, second baronet (1850-1931), army officer and oriental scholar,” in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, edited by H.C.G. Matthew & Brian Harrison, in association with the British Academy, vol. 54, 80–81. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Frazer, James George. 1900. The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion. Second edition, revised and enlarged, in 6 volumes. London: Macmillan and Co. Third Edition. 1907–1915. Ralī Pūjā in vol. 4 (2011) The Dying God. § 10 Analogous Rites in India. London: Macmillan, 265–66. Jerath, Ashok. 1998. Dogra Legends of Art and Culture. New Delhi: Indus Publishing Company. Kreinath, Jens. 2020. “Methodology,” in The Bloomsbury Handbook of Cultural and Cognitive Aesthetics of Religion, edited by Anne Koch & Katharina Wilkens, 47–57. London, Oxford: Bloomsbury. Luchesi, Brigitte. 1993. “‘Mögen sie hunderttausend Jahre verbunden sein’: RalīVerehrung und die Beziehung zwischen Schwestern und Brüdern in Kangra, Nordindien,” in Blickwechsel: Frauen in Wissenschaft und Religion, edited by Donate Pahnke, 251–71. Marburg: diagonal Verlag. Luchesi, Brigitte. 2002. “‘It Should Last a Hundred Thousand Years’: Ralī Worship and Brother Sister Bond in Kangra,” Manushi 130: 20–25. Luchesi, Brigitte. 2020. “Cult images,” in The Bloomsbury Handbook of Cultural and Cognitive Aesthetics of Religion, edited by Anne Koch & Katharina Wilkens, 207–18. London, Oxford: Bloomsbury. Michaels, Axel. 1998. Der Hinduismus: Geschichte und Gegenwart. Munich: C.H. Beck. Naithani, Sadhana. 1997. “The Colonizer-Folklorist,” Journal of Folklore Research 34 (1): 1–14. Naithani, Sadhana. 2006. In Quest of Indian Folktales: Pandit Ram Carib Chaube and William Crooke. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. Narayan, Kirin. 1986. “Girls on a Branch: Girlfriends and Wedding Songs in Kangra.” Ethos 14: 47–75. Nünning, Vera, Jan Rupp & Gregor Ahn, eds. 2013. Ritual and Narrative: Theoretical Explorations and Historical Case Studies. Bielefeld: transcript. Pakhrolavī, Prem. n.d. Ralī Pūjān. N.p.: n.p. Pearson, Anne Mackenzie. 1996. Because It Gives Me Peace of Mind: Ritual Fasts in the Religious Lives of Hindu Women. Albany: State University of New York Press. Randhawa, M. S. (Mohinder Singh). 1974. Travels in the Western Himalayas. Delhi: Thomson Press.

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Rose, Horace Arthur. (1919) 1980. Glossary of the Tribes and Castes of the Punjab and North-West Frontier Province. Vol. I. Delhi: Amar Prakashan. Ryan, Marie-Laure. 2001. Narrative as Virtual Reality: Immersion and Interactivity in Literature and Electronic Media. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press. Ryan, Marie-Laure. 2013. “Ritual Studies and Narratology: What Can They Do For Each Other,” in Ritual and Narrative: Theoretical Explorations and Historical Case Studies, edited by Vera Nünning, Jan Rupp & Gregor Ahn, 27–49. Bielefeld: transcript. Shastri, J.L. 1950. Śiva Purāṇa. Part 2. (English Translation). Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass. Accessed May 19, 2019. https://archive.org/details/SivaPuranaJ.L.ShastriPart2/ page/n185. Temple, Richard Carnac. 1882. The Indian Antiquary 11: 297–98. Temple, Richard Carnac. 1981. The Legends of the Panjab. 2 vols. Reprint of the Bombay edition 1884. Lahore: The Mall. The Punjab Government. 1904. Punjab District Gazetteers, Volume X A, Part A, Kangra District 1904. Accessed May 19, 2019. https://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015 .105613/page/n5. The Punjab Government. 1926. Punjab District Gazetteers, Volume VII, Part A, Kangra District 1924-25. Lahore: Government Printing, Punjab. The Tribune. 2001. “Clay images fair on girl’s sacrifice.” April 12, 2001.

Websites Himachal Tourist Guide. 2019. http://www.himachaltouristguide.com/index.php/april -fairs-festivals-of-himachal, last accessed May 20, 2019. Portal of art and culture of himachal. 2019. http://123himachal.com/fairs.htm, last accessed May 20, 2019.

Chapter 2

Narrating Spirit Possession Katharina Wilkens

1

Introduction: Telling the Story of Non-human Agency

Throughout the world, spirit possession and exorcism are well-known religious practices. Ritual trance is a very specific and highly visible body technique during which the possessing spirit is either accepted into the medium’s body or exorcized from it. The trance rituals are transformative, as they are generally connected to the healing of afflicted bodies, both physical and social bodies. In some cases, the invading spirit is expelled by ritual specialists from the human host (exorcism). In other cases, the spirit is befriended, and the patient agrees to enter a spirit guild, or cult group, and promises to regularly take part in possession rituals. This type of spirit possession ritual includes the shetani spirits in Tanzania, bori spirits in Northern Nigeria, the zar spirits of the Sudan and Egypt, the orishas of West Africa, of Candomblé, of Voodoo and of other similar cults in the Caribbean and in Brazil, but also, for example, the Four Palace spirits in Vietnam and many other South and South East Asian cults. In Christianity, liturgies of exorcism and of deliverance from demonic possession have been performed for centuries. My own fieldwork was conducted among a Catholic exorcistic prayer group in Tanzania called the Marian Faith Healing Ministry (Wilkens 2011) and I also took part in public possession rituals in Muslim Zanzibar. Trance in spirit possession is connected to intricate rituals, and used to elaborate narratives. Possession narratives vary significantly in their perspective, characterization, and plotting according to the setting in which they are told and consequently have several distinct functions. All stories contribute to upholding the reality of the spirits as independent non-human agents and the meaning of the trance as part of the ritual process of healing and remembering. Ambiguity and contradiction are central arguments in this paper. Narratives of spirits are not particularly consistent, inviting various interpretations by anthropologists. The pragmatics of storytelling, performative contexts, and strategic aims will provide insights into the necessary ambiguities of the different plots. I will present some common topics in spirit narratives using my own in-depth studies on Catholic exorcism in Tanzania. I will elaborate my ar-

© Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2020 | DOI:10.1163/9789004421677_004

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gument with further examples of spirit possession cultures in Africa, Europe, and Asia with Islamic, Christian, and traditional religious backgrounds. I distinguish between personal stories told by individuals about their encounters with spirits—including wayside meetings, dreams, and ritual trance—and stories told with a focus on the spirit world—including the spirits’ specific characteristics and possibilities. In both types of stories, scholars replace the agency of the spirits with explanations of human motivation, agency, and experience. This demonstrates differing assumptions about the reality and function of the spirits and possession trances. I will specifically focus on anthropological and psychiatric reframings of spirit possession narratives. Straightforward argumentations leave little room for doubts and insecurities, but narratives do. Their imagery and their possibilities to break with reality constraints make them adaptable to the needs of the story tellers which also enables certain motifs to shift from one narrative culture to another. The combination of spirit possession trance and narrative contribute to an aesthetic knowledge of spirits in which perception, experience, and imagination play a more decisive role than arguments or belief.

2

Practitioners Telling Stories about Spirit Possession

The possession phenomenon encompasses several different aspects. Trance techniques effectively contribute to healing people in physical, mental, or economic distress. Narratives contextualize trance experiences, help in constructing identities in times of suffering, and shape collective memories. The spirits as narrative figures link up the stories belonging to different genres with quite distinct styles. I propose a twofold classification of possession narratives according to their plotting and figuration. They are told so independently of one another that they are seldom studied in conjunction. Anthropologist Linda Giles (1999), for example, researched spirit culture on the East African coast and described how the spirit groups represent the people’s own and neighboring cultures: in spirit possession rituals, the trancing mediums wear clothes, eat foods, and speak languages associated with the separate spirit identities. She collected the stories about these spirit cultures from ritual experts and analyzed them along the line of collective memory. Her colleague Tapio Nisula (1999, 154–59), however, who looked into ritual spirit healing, found no evidence of such stories and criticized Giles for artificially eliciting stories with no real value to patients and practitioners of spirit possession. In fact, he argues that autobiographical stories of encountering spirits and being healed through possession rituals are always fragmentary and inconsistent because

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the focus is never on the spirits, but rather on the biographical events in the life of the patient. By integrating the possession experience into their accounts of suffering and healing, the patients are working on their own narrative identities with no thought for any logical faults in their description of the spirits. I argue that both types of story exist and hold meaning for the narrators, but they are told independently from one another and fulfill very distinct narrative functions for those involved in the possession rituals. The basic distinction is between a first-person narrative—or an autobiographical story of suffering and healing—and a third-person narrative in which the storyworld of the spirits themselves is unfolded. Though they both revolve around the creation of narrative identities on collective and individual levels (Wilkens 2015, 2018) and they question categories of truth and the perception of human bodies in the world in relation to the spirits, they do vary widely in their foci and intentions. The first-person narratives deal with real-life interactions with spirits in everyday settings, while the third-person narratives are stories about spirits in their own world reaching out to humans. In this paper, I will highlight some implications for the study of spirit possession narratives. In folklore studies, the distinction between first-person and third-person narratives is quite common. In 1964, Lauri Honko criticized earlier folklorists and anthropologists for neglecting personal stories as a specific narrative genre thus severely over-generalizing certain cultural and/or religious patterns (Honko 1964, 9–10), and little has changed since as the exchange between Giles and Nisula given above demonstrates. Distinguishing them explicitly from sagas or legends, Honko paid particular attention to memorates defined as personal stories of encounters with spirit beings having a very specific function in religious narrative practice and actualizing general “beliefs” in discrete moments of experience:1 “Belief in the existence of spirits is founded not upon loose speculation, but upon concrete, personal experiences, the reality of which is reinforced by sensory perceptions. ln this respect spirits are empirical beings.” (ibid., 10) I will refer to this type of empirical perception and narrative framing as aesthetic knowledge of the spirits, emphasizing the embodied nature of spirit perception mediated through conventionalized narrative structures (see also Borrelli & Grieser 2019). In a narrative plot, the protagonist must overcome some kind of obstacle in the face of an antagonist on his or her way to reaching the climax. A typical obstacle in both genres of spirit possession narratives—sagas and

1 For a more detailed discussion of Honko’s work on memorates I refer to Johannsen, this volume.

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memorates—can be doubt or skepticism: doubt that spirits (or specific spirits) exist at all, doubt that a specific spirit might be involved in a person’s life, or doubt whether specific trance performances are authentic. As Honko points out, “informants react critically to supernatural experiences. They want to consider true only that which they themselves saw or which some acquaintance experienced” (1964, 10). These doubts are usually part of the characterization of the major figures, the reality constraints in a plot (i.e. what appears to be plausible, Schechtmann 2011), and the development of the plot. I argue that the in-built role of skepticism helps to strengthen the narratives and, thus, the reality of the spirits themselves. Reframing specific events and experiences in narrative form makes them meaningful and provides conventions for the perception and reality of the story. As Johannsen (this volume) argues, legends (or, in this case, spirit stories) have proven to be stable not because they rest on static beliefs, but because they open up room for discursive positioning and re-positioning. Transferring possession stories from one religious context— such as traditional spirit possession, to another, such as Christianity—may be achieved by shifting moments of truth and doubt concerning the characterization of the spirits while upholding their agency in the narrative. The moral values of the spirits may change from powerful, but basically well-intentioned, entities to evil demons in need of complete exorcism. The stories must be retold more fundamentally when switching to a worldview in which spirits are not accorded any agency. The role of doubt is lessened, or even lost, when the spirit stories are translated into a Western, scientific worldview in which any spirit agency is abrogated completely. This will become apparent in the discussion in the following section. 2.1

First-Person Narratives: Encountering Spirits, Skepticism, and Aesthetic Knowing There is a book here called- I think it is called ‘Healing and Deliverance’. So, I first started reading it. I had never seen such a thing before. I was excited and frightened. So, I read all night, I didn’t go to sleep. And I read it on the second day again all day. And on the third day, I had finished reading it, by then it was night and I went to sleep. Then I woke up feeling some pains you know in the back. So, I went and looked in the mirror and there were like you know the signs of scratches. I said: Oho! And then I said to myself I was so happy you know reading that book I said I’ll tell everyone about it. If someone can’t read it, I’ll tell them about it. If someone can read it, I’ll tell them to read it because it is very good. And then after that happened, I thought that maybe the devil

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wanted to frighten me so that I shouldn’t do. And I just went ahead and did it.2 This story encapsulates what I want to discuss under the heading of aesthetic knowing. The spirits in this narrative might be invisible, but they do palpable damage to the human body. The intent of the story is to prove the existence of demons, as well as the willingness of the narrator to fight against their evil influence. The narrator knows the demons are there because she sees their scratches on her back. The theological treatise she had been reading would not have been enough to convince her, had the demons not made their presence felt physically. The dimension of physical experience is what makes the narrator decide to believe in the evil intentions of the demons, not the arguments of the book. In the words of Honko, memorates such as this “reveal those situations in which supernatural tradition was actualized and began directly to influence behavior”3 (1964, 10). Any doubts about the power of the demons the narrator may have had are overcome through aesthetic knowledge of them; that is, their physical perception. When speaking about the actual ritual event when the spirit “mounts” or “climbs into the head” of the patient in a state of trance, both patients and onlookers follow well-established rules and patterns. A narrative’s aim is to dispel doubts about the authenticity of the experience: if the narrative follows the conventions, then the event itself must be true as well. Agency, for example, is always attached to the spirit alone, never to the patient-medium. During entrancement, the words or actions produced by the individual actually come from the spirit, and the patient is generally expected to be unable to remember anything of what passed during that time. He or she must be told all that has transpired. This occurs in the following account by a former traditional healer who was exorcized at the Marian Faith Healing Ministry by the priest Felicien Nkwera, called the “messenger of God” by his followers: Q: Okay, now how did you know that it was a devil (shetani)? A: He said it himself, it was me who said without knowing, they taped it. They have a recording of the vigil [. . .] so that we know. They told me.

2 From an interview with a member of the Marian Faith Healing Ministry in Tanzania, conducted by myself and a research assistant in March 2005. 3 While Honko’s focus on perception psychology and the sensory modalities underlying the events recounted in memorates reflects the aesthetics of religion approach taken in my argument, his search for authenticity, and specifically authentic original experiences, must be rejected here as a normative approach to theorizing religion (Honko 1964, 11).

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In the end the Messenger of God called me and asked [who was inside me]. And it was so indeed that inside me was Lucifer and he said: It is me, Lucifer. There were children here and they took off, now it is me, Lucifer, I have taken possession of him [lit.: I have taken my seat in him], he will not get better. I will attack him indeed until he leaves off—leaves off being prayed for. This means that we want him. We don’t want him to leave us again. Well, the time I am talking about, whenever I came to lie down inside here [the guest house of the ministry], then they came. I saw something like a shadow, like a human but a shadow.4 In some stories, amnesia is not complete, but falling under the influence of the demon is still described, from the narrator’s own perspective, as looking on to his or her own body being taking over by another force. A woman who was also exorcized by Felicien Nkwera tells her story like this (English being a foreign, but familiar language for her): The session of healing, when it comes there I change my clothes, wearing another clothes, then I line in the queue waiting for my [turn]. Then I was very afraid to go there. I told the one who was behind of me: you go. [She] said: No let us go. no no no, I’m not in a hurry, so you go. Then Father see that and said: you should come, you now to pour the water. I kneeled, then he take that jug of water and poured me. Then I start crying. Very loud, and shaking and etc. Then they come people holding me tight. Then I was for a long time there, then Father said that I should take this and sit there. When I arrived [here] I was not suffering from heart, I was suffering from possession from devils. So, I was there, waiting, then he came, poured Holy Oil and then told me. After that you go back to the altar. His assistant, Sister Dina, then come and attended me, then I was normal again. After that Father told me again: you have to come here daily so that you be healed from the disease. I said: Thank you very much.

4 “Q: Sasa ulijuaje kwamba ni shetani? A: Alisema yeye mwenyewe, nilikuwa nasema bila kujua, wanatape. Wanarekoding mkesha [. . .] tufahamu. Wananiambia. Mwishoe mtumishi wa Mungu akaniita akauliza ndani ndiyo ikatokea kwamba Rudufer [Lucifer] akasema ni mimi Rudufer walikuwepo watoto wametoka, sasa ni mimi Rudufer nimemkalia huyu hatapona. Nitamtisha kabisa mpaka aache aache kuombewa. Maana sisi tunamtaka hatutaki tena atuondoke. Basi wakati ninapoongea hivyo, nikija kulala humo ndani, yanakuja. Naona kama kivuli kama binadamu lakini kivuli” (translation by the author; grammatically Lucifer is classified as a human being while the shadowy spirits are classified as insects as they usually are in Kiswahili). The interview was conducted by me and a research assistant in November 2004.

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Then I go back home. I was so shocked! What is that? But since I believe on God and the Virgin Mother Mary I say: anyway, God will help me.5 The exclamation of shock references her disbelief that it could be possible that she would ever become a victim of demonic possession. But the experience of possession trance convinces her of the opposite. A major feature of all healing rituals—the rituals which establish the first active communication with the possessive spirit—is discernment. It is important to establish the spirit’s identity and its wishes. In the Christian context, the morality of the spirit must be tested: is it an evil demon who must be exorcized or is it a saint, the Holy Spirit, or some other divine creature who should be encouraged to remain? When that has been established, the wishes fulfilled, and the offerings given, then normality and health should return. At this point, stories abound around the pitfalls of communicating with the spirits ritually and fulfilling their wishes. A particularly popular narrative topic is the delayed offering: the problem was recognized, but circumstances, poverty, skepticism, and a host of other reasons prevented the giving of the gift. The affliction returned—often worse than before—until finally, the offering was made, the trance ritual was performed, etc.—and all was well. British anthropologist Pat Caplan (1997) recounts such stories from her fieldwork among Muslims on Mafia Island in Tanzania. She had asked Mohammed, a self-employed man, to write an autobiographical journal in which he was to tell his life history with all the ups and down in his family. In the translation, Caplan converted the first-person voice into a third-person re-telling: [A] Koranic diviner . . . confirmed . . . that Mohammed had been taken by this particular spirit. But he said that all it wanted was an offering of sweet things. So WA burned incense and said to the spirit that if Mohammed got well within two weeks, the third week it would get its present. Mohammed got well before the time was up and went off to Zanzibar to pick cloves. The very night he arrived, he developed eye trouble. He went to the countryside to pick cloves, but after two day he was so ill that he had to go back to town. He called a boy named MH, the son of a. . . Koranic diviner, and sent a letter to his brother telling him 5 The language Kiswahili has a particular past tense used only for narratives (-ka-), as is in evidence in the preceding quote. When Swahili speakers try to translate this into English, they often resort to employing the word “then” in every sentence. The interview was conducted by me in November 2004.

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that he was ill and he thought it was because he had not paid his debt to the spirit. Meanwhile he bought incense and fumigated himself and told his own ancestral spirit that if he had broken his promise, the letter had already been sent, and if the trouble was being caused by an enemy, human or spirit, he wanted his help. The second day, he started to get better. In fact, his elder brother had already got his letter and given the offering to WA to take to the spirit. After this everything was alright and he never had any trouble again. The reason for being caught by this spirit was that they just met on the path. There was no special reason for this spirit to get angry with him. Caplan 1997, 179

I encountered the same plot in some of the accounts told to me by members of the Catholic exorcistic prayer group I studied, the Marian Faith Healing Ministry. Only when they finally committed to the group, against all obstacles, were they healed from blindness, evil demons and the like. Some of these healing stories closely followed structures of conversion narratives or, more precisely, pathway-to-mediumship narratives (Wilkens 2011, 170–3; Endres 2011 for the same type of story in Vietnam). Stories told about spirits in an autobiographical frame differ greatly from stories told about the spirits themselves. The spirits appearing in both types of stories seem to have very little in common. The main difference, as I see it, lies in the difference of narrative purpose and the circumstances of telling: spirits in the autobiographical narrative always stand in relation to the narrator and his or her life. The life story provides the plot and is embellished with details while the spirit is an important actor-opponent, but nothing more. In the myth, saga, or fairy tale type of story, the spirit itself plays the central role and gains an independent life. 2.2 Third-Person Narratives: Figuration of Spirits While first-person narratives are told by people to make sense of their own life and all that has happened in it, third-person narratives are told about the spirits in order to understand how they interact among themselves and with human beings. They may tell the “backstories” of the spirits, such as where they come from, how they fit into the world, and what their relationships are among one another. Other stories address encounters of humans with spirits in dreams, in the shadows at twilight, or at crossroads. In the first case, the spirits are usually portrayed as human-like characters. In the latter case, the spirits are painted darker and often connected to witchcraft. It may be noted that first-person and third-person narratives may depict the same spirits from

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different perspectives, but such a connection is not a prerequisite for giving either one of them added plausibility. Third-person narratives may never be actualized in memorates, while individual experiences need not be woven into more general belief patterns.6 The spirits involved in possession rituals around the world have life histories and personal characteristics attached to them that may resemble those of Greek gods. They have emotions, they marry, they have children, they are unfaithful, they have adventures, and they have social (hierarchical), ethnic, and religious affiliations. The personal names of the spirits and demons are often typical of particular ethnic groups and specific social milieus. Sometimes names of public figures popularly known through news media—usually autocratic heads of state and war lords—are used; sometimes historical kings and noblemen and women live on in the spirits. During the trance performances and initiations, songs are sung addressing certain aspects of these stories. Others are performed during the trance dances, quite often resembling partly scripted stand up comedies—the spirits are all too human. The spirits are characterized as figures in narratives, but the stories are not plotted. They have no timeline and no climax. They are not closed stories but are played out as improvised sketches revolving around conventional elements from the spirits’ storyworlds such as specific actions or gestures, character traits, and relationships. Fremont Besmer, an anthropologist of music, has studied the songs and rhythms of the bori spirits of Northern Nigeria. Bori is practiced by Muslim Hausa people; their closest neighbors are the semi-nomadic Fulani people, connected to them through various trading, political, and kinship links. The sung characterization of the Fulani spirit “Tall Black Woman” is the following: Stump-of-maimed-arm, mother of cattle, if you like a person he is rewarded; / if you dislike a person he is finished for this world and the next. / With a hip twisted out of shape and the mouth turned to the back, now you will see the person’s hand looking like the dried, curled tail of a decayed wild-cat in a grave. Besmer 1977, 3

6 Honko (1964, 13) argues that “ficts,” stories of spirits used only to frighten children or describe certain natural features but which are not connected to memorates, cannot be accepted as source material for reconstructing “authentic” traditional religion. I oppose this position: first, because I do not attach more or less value to any type of narrative, and second because certain witchcraft stories, for example, would appear to be ficts, but nevertheless highly influence public media discourse on witchcraft practices (see below).

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According to this description, the “Tall Black Woman” is someone who can influence people’s lives. The simple either-or scenario of reward and damnation describes certain knowledge about destiny from the perspective of the spirit, but it also means that human beings on the receiving end of her actions remain uncertain about which treatment they will receive. The spirit is occasionally linked to paralysis, particularly hemiplegia, in accordance with the twisted mouth, hip, and hand. Bori spirits are connected to one another in complex family relationships. The kinship terms used to describe the spirits are the normal terms used in Hausa, thus grounding the spirits’ storyworld firmly within the conventional narrative constraints of this ethnic-linguistic group. On another level, stories of spirits are integrated into larger religious contexts. I once asked an elderly woman, wife of a famous Sufi sheikh in Dar es Salaam, what stories she knew about spirits in Tanzania. Her reply was prompt: she started telling me about the tales of jinnis in the Arabian Nights. When speaking about jinnis—rather than the Kiswahili generic term for spirits, mapepo—immediate associations with Qur’anic stories of jinnis are made. In Christian contexts, Jesus, Mary, the apostles, and the saints are pitched against demons in stories derived from the Bible and from the lives of the saints. The comedic factor is generally lost because it does not seem funny to wage war against the forces of evil: the moral context in the Christian case is usually very different from traditional, Islamic, or Buddhist contexts. No matter how elaborate, the stories are told and re-told among mediums, guild members, and to any interested audience (such as anthropologists). The same holds true for Buddhism, and Judaism, among others. Thus, spirit stories always have local and universal aspects within the wider religious community. There is another genre of stories referring to spirit encounters beginning with “I heard this story, it is true, it happened to my neighbor (or sister, friend, father, etc.), listen: . . . .” People collect and publish local stories about spirits walking at night, conferring with witches, and visiting people at odd moments. These stories often sound quite similar to tales told in Europe or the U.S.—though the actual trees, crossroads, and bodily abnormalities of the spirits differ in ways specific to the location (Mohamed 2000). Mostly triggered within a Christian, or even Pentecostal worldview, stories of demons and witchcraft have been adapted to the Western horror genre. This type of spirit story has been successfully adapted for the screen in recent decades. Local film productions use simple trick techniques to bring the spirits to life, and thus, add visibility to the usual range of spirit perceptions, such as cold breezes and trancing bodies (Böhme 2015). Comic strips about witches and spirits are printed in the daily newspapers (Beez 2004). They depict ugliness, spite, corruption, and greed by calling on familiar images from traditional storytelling.

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In all of these stories, however, the aspects of possession, trance, and healing play a lesser role. Instead, they are narratives of affliction and oppression. The spirits are agents representing powerful emotions with which the humans have to contend. But the spirits have the same names and “backstories.” Christians tend to lay particular emphasis on healing miracles. Biblical narratives of demonic exorcism serve as potent models. While miracles, of course, confirm the validity of a ritual system and produce surprise and thankfulness for specific healing events, their storyline stresses the opposition between protagonist and antagonist more strongly. Especially Pentecostal churches in particular have turned exorcism and miracle healing into front-page news items in their weekly missionary newspapers. Two different sets of opponents can be found: first, secular medical treatments and all secular modernists who deny spiritual powers; and second, all those people who communicate with spirits through dreams and in ritual trance, but are, for example, Muslims or traditionalists. These people are often lumped together as “witches.” In this Christian type of miracle healing story, elements of the first-person narrative focused on the life of the patient are brought together with elements of typical third-person narratives centering on the figuration of the spirits. In a feature article in a popular West African daily newspaper, the Pentecostal prophet and columnist Obinna Akukwe warns his readers against water demons, often associated with the goddess “Mammy Water”: Marine Spirits are gradually penetrating and influencing the behavioral pattern of some churches in Nigeria. . . . Those who are experts in the school of deliverance know that marine spirits are more difficult to detect than witchcraft spirits. . . . Marine spirits are patient, subtle and most instances appear very civilized, mannered and cultured in operation. They control the fashion industry and celebrity related matters. . . . Some musicians in Nigeria have narrated the source of their music and their music are always very melodious—this is the core of marine operations—appealing, enticing, harmless, irresistible and potentially harmful to the soul. . . . As far as I am concerned, they have captured a lot of churches in Nigeria. . . . Nigerian Christians should earnestly ask the Holy Spirit to deliver their soul from such contamination and save their souls from damnation especially when it is perfectly discerned that marine operations exist. Akukwe 2013

Although the newspaper, Modern Ghana, is secular, the article demonstrates the power of spirit possession narratives. The plot of seduction and overcoming is one told throughout the centuries, though the specific protagonists, wa-

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ter demons, and Pentecostal prophets are specific to the West African context. Mammy Water is a very popular goddess embodied and cultivated in spirit possession trance rituals all along the Atlantic coast. This story is based on the confrontation between the modern, fashionable, and possessive goddess and the Holy Ghost of the Pentecostal churches, embodied in their pastors and prophets. Another well-known columnist in Modern Ghana is Nigerian atheist activist Leo Igwe, who wages a well-publicized war against witchcraft beliefs, witch hunts, and violent exorcistic practices.7 The newspaper and its readership embrace the double nature of the spirit narratives. The stories are rendered more plausible by being published in a renowned paper, while their reality is torn apart with skepticism and fundamental criticism.

3

Translating Narrative Cultures of Spirit Possession

Theorizing trance, spirit possession, and exorcism in academic discourse has led to a multitude of interpretations and explanations from history, anthropology, theology, psychology, and similar disciplines. However, for academic theorizing to occur, two processes of translation become necessary. First, the experience of trance, both an individual and within a group setting, has to be made available to linguistic (hermeneutical) analysis and, to a lesser extent, experimental analysis. Secondly, the presence of the spirits has generally been abrogated in academia since the Enlightenment: “Although the investigator himself is unable to see the spirits, he must admit that his informant really saw them.” (Honko 1964, 10) Therefore, a process of translation becomes necessary which takes the reality of spirits in other settings into account but then provides an alternative narrative in order to explain the social facts without according the spirits any real agency. Here, I will focus on aesthetic knowledge production through narrative translation in anthropology and psychiatry, and regarding spirit possession, this means paying attention to narrative constraints which allow or forbid spiritual agency. 3.1 Anthropology Uncertainty and ambiguity have been described as central issues in spirit possession as a technique of healing and of social integration. Peter Wilson (1967), for example, made a convincing case within the functionalist paradigm that spirit possession was a way to deal with problems arising from any ambigu7 See the author page of Leo Igwe on Modern Ghana’s online site, https://www.modernghana .com/author/leoigwe/1, last accessed on May 6, 2019.

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ity of a person’s social status, rather than being a means of simply redressing social marginalization and underprivilege per se, as prominently argued by I. M. Lewis (1966). Surprisingly, this argument has not been discussed much, but it resonates well with a narrative approach. Multivocality and metaphors with open associative spaces can help resolve ambiguities in one direction or another. Some of the most prominent theories of spirit possession from cultural anthropology in the culture-as-text tradition try to account for the stories told about spirits in connection with collective identity and memory. Spirit stories are interpreted by Michael Lambek (1981) as part of the overall cultural texture on the Comoro Islands representing a certain type of knowledge about human relationships. This knowledge is formulated alongside specialized Islamic knowledge and traditional knowledge (Lambek 1993). This approach led to the recognition that spirit stories may represent actual historical relationships between neighboring peoples who trade with another regularly, or who fight wars against each other. In other cases, the spirits represent inner divisions within a society, such as gender differences or sociopolitical hierarchies. Janice Boddy (1989) focuses on the Sudanese zar spirits and the stories told about them as expressions of femininity, bodily purity and the enclosed world of the household in a patriarchic culture of long-distance trading. In the process of translating the stories from their ritual contexts to anthropological theorizing, the agency of the spirits is replaced by collective, highly abstracted actions. More recent approaches have tried to reconstruct concepts of non-human agency more fully. It is in this line of argument that narratives have become the center of attention. Paul Stoller (1989) underwent an initiation into being a traditional healer and spirit medium in Niger, West Africa. He championed an approach to learning about alien realities by immersing oneself in them physically and sensorily. His theory acknowledges what I have called aesthetic knowledge as an essential way of dealing with doubts about spirit agency. Stoller’s ethnographies are themselves more narrative than most, thus reflecting the impossibility of re-telling experiences with spirits in the usual academic terms. Though his books were widely received, his acceptance of spirit agency in all its inexplicability was not generally followed in the anthropological mainstream. Mattijs van de Port (2005) takes another approach to translating spirit agency into a postmodern framework. He looks at spirit possession in Brazil caught up between the stories told by practitioners, tourists, and anthropologists all of which “circle around” inexplicability and the “really real.” Being able to define Candomblé means being able to access funding and infrastructure for the temple institutions. According to him, the moment of possession

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itself, the moment of trance, is narratively framed so “that the more poignant the inexplicability of the occurrence [. . .] the more powerful the really real of the explanation that brought about healing. Clearly then, these narratives put inexplicability at the service of authenticating belief” (164). He argues that in the public Brazilian discourse, the bodily experience of trance is described as inexplicable in order to counter scientific and Christian skepticism as well as inner religious debates about leadership. Narrative methods have yet to be applied consistently to the different genres of spirit possession stories, and current theories of narrative identity, transmedia storytelling, or cognitive narrativity have yet to be applied. One of the few exceptions is the methodological interest in collecting autobiographical narratives, either through interviews or by letting key informants write journals. Some autobiographies have attained classic status in anthropological writing on spirit possession (Crapanzano 1980; Caplan 1997). The academic interest lies in radically subjective accounts of cultures within the so-called writing culture debate in anthropology. The personal narratives are then taken as starting points for interpreting wider issues of family and community relationships. The spirits are, by necessity, part of such accounts if they are part of the overall narrative conventions. It is interesting to note that certain elements change in spirit possession narratives when they are re-told in an ethnographic setting. Most notably, the characterization of the spirits is kept up while their agency is reduced. While the spirits in the local stories, both from a first-person perspective and from a third-person perspective, usually take the initiative and move towards the humans, the ethnographic re-telling adds motives and means for humans to move towards the spirits. With the added qualifiers “allegedly” or “in the words of the locals,” spirit agency is abrogated completely. Ethnographic recording, and thus fixing of spirit stories, also often misses out on the point that, with each particular re-telling, the level of detail and the motivations are altered according to the performative situation (Flueckiger 2003). Doubts and uncertainties are shaped over years and decades into a biographical identity along the pattern of a pathway-to-mediumship narrative (Endres 2011). Thus, aesthetic knowledge of the spirits and spirit trance is not achieved through one story alone, but through a progression of re-tellings, adapting to changing needs, audience reactions, and cross-referencing similar narratives told by other people. 3.2 Psychiatry Early medical explanations at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries largely attributed the symptoms displayed in spirit possession to psy-

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chological illnesses (Oesterreich 1921). The scientific discipline of psychology developed partly alongside nineteenth-century spiritualism, first sharing, and later, absolutely dismissing spiritual agency (Gripentrog 2016). In crosscultural studies of spirit possession, it quickly becomes clear that the nosology of trance and possession does not coincide in psychiatry and in local ritual guilds. Even their definitions of health and affliction cannot be straightforwardly mapped onto one another. In the U.S. American psychiatric classification manual DSM5, trance and possession are subsumed among multiple personality disorders (Cardeña et al. 2009). In traditional medicine, however, splitting a person into a spirit and a human host is not a symptom of illness, but a therapeutic tool to lessen other symptoms of illness in the patient’s life. It is important to note that though the moment of trance in spirit possession might be classified as multiple personality disorder, spirits are locally thought to cause disease or general suffering by taking control of a person’s body and life. Rarely is there an unambiguous link between specific symptoms and specific spirits. Rather, the healing process is negotiated between the patient, the healer, the patient’s family and the spirits involved. The disjunction between symptoms and spirit characteristics is particularly difficult for psychiatrists to deal with. I can illustrate this by giving a brief example of the interaction between a Danish psychiatrist and Palestinian patient documented in the film Descending with Angels directed by anthropologist Christian Suhr.8 The anthropologist expressly asked the participants to reflect on basic differences between Islamic exorcism of demons9 and psychiatric treatment with psychoactive drugs. In the quote, the psychiatrist has the institutional authority to ask the questions and set the overall tone of the conversation. In summing up the answers, he keeps translating the narrative explanations of the patient into psychiatric terms, thus reinforcing his hermeneutical authority in this particular institutional setting. P: Aziz why is it that you are sentenced to treatment? A: Because I got [. . .] magic. [. . .] 8 The text is taken from the English subtitles to the conversation originally conducted in Danish. 9 Arab-Islamic exorcism of demons (jinnis) is a ritual process in which no guilds are involved. Instead, only the healer (usually an imam or hakim or similar profession) with his associates and family members attend the exorcism. The spirit is called to the head of the patient who then manifests the language and gestures of the possessing spirit until it is chased away through the Qur’anic exhortations uttered by the healer. The experience of affliction, of trance, and of healing and the ways of narrating these experiences are otherwise comparable to the African examples discussed above.

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P: So, it’s because of this magic that you were sentenced to treatment? But what did you do? A: Well, I don’t know. A Turkish woman put this magic on me to make me divorce my wife and take her instead. [. . .] When I was hospitalized, she was with me every day. I couldn’t see anything except her. I didn’t want to see anybody else, my brothers, family, wife, children. I only had her in my head. P: She occupies the whole of your consciousness? She possesses you. So, you can’t think rationally? [. . .] It was difficult to control your thoughts? A: Yes. P: But how is it now? This happened a long time ago. A: Yes, now it’s okay. Because an imam from Vejle came to read the Quran for me. Then the jinn came out of me. She couldn’t control me anymore. She says she regrets what she did. But when I ask her if she got the magic in Turkey, she says no, she thinks it was her mother. [. . .] You do things you didn’t wish to do, but you do it anyway. P: This is exactly what happens. It reduces your capacity to reason. It becomes difficult to assess things in the real world. A: It never occurred to me to hit the imam or wreck the mosque. [. . .] But when it happened, it wasn’t me, I couldn’t control myself. They controlled me and made me do it. P: Yes, when it’s this that controls you, then you don’t have your own free will. At least your free will is reduced. So, this was why you were sentenced to treatment. You couldn’t control your own free will. You couldn’t control your own consciousness. [. . .] But it’s not only the imam who did a good job. It is also because of the medicine, right? A: Yes, it is. P: The medicine helps you to control your own thoughts. A: It makes me very quiet. It helps me to sleep and not to think too much.10 This extract highlights some essential changes in the narratives and explanations when being translated from the patient’s point of view to that of the doctor. The repeated switch in the attribution of agency is marked by the changing pronouns from “they” (meaning the spirits and the witch) to “you” in reference to the “free will” and “rational thoughts” attributed to the patient by the doctor. In this passage, doubt is only expressed by the patient with reference to

10

Minutes 16:09 to 22:04, emphasis added by KW.

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the original source of the “magic” (that is, whether the woman had learned her magic in Turkey or whether she had inherited it from her mother), but this part of the story is completely ignored by the doctor, as it bears no reference to his nosology. Translating “magic” into “loss of control” is feasible for the doctor, but what really worries the patient is the motivation of the witch, not his inability to cope with reality. Causality and agency lie outside the patient, not within him. The same work of translation continues with the attribution of healing powers to the medicine. For the psychiatrist, the medicine deals with the central cause of the illness by helping to “control thoughts.” For Aziz, it only helps to lessen the symptoms, but has nothing to do with the actual cause. To deal with the cause, he had to go to the imam to control the spirits and the witch behind them. In general, both sides express great certainty regarding their respective perceptions of the situation. Though Aziz accepts the psychiatrist’s explanations superficially—and simply because he is forced to accept the treatment—the transitions he makes to his own story of spirits and witchcraft show his inability to follow the doctor, perhaps also his resistance to medical explanations, born from deep cultural rootedness in stories of demonic possession. Konopaśek and Paleček (2012), Czech scholars of science and technology, have presented a study of psychiatrists and psychotherapists interacting with patients who believe themselves to be possessed by demons in a Catholic context. They argue that a situated approach to understanding spirit agency and exorcism can bridge the gap between medical and religious understandings of illness causation and non-human agency. They regard patients’ stories of demonic possession told during psychotherapeutic sessions as boundary objects which unfold efficacy and a sense of reality in both, fundamentally oppositional, worlds. Though the authors focus on performativity and practice in the interactions between therapists and patients, the stories themselves provide ample proof for their observation “of how epistemic undecidability is not eliminated, but rather maintained and used” by both sides simultaneously (978). It is precisely the openness of narrative imagery and agency that renders the stories-as-boundary-objects polymorphous rather than amorphous (980). It enables a bridging of two quite distinct narrative cultures.

4

Conclusion: Aesthetics and Identity Politics of Spirit Possession Narratives

In this chapter, I have presented stories revolving around the interactions between humans and spirits, especially in the form of spirit possession. I distin-

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guish between two types of narratives with widely different styles, functions, and ways of becoming effective within a narrative culture. The first type is the autobiographical, or first-person narrative, relating to experiences of spirit encounters, ritual trancing, and the progression of illnesses caused by spirits. In folklore studies, Honko coined the term memorate for this type of experiential and sensory type of story. The second type is the third-person narrative, myth or saga, referring to the spirits themselves, their lives and characteristics. In the cases studies here, possessive spirits can be strongly characterized, but the narratives do not usually follow a fixed plot. In the overall narrative culture of spirit possession, the combination of trance and narrativity produces an aesthetic knowledge of the spirits that rests on images of relationships and agency that are not bound to individual persons. Through the work of the imagination (Traut & Wilke 2015), uncertainties and ambiguities are resolved in each specific re-telling of the stories shifting from one genre to another, and through different local and scientific settings. In a second step, I contrasted these vernacular spirit stories with reformulations in academic secondary literature, hereby distinguishing two distinct narrative cultures. Focusing on anthropology and psychiatry, I argued that epistemological constraints laid on the (im-)possibility of autonomous spirit agency has led to translations of spirit experiences into human emotions and theories of multiple realities (most prominently, social reality). This includes the well-known anthropological convention of prefacing academic summaries of local spirit stories with the phrase “They claim that. . .” or “They couch certain experiences in terms of a spirit story.” In concluding my chapter, I would like to point towards positionality and identity formation as a central feature of specific narrative cultures, especially those standing in opposition to one another as in the case studies presented here. The socio-psychological concept of narrative identity which is developed through autobiographical storytelling (Lucius-Hoene & Deppermann 2004; Schechtman 2011) could also be adapted to help describe collective identities within specific narrative cultures. Questions of belonging, identity, affliction, and recovery are worked on over years through possession narratives and moments of ritual trancing. Gradual, step-by-step shifts in agency and causality in each re-telling of the memorates and the myths constitute the narrative space in which the both the healing work and concomitantly the identity work is achieved (Wilkens 2015; 2018; for further discussions of identity formation see Feldt, Laack, Wilke & Kreinath, this volume). Academic, secular narratives of spirit possession, including observations on therapeutic efficacy, are rooted in an enlightened epistemology which by definition excludes spirit agency. An academic identity can therefore only be

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upheld by translating the vernacular spirit stories into academically plausible ones. In charismatic Christian contexts, as well as a number of traditional contexts, spirit possession and exorcism are on the rise. Their narrative culture positions itself explicitly against secular, academic linguistic and narrative convention, thus turning narrativity into a powerful tool of identity formation. Whose story wins out?—This question is hardly new in the history of religion, but is an avenue that needs to be explored more thoroughly as an essential part of the narrative culture of spirit possession.

References Akukwe, Obinna. 2013. “Nigerian Churches and the Rising Influence of Marine Spirits (1),” Modern Ghana January 20, 2013. Accessed May 19, 2019. https://www .modernghana.com/news/440503/nigerian-churches-and-the-rising-influence-ofmarine-spirits.html. Beez, Jigal. 2004. “Großstadtfieber und Hexenmeister: Horror- und Fantasycomics aus Tansania”, in Africa Screams: Das Böse in Kino, Kunst und Kult, edited by Tobias Wendl, 153–64. Wuppertal: Hammer. Besmer, Fremont E. 1977. “Initiation into the ‘Bori’ Cult: A Case Study in Ningi Town,” Africa, 47 (1): 1–13. Boddy, Janice. 1989. Wombs and Alien Spirits: Women, Men, and the Zâr Cult in Northern Sudan. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press. Böhme, Claudia. 2015. “‘Look with your Own Eyes!’ Visualizations of Spirit Mediums and Their Viewing Techniques in Tanzanian Video Films,” in Trance Mediums and New Media: Spirit Possession in the Age of Technical Reproduction, edited by Heike Behrend, Anja Dreschke & Martin Zillinger, 221–40. New York: Fordham University Press. Borrelli, Arianna & Alexandra Grieser. 2019. “Aesthetics of Knowledge,” in Bloomsbury Handbook of Cultural and Cognitive Aesthetics of Religion, edited by Anne Koch & Katharina Wilkens, 33–46. London: Bloomsbury. Caplan, Pat. 1997. African Voices, African Lives: Personal Narratives from a Swahili Village. London: Routledge. Cardeña, Etzel, Marjolein van Duijl, Lupita A. Weiner & Devin B. Terhune. 2009. “Possession/Trance Phenomena,” in Dissociation and the Dissociative Disorders: DSM 5 and beyond, edited by Paul F. Dell & John A. O’Neil, 171–81. New York: Routledge. Crapanzano, Vincent. 1980. Tuhami: Portrait of a Moroccan. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press. Descending with Angels. 2013. [Film] Dir. Christian Suhr, Denmark: Persona.

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Endres, Kirsten. 2011. Performing the Divine: Mediums, Markets and Modernity in Urban Vietnam. Copenhagen: Nordic Institute of Asian Studies Press. Flueckiger, Joyce B. 2003. “Narrative Voices and Repertoire at a Healing Crossroads in South India,” Journal of American Folklore 116 (459): 249–72. Giles, Linda. 1999. “Spirit Possession and the Symbolic Construction of Swahili Society,” in Spirit Possession: Modernity and Power in Africa, edited by Heike Behrend & Ute Luig, 142–64. Oxford: James Currey. Gripentrog, Stephanie. 2016. Anormalität und Religion: Zur Entstehung der Psychologie im Kontext der europäischen Religionsgeschichte des 19. und frühen 20. Jahrhunderts. Würzburg: Ergon. Honko, Lauri. 1964. “Memorates and the Study of Folk Beliefs,” Journal of the Folklore Institute 1 (1/2), 5–19. Konopaśek, Zdeněk & Jan Paleček. 2012. “Apparitions and Possessions as Boundary Objects: An Exploration into Some Tensions Between Mental Health Care and Pastoral Care,” Journal of Religion and Health 51: 970–85. doi: 10.1007/s10943-010-9409-9. Lambek, Michael. 1981. Human Spirits: A Cultural Account of Trance in Mayotte. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Lambek, Michael. 1993. Knowledge and Practice in Mayotte: Local Discourses of Islam, Sorcery, and Spirit Possession. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. Lewis, Ioan M. 1966. “Spirit Possession and Deprivation Cults,” Man 1 (3): 307–29. Lucius-Hoene, Gabriele & Arnulf Deppermann. 2004. Rekonstruktion narrativer Identität: Ein Arbeitsbuch zur Analyse narrativer Interviews. Wiesbaden: Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften. Mohamed, Amir A. 2000. Zanzibar Ghost Stories. Zanzibar: Good Luck Publishers. Nisula, Tapio. 1999. Everyday Spirits and Medical Interventions: Ethnographic and Historical Notes on Therapeutic Conventions in Zanzibar Town. Saarijärvi: Gummerus Kirjapaino Oy. Oesterreich, Traugott Konstantin. 1921. Die Besessenheit. Langensalza: Wendt & Klauwell. Schechtman, Marya. 2011. “The Narrative Self,” in The Oxford Handbook of the Self, edited by Shaun Gallagher, 394–416. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Stoller, Paul. 1989. The Taste of Ethnographic Things: The Senses in Anthropology. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press. Traut, Lucia & Annette Wilke. 2015. “Einleitung,” in Religion – Imagination – Ästhetik: Vorstellungs- und Sinneswelten in Religion und Kultur, edited by Lucia Traut & Annette Wilke, 17–73. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht. van de Port, Mattijs. 2005. “Circling around the Really Real: Spirit Possession Ceremonies and the Search for Authenticity in Bahian Candomblé,” Ethos 33 (2): 149–79. Wilkens, Katharina. 2018. “‘Instant miracles are rare, but it happened to me’: Faith Healing in Urban Tanzania,” Numen 65 (2/3): 207–31. doi: 10.1163/15685276-12341495.

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Wilkens, Katharina. 2015. “Inkorporierte Imagination: Geistertänze und Exorzismus in Ostafrika,” in Religion – Imagination – Ästhetik: Vorstellungs- und Sinneswelten in Religion und Kultur, edited by Lucia Traut & Annette Wilke, 107–30. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht. Wilkens, Katharina. 2011. Holy Water and Evil Spirits: Religious Healing in East Africa. Berlin: Lit. Wilson, Peter J. 1967. “Status Ambiguity and Spirit Possession,” Man 2 (3): 366–78.

Chapter 3

How to Sense a Ghost: On the Aesthetics of Legend Traditions Dirk Johannsen

1

Introduction

Collected all over Europe since the early nineteenth century, mythical legends seem to provide a glimpse into a magical world. From the onset of folkloristic scholarship, legends were identified as the stories that connect people and places and, therefore, hold a key to regional and national mentalities (Grimm 1816). The significant role legends were supposed to play in the nation-building endeavors, however, stood in a peculiar contrast to much of their content, which seemed dubious at best. When heading out to document the narrative topographies of emerging nation states, folklorists found even the remotest regions to be densely populated by Saints and witches, cunning folk, fairies, elves, and the spirits of the dead. Besides their content, the composition of many of these stories turned out to be at odds with national ambitions as well. Early collections of folktales assembled in different countries share far more similarities than they express differences, with local legends mostly clustered around a relatively stable and confined set of motifs, being variants of migratory legends found all over Europe and beyond (see Thompson 1955–1958; Christiansen 1958). The alleged local narrative traditions turned out to be patterned distributions of traditional narratives. With this insight, the supernatural met bureaucracy. Today’s folklore archives are the institutionalized heritage from the days of mythopoetic European nation-building endeavors. The ghosts and spirits that storied the landscapes were categorized, catalogued, and stored in order to allow future generations a close encounter with “the mythical mindset” (Moe [1888] 1926) and all the figments of the popular imagination. In this chapter, I suggest reading legend traditions as a sensory practice suited to augment reality with elements of a mythical storyworld. Selected for their ‘superstitious’ content, the stories collected in the archives are, to a certain extent, disconnected from specific groups of people, particular storytelling settings, and clearly demarcated narrative cultures. Still, the sheer number of variants can provide us with a key to theorize narrative attractor posi-

© Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2020 | DOI:10.1163/9789004421677_005

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tions in vernacular religious storytelling. Following recent calls for new and comparative perspectives on the wealth of narrative material collected in folkloristic archives (see Heide 2018), I approach the “otherworlds” documented in the Norwegian Folklore Archives (see Esborg & Johannsen 2014) as a collection of thousands upon thousands of small stories of the supernatural intruding into the daily lives of common people.1 In the Norwegian case, legends of encounter mostly deal with the so-called hidden people (huldrefolk), but the motifs connected to them resemble those told about elves and fairy people in many other parts of Europe. These mythical legends are both descriptive and prescriptive. On the one hand, they are creative cultural expressions, observations of and comments on social realities and cultural imaginaries (see Tangherlini 1990; Bennett & Smith 2011). On the other hand, they follow highly conventionalized narrative scripts that translate easily into social scripts: “The legend, even if it is not founded on reality, can create reality” (Dégh 2001, 5). In narrating the consequences of unruly behavior, norm violations, or engaging with strangers, mythical legends seem especially suited to negotiate social norms and specify modes of conduct (e.g., Solheim 1952; Tangherlini 2000). However, this social efficacy is mediated and needs to be approached as an affordance rather than a function of the narrative traditions. Neither the identification of the wide range of social and psychological functions covered by legend traditions nor the insight into the wide range of possible interpretations takes anything from the experiential character of their storyworlds. Narrative scripts, I argue, develop their social potential in that they translate into aesthetic scripts that play a crucial role in the cultivation of the senses. In the following, I proceed from the classical question on the interrelation of narrative, belief, and experience (Honko 1964; Dégh & Vázsonyi 1974; Bennett 1989; Magliocco 2012) by connecting the perspective of the aesthetics of religion to the cognitive framework of predictive processing. First, I introduce the wider context of the folkloristic endeavor, document some historical assessments of the immersive storyworld constituted by episodic accounts of supernatural encounters, and detail characteristic features of the legends’ narrative composition. I then proceed from an argument made by Lauri Honko (1964), as he suggested that legends do not only guide the interpretation of experiences but also discipline our senses in that they modulate our attention economy. Summarizing his approach, I suggest reading mythical legends with regard to their aesthetic scripts. In the final step, I translate Honko’s model into the framework of predictive processing (see Feldman & Friston

1 All translations from Scandinavian sources are mine.

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2010; Hohwy 2013; Clark 2016; Ramstead, Veissière & Kirmayer 2016). Predictive processing provides a particularly rich account of how the embodied mind immerses itself in a cultural “world of sights, sounds, and feelings,” in that the model hypothesize a complex, multilevel, and dynamic neural economy to account for “perceiving, imagining, understanding, and acting [. . .] as different aspects and manifestations of the same underlying prediction-driven, uncertainty-sensitive, machinery” (Clark 2016, xiv). From the perspective of predictive processing, “our human-built worlds are not merely the arenas in which we live [. . .]. They also structure the life-long statistical immersions that build and rebuild the generative models that inform each agent’s repertoire for perception, action, and reason” (Clark 2016, 279). This aspect is crucial to reevaluating the role of narration in the creation of a religious “panorama of perceptions” (Mohr 2006, 1440). I argue that approaching narrative cultures as shared regimes of attention can provide cultural historians and scholars of religion with a sensible model of how narrative cultures trigger subtle interpretative drifts (Luhrmann 1989), where elements of the storyworlds augment experiential realities.

2

A Multi-layered Narrative Heritage: The Folkloristic Endeavor

In the context of the rising nation states, the folkloristic endeavor responded to the growing demand for formative and unifying master narratives in the form of ‘national’ histories and ‘folk’ stories. The two main genres covering the latter were the legend and the fairy tale. Neither of them denoted a coherent narrative format found in local narrative cultures. Initially, they were empty signifiers suited to reframe those episodic tales that could add to the political purpose. When Wilhelm and Jacob Grimm published their German Legends in 1816, they defined Sage (legend) and Märchen (fairy tale) simply in relation to each other: “The fairy tale is more poetic, the legend more historical” (Grimm 1816, v). The German term Sage reminded of both orality and the Old Norse Saga literature, which the Grimms saw as the first systematic expression of a Germanic mentality. The term Märchen captured the stories’ dubious character. A diminutive of Mär (German: slander, standing “in contrast to the real story,” Grimm 1885, “Märchen”), the element of deceit was exchanged for one of entertainment. In the Nordic countries, the genre designation eventyr (from latin: adventura, event) was built accordingly. Introduced in Adam Oehlenschläger’s Fairy Tales by Different Poets (1816), published in the same year as the German Legends, the term eventyr denoted all forms of “supernatural poetry,” capturing the dubious content and entertainment value of the stories, as

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well as their alleged historical roots in Old Norse æfintyr (Oehlenschläger 1816, 3; see Anz 2005). For the contemporaries, the emphasis on history and poetry meant a radically new perspective on the assembled narrative material, even a shift in the order of knowledge. The new framework identified a value in precisely those stories that earlier were seen as accounts of delusions or outright lies, misunderstandings of natural events or false renderings of past events, or simply heresy (Amundsen 1999). Speaking of legends and fairy tales was meant to substitute the one category used by the former generation of learned commentators to classify the same material: superstition—at that time still used as the antonym to (the one true) religion. Taking the material out of the religious domain to connect it to the emerging political and academic landscape proved difficult, but not impossible. In Norway, priest Andreas Faye edited the first published collection of Norwegian Legends (1833) to show that with careful selection and sequencing, stories admittedly predestined to “raise reasonable doubt” could be transformed into a documentation of “natural history, poetry, and our homeland’s fate” (Faye 1833, iii; see Amundsen 2002).2 He bundled accounts of encounters with elves, trolls, and hidden people in a lengthy first section, preceded by two rather unusual stories about the Old Norse gods Thor and Loki, and followed by ‘historical’ legends about miracles conducted by Saint Olav, the horrors of the Black Death, and the hidden resistance against the Danish rule. While the mythical legends themselves provided no indication of a pre-Christian context, this sequencing of ‘superstitious’ narratives outlined, for the first time, what would soon become official national history: After a mythical time of strength, Norway became united under the “eternal king” Olav II, but was weakened by the devastation of the plague and, thus, forced into the Danish monarchy. The legends served to show that this historiographical narrative was the history of the people. Faye’s assemblage proved the value of oral storytelling for the Norwegian national project beyond a doubt (Munch 1999 [1833]). Following the—highly idealized—lead of Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm (Hodne 2014), professional and lay folklorists set out into the field to hunt down stories. With the need for strict classification, their task resembled that of biologists collecting specimens. In Norway, the first folklorist funded by a governmental grant was the zoologist Peter Christen Asbjørnsen (Kvideland 2009). The stories had to be extracted from their natural habitat, anonymized, categorized, and filed.

2 Simon Olaus Wolff (1796–1859) preceded Faye as the first systematic collector of Norwegian legends. Wolff’s collection, however, was not published during his lifetime, and much of the material has been lost (Wolff 2014).

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For publication, the material had then to be synthesized, refined, and inserted into a representative narrative framework suited to illustrate the new collective singular: tradition (Eriksen 2016). The folkloristic endeavor soon developed a curious impact on the local narrative cultures scrutinized.3 Already by the mid-nineteenth century, the nation-building ideas of folklore and tradition provided an important paratext with a functional infrastructure for common people to explore new forms of strategic agency. Where ‘folk legends’ became an established category, narrative accounts of local events and individual experiences were sought after by newspapers, magazines, and publishing houses. With rumors turned into folktales, marginal voices could make themselves heard as expressions of traditional identities. Locals would cater journalists and folklorists their side of the story in addressing local conflicts, demonstrate their skills as storytellers, or market themselves as cunning people (Johannsen 2019). By the second half of the nineteenth century, the national romantic project had transformed into a medium for the spread of enlightenment, challenges to positivism, contested forms of religious practice and belief, denunciation, and self-portrayal. New collection initiatives added to the polyphony: linguists discovered legends as a tool for the study of dialects (e.g., Aasen 1923), folklorists built a network of informants to fill out questionnaires (Christiansen 1925), and increased access to printing presses allowed local stakeholders to self-publish their own collections, for example to promote regional tourism (e.g., Hansen Nygaard 1863).

3 In cultural history, Peter Burke’s analysis of a modern rupture of ‘popular culture’ has long served as a rule of thumb: “In 1500, [the educated class] despised the common people, but shared their culture. By 1800, their descendants had ceased to participate spontaneously in popular culture, but they were in the process of rediscovering it as something exotic and therefore interesting” (Burke 1978, 286). Burke’s analysis unmasked the bourgeois roots of the nineteenth-century folkloristic endeavor conducted by the learned elite. Accordingly, several generations of ethnographically trained scholars have largely dismissed the value of the collected stories for research into narrative cultures, seeing them as arguments in debates long forgotten and therefore rendered meaningless (e.g., Dégh 2001). It is only in this decade that influences from digital humanities, contextualized readings, systematically oriented approaches, and an import of questions from fields such as narratology, cultural history, and cognitive cultural studies sparked new interest and a fundamental revaluation of the material (e.g., Gunnell 2009; Harvilahti et al. 2018). From a cultural historical perspective, it is also important to note that while the “educated classes” may not have fully participated in popular culture, the participation of the “common people” in learned culture should not be overlooked in the assessment of the folkloristic collections. Participation in modern discourses on the nation, science, belief, and disbelief was never limited to the elites, and was crucial to the dynamics of and developments in the modern folk-religious field (Kapaló 2013).

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While an “ideologically sensitive genre” (Dégh 2001, 5), today’s folklore archives are a multi-layered heritage. In them, no master narratives, Urformen, or originals are to be found. Every story written down is a blurry snapshot of a network of actors, debates, and performances, co-narrated by equally biased informants and collectors, and borrowing motifs, traits, and stylistic features from thousands of other variants. Accordingly, the archives do not document any particular (invented or local) tradition or storytelling setting. Instead, the sheer amount of material preserved and clustered around a relatively stable and confined set of migratory motifs documents a large-scale narrative culture in constant motion, where stories and storytelling practices were shared and used across social classes, religious factions, and political divides. Legends were never ‘authentic,’ but they are, to borrow a term from Dan Sperber, “cultural representations”: “widely distributed” and “lasting,” being comprised of “many versions, mental and public ones” (1996, 26 and 33). In their lasting use, they allow insights into narrative attractor positions suited to enchant the world. Always dubious, they trigger a sense of fascination found already in the field notes of the earliest folklorists. Beyond layers of reiterations of enlightened views, classifications, and comments on conflicting interests emerges an immersive otherworld in which, it seems, “reality is turned upside down” (Moe [1888] 1926, 265).

3

An Immersive Otherworld: The Dubious Tradition

“They tell so much about the hidden people, and they believe it all,” parish priest Magnus B. Landstad complained to his diary in 1825: Recently, a beggar came here who fancied everyone as being taken into the mountain, as they call it, to the mountain spirit, and had many fairy tales to tell, how he was made invisible [. . .]. To such and even worse stories they listen reverently and with much more attention than to the sermon.—To wipe out such superstition will be difficult, but it is without a doubt a priest’s duty to reduce it, or at least try to render it harmless among the parishioners, as it leads them to disdain from religion and act against its commandments. Landstad 2012, 212

When approached at face value and without an implicit theory about its place, social function, or underlying meaning, a large part of the collected corpus of legends is a documentation of a highly conventionalized mode to tell about

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the intrusion of the supernatural into daily life. The first learned commentators were preoccupied with this aspect, documenting the most common motifs long before folklorists headed out into the field. Already the oldest Norwegian legal texts prohibited offerings or contact to “the spirits of the woods, hills and rivers” as part of a larger package of laws directed against pagan forms of worship (e.g., Gulatingslov §32, Frostatingslov §45, Landslov §IV.4). During the period of witch-hunts in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, contact with hidden people sometimes became a topic discussed in demonological terms, with encounters—such as a person being ‘taken’ into the otherworld of the mountain—seen as a way to obtain magical powers.4 The narrative foundation of the superstitious beliefs and practices, however, came into focus only by the eighteenth century. In reports and sermons, local clergy denounced the widespread circulation of rumors that distracted their congregation from developing their faith. Stories could be almost as dangerous as demons. In 1720, for example, a young farm girl was brought to the parsonage in rural Ringedal after having been missing for five days (protocol in Edvardsen 1997, 172–78). She related how she had been tending the cattle when she heard something that resembled the play of a droned zither. Following the sounds, she encountered four men dressed uniformly with red jackets, and was “in the same moment, not knowing how, within the mountain.” In an enormous hall, where everything gleamed like polished brass (“only more beautiful, and in a deeper red”) she was offered food, but refused to eat and soon found herself at the place where she was later discovered. The five days seemed to her “not even like half a day.” The girl’s interrogation by the priest and the bailiff was brief: Asked if she had possibly heard of similar experiences, she swore on her salvation that she had never heard any stories reporting similar events, only of the hidden people and such things, and that some people had told her that, about at the same place where she was taken, a group of shepherds with a sheepdog were once seen, but when approached they had already vanished. Of course, young Astrid’s account resembled in every detail the single most characteristic motif told about the hidden people (Feilberg 1910; Hartmann 1936). For the early eighteenth-century interrogators, the case was clear: Astrid had fallen victim not to demons but to a narrative tradition, and was 4 E.g., the trial against Ragnhild Ohlsdatter in 1662 (Bratsberg Amt, dok. 1564–1789, pk. 352; Byregnskaper Skien, J 10, 1655–1727, Norsk Riksarkivet).

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accordingly given into the parish clerk’s custody to be “better instructed in Christianity.” Stories about hidden people and magic were not simply an annoyance in that they contradicted the teachings of the church; in fact, they posed a danger in that they were immersive and suited to lure people into a magical reality. Throughout the eighteenth century, theology within the Danish-Norwegian church was marked by rivaling pietistic and enlightened currents, with leading theologians seeking to adapt the church to the intellectual and political developments by emphasizing either inwardness and piety or the rationality of Christian practice (Amundsen 2005). For the pietistic factions, the ghosts of the past stood in the way for a direct and exclusive contact with God. Superstitions were a remainder of earlier misunderstandings of the nature of faith, and people immersed in their storyworld remained baptized pagans.5 From the more outward-oriented enlightened perspective, the alleged pagan roots received less attention than the superstitious tales’ intellectual and perceptual impact. The unenlightened mind was in a vicious circle. Immersed in superstitious rumors, people would adopt false perceptions of nature, the resulting loss of reality causing new experiences to reinforce the stories, hindering a rational approach to religion and the use of natural resources. Local priests therefore received guidelines on how to gather the congregation for regular didactical interventions following the church service.6 The bishop of Kristiansand, Peder Hansen (1746–1810), for example, collected and commented on superstitions to provide local priests with sufficient argument. In his Archive for the Propagation of Education and Enlightenment, he instructed them to concede that it is indeed natural to fall victim to illusions. A “heated imagination and a heated blood lead us to hear and see, both while awake and 5 In this line of argument, key persons like Bishop Erik Pontoppidan (1698–1764) began to take an interest in what appeared to be the source of persistent rumors, and compiled the first comprehensive lists of different species of supernatural entities. Summarizing their characteristics and typical episodes told about them, superstition soon appeared as a doctrinal system in opposition to the Christian faith (Amundsen 1999, 18). 6 In Norway, progressive enlightened thought was introduced on a large scale by means of a top-down transmitted “people’s enlightenment” program (Hylland 2002) that included agrarian reforms, health measures, and societal reorganization. Catechesis became the main tool for the spread of these new ideas. Here, attempts to rationalize the superstitious beliefs often went to curious lengths. Struggling to address the many accounts of spirits vanishing before his parishioners’ eyes, a Faroese bishop shared, already in 1754, reports of recently discovered animals in Africa that change their color to match their surroundings. He argued that an unknown species of animals with the ability to suddenly adapt its color to that of rocks, like the chameleon, could well be the cause of the many “stories about hidden people” (in Haukenæs 1885, 211–13).

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while dreaming, what occupies our thoughts.” These misperceptions ensured that “there is never a lack of something to talk about” (Hansen 1803, 358–89). Rather than just denouncing the existence of nature spirits, a more sustainable solution would be to substitute superstitious stories for more enlightened ones. For example, a common issue was that people mistook naturally occurring sounds for signals from the otherworld. To them, the call of some species of birds indicated the presence of hidden people and served as a warning to avoid the area, or they sensed a spirit luring them by playing a fiddle where actually just the sound of water streams echoed through the ravines. Hansen’s recommended counter-narrative was the dramatic story of a man who had broken through the ice while crossing a river and became stuck in such an unfortunate manner, that he could no longer get out: The poor soul was calling for help, and his cries were heard by many. Instead of rushing to help, however, they just made the sign of the cross, because they assumed the water spirit (fossegrimen) was making itself heard. On the following day, the poor man was frozen to death. Hansen 1803, 361–63

Of course, not only learned commentators found the stories of ghosts and hidden people to be dubious. Early folklorists soon realized that acts of narration tended to be framed by formulaic reiterations of doubt, initially ascribed to the success of educational measures: “She [the informant] did not reveal whether she believed in such [hidden people].—That far she had come in the enlightenment” (Asbjørnsen [1845] 1995, 164). However, it soon became obvious that these utterances of doubt were a crucial part of the narrative traditions. Some years after his frustrated diary entry quoted above, priest Landstad had turned into a folklorist himself, and he documented polemically on the effect of his own enlightened objections to superstitious beliefs: the character of an overconfident priest giving a derogatory speech to rationalize the supernatural entities had become part of the local tradition (e.g., Landstad 1926 [1840s], 64–67). Following established motifs, a schematic encounter with the hidden people would inevitably “convert” him and lead him to confess that there is more than meets the eye.

4

Engaging and Immersive: The Legends’ Composition

Landstad’s collections were an early acknowledgement that the negotiation of doubt was by no means a façade when talking to priests or folklorists, but a

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crucial part of the tradition preparing the listener for an active engagement (Correll 2005; Espeland 1999, 166). Legends are not so much a genre as a discursive position: they “appear as products of conflicting opinions, expressed in conversation,” to “make sense only in the crossfire of controversy” (Dégh 2001, 2). That the narrative formats and motifs have proven extraordinarily stable was never due to a static belief. Instead, their composition ensures their potential for a highly adaptive and versatile use by connecting mysterious events to a familiar sensory world. Recent approaches to narratology have come to emphasize the experientiality of storyworlds captured in the term immersion (Schaeffer & Vultur 2010; Caracciolo 2014; Wolf 2014). Theoretical approaches to this “remarkable and complicated state of mind” (Wolf 2013, 4) have received major impulses from the field of game studies, where the rapid development of interactive virtual worlds provide significant empirical insights about the required conditions and useful mimetic primers to induce a deep cognitive and emotional involvement (Bartle 2003; Schaeffer & Vultur 2010). Speaking of “the virtual reality of textual worlds” (Ryan 2015) highlights the aesthetic character of storyworlds as more “than reconstructed timelines and inventories of existents” but rather experiences of “mentally and emotionally projected environments in which interpreters are called upon to live out complex blends of cognitive and imaginative response” (Herman 2010, 570). The insight that narrative texts trigger mental simulations that are fundamentally experiential—in that they allow for perspectival identification and imagined participation in the storyworld— is important to keep in mind when discussing the discursive nature of legend traditions (Kreinath 2014). The classical motifs of legends of encounter are optimal arenas for debate; not because of their content, but because of their stylistic features triggering an aesthetic response (Iser 1980). Mythical legends are shaped by narrative techniques and devices suited to create cognitive and emotional involvement and partisan engagement. For example, given that the hidden people populating the familiar surroundings of the storyworld tend to look just like humans (a conventional narrative trait classified in Thompson’s Motif-Index of Folk-Literature as F234.2: fairy in form of person, Thompson 1955–1958), legends of encounters often rely on subtle shifts in focalization as index of the supernatural. While the omniscient narrator would provide detailed accounts of the thoughts and feelings of the human characters, insight into the inner workings of the hidden people is artificially limited. This imbalance of information about the characters often provides the first indication that “something is not quite right” in an episode of encounter. Accordingly, stories about somebody being “taken into the mountain” (bergtatt) do not elaborate on the hidden peoples’ intent (F370: Visit to fairy-

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land in the form of F131: Otherworld in a hollow mountain). Being “taken” often simply means that the protagonist followed a beautiful stranger. Once “abducted,” the protagonist soon becomes “like them” (D5: Enchanted person), meaning that reading his or her mind abruptly ends in the very moment the mountain is entered. The magic of the legends happens where information is retained. The legends’ textual structure is based on discontinuities, encoded in the motifs themselves (Johannsen 2011). Things happen suddenly and seem little coherent: “When he came out of the door [of a cabin in the woods], he did not even realize what was going on before he head over tails stumbled into a large and fine room” (Flatin 1933, 9, D2120: Magic transportation). A short distraction and the beautiful girl a protagonist had spotted was gone (D2188.2: Person vanishes). Protagonists may only be inside the mountain for some minutes, but when they come back, the fire has burned down (F377: Supernatural lapse of time). A protagonist hears a soft melody (F175: Magic music lures to otherworld journey) or sees a light in the distance (F217.1 Fairy lights), and simply has to follow it, “if he wants to or not” (Asbjørnsen [1845] 1995, 44, D2065: Magic insanity caused by strange sight / strange sound). The experience leaves the protagonist altered for life. Such discontinuities in the situational dimensions of the narrative—space, time, causality, intentionality, and character— maximize cognitive processing effort, forcing the recipient to fill the gaps and actively construe models that account for the coherence of the narrative utterance (Zwaan & Radvansky 1998; Baker & Anderson 1982; Therriault & Rinck 2007). Not the content, but the question whether the discontinuities encountered in the narrative presentation should be understood ontologically or as a feature of an unreliable narrator’s voice makes the legend a “proposition for belief” (Fine 1992, 2). Being “taken into the mountain” may cause sorrow to some, while other— almost verbatim—variants report on the protagonists celebrating a new life “much better than among Christian people” (Landstad 1926 [1840s], 92). Ambiguity is a hallmark of every aspect of the narrative representation of the hidden people (Simpson 2011): their nature, their power, their aims, and even the consequences of the narrated experience need to be negotiated.7 “The legend

7 In cases where late nineteenth century social settings of traditional narrative cultures are relatively well documented, we find that some families or individuals were marked as being friendly with the hidden people, providing them with food or even longing for an encounter, while others were known to be their declared enemies or remained sceptics. The attributions had an explanatory potential, especially with regard to agricultural success, and helped to navigate in conflicted social settings (Johannsen 2008).

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is a legend,” Linda Dégh famously defined, “once it entertains debate about belief” (2001, 97). This debate, however, unfolds as much in the perceptual as in the discursive domain. While the dubious ontological status of the hidden people can be reflected upon from the outside, within the storyworld other questions are made much more pressing: what indicates their presence and intentions? How to sense a ghost?

5

Deep Asleep and Wide Awake: Legends as a Sensory Practice

In his seminal 1964 article “Memorates and the Study of Folk Belief,” folklorist and scholar of religion Lauri Honko proposed a sensible model of how narratives, experience, and belief interact within oral traditions. Familiar with the wealth and scope of folkloristic narratives, he used an example from his studies of an oral tradition among the Finnish population of Ingria to account for a phenomenon encountered by many folklorists in the field (or, more recently, on the internet; see Davidsen & van Rijn in this volume). People would tell stories about their own encounters with the supernatural and even vouch for their accounts to be honest and accurate. To the folklorist, however, the related narratives would be clearly identifiable as minor variations of common migratory legends. Swedish folklorist Gustav von Sydow had previously classified such accounts as memorates, short experience narratives that resemble well-known legends (or in von Sydows terminology, fabulates) in both form and content but exchange the heterodiegetic narrator for a homodiegetic one (von Sydow 1948). What came first: memorate or legend? Do the respective types of legend derive from previous narrative accounts of experiences or were the memorates simply reiterations of previous legends’ established topoi? The most interesting prospect with regard to this question was the one already inscribed in the discourse on the dubious and immersive nature of the traditions: the possibility that certain actual experiences are either understood in the light of familiar stories or even shaped and triggered by the exposure to a narrative tradition. Honko advocated the latter claim of a strong cultural impact: “one not only interprets the experience of the supernatural in accordance with the available tradition, but also experiences the supernatural in accordance with it” (Mencej 2017, 388). Honko’s example of a “simple and often-repeated supernatural experience” unfolds with a man heating the barn to dry grain. Sitting down for a moment, he dozes off. It is a dangerous violation of his responsibilities, as he is not only neglecting his work, but also risking a fire. Honko recounts the typical narrative schema:

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Suddenly he hears the barn door squeak and looks towards it: there an old man with a grey beard and a white suit stands and looks at him disapprovingly. At the same instant the being disappears. The man goes to the door; outside in the snow there are no tracks. The man looks into the barn’s stove; the fire is about to go out. Honko 1964, 15

When the man later relates the event to others, the consensus is that this was an encounter with the barn spirit. The story is a variant of one of the most spread migratory legends in the Nordic countries, classified in Reidar Christensen’s motif index Types of the Migratory Legend as ML6025, “waking people up.” In the legends and memorates collected in the Norwegian Folklore Archives, we find protagonists in diverse, mostly workplace-related situations falling asleep and being awakened by what one can only assume to be a supernatural entity, just in time to prevent some misfortune. Farm girls and boys get sleepy while supposed to tend the cattle on the summer pastures and are startled by what sounds like someone shouting, even though nobody is around. Farm workers are scared awake by unexplainable noises such as a banging or creaking from inside or outside of the barn. Charcoal burners watching their piles throughout the night would awaken to mysterious lights dancing in the forest or swooshing and rattling sounds of a carriage or wild host passing them. In all locations, a touch or shake can also occur, with nobody being around.8 Many stories do not include an explicit reference to supernatural entities, but it is common to mention them in an introductory or concluding sentence, in which they are usually identified according to location and occupation.9 Most of them fall into the wider category of huldrefolk for the outdoors, draug (revenants, e.g. of drunken sailors) for the sea, and house spirits as the nisse for the farm. The simple stories work equally well as cautionary tales about social norm violations and as puzzling accounts of mysterious encounters that anchor the legends’ otherworld in the realm of mundane experience and everyday tasks and localities. Similar to the learned commentators of the eighteenth and early nineteenth century, folklore scholars of the late nineteenth and twentieth century had their own tradition of discussing the experiential character of this otherworld 8 As Honko notes, in more elaborate and polished variants, the spirits’ activities tend to become more “concrete and graphic” (Honko 1964, 12). Here, the unexplainable shouts, for example, turn into lines of verse that explain the purpose of the intervention, and the protagonists may catch an additional short glimpse of a person who vanishes right before their eyes. 9 The motifs remain stable even when adapted to modern occupations, see Santino (1988).

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as grounded in misperceptions, false interpretations of natural phenomena, or mythical apperceptions of psychological processes. The experience of a supernatural encounter, in particular, was discussed as rooted in a “numinous apperception” of bodily states and “pathological dispositions” since Friedrich Ranke ([1919] 1971).10 Honko’s psychological approach to the study of supernatural encounters is very much indebted to his predecessors and shows a strong influence of popular skepticism. For example, his suggested approach to the analysis of particular cases almost turns the scholar of oral traditions into the paranormal investigator known from classical naturalistic occult detective fiction. Having heard about a ghostly encounter, the ideal folklorist would arrive at the scene of the incident to enquire: “What were the perceptual conditions? [. . .] What was the psychological condition of the person who had the experience (was he sick, tired, drunk [. . .])” (Honko 1964, 11). The rather curious occupational profile, however, should not distract from Honko’s core idea of a need to balance text-hermeneutical genre analysis not only with a sociohistorical contextualization, but also with a sensitivity towards the entanglement of narratives with sensory perception. In particular, Honko highlights textual descriptions of sensory phenomena as prescriptions addressing the recipients’ attention economy. By addressing different modalities of experience and exemplifying a range of specific sensations as indicative of supernatural encounters, the oral tradition shapes “subconscious expectations” that will, Honko argues, guide people to readjust their attention. Where a real-life situation matches the familiar narrative script, an exogenous attention trigger such as the door’s squeaking sound in the old barn to which one “ordinarily would have paid no heed” can become a “releasing stimulus,” sufficient to awake a man and evoke the idea of a spirit approaching. Given perceptual and psychophysical conditions such as twilight and tiredness, Honko concludes, this may even lead to visionary “hypnagogic images,” interpretations of ambiguous sensory input in line with the “learned supernatural tradition.” Thus, the storyworld actualizes itself “unexpectedly and by surprise” (Honko 1964, 11–18). From the perspective of the aesthetics of religion, the last step of Honko’s argument—the much-discussed suggestion of hypnagogic perceptions of

10

The motif of disturbed sleep links closely to stories of the so-called Aufhocker in some German traditions, a ghost that suddenly leaps heavily upon its victims, mostly unseen but still sensed as a nightmarish presence. Ranke’s interpretation of the German material inspired numerous studies of sleep paralysis, caused by supernatural beings such as the mare (see Raudvere 1993), most prominently David Hufford’s studies on how mythical legend traditions can provide a language to express relatively rare psycho-physiological experiences (Hufford 1982).

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ghosts to account for subjectively real encounters—is less relevant than the subtler mechanism he proposes to be at work in triggering the whole process. The stories facilitate experiences by emphasizing sensory signals that otherwise would have been below the attention threshold. In the familiar motifs, the anchoring mechanisms connecting the narrative culture to its social and natural environment are not the attention-grabbing violations of ontological intuitions and cultural norms. While easily overlooked, the casual descriptions of sensory impressions and percepts are most relevant to the recipient’s attention economy. As we have seen, individual legends have little to say about what ghosts or spirits are. The stories are hardly suited to reflect on their ontological status or deduce taxonomies of the supernatural. The moral and practical implications of the ghosts’ existence tend to remain vague, and encounters often do not end in a notable climax. Instead, legends have a lot more to say about what approaching ghosts sound like, whether being touched by them feels cold, what smells or bodily reactions may give a first indication of their presence. In the Norwegian material, there is a host of onomatopoetic descriptions and extensive soundscapes: [While resting from a hunt in the marshland,] I awoke from a tremendous racket, approaching from the direction of Verheim or Vomstul, coming closer. Sometimes the sounds were higher, sometimes lower, screeching and squealing, swooshing and roaring. I took my rifle, in the midst of the noise, but did not shoot. It passed over to Meheidberg and vanished. It was about midnight. I think it was the wild host. Stranna 1925, 563

Spending the night in the weaving mill, one should prepare for an encounter when hearing snipping scissors. In the forest, a whistle may indicate the presence of hidden people, but so does finding something that seems like a foamy spit on the ground (i.e., the secretion of spittlebugs). People with bushy eyebrows or certain forms of dress might not really be people. A melody heard above the roaring of a waterfall when approaching a bridge is a sure sign that one should turn around, or at least be open to an offer of learning to play the fiddle, which comes at a certain price. Turning from individual examples back to classical motif indexes, we find the sensory aspects of mythical legends to be as characteristic as their schematic plot forms. Even though the reading used to assemble Thompson’s Motif Index of Folk-literature did not reflect on aesthetic aspects, it still points to the patterns found in large-scale narrative corpora such as the Norwegian Folklore Archives. In sounds made by ghosts

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alone, the dozens of narrative elements listed range from whispers, moans, snores, and sobs to rapping, knocking, and up to the Victorian jingling chains (E401–402: Noises caused by ghost). What ghosts sound like depends on occupation and place. In the forest, even the sound of a falling tree can raise suspicion when “wood-spirits imitate falling trees” (K1887). Similarly, visual clues and certain smells can indicate the presence of the hidden people when perceived in the right context. In brief episodes, diverse aspects of everyday sensory, social, and emotional experience connect the natural environment to the legends’ storyworld. The narrative scripts are saturated with aesthetic scripts, instructions to micro-manage a recipient’s attention economy. Honko’s model of the entanglement of narrative and experience invites us to re-read traditional and religious narratives as a sensory practice. However, this approach has far-ranging and theoretically challenging implications. Even a subtle influence, such as the assumption that the exposure to a narrative tradition creates “subconscious expectations” that then, in turn, change what sensory input is actively processed to be behaviorally relevant, cannot be taken for granted. Honko postulates a moderate form of cognitive penetrability, taking the form of an “attentional penetrability” (Hohwy 2013, 135–37), where cultural representations, stories, and beliefs have a direct impact on what is perceived rather than just informing the interpretation of a percept. Much debated within the cognitive sciences, predictive processing provides a promising model to account for such an attentional penetrability and a narrative culture’s resulting immersive potential.

6

Predicting Ghosts: Aesthetic Scripts to Modulate Attention

In Honko’s model, the crucial element to account for the reality-effect of mythical legend traditions is the implicit assumption that narratives provide aesthetic scripts to modulate the attention paid to particular sensations. By hinting at visual, tactile, olfactory, and auditory clues that add to the protagonist’s hunch that “something is off,” legends anchor their storyworld in the realm of everyday environments and experience. In light of the narratives, sensations that otherwise could have gone unnoticed gain relevance as being indicative of a supernatural presence. Conceptualizing attention as a cognitive faculty in philosophical and psychological terms has long been a challenge, and Honko’s psychological model does not account for it. However, among the recent trends in the cognitive sciences, predictive processing provides an especially pronounced new take on the phenomenon (Wiese & Metzinger 2017, 9–10). Predictive processing can shed new light on the role and dynamics of

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sensation and perception in narrative cultures, highlighting the experiential character of immersion (Johannsen & Kirsch 2020). It accounts for how elements of the storyworld blend with our experience of everyday reality. Predictive processing reconfigures the relationship between sensation and perception by conceptualizing the mind/brain as a hierarchical, multi-layered “prediction generator” (Hohwy 2013; Clark 2016). According to this model, perceiving the world means anticipating it. A prediction is a top-down activation of those neuronal structures likely to be activated by sensory data, leading to the actual sensory activation being mostly canceled out. Instead of building a representation of the world from the bottom-up, the mind/brain thus proactively predicts this input, constantly striving to minimize errors by matching the prediction to the incoming sensory input. Only sensory data that does not conform to the prediction is processed, until it can be cancelled out by a corrected prediction. As a self-organizing system, predictive processing’s mind/brain functions “to reduce discrepancies between the ways it predicts the world to be, and the way the world (i.e., sensory input) actually is,” making perception and imagination essentially two sides of the same coin, “continuous and deeply unified” (Kirchhoff 2018, 752). Attention plays a pronounced role in this cognitive framework: It denotes the general process of precision optimization. Predictive processing theories assume a universal prediction error minimization mechanism working to enhance predictive efficacy and to reduce redundancy, complexity, and surprise through a “constant kind of second order assessment” of the prior knowledge used to build predictive models (Clark 2015, 5; see Fernandez-Velasco 2017, 74; Feldman & Friston 2010, 390). The expected likelihood of a sensory event is correlated to the assumed probability of the “prior,” the generative model used to account for a given situation. This precision estimate serves to weight prediction error arising from the sensory units, separating the signal from the noise. Stimuli or inferences that are expected to give more precise errors with regard to the mental model are amplified, while signals from sensory units that are expected to give imprecise or irrelevant errors in relation to an expected pattern are toned down. Identifying this process as the process of directing attention explains our ability to unintentionally “block out” background noises while paying attention to minor detail as well as our “blind-spots,” where we fail to notice some crucial new information because it challenges deeply held assumptions or simply because it is not relevant to them.11 Directing attention means tending to those sensory inputs or cognitive inferences that are most 11

The conceptual power of predictive processing lies in the applicability of the prediction error minimization principle not only to perceptual processes, but also to higher

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likely suited to optimize the precision estimate of a given prediction and, thus, to reduce error signals. For the question on how narratives may influence our attention economy, it is helpful to differentiate between two types of attention, exogenous and endogenous attention, “where the first is controlled by the [sensory] stimulus, while the second is internally controlled” (Watzl 2011, 846). Exogenous, stimulus-driven attention is the immediate reaction to sensory cues directly conflicting with a prediction (i.e., error signals with regard to the prior of a situation), while endogenous, “motivationally-driven” attention is the result of changes in the precision estimate of a prior leading to an active focus on sensory cues suited to increase precision. The setting of many legends of encounter can serve as an illustration. Walking alone through a forest, an unexpected sensory input such as a sudden and salient noise would trigger exogenous attention. When processed as an error signal with regard to the generative model of the surroundings, attention is directed towards the unaccounted-for stimulus in an attempt to align the scope of the predictions with the actual sensory data. Exposure to a narrative tradition would not change this basic reaction. Being told a legend about the spirits of the place before heading out, however, can alter prior expectations of likely and relevant sensory stimuli and therefore the estimate of sensory reliability. As shown in a recent empirical study by Andersen et al. (2019), primed with an element of uncertainty, people engage in actively monitoring the surroundings for sensory cues suited to confirm or dismiss a prediction informed by a narrative script. For a narrative suggesting the possible presence of spirits (as was used in the study, albeit in a virtual reality setting), the attentional impact is not dependent on whether the existence of spirits is deemed likely or unlikely. According to the predictive processing framework, stories do not affect our perception directly by creating new models or convictions used to interpret the world. Instead, the narrative priming alters the precision estimate for error signals, resulting in a higher weighing of those sensory signals that are connected to an element of uncertainty. Saturated with aesthetic scripts, narratives can increase sensitivity for sensory input “to which [one] ordinarily cognitive functions and, crucially, action (Clark 2015). Here, the approach integrates intellectual processes and the embodied mind. Where the involuntary ability to focus in spite of background noise fails us, for example when loud conversations interrupt reading, we may voluntarily act in a way that changes the surroundings to better conform to our prediction. This aspect of the predictive processing framework is not pursued in this chapter, but is crucial to conceptualize narrative cultures in their performative and material aspects, with human-build environments saturated with iconic fragments from “the mythological stock” (Aktor 2017, 67).

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would have paid no heed” (Honko 1964, 15) or even trigger an active search for the cues best suited to cope with the artificial uncertainties created in the narrative representation of the real-world setting. In this limited way, the “virtual reality” of the storyworld may augment actual reality.

7

Conclusion: Narrative Cultures as Regimes of Attention

In providing aesthetic scripts that emphasize selected sensory signals as of particular relevance and inferential value, legends fine-tune the senses. They suggest that some of the sensory noise experienced in certain settings is actually a signal. Built on conventionalized motifs, legends provide a motivation to shift attention to subtle, but potentially relevant details or changes in the natural and cultural environments as well as in the appearance and behavior of others. By that, they would add to the “religious systems that combine the manipulation of expectations with contexts of low sensory reliability,” triggering experiences suited “to confirm the teachings and narratives upon which the values of a given culture are built” (Andersen et al. 2019, 55; see Asprem 2017; Andersen 2019). However, modulating attention should not be approached as a function of the legends, but rather as an affordance. In providing affordances, the purpose of the legends is not limited to teach specific lessons relevant only to a specific social group, the engagement with a specific ecosystem, or a specific socio-historical context (such as “do not stray of,” “stick to the rules,” “be alert when crossing a river,” “do not engage with strangers,” etc.). Instead, they facilitate explorative learning in describing the familiar as the stage for encounters and discovery, describing “just-novel-enough” and salient situational settings that are a sweet spot to allow “active agents to self-structure the flow of information in ways ideally suited to the incremental acquisition and tuning of an informative generative model of their environment” (Clark 2016, 267). As suggested by Andy Clark, “complex human-built environments of art, literature, and science look like nice examples of domains structured to support and encourage just such open-ended forms of exploration and novelty seeking” (ibid.). Increasing the attention to certain details “neither to easily predictable, nor too hard to predict,” the aesthetic scripts of migratory legends seem especially prone to facilitate basic and universally relevant operations: agency and pattern detection, mind-reading and intentionality monitoring, engaging with non-salient features in nature and people, and exploring alternative modes of conduct. In broadening the scope of potentially relevant sensory information, they facilitate exploration and active learning. “Predictive agents [humans] immersed in these kinds of designer environment will learn to expect (hence demand and actively seek out) those characteristic kinds of

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novelty and change. In structuring our cultural and social worlds we may thus be structuring ourselves in ways that promote increasingly rarefied patterns exploration and novelty seeking” (ibid.). According to this account, the amazing stability of migratory legends is not due to their social function, but due to their affordance for self-structured learning. In approaching religious narrative cultures, Claude Lévi-Strauss pointed out, the question is “not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men’s minds without their being aware of the fact” (Lévi-Strauss 1983, 12). For an aesthetics of religion approach to narration in religious contexts, predictive processing adds a promising framework in that it details the mechanisms by which narratives may exert a direct influence on perception, cultivating the senses by separating the signal from the noise. This perspective suggests new readings of narrative sources, foregrounding their aesthetic scripts. Where narrative scripts afford the opportunity to tell one’s own life in continuation of the story and social scripts afford to model one’s conduct in continuation of the story (Davidsen 2016), aesthetic scripts afford to experience aspects of everyday reality in continuation of the story. From vernacular storytelling guiding the processing of ambiguous sensory input to stories that shape the perception of social roles, groups, and societal phenomena or even, in foundational myths, our understanding of the world: religious narrative cultures generate encompassing regimes of attention (Ramstead et al. 2016) that inform both perception and discourse.

References Aasen, Ivar. 1923. Norske minnestykke, edited by Jens Lindberg. Kristiania (Oslo): Norsk Folkeminnelag. Aktor, Mikael. 2017. “Grasping the Formless in Stones: The Petromorphic Gods of the Hindu Pañcāyatanapūjā,” in Aesthetics of Religion: A Connective Concept, edited by Alexandra Grieser & Jay Johnston, 59–73. Berlin: De Gruyter. Amundsen, Arne Bugge. 1999. “Med overtroen gjennom historien: Noen linjer i folkloristisk faghistorie 1730–1930,” in Hinsides: Folkloristiske perspektiver på det overnaturlige, edited by Grongstad, Siv Bente, Ole Marius Hylland & Arnfinn Petersen, 13–49. Oslo: Spartacus Forlag. Amundsen, Arne Bugge. 2002. “Fortelling og foredling: Andreas Faye som romantisk sagnfortolker,” in Sagnomsust: Fortelling og virkelighet, edited by Arne Bugge Amundsen, Bjarne Hodne & Ane Ohrvik, 26–59. Oslo: Novus Forlag. Amundsen, Arne Bugge. 2005. “Mellom inderlighet og fornuft,” in Norges religionshistorie, edited by Arne Bugge Amundsen, 243–94. Oslo: Universitetsforlaget.

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Stranna, Olav. 1925. Lundesoga Vol. 2. Skien: Erik St. Nilssen. Therriault, David J. & Mike Rinck. 2007. “Multidimensional Situation Models,” in Higher level language processes in the brain: inference and comprehension processes, edited by Franz Schmalhofer & Charles Perfetti, 311–27. Mahwah: Erlbaum. Tangherlini, Timothy R. 2000. “‘How Do You Know She’s A Witch?’ Witches, Cunning Folk, and Competition in Denmark,” Western Folklore 59 (3/4): 279–03. Tangherlini, Timothy R. 1990. “‘It Happened Not Too Far From Here. . .’: A Survey of Legend Theory and Characterization,” Western Folklore 49: 371–90. Thompson, Stith. 1955–1958. Motif-Index of Folk-Literature: A Classification of Narrative Elements in Folktales, Ballads, Myths, Fables, Mediaeval Romances, Exempla, Fabliaux, Jest-Books, and Local Legends. Copenhagen: Rosenkilde og Bagger. Von Sydow, Carl Wilhelm. 1948. Selected Papers on Folklore. Copenhagen: Rosenkilde & Bagger. Watzl, Sebastian. 2011. “The Nature of Attention,” Philosophy Compass 6 (11): 842–53. Wiese, Wanja & Thomas Metzinger. 2017. “Vanilla PP for Philosophers: A Primer on Predictive Processing,” in Philosophy and Predictive Processing, edited by Thomas Metzinger & Wanja Wiese, n.p. Frankfurt: MIND group, doi: 10.15502/ 9783958573024. Wolf, Werner. 2014. “Illusion (Aesthetic),” in The Living Handbook of Narratology, edited by Peter Hühn et. al. Hamburg: Hamburg University. Accessed April 5, 2019. http://www.lhn.uni-hamburg.de/article/illusion-aesthetic. Wolf, Werner. 2013. “Aesthetic Illusion,” in Immersion and Distance: Aesthetic Illusion in Literature and Other Media, edited by Werner Wolf, Walter Bernhard & Andreas Mahler, 1–64. Amsterdam/New York: Rodopi. Wolff, Simon Olaus. 2014. Riahammeren eller Spøgeriet og to andre sagnfortellinger, edited by Ørnulf Holdne. Oslo: Scandinavian Academic Press. Zwaan, Rolf. A. & Gabriel A. Radvansky. 1998. “Situation Models in Language Comprehension and Memory,” Psychological Bulletin 123: 162–85.

Chapter 4

Studying Religions as Narrative Cultures: Angel Experience Narratives in the Netherlands and Some Ideas for a Narrative Research Program for the Study of Religion Markus Altena Davidsen and Bastiaan van Rijn

1

Introduction

Angels are hot. According to the Baylor Religion Survey, a massive 60.4% of the American population reported in 2007 to “absolutely believe” in the existence of angels; while 55.0% said they had experienced being protected from harm by a guardian angel (Draper & Baker 2011, 630).1 Gallup polls furthermore indicate an increase in angel belief in the United States, reporting an increase from 64% angel believers in 1978 to 72% in 1994 and 78% in 2004 (Gardella 2007, 93). Also in Europe, angel belief seems to be increasing—at least in some parts of the continent—though the portion of the population believing in angels remains much lower than in the United States.2 What is more, since the 1990s, a new ‘esoteric’ form of angel spirituality drawing on New Thought, Anthroposophy, and Neo-Theosophy and involving practices such as angel healing and angel channeling has taken the West by storm. American Doreen Virtue, British Diana Cooper, and the Norwegian princess Märtha Louise, among others, have trained angel therapists by the thousands, and their bestselling books reach millions of readers and have been translated into a dozen of languages (see Gardella 2007; Gilhus 2012; Kraft 2015). In the Netherlands, Annelies Hoornik

1 In terms of demographics, Draper & Baker remark that “angelic belief is more common among those of lower socioeconomic status, women, racial minorities, married and widowed respondents, southerners, and rural residents” (2011, 633–34). 2 In Denmark, for example, the number of respondents answering ‘yes’ to the question ‘do you believe in angels?’ went up from 13% in 1991 (with an additional 7% being not sure) to 25% in 2016 (with 15% saying don’t know) (Gallup 1991; Tagmose 2016). These polls suggest that during the last 25 years, the number of Danes who consider belief in angels at least somewhat plausible has gone up from 20% to 40%. A Norwegian 1998 poll found that 35% of the adult population, and 41% of those aged 15–24, believe in angels (VG 1998).

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established herself as the country’s leading angel therapist and angel therapist trainer after Archangel Michael appeared to her one day in 2000, in jeans and with shining wings, tasking her to spread to her countrymen (more often countrywomen) the wisdom of the angels. Across the Western world, angel experience narratives constitute the key medium for spreading angel ideas and for constructing plausibility around such ideas. Angel experience narratives report how angels have intervened in the lives of angel specialists (such as Hoornik) or, more often, in the lives of ordinary folk to save them from harm or to offer comfort and support. To understand angel spirituality today as a social and cultural phenomenon, it is therefore useful to adopt a narrative perspective and conceptualize the contemporary angel spirituality milieu as a ‘narrative culture.’ In the study of religion, Dirk Johannsen and Anja Kirsch were the first to propose narrative cultures (Erzählkulturen) as “a heuristic term to highlight narrative reservoirs, storytelling practices, locations and settings, genre-understandings, and narrative devices within specific cultural contexts, often shared across the boundaries of self-identified communities” (2020; also 2017 and the introduction to this volume). For the purpose of this chapter, we define a narrative culture as a more or less tightly interconnected network of narratives and narrative communications, distributed in some patterned way across a community, together with the beliefs, practices, experiences, and discourses informed by and informing said narratives and narrative communications. We believe that not only contemporary angel spirituality, but most (if not all) religions can fruitfully be conceptualized as narrative cultures, as can many non-religious phenomena, including ethnic and nationalist cultures of commemoration (e.g., Hogan 2009; Erll 2011; Kirsch 2016), fandoms (e.g., Jenkins 1992; Hills 2002), folk and contemporary ‘legend ecologies’ (cf. Kinsella 2011, 5; e.g., Ellis 2003; Meder 2006; Bennett & Smith 2011), conspiracy milieus (e.g., Barkun 2003), and popular culture (e.g., Laycock 2013). Since several of the key terms in our definition of narrative cultures are highly contested, we haste to offer a few clarifications. By narrative, we understand with Monika Fludernik “a representation of a possible world in a linguistic and/or visual medium, at whose center there are one or several protagonists of an anthropomorphic nature who are existentially anchored in a temporal and spatial sense and who (mostly) perform goal-directed actions” (2009, 6). In other words, the category of narrative covers the entire range from “spontaneous conversational storytelling” over traditional folktales to the modern novel, as well as narratives conveyed by visual mediums (Fludernik 1996, 12–13). The category excludes, however, arguments (‘2 + 2 = 4’), descriptions of states (‘the cup is blue’), and reports on events that are not the results of goal-directed action (‘the king died’).

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Religion, in turn, we stipulate as that part of culture that assumes the existence of supernatural agents, worlds, and/or processes. A religion, conceptualized as a narrative culture, may thus be considered to be any more or less tightly interconnected network of narratives and narrative communications that assumes the existence of supernatural agents, worlds, and/or processes, distributed in some patterned way across a community, together with the beliefs, practices, experiences, and discourses informing and informed by said narratives and narrative communications. In a previous article, one of us proposed that all religious traditions are made up of two dimensions that are sustained by different types of texts: elemental religion, which covers practices, beliefs, and experiences, and is sustained by narratives; and rationalized religion, which covers reflective systems of religious knowledge (‘theology’), and is sustained by discursive texts (Davidsen 2016, 525). The advantage of the notion of narrative culture suggested here is that it becomes possible to include narratives and discourses in the definition of religion instead of situating them outside religion proper as mere support structures. More importantly, the present conceptualization retains the insistence on the primacy of the narrative-elemental dimension over the discursive-rationalized. To avoid any misunderstanding, let us also stress that by the term beliefs we understand not only consciously held and explicitly professed convictions, but also those ideas that individuals consider merely “plausible” rather than “absolutely true” (see Grieser 2008, 18–19). In addition, and inspired by the aesthetics of religion, we include in our category of belief also such hopes, hunches, and expectations that may fall short even of the criterion of plausibility and which may not be conscious, but may still prompt practice and induce experiences.3 Taking the aesthetic perspective on board more generally, we understand religious practices to denote not only formal rituals and everyday religious acts (such as praying), but also, for example, “ways of seeing or listening [and of] cultivating the body” (Grieser & Johnston 2017, 16). Similarly, religious experiences are taken to include any sensation brought about by “religious aesthetics”—i.e. by practices such as kneeling or fasting, by environments such as images and architecture, and by perceptual expectations induced by beliefs (see Grieser & Johnston 2017, 16; Asprem 2017; Luhrmann 2012). The aim of the present chapter is twofold: to present the key findings of a small research project on contemporary Dutch angel experience narratives,

3 The aesthetics of religion “focuses on understanding the interplay between sensory, cognitive and socio-cultural aspects of world-construction, and the role of religion within this dynamic” (Grieser & Johnston 2017, 2; italics in original). On this approach, see also Cancik & Mohr (1988) and Grieser (2015).

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and to distill from this case study the contours of a narrative research program that conceptualizes religions as narrative cultures. The argument proceeds in three steps. First, we offer an overview of angel spirituality in the contemporary West and review the (sparse) academic literature on the topic. Previous studies of angel spirituality have focused on individual countries, especially the United States, the United Kingdom, and Norway. We bring these national surveys into dialogue with each other and situate Dutch angel spirituality in an international perspective. We make the argument that angel spirituality constitutes an important aspect of contemporary, lived Christianity in the Netherlands and several other Western countries, and show that the interest in esoteric and therapeutic angel spirituality, involving angel healing and angel channeling, has been growing steadily over the last three decades in the United States and Europe. Second, we present the method and results of our case study of the structure, functions, and strategic use of angel experience narratives within the Dutch angel milieu. The structure of most of these narratives follows the same basic pattern: the protagonist experiences danger or distress, an angel intervenes, and the problem is solved, either immediately by the angel or after a while by the protagonist herself who is now empowered by the knowledge that the angels support her. In many cases, the teller reports that the recognition that an angel has intervened on his or her behalf has had additional long-term positive (sometimes conversion-like) effects. Equally important as this basic pattern is the existence of different genres of angel experience narratives, spanning a ‘hierarchy of miraculousness’ from subtle ‘sign stories’ in which the angels merely make their presence known through signs, such as feathers, to stories of lifesaving interventions and full-blown visions. What is more, the various genres each have their own functions within the narrative culture: the subtle sign narratives, for example, steer the perceptual expectations, and consequentially the experiences, of lay believers, whereas revelation narratives, amongst other things, cement the charisma of the field’s religious specialists (i.e. the more or less professional angel healers and angel mediums). Lastly, we move beyond the case study to outline a general narrative research program for the study of religion. We formulate the main tasks of such a research program and reflect on how developing it may benefit the study of religion.

2

Angel Experience Narratives in the Contemporary West

We have no good statistics for the Netherlands (or for any other country in Europe) on how many people have experienced being saved or contacted by

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an angel. The closest we come is a small, private survey that the Dutch general practitioner (and angel believer) Hans C. Moolenburgh conducted in 1982. After each consultation, he asked his patients to respond to a brief questionnaire whose core question was “Have you ever seen an angel face-to-face?” Of the 400 patients interviewed by Moolenburgh, thirty-one (=7.5%) answered ‘yes’ to the question and many others volunteered additional strange, spontaneous experiences that they did not attribute to angels (Moolenburgh 1984, 11, 18–20). Admitting that the sample may not have been representative, Moolenburgh cautiously extrapolated that about one percent of the Dutch population may have seen an angel. This is a significantly lower figure than for the United States, but it must be pointed out that Moolenburgh’s criterion (seeing an angel face-to-face) was much stricter than the criterion of the Baylor survey (experiencing being saved from harm by a guardian angel)—and he could still imply that about 150,000 Dutchmen had experienced a vivid angel encounter. Moolenburgh included the survey results in a book on angels that he published in Dutch in 1983 (Engelen) and which, after having become an unexpected success in the Netherlands, was translated the next year into both German and English.4 At the end of the book, Moolenburgh asked his readers to mail him their personal stories of angel encounters, and in 1991 he published a collection of 101 of these tales, first in Dutch, and later in English under the title Meetings with Angels: A Hundred and One Real-Life Encounters (Moolenburgh 1992). The angel experience narratives in Moolenburgh’s collection were presented in anonymized form, but Moolenburgh ensured his readers that he knew the identity of those who had mailed him and that he could vouch for the sincerity of their experience stories (1992, xiv).5 The material gives a good impression of how angels were conceived to operate at this time: angel encounters are presented as exceptional and rare and they always occur unexpectedly and unasked for.6 In Moolenburgh’s corpus, the angels appear 52 times to rescue a person (often from death, but it may also be merely from falling from the bike), twelve times to heal, thirteen times to offer support in

4 The references in this section to Moolenburgh’s angel survey are to the English edition of the book. 5 Moolenburgh also included a few stories that were not second-hand experience narratives, but these exceptions were clearly marked. 6 The predominance of spontaneous encounters in the corpus was largely determined, however, by Moolenburgh’s personal beliefs and editorial work, as he excluded from the collection all reported angel encounters that had been actively induced by meditation, drugs, hypnosis, or similar means (1992, 47).

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times of crisis (such as the death of a spouse), and twice to deliver a message; in seventeen stories the angels appear without any clear goal. While Moolenburgh’s first book was exceptional in that it provides (as far as we have been able to tell) the only quantitative survey of angel experiences in Europe, his second book belongs to a whole genre of ‘collections of lay angel experience narratives’ that emerged in the 1980s and 1990s as an important expression of contemporary, lived Christianity and continues to flourish. In Great Britain, Hope MacDonald had published When Angels Appear, a collection of 50 angel experience narratives, already in 1982, and this book inspired Hope Price to collect a larger corpus by placing advertisements in various Christian publications (Price 1993). In the United States, several additional collections of angel experience narratives have been published, beginning with the forty stories in Sophy Burnham’s A Book of Angels (1990) and an additional forty-four stories in the sequel Angel Letters (Burnham 1991). Around the same time, Joan Wester Anderson released Where Angels Walk: True Stories of Heavenly Visitors (1992), and Eileen Elias Freeman published seven very elaborate angel experience narratives (1993) and set up the AngelWatch Network on the Internet. Collections of angel experience narratives continue to appear at a steady rate in the United States, and recent examples of the genre include Encountering Angels: True Stories of How They Touch Our Lives Every Day by Judith MacNutt (2016) and The Big Book of Angel Stories by Jenny Smedley (2017). In the Netherlands, two collections of angel experience narratives have been published after the one by Moolenburgh—Hans Stolp’s Als een engel je komt helpen [When an Angel Comes to Help You] (2004) and André Mulder’s De engel van mijn grootvader [My Grandfather’s Angel] (2010). Within the bourgeoning field of lay Christian angel spirituality, one finds many different theological currents, from orthodox and evangelical Christianity (that consider angels to be distant until they come to the rescue unasked for) to various branches of esoteric Christianity (whose highly communicative angels deliver messages through automatic writing or one’s inner voice and who can be actively summoned to answer prayers whenever humans so desire). In the United States, the esoteric wing of contemporary angel spirituality is dominated by self-identified ‘metaphysical’ angel therapists who adhere to the New Thought tradition of positive prayer, and add to this that it is the angels who answer the prayers. Alma Daniel, Timothy Wyllie, and Andrew Ramer presented this view in Ask Your Angels (1992), and Trudy Griswold and Barbara Mark further developed the metaphysical position in Angelspeake: How to Talk with Your Angels (1995) (see Gardella 2007, 118–21, 123–25). The pivotal figure in the metaphysical angel tradition, however, has been Doreen Virtue, a self-identified “clairvoyant metaphysician” (2002, 193) who “works with the

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angelic realm” (2005, 191). Virtue’s massive production on angels comprises at least twenty-two books (including Healing with the Angels, 2005), nineteen tarot and oracle decks (including the Angel Tarot Cards, 2008), as well as calendars, coloring books, and DVDs. Many of Virtue’s books, such as The Miracles of the Archangel Michael (2008), are packed with short experience stories told by Virtue’s clients, and in addition to her prolific writing career, she has offered workshops on angel healing, angel numerology, angel astrology, and much more. Several hundred individuals have followed Virtue’s training program to become a certificated Angel Therapist Practitioner®.7 In Europe, contemporary esoteric angel spirituality interweaves the metaphysical Doreen Virtue tradition with various home-grown forms of esoteric Christianity, in particular Rudolph Steiner’s Anthroposophy and Alice Bailey’s British Neo-Theosophy that both teach that a personal guardian angel accompanies the soul through its various incarnations. The Italian publicist Paola Giovetti’s 1989-book Angeli: Esseri di luce, messaggeri celesti, custodi dell’uomo / Engel: Die unsichtbaren Helfer der Menschen, which stands in the tradition of anthroposophical angelology (see Ahn 1997, 125), became a bestseller in both Italy and Germany and was followed up by several additional books on angels (and related esoteric subjects). In the Netherlands, the anthroposophical tradition is represented by former radio pastor and current esoteric Christian publicist Hans Stolp, whose angel books concern both guardian angels (e.g., 2008) and what one might call ‘function angels,’ such as the relationship angel and the healing angel (1996). In Norway, where Anthroposophy is stronger than anywhere else in the world relative to the size of the population (Gilhus 2017, 141), the chief proponent of contemporary esoteric Christian angelology has been Princess Märtha Louise, oldest child of King Harald V. In 2007, the princess and Elisabeth Noreng opened Astarte Education in Oslo (later renamed Soulspring, but popularly known as Engleskolen [The Angel School]), and authored the bestselling angel book Møt din skytsengel [Meet Your Guardian Angel] (2009) which was later translated into eleven languages and followed up by Englenes hemmeligheter [The Secrets of the Angels] (2012). In both books, Märtha Louise and Nordeng convey self-help tips revealed to them by seven named angels and explain how they have talked with angels

7 According to Virtue’s website, a vision of Jesus on January 7, 2017, has “caused [her] to walk away from the new age” and convert to (a more mainstream form of) Christianity (2018a). Virtue’s old domain, www.angeltherapy.com, is no longer online, but she continues to produce new angel material, albeit now in a more mainstream Christian wrapping. This change is visible in the title of Virtue’s recent book and oracle deck set Saints and Angels: A Guide to Heavenly Help for Comfort, Support, and Inspiration (2018b).

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since childhood. The princess’ alternative angel beliefs have caused quite a stir in Norway because they are at odds with the official doctrine of the national Lutheran Church, whose head, as determined by the Constitution, is the King, her father (Gilhus 2012, 2017; Kraft 2015). On the British Isles, a mainline Christian and a theosophical angel tradition co-exist, with Irish (and Catholic) Lorna Byrne (e.g., 2008) and British Diane Cooper (e.g., 1996) as main proponents of each tradition.8 Utriainen (2015) remarks that in Finnish angel spirituality circles, Byrne and Cooper are the most widely read authors.9 The 1990s boom in angel therapy in the Anglo-Saxon world inspired established and upcoming alternative practitioners in the Netherlands to develop angel-themed practices during the 2000s and 2010s. Two important Dutch angel therapists are Carina Dresschers and Annelies Hoornik, who take turns in writing the monthly angel column for the Dutch paranormal magazine Paravisie. Dresschers, who had been a professional medium and orthomolecular clinical psycho-neuro-immunologist since 1979, founded Stichting Engelenwerk [Foundation Angel Work] in 2004. From this platform she offers angel prayers, angel services, and angel workshops within a somewhat anthroposophically inspired framework. Hoornik did not emerge as an alternative practitioner until the early 2000s (following a vision of the Archangel Michael in 2000, discussed below), and unlike Dresschers, she is specialized completely in angel therapy. Trained and certified by Doreen Virtue, Hoornik has set up her own angel school in the Netherlands (Engelencursus; Course on Angels) and has become the most influential angel therapist in the country. Hoornik issues certificates to angel healers and angel mediums who complete her courses, and her website recommends 154 certified Aquarius Angels® Healers (Hoornik 2019). In addition, Hoornik organizes a yearly Dutch Angel 8 Cooper, who is published by the Findhorn Press, draws heavily on the British theosophical tradition whose central figure, Alice Bailey, reinstated the doctrine of guardian angels (the existence of whom H.P. Blavatsky had explicitly denied) as part of her broader program of reconciling Theosophy and Christianity. She links her angel teachings to such theosophical themes as ascension, i.e. the soul’s travel to the light through a series of incarnations, Atlantis, and the dawning of a New Age—a term which was, notabene, first introduced by Alice Bailey. Cooper expects the “New Golden Age” to break through in 2032. In 2013, she published the collection True Angel Stories: 777 Messages of Hope and Inspiration whose cover proudly announces that the Diana Cooper School, that had been founded in 2003 with the vision to “empower people to spread the light of angels, ascension and the sacred mysteries of the universe,” now employs 700 teachers worldwide. 9 Esoteric angel spirituality is also spreading outside of the West. In Japan, for example, more than sixty angel practitioners in the Doreen Virtue tradition (mostly middle-class, middle aged women in the Tokyo metropolitan area) offer their services on http://doreen.jp/. We are indebted to Kanako Sugawara and Giam Shir Lee Akazawa for pointing this out to us.

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Day and has published her own instruction books on angels, Engelen: Ontmoet de Aartsengelen en je eigen Beschermengelen [Angels: Meet the Archangels and Your Own Guardian Angels] (2009), Engelen Helen op Fysiek, Emotioneel, Mentaal en Karmisch Niveau [Angels Heal on the Material, Emotional, Mental, and Karmic Levels] (2010), Engelen en de ziel: Werk samen met de Engelen aan je zieledoelen [Angels and the Soul: Work on Your Soul Goals Together with the Angels] (2011). Her latest book, Berichten van de Aquarius Angels (Hoornik 2015), consists of channeled messages from the Aquarius Angels, a group of healing angels led by Archangel Raphael that is unique to Hoornik’s angelology. Though Hoornik initially acquired much of her authority through her connection with Doreen Virtue, the angelology described in her books represents a more practical form of alternative religiosity that remixes various New Age ideas without standing in a particular tradition of esoteric Christianity (i.e. New Thought, Anthroposophy, or British Neo-Theosophy).10 In Hoornik’s book on angel healing, we read of karma, auras, mantras, and chakras, and about how angels and Atlanteans held the spiritual knowledge that Hoornik now shares with the reader, but there are only few traces of the New Thought cosmology and use of affirmations that characterize Virtue’s work. Instead, what Hoornik takes from Virtue is the description of healing in terms of household metaphors—for example, Archangel Michael can be called upon to bring his ‘Heavenly Vacuum Cleaner’ (Hemelse Stofzuiger) to remove negative energy from one’s body or house (Hoornik 2010, 207; cf. Virtue 2008, 135).11 As can be glanced from the overview in this section, esoteric angel spirituality is in vogue in the West, but academic research on the phenomenon is very sparse and has largely been limited to identifying the main publications and most important angel specialists in various national contexts (US: Gardella 2007; Norway: Gilhus 2012; 2017; Kraft 2015). We have also two ethnographic examinations of angel spirituality in practice, namely Marco Uibu’s (2012) study of meaning-construction on the Estonian online forum The Nest of Angels and Terhi Utriainen’s (2015) discussion of how Finnish women use the figure of the angel to integrate Christian and New Age beliefs and practices. Yet, we do not

10 11

In this respect, Hoornik’s mode of angel therapy seems similar to that of Märtha Louise and Noreng in Norway. Similarly, Hoornik does not discuss complex theosophical notions, such as soul ascension and cosmic evolution which are central for Cooper, but she adopts from Virtue the idea that souls set certain ‘soul goals’ for themselves prior to each incarnation, and that tough experiences such as sickness and loss are predetermined by these soul goals and have as their higher aim to achieve spiritual development (Hoornik 2009, 46, 151–53, 156–61, 169–82; 2011 passim).

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understand very well how angel narratives and beliefs, experiences, and practices relating to angels come together to form a coherent narrative culture. To enhance our understanding of contemporary Western angel spirituality in particular, and of the mechanics of narrative cultures in general, we therefore took it upon ourselves to carry out a case study of narratives and narrativity in contemporary Dutch angel spirituality.

3

Dutch Angel Spirituality as a Narrative Culture

Our first task was to collect a corpus of recent angel experience narratives, to supplement the older collections by Moolenburgh and Stolp. We mainly collected angel experience narratives from the esoteric-therapeutic part of the milieu. We harvested sixteen angel experience narratives written by specialists and lay believers from the paranormal magazine Paravisie (circulation 13,400 per month), and added to this corpus thirty stories told by lay believers to Annelies Hoornik and recounted in her books Engelen (2009) and Engelen Helen (2010), as well as sixteen stories from Carina Dresschers’ website (n.d.a; fifteen told by clients and one by her husband). These 62 stories together constituted our small corpus. As the following step we analyzed the corpus, with special attention to the content and functions of the narratives, and compared it to the older material. Concretely, we analyzed (1) how the narratives construct angels as heavenly helpers, (2) how narratives provide plausibility and rationale for the beliefs, practices, and experiences of angel spirituality, and (3) how specialists use narratives of various kinds to enhance their own charisma and manage the expectations of lay believers. 3.1

What Angels Do: The Narrative Construction of Angels as Heavenly Helpers Most fundamentally, angel experience narratives are first-, second-, or thirdhand testimonies of how angels have intervened to help individuals in need. All angel experience narratives in our corpus therefore follow the same basic three-phase structure: (1) an initial situation in which the protagonist finds him- or herself in a negative initial situation, (2) a liminal situation in which an angel intervenes, and (3) a final situation in which the problem has been resolved. The most fully developed angel experience narratives double the threephase structure. On the episode level, these narratives recount (1) how the protagonist experiences a very concrete negative situation such as sickness or immediate danger, (2) how an angel intervenes, and (3) how the situation

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is resolved. On the autobiographical level, we hear (1) how the protagonist experienced a feeling of meaninglessness or severe chronic problems prior to the angel encounter, (2) how the angel encounter occurs, and (3) how the protagonist, as a result of the comprehension that angels are watching and supporting us, is relieved of her existential anxiety and problems and experiences increased happiness and wholeness.12 A good example of a fully developed angel experience narrative is recounted by Maria Felling in Paravisie (Schoer 2011). Having been haunted by demons since her youth, Felling tries to commit suicide but is saved by a man who disappears mysteriously (episode level). The helper turns out to be the Archangel Raphael. Realizing that the angels support her, Felling succeeds in combating her demons, and urged by Raphael, she sets up shop as alternative therapist to help others too (autobiographical level). Many of the stories in our material, however, are ‘incomplete’ compared to the full schema. Some stories recount only the concrete angel encounter (episode level), whereas others focus mainly on the angel encounter’s longtime effects (autobiographical level). Angel encounter narratives that include the autobiographical level may lack an explicit indication of a negative initial situation, but even in these cases the protagonists typically report a change from a neutral to a positive condition. In structural terms, we can say that while both the episodic and autobiographical levels of the angel experience narrative have three phases with the angelic intervention as the liminal turning-point, the valence of the initial and final phases differ. On the episode level, the angel intervenes to change a negative concrete condition (-) to a neutral condition (0). On the autobiographical level, the encounter experience changes a negative or neutral condition (-/0) to a positive condition (+). The structure of the prototypical ‘full’ angel experience narrative is reproduced schematically in Figure 4.1 below. Even if all angel experience narratives follow the same basic structure, the manner of angelic intervention varies widely. We may therefore sort the narratives in our corpus into two broad genres, narratives of direct intervention and narratives of indirect intervention. Each of these genres can again be divided into subgenres. Narratives of direct intervention include what we term rescue narratives and revelation narratives. In rescue narratives, an angel appears momentar-

12

We find the emphasis on long-term effects of angel experiences also in the older Dutch material—Moolenburgh even considered long-lasting positive effects a necessary precondition of a ‘real’ angel encounter (1992, 201–02).

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Figure 4.1 Structure of the prototypical angel experience narrative

ily to offer (often lifesaving) support before mysteriously disappearing again. Here is a typical example from Moolenburgh’s collection: two little girls are cycling down the street, when suddenly they get a sense of foreboding. A man in overalls appears, telling them to turn around and go away. Later it turns out that a little further up on the girls’ intended route, a child molester was waiting (Moolenburgh 1992, 112). Rescue narratives are also found in newer material. In Stolp’s 2004-collection, an angel prevents an accident on two occasions, and Dresschers included rescue narratives in two of her six columns for Paravisie in 2015 (2015a, 45; 2015b, 32). In one of these stories, a general practitioner hears a voice (later identified as belonging to an angel) that urges him to take a taxi rather than his own car to an emergency delivery. The baby is saved because of this, for the next day the engine of the GP’s car turns out to be broken (Dresschers 2015b, 32). Interestingly, the most spectacular rescue narratives are told on behalf of somebody else and emphasize the episode level (an angel solves a concrete problem) over the autobiographical level (the encounter’s longtime effects). Therefore, and despite the fact that tellers always reassure their readers of the factuality of their stories, it is difficult to judge whether we are dealing in such cases with a (more or less edited) second-person experience narratives or—perhaps more likely—with a third-hand, scripted legend. Revelation narratives are narratives of direct intervention in which the angel does not act in a physical way but appears in a vision and/or delivers a message of consolation or spiritual teachings by means of an audition or through automatic writing. On her website, Hoornik writes that she in 2000 started to receive visions from Archangel Michael who asked her to quit her IT job and work instead with the angels. A more elaborate version of Hoornik’s revelation story was published in Mijn Geheim (My Secret), a journal specialized in extraordinary life stories of ordinary people. Hoornik here explains to journalist Sofie Rozendaal how the first vision of Michael happened unexpectedly while she was sitting on the couch. He appeared suddenly, casually dressed in jeans

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and leather jacket but suffused with light, and showed her the big, white wings on his back (Rozendaal 2014).13 In contrast to the other genres of angel experience narratives, revelation narratives thematize mainly the autobiographical, long-time effects of the angel encounter—in Hoornik’s case, her career turn towards angel therapy. Narratives of direct intervention are attention-grabbing, but the bulk of our corpus is comprised by narratives of indirect intervention. Many of these narratives can be classified more precisely as sign narratives. This genre is characterized by the subtlety of the angels’ presence and the supporting rather than the saving role of the angel. Hence, the three phases of a typical sign narrative on the episode level are: (1) the protagonist finds him- or herself in a non-life threatening, yet negative, initial situation, such as emotional distress, (2) an angel intervenes via a sign, such as a feather, which is interpreted as angelic comfort and support, and (3) the problem is resolved, often as a result of action taken by the angelically empowered protagonist. An example of a sign narrative (in which the angels actually solve two problems) comes from one of Hoornik’s students. The student was driving home from Hoornik’s Angel Conference workshop but was still in doubt whether the angels really exist (minor distress #1). She therefore decided to ask the angels for irrefutable proof of their existence. Soon, however, she forgot the question because she had lost her way completely, despite her navigation system being on (minor distress #2). Without any reason to do so, she suddenly looked to the right and there saw an image featuring two angels (sign from the angels). Immediately, she felt reassured of the angels’ existence (resolution of distress #1) and right after she found her way home as well (resolution of distress #2) (Hoornik 2009, 124). Another type of narrative of indirect intervention is the prayer-response narrative. Here (1) the protagonist finds him- or herself in a crisis, (2) asks the angels for help, and (3) overcomes the crisis with the help of the angels—but without an angel ever making its presence known directly. A typical example from among the many prayer-response narratives on Dresschers’ website (n.d.a) tells of a 52-years-old woman who had failed the driver’s license exam five times, prayed to the car angel, and succeeded in her sixth attempt.

13

Those specialists, such as Dresschers, who do not report a vivid ‘calling experience’ à la Felling and Hoornik claim instead to have been speaking to angels since earliest childhood. Olav Hammer identified the same two strategies of charismatic biography construction (natural talent and initiation) in his study of the epistemologies of knowledge in the theosophical current (2001, 406–09).

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3.2 Angels Are Real: The Narrative Construction of Plausibility Angel experience narratives not only convey ideas about what angels do (i.e. they offer signs of support, respond to prayers, and occasionally come to the rescue unasked for) they also engage in the narrative construction of the plausibility of those ideas. That is to say, the narratives seek to construct angels as real beings with existence in the actual world outside the narrative discourse. To do so, the angel experience narratives in our corpus employ two different strategies. The first strategy of plausibility construction, which we may refer to as the testimony strategy, is found in all those angel experience narratives that present themselves in a straightforward manner as ‘evidence’ or ‘proof’ of the existence of angels and of their capacity and willingness to help.14 The testimony strategy is found in several of the genres of angel experience narratives identified in the previous section. Prayer-response narratives profess not only that the concrete events of the story happened (e.g., that one first failed the driver’s license exam and later passed it), but also testify to the fact that (the teller believes that) it was angelic intervention that secured the ultimate success. Such narratives construct plausibility by presenting the miraculous prayer-response as ‘proof’ of angelic intervention. Another variant of the testimony strategy is found in those sign narratives in which the angels offer a sign in response to a concrete human request (as in the example of Hoornik’s undecided student discussed above). Such ‘sign-on-demand’ narratives cater in particular to skeptical recipients, as they communicate the teller’s own ‘conversion’ from angel-doubt to angel-belief which the reader is now invited to emulate. The testimony strategy is at work, too, in revelation narratives, such as Hoornik’s encounter with Michael. Indeed, revelation narratives do much to construct angels as real beings, for it is only in revelation narratives such as Hoornik’s that angels appear straightforwardly as characters who speak and act in the story and introduce themselves unambiguously as angels. Another group of angel experience narratives construct plausibility not by presenting themselves as proof (the testimony strategy), but by involving the reader in an argument that infers that an angel must have been at work. We call this the inference strategy.15 Within our corpus, the inference strategy is found

14

15

Davidsen (2016, 530–32) identifies this strategy as one of several veracity mechanisms that religious narratives may use to construct plausibility. He refers to this particular veracity mechanism as the “matter-of-fact effect.” Johannsen (2011, 83–85) has discussed this strategy of plausibility construction (without providing a name for it) in the context of Norwegian folk storytelling. Drawing on cognitive narratology, he shows how it works at the cognitive level.

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in those angel experience narratives where angels act on their own initiative and not in response to human requests. These narratives do not follow a fully chronological structure, but typically consist of two parts: first the account of a special episode in which something mysterious happens; then a reflective part that identifies the agent behind the mysterious event as (perhaps, probably, certainly) an angel. The reflective part is most developed in unsolicited sign narratives, for in these narratives it has to be inferred both that something supernatural is at work at all (e.g., that the feather is not just a feather) and that the agent at work is, in fact, an angel. Also in rescue narratives, where angels appear and act as characters in the story, it is usually only later reflection that reveals the nature of the helper as angelic. In the child molester story from Moolenburgh’s collection discussed above, for example, it is not immediately clear that the man in overalls who saves the girls is an angel. His identity as an angel is constructed only in the reflection on ‘what really happened’ that the narrator presents after discussing the episode itself. We have the same pattern in Dresschers’ story of the GP who has a mysterious audition that is only later identified as the voice of an angel. In our corpus, we also observe a difference between second-hand and first-hand rescue stories in the certainty that tellers attribute to the identification of the helper as an angel. Second-hand narratives, like those published by Moolenburgh and Dresschers, conclude with relative certainty that the helper was an angel, whereas first-hand narratives tend to be more cautious and may have the qualification as angel hover ambiguously between the ontological and the metaphorical. For example, Hieke Talsma-Watzema, a lay contributor to Paravisie’s Mijn Verhaal (My Story) column, tells how she was stranded with her family on a German highway due to maintenance works. Then, out of nowhere, appeared a woman in a nurse uniform who escorted them towards their destination, a ferry, and got them there just in time to get the last spot on the parking deck, thereby preventing a long delay. Talsma-Watzema concludes her story with an expression of gratitude to her family’s helper: ‘the experience of the journey back without having to rush has been very special and will stay with us forever. And that because there live ‘angels’ on this Earth’ (Talsma-Watzema 2012, 39; our translation; cautious single quotes in the original). All angel experience narratives, and especially those that make use of the inference strategy, leave room for the reader to weigh the evidence and decide for him- or herself whether an angel really was at work or not. In other words, it would be imprecise to simply say that angel experience narratives express belief in angels and reinforce such belief. Such may indeed be the case, but more fundamentally angel experience narratives are constructed, to paraphrase Linda Dégh’s definition of the legend (2001, 97), to entertain debates about

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Table 4.1

Strategies of plausibility construction in angel experience narratives

Genre of angel experience narrative

Plausibility strategy

Mode of angel action

Narratives of Revelation direct narrative intervention Rescue narrative

Testimony

Angel acts in response to human request or unasked for Angel acts unasked for

Narratives of Prayer-response indirect narrative intervention Sign-on-demand narrative Unsolicited sign narrative

Testimony

Inference

Testimony Inference

Angel acts in response to human request Angel acts in response to human request Angel acts unasked for

beliefs, or, to speak with Alexandra Grieser (2008), to gauge the plausibility of such beliefs. The various angel experience narratives and the strategies of plausibility construction they make use of are summarized in Table 4.1 above. It is not only the variance within the catalogue of angel experience narratives that is significant; it is just as important that despite their differences in content and strategy, all angel experience narratives in our corpus share a common function. They all convey certain core ideas about angels, namely (i) that angels are real, (ii) that angels are there to help people, and (in most cases) (iii) that angels are spiritual beings.16 This is a crucial point, for the idea that angels are spiritual beings with special powers and an intention to help provides the raison d’être for contemporary angel spirituality. This idea determines people’s expectations, configures their experiences of angels, and, within the esoteric wing of contemporary angel spirituality, structures such 16

The general (but mostly implicit) consensus seems to be that angels comprise a class of superhuman beings who have always been angels and will always continue to be angels, but two stories in our corpus depart from this norm by presenting angels as deceased close relatives. In the first case, the angel who has taught the teller how to experience the unconditional love of the angels, is no one else than the teller’s own deceased sister who had become an angel after passing over to the other side (Van Doorne 2011, 73). In the second case, the deceased wife of a sceptic turns into an angel and goes on to show him signs and tell him strategic information, such as what gifts to give to his new wife (Vermeulen 2011). The idea that humans (may) transform into angels after death is also found in the teaching of angel specialists, such as Doreen Virtue (2005, 91, 94–95).

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practices as angel healing and angel channeling. We here hasten to reiterate that these ‘core ideas’ (one of us has elsewhere referred to them as ‘assumptions’ or ‘primary beliefs’; cf. Davidsen 2014, Ch. 5) have a structuring function on the whole narrative culture even if they are not accepted as absolute truths by those involved. What matters is that the core ideas that angels are real, helpful, and spiritual are accepted as plausible enough to regulate perception, prompt further engagement, and stimulate reflection. One form of reflection that angels may be subjected to, like the supernatural exchange partners of any religious tradition, is conscious ‘ontology assessments,’ i.e. systematic reflections on who and what they really are.17 Ontology assessments are not found in the angel experience narratives themselves, but specialists work such reflections into their essays and books on angelology. As such, ontology assessments belong to the province of rationalized religion and have little influence on actual practice. It does not bother lay practitioners that some specialists view angels in Christian terms as ‘mighty beings of light and love [who] are there for you personally’ (Dresschers 2013a; our translation), whereas others describe them in metaphysical terms as impersonal entities— Patty Harpenau talks of angels as ‘intelligent fields’ (2012, 17) or, in an interview with Art Schroer, as ‘frequencies without wings’ (Schroer 2012, 34). The specialists may well be dead serious about these rationalized angelologies, but the abstract talk of ‘beings of light and love’ and ‘wingless frequencies’ do not, in contrast to experience narratives, provide descriptions and perceptual cues that may shape future angel experiences or provide a rationale for interacting with angels. All this suggests that whereas angel experience narratives affect elemental religion (beliefs, practices, experiences) directly, the function of rationalized angelology is merely to bolster the narrative-elemental core of angel spirituality with a general aura of legitimacy. Given the primacy of angel narratives over rationalized angelology, it is not surprising that even specialist discourse on angels tends to revolve around elemental angel belief.18 In her first book on angels, Hoornik even lets the angels themselves emphasize the three constitutive ideas of angel spirituality in a direct salutation to the reader: ‘We Angels have been present on this planet for many years [=angels are real], but we are mostly invisible for humans [=angels are spiritual beings]. [. . .] Our task is to give you as much support, love

17 18

On the notion of ontology assessment, see Davidsen (2014, 131–37). It is also remarkable (and ironic) that the editors of Paravisie have illustrated the most abstract angelological articles with easily decodable symbols such as feathers and wings, thereby tying the rationalized accounts (‘frequencies without wings’) to the narrativeelemental core of angel spirituality.

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and advice as possible [=angels help]’ (Hoornik 2009, 6–7; our translation). Hoornik’s book contains some comments on angel ontology (e.g., angels are the ‘direct offshoot[s] of God or of the Divine Energy’; 2009, 10; our translation), but it is characteristic for the field that Hoornik’s strength lies not in logical reasoning about ontology, but in metaphorical explanations of what angels do. As already mentioned, her metaphors are often household metaphors. For her, healing and health are matters of ‘spiritual hygiene’ (Hoornik 2010, 101–03) and negative emotions produce ‘spiritual waste’ that sticks around in one’s house (and particularly in waterbeds) (Hoornik 2010, 206–08). It is when much spiritual waste has accumulated that one should ask Archangel Michael to come clean the house with his Heavenly Vacuum Cleaner (Hoornik 2010, 207).19 3.3

What Can the Angels Do for Me? The Narrative Construction of Charisma The two main specialists in our corpus, Annelies Hoornik and Carina Dresschers, claim to have experienced vivid encounters with angels involving miracles, visions, and auditions. As we have seen, Hoornik professes to have seen Archangel Michael—shining and in jeans—and she also claims a special cooperative relationship with Archangel Raphael’s Aquarius Angels. In a similar fashion, Dresschers claims on her website to ‘literally hear the voices of intelligences and light beings, such as angels and masters,’ and to be, since ‘her mystical passion experience in 2007 a mystic, a considerably enlightened human being’ (n.d.b.; our translation). In her first angel column for Paravisie, she even brags of how she, when she was seventeen, speeded down a snowy hill where other people had just crashed, trusting her guardian angel Ismael on the backseat of her moped to get them safely through (Dresschers 2013b). Dresschers and her husband, Mark de Gast, also teach a special ‘Earthing and Closing Method’ (Aarden en Afsluiten Methode) that Dresschers claims was exclusively revealed to her by Her Spiritual Guides (Dresschers n.d.b.). By contrast, the narratives which the two specialists tell about the angel experiences 19

All Dutch angel specialists draw on a combination of conventional Christian and esoteric discourses in their rationalized angelology, but unlike their American colleagues they negotiate the combination of the two discourses very carefully. It is particularly striking that many Dutch angel therapists consciously try to free the angel from its conventional associations with Christianity, church, and religion. Immediately after identifying angels as ‘direct offshoot[s] of God or of the Divine Energy’ (2009, 10), Hoornik, for example, goes on to state that in the context of angels one can better avoid the very word God (and talk instead of Divine Energy) because the religious connotations of ‘God’ (i.e. connotations of old-fashioned and submissive worship) makes it undesirable to use the word.

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of their clients involve much less pageantry—these stories are usually of the sign and prayer-response types in which the angels intervene only indirectly. Two things seem to be going on here: specialists use revelation narratives (involving direct angelic intervention) to construct their own charisma, and they use sign and prayer-response narratives (with merely indirect intervention) to construct ‘attention regimes’ that manage the perceptual expectations of the lay believers.20 That angel specialists seek to establish a charismatic hierarchy should not come as a surprise. They need to do it. Because they teach that everyone can have (frequent) contact with the angels (namely through signs), specialists who wish to sell their therapy or healing services, as well as their books and courses, have to maintain the appearance of standing in a more intimate relation with the angels, involving direct communication. In other words, the inclination towards shared charisma within contemporary angel spirituality (i.e. everyone may receive signs from the angels, be healed by them, or even learn to channel them) is offset by an opposite inclination towards restricted charisma (i.e. only the specialists have been contacted by the angels themselves and asked to act as the angels’ representatives here on earth).21 Perhaps the contemporary angel spirituality milieu even owes some of its success to this delicate balancing of shared and restricted charisma. At the same time, by not promising too much, Hoornik and Dresschers engage in an efficient management of expectations. There are two aspects to this. On a social level, Hoornik and Dresschers induce modest expectations in their readers and clients. Rather than promising visions and miracles, thereby setting people up for potential disappointment, angel specialists tell people to expect only little things—signs and support. Furthermore, on the perceptual level, Hoornik and Dresschers attune their clients to a particular way of perceiving the world. With their narratives, books, and workshops, the specialists teach clients to recognize particular everyday events—such as finding a trampled bird feather—as signs of reassurance from the angels, and to interpret the small successes of everyday life as further proof of the angels’ support. In our own study we have not been able to investigate how angel believers practice their skills in perceiving angels, but Marco Uibu has shown how the users of the Estonian online forum The Nest of Angels (2012) share experiences and support each other’s interpretations of various events as signs from the angels. As Uibu shows, being able to perceive the presence of the angels is a skill and 20 21

Johannsen and Kirsch (2020) and Johannsen (this volume) discuss in more detail how narrative cultures may create attention regimes. The terms shared charisma and restricted charisma are from Wessinger (2012).

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one that support from a community can do much to facilitate. In her excellent study of magicians and neo-pagans in London, Tanya Luhrmann (1989) uses the term interpretive drift to refer to the gradual process through which new initiates learn to perceive successes as results of magical ritual and random occurrences as meaningful signs. We propose that in the case of contemporary angel spirituality, the process through which angel believers learn to recognize signs of angelic agency, constitutes a perfect example of this interpretive drift.22 3.4 Dutch Angel Spirituality as a Narrative Culture: A Brief Summary Our small pilot investigation of contemporary Dutch angel spirituality has revealed a number of interesting facts worth reiterating. Most fundamentally, we have established that within this milieu narratives serve as a principal vehicle for the dissemination of core ideas about what angels are and what they can do, i.e. that angels are real, that angels are there to help people, and that angels are spiritual beings. These core ideas about angels are also disseminated through books, workshops, and healing sessions authored or hosted by angel specialists, but angel narratives reach a much larger audience because they are also published in general spirituality magazines such as Paravisie and made public online. Consequently, individuals who become involved in contemporary Dutch angel spirituality have usually first encountered the milieu through the medium of narrative. It is because narratives play a crucial role for the dissemination of angel ideas and for the inception of initial interest that we may qualify Dutch angel spirituality as a narrative culture. Second, we have found that in contemporary Dutch angel spirituality a particular type of narratives, namely the experience narrative, occupies center stage. Biblical stories and medieval legends about various (arch)angels loom in the background, but, in striking contrast with angel spirituality in the United Kingdom and the United States, these narratives are rarely told or even invoked in the Dutch context. This is probably because Dutch angel spirituality, compared to the UK and the US, is more ‘secularized’ in Wouter Hanegraaff’s (1999) sense of being disembedded from any particular religious tradition (here Christianity). Given the nature of Dutch angel spirituality, we focused our analysis on angel experience narratives and made three notable discoveries. First, we found 22

Also the contributions by Wilkens and Johannsen in this volume discuss how (a) narratives raise (b) certain expectations that, in turn, (c) stimulate particular perceptions and interpretation of experiences, leading (d) to a consolidation of belief. While neither Wilkens nor Johannsen uses the term ‘interpretive drift’ to analyze this chain of events, it strikes us that we are discussing the same phenomenon.

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that all angel experience narratives in our corpus share the same three-phase structure: (1) An initial situation in which the protagonist finds him- or herself in some kind of crisis, such as emotional distress or immediate danger, is followed by (2) a liminal climax in which the angel intervenes, and (3) the resolution of the problem. Some angel experience narratives recount how an angel intervenes to solve a concrete problem (episodic level), others focus on the life-transforming long-term effect of the angel encounter (autobiographical level), and yet others include both narrative levels. Second, we found that the manner of angelic intervention in the various experience narratives varies a great deal, but that the variation is patterned and that five genres of angel experience narratives may be discerned: in rescue narratives and revelation narratives angels intervene directly, in prayer-response narratives and in sign narratives (which we divide into unsolicited and sign-on-demand narratives) the intervention is merely indirect. We also found, third, that angel experience narratives make use of two different strategies of plausibility construction. Revelation narratives, prayer-response narratives, and sign-on-demand narratives present themselves as simple proof of angelic activity (the testimony strategy), whereas rescue narratives and unsolicited sign narratives invite the recipient to reflect on a series of seemingly miraculous facts and infer for him- or herself that an angel must have been at work (the inference strategy). Finally, we concluded that angel specialists strategically employ narratives to enhance their own charisma and to manage the social and perceptual expectations of their clients. Autobiographical stories about how archangels ‘called’ them to become angel therapists or about how angels have always guided them are used by specialists to set their own angel relation off from what their clients can reasonably expect. At the same time, specialists publish sign and prayerresponse narratives from laypeople both to make belief in angels plausible for their clients and to impress them with certain perceptual expectations that, in turn, set an interpretive drift in motion towards a perceptual state attuned to sensing the angelic in everyday life. We have not yet had a chance to compare our findings to similar cases, but we hypothesize that several of our findings may hold up also in other contexts. In particular, we hypothesize that the five narrative genres identified in our case study constitute the (main) logical types of experience narratives in narrative cultures centered on benign, intermediary beings (angels, but also saints, djinn, spirits, etc.). We further hypothesize that narrative cultures formed around benign intermediaries will tend to employ all the various narrative genres and both strategies for plausibility construction (testimony and inference) in concert, and that the fact that all these narrative genres and strategies are found in Dutch angel spirituality marks it as a healthy narrative

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culture fit for future survival. Finally, we hypothesize that experience narratives are also used in other narrative cultures to construct charismatic hierarchies and manage (perceptual) expectations.23

4

Towards a Narrative Research Program for the Study of Religion

We hope that our case study on Dutch angel spirituality has illustrated how narratives and narrative communication—i.e. the content and structure of narratives and the way narratives are told and shared—may play a crucial role in the constitution of religious practices, attention regimes, experiences, and beliefs. At the same time, our case study has obviously far from exhausted the relevant research questions that may be raised from a narrative perspective in the study of religion and religions. In this final section, we therefore take the opportunity to move beyond our case study to propose a new research program for the study of religion that places narratives and narrativity at center stage.24 Concretely, we formulate two main tasks for a narrative research program and reflect on what the study of religion, as an academic discipline, may gain from developing such a program. One core task for the narrative research program that we propose would be to orchestrate a comparative-explanatory study of how religious narratives work. Most fundamentally, this task would involve studying the content, structure, plausibility strategies, and social functions of the full range of religious narratives, from the conversational to the canonical. Moreover, the new ambition should be to advance beyond individual case studies to study religious narratives comparatively and systematically, and to explain any identified patterns in the light of general theories of the narrative nature of cognition and action. One issue we need to understand better is how, and under which circumstances, religious narratives and religious storytelling may be persuasive. We touched upon this issue a little bit in the discussion of the two ‘plausibility strategies’ that tellers of angel experience narratives may employ, but

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In early Islam, for example, it was believed that only true prophets (such as Muhammed) could receive direct and reliable communications from the archangels, whereas the angelic communications that ordinary folk might receive would stem from the djinn (conceptualized as earth-bound angels) and be imprecise (because the djinn do not possess perfect knowledge) and indirect, and hence in need of interpretation (Jaques 2018). Ours is, of course, not the first attempt to formulate a narrative approach for the study of religion. The reader is invited to consult also Johannsen (2013), Grieser (2013), Jensen (2016), and Johnston (2017b).

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more systematic work has been done in other contexts.25 Another problem is how different types of narratives and storytelling may work together within a given narrative culture. In fact, we are here dealing with a battery of research questions, including how experience narratives (or ‘memorates’) may draw on motifs and scripts from authoritative narratives and, in turn, how experience narratives may solidify over time and turn into authoritative narratives (on these dynamics, cf. Honko 1964 and Wilkens this volume); and how experience narratives may draw on fiction, such as when self-identified Elves reexperience previous lives in Middle-earth, and how fictional narratives about the supernatural can come to be treated (more or less) as non-fiction (on these dynamics, see Davidsen 2014). In the present chapter on the narrative culture of Dutch angel spirituality, we have not touched upon the issue of how different types of narratives work together, but it is clear that it would be relevant to analyze how authoritative angel stories (especially from the Bible) provide content and plausibility for everyday angel experience narratives. It would also be interesting to study the role of fictional narratives in Dutch angel spirituality, especially since Peter Gardella has shown how the television shows Highway to Heaven (1980s) and Touched by an Angel (1990s) played a crucial role in rehearsing central angel ideas and in mobilizing people to involve themselves in angel spirituality in the United States (2007, 110–17).26 The second main task for a narrative research program in the study of religion would be to investigate how theories of the narrative nature of human cognition (including perception) and action may help us understand religion better. As this is not the place to review and evaluate all theories that might be relevant for this Herculean endeavor, we will restrict ourselves to point out just a few potential avenues for further exploration. One such avenue is provided by Jerome Bruner’s (1986) distinction between two modes of thought: the narrative mode which comes naturally, and the paradigmatic (or logico-scientific) mode which has to be learned. For Bruner, the narrative mode produces “good stories, gripping drama, believable (though not necessarily “true”) historical accounts [and] deals in human or human-like intention and action” (1986, 13), whereas the paradigmatic mode of thought “attempts to fulfill the ideal of a formal, mathematical system of description and explanation” (1986, 12). Merlin Donald (1991) similarly argues that in the evolution of human consciousness, 25

26

For recent overviews of strategies and mechanisms that may enhance the plausibility of religious narratives, see Davidsen (2016), Johannsen & Kirsch (2020), and Johnston (2015; 2017a; 2018). On the central role of fiction as a vehicle for spreading alternative religious ideas and for providing plausibility for such beliefs, see also Partridge (2004, Ch. 6).

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a narrative (or mythic) stage preceded the current theoretical stage. He adds that our brains are still fundamentally narrative and that theoretical thinking is possible only due to the development of writing and external memory storage systems, such as books.27 Slightly differently from Donald, but complementary with his account, Bruner (1990, 45) and Read & Miller (1995, 143) have further suggested that human cognition is narrative because it is geared towards detecting, explaining, and plotting agency and intention in human action.28 In other words, stating that human cognition and action are narrative, and stating that human cognition and action are social, are more or less the same thing. Applying these general ideas to the concrete case of religion, a narrative research program may posit that the narrative-elemental dimension of religion, i.e. the narrative mode of thought and the beliefs, experiences, and practices structured by it, are logically, developmentally, and evolutionarily primary to the rationalized-discursive dimension of religion, i.e. systematic religious reflections governed by the paradigmatic mode of thought and their entextualizations.29 When religion is seen in this light, it is not at all surprising that religious beliefs revolve around supernatural exchange partners, that religious narratives present examples of exchanges with such supernatural partners, and that religious practices, in turn, let real people of flesh and blood ‘live the myth.’ It follows from this that a narrative approach is in a strong position to promote the synthetization of existing theories of religion—in particular, cognitive theories of religious beliefs and sociological theories of religious practice, two kinds of theories that are at present rarely brought into dialogue with each other.30 For example, from a narrative perspective, Pascal Boyer’s (2001) point that successful religious ideas involve minimally counterintuitive, inference-rich agents, means nothing else than that human beings, given their narratively disposed cognitive make-up, prefer religious ideas that 27 28

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On the narrative nature of human thought, see also Fisher (1987), Perron & Danesi (1993), Turner (1996), Fludernik (1996), and Herman (2009). For these two references, we are indebted to Petra Bleisch Bouzar (2013, 179). Further indications of the narrative nature of human cognition are our propensity to anthropomorphize and think in experientially grounded metaphors (e.g., Lakoff & Johnson 1980). The concept-pair narrative-elemental/discursive-rationalized may be considered more or less synonymous with the concept-pairs cognitively optimal/cognitive costly (e.g., Whitehouse 2004) and theologically incorrect/theologically correct (e.g., Slone 2004), both of which are widely used in the cognitive science of religion. In a recent bibliometric study of the cognitive science of religion, John Balch (2018) found almost no citation overlap between the cognitive science of religion and the sociology of religion, and flagged cooperation between these two fields as a major desideratum for the future. The related ambition of using the notion of narrative to link cognitive and cultural theories of religion has been formulated by Geertz & Jensen (2011).

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are good to think with and may be used to craft a good story. Similarly, when sociologist of religion Martin Riesebrodt (2010) argues that “interventionist practices,” i.e. exchanges with supernatural beings, constitute the most fundamental element of any religious tradition, a narrative scholar of religion can only concur and will find it logical to assume that religion, as any other aspect of culture, is fundamentally organized around goal-directed action (in the case of religion, the distinctive characteristic being merely the inclusion of supernatural exchange partners).31 A methodological corollary to the theoretical aims sketched here would be to shift the empirical focus of the study of religion from discursive-rationalized religion (‘theology’) to narrative-elemental religion and to the interplay between the two religious dimensions. By conceptualizing religions as narrative cultures, this volume has already taken an important step in this direction. The two main tasks sketched so far do not exhaust the research problems that may be taken up by a future narrative research program. For example, we also need to theorize how and why narratives, beliefs, practices, and experiences cluster together to form religious traditions. Is it, for example, the adherence to a shared ‘core myth,’ as suggested by Loyal Rue (2006, 126), that defines the borders of a given religious (or cultural) tradition? It will also be relevant to study transfers of scripts and motifs across narrative cultures (religious and non-religious), and to identify patterns in the hegemonic relations between narrative cultures (e.g., the Dutch angel movement borrows from the American angel movement, but Dutch ideas are not picked up in the United States). In addition, if we want to understand how religious beliefs and experiences may be influenced by narratives and storytelling, we need a broad approach to cognition that takes emotions and perception very seriously, as has been convincingly argued by Feldt and Johannsen’s contributions to this volume, and by the aesthetics of religion more generally. Finally, and to add more of a historical perspective, a narrative research program should study how religious historiographies change over time, with the aim of discovering general patterns of narrative transformation over the course of religious history, as well as the cultural and cognitive mechanisms that drive such transformations.

Acknowledgements The case study on contemporary Dutch angel spirituality was carried out in 2017 as part of the research project Religious Narratives as Plausibility Struc31

To advance further along this route, it might be helpful to develop a theory of religious practice as enacted narratives, as called for by Flood (1999, 117–42) and Ryan (2013).

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tures under the research traineeship program of the Faculty of Humanities at Leiden University. The authors want to thank Kim Beerden, who co-supervised the project, and Marlies van de Bunt, who carried out the second case study on the Oracle of Delphi, for support and advice in various stages of the project. The authors also want to express their gratitude to the three editors of the present volume, and especially to Dirk Johannsen, for helpful comments on an earlier version of this chapter.

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Johnston, Sarah Iles, ed. 2017b. Religion: Narrating Religion. New York: Macmillan Reference USA. Johnston, Sarah Iles. 2018. The Story of Myth. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Kinsella, Michael. 2011. Legend-Tripping Online: Supernatural Folklore and the Search for Ong’s Hat. Jackson: University of Mississippi. Kirsch, Anja. 2016. Weltanschauung als Erzählkultur: Zur Konstruktion von Religion und Sozialismus in Staatsbürgerkundeschulbüchern der DDR. In the series Critical Studies in Religion/Religionswissenschaft (CSRRW ) 2, Gregor Ahn, Oliver Freiberger, Jürgen Mohn & Michael Stausberg, series editors. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht. Kraft, Siv Ellen. 2015. “Royal Angels in the News: The Case of Märtha Louise, Astarte Education and the Norwegian News Press,” in Handbook of Nordic New Religions, edited by James R. Lewis & Inga Bårdsen Tøllefsen, 190–202. Leiden: Brill. Lakoff, George & Mark Johnson. 1980. Metaphors We Live By. Chicago & London: University of Chicago Press. Laycock, Joseph. 2013. “Where Do They Get These Ideas? Changing Ideas of Cults in the Mirror of Popular Culture,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion 81 (1): 80–106. Luhrmann, Tanya M. 1989. Persuasions of the Witch’s Craft: Ritual Magic in Contemporary England. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Luhrmann, Tanya M. 2012. When God Talks Back: Understanding the American Evangelical Relationship with God. New York: Vintage Books. Meder, Theo. 2006. In graancirkelkringen: Een etnologisch onderzoek naar verhalen uit de grenswetenschap. Amsterdam: AUP. Partridge, Christopher H. 2004. The Re-enchantment of the West: Alternative Spiritualities, Sacralization, Popular Culture and Occulture, Vol. 1. London & New York: T&T Clark International. Perron, Paul & Marcel Danesi. 1993. A.J. Greimas and Narrative Thinking. Toronto: Toronto University Press. Read, Stephen John & Lynn Carol Miller. 1995. “Stories Are Fundamental to Meaning and Memory: For Social Creatures, Could It Be Otherwise?,” in Knowledge and Memory: The Real Story, edited by Robert S. Wyer, 139–52. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. Riesebrodt, Martin. 2010. The Promise of Salvation. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Translated from German, Cultus und Heilsversprechen: Eine Theorie der Religion. Rue, Loyal. 2006. Religion is Not About God: How Spiritual Traditions Nurture our Biological Nature and What to Expect When They Fail. New Brunswick, NJ & London: Rutgers University Press. Ryan, Marie-Laure. 2013. “Ritual Studies and Narratology: What Can They Do For Each Other,” in Ritual and Narrative: Theoretical Explorations and Historical Case

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Studies, edited by Vera Nünning, Jan Rupp & Gregor Ahn, 28–49. Bielefeld: Transcript. Slone, Jason. 2004. Theological Incorrectness: Why Religious People Believe What They Shouldn’t. Oxford and New York, NY: Oxford University Press. Turner, Mark. 1996. The Literary Mind: The Origins of Thought and Language. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Uibu, Marko. 2012. “Creating Meanings and Supportive Networks on the Spiritual Internet Forum ‘The Nest of Angels,’” Journal of Ethnology and Folkloristics 6 (2): 69–86. Utriainen, Terhi. 2015. “Combining Christianity and New Age Spirituality: Angel Relation in Finland,” in Handbook of Nordic New Religions, edited by James R. Lewis & Inga Bårdsen Tøllefsen, 158–72. Leiden: Brill. Wessinger, Catherine. 2012. “Charismatic Leaders in New Religions,” in The Cambridge Companion to New Religious Movements, edited by Olav Hammer & Mikael Rothstein, 80–96. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Whitehouse, Harvey. 2004. Modes of Religiosity: A Cognitive Theory of Religious Transmission. Walnut Creek: AltaMira Press.

Part 2 Identities: Narrating and Counter-narrating Gods and People



Chapter 5

Feeling Narrative Cultures: Analyzing Emotions in Religious Narratives with Examples from Old-Babylonian Ninurta Myths Laura Feldt

1

Introduction

Narratives have an aesthetic impact, performing important roles in how religions become effective because they move people, form identities, and stimulate engagements. Narratives allow cultures to propose worlds, they invite people to imagine other worlds, to believe specific things, or doubt them; to hate, love, or fear. In this chapter, I pursue strategies for analyzing the role of emotions in religious narratives as a form of cultural analysis, and I discuss how this contributes to understanding narrative cultures. I present a transferable, narratologically-based strategy for analysis of the narrative treatment of emotions, and I discuss which roles emotions play in the narrative imagination of the ancient Mesopotamian deity, Ninurta. The method or strategy of analysis for analysing emotions narratologically that I present here includes analysing 1) verbalized emotions, 2) emotional story effects, and 3) the overall levels of stimulation of emotions across a narrative or a set of narratives. I suggest taking a closer look into how emotional practices are created and sustained in religious narrative cultures as key elements of their aesthetics. This would enable us to view religious narratives as media1 that engage their audiences by moving them via feelings and emotional experiences. Following the view that emotions and narrative are closely entangled and applying it to the study of religions, historically as well as in the contemporary era, this entails that we must pay more attention to the nexus of narrativity and the emotions, as religions undoubtedly play key roles in emotion regulation, stimulation, and training. In the study of religions, some work on ‘myth’ or ‘religious narrative’ has stressed the capacity of these stories to orient identity, to found and maintain 1 My perspective here is that of the aesthetics of religion and therefore I am interested in the mediation of religion. From another perspective, we might say that narratives can be located in various media.

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institutions and social order (J. S. Jensen 2009: 8; Honko 1984; McCutcheon 2000; Assmann 1992: 75–79),2 as well as to establish, confirm, and defend order over disorder.3 And yet, in the study of myths and religious narratives, emotions have been somewhat overlooked despite the fact that emotions play central roles in how narratives move people. In the following sections, I address questions regarding the ways in which narrative cultures create and sustain religious emotional practices, and how religious narratives engage their audiences by moving them emotionally. Thus, this chapter aims to contribute to the theoretical and methodological development of an aesthetic approach to religious narratives, an approach that takes into account not only how narratives stimulate sensory and emotional responses, but also discusses the broader intertwining of narrative and the emotions as an aspect of how narrative cultures function in religions. As mentioned above, the chapter presents a strategy for analyzing emotionality and narrative in three steps. I have chosen to draw on exemplary material from ancient Mesopotamia in order to illustrate the strategy of analysis and to expand the range of the aesthetics of religion further into the field of ancient religions. I compare two texts on the basis of emotional stimulation. They stem from ancient Mesopotamia during the Old-Babylonian period and are related to the hero-god Ninurta: Ninurta’s Exploits (Lugale) and Ninurta and the Turtle. The analysis focuses on 1) the use of verbalized emotion terms (discussed in more detail below), 2) emotional effects based on narrative composition, and finally 3) on the overall assessment of emotionality across the narratives. Thus, the chapter offers suggestions for how an aesthetic approach to narratives can proceed, and for how religious narratives affect not only understandings and representations, but also emotional practices, forms of relation to, and interaction with deities and other superhuman agents. The chapter contributes to a discussion of how religious narratives become effective and involve recipients in the storyworlds. It also aids in understanding the involvement in religious storyworlds as constitutive for the idea of a narrative culture that ties together and moves a group of people; in short, my interest is here to connect narrative analysis to the study of emotional practices in religious narrative cultures.

2 Robert A. Segal also stresses the formative role of myth, its weighty function, but he does not connect it only to a positive affirmation of social order (2015). 3 See the more in-depth discussion of this in Feldt 2011. The study of myth/religious narrative is of course very multifarious, cf. J. S. Jensen 2009. Nevertheless, this view can still be taken as a standard view in the study of religion, see also Jensen (2009: 8; McCutcheon 2000: 190–208).

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Narratology, Narrative Cultures, and Ancient Narratives

Narratology is a term for theories created to aid scholars in the analysis of narratives. It can also offer useful strategies for the analysis of narrative cultures. Narratology has been associated with the kinds of structuralist and formalist analysis that played a role in its formative years, but that is much too constricted an understanding today where a nuanced theoretical field deals with the analysis of narratives cross-culturally and across many media (see, e.g., Nünning & Nünning 2003a and 2003b; Hühn et al. 2009; Olson 2011). Today, the field of narratology connects to other fields such as cognitive theory (Fludernik 1996), media studies (Ryan 2004), and the study of religions (Geertz & Jensen 2011). As suggested by the editors of this volume, the concept of narrative cultures is used to underline the dynamic nature of narrativity. Narrativity is dynamic—not only as a general, human capacity that is fundamental for cognition, memory, and identity formation and that often serves as the fundamental mediating link between collective and individual identity formation (Geertz & Jensen 2011; Feldt 2011a), but also in terms of the creativity, adaptability, and malleability of storytelling and the differing cultural frames for storytelling in various cultural and social contexts (Johannsen & Kirsch, this volume). Connecting to these insights, I would like to highlight the idea, voiced already by the narratologist Mieke Bal in the 1990s, of how narratological analysis can also be a form of cultural analysis (Bal 1997, 220-24), as a methodologically useful entry-point for narratologically informed and comparative analyses of narrative cultures. As Bal suggested, the point of narrative analysis is not to establish that something is narrative, can be shown to have a specific structure, or endless categorizations and classifications of narrative elements; rather, the point of narrative analysis is to understand culture (Bal 1997, 221-22), of which we naturally see religion as a subset. Thus, narrative analysis can help historians of religion perform cultural analysis, as it will help us ask better questions—not only about who speaks or responds in a story, but also about who sees in a story, and “what is being proposed for us to believe or see before us, hate, love, admire, argue against, shudder before, or stand in awe of?” (Bal 1997, 224). Here, Bal touches upon emotionality as crucial in narrative analysis, without developing very specific tools for the analysis of emotions specifically. Generally, narratology has focused relatively little on emotions (Hogan 2011, 1.10–184). Here, I will base my analyses on Bal’s narra-

4 With a useful overview of previous work on narratology and the emotions.

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tological tools, while developing them further for analysis of emotionality by drawing on more recent work on emotions and narrative. But first, a few words on narratology and cultural analysis. Not only does narratology offer a methodologically well-described and sophisticated way of approaching the analysis of narratives, but narratological analysis is also a useful comparative tool. In its minute attention to the construction of narratives, it can help bring out cultural diversity and complexity, paying attention to both similarities and differences between stories with regard to narrative levels, voice, reply, and focalization. Narrative approaches can help us analyze how cultures propose for a set of recipients to imagine other worlds, and stimulate emotions like hate, love, fear, laughter or awe, as suggested by Bal. Thus, we acquire strategies of analysis for taking apart how ideologies work, also beyond the surface of the text, and beyond the basic narrative structure, in ways that bring out in which ways stories can be polyphonous and often encompass multiple voices, just as they are continually created, recreated, made over, and taken apart within cultures, as well as self-reflectively.5 This is important when dealing with contemporary cultures, sources stemming from ancient cultures, as well as cultures different from our own, because it is easy to fall into the trap of projecting unconscious norms and biases onto the past or the other, and to imagine past cultures as less complex and nuanced than contemporary ones. Narratological analysis can help us remain aware of cultural differences, and make cultural complexities noticeable. The urge to simplify is a risk when analyzing ancient or premodern religions. As Bal suggests, differences and complexities invariably increase as we move closer to the sources (Bal 1997, 154–56). Narratological analysis is one way of making that complexity clearer, of drawing the variability of interpretation and the differences of experience in the ancient world out in the open, because narrative analysis will bring out multiple voices, actors, points of focalization, and differing experiences in its analysis of stories and their transformations. It would not be wholly unfair to say that there is a tendency to disregard the entire range of narrative complexity in ancient narratives, as if ancient subjects were invariably subject to monological domination. In order to analyze narrative construction, most narratologies distinguish between what is narrated (“story,” “fabula,” “histoire” are varying terms for this 5 As Hogan similarly points out, analyses of story construction are useful for comparative purposes, whether we are primarily interested in analyzing the particularity of the work or whether we are interested in understanding commonalities across works; particularities are in some ways understandable only when confronted with a more general pattern (Hogan 2011, 8–9); cf. Bal (1997, 175–82).

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level) and how it is narrated (“discours,” “suizhet,” “plot” are common terms for the second level); in other words, most narratologies distinguish between two analytical levels in a narrative—the what and the how (Bal 1997, 78–80). The strategy of analysis I have chosen to use here, however, takes its point of departure in a three-fold distinction.6 Bal’s theory of narrativity (1997, 5–7) offers a basic distinction that forms the point of departure for the interpretation of narrative texts or segments: in all narratives, three layers can be distinguished, namely “fabula,” “story,” and “text.”7 A “fabula” is a series of logically related events in chronological sequence, which is caused or experienced by the actors of the narrative. The “story” is a fabula presented in a certain way; that is, the “story” may present the fabula in a variety of ways, not necessarily chronologically or in full, while “text” is the concrete sequence of linguistic signs (e.g., oral words, written sentences, film images, statues, reliefs) that articulate the “story.” In other words, we may say that the “fabula” is the “what” of the narrative, the “story” is the “how,” while “text” refers to the concrete and material manifestations or forms of “signs” used.8 One of the advantages of Bal’s theory is that narrative analysis does not stop with an analysis of narrative structure (“fabula”), or with the distinction between fabula and plot (“story”), as several other narratologies do, but that it takes into consideration the material form or medium of expression (“text”) as well, just as it provides ways of detailed analysis of all aspects of each narrative layer and their interactions, making it possible to analyze a fuller complexity of the ideological tenor of a narrative. The two religious narratives selected for analysis share what is often called the hero-myth fabula,9

6 I have used Bal’s narrative analysis several times before, so the following presentation of the theory overlaps with my previous presentations of it (e.g., Feldt 2006; 2010). 7 Monika Fludernik proposes a similar three-layered model, but she calls the levels fable, plot, and discourse in her Introduction to Narratology (2009, 64–77) and uses “media” in the sense of medial formats in between plot and discourse. I thank Dirk Johannsen for calling my attention to this. 8 The division into layers is founded on the idea that the “texts” of narratives may differ, even if their “stories” are the same. Therefore, we can examine the “text” layer separately from the “story.” The basic sequence of events, the fabula, and the way in which events are presented (“story”) may also differ. This makes it possible to analyze the three layers separately; it does not, however, mean that the layers exist independently. Researchers take the layers apart in order to analyze the special effects that narratives may have on their recipients (Bal 1997, 5–10). 9 My approach is not related to J. Campbell’s monomyth theory, but instead involves a heuristic “skeletal” analysis of the fabula (structure) of a set of Mesopotamian hero myths and epics—not for the purpose of discerning a common structure in and of itself, but for comparative purposes, in order to be able discuss differences and similarities across the corpus of

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with a hero’s battle against and victory over an enemy monster (Feldt 2011b; Feldt 2010; Feldt 2006). This fabula is often understood to support an ideology of the center, upholding cultural order. Yet, an analysis that pays attention to the “text” and “story”-levels of analysis as well (Bal 1997, 36–43; 145–55), to imagery in narratives, character construction, and to the stimulation and elicitation of emotions, may alter or complicate the communication of the basic fabula. Here, I combine this narratological strategy of analysis with a special focus on emotion stimulation in order to study how emotionality functions in the Old-Babylonian narrative culture and to offer a methodologically explicit basis for a discussion of emotionality in narrative cultures more broadly. Ancient religious narratives are sometimes understood as determinative of the worldviews of the ancients, not as potentially subversive, transformative, playful, or make-believe-like. Also, for these reasons, I suggest that ancient religious narratives are excellent material to bring into the discussion of narrative cultures in the aesthetics of religion in order to attempt to read pre-modern religious narrative for its ambiguities, polyphony, and narrative complexities, qualities often ascribed to modern literature, and to work towards being more hesitant about our own “credulity regarding the credulity of other epochs and cultures” (Connor 2003).10 I suggest that narrative analysis is one way of doing that; narrative analysis as cultural analysis is a fruitful way of contributing to the analysis of narrative cultures.

3

Emotions with/in Narrative

The field of research focusing on emotions in stories—a field still under investigation in many disciplines, by cognitive scientists, psychologists, literary scholars, sociologists, etc.—looks at the ways in which stories stimulate emotions through characters, narrators, and events, and how stories occasionally

10

Mesopotamian hero narratives on a methodologically explicit foundation (as in Feldt 2011; 2010; 2006). My “skeletal” fabula analysis is based on or inspired by a variant of the Formalist Proppian actor-function schema first used to analyze Russian folktales, see here Propp (1973) and Forsyth (1987); here, however, such an analysis is not an end in itself, but merely a minor part (enabling a discussion of the fabula layer) in a more elaborate narrative analysis that involves at least three layers, cf. Bal. For an introduction to approaches to and theories about hero myths, see R.A. Segal (2000), 1–38. Cf. research in medieval studies (see e.g., Uebel 2006, 59), cf. interesting breaks with the tendency to think historically in terms of clear and linear progress (Serres & Latour 1995, 48–52).

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comment on affective processes on a meta-level.11 Indeed, narratives may stimulate a broad range of emotional responses in their readers and audiences in a variety of ways and narratives have been understood as among the most suitable tools for processing feelings (Frink 2015, with references). In the field of ancient religions, we frequently rely on written texts,12 often stemming from elite segments of society. The present volume’s focus on narrative cultures is one fruitful way of approaching such ancient religious materials aesthetically, because narratives are key in the arousal and shaping of emotions.13 Today, many emotion researchers agree that emotions have some common cognitive and bodily foundations cross-culturally,14 and that some degree of universality in human patterns of affective and emotional reaction can be reckoned

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Scholars disagree as to whether feelings, emotions, and affect are the same thing. Here, I use feelings and emotions as synonyms, while I use the term “affect” to designate the somatic responses. Hogan distinguishes usefully between components of emotions: 1) eliciting conditions of emotion systems, 2) expressive outcomes, 3) actional responses, 4) phenomenological tone (Hogan 2011, 2–4); these would be interesting to work into a future elaboration of the strategy of analysis presented here. Suffice it to mention here that expressive outcomes—that is, vocalizations of emotion, facial expressions, etc.—are also eliciting conditions, as “our emotional response to emotional expressions appears to be largely innate” (Hogan 2011, 3). The source material for different ancient religions varies a lot. With regard to ancient Mesopotamia, we have, in addition to written texts of diverse sorts from three millennia (laundry lists, personal letters, cylinder seals, royal inscriptions, myths, epics, incantations, divination texts, and more), archaeological remains (houses, temples, and other structures, iconography, wall reliefs, statues, miniature figurines, utensils, musical instruments, and much more). An analysis of emotions and narrativity in Mesopotamian visual culture would also be highly interesting. All kinds of media have the potential to arouse emotions; see Döveling et al. (2011), and Hogan (2011), 1–28. With different emphases and caveats, historically-oriented emotion scholars like Joanna Bourke (2014), Monique Scheer (2012), and Barbara Rosenwein (2010) all reckon with some common cognitive and bodily foundations, even though they, as I do myself, stress historically and culturally shifting contexts. Note that I here lean more on a history- and literature-oriented research strand within emotion studies, as indicated by the references just given, rather than the power-oriented emotion ethnography from the 1980s and 1990s such as Abu-Lughod, Lutz and others, see here Abu-Lughod (1988), Lutz & Abu-Lughod (1990). Note that the edited volume by Lutz and Abu-Lughod came out in a series co-edited by Paul Ekman, cf. next footnote and the debate concerning universal foundations. The work of Maruška Svašek is also important to mention here, as it also stresses historical and cultural contexts, as well as emotions as processes, as practices, and as embodied. However, Svašek’s main focus is on subjectivity formation, migration, and movement related questions (as in Svašek 2010; 2008; 2002; 2000).

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with.15 Still, my stance here is that feelings are historically and culturally variable mental and bodily processes and that we must pay great attention to historical and philological contextualization. Yet, common cognitive and somatic foundations could give us a workable baseline16 if we distinguish between affects as bodily responses and emotions as the verbalized reactions, although this terminology is not uncontested and it is in some ways problematic to set up hard distinctions.17 It is important to note that bodily responses are not naturally meaningful. We might say that we understand affects/emotions only when we verbalize or narrate them (Greenberg & Angus 2004, 333), or in an interplay with a verbalized form (Hogan 2003, 239–64; Rosenwein 2010; Scheer 2012; Simecek 2015, 497–500). The narration of emotions is also key in intersubjective understanding and empathy. Thus, narrativization influences the processes of emotion stimulation, training, and management. Some emotion scholars have proposed to understand emotions as events (e.g., Bourke 2014), or indeed, as narratives (Keen 2011; Hogan 2003; 2011). They argue that humans make sense of emotions through stories and narrative framings; it is through narrative that we access the emotions of others. On one hand, scholars working on narratives and emotions agree that the consumption of narratives, whether aurally, visually, or through reading, stimulates affective-emotional responses. On the other hand, many also suggest 15

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Emotions are often seen as mental and bodily processes with common cognitive and somatic foundations, and one view is that the basic emotions (affects) are universal. In the natural sciences, research into the basic emotions is extensive. The American psychologist Paul Ekman reckons with six basic emotions based on cross-cultural research: fear, disgust, anxiety, joy, surprise, and sadness (Ekman 1972; 2003). Important criticism has been voiced, however, especially with regard to whether Ekman’s data warrant the conclusions; see Döveling et al. (2011, 5). See also the extensive discussion in Hogan (2003) who is also critical of the idea of basic emotions. Hogan speaks instead, more convincingly, I believe, of prototypical and culturally widely distributed clusters of emotions. Evolutionary psychology understands emotions as adaptive programs with functional specializations for survival and successful reproduction. There is some work in social psychology on narrative as possessing dynamic structuring techniques for the elicitation of emotions, using film. Social psychology has also described emotional experience as a facet of group membership, and emotion and cognition are generally seen as working together in human bodies (see the details of these discussions in Keen 2011, with references). These advances are very important; they rarely, however, analyze emotions in narrative in depth or propose detailed strategies of analysis for it. Others define affect as comprising both moods and emotions, while moods are seen as long-lasting, and emotions as short-lasting and intense (see an overview of the discussions in Barlett & Gentile 2011), but this distinction between affect and emotions is nevertheless fairly common (Döveling et al. 2011, 3–4).

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that emotions per se are narratively based and vice versa (Keen 2011; Hogan 2011; Hogan 2003). A key aspect of the nexus of emotions and narrativity is the idea that narratives move persons, elicit emotions, and stimulate emotional reactions. However, those emotions are not compact entities (“hope,” “fear,” “sorrow”), but events stretched in time (Keen 2011); i.e., they are narrative too. So, we need to investigate not only how narratives stimulate emotions but also how emotions unfold narratively18 and become part of religious identity formation. Such investigations would also enable us to understand better the relations between superhuman characters and their worshippers. Religious narratives stimulate emotional responses in their audiences and participate in the formation, training, and change of emotional practices which have a narrative format. This means that we have a complex process; here, however, I will primarily look at how religious narratives can stimulate emotional responses in varying ways and how that factors into our understanding of a narrative culture. Important developments in the social sciences, and in cognitive and affective research, have thrown a crucial light on the human emotion systems. Still, many aspects of human emotions cannot be studied by laboratory or cognitive methods, but must be approached with cultural and historical analysis. Historian Joanna Bourke has demonstrated how emotions are socially stimulated, trained, and policed within changing historical and social frames (Bourke 2014) and how that constrains which emotions are “tellable” for whom, or which ones can gain a social context;19 it does not, however, determine emotional responses, as historical changes, negotiations, and challenges to emotional norms also show. Hogan’s work is based in the cognitive sciences and discusses how narratives are emotion-based and emotions narratively based (2003; 2011). Ancient myths are complex literary compositions and often narrativize intense feelings to the superhuman characters with regard to major crises or catastrophes, to the religious community, and to the imagined interactions between this world and the other world. Thus, aesthetic analysis of literary-religious narratives should include emotionality studies, in addition to the interest in the materiality of religious texts and their cultures of production, circulation, and use (e.g., Stolow 2007; Myrvold 2010), among the first arenas for aesthetic studies of religious texts. Here, I build on my previous work regarding the ways in which the form and content of religious narratives can affect senses and emotions (Feldt 2017) and work from the assumption

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See Geertz & Jensen (2011) for discussions of how memory and identity are also narrative. See Trolle (2019) on the question of gaining a social context.

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that emotions and stories are connected. Since the literary-aesthetic forms of religious narratives vary greatly, this impacts how religious texts become effective in a variety of ways. Since emotions are a constitutive part of identity, they are key in daily life, in personal self-narratives, and in life stories. Emotions charge situations with personal significance and are thus highly important in religious narratives regarding superhuman beings—in order to make such stories effective in social life, in narrative world- and self-making. In the following analysis, I focus on the roles that emotions play in the narrative imagination of the deity Ninurta in selected Old-Babylonian Sumerian compositions, which emotion terms are used, and which emotion effects are stimulated via narrative construction. I analyze the role of emotions in these stories and how the analysis contributes to an aesthetic approach, as well as its contribution towards understanding narrative cultures in ancient Mesopotamia. The analysis will focus on the specific roles that emotions play in the narrative imagination and re-construction of Ninurta in two OldBabylonian myths. The study will first look at which emotions are explicitly verbalized20—and, secondly, how narrative construction contributes to the staging of emotionality. In the analysis, I will draw on the narratological levels developed by Mieke Bal (see above). The analysis of the first question is located at the level of “text,” whereas the analysis of the second question involves a comparison of the “fabula” with the “story.” I take verbalized emotion terms in these stories to speak of emotion norms, conventions, and cultural scripts regarding emotional practices. I here assume that their status as official religious narratives indicate that they influenced emotional norms, stimulation, and management (see Hogan 2003: 1–16). The analysis of the second step, how narrative construction can gain emotional effects at the “story” level, entails a comparison of the “story” with the “fabula.” This means that the analysis will cover not only verbalized emotion terms but also analyze how narratives can achieve emotional effects without saying so explicitly and lacking verbalized emotion terms. Humor is a good example: stories can be very funny without stating “this is funny” or “please laugh here.”

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In the history of emotions field, historian William Reddy, who uses cognitive and neurosciences in his work, coined the term “emotive” for verbalized expressions of emotions, stressing their performative nature and how emotives can also be used to achieve emotional states (Reddy 2001). This first step is of course immensely complicated to analyze in itself, even merely in terms of the identification of emotion terms and expressions in Sumerian, not to mention their specific use in a particular text. However, since my aim here is to outline a transferable strategy of analysis, I need to include additional steps of the analysis too. For that reason, I can only briefly indicate the difficulties here.

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Jeroen Vandaele has argued that narrative humor requires a switching of perspectives—that the audience is stimulated to switch perspectives between the intentions, goals, motivations, emotions and so forth of different agents and that narratives exploit incongruity and superiority relations between agents in order to achieve humorous effects (Vandaele 2010). One way of stimulating emotional reactions is the aforementioned switching perspectives or unexpected plot twists. This requires an already existing knowledge of the expected perspective and fabula. However, emotions can also be stimulated without verbalized emotion terms or expressions when narratives meet expectations: gratification, satisfaction, pleasure, and security are likely responses when the good hero succeeds in combating evil, for instance. Therefore, among the ways in which narratives may elicit emotions we should also as a third, but often intertwined step, assess and discuss the overall emotionality in the story. Therefore, I here (3) distinguish between strategies or elements that increase emotional or sensory simulation and those that moderate it. Novelty, dishabituation, ambiguity, complexity, switching perspectives, horror, and similar strategies may be said to increase the rousing of emotions and sensations, while familiarity, meeting standard cultural expectations, familiar patterns, or everyday happenings, etc. are strategies that we can assume will decrease sensory rousing.21 I suggest that we need to look at explicitly verbalized emotion terms and expressions, gestures, etc., as well as story construction effects. It is also necessary to analyze the general levels of emotionality (increasing/moderating sensory-emotional rousing) and kinds of stimulation across the entire story (minor/major/only in some segments). The analyses I offer here are preliminary and exemplary with regard to the above strategy of analysis for emotions in narrative; further in-depth analyses will look for ways in which the suggestions made here can be substantiated or tested.22 My examples focus on how the narratives of Ninurta stimulate 21

22

I build here on ideas in Vandaele’s essay (2010) on “Narrative Humor,” in which he discusses the interaction between humor and narrative. Vandaele argues that humor is narrative when it creates or exploits incongruity and superiority relations between the agents of narrative texts. Out of these relational incongruities different forms of narrative humor can emerge, which Vandaele labels metanarrative humor, comical narrative suspense, comical narrative surprise, etc. This can be related to what Keen writes about stimuli and arousal (Keen 2011, 19), building on Berlyne’s work (1971: xii–xiii) on increasing/decreasing arousal via dishabituation/novelty vs. familiarity. The analyses here are only meant to function as examples of the narrative treatment and elicitation of emotion, not to offer an exhaustive analysis of the texts, for the purpose of suggesting a workable strategy of analysis, and there is no room here to go into the relevant and very important philological discussions. The interest in emotions is on the way in Assyriology, see here Jaques (2006), Rendu (2008), Bosworth (2016), and others.

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emotional reactions. After the examples, I will discuss the concept of narrative culture in relation to the topic of the emotions and narrative, and in relation to Mesopotamia in the Old-Babylonian period.

4

Analyses

With regard to the Sumerian narratives from the Old Babylonian period, we must note that they bear witness to a high written culture and that they were written by experts, academics, and religious specialists at a time when, in all likelihood, Sumerian was already dead or dying as a spoken language (Woods 2006).23 Several of the Old Babylonian Sumerian narrative compositions24 about Ninurta were culturally authoritative and seminal in Mesopotamian culture (Vanstiphout 2003, 1–22; Michalowski 2003). According to P.C. Hogan, culturally esteemed narratives constitute a good material for studying a narrative culture via the emotions that engage it (Hogan 2003, 1–2); they tell us important things about common emotional practices and about what moves people in a narrative culture. Sumerian Old-Babylonian narratives are the composite result of multiple rewritings and redactions in a highly literary culture.25 The texts were put into writing by people whose primary language was most likely the Semitic language Akkadian; this fact lends further weight to the question of cultural selection. In the Old Babylonian period, Sumerian was regarded as the quintessence of culture and learning (Veldhuis 2003),26 and in this religious-literary environment these stories were selected for cultural transmission and memory.27

23

24 25

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Many Assyriologists agree on the time of death of Sumerian as a spoken language. We do not have unequivocal evidence for all these texts in the Ur III period, so the fact that Sumerian was dead or dying in the Old Babylonian period is not evidence per se that the texts are earlier. The presentation of the selected texts overlaps with earlier ones, when I have worked on other aspects of these particular texts (Feldt 2006; 2010; 2011; 2016). Especially in Ninurta’s Exploits, there is an assemblage of text types—mythology/ritual, text/wisdom, song, poetry, lists, etc.—likely put together from or inspired by a diversity of sources. As for manuscripts, there is no “the text,” only copies of copies of copies. So, the literature does not present a unified view extending across centuries. “Sumerian” refers here to the language in which these compositions were written, not to an ethnic group. I use the composite editions for these examples, and I take them to speak of the Old Babylonian authors/redactors and recipients, not of any assumed Neo-Sumerian origin, cf. my discussion in Feldt (2016).

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The two narratives selected are comparatively similar in terms of genre, language, composition, and dating, but not in terms of length: Ninurta’s Exploits (Lugale) is 728 lines long28 and tells the story of how the god Ninurta battles a fearsome monster, Asag, and his stone warriors in the mountains; after his victory, Ninurta determines the destinies of his opponents and reorders the mountain regions.29 Then, he returns to the land to receive blessings and rewards. Ninurta and the Turtle shares the same narrative structure, the fabula of the monster combat story, but it is much shorter (60 lines long, plus fragments) and records how the great hero Ninurta got caught in a pit and bitten by a turtle. I have argued in previous work that a common fabula forms a basic structure of expectation for these (and other) Mesopotamian heroic narratives (Feldt 2011b; 2010; 2006). The fabula is a heroic structure that can be understood within Hogan’s idea of narrative universal structures, as based on the narrative structure of heroic tragi-comedy that can be found across cultures and which is emotion-based (Hogan 2003, 11; ch. 3, esp. 109–17), that is, structured according to prototype-eliciting conditions for happiness (Hogan 2003, 118), and, in this case, related to the achievement of social and political power (2003, 121). A more detailed analysis will show that the story and text layers bring out different aspects of these narratives in terms of emotional responses than a narrower focus on narrative structure alone would have brought out. The texts’ fabulae concern a hero’s struggle against one or more monstrous opponents, and this fabula—and the hero-god’s final victory—has often been taken to affirm and maintain the existing order and provide support for an ideology of the center, opposing the good hero with the evil and monstrous opponent. In terms of emotional foundation and response, one could say that this fabula in itself suggests emotions of security and gratification, i.e., happiness (Hogan 2003, 109–21). Yet, as the narrative analyses below show, the “story” and “text” layers offer different views that complicate this image. The narrative analysis produces results that question the idea that these varieties of combat myths invariably support an ideology of the center.

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For elaborate discussions of text history, dating, provenance, etc., see Feldt (2011b). To “determine the destiny” of all things and beings was, in ancient Mesopotamia, the prerogative of the gods, an act of great significance, related to the creation and maintenance of order; it means more than merely assigning a punishment to defeated opponents: Ninurta’s determination of the destinies here entails establishing the (future) nature, function, and use of Asag and the stone warriors. See Rochberg (1982).

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4.1

Ninurta’s Exploits (Lugale): Awe, Fear, Hesitation, Disorientation, Confusion Two versions of Ninurta’s Exploits are known: a unilingual Sumerian version from the Old Babylonian period (the first half of the second millennium BCE, c.2004–c.1595) and a bilingual (Sumerian-Akkadian) version; here, I only use examples from the Old Babylonian unilingual Sumerian version.30 No manuscripts of Lugale are earlier than the Old Babylonian period, yet it is frequently suggested that the narrative originated several centuries earlier.31 For my purposes here, I will discuss this composition not as a text of the third millennium but as a text of the early second millennium, as a product of Old Babylonian scribal schools. First, I look at verbalized emotion terms and then at story construction effects. I comment on the overall emotion stimulation as we go along. While Ninurta’s Exploits is indeed structured on the basic narrative pattern of the hero fabula (Feldt 2011b), an analysis of the interplay between the fabula and the story shows that it uses a multiplicity of metaphors describing the superhuman characters in embedded speeches. It maximizes ambiguity and multiplicity in its images and uses other disorientating strategies that heighten emotional elicitation. The text interrupts the narrative flow with elaborate, ambiguous, and contradictory metaphorical descriptions (Feldt 2011b). Both verbalized emotion terms and story effects must play into the discussion of the stimulation of emotions in this case. The emotions most clearly verbalized in this text with regard to the deity Ninurta bring across a mood of awe, fear, and respect, especially relating to his strength and awesomeness, as demonstrated in this quote from the introductory hymn (ll. 1–16): “. . .son in whose strength his father rejoices; his awesomeness covers the mountains, he releases fury on the rebel lands.” The terms that relate to awe, fear, and wonder can be exemplified in the Sumerian expressions connected to Ninurta, suggesting that he possesses melammu (l.1), ni2 (l.14), has ni2-gal (17), ni2, me-lem4, all terms that relate to the terrible, fear-inspiring, and wondrous awesomeness of the deities. Interestingly, the strongest emotion terms are verbalized with regard to Ninurta’s monstrous enemy, Asag: he is a warrior who knows no fear, his face

30 31

I do not use the Akkadian translation of the later bilingual version here (Seminara 2001). Wilcke (1976, 208) dates Lugale to a little later than Gudea, ruler of the city of Lagaš (c.2144–c.2124), while Cooper (1978, 10) argues against a redaction during Gudea’s time. Black (1992, 86) believes Lugale to be a court poem of the Third Dynasty of Ur (2112 BC– 2004 BC) or of the Isin Dynasty (2017–1794), adapted from earlier material that originated in Lagaš in ‘the ambience of the cult of Ninğirsu.’

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knows no shame, he is impudent and arrogant; he has a dread glory; people are terrified of him; fear even makes their flesh creep (terms used in ll. 24–47); Heaven/the god An and Earth/the goddess Ki tremble and huddle at Ninurta’s feet for fear of Asag, Ki cries (ll. 70–95); people are described as very afraid of Asag (ll. 96–118): they hug themselves, they curse the Earth/Ki, they consider the day of Asag’s birth a disaster. The fear of Asag is described in much more detail and more vividly than the feelings of awe and respect for Ninurta. Humans, plants, stones, the entire mountain regions, and the other gods are described as very afraid of Asag in the first part of the composition until Ninurta vanquishes him. The actions of Asag are so fear-inducing that even the gods are scared: An was overwhelmed, crouched, wrung his hands against his stomach; Enlil groaned and hid himself in a corner, the Anuna32 flattened themselves against walls, the house was full of fearful sighing as of pigeons (ll. 182–185).33 The narrative engages its readers and listeners and makes them participate in the fearsomeness or scariness of the monstrous opponent by describing all the other gods, the mountain peoples, and Ninurta’s weapon-aide, Šarur, as intensely afraid. Thus, one of the primary verbalized emotions is fear, and that fear is primarily elicited with respect to the monstrous opponent. Indeed, the strong fear verbalized vis-à-vis Asag throws an uncertain light back on Ninurta: will he even be able to overcome the monster? Another key emotion verbalized directly in the text is anger. The interspersed text segments offer descriptions of Ninurta’s anger (ll. 96–118) that represents him or it as a raging tempest against the rebel lands (ll. 122–34). This image culminates in the battle against Asag in which Ninurta smashes, destroys, and kills in his anger (251–64). Ninurta howls, roars, and makes the mountains wail (281–84). After the victory, the text states that he starts to calm down (299); the Sumerian term indicates calmness, coldness, or reduced heat. Ninurta’s anger is a strong force that clearly helps him overcome his opponent. In the long section in which Ninurta curses and blesses the stone warriors according to whether they fought for or against him in the battle (416–644), 32 33

Anuna is a term for a group of deities; An, Enlil, or Ninlil are names of deities. I here use the translation of the ETCSL site (see Black et al. 2006), although this is problematic in some respects, especially with regard to potential new work and fragments published since 2006. My analyses here are, however, merely exemplary, and can be carried out with the text then extant.

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the two emotions mostly verbalized are fear and anger-related (e.g., 418, 422, 544 et passim). These likely serve to heighten emotions of awe, respect, and fear vis-à-vis Ninurta after the battle. But the verbalized emotions certainly do not exhaust the emotional work that this text performs and stimulates. The text also contains story effects that serve to stimulate reactions of uncertainty, disorientation, and confusion, most of which are story effects that increase arousal. While the narrative sequence of the hero’s quest and combat against his monstrous opponent can certainly be discerned, I have, in a previous analysis, pointed out how this narrative structure is almost overwhelmed by elaborate metaphorical descriptions that often use conflicting metaphors of the same characters, and describe Ninurta and his opponent in terms that make them virtually indistinguishable (see Feldt 2011b), just as the text inserts hymnic passages and character speeches (Feldt 2018) that make for a disorienting reader or audience experience. This difficulty of discerning the narrative structure, in combination with the disorientation generated via the very complex, conflicting, and confusing metaphorical character descriptions that make Asag and Ninurta into quite similar characters, are not only emotion and sensoryheightening narrative strategies at the story level, but also strategies that are apt to generate uncertainty, hesitation, and cognitive confusion. Elsewhere, I have argued that these kinds of textual plays with the differences between the two protagonists and the deliberate blurring of the boundaries between them open up the possibility of questioning the distinctions upon which the cultural order rests, and that complexity, playfulness, and ambiguity are key parts of Ninurta’s Exploits (Feldt 2011b). I suggest that analyses of the emotional stimulation provided by the text further support that previous analysis, and that the narrative complexity—the purposeful enabling of reflections on the cultural order and its contingency—could characterize the Old-Babylonian narrative culture more broadly. In addition to the above suggestions towards how my previous analysis supports the present discussion of emotionality, the myth contains several passages that use horror effects, as it were; effects that also heighten emotion stimulation, as in these passages: Asag lept up at the head of the battle. For a club it uprooted the sky, took it in its hand; like a snake it slid its head along the ground. It was a mad dog attacking to kill the helpless, dripping with sweat on its flanks. [. . .] Like an accursed storm, it howled in a raucous voice; like a gigantic snake, it roared at the land. It dried up the waters of the mountains, dragged away the tamarisks, tore the flesh of the earth and covered her with painful wounds. It set fire to the reedbeds, bathed the sky in blood,

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turned it inside out; it dispersed the people there. At that moment, on that day, the fields became black scum, across the whole extent of the horizon, reddish like purple dye—truly it was so! (168–86). The destructive mace set fire to the mountains, the murderous weapon smashed skulls with its painful teeth, the club which tears out entrails piled up noses. The lance was stuck into the ground and the crevasses filled with blood. In the rebel lands the dogs licked it up like milk (256–60). Horror effects are attained in these passages not only by means of hyperbole and gigantism (using the sky as a club, for instance), but also by using elements from familiar and known natural phenomena and mixing them, or turning them upside-down, to achieve an effect of a transgression of the normal and familiar world. In this way, the typical background enters the foreground to disturb the normal and well-known, like a sky bathed in blood or a pile of noses, and this is likely to stimulate reactions of disgust, dread, and cognitive fascination.34 Combined with the above narrative construction strategies, the audience is here stimulated towards heightened arousal with regard to the hero protagonist, as well as towards a meta-reflection on the cultural order and the nature of sovereignty. For if the grand hero’s opponent is constructed as very similar to him, and has subjects and a throne similarly to him as shown in Feldt 2011b, perhaps the outside, the mountains, are not even monstrous enemies, and perhaps the hero’s quest for domination is somewhat ambiguous? Perhaps other gods are even more fearsome and strong than Ninurta? The hero comes out as ambiguous, the order of others (the mountains, kur) is quite similar to that of the land (kalam), and sovereignty is presented as transient and up for grabs. That said, even as the text in its form and its content suggests or makes possible a meta-reflection on the heroic narrative culture, it still also contains hymn sections that verbalize emotions of respect and awe towards the divine protagonist, just as he is praised for reorganizing the mountains and arranging the flow of the rivers. Yet, in combination with the ambiguity and emotion-heightening narrative strategies used, meta-reflection on the narrative culture is enabled. In our next text, we get an indication of an emic awareness of this in a story that effectively turns the hero-plot on its head.

34

Pascal Boyer’s famous counterintuitivity theory offers relevant background assumptions here.

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4.2 Ninurta and the Turtle: Laughing out Loud at the Gods Ninurta and the Turtle is a fragmented Sumerian narrative text from the same era, the beginning of the second millennium BCE, but it does not share the impressive transmission history of Ninurta’s Exploits.35 I have selected this text for comparison because it stimulates different emotional responses, and because it shows—via different narrative means, and by parodying the larger and more authoritative narratives of Ninurta—that the aspects brought out in the above analyses were sometimes taken even further in re-narrations within the Old-Babylonian Mesopotamian narrative culture. In several ways, this story stimulates laughter, even a laughter directed at Ninurta, but it does so without any verbalized emotion terms to that end. Ninurta and the Turtle explicitly rewrites the basic fabula of the other narratives of the hero-god.36 A fabula-analysis shows that the basic actor-functions are reversed so that the hero comes to occupy the narrative slot of the monster and Ninurta’s heroic exploits amount to silly ambitions of world hegemony. The constellation of actors (the hero, the monstrous adversary, the superior god or father, and the mother) is re-found in most Ninurta mythology (thus Ninurta’s Exploits/Lugale, Angim, The Anzû Epic). In this story, Ninurta faces the monster Anzu.37 The text is quite terse and demands a certain amount of existing knowledge in its audience: the major reason that we recognize amaranzu as the monstrous adversary-villain, Ninurta as the hero, and Enki as the dispatcher or sender is simply that they are referential characters whom we know well from other narratives of the era. They fit into specific frames of reference and expectations. Thus, the functional actors are the Anzu-chick (or, Baby Anzu), Ninurta, Enki, and Ninmena. The conflict concerns the possession of a set of specific objects (the me [divine ordinances]), the ğiš-hur (plans), and the dub nam-tar-ra (tablet of destinies), and the power they give their master: world rule. We see the following distribution of actor roles on the characters initially: Monstrous adversary/villain: amar-anzu Hero: Ninurta 35 36

37

UET 6/2, no. 3, pl. 4–5 (U 16900C) plus fragments/duplicates; see here Alster (2006). It was found at Ur and it dates to the Isin-Larsa period. There is a difference between the continual forms of (implicit) rewriting that takes place in all literature and then explicit rewritings of other myths. For some reflections related to the rewriting of biblical myths in contemporary fantasy novels, see Feldt (2009). Anzu is the well-known name of a bird-monster, textually known from the Lugalbanda stories and from the Epic of Anzû and elsewhere. The subject is enormous; see Feldt (2006) for further discussion.

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Dispatcher/sender: Enki Helper: Ninmena? (surmised) The story, however, makes the characters undergo certain transformations in terms of their functions: Monstrous adversary, amar-anzu, turns helper Hero, Ninurta, turns monstrous adversary Dispatcher/sender, Enki, turns hero Helper: Ninmena . . .? (End fragmented) Two lines of conflict can be found in the story, one between amar-anzu and Ninurta over the desired objects, and one between Ninurta and Enki over the same: control over the world. We see the reversal of expectations and the shift in perspectives that Vandaele identified as a prerequisite for narrative humor and the stimulation of laughter: the surprise of a story of Ninurta in which he does not vanquish the monster, in which he is led back from the battle by the monster, and in which he is tricked by another god for entertaining ambitions of world dominion and finally falls into a pit that he cannot get out of. In addition to the fabula/story interaction, and the reversals of expectations, the “text” layer also helps to stimulate laughter and surprise. Here, the opponent monster is referred to by a diminutive, a nickname, amar-anzu, which translates to Baby-Anzu, or Fledgling Anzu. Instead of heightening the dangerous and scary qualities of the opponent monster, the diminutive effectively shrinks the giant monster and mocks Ninurta, for when the dangerous monster is depicted as a non-scary baby bird monster, then the normal gratification of the heroic fabula is disturbed and the hero is revealed as a sissy. When the superior god then proceeds to honor the hero-god, as is commonly done in Ninurta narratives when he returns victorious from the battle, then the satire becomes palpable. Clearly, Ninurta is not heroic and he has caught no monsters. The monster has caught him: Baby Anzu took the hero Ninurta by his hand and drew near with him to Enki’s place, the abzu. Baby Anzu returned Uta-ulu38 to the abzu (10–12) Lord Nudimmud39 honored him [Ninurta] duly: ‘Hero, no god among your brother gods could have acted so. As for the bird which your mighty

38 39

This is a less well attested epithet of Ninurta; see Alster (2006). This is a well-attested epithet of Enki.

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weapon captured, from now to eternity you will keep your foot placed on its neck (15–19).’ According to the heroic fabula, the hero ought to have killed the monster in the wilderness and brought it back to the land. Here, Baby Anzu, the opponent monster, takes the hero by the hand and leads him back, and then the deity Enki, who is fully aware what has happened, nevertheless praises Ninurta as if he had captured a dangerous enemy. The conflict of the story concerns the possession of the me (divine ordinances), the ğiš-hur (plans), and the dub nam-tar-ra (tablet of destinies),40 and the power they give their master: world rule. We expect Ninurta to be the hero and the Anzu-chick his monstrous adversary. But as the story unfolds, the monstrous adversary, the Anzu-chick, becomes a helper, the hero Ninurta takes the role of monstrous adversary, and the sender Enki becomes the hero. In the course of the narrative, a transformation takes place, where the initial conflict between the Anzu-chick and the hero Ninurta is transformed to a conflict between Ninurta, who is now the adversary and the deity Enki, who is revealed as the hero. Ninurta ends up in a pit with a turtle scratching his feet with its claws. And the great lord Enki says to him, appropriately: “Where has your strength fled? Where is your heroism?” (52–53). Heroism and monstrosity are shown to be contingent constructions, or at least transient, just as sovereignty or power is. This characteristic play with the functions of the fabula structure and the distribution of the functions between the actors mocks Ninurta by playing with the expectations to him as a character and to the structure of ‘his’ stories. In an interesting variant of the hero myth-fabula, the hero fails in the first conflict; in the second, the hero becomes the monster, functionally speaking. In this way, it stimulates laughter and brings out the contingency in the hero-monster constructions and the convergence between the two. Similarly, to what we saw in Ninurta’s Exploits, but evoked by different means, the cultural order is revealed as contingent and we see several disorienting effects.

40

The objects of desire, the me (divine ordinances), ğiš-hur (plan), dub nam-tar-ra (tablet of destinies), are important concepts but notoriously difficult to define. These cultural “concepts” are mentioned in ll. 1–8. Judging from ll. 2–4, they are object-like in that one may carry them in one’s hand, yet they are able to return to the abzu of their own accord. They give lordship, rule, to their possessor (l.7). They are treated as synonymous: in l.7 reference is made to the me only, and the concept of me seems to subsume the other two, the ğiš-hur and the dub nam-tar-ra. A more detailed discussion can be found in Feldt (2006).

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Narrative Culture and Emotions in Old-Babylonian Mesopotamia

In the above, I have looked at two examples of the stimulation of emotions in Old-Babylonian religious, literary compositions with the same heroic fabula. Which kinds of emotions were verbalized, which kinds of emotional reactions did these narratives stimulate, and what kinds of relations to the deities were enabled and circumscribed? How does an analysis of emotional stimulation in religious narrative shed light on practices of storytelling in an ancient narrative culture? The above example of switching perspectives in Ninurta and the Turtle suggests some awareness of alternative ways of constructing order and a sense of contingency; aspects that were also brought out in Ninurta’s Exploits. Thus, the Sumerian “literary critics” and “religious experts” could not only play with, laugh at, and mock the deities, but also reflect on the givens of the cultural classifications. The Ninurta and the Turtle story parodically rewrites Ninurta, transforming his presentation from valiant hero to sobbing youngster, caught in a hole and defeated by a turtle. Sovereignty and heroism are here clearly verbalized as something several characters vie for; sovereignty is transient. Cunning intelligence gets the upper hand, when the god Enki fools the muscle Ninurta. Interestingly, this tablet was found in the same archaeological context, ‘No. 1 Broad St’ in the city of Ur, which was a scribal school, the same archaeological context from which we have copies of the compositions Ninurta’s Exploits (Lugale) and Angimdimma,41 and from the same time period.42 The latter two are not explicitly parodical or humorous, but they nevertheless bring out some of the same ambiguities (Feldt 2011b; 2010). This suggests that such traits could be important parts of what characterises the OldBabylonian narrative culture—that it heightens complexities, finds ambiguities useful, or deliberately makes the most of them, and so seems to encourage reflection, in religious narratives, on the contingencies of the cultural order.43 Thus, while some religious narratives may indeed be manifestly monological, bluntly preachy, attempting to influence their audience to believe, feel, and 41 42

43

More information about Angimdimma and an analysis of the monsters in the text in Feldt (2010). Cf. Vanstiphout (2003) for a discussion of Old Babylonian catalogues. It is important to pay attention to the scribal schools as a context of usage, also because other potential contexts of use such as temples or royal palaces are merely speculative. It is also crucial to understand that in ancient Mesopotamia, scribes and ritual experts were very often the same persons. This suggestion can seem a little bold based on an analysis of merely two narratives, but the work of the late Bendt Alster as well as Herman Vanstiphout points in a similar direction, and cf. the references in the following section on the scribal schools (below).

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act in specific ways, or defending order over disorder, it seems that the OldBabylonian narrative culture functioned differently, valuing narratives with ambiguity, complexity, many perspectives, and stimulated cognitive fascination and humor, not the monological seriousness we often connect to the idea of what a religious narrative is.44 The traits that were identified as characteristic of this particular narrative culture were identified by means of classical narratological analysis, in combination with an attention to the emotions and emotional stimulation—which is not a key topic in neither classical nor postclassical narratology.45 The analysis showed how intimately emotional stimulation is connected to story construction, and to shared understandings and expectations in a common narrative culture. With regard to narrative cultures, we could also use insights from a general literary-theoretical perspective that no narrative is told or written entirely from scratch because all narratives participate in intertextual dialogues with previous works of literature and narration. Even if this can be understood in an extended and trivial sense,46 it does remain that the production of new narratives always involves acts of re-narration, reception, and transformation of previous narratives or works of literature (Bloom 1997; Feldt 2009). This means that religious narratives are continually in a process of transformation of previous narratives within a narrative culture. This taps in nicely with the aims of the present volume, but also underlines how religious narratives, and religious narrative cultures, are much more malleable than sometimes thought. A retelling or re-narration from a narratological perspective can be understood, as I have here, in the specific sense of an explicit intertextual referencing, re-use, and transformation of key elements of another text—for instance, narrative structure, major characters, or other structural and/or dominant features.47 But even without the explicit references between the two texts or the 44 45

46

47

Comparatively, the much later and more well-known Akkadian composition Enuma elish is much more clearly monological and serious in its tone. Bal does touch upon emotions, but not directly. Herman (2009) mentions emotionality, but Hogan seems to be correct in his assessment that this is an area that needs much more work (2011, 1). And, in some respects, also an unworkable sense, because the processes involved are often implicit and discernible only to specialized readers and / or work only idiosyncratically. See Feldt (2009) and Lachmann (2004) for further discussion; see Alter (2000) for discussions of rewritings of the bible in modern fiction. See also the abundance of work on the subject of the so-called “rewritten bible” texts. Literary critic Robert Alter suggests that the encounter between a literary antecedent and new works of literature involves both continuity and change, both iconoclasm and traditionalism (Alter 2000, 1–20). Even the most radical transformation of a literary antecedent is, at the same time, a reaffirmation of the continuing authority of the earlier work in cultural memory (Alter 2000, 20).

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referential characters, we see how they are connected to each other by sharing a common fabula, by the theme of the hero’s ambiguity, and by their marked preference for narrative complexity, ambiguity, and devices that encourage disorientation and thus reflection. This ties in with Hogan’s discussion of how the heroic narrative structure is often undermined or criticized in hero stories, and how ambiguity and ambivalence will often manifest in heroic plots in ways that are inconsistent with dominant ideologies and incompatible with those who are paying for the production and consumption of the texts (Hogan 2011, 22.249–51). The traits identified here may indeed be traits that help cultivate empathy across group boundaries by weakening categorial identification in a structure—the heroic fabula—that it is otherwise likely to have as its main ideological function to cultivate in-group categorial identification. Recent Assyriological work on the Old-Babylonian scribal curriculum and on scribal education demonstrates that a great deal of individuality existed among the school masters and that ideas of standardization and “original text” are not apt descriptors of this scribal culture (Delnero 2012; Kleinerman 2011; Gadotti & Kleinerman 2011; 2012; Michalowski 2012; 2013; Peterson 2015; Cristostomo 2015).48 Instead, variation, innovation, fluidity, and compositional freedom were valued (Crisostomo 2015, 131). The Old-Babylonian curriculum has been characterized as representing “innovation, a new way of generating and collating knowledge” (Veldhuis 2014, 223–25), and one in which ad hoc innovation was welcomed (Crisostomo 2015, 138). The two narratives used here fit well with this characterization of the scribal culture responsible for the production, transmission, and consumption of these religious narratives; a narrative culture that does not value dogmatic seriousness, but instead subtle literary skill, playfulness, multiperspectivism, and humor vis-à-vis the deities. These aspects of the Old-Babylonian narrative culture related to the existence of culturally-connected and internally competitive city states in the Babylonian area without an overarching imperial state, which could have formed an impetus towards this kind of advanced collective self-reflection, as well as to an educated guild of literary critics and religious experts who competed with each other over subtleties. Franco Moretti has assessed that between 99% and 99.5% of all literary works disappear or are lost in the long run (Moretti 2000). Even if a comparably high percentage is unlikely in the history of transmission of ancient Mesopotamia, at least partly due to the rarity, effort, and expense involved in committing compositions to writing, it illustrates the basic fact of the rarity of cultural selection. The case of the history of transmission of

48

P. Delnero (2012) has demonstrated for literature that the concept of a composition is quite fluid in the Old-Babylonian period; rewriting is welcome.

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the Ninurta narratives is, in this light, quite striking. The material selected for study here belongs to the culturally-selected and prestigious narrative literature belonging to the core curriculum of the Old Babylonian edubba, scribal school (Vanstiphout 2003), and of later Mesopotamian scribal culture (van der Toorn 2009; Lambert 1986).49 Ninurta’s Exploits belongs to the rare samples of Old Babylonian Sumerian literature which was translated into Akkadian (Seminara 2001) and which remained present also in the Akkadian canon until the demise of the Mesopotamian cultures (Vanstiphout 2003, 11). In addition, the texts qualify as ‘myths’ or ‘religious narratives,’ and so, from standard perspectives in the study of religion, they can be understood to have important authoritative or modelling functions for a society just as they were, in all likelihood, important for attachments to the deity Ninurta who belonged to the group of the more central gods in all three millennia of Mesopotamian history of religions (Alster & Westenholz 1994; Annus 2002; Streck 1998–2000). These stories would have participated in the broader imagination of—and emotional engagements to—Ninurta. In that light, their particular qualities stand out as quite striking in light of work on myth in the study of religions that has stressed the capacity of religious narratives to orient identity and to maintain institutions and social order because the emotions and other effects stimulated here are quite different from what is often expected in religious narratives. I suggest that we need to look much more closely at how narrative cultures create and sustain religious emotional practices as key elements of their aesthetics—at how they engage their audiences by moving them via feelings by projecting characters in front of the religious group as valuable and sanctioned, as horrific and scary, or as contested and laughable.

6

Conclusion

In this chapter, I have outlined a strategy of analysis for emotions in narratives that can help us approach religious narratives in an aesthetic way. The aesthetic perspective allows us to investigate religious stories in a way that does not over-determine which response is or should be elicited, but investigates how the narratives, and religious narrative cultures, cultivate different emotional responses. Here, I have suggested a strategy of analysis for the aes-

49

Although Ninurta’s Exploits and Angim are missing from the catalogue usually referred to as P, they do feature in catalogues L and U, and ought, indeed, to feature also in P (Vanstiphout 2003, 11 n.52).

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thetics of religion to analyze how religious narratives move religious participants, how they make the superhuman characters engaging and relevant, and how they cultivate sensibilities and emotional norms and practices. The strategy of analysis is informed by the narratological concepts of Mieke Bal, by the understanding that narrative analysis is a form of cultural analysis, and by contemporary advances in research on narrativity and the emotions. It moves in a series of three steps, moving from 1) the analysis of verbalized emotion terms and 2) emotional effects stimulated via story construction, to, finally, 3) an assessment of the general level of emotion stimulation in the narrative or set of narratives overall. This chapter argues that narratology as a mode of cultural analysis is useful for historians of religion, and especially for the aesthetics of religion because it offers useful keys to a better understanding of the polyphony of ancient narrative cultures. In the analysis of exemplary cases, narratives were shown to have an emotional impact unique to each story. One of the narratives labored to elicit a sensory and cognitive response of hesitation, fear, and horror, and, through complex ambiguities, to stimulate reflection on the nature and character of the cultural order versus the monstrous other. The other narrative strove for subversion and reversal of expectations, for laughter and emotional relief by mocking the grand hero. This shows how religious representations (counterintuitive or transempirical concepts) do not appear in a “pure” form but depend thoroughly on their narrative context, and it therefore helps us understand better how people are moved to engage with deities: not as abstract entities, concepts, or via theologies—but through narrative and emotions. Uncertainty, horror, or even laughter may be responses to some types of religious narrative or cultivated by them, and nonetheless still be part of religion. I hope that the above suggestions for strategies of analysis of emotions in narrative cultures will be useful for bringing out more complexity in future research on emotions with[in] religious narratives. Religious stories do not necessarily—or even solely—alleviate fear, incoherence, or lack of meaning, but may also actively create and sustain horror, fear, ambiguity, and uncertainty, and even sometimes make us reflect on the cultural order and laugh vigorously at the gods.

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Chapter 6

Aztec Pictorial Narratives: Visual Strategies to Activate Embodied Meaning and the Transformation of Identity in the Mapa de Cuauhtinchan No. 2 Isabel Laack

1

Introduction

The Aztecs of pre-Hispanic Mexico cherished elegant speech and the powers of storytelling and, over time, developed a rich and colorful oral tradition. To record the central elements of their history, cultural knowledge, and core narratives, they used a pictorial sign system based on visuality as its principal strategy to convey meaning. This system of recorded visual communication employed mimetic visual imagery along with conventional symbols for abstract concepts arranged in complex visual structures and spatial compositions rather than abstract signs representing the sounds of language. The narrative strategies1 provided by Aztec pictography on the visual level are of a profoundly different nature than those that are used in narratives written down in phonographic scripts. Although the manner in which Aztec pictography works is closer to the visual communication in graphs and tables, graphic novels, or fine art painting, it has commonly been framed as a writing system. Thus, it was compared with the expressive possibilities of alphabetical writing, most often with negative results, and subjected to a strong logocentric ideology (see Derrida 1967) resulting in its declassification as a mere forerunner of “true” writing. Influenced by the same European tradition of language and writing theories, the academic analysis of religious narratives has largely been inspired by the reading and thinking modes found in alphabetically recorded linear narratives. The study of religion, on one hand, has, in its history, predominantly focused on the exegesis of verbal narratives written down in phonographic scripts, mostly in form of the canonized sacred texts of the world. It has also been dominated by a strong textual approach projecting concepts from the European 1 See, for the concept of “narrative strategies,” Johannsen & Kirsch, 2020.

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text tradition to other forms of human communication and to any kinds of performative actions. The academic field of narratology, on the other hand, was traditionally developed to analyze the forms and structures of verbal narratives, preferentially those in written form. This chapter intends to change perspective on the narrative powers of religious stories recorded in Aztec pictography by building on the approaches of narrative cultures and the aesthetics of religion as advocated in this volume (see Johannsen & Kirsch, this volume). It aims at transcending textual patterns of analysis and theory building by opening up to nonlinguistic modes of experience and their influence on narrative structures and strategies. The most pronounced characteristic of Aztec pictorial painting in difference to alphabetical writing is its potential to exceed the limitations of linguistic expression, a quality it shares with other culturally coded nonlinguistic media and art forms. As an example for the many different methodological possibilities to access and analyze this characteristic, this chapter draws on the theories of embodied metaphors and embodied meaning by philosopher Mark L. Johnson and cognitive linguist George P. Lakoff. In short, these theories argue that verbal reasoning employs a large range of conceptual metaphors that are based on our bodily experience of the world. These metaphors and all kinds of embodied meaning drawing on the aesthetic and visual dimensions of experiences form the foundation even for highly abstract forms of reasoning and, consequently, also for the formation of narrative strategies. My argument is that Aztec pictorial painting offers efficient and effective means to communicate these embodied metaphors on a visual level without the detour of language. These visual strategies, in their interaction with the oral and linguistic interpretation of the stories told in the manuscripts, had the potential to evoke complex layers of embodied meaning. To illustrate this argument, the chapter focuses on a migration account depicted in the early colonial pictorial manuscript known as the Mapa de Cuauhtinchan No. 2 based on the master narrative about the change of social, cultural, and religious identity through migration and through passing several ordeals on the way.

2

Aztec Migration Accounts

The people currently known as the Aztecs lived in the Central Mexican Highlands some 500 years ago. In the thirteenth century CE, several Nahuatlspeaking groups had migrated from the northern deserts into the Central Highlands, where they mixed with locally living people and founded new settlements. The following centuries witnessed rapid demographic expansion

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with growing city-states interacting through alliances and military conflicts. In the early fourteenth century, the ethnic subgroup of the Mexica living at Tenochtitlan increasingly expanded its political and economic influence in the Highlands and finally dominated large parts of Mesoamerica in what is typically called the Aztec empire. Although the Aztec empire was a mosaic of languages, ethnic groups, and traditions with much cultural diversity, the people nevertheless shared fundamental aspects of cosmovision and religious practice based on a common material culture, life style, and social system. Over time, cultural ideas and practices were increasingly exchanged between the communities, mainly through the extensive interaction of the local elites and a strong and vivid market network encompassing all of Mesoamerica. In this way, art and writing styles were progressively standardized and religious approaches aligned, leading to a considerable unity in basic principles of cosmovision and religious practice. This general cultural and religious unity also concerns central myths and stories, which draw on shared basic concepts of historiography, cosmological ideas, and recurring elementary narrative patterns and motifs. With regard to collective identity, people identified primarily with their local altepetl (city-state) with its specific founding legend and patron deity. Several types of sources expressing these perspectives on the world have survived to this day. Among them are manuscripts written in the traditional Indigenous style of pictorial writing, such as the Codex Borbonicus (Anders, Jansen & Reyes García 1991), the Codex Boturini/Tira de la Peregrinación (Rubin, Lejarazu & Arroyo 1991), the Codex Xolotl (Dibble 1980), or the Mapa Quinantzin (Mohar Betancourt 2004). There is a larger number of colonial sources, which increasingly, and in creative and diverse forms, incorporate the style of alphabetical writing as introduced by the Spaniards after the conquest, such as the Historia Tolteca-Chichimeca (Leibsohn 2009), the Relaciones Geographicas (Acuña 1984–1987), or the genre of the Primordial Titles (see, e.g., Lockhart, Sousa & Wood 2007). In the latter sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, Natives trained in the Franciscan missionary schools recorded in alphabetical prose many aspects of pre-Hispanic culture and history—for example, the treatises by Fernando de Alva Ixtlilxochitl (1997), Hernando de Alvarado Tezozómoc (1975), and Domingo de San Antón Muñon Chimalpahin Cuauhtlehuanitzin (1997; 1998). These are complemented by texts written by Spanish missionaries, such as Motolinía (1985), Durán (1971; 1994), or Torquemada (1976). In pre-Hispanic Aztec culture, mytho-historical narratives played decisive roles for the formation of the collective identity of local communities. Among these, several master narratives recur in many different sources. One of these

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narratives, which was far spread in Central Mexico, recounts the origin myth of several ethnic groups at a place called Chicomoztoc. According to the protonarrative, several ethnic groups had dwelt in seven caves at Chicomoztoc (Place of the Seven Caves) at the beginning. Guided by their respective tutelary deity, the groups left the caves, one after another, set out into the world, and founded settlements in the Central Highlands. In some variants of this story (see, e.g., the Historia Tolteca-Chichimeca), the groups living in the caves of Chicomoztoc are Chichimecs, who are depicted in many pictorial sources as wild people wearing animal skin as clothing, hunting with bows and arrows, and being fierce warriors (e.g., in the Mapa Quinantzin). After their birth from the caves, the Chichimecs gradually acquired traits of Mesoamerican civilization through their migration to the Basin of Mexico, their settlement, and their intermarriages with descendants of the Toltecs. In this way, they adopted what was perceived as a distinguished, civilized, and cultivated way of life.

3

Aztec Record Keeping and Storytelling

The Aztecs preserved central elements of their history, cosmovision, and cultural knowledge by using pictography as a form of visual record keeping painted on Indigenous paper and cloth. As Aztec identity was based on a strong historical consciousness, record keeping played a prominent role, and each royal family supported its own record keeper and guide of the books (Schroeder 2006, 18–20). Evidently, many nobles had large collections of books stored in the amoxcalli (library), that is, a room or house for books (see, e.g., Díaz del Castillo 2008, 169, who mentioned the large library of the Aztec king Motecuhzoma II). Written documents and books were also highly valued as the foundation for wisdom and a civilized way of life. Regrettably, only few of these Indigenous manuscripts survived the conquest wars, the burning by frenetic missionaries, and finally the corruption of time. The system of visual communication used in Aztec books was not phonographic, that is, based on the transcription of linguistic sounds (such as in alphabetical scripts). Rather, as a pictographic system, it used visual imagery including mimetic, iconic, conventional, figural, descriptive, and emblematic signs arranged in complex two-dimensional spatial compositions. Specific genres such as divination almanacs or historical accounts employed particular types of visual structures. While the divination almanacs show structures similar to graphs or diagrams, historical accounts such as migration stories often work with little scenes of events as in graphic novels. For these, Indigenous painters could choose between several basic forms of organization: time-

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line representations, event series, or cartographies (Boone 2007a, 64–86). Each of these emphasized one aspect of the information relevant for stories: time, event, or location. Some colonial alphabetical manuscripts (see, e.g., the Leyenda de los Soles in the Codex Chimalpopoca, Bierhorst 1992a; Bierhorst 1992b) actually appear to be transcriptions of direct linguistic interpretations of specific pictorial manuscripts in the language Nahuatl. This is indicated by the alphabetical notations of mnemonic devices and phrases like in nican ca and izcatqui (both meaning “here is”) or niman ic (then). We know that these phrases were used by the interpreters of manuscripts when they pointed to and read a specific part of the manuscript (see León-Portilla 1992a, 328). Beyond this, however, we do not know much about the social and material text practices including practices of “reading.” They appear to have been far from the modern European practice of silent reading for the purpose of accumulating knowledge. In general, “reading,” and all activities associated with literacy, are socially and culturally formed; as such, they are different from culture to culture and from situation to situation (see, e.g., Monaghan 1998, 131). Aztec text practices, at large, included the oral, linguistic interpretation of the manuscripts often performed in public. Several Nahuatl terms for “reading” refer to both the pictorial record and its oral recitation (see Lockhart 1993, 326–27, 576; Boone 1994, 71). The manuscripts known as Cantares Mexicanos (Bierhorst 1985) and Romances de los Señores de la Nueva España (Bierhorst 2009) preserved the linguistic parts of a collection of Aztec songs and include some rudimentary cues to their musical and performative parts, such as sung vocables or the transcriptions of drum rhythms. We also know from colonial reports that these songs were embedded in multi-media performances in the context of rituals and feasts. Apparently, these performances included texts and images read and explained, singing, music, dancing, and ritual offerings in “highly complex, multidimensional constellations of words, images, performances, and oral traditions” (Navarrete 2011, 176). In addition, pictorial texts were evidently also used as visual scores for dramatic enactments and as ritual prescripts (see Boone 2007a, 157–69; Jansen & Pérez Jiménez 2007, 34). In Aztec culture, orality and literacy were strongly intertwined. The performance of many speeches and songs was based on interpretations of the painted manuscripts. The Nahuatl-speaking Aztecs had a very strong oral tradition and cherished elegant speech and song extraordinarily. Rhetorics were among the most important cultural media, and they were taught rigorously in the schools educating young people. The nobles of Aztec society—and, most importantly, the respective kings of the city states, the tlatoani (directly translated as “speaker”)—were, in particular, expected to excel in elegant speech

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understood as a precious form of art. The Aztecs developed many different genres, which generally elude European categories in style, format, and function (Lockhart 1993, 374). Some scholars such as Miguel León-Portilla believe that the Aztec pictorial writing system only served as an auxiliary visual mnemonic device to better remember the oral tradition (e.g., 1992b, 70). This idea is inspired by its implicit comparison with alphabetical writing, which is much more suited to record all details of linguistic expression including the subtleties of Aztec rhetorics. Codices such as the Codex Boturini reduce historical events to their “barest essence,” “to their epitome, their most essential and distilled visual form” (Boone 1994, 71) and thus seem to ask for oral complementation. Following this interpretation, the graphic messages in such “storybooks” (Carrasco 2000, 20) triggered the memory of the respective story, which was then orally performed with all its details. Notwithstanding the function of pictorial texts to be used in relation to the oral tradition, scholars such as art historian Elizabeth H. Boone (2007a, 238) have argued to understand pictorial writing on its own account. If correlated to European systems of visual communication, pictorial writing should be compared with the graphs, diagrams, or charts used in the European natural sciences rather than with phonographic recordings. Considering the expressionistic visual force of some pictorials, e.g. in the Codex Borgia (Anders, Jansen & Reyes García 1993), pictorial writing might also be compared to the European category of visual arts communicating kinds of meaning different to verbally expressed propositions. In either way, pictorial writing works in a different way than phonographic writing by appealing to visually encoded metaphors, abstract thoughts, and experiences.

4

The Mapa de Cuauhtinchan No. 2

The Mapa de Cuauhtinchan No. 2 is one of the most impressive surviving early colonial manuscripts from Central Mexico that was painted in the style of Indigenous pictorial writing. Its history was largely unknown before it was copied by Eduardo Bello for the Historical-American Exhibition in Madrid in 1892. Declared as a Historical Monument in 1963 by the Mexican Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia, it went into private hands in the 1970s until it was bought by Ángeles Espinosa Yglesias in the 1990s and stored in the Museo Amparo in Puebla, Mexico (Yglesias 2007, XXI; Straulino 2007, 49). Yglesias commissioned Marina Straulino and her team to restore the frayed and tattered manuscript and prepare it for preservation, including re-

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productions with advanced photographic techniques and a remarkable digital restoration (Straulino 2007). Yglesias also made the manuscript available for academic analysis by an interdisciplinary team of scholars assembled by Davíd Carrasco of Harvard University, resulting in the comprehensive volume Cave, City, And Eagle’s Nest: An Interpretative Journey Through the Mapa de Cuauhtinchan No. 2 (Carrasco & Sessions 2007a). The material features of the Mapa are exceptional. The Indigenous amate paper with the size of 109 by 204 cm, folded for storing, carries a smooth undercoat and is painted with mineral and vegetal colors (see Straulino 2007, 55–60). The generally coherent pictorial painting style combines mainly Aztec with some Mixtec conventions and few European elements and is “characterized by [. . .] intense color and a repertoire of anthropomorphic, theomorphic, zoomorphic, celestial, and phytomorphic images” (Straulino 2007, 53; see also Boone 2007b; Wake 2007, 209–11). The Mapa was painted two decades after the Spanish conquest of Mexico in 1521 and was commissioned by the lords of Cuauhtinchan (Carrasco & Sessions 2007b, 1), a town in the Eastern Puebla Basin approximately 130 km linear distance south-east of Mexico City. It visually recounts the migration story of the Cuauhtinchan ancestors from their primordial origins to the founding of the town and their settlement. Several early colonial documents from Cuauhtinchan have survived and can be used for cross-references and methodical triangulation, among them a group of maps (the Mapas de Cuauhtinchan No. 1–4) and the Historia Tolteca-Chichimeca, which includes alphabetical glosses. At the time the Mapa No. 2 was painted, the Indigenous population had been greatly reduced by epidemics and required by the Spanish officials to relocate in new congregaciones (Boone 2007b, 28). Manuscripts painted in Indigenous style were acknowledged in many colonial courts to legitimize rights of lands. In this context, the Mapa served to record the history of the local community and its legitimate access to its lands and also to reaffirm the identity and power of two of the most influential ethnic factions of the town, the Nahuas and the Pinome (see Carrasco & Sessions 2007b, 11; Boone 2007b, 27–28; Wake 2007, 207–08). As the story is principally narrated graphically, it could be translated into oral discourse in different languages, be it Nahuatl or Pinome. In addition to its presentation in judicial matters, it was also highly likely used to ritually remember the history of the groups’ migration as well as its claim of territory and the foundation of the town. For these purposes, it was interpreted orally in different settings with other media and type of performances included in varying degrees (Ruiz Medrano 2007, 104–10). It was also potentially used as a script for the ritual reenactment of the history and its many involved rituals (see Wake 2007, 207).

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For the analysis of the story told in the Mapa, we can distinguish between the story and the discourse (Chatman 1978, 31); that is, between the sequence of events (story) that are related to one another in the plot and the way the story is told (discourse). The story in the Mapa de Cuauhtinchan No. 2 is a variant of the master narrative described above and tells the migration story of the ancestors of the people of Cuauhtinchan. Triangulation with other sources, such as the Historia Tolteca-Chichimeca (folios 10v–15r), helps us to decipher many depictions on the manuscript and thus to determine details of the story. It begins with the Chichimec ancestors emerging from the seven caves of Chicomoztoc at the date Ce Cipactli (1-Crododile), the first day of the tonalpohualli (the ritual calendar) and an auspicious day for beginnings. The Chichimecs were visited by two Toltec priests from the ceremonial city Chollolan/Cholula asking them to join the Toltecs in battle. The Toltecs had come into conflict with other ethnic groups living at Cholula, and their tutelary deity Tezcatlipoca had promised them the help of the Chichimecs to defeat their enemies. The Chichimecs indeed agreed to help, and a woman identified by Keiko Yoneda (2007, 172–176) as the warrior goddess Itzpapalotl (Obsidian Butterfly) led the ancestors out of the caves. After performing several rituals, the Chichimecs, guided by the two Toltec priests, went on a journey of twenty days, on which they needed to pass many ordeals before they finally arrived at Cholula. After a successful war against the enemies of the Toltecs at Cholula, the Chichimecs performed the ritual offerings of an eagle, a snake, a grasshopper, and a butterfly on the courtyard (see Asselbergs 2007, 127). Then, they were granted by the Toltecs the right to settle in the territory to the east. After exploring this territory and establishing relationships with neighboring groups, the Chichimecs founded Cuauhtinchan (House of the Eagle) (see for a detailed “reading” of the story Boone 2007b, 37–45). In the case of a pictorial manuscript such as the Mapa, the discourse of the narrative refers to the way the story is pictorially painted and spatially organized. The Mapa is painted as a cartographic representation, in which the spatial arrangement depends on the relevance and extent of events. It is fundamentally divided in two parts. In the migration as the first part of the story, space is conceptualized as an internal or experiential place and projected in a mode of tour or circuit depicting a sequence of locations through which the actors travel. The foundation of Cuauhtinchan as the second part of the story (with the happenings at Cholula in the center between both) is projected, in contrast, as a tableau or map depicting the actual geography of the territory around Cuauhtinchan (Boone 2000, 165; 2007b, 35–36). The prime actors of the story are human figures, while the deities are shown either in their human form or as short signs. Events are expressed through body movements and actions of the prime actors and take place at specific locations in the car-

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tography, sometimes identified with topographic signs. Time is, in most cases, depicted relatively by movements (for example through footprints) and sometimes specified by dates (see the analysis of narrative details by Boone 2007b, 30–32). The large Mapa contains an abundance of information with intricate narratives of many detailed scenes, which the reader can only detect by walking around the map and closely reading the scenes. It “overflows with signs and symbols of cultural styles, ritual practices, ritual places, deity manifestations, and cosmic events” (Carrasco & Sessions 2007b, 7) and is full of “colors and symbols, animals and plants, temples and gods, sacred bundles and staffs, mountains and caves, boundaries and roads, movements and settlements” (Carrasco & Sessions 2007b, 5). The painters of the Mapa used several primary visual-rhetorical tools for the discourse, most importantly the selection of specific people, places, and events representing the Chichimecs only at their strongest and emphasis through size, position, and repetition creating a hierarchy of scenes (Asselbergs 2007, 121, 138–40). The painting is dominated by three larger scenes, (1) Chicomoztoc in the upper left corner with the Chichimec priests inaugurating the journey through a New Fire Ceremony, (2) the city of Cholula in the center, and (3) the settlement of Cuauhtinchan in the center of the right side of the map. Thus, Cholula serves visually as the crucial point connecting the Chichimec ancestors with the settlers at Cuauhtinchan. In Postclassic Central Mexico, Cholula (Chollolan) was one of the most important centers of pilgrimage, and its size and position on the map shows that it was “a settlement of enormous cultural and political significance in the minds of the mapmakers” (Carrasco & Sessions 2007b, 2). The right side of the map is dominated by a presentation of the new settlement of Cuauhtinchan, combining several living quarters, two Indigenous temples, and one Franciscan church. It is not likely that the juxtaposition of the temple and church indicates historical simultaneity, since the temples were generally destroyed by the Spanish, but a symbolic representation expressing the significance of both for the identity of the people commissioning the map two decades after the conquest (see Boone 2007b, 43). Cuauhtinchan is shown surrounded by mountain ranges and other settlements, which are indicated by topographic signs and human figures. The town is connected to these neighboring settlements by many pathways of footprints, which not only present actual movement but also genealogical and other social relations (Boone 2007b, 44). The ritual and architectural foundation of the settlement of Cuauhtinchan is expressed through the depiction of many ritual performances in the mountains surrounding the place and a central New Fire Ceremony in the town itself.

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Figure 6.1 Left side of the Mapa de Cuauhtinchan No. 2 Digital reproduction by author Note: The third party copyrighted material displayed as Figures 6.1 and 6.2 in this chapter are done so on the basis of “fair dealing for the purposes of criticism and review” or “fair use for the purposes of teaching, criticism, scholarship or research” only in accordance with international copyright laws, and is not intended to infringe upon the ownership rights of the original owners. The author has made all reasonable efforts to trace all rights holders to any copyrighted material used in this work. In cases where these efforts have not been successful, the author welcomes communications from copyright holders so that the appropriate acknowledgments can be made in future editions, and to settle other permission matters.

The most characteristic feature of the discourse is the distinction between the left and the right side, separated by the Atoyac River, through the usage of different cartographic modes. While the left side depicting the migration represents experiential place in form of a tour, the right side about the settlement represents geographical and social place in form of a tableau. Correspondingly, there is also a distinction between modes of travelling. On the left side, the Chichimecs travel on a sequential path leading to Cholula. Before the Chichimecs found the new settlement of Cuauhtinchan in the center of the right side, they first travel in a circular way through the moun-

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tains and other settlements surrounding their new territory. According to the interpretation by Davíd Carrasco and Scott Sessions (2007c, 429), these different forms of travel direction express “two symbolic ways of talking about the human ordeals of leaving home,” the “labyrinthine journey through a mythicized space” on the left side and the “circumambulation around shared property” on the right side.

5

The Transformation of Identity

In general, the narrative on the Mapa places much importance on ritual performances, more than on other actions of the Chichimecs. The battle against the enemies of the Toltecs at Cholula, for example, is depicted only very briefly by showing short pictorial signs standing for battle: a bow and arrow, a shield and banner, and a date sign. In contrast, many scenes on the Mapa are filled with ritual performances. The first thing the Chichimecs do after their emergence from the caves and before starting their journey, is the performance of several rituals. Correspondingly, the victory at Cholula and the founding of Cuauhtinchan are marked as significant passages of the story through appropriate ritual performances. Both the migration to Cholula and the circumambulation of Cuauhtinchan are characterized by an extraordinarily high number of rituals including the kindling of fires, performances around sacred bundles, offerings of animals, activities with plants, the sacrifice of human beings, and heart offerings as well as the walking of boundaries. The Mapa contains references to mythical places such as Tlalocan and Tamoanchan and a large number of deities, among them Ehecatl, Tlaloc, Chalchiuhtlicue, Xochiquetzal, Tezcatlipoca, and Quetzalcoatl (see Yoneda 2007, 161). During the migration from Chicomoztoc to Cholula, the Chichimecs are primarily busy with performing rituals, apart from activities concerned with sustenance and some social interactions with locals. The twenty-day duration of the journey might have been metaphorical rather than historical, as Boone (2007b, 41) argued. The twenty-day period, running from Ce Cipactli (1Crocodile) to Chicome Xochitl (7-Flower), represents a complete cycle of day signs and as such signals “the beginning and completion of the most fundamental unit of time” (Boone 2007b, 41). These two facts, the high number of rituals and the symbolic value of the duration, point to the high significance of the migration part for the narrative. There are several indications that the journey may be interpreted as a cultural process involving a fundamental transformation of the Chichimecs’ social, cultural, and religious identity. Most importantly, the Chichimecs change their attire between their first emergence at Chicomoztoc and their settlement

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at Cuauhtinchan. The Aztecs, in general, considered the clothing and dress of human beings as well as the skin and surface of anything existing as the visible outer appearance of cosmic qualities. Every being or entity was characterized by a specific combination of cosmic qualities. Everyday clothing, warrior costumes, ritual regalia, and masks were not just outer disguises but expressions of social status and cosmic identity. As such, all kinds of social distinctions based on class, rank, reputation, profession, or success, as well as relationships to cosmic entities such as particular companion animals or deities, were reflected in the attire (Clendinnen 1991, 228–29; see also Olko 2005; Anawalt 1981). In the pictorial codices, clothing, and attire generally served as the most important markers of identity. The Chichimecs, at the beginning of the journey, are dressed in “coarse cloaks of animal hide and wear their hair bobbed with bangs” (Boone 2007b, 30–31). On their migration, they acquire additional headbands holding a feather. Only after their settlement at Cuauhtinchan, they adopt the attire of cotton cloaks as worn by the Toltec priests and people in the neighboring settlements (see the analysis by Asselbergs 2007, 124–26, 130). After settlement, they are also depicted seated in contrast to their moving gestures while dressed in animal hides during the migration. These pictorial motifs are not exclusive to the Mapa de Cuauhtinchan No. 2 but are also used in other pictorials such as the Mapa Quinantzin. Alphabetical recordings of migration narratives of the Mexica elaborate on the motif of the wild, nomadic living warrior Chichimecs changing their social, cultural, and religious identity through their immigration into the Central Highlands. Gradually acquiring traits of the Toltec civilization—both culturally as well as ethnically through intermarriage with the local Toltec ascendants—, they started to live a distinguished, civilized, and cultivated way of life after their settlement (Sahagún 1961, 170–75; see also Berdan 2014, 37–42). It is reasonable to conclude that the Mapa de Cuauhtinchan No. 2 expresses this cultural change from a hunter-gatherer existence to living in an agricultural and state society and thus an essential transformation of social identity (see Carrasco & Sessions 2007b, 12). This transformation of identity, however, was no easy endeavor; the journey to Cholula as painted on the Mapa was “extremely difficult and filled with hazards” (Carrasco & Sessions 2007c, 431). The Chichimecs met many ordeals: they crossed rivers, violently split in two groups at a crossroad, encountered dangerous animals and figures, and needed to perform human sacrifices. In contrast to the ordered circumambulation around Cuauhtinchan, the Chichimecs set their footprints on a highly meandering serpentine road leading them crisscross through the scenery. As Eleanor Wake reconstructs from several sources, the Aztecs considered serpentine roads generally as un-

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predictable places of fear and fright, where travelers could easily slip and fall and finally face death (Wake 2007, 205–06). In linguistic metaphors, they identified human life with walking on a slippery ground, where one could easily stumble and fall into some wrong (see, e.g., Sahagún 1969, VI, 228). On the Chichimecs’ dangerous journey, one section shows a series of particularly fierce ordeals, which might represent the core experiences of the transformation. The Chichimecs were subjected to a series of natural disasters: two whirlwinds, what appears to be an earthquake, and a flooding. After the end of this series, they performed two heart sacrifices to the sun god Tonatiuh. The first whirlwind, painted with dark grey shadowing whirls, rips the animal hide off a then-naked Chichimec man and throws him up into the air while sucking him down at the same time. The man’s bow, arrows, and quiver, as his cultural attributes, are whirling wildly around together with a number of blue copper axes (see Yoneda 2007, 181). The latter might be part of the tools and weapons of the Chichimec, they might also serve as symbols for the experience of wind cutting the skin sharply, as Eleanor Wake (2007, 236) suggested. The whirlwind is presided by the mask of the wind-deity, Ehecatl. Having survived the storm, the Chichimecs pass a mysterious dark blue-green serpentine figure crossing the road until they fall into a deep black rip in the road, one of them face down with only his legs still visible. According to a wide-spread Aztec belief, this rip in the earth could have been a passageway to the underworld (Carrasco & Sessions 2007c, 432). In the third scene, one Chichimec is carried off the road by a severe flood, while we see only the arm of another, who is possibly drowning. Finally, the Chichimecs are caught in a second tornado spinning at an even faster rate. The storm is again presided over by Ehecatl. This time, his mask displays (Europeanized) asterisks which appear to be the top part of a calm center of the tornado. A Chichimec man is sucked skyward with his limbs out of control, again naked, with his clothing stripped off and whirling around along with his bow and quiver, a large feather, and a headband. As in the first whirlwind, several copper axes pivot through the air; this time they are painted red, possibly indicating a different quality of wind. In all four scenes of disaster, “the human body is either stripped of its cultural elements or disappears altogether” (Carrasco & Sessions 2007c, 433). After these four disasters, the Chichimecs start to wear a headband and feather and perform a heart sacrifice jointly with the Toltec priests. These discursive elements support the interpretation of the events as core experiences of the transformation of social and cultural identity. Understanding the sequence of events as part of a historical record, we can interpret them as actual physical encounters with the elements of wind, earth, and water. It is similarly reasonable to interpret them as ritual ordeals met in

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Figure 6.2 Series of natural disasters. Mapa de Cuauhtinchan No. 2 Digital reproduction by author

hallucinatory trances, as Asselbergs (2007, 126) deduced from the fact that the involved Chichimeca are painted with closed eyes. We do not know whether the painters of the manuscript thought of external physical experiences or of internal spiritual ones, neither do we know whether these experiences actually happened historically or whether the painters included them to express a deeper layer of meaning. For the people interpreting the story, these distinctions might not have mattered in a context of storytelling. Either interpretation might serve as a powerful narrative symbol for the transformation of the social, cultural, and religious identity of the Chichimec ancestors and thus unfold the narrative efficacy of the story.

6

The Communication of Nonpropositional Meaning

As Carrasco and Sessions stated (2007b, 3), the pictorial depictions in the highly elaborately and skillfully painted Mapa de Cuauhtinchan No. 2 express “many layered narratives of human experiences and social interaction.” It is my opinion that the painted sequence of disasters, as analyzed above, shows even more: the potential and efficacy of Aztec pictography to transport complex aspects of nonpropositional meaning2—including sensory experiences,

2 “Propositional” is a term used in linguistics and philosophy to refer to the content of verbal sentences in form of logical statements that are either true or false. With “nonproposi-

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embodied metaphors, and body knowledge3—that would have been difficult to express in words. Phenomenologically speaking, any painting of visual impressions can communicate visual sensory experiences in a more efficient, effective way than phonographic writing because it resembles these sense impressions more closely. It can be decoded more quickly by the human brain in contexts of reading because it takes no detour through the secondary sign system of language and linguistic thinking. We should, however, be careful not to misinterpret Aztec pictography as a simple naturalistic and realistic rendering of what we might have experienced visually if we had been present in the respective scene. First, every culture or even every individual may perceive and process visual sense impressions in a different way. In addition, there are many different ways to paint visual sense impressions; for example, any seeming “naturalistic” style is always a two-dimensional projection of the human visual experience of three-dimensional space (see, e.g., Arnheim 1974, 134–36), and people across the world found different ways to do so. Second, Aztec painting was, in many cases, not interested in any “naturalistic” rendering but focused on presenting the perceived and imagined essential nature of things in an emblematic way. It used many short-hand signs and symbols and relied heavily on cultural conventions. Notwithstanding this fact, the analyzed scenes in the Mapa contain some trans-culturally understandable visual sense impressions. Evidently, Aztec pictography has a communicative potential that goes beyond the ability of naturalistic paintings to express visual impressions, a potential to transport a deeper layer of human orientation in the world and sense-making that interlinks human cognition with emotions, feelings, sensorial awareness, and body knowledge to form a variety of embodied meanings. One of many possible methodological approaches to access and analyze this potential is the theory of the embodied mind by Mark L. Johnson and George P. Lakoff ([1980] 2003; 1999) and Johnson’s theory of embodied meaning (1990; 2007). Based on comprehensive analyses of linguistic metaphors, Lakoff and Johnson showed that human cognition predominantly draws on mental imagery from sensorimotor domains and physical body experiences to conceptualize subjective experience, emotions, and abstract intellectual concepts. Most of

tional meaning,” I refer to all kinds of meaning beyond verbal sentences and logic reasoning. 3 I use the term “body knowledge” to refer to human knowledge residing in and being created by the body. This kind of knowledge is nonpropositional and largely unconscious but actively provides orientation and meaning for the human being in the world (see, e.g., Hirschauer 2016).

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our cognitive concepts are based on our primary experiences of natural interaction with the physical environment in form of spatial orientation, movement, manipulation of objects, or ingestion. We refer particularly to the logics of the sensorimotor structures of image schemas (containers, paths, contact, balance, centrality) and motor schemas (grasping, pushing, pulling, moving) (Johnson 1999, 85). The most basic foundation of our perceptual and mostly unconscious knowledge is movement in space with the qualitative dimensions of tension, linearity, amplitude, and projection (Johnson 2007, 22). Lakoff and Johnson argued that metaphors drawing on these bodily experiences form the most fundamental base of any abstract thinking and reasoning, both in everyday life and in philosophical discourses. Abstract thinking would not be possible without them. Simple image schemata are the most basic form of metaphorical projection and can be extended into complex categorial structures. By blending several conceptual domains, multi-layered conceptual metaphors can be formed (Lakoff & Johnson 1999, 47, 96). Finally, these concepts are expressed linguistically in metaphors such as “moral uprightness,” a metaphor combining the abstract concept of morality with the spatial orientation of being upright. This metaphor is grounded in our bodily feeling of standing straight and tall (Johnson 2007, 26). While Lakoff and Johnson most importantly argue that abstract reasoning is impossible without using conceptual embodied metaphors, they further show that these metaphors also carry meaning in themselves. In verbal sentences, for example, people choose between different possible metaphors to express a viewpoint; it makes a powerful difference in meaning including different implications for acting (Lakoff & Johnson 2003, 4–5) whether I say identity is a journey or identity is a dwelling. Based on this theory of the embodied mind and extended by results from cognitive neurosciences and empirical phenomenology, Johnson developed the idea of embodied meaning (Johnson 1990, 2007). This idea transcends the exclusive focus of Analytical Philosophy on propositional meaning by including a large range of sensations, vitality effects, felt qualities, emotions, and feelings—in sum, all kinds of sensory, bodily, and experiential knowledge— into the process of everyday meaning-making. In Johnson’s view, prelinguistic infants learn the meaning of the world in social contexts through their body experiences characterized by vitality affects, that is, in patterns of feeling, flow, and development, such as surging, fading away, fleeting, explosive, crescendo, or bursting. These vitality affects are intermodal or crossmodal, meaning that they are identical across the different perceptual modalities such as the visual or the haptual (Johnson 2007, 41–45). After the acquisition of language, these kinds of embodied modes of understanding “do not simply cease

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to exist” but “situate, make possible, and give meaning to what we call our higher-level propositional operations and linguistic performances” (Johnson 1999, 93). Adults appropriate and recruit these embodied meanings and bodily ways of meaning-making including the visual “in what we might think of as our more refined, abstractive modes of understanding and thinking” (Johnson 2007, 51) and are able to express them in abstract linguistic concepts. However, the “immanent, preconceptual, and nonpropositional meaning” based on aesthetic and visual dimensions of experiences “is the basis for all forms of meaning” (Johnson 2007, 34). This kind of embodied meaning is essentially shaped by the social environment in which we grow up and continuously negotiated in the social environment in which we live. It is also never direct and immediate but interpreted through cultural assumptions, values, and attitudes (Lakoff & Johnson 2003, 57). Embodied ways of being and acting in the world are extremely manifold with many diverse qualities, aspects, and forms. Individuals and cultural traditions can cultivate varying degrees of sensitivities as well as varying patterns of awareness regarding different aspects of bodily experience. Hence, body experiences offer almost infinite possibilities and affordances to be appropriated for the formation of abstract concepts, for the interpretation of experiences, and for complex forms of meaning-making. Over time, cultures develop embodied root metaphors and a range of preferred embodied concepts that are used in many different contexts. Inspired by cultural and individual creativity, these can be refined into complex and highly specific cultural symbols. To conclude, forms of embodied meaning have strong cultural, social, and even individual imprints but are nevertheless based on bodily functions shared by human beings across all cultures. Consequently, the theory of the embodied mind can serve as a fundamental theoretical perspective to analyze and interpret the embodied metaphors used in different cultures and traditions including the visual aspects of these metaphors. As such, it can also serve as a methodological tool to analyze cultural narratives and narrative strategies used in visual forms of expression. Such an analysis of embodied metaphors and embodied meaning in narratives essentially needs to counterbalance the two poles of human universals and cultural codes in their interplay. For this, we need a deeper understanding of the specific root metaphors of the analyzed tradition and of the reservoir of its used embodied concepts counterbalanced by knowledge about the universals of embodied experiences that are shared across all traditions and on which the specific cultural embodied symbols are based. The polysemous abundance and expressive power of Aztec pictography incorporates an astonishing potential to communicate kinds of embodied mean-

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ing as theorized by Lakoff and Johnson. In difference to verbal narratives, it employs visuality to convey these embodied concepts. If we analyze the series of events described in the last section according to this theoretical perspective, we see that one of the most important aspects of the effective powers of this narrative is its employment of embodied concepts to communicate the abstract experience of identity transformation. Assuming that the Chichimecs’ migration and their experience of a series of natural disasters represents a transformation of identity, the narrative first employs the complex metaphorical blending of finding one’s identity is a difficult journey. This conceptual metaphor combines several primary metaphorical mappings, (1) a social, cultural, or psychological process as an action, (2) developing one’s identity as traveling, (3) the person or people finding their identity as travelers, (4) the original identity as the starting point and the new identity as the destination, and (5) defining the journey as difficult. In doing so, the metaphor maps the experience of overcoming obstacles from the physical to the social or psychological domain. This conceptual metaphor is elaborated visually by depicting a meandering serpentine road. The image draws on the metaphor of a journey that is physically challenging because it does not lead directly to the destination. On their way, the travelers lose orientation by losing sight of their destination, crisscrossing through the landscape, and encountering many different locations, people, and events. This metaphor appears to rest on cross-cultural, universal human experience while it is strongly culturally encoded at the same time by referring to the cultural motif of dangerous serpentine roads, a motif that is widely used in the Aztec imagination. In the sequence of events analyzed above, the narrative also employs the metaphor finding one’s identity is surviving natural disasters. Natural disasters such as earthquakes, flooding, and powerful storms were very frequent events in the Mexican Central Highlands and were depicted in many Indigenous historical records (see Berdan 2014, 54). Consequently, they must have been vivid in the memories of the people involving existential body experiences. The metaphor finding one’s identity is surviving natural disasters maps physical hazard potentially resulting in death to social threats potentially leading to the loss of social identity and social death. The images in the Mapa draw on many conceptual metaphors, which in their combination form many layers of experiential body knowledge and generate complex embodied meaning. Finding a new identity is apparently imagined as involving losing the old identity and being without identity before acquiring a new one. The Mapa uses several metaphors to express this liminal stage. First, the two whirlwind

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scenes show losing identity is having one’s clothes ripped off. This metaphor combines cross-cultural experiences with particular cultural codes. Being naked is, for all human beings, a state of vulnerability, with no protection from the natural elements, which may cut harshly into the skin such as the wind that is sharp as copper axes. Being naked also offers no protection from physical attacks by animals or fellow human beings. In a cold or otherwise hostile climate, being naked can result in physical illness or even death. This cross-cultural experience served as a powerful metaphor in Aztec culture, which put extreme emphasis on clothing and dress as highly specific markers for social and cosmic identity. The Aztecs understood themselves to be living in a dense net of social and cosmic relationships (see Laack 2019). Losing one’s place in this net and losing every marker of identity might have been experienced as death. The metaphor of losing identity is having one’s tools snatched away draws on a similar idea. For one, the bow, quiver, and arrow are necessary instruments for the hunting Chichimecs to survive physically. And indeed, the last scene before the first whirlwind snatches the tools away is a hunting scene with deer. For the other, the tools might also represent the old social and cultural identity of the Chichimecs as nomadic hunters in contrast to their new lifestyle as settlers at Cuauhtinchan. After the series of disasters, however, the Chichimecs do not immediately acquire the cotton cloaks of civilized settled people but continue to wear their animals’ hides. These are now complemented by a headband and feather, two cultural symbols that are poorly understood, thus far. Finally, the series of natural disasters evokes a range of powerful bodily sensations related to the physical effects of the disasters. In the whirlwinds, people completely lose their footing and stable balance, they are turned head over heels, sucked upwards and downwards. They totally lose control over their limbs and bodies. In contrast to the actively moving human figures in the scenes before and after, the people are passively thrown around. In the earthquake and the flooding, they are carried off their feet and swept away, they are drowned with their head under water and thus not able to breath, they are sucked down into a large, black hole in the earth. The images of the Mapa evoke the related body sensations vividly by being able to capture visually the sucking-down and sucking-up energy of the whirlwinds with their high circular force with dusts and objects flying wildly around. The blue water drowns the body, of which only an arm is still visible. The person sucked into the earth hole appears to kick around with its legs in the air while the torso has been swallowed by the earth. All these body sensations might express the idea of temporarily losing one’s identity. In this, these images are not only vi-

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sual renderings of embodied metaphors but strong and powerful expressions of embodied meaning.

7

The Performative Reception of Pictographic Narratives

This chapter did not set out to reconstruct any specific collective or individual reception of aesthetic and bodily modes of experience of the visual narrative in the Mapa de Cuauhtinchan No. 2. While this would be a highly fascinating topic of research, there is not much evidence in the sources that can be used for any reconstruction like this. Instead, the analysis focused on the potential of the visual narrative in the Mapa to convey embodied concepts. Based on our rudimentary knowledge of Aztec reading practices, the following section additionally hypothesizes the manner in which these visually narrated embodied meanings may have been read, communicated, and adopted by the oral interpreters of the manuscript and by the audience. As far as we know, Aztec pictorial manuscripts were mostly read aloud and interpreted through oral performances in settings involving several people. Mesoamerican scholars have debated hotly whether the oral interpretation followed strict rules and resulted in the recitation of memorized fixed texts and a stable knowledge, preserved as the “authentic word” (León-Portilla 1992) of the pre-Hispanic people in the surviving alphabetical transcriptions. In Miguel León-Portilla’s view, several indications in the sources prove his theory of fixed texts (see León-Portilla 1992a), for example the existence of a technique called amoxotoca (following the book) that was taught in the schools to read the pictorial manuscripts or the astonishing parallels in storylines across several sources. This theory was fundamentally criticized by a younger generation of scholars influenced by orality and (post)colonial studies (cf., e.g., Bierhorst 1985; Gruzinski 1988; Klor de Alva 1989, 1992; Burkhart 1989; Florescano 1994). They showed that many passages in the sources point to the flexible nature of the oral discourse and to a practice of debate with sometimes contradicting interpretations around the master narratives recorded in the manuscripts (see Rabasa 2011, 126). Colonial author Tezozómoc mentioned that there were multiple possible readings, several of which he had synthesized in his own narrative (see Rabasa 2005, 125–126). The alphabetical texts in the Historia Tolteca-Chichimeca contain phrases that show that several interpreters were discussing the meaning of the pictorials (Rabasa 2005, 118–24). A similar situation was recorded in the commentary to the alphabetical glosses in the Codex Mendoza, whose author apologized for their rather sloppy character—he had had insufficient time to rework the glosses because

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the members of the group of interpreters, who had been summoned to interpret the text, could not agree on one binding interpretation (see Rabasa 2011, 126). This comment suggests a practice of debate around the traditional teachings in Nahua culture strongly contradicting León-Portilla’s idea of a fixed oral tradition that was simply recited from memory without agency on the part of the interpreter. The colonial alphabetical transcriptions of the painted manuscripts, however, rigidified this flexibility of the interpreters by fixing a single voicing of the narratives and by excluding all nonlinguistic aspects of the performance. To conclude, evidence suggests that Aztec interpreters of the manuscripts had considerable room for elaboration, situational adaptation, and interpretational flexibility with pictography accommodating “distinct reading occasions and interpretative ambitions” (Leibsohn 2009, 105). The interpreters would not read a manuscript in the same way each time it was recited. In contrast, they adjusted the narrative to the specific situation of performance. This did not only refer to the length and degree of elaboration but also to the emphasis placed on specific parts of the narrative, references to current events, selection of special layers of the narrative, or differing interpretations of their meaning. Aztec pictography allows room for this kind of flexibility, for “discontinuities, gaps, breaks of scripts, and ambiguity” that “tend to be omitted from an analysis that proceeds from abstract master narratives” (Johannsen & Kirsch, this volume). It allows for more flexibility than an alphabetical record because of its very nature of being nonphonographic. First, not every detail of the narrative is written down. Instead, only the elements considered as the most crucial for the story are depicted. Thus, pictorial manuscripts serve as a kind of master narrative, in some manuscripts, such as the Codex Boturini, stripped to the very basics; in others, such as the Mapa de Cuauhtinchan No. 2, in more elaborate ways. But even in the Mapa the images still work as prompts to be performed, explained, and interpreted by the reader. The Mapa also shows indications that it could have been interpreted by the different ethnic groups of the Nahaus and the Pinome with competing narratives, since it signifies “both parallel and distinct arguments” that could be “directed simultaneously toward different audiences” (Wake 2007, 208). Second, the Aztec historical genre of cartographic organization arranges information in nonlinear ways. Information about different parts of the narrative and different aspects of an event are presented simultaneously. In consequence, the genre offers interpreters many reading alternatives and gives them freedom to start or end the story at different places. Changing physical positions in relation to the manuscript allow different perspectives on the narrative with other elements emphasized. Although any oral interpretation of

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the manuscripts is necessarily voiced linearly, cartographic pictography aligns more easily with the typical flexibility of oral traditions as well as with the different structures and forms of organizations that are often found in oral traditions. Finally, pictography is highly polysemous at the level of the single signs and images. Readers are prompted to choose from the many potential layers of meaning inherent. Images such as the serpent, for example, refer iconically to the actual animal (e.g., in the context of a ritual offering), indexically to a qualitative element of a deity, or symbolically to a specific calendar day. The syntax of the respective narrative sometimes suggests a particular meaning as the most relevant (Boone 2007a, 33–34). Nevertheless, all layers of meaning culturally associated with an image are present in a “visual simultaneity of meaning” (Maffie 2014, 230) and can be evoked in the reading. A quetzal bird, for example, principally conveys the idea of preciousness. Standing in a cosmic tree, it may refer to an episode with an actual bird but also symbolically to prosperity. Depicted on the backpack of a merchant, it symbolically refers to successful trading. Embraced by a woman in a marriage almanac, it refers to her virtue and fidelity. The quetzal feathers in the headdress of a deity might refer to many of these symbolical meanings but also indexically to the animal as a qualitative element of the deity (Boone 2007a, 35). A flower, as a final example, alludes to a large multitude of things, among them “blood, preciousness, transformative power, creation, life, language, song, nobility, government, the Fifth Sun, an era of the calendar, joy, love, games, sexual pleasure, female sexuality and genitalia, venereal diseases, and the four orientations of the cosmos” (Maffie 2014, 230). This fluidity of meaning, however “should not be mistaken for indecision or elusiveness [. . .] the capacity of its imagery to summon meaning traced, and abided in, distinct patterns and limits.” At the same time, the imagery “calls upon a wide range of affects and logic, yet this evocative range had to be able to shift, like a view through a kaleidoscope” (Leibsohn 2009, 105). This inherent polysemy of Aztec pictography essentially rests on its nature as working with visual modes. Instead of triggering the reading of linguistically fixed speech as in alphabetical writing, the “exegetical voice was cued by the images and their placement and colour” and guided by the knowledge and experience of the interpreter (Clendinnen 1991, 232). This characteristic of visuality becomes even more pronounced if analyzed with respect to the visual incorporation of embodied concepts—meanings that incorporate ambiguity and can be translated into linguistic thoughts in many different ways. Although verbal expression, particularly the expression of abstract concepts, cannot go without employing embodied metaphors, as Lakoff and Johnson

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argued, verbal expression nevertheless does not express embodied meaning exhaustingly. The visual rendering of embodied concepts and experiences potentially expresses different layers of their meaning in a richer way than linguistic recordings and leaves more room for situational adaptation, transfer, and interpretation as well as for individual meaning-making. As argued above, the pictographic narrative of the migration of the Cuauhtinchan people’s ancestors, including their experience of series of natural disasters, visually renders a large range of potential sensations and embodied concepts. In the context of performative interpretation, the manuscripts allowed the interpreter to quickly activate these embodied layers of meaning. This evocation may have been more effective than linguistic records because it stimulated adjacent crossmodal neural patterns more closely than through the detour of linguistic thought. Just one short look at one of the whirlwind scenes might have triggered the body memory of such an experience or stimulated the imagination of it based on similar experiences. Seeing the human figure being sucked down head to heel might activate respective neurons in the body of the interpreters, who actually felt the experience in their sensory imagination. Based on these prompts, the interpreters might express these sensations through their bodies in acts of performance or verbalize aspects of it with all their storytelling power. In the context of performative interpretation, it is likely that the pictorial manuscripts were seen by both the interpreters and the audience. Thus, the audience was drawn into the narrative not only by its oral interpretation but also by visual inspiration through seeing its pictorial rendering. In conclusion, the pictorial manuscripts stimulate a high degree of flexibility for the oral elaboration and embellishment of stories by offering nonlinear visual narrative strategies to be flexibly adopted according to situation, need, and skill. They also had powerful narrative efficacy to communicate and emphasize the bodily aspects of the narratives including sensory experiences, embodied metaphors, and layers of embodied meaning. According to my hypothesis, these could be flexibly recreated in the imagination of the recipients by interrelating universal features of human bodily being in the world with cultural encodings of these experiences shared in the community of attendees and inspired by a common reservoir of cultural symbols.

8

Conclusion

In this chapter, I analyzed the narrative culture of the Aztecs with its strong intertwinement of literacy and orality allowing a large degree of flexibility in

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the context of multi-sensorial performances. A detailed analysis of one narrative sequence of the Mapa de Cuauhtinchan No. 2, recounting the experience of a series of natural disasters during the migration, showed the many layers of meaning created in the pictorial manuscript. The painters of the manuscript used visual strategies to communicate specific embodied metaphors and complex embodied meanings about the transformation of identity through the migration and the surviving of the natural disasters. Although we know little about the actual reception of the aesthetic strategies given in the manuscripts, it is reasonable to conclude that Indigenous interpreters of this narrative sequence and their audiences were inspired to activate memories of sensorial and bodily experiences to understand these layers of embodied meaning through visual stimulation. Based on the concept of narrative cultures proposed by the editors of this volume and inspired by the research interest of the aesthetics of religion (see Koch & Wilkens 2020), the narrative analysis focused on strategies interlinking cognitive concepts with sensory experiences. In an explorative way, it applied the analytical frame of embodied metaphors and embodied meaning as theorized by Lakoff and Johnson to these visual strategies. In difference to common semiotic approaches, it did not focus on signs, the meaning of signs, and abstract, propositional processes of signification. Instead, it drew attention to different kinds of aesthetic, that is, sensory and bodily modes of experience, meaning-making, and communication. Applying Lakoff and Johnson’s theories is only one of many possibilities to study forms of embodiment in relation to narrative cultures. It is also one of the many possibilities to study how “how religion becomes culturally and historically ‘effective’ beyond categories of doctrines, confession, and belief” (Grieser 2017, section 3), or, in other words, of the many ways how people in everyday life experience the world and themselves in religious contexts not only cognitively but simultaneously with their imagination, affect, and emotions, their senses and their complete bodies, and by dynamically and flexibly using all sorts of media. Finally, analyzing Aztec visual narratives in their difference to alphabetical narrative strategies allows to change our perspective on narrative cultures in general, by seeing narration as an aesthetic phenomenon and making the storytelling practices and sensory aspects, the techniques and the effects that evoke imaginative formations a necessary component when speaking of narratives (see Johannsen & Kirsch, this volume). With the cultural turn reaching narratology, the scholarly perspective was opened for the use of narrative patterns in other media such as films or digital technologies and for transmedia storytelling. In these, narrative strategies might be used that differ fundamentally from those employed in verbal

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rhetorics in a similar way as in the pictorial manuscripts painted by the preHispanic Aztecs. Based on these shared media interests, the analysis of Aztec pictography will gain a lot through interdisciplinary collaborations among cultural narratology and media studies and vice versa; and hopefully, in the future, they will fertilize the development of profound transcultural theories.

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Chapter 7

Transmedial Narrative Cultures: Upanishadic Spirituality in the Indian Tele-Serial “Upanishad Ganga” Annette Wilke

1

The Upanishads Conquering the Family Living Room: Introduction

Upanishadic spirituality, i.e. (Shankara’s Advaita) Vedanta1 philosophy of nondual oneness of absolute spirit, human soul, and universe, has often been used as a master narrative to represent modern Hinduism. Although this narrative bore the potential to open elite monastic and Brahmanical knowledge to a larger public, it hardly went beyond educated urban classes. In the western world, it was received as the epitome of ineffable and untellable mysticism. In the material presented, however, the Vedantic worldview is grounded in storyworlds—those of the Upanishads and beyond—and embodied in sensory-aesthetic staging. What in modern times has been presented as peak of Indian philosophy is embodied, popularized, and aestheticized in the style of Bollywood cinema. Upanishadic and post-Vedic narratives are converted and transformed into a new sensory reality by the bombastically colorful cinematic medium, including song and dance which are at the heart of Bollywood’s emotionalizing strategies. Upanishad Ganga leaves much room for emotion, not only to intellectual conviction regarding the teaching of spiritual and moral values. It combines education and play as well as tradition and innovation in sometimes surprising ways—both regarding form and content. By means of the catchy slogan “It’s old, yet new, it’s meant for you,”2 the Chinmaya Mission (one of India’s most successful reform movements) lanced

1 I use English transliteration instead of diacritical marks in this chapter to mirror the popularisation, democratization, and globalization of Shankara’s Advaita Vedanta in modern reform Hinduism. The chapter is a product of my research project Globaler Hinduismus – Die Chinmaya Mission in Indien und weltweit (“Global Hinduism – The Chinmaya Mission in India and around the World”) which was part of the Cluster of Excellence “Religion and Politics” at the University of Muenster from 2012 to 2017. 2 This and the following quotes are taken from Chinmaya Mission’s advertising brochure Mouthpiece of the Master 2015, 15.

© Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2020 | DOI:10.1163/9789004421677_009

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the serial Upanishad Ganga which was broadcasted from March 2012 to March 2013 in 52 weekly (half-hour) episodes in India’s national television network. The award-winning serial aimed at a “mass outreach” of “the message of the Upanishads to the family living room” by “using imagination and appeal,” drawing from the vast lore of Hindu sacred literature (Upanishads, Veda, Vedangas, i.e., Vedic sciences, epics, Puranas, dharma literature, hagiographies, devotional song, philosophic treatises) and spanning a period of 4000–5000 years of cultural memory. Analyzing how traditional narrative structures, tropes, recital, theater, and various modes of storytelling are absorbed in the new media film, this chapter offers new perspectives on the dynamics of narrative traditions, their interconnection to religious performances, and the creation of new frames and settings flowing from and engendering shared narrative imagination. It is shown how—by means of repertoire, narrative strategies, selective decisions, and the sensory cinematic aesthetics—a gestalt-forming of new meanings and a reinvention of tradition take place. This includes both a glorification and a criticism of Brahmanical Sanskrit Hinduism, as well as the suggestive claim that the very tradition which produced problems like Brahmanic arrogance, caste, and gender inequality contains within itself the power and creativity to overcome and solve them. However, this overarching story-line remains somewhat ambiguous and hidden, open to the spectator’s interpretation and reconstruction, suggested by the play, the conversations, and the ways of transmedial storytelling. ‘Transmediality,’ as understood here, refers to the aesthetics of a mode of storytelling which is transmitted by different media. Upanishad Ganga interconnects text, film/television, and theater play. In fact, the media are extended and multiplied by the numerous literary genres and their combination, in addition to a high amount of intertextuality (i.e. the interlinking stories by mutual reference of different narratives). Moreover, storyworld, narrator, and Bollywood aesthetics (abundant in sounds and colors) play together, and traditional theater is transposed into the episodes of the tv serial. In this way, not just Bollywood but the complex transmedial formation constitutes the aesthetic framework of Upanishad Ganga—and its power to engender new narratives and new meanings, startling effects (such as innovative novelties appearing as ancient tradition), and last, but not least, augmented experientiality. The following section two investigates Upanishad Ganga against the framework of Monika Fludernik’s narrative theory in which “experientiality” is most central (1996; 2009) and Wolfgang Iser’s theory of aesthetic response and his concept of “blanks” (1970; [1976] 1994; 1978). This section reflects the difference between text and film—linguistic and cinematic narrative, the title and

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subtitle as essential part of the cinematic narrative, and the complex structure of transmedial storytelling, intertextuality, and multisensory communication. The third section—elaborates in more detail the storyworlds and modes of storytelling in Upanishad Ganga, its repertoire of frequent themes, and its strategic patterns. The focus is on paradigmatic episodes, topics, and characters, as well as on narrative strategies (like cutting, assembling, selecting, contrasting, opposing, recombining), cinematic strategies (like close-ups, fast cuts, slow motion), and Bollywood’s sensory aesthetics. The frame story or framing narrative (UpG 1 “The Journey” and UpG 2 “Think”) will be of particular importance, as it is a sort of abstract which not only introduces the fundamental text material (the Upanishads and Bhagavadgita), but also the complex multilayered and multisensory modes of storytelling, marked by shifting the major location of the plot from real-world Varanasi to the theater stage and exercising the frequent structure of telling a story within another story. This section will also reveal that although a very traditionalist, restrictive, and even monastic picture of Hindu values is drawn, there are within this general pattern a number of surprising effects, novel evaluations, and partly subversive directions for practical living, achieved by the serial’s transmedial storytelling, intertextuality, and focalization. The final section will summarize the discussion and draw some conclusions with reference to theorizing narrative cultures and transmedial storytelling.

2

Narrative Cultures and the Upanishad Ganga’s Religious History and Identity Formation through Multisensorial and Transmedial Storytelling

In recent decades, narrative theory was enriched by broadening the concept of ‘narrative’ beyond classical literary texts to encompass all “cultural artefacts that ‘tell a story’” (Bal 1997, 3). This made it possible to include different narrative genres. Thus, film too became an object of narrative analysis (e.g. Kuhn 2011; Kuhn & Schmidt 2014). My own approach ties up with Monika Fludernik’s definition of narrative (Fludernik 2009, 6) or “natural narrative,” in which the concept of experientiality is the most essential element, rather than the plot (the sequence of events and actions) which otherwise tends to play the primary role (Fludernik 1996; 2009, 109). Fludernik (2009, 59) claims that narrativity should be detached from its dependence on plot, sequence, and action, and redefined as experientiality. It is most of all human experience which is reported, represented, and evaluated in narratives, according to Fludernik. She claims psychology to be a fundamental part of narrativity (ibid.

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59),3 and the “tellability” or “point” is all that counts (ibid. 109). Characteristically, Fludernik’s prototypical model is conversational narrative or oral storytelling, as it “is based on experientiality, since it is not the events as such that are foregrounded but rather that which is surprising, exiting or terrible about them” (Fludernik 2009, 59; see also ibid. 47–49). In the same vein she argues: “In natural narrative the point of the story cannot primarily be found in what happens—a report could do that job just as well. It is the entertainment value, the exceptional nature of the events narrated, and the story’s moral (which Labov calls point) that make the tale worth telling.” (Fludernik 2009, 48). Almost all of this fits well to Upanishad Ganga’s narrative design. Experientiality indeed plays the most crucial role and is enhanced by the transmedial storytelling, including intertextuality, and by Bollywood aesthetics. The serial’s basic materials are a great number of traditional texts which invariably can be qualified as conversational narrative and oral storytelling, although written down, because in actual practice they are chanted, spoken, vocalized, and performed in various ways. The storyworlds represented are token of surprising, gripping, and moving, sometimes terrible and shocking, often also transforming experience, which is expected to be triggered in the implied spectators.4 Ultimately, the “point” or moral of the story in each episode is all that counts. However, regarding this Indian tv-serial, the strong emphasis on experientiality and psychology alone, at the expense of events, is misleading. Both the stories’ morals and the plots or events leave no doubt that the tele-serial’s aim is ethical and spiritual education and cultural identity formation in the entertaining form of play, or as the national press repeatedly praised: Upanishad Ganga was staging values in a valueless world and was bringing the wealth of India’s spiritual traditions to mind in a materialistic and consumerist modern Indian society. This is not only about psychology, but just as much about forming a collective identity, cultural memory, and historiography. In Upanishad Ganga’s case, a number of episodes represent particular historical or quasihistorical events. But, regardless, whether historical or fictional narratives are at stake, or whether philosophy, myth, or moral norms are dealt with, the serial spreads the conviction that the treasures of the past have something to offer for the present and the future—to both the individual and to society.

3 According to Fludernik (2006, 60), it is precisely because narrative “is based on the representation of psychological states and mental perceptions,” that “narrative is fictional per se,“ and “not because it is ‘made up‘ or deals with fantastic occurences.” 4 The implied spectator or, in literature, the implied reader and the reader response constructed by the critic is not the same as the real reader/spectator whose response may or may not be the same.

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This is precisely what characterizes religious narrative and makes up the religious claim of the serial. The events and plots are far from being irrelevant but construct a very special religious and cultural history which produced a great number of extraordinary and noble characters. A report (Fludernik 2009, 48)—and even written narrative alone—could not do the same job as the cinematic storytelling and aesthetic presentation. Moreover, it is noteworthy that some of the chosen texts in Upanishad Ganga would usually not be qualified as narrative in the first place (starting with the Upanishads and the Bhagavadgita), but contain narrative passages or are retold as narrative; some are easily convertible into a story, while others appear in conversations and self-reflections within a storyworld. The medium of film brings forth this narrativization. At first glance, this might appear surprising in view of Genette’s and Stanzel’s classical narrative theory which “insists on narrative being solely the product of an act of narration” (Fludernik 2009, 102), i.e. of language and story. However, this view has changed in the past years with film becoming widely recognized as a narrative medium (ibid. 114, 105, 137). According to Fludernik, the new media “pose a real challenge” to narrative theory (ibid. 114). She seems to have in mind the very different, almost opposing features of linguistic narrative and film, starting with the written word on the one hand which must evoke the visual through the power of suggestion, whereas on the other hand there is “no place of the written word” in film, in which sight and sound are the primary media (ibid.). The actual challenge and real problem in my opinion lies primarily in the fact that classical narratology is focused (almost) exclusively on linguistic features. Obviously, there is need of sensory-aesthetic expansion of narrative theory when coming to film and need to reflect on the chances and problems of such expansion, what is won and what is lost—particularly if we talk of cinematic staging of literature, i.e. originally verbal narrative, as in case of Upanishad Ganga. In addition to the symbolic medium of language, film brings in more iconic features and effects (Fludernik 2009, 102), a broadened form of mimesis by the drama- and film-specific means—sounds, colors, lighting, gestures, costumes, facial expressions, movements, perspective, and, most of all, living characters. This augmentation of determinacy and reduction of indeterminacy would, according to Iser’s theory, be a loss of the recipients’ activity, his imagination and creativity. Here, I want to underline the gain in terms of narrativity. Important questions for narratologists have been “how far the symbolic medium of language can be used to achieve iconic or quasi-iconic effects” (Fludernik 2009, 102) and how words and sentences turn into stories and create people (ibid. 42, 44). In film, on the other hand, iconic effects, stories, and people are ready-made there—fictional and real at the same time. Movie is

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more than merely mimetic text representation, but a mode of storytelling in its own right having effects of its own. The sights, sounds, and colors pull in the spectator’s attention, emotions, and senses more powerfully than the written word and encourage deeper immersion into the storyworld. If religious learning and identity building, aimed at by Upanishad Ganga, to a large extent takes place imagologically and emotionally, as Peter Bräunlein (2009, 12) argues, the medium of film in general and the overwhelming visuality, sonicity, and emotionality of the Bollywood movie in particular were a well-chosen narrative strategy in their own right. Not only do such “image acts” (Bakewell) inhere a narrative power and communicative aura of their own. Performative expressions—film like drama, theater, and ritual action— have also higher “potential of concrete immediacy and are predestined to impress forcefully” (Bräunlein 2009, 31). Not least, the effectiveness of images and performative media lies in their capacity to be “re-enforcers of improbility” (“Unwahrscheinlichkeitsverstärker” according to Niklas Luhmann; see Bräunlein ibid. 32). They give physicality and real life to abstract ideas and to transcendence and provide credibility, high plausibility, and concrete immediacy to the miraculous, extraordinary, and supernatural, and also to the religious’ encounters with gods and demons. For the analyzing scholar, it is a highly challenging task to (re-)convert the multimedia cinematic display into merely verbal communication, as the multisensorial display and cinematic strategies, like music, color, lighting, perspective, close-up and fade-out shots etc., cannot be discussed as detailed as they would deserve. However, one clear filmic strategy must be mentioned because of its high frequency: often we find fast cuts and more or less sudden changes of scenes, particularly between the actual storyworld and the narrator (on stage and off-stage), but also between different storyworlds within the same episode, appearing like Russian nesting dolls. 2.1 “It’s Old, Yet New” and the Ganga Metaphor The title of the series is part of the narrative discourse (Fludernik 2009, 24). Upanishad Ganga alludes to the sacred river Ganga (Ganges) and its ever newly refreshing waters as a metaphor or metonym for the ‘eternal,’ constant flow of face-to-face teaching the Upanishads. Upanishad here, however, also stands pars pro toto for the entirety of Hindu India’s sacred literature and early science (that emerged from early Veda studies), i.e. referring to what otherwise is called ‘Vedic heritage.’5 Upanishad Ganga may be called a special case of narrative and narrativity due to its complex multimedial and multilayered 5 This is a typical feature of Neo-Hindu discourse; although ‘Vedic heritage’ covers first of all the Upanishads and the Bhagavadgita, it extends to the entire lore of sacred literature far

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form, its combination of very different narratives and storyworlds, its intertextual networking, and its highly multisensorial storytelling. At least three levels play together: traditional linguistic narratives, the visual and acoustic medium of film, and the narrator variously called suta, “bard,” or sutradhara, “director of the play.” The linguistic or verbal narratives consist of a wealth of diverse stories, texts, and genres which range from philosophy, epics, ancient myths, hagiography, poetry, mantra formulas, hymns and devotional songs, classical theater (dance drama) to normative dharma ethics, political discourse, and early scientific literature (e.g. grammar and mathematics). Particular analytical attention deserves both the mixture of genres and the selection and expansion of textual sources. Most of the texts are originally in Sanskrit, but some are in vernaculars—particularly the devotional (bhakti) literature and songs which play an eminent role in Upanishad Ganga besides the Upanishads and the Bhagavadgita. Although many stories come from later traditions, mostly outside the Vedantic fold, “Upanishad Ganga” is not a misleading title, even for a strictly historical academic scholar and outsider. Indeed, recitations and stories of the Upanishads appear throughout the serial as well as central teachings of the Advaita-Vedanta, which dominate the first and final episodes, and repeatedly appear in other chapters. The headings of UpG6 30–32, for instance, refer directly to the basic Vedantic formula sat-cit-ananda, pure “Existence– Consciousness-Bliss” as the ultimate principle of being and immanent cum transcendent ultimate reality pervading everything (called ‘Brahman,’ the Absolute, or ‘Atman,’ the real Self). Typically for the design of the serial, only the storyworlds for the “existence principle” and the “consciousness” or “life principle” are taken from the Upanishads, whereas the storyworld of “bliss” mixes different narratives and genres. In this way, sometimes whole episodes are devoted to famous Upanishadic stories, legends, and myths; in other episodes, only singular sentences of important teachings and mantras are narrated and recited. Partly they are combined with traditional Advaita-Vedantic discourse—displayed in dialogues, face-to-face teaching, and plays; at other times, they appear combined with epic or more ‘folk’ vernacular narratives or with devotional songs and stories. In fact, a great number of episodes are about saint singers of devotional bhakti (such as Mirabai, Surdas, Tulsidas, beyond the Vedas, covering all major Sanskrit texts. Such extension is, however, not only a modern invention. Already in the sixteenth century we find under the heading “Veda” not only the four Vedas (the historical Vedic texts), but also post Vedic sacred literature like the 18 Puranas (see Rocher 1978, 223). 6 I am referring here and in the following to the fifty-two episodes of the serial by “UpG nn.”

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Ramdas, and Haridas), often in places unexpected such as “The Yoga of Action” (UpG 47). The entanglement of several traditional storyworlds creates an unconventional combination that produces original and innovative messages. The second level, the medium of film, is a mode of storytelling in its own right. It is a ‘cinematic narrative,’ both dependent on and independent of the original sources. Although based on the scripts and contents of existing verbal storyworlds, the cinematic narrative can produce new plots and contents. This can happen, for instance, by converting and expanding five stanzas of Upanishad text into a moving and colorful play of half an hour, or by combining two traditionally different narratives and textual sources and make a new statement out of it, or by telling the ‘story’ of Brahmanic norms and regulations on life-cycle rites with songs and dances in Bollywood style. In fact, the entire serial Upanishad Ganga was realized in spectacular Bollywood-like staging, abundant in colorful lushness of sceneries and dresses, and favoring song, dance, and great emotion. This ‘new garb’ Bollywood of ancient stories is most of all a sensory, aesthetic-emotive one. I would argue that regarding reception aesthetics, the medium film and ‘Bollywood garb’ of ancient stories increase emotional participation and immersion—at least for native Indian recipients. Typically, the serial’s idiom was Hindi like the idiom of Bollywood, except for the mantra and other original text recitations invariably starting and ending an episode, and it soon also got English subtitles; translations into other European languages are planned. The serial’s sensational formations are fun and entertaining, yet they cannot be mistaken as only ‘light entertainment.’ The tele-presentation includes quite ‘heavy stuff’—not only joy and pleasure, but also philosophical depth, stern monastic values, strict discipline and morals, at times bewildering and confusing experiences, at other times deep affection and moving devotion and piety—all based on the raw material of traditional stories. The serial’s form and strategy of cinematic storytelling is very complex and multilayered, as becomes clear right from the start—namely in the frame narrative (the first two episodes) which literally sets the stage for the succeeding fifty episodes. This framing story plays in contemporary Varanasi and pictures a modern ‘real world’ situation of conflict and tension between old and new, father and son, and how it gets solved by renewing the old in a Bhagavadgita play in the son’s local theater. Whereas the serial had started off with the real place Varanasi, it continues from now on in the virtual world of theater: the rest of the episodes are constituted by various traditional stories played on the theater stage within the movie. The son who in the original play had been the conductor and main actor (embodying god Krishna) turns in the later episodes into the narrator figure.

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This narrator stands alone and aloof the plot, as a distant and omniscient observer, all-knowing of what is going on even inside the protagonists, but sometimes he may get involved himself and become part of the storyworld and play. Moreover, the embodied narrator figure may multiply. In later episodes, he is joined by a female narrator, nayika, a term denoting “heroine of poetic composition.” In one story (UpG 33 “Bondage”) both become part of the plot and seek themselves the help of a guru or babaji, because the story’s point is too confusing (how ignorance and bondage of the ever free and changeless soul comes about, i.e. the firm belief “I am the body”). Another exceptional case of additional complexity occurs in UpG 32 (“Bliss”). Here, the narrator is replaced by a group of women of Uttarpradesh where the ancient story of a caste-less beggar, who turns out to be the only happy person in the kingdom, plays, and the women comment on the story as contemporaries. In most cases, however, the (male) narrator’s common role is to explain, give more details, comment, and expound. He thereby not only extends the fictional world, but also introduces a specific view, a normative framework, and a metanarrative level beyond the storyworld. The narrator functions as mediator, reflector, and focalizer. He stresses the ancient stories’ everlasting relevance—in the sense of “It’s old, yet new, it’s meant for you.” This suggestive slogan, appearing on the advertising posters, the film lead, and the DVD covers, is not only an important paratext, but also a sort of a subtitle and highly relevant to the narrative. It explains the serial’s main title ‘Upanishad Ganga’ by postulating the lasting relevance and freshness of Hindu India’s literary traditions. It also hints to the producers’ and script writers’ intention to involve the spectators in direct participation and response. 2.2 “It’s Meant for You” and Iser’s Theory of Aesthetic Response Whereas the first part of the marketing slogan “It’s old, yet new,” hints to tradition as being ever fresh, refreshing and self-purifying like the Ganga waters (at least as the Ganga is praised in traditional discourse), the second part “it’s meant for you” explicitly asks for response and implicitly makes the spectators active co-producers. The wealth of multimedia use, contrasting characters, and combination of genres form a very complex combination of play and sensory teaching: The serial Upanishad Ganga uses multisensory narration and emotionally touching and thrilling narratives as means of knowledge production by aesthetic experience—knowledge about Hindu identity, worldview, and moral behaviour. The spectators (or implied spectators) are supposed to immerse themselves in the fictional storyworlds where they can learn and experience this knowledge. Here, Wolfgang Iser’s literary theory of aesthetic response will be pertinent as a valuable method of analysis (Iser 1970; [1976] 1994; 1978). Iser (1970) main-

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tains that prose fiction needs the interaction of text and reader activity in order to become effective and meaningful. Narrative texts do not “have” meaning apart from the recipient, but the recipient’s meaning-making activity is steered and guided by the literary text. A text’s “structure of appeal” (“Appellstruktur der Texte”) calls forth active participation of the readers—their imagination and their own search for meaning. This is primarily achieved by precisely those points of intersection where not everything is told, where multiple perspectives and attitudes are offered, and, most of all, where ambivalence, indeterminacy, and blanks appear, which leave space for filling the gaps. The overall implicit plot of Upanishad Ganga (regarding glorification, critique, and reform of tradition, tapping the texts for solutions) is largely a product of the unsaid. The serial’s power is dynamized by the ambivalence inhering in the subtitle “old, yet new,” and is personalized by directly involving the implied or fictive reader—in the case of film the implied or fictive spectator. Here, on the macro- and metanarrative levels, Iser’s theoretical observations concerning the blanks hold good. Are they also applicable to the individual episodes? Does the conversion of traditional narratives into movie settings create more determinacy, or more chances for freedom in interpretation and selective choice? Or possibly both? It needs to be analyzed how multiple perspectives and blanks are created in Upanishad Ganga’s literary techniques of cutting, assembling, selecting, contrasting, and opposing, leaving blanks for interpretation and calling forth the spectator’s own imagination and active construction of sense. Indeed, despite obvious endeavors to offer fixed meaning and determinacy (by the cinematic presentation and most importantly also by the narrator) regarding Hindu identity, moral values, and worldview, the multiple devices, strategies, and genres of the actual play produce at the same time indeterminacy which activate the spectators’ own meaning-making activity by offering a range of interpretation, evaluations, and ways of worldmaking (see Iser 1970, 30f.). Precisely because the reality of literary narratives lies in the reader’s own imagination, they have a greater chance to resist historicity (Iser 1970, 34). Iser holds that they appear to transcend historicity not so much, because they (re)present and display eternal values which supposedly exist beyond time, but rather, because their structure allows the reader to continually get involved into the fictive events.7 For this process, the blanks form important precondi7 “From this arises the suspicion that literary texts are resistant to the course of time, not because they represent eternal values that are supposedly independent of time, but because their structure continually allows the reader to place himself within the world of fiction.” (Iser 1989, 29).

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tions. By filling the blanks and making connections, the reader/spectator is able to convert the foreign experience into his/her own and leave her/his own securities to enter into new (not necessarily more pleasant) modes of thinking and behavior (Iser 1970, 34–35). Iser points out, that it is the lack of consequences inherent in narrative fiction which allows self-experience that is otherwise repeatedly blocked within the constraints of daily activities (ibid. 35; also for the following). Thus, every narrative (whether text or film and play) incites not only experiences of the narrated storyworld, but also about oneself. However, Iser would also hold that such experiences only become effective when they are not mentioned in the text/play itself. Fictional texts, according to him, are usually constructed in a way that none of the assigned meanings are ever fully confirmed. Fixing the meaning would show the limitedness of all that is clear and unambiguous. Meaning is constantly threatened to be outdated and hence open to revision. It is noteworthy that the Upanishad Ganga producers’ paratextual marketing description of their storytelling “using imagination and appeal” takes up, as it were, Iser’s keywords “appeal” and “imagination.” In the serial, serious religious matters appear in the garment of fiction and play, in thrilling stories which are sometimes enchanting, sometimes disturbing, both enhanced by the luring Bollywood aesthetics. It seems that the producers were well aware of the constructiveness and the fictional nature of the storyworlds presented. However, religious texts differ from literary fiction, as their content is not seen as merely fictional. Upanishad Ganga is not an exception to this rule, as it is based on religious texts. Such texts claim not only to have deep meaning in presenting eternal truth, but also to have tremendous consequences impacting on the real world and self, confirming and deepening spiritual practice, and possibly inciting conversion to moral behavior, a new spiritual life, and real self-knowledge, etc. So, it is unlikely that the producers would agree that no eternal values were exposed and that it was only the structure of storytelling and the blanks which would create efficacy and reader response. Nonetheless, they likely would agree that it needed the interaction of narrative and reader/spectator, and that it was ultimately the reader/spectator who made the text a living experience—even beyond the cinematic play. It is less clear whether the producers would agree that the meanings are always open to revision, as Iser holds. However, precisely this aspect becomes apparent in many episodes. Classical Advaita-Vedanta, going back to the wandering ascetic Shankara (seventh/eighth cent. A.D.) and his famous commentaries (on the Upanishads, Bhagavadgita, and the Brahmasutras) and a number of treatises ascribed to him, has been traditionally highly intellectual, nonsensual, and very scholarly, even scholastic, leaving little space for feeling and emotion. It is

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precisely at this crucial point where Upanishad Ganga deviates, by expanding the media and making the Advaitic vision a multisensorial experience. Upanishad Ganga also differs regarding content and “structure of appeal” (Iser), as Shankara’s Advaita-Vedantic view of Upanishadic wisdom appears coupled with strong elements of devotion and feeling.8 To mention another example of open and revised meaning construction: classical texts which were used to legitimate caste hierarchy appear in Upanishad Ganga as a token of equality. These are not the only places of open and fluid text and revised meanings channelling the spectators into new avenues of sense construction. Particular attention will also deserve the blanks and ambivalences which activate the spectators’ imagination, and how they are created.

3

Storyworlds and Modes of Storytelling in Upanishad Ganga

The following chapters will discuss in detail the forms and contents of storytelling in Upanishad Ganga and analyse the highly sensory and complex multimedia and cinematic strategies being performed. 3.1

Paratexts and Upanishad Ganga’s Plot and Repertoire of Frequent Themes Narratives are not only structured internally, but also externally. Major means of the latter are paratexts like title and subtitle, the publishers’ information, marketing texts, tables of content, division in chapters, and the like (Fludernik 2009, 23). In the previous chapter, the serial’s persuasive title Upanishad Ganga and its far-reaching connotations were already investigated, and there has also been extensive discussion of the paratextual marketing slogan “It’s

8 This is not without precedents. A lot of devotional hymns to all pan-Hindu deities, and particularly the goddess, are ascribed to Shankara, and into the monasteries dedicated to him, bhakti devotionalism and the (Smarta) worship of all-important pan-Indian deities were included. Bhakti—as devotional ritual worship, fervent religiosity of feeling and emotion, and religion of choice in worshipping of one’s favourite deity—has been immensely successful in India and became religious mainstream since the 13th century. Typical for the Smarta background, Upanishad Ganga, too, views all the gods alike, but (typical for the bhakti emphasis) it favours the great Vaishnava gods Krishna and Rama. Ritual worship, however, with the exception of the famous female saint and Krishna-devotee Mirabai, is only shown passingly as a natural part of Hindu tradition and often performed by women at the domestic altar (as it is also typical in real life). In contrast, the affective and passionate dimension of bhakti is stressed—loving devotion, complete dedication and surrender, mystical rapture and devotional unification with God.

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old, yet new, it’s meant for you” by which the Chinmaya Mission lanced the serial—first on posters, today printed on the colourful DVD covers. On a very basic level, this slogan may simply refer to the innovative conversion of ancient literature and (Advaita-)Vedantic world-view into multisensorial cinematic show and performance. The performance and aesthetic event character of sacred literature is not new in Hindu India as texts have always been orally transmitted, recited, sung, and staged (Wilke & Moebus 2011). New, however, was the idea of a cinematic “mass outreach” that intended to take “the message of the Upanishads to the family living room” by “using imagination and appeal,” as stated in the advertising brochure of the Chinmaya Mission entitled The Mouthpiece of the Master (2015, 15). It is also said therein that the intention was to bring “Gurudev’s vision straight to a larger audience.” This already indicates how much Upanishad Ganga oscillates between play and teaching. “Gurudev” or the “master” referred to is Swami Chinmayananda (1916–1993), the founder of Chinmaya Mission (1953), and his explicit program to bring the Vedantic source texts (Upanishads, Bhagavadgita, systematic treatises), previously limited to elite Brahmin circles and orthodox monks, to the “market place” and teach “Vedanta for the masses,” as he felt the ancient “art of man-making” and “science of self-perfection” was needed by everybody in any place, including the slum-huts (see, for instance, Chinmayananda [1978] 2007, 13). This program of mass-outreach is taken up and expanded glamorously in Upanishad Ganga by staging Upanishadic spirituality, philosophy, and ethical values in spectacular Bollywood-style fashion. By the popular medium of a tele-serial and the means of film, they are narrated like an exciting, emotionally moving and gripping story, gaining immediacy and forceful presence by visual imaging and performative dramatization. The (explicit) overall plot can roughly be sequenced in: (a) a suggestive framing story which propagates the relevance of the past for the present (UpG 1–2), continued by narratives highlighting this relevance with regard to character moulding, higher education and collective welfare through the ages (UpG 3–8); (b) stories on the Brahmanic societal order, comprising: the four human goals (pleasure, prosperity, ethics, and liberation); the varna-ashramadharma, i.e. the norms, values, laws, and ethics (dharma) pertaining to the traditional four stages of life (ashrama) (student life, married life, retired life, renunciation) and to social class or caste (varna) (here in fact an anticaste understanding of caste, interpreting it as individual qualities); the sixteen life-cycle rites, and the theory of karma and rebirth (UpG 9–22);

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(c) stories on major topics and practices of non-dual Advaita-Vedanta and fervent bhakti-devotion (UpG 23–52), which form the second, larger half of the series and culminate in (d) the final episode “Gratitude” which narrates how Shankara’s initially somewhat dumb disciple Totaka transforms into a great master and poet by his selfless service and devotion to the guru and the guru’s grace. This final episode was perceived as “an expression of gratefulness for this Wisdom [of the Upanishads and Advaita-Vedanta] which has made India proud, noble, and admired in the world over” (Wikipedia on Upanishad Ganga, accessed May 18, 2019). Remarkably, however, this sentence actually occurs in UpG 7 (“Vedanga”) which narrates the achievements of Bhaskaracharya, a famous mathematician of the early twelfth century. The episode depicts him teaching mathematics to his daughter Lilavati, who also inspired the title of Bhaskara’s most famous mathematical treatise, a treatise that actually exists. It belongs to the “Wonder that was India” (Basham) which Upanishad Ganga expands into a story. Both, this and the last episode “Gratitude” reveal a lot about the interesting selective choices made in the tele-serial and repeated favorite themes. The choice of mathematician Bhaskara does not only fall under the serial’s glorification of tradition—beyond the religious lore! As important and typical is the emphasis on women, both educated and uneducated, who can compete with men and witness in Upanishad Ganga an equal, sometimes superior standing in terms of intelligence and spirituality. Notions and daily life practices which discriminate and debase women are left out. At the same time the factually existing ambivalences and inconsistencies (Wilke 2014) become apparent in the play, and discrimination is put into question and counteracted by a complete change of perspective. “Gratitude” (UpG 52) only indirectly celebrates the great philosopher, “world-teacher,” wandering renunciate and most famous Advaita-Vedanta guru Shankara (seventh or eighth cent. A.D.), his philosophy (textually broadly attested), and his spiritual power and ‘miracle performances’ (well-known from hagiographies). The story’s hero and major protagonist is his disciple Totaka, whose dullness as well as great devotion, love (bhakti) and service (seva) at his guru’s feet is contrasted to the intellectual brilliance, scholastic learning, and contemplative power of his fellow-disciples. Typically, it is not the sophisticate philosophy and intellectual rigour of classical Advaita-Vedanta, nor even its contemplative, mystical spirituality that is celebrated and primarily praised in Upanishad Ganga, but first faith, simple devotion, guru-bhakti and guruseva. Everything else will follow (as in Totaka’s case) is the message. In other episodes as well, the arrogance and pride which Advaita-Vedanta philosophy

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may produce in the individual is contrasted to selfless service, humbleness, and devotion—often represented once more by women (wives and mothers). In quite a few episodes, social center and periphery get exchanged, and often surprising topoi and effects are created by unconventional plots and characters that break usual expectancies. For instance, not a great Vedanta master, or another famous spiritual authority exemplifies the guru in UpG 25 (“Guru”), but a prostitute teaching a Brahmin, and a casteless, naked Avadhuta teaching a merchant that guru can be anything in the universe, as all is a reflection of the self. However, expectations are not only broken, but also fulfilled, as it happens in the second episode on guru (UpG 26 “Guru Upasadan”) which covers an ancient myth of the Upanishads depicting the godfather and divine guru Prajapati teaching the gods and the demons about the self. These two groups of disciples draw very different conclusions: Whereas the demons stop at the level of the body which they take to be the true self, the gods ponder over the matter and conclude that this cannot be true. Going on listening to the guru (sravana), reflecting (manana), and contemplating (nidhidhyasana) deeper and deeper on the subject matter, they arrive at the eternally free, never dying, self-existing consciousness principle and limitless bliss constituting the innermost core of their own self and the self of everything. “Guru” belongs to the three exceptional cases in the serial where the title and theme of the story appear doubled, suggesting that they cover important issues worthy of repetition. Besides the two Darashikoh episodes (UpG 5–6 “Veda—The Source of Dharma” 1 and 2) which communicate the spiritual and moral impact of Upanishads and Bhagavadgita even on a Muslim ruler, also “renunciation” is dealt with twice (UpG 16–17 “Renunciation” 1 and 2). Similar to “Guru,” we find again the pattern of surprise brought about by rare or unconventional plots and broken expectations on the one hand and fulfilled expectations along traditional pathways on the other. “Renunciation 1” (UpG 16) does not at all deal with withdrawal from the world, as one might expect, but with the possibility to be a renunciate or celibate monk and at the same time very active in the world. This is a modern reform ideal, but the serial’s protagonist is the historical Advaita-Vedanta master Vidyaranya (1296–1386), who indeed already fulfilled this modern claim, and his life-story is underlined with references and recitations from Kaivalya-Upanishad. Vidyaranya is definitely a historical exception; in the past, the bearers of Advaita-Vedanta tradition were almost exclusively highly orthodox and learned monks or renouncers. However, expectations are both broken (UpG 16) and fulfilled (UpG 17): In “Renunciation 2” the storyworld is not taken from hagiography, but from Brihadaranyaka-Upanishad 2.4 which tells how Yajnavalkya, the most famous Vedanta-master of Vedic times, left his two wives and householder life to be-

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come a renunciate. He justifies his decision to his wife Maitreyi (herself spiritually inclined) that invariably everybody’s love for the own (true) self was the ultimate reason for loving one’s husband or wife, and everything else in the universe (ibid. 2.4.5). In the creation of a repertoire by recurrent themes and topoi may be seen another, very important and decisive structural pattern of the serial. Besides the merger of Advaita-Vedanta and devotionalism, and numerous stories about the wealth of great and noble characters which Hindu tradition produced, one can extract four most often repeated themes which keep reappearing in ever new variations. The first two (a–b) are directly related to Advaita-Vedantic philosophy and teaching, and in this case the repertoire is only new for ‘new-comers.’ The following two (c–d) are about social issues which, due to their frequent repetition, are obviously important issues for the serial’s authors and producers. These issues are more clearly constituting a new ‘traditional’ repertoire achieved by selectiveness, focusing, repetition, and rehearsal: (a) The body is not the true self and the identification with and attachment to it brings worldly suffering and spiritual bondage in this and future life—this core teaching of Advaita-Vedanta is apparently the most favorite and frequent topic of Upanishad Ganga’s storyworlds. It is sometimes supplemented by the teaching that the sensory world is ultimately an illusion. The intertextual network of ever new variations and narratives creates a sense of reality and utter significance. Although the message might sound disturbing to modern urban consumers, it is smoothened by the colorful play. Although the Advaita-Vedantic doctrine of the true and false self may sound like devaluating the corporal, sensory, and material, or locating them at the other end of a hierarchy, it is displayed in highly aesthetic-sensory storytelling and play, including song and dance. (b) By means of selecting, assembling, opposing, and contrasting certain fitting stories, the spectators are given the assurance that the low status of the physical is in fact not really a devaluation. Rather, it has to do with a second prominent and frequent theme which is closely related to the first: Materialistic ideology—not only modern versions, but already in Indian history the atheist and hedonist Charvaka philosophy—can never satisfy. It needs to change into a spiritual vision of life and self, which alone can bring happiness and inner satisfaction. Besides these very prominent spiritual themes, two social themes predominate: (c) It is often low-caste or caste-less protagonists who teach high-caste protagonists Advaita-Vedantic ultimate truth, and

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(d) many times, it is women who bring about males to rethink their behavior and life and make them enter the spiritual path. There is a more or less pronounced antibrahmanic and anticaste tendency in the series—a heritage of Swami Chinmayananda who repeatedly proclaimed that it had been one of the most hideous crimes of Indian tradition to hide away from public, especially women and low-caste, the art of self-perfection and non-dual knowledge and experience of Advaita-Vedanta, keeping it in the hands of greedy Brahmins. Upanishad Ganga has interiorized this tendency so much that the situation is almost the other way around—the real knowers of tradition at its best are women and low-caste. But of course, the situation is not that blunt: Not only wise woman, low caste persons, and prostitutes are teaching Brahmins and kings, but also kings are teaching Brahmins, and tolerant cosmopolitan-minded Brahmins are teaching arrogant, intolerant, narrow, stubborn, prestige- and caste-oriented Brahmins. It is important to remember that these stories are based on traditional narratives. The serial is in many ways holding on to the conservative, traditionalist, and normative Brahmanic value-system. Many chapters, i.e. episodes, display monastic ideals and rigorous morals—which is not untypical for the Chinmaya Mission either. The movement focuses on women’s education and empowerment, as well as upholding the traditional family structures (e.g. the wife should stay at home for raising the children—her most noble task in worldly life). The following paragraphs investigate the serial’s typical merger of tradition and innovation. The framing narrative (UpG 1 “The Journey” and UpG 2 “Think”) is of interest regarding the attempt of a renewal of traditional contents by new forms of storytelling. It reveals how traditional narrative structures and tropes, and the modes of storytelling, recital, and theater are absorbed in the new media film, and how play and teaching merge into each other. The succeeding paragraph explores how new meaning production is achieved regarding the serial’s glorification of tradition, its social criticism, unconventional view of caste, and focalization of woman’s power. These subjects maybe demonstrate best the continuum of tradition and innovation in the serial and its implicit claim of tradition’s own problem-solving potentials. 3.2 Framing Narrative: The Whole World Is a Theater The series starts with a generation conflict of son and father which takes place in picturesque Varanasi and summons tropes of colonial discourse, updated by themes of globalization (UpG 1 “The Journey”). The son, a director in the local theater, heavily criticizes Sanskrit culture as outdated and belonging to the “bullock cart era” with no modern relevance (a weighty trope since colonial

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times among a segment of India’s professionals). His father, an erudite, humble, and pious Sanskrit Pandit, deeply hurt, states “I am proud of my legacy” and of Upanishadic wisdom which, according to him, has deeply shaped the Indian psyche (as “it deals with you”). He poses to his son the challenging question: What is your relevance? A side-story confirms the father’s view: In contrast to his son’s disdain, a young British or American seeks the father’s instruction to learn at his feet Sanskrit grammar and Upanishadic wisdom (along with little Brahmin boys and without charge). Meanwhile the son, back in theater, starts pondering over his father’s question. While he is producing Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet (another colonial trope—the favoring of English literature instead of native literary productions), we become aware of his inner transformation. Upanishad Ganga’s solution demonstrates that the format film may, even in this respect, have certain advantages, as the camera eye allows the son’s thoughts to become visible in highly suggestive pictures, fade outs, cuts, and close-ups. His change of mind manifests in his (cinematically visualized) imagination of a change of the actors’ garments, moving from Shakespeare’s play to Kalidasa’s Shakuntala. This change of garments changes everything: the language, the gestures and facial expressions, the emotions of the actors—from somewhat false, grotesque and unfitting mimicry to persuasive mimesis. The son’s decision to produce from now “great Indian theater” initiates a grand reconciliation of father and son, and of old and new. The son’s first great production is bringing the Bhagavadgita to stage (UpG 2 “Think”), introduced to the audience: “It is an ancient story of a king, but it is also a story of you and me”—we easily detect here the motto: it’s old, yet new, it’s meant for you. By the cinematic strategy of fast cuts moving from theater stage to temple and back, we learn that the son is now staging in theater precisely the same wisdom as his father’s discourses on the Upanishads in the temple, culminating in the question “teach me Brahman” and the insight “I am Brahman” gained by the teaching. It is the same message in different media, but the sensuousness of theater, the spectacle of sights, sounds, and movements, ultimately proves to be more effective and emotionally moving—at least in the cinematic storyworld. Yet the spectator of the movie, too, will likely be fascinated and thrilled, in particular by the stirring and sensational representation of god Krishna: While the son himself plays Krishna in human form, Krishna’s terrifying cosmic form (Vishvarupa) is danced by a Kathakali dancer. The old is made new in the framing narrative by supplementing and in fact transforming traditional face-to-face instruction from guru to disciple into multisensory theater play that reaches a larger audience. While the episodes start with a real-life situation (a generational conflict), all the following episodes, which now display the storyworlds of textual narratives, take

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place on the theater stage within the movie, creating blanks and activating the spectators’ imagination to dissolve oppositions like old and new, past and present, fictional and real. Past events (happening in the fictional storyworlds) can be experienced in the present as both fictional and eternally relevant and true (as they are about human nature). While the reader’s own imagination sets in, the production side, says Iser (1970, 34), must keep sense and meaning in suspension and open for revision. The storyworld itself must contain areas of indefiniteness, ambivalence, and indeterminacy, offering a range of interpretation so that the reader’s response is activated. This is what happens in UpG 2 when the focus shifts from the Bhagavadgita teaching to reflecting the succeeding Mahabharata war—in this case not by a narrator figure but by another story performed on stage. It is well known, that the terrible bloodshed in the great war after the Bhagavadgita teaching, was legitimized and sanctioned by the dharma, i.e. the duty and not personal choice, of kings, princes, and soldiers, on the other hand by spiritual arguments—such as: The body dies, but not the soul and infinite self, which takes on and changes the bodies merely like garments, and remains ever untouched by sorrow and pain when no more identifying with the body (Yoga of Knowledge), or the central teaching that one should act and perform one’s duties without expectations and anxieties about success or failure and as service to the Lord (Yoga of Action), and finally Krishna’s, the highest god’s consolation that he will be always there for those of loving devotion, dedication, and surrender to the Lord (Yoga of Devotion). This problem of sanctifying extreme violence and war by Krishna in the Bhagavadgita, is cleverly reflected in Upanishad Ganga, by adding the powerful Mahabharata scene wherein the blind-folded queen Gandhari raises a long and heavy charge against Krishna to have caused the terrible war.9 She accuses Krishna to be responsible for the death of great soldiers, and widows left behind. She curses Krishna to die wretchedly, miserably like a dog (which he later actually will in his human form). Just at this most critical moment, Rishi Vyasa appears (traditionally known to have written down the Vedas and the Bhagavadgita) to clear the situation by his teaching: Nobody died but Krishna, nobody fought but Krishna. The whole universe and whatever happens in it, whether good or evil, is Krishna alone. In the final scene, verses of Krishna’s universal form in and beyond everything are recited by all the actors in front of the curtain, and 9 Gandhari wears in solidarity with her husband, the blind king Dasaratha, constantly a piece of cloth covering her eyes. She is the mother of wicked, yet also pious and brave usurpator Duryodhana who compelled his cousins, the Pandava brothers (including Krishna’s disciple Arjuna, and Krishna as their charioteer) into the terrible war.

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the narrator or sutradhara (the “director of the play”—again the Pandit’s son who formerly played Krishna) comments, it is only us humans who do not see this truth, because of being blind-folded by ignorance. At first glance, the blank and ambivalences seem to be solved—at least they are in UpG 2 by Vyasa’s determination. However, although Vyasa’s view of reality being pervaded by the Lord is presented as a final solution and although Gandhari’s accusation has thus been nullified and Krishna completely absolved from any guilt by a higher vision of the happenings in war, the same charges are raised again in a later episode (UpG 28 “The Not-Self”). Iser’s observation, that in fictional texts none of the assigned meanings are ever fully confirmed and that sense is constantly threatened to be outdated and therefore open to revision, is at least partly applicable here. Formally, the episodic structure of the serial allows in this case for new areas of indeterminacy and revision. Despite the charges reappearing in UpG 28 being pretty much the same, like those of Gandhari, they weigh heavier this time, as they are raised by distinguished epic heroines of the Pandava clan (on whose side Krishna fights) who bemoan young brave Abhimanyu who was killed in battle: Subhadra (Krishna’s sister, Arjuna’s wife, and Abhimanyau’s mother), Uttara (Abhimanyu’s wife), and Draupadi (the beloved common wife of the five Pandava brothers whose love for Abhimanyu was greater than for her own sons). They directly confront Krishna: “How can you be so heartless?” and top Gandhari’s accusation by asking the disturbing pertinent question: “Would a pregnant widow be consoled?” This means, such mental disturbances and charges do never completely die out, even after powerful solutions to the problems have been found, first with Krishna’s own Gita teachings, then with Vyasa’s highly philosophic apology (Krishna is in anything), and finally, in the present context with the reference to the immortal deeds of great heroic fighters like Abhimanyu, and again the distinction of self and not-self: The body may die, but not the imperishable ever blissful soul, one’s real self. It is interesting that UpG 28 leaves the question open whether the grieving women get consoled, but instead tells another story in which Savitri, the shrewd and faithful epic wife par excellence, gains back her husband from Lord Death. The producers of the filmic narrative(s), in spite of favoring Vyasa’s and Krishna’s solutions, create at the same time a blank and somewhat open situation by the repetition of the charges, leaving the audience to either accept Vyasa’s and Krishna’s lofty philosophic apologies, or do not find it convincing in contrast to Gandhari’s or the mourning Pandava women’s down-to-earth arguments. The supplementary well-known story of brave Savitri, whose unswerving love and devotion to her husband as well as her poetic skills and clever argumentation saves him from the clutch of death, adds extra layers of meaning and

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ambiguity, “giving rise to a whole network of possible connections” (Iser 1978, 196). Thus, the narrative situation and mode of storytelling are extremely complex, complicated and oscillating—constructing a commonly shared imagination, but also leaving at the same time many gaps for personal acquisition and meaning production. This is achieved, for instance, by the episodic structure, by repetitive repertoire, by enchanting and disturbing stories, by fluid fields of opposition and contrast, as seen with Gandhari and the Pandava women, and by various staging techniques, including narration. As mentioned above, there is in-built doubt in the serial, whether the omniscient narrator is really that omniscient: In UpG 33 (“Bondage”) the narrator couple voice their own entanglement and confusion when it comes to the irritating nature of human bondage. They in fact change roles, to become directly involved protagonists in the play, seeking instruction from a guru (a yogic Babaji), which culminates in the insight: Our mind itself and nothing else is the cause of bondage and liberation. This insight is supplemented in UpG 36 (“Maya—The Power of the Lord”), however, by the alternative explanation that the cause of bondage and ignorance is the wonderous power of Maya which creates plurality and illusion as it were real, and that Maya’s own nature is “inexplainable” (anirvacaniya), neither real nor unreal, and very hard to overcome even for superhuman beings. This episode distinguishes itself by numerous extremely fast cuts and constantly changing sceneries between stories on Maya and her mirage-like functions, and the narrators’ comments and explanations which incorporate genuine Advaita-Vedantic teaching on the nature of Maya. The concluding recitation—now in front of the theater curtain—characterizes Maya as the power who makes the impossible possible and creates difference between god, world, and self, like a magician. The frame of theater, introduced in UpG 2, is a powerful strategy. It lances not only the idea that the whole world is a theater, God’s divine play, but also fiction like Maya and theater, unreal and real at once. It also approximates modern movie to ancient theater, which, according to the Natyashastra, was the fifth Veda, the Veda for the common folk. Indian theater is basically music drama and incorporated in later times also dance. The Natyashastra is the earliest and most important Indian treatise on theater and aesthetics, going back to the first millennium and partly even to Vedic and early epic times before the Christian era. It characterizes theater not only as fifth Veda, a Veda for everybody, but also as pleasurable and entertaining education of dharma values. The combination of play and teaching and deliberate ‘mass-outreach’ to a larger public thus have a long Indian tradition. Moreover, the image of theater establishes a complex semiotic frame for both form and content, and

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past, present, and virtual events which blend in the spectator’s imagination. Similar to classical theater, the modern media movie theater lends embodied reality to mythical category blurring, in which real-world persons, legendary figures, gods, and demons interact quite naturally. The theater frame transposed into the movie allows additional layers of reality and multiple modes of storytelling. It sets, for instance, the scene for the typical epic and puranic pattern of stories in the story in the story. This pattern is constantly rehearsed and refilled with new stories in the episodes following UpG 2. The theater setting allows also inclusion of more reflexive and interpretative scenes, where teaching occurs in face-to-face dialogues or where the narrator explains what is being seen. Moreover, there will be always recitals of the actors in the beginning and end in front of the theater curtain; chanting powerful mantras, god’s glory, and verses relating to the plot of the episode. This act creates a liminal zone in-between theatrical story world and real world. The initial recitations prepare for the play and the concluding ones bring the spectators back from the storyworld to their own world and life.

4

The Glory and Beauty of Tradition—and Inhering Problems and Solutions

Upanishad Ganga may be qualified as a big marketing event not only for Advaita-Vedantic worldview, but also for the greatness of the entire lore of sacred scriptures and Hindu customs and values. In the serial’s perspective, the greatness of Hindu tradition lies in its integrative and transformative power, in the great characters and highly moral personalities it produced, and in the strength of self-purification of society’s internal problems, flaws, and cruelties. In UpG 4 (“Universal Welfare”), for instance, the crippled Ashtavakra wins the great philosophical debate at king Janaka’s court and ends the cruel rule that the loser must kill himself. He defeats violence by non-violence—a violence which is located within India’s own society, here the Vedic one. In the following, only a few out of many examples will be given to illustrate in more depth the glorification and critique of tradition, and the keys to amendment, correction, and solution of the problems posed by this tradition—whereby the very same tradition is tapped to solve the problems and/or provide keys for reform. Oftentimes, neither the glorification or criticism are explicitly verbalized, nor the solutions of the tension. They are rather communicated by way of storytelling, performance, and play. It is interesting to note how the glorification of tradition, the social criticism, and the view of caste and gender are given shape by means of textual repertoire, hermeneu-

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tic, intertextual, and transmedial strategies, selective decisions, and sensory cinematic aesthetics and how by the cinematic narration a gestalt-forming of new meanings, revised perspectives, and reinventions of tradition take place, which have the air of being fully backed by traditional narratives and having ever been there. But of course, they are constructed in the way of what is selected to be worth telling and how it is told. In the selective choices of literary data, its enlargements and comments, there is a lot of moralizing and teaching about not to identify with one’s body, sexual lust, social roles, and the poisonous influence of wealth, desire, fame, egoism, and arrogance. Much moral idealism flows into the Indian culture’s representation—for a Western spectator sometimes borderline and almost inhuman, such in case of the disturbing story of king Hariscandra as paradigm of dharma (UpG 9 “The Human Goal—Dharma”), or at other times somehow unreal and highly aestheticized. Particularly the depiction of the sixteen Brahmanic samskaras or rites of passage makes lush use of a colorful Bollywood dream world of beauty, song, and dance (UpG 19–21 “Shodasha Samaskara— The 16 Milestones of Life” 1–3). For instance, the ear-piercing ceremony is presented as an utterly joyful, magnificent event by dancing women in beautiful dresses, and the meaning of the rite is solely communicated by bhajan chant. The lush Bollywood aesthetics herald the shining glory of tradition and present the set of normative rituals and rules of a rigid society as a world of joy, beauty, abundance, and perfection. Nonetheless, the rigidness and discriminative features of Brahmanic society and rites are not at all passed over. Particularly remarkable in this respect and one of the instances of surprise and innovation is the depiction of the Brahmanic thread ceremony upanayana, the boys’ initiation, which is denied to women, lower caste, and disabled (UpG 20 “Shodasha Samskara 2”). It is immediately followed by the existence of another kind of initiation which is not inseparably linked to Brahminhood, higher caste and ritual purity—namely initiation into a devotional lineage. Here, the flaws of Brahmanic tradition are reflected upon and negotiated (as in many other places) within the story. By way of emotionally moving storytelling and stirring pictures, close-ups and fast cuts, a higher truth is given to non-Brahmin religious initiation. The grandfather who explains the upanayana to the little boy, is the blind saint singer Surdas (16th century), to whom the thread ceremony was denied because of his disability. The tears in his eyes look at first like signs of sadness but turn out to be signs of joy. He explains that for him, the refusal of Brahmanic initiation was ultimately a blessing, as it brought him to his famous guru saint Vallabha and initiation into Vallabha’s devotional Pushtimarga. Surdas himself became a great saint and famous composer of devotional songs to Krishna. The little boy, whom he teaches the samskaras, is

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dressed like Krishna—maybe a metonym for blind Surdas’ enlightened vision to see Lord Krishna everywhere and taste at all times the sweetness of loving devotion and emotional song. Thus, the episodes covering the normative Brahmanical rites of passage show both their beauty and deep meaningfulness (mediated by the aestheticization and devotionalization of storytelling) as well as their rigidness and discriminative features (communicated by intertextuality and new ritual combination within the storyworld). Typically, similar to other cases in the serial, the seemingly lucid headings “The 16 Samskaras” (characterized as “milestones of life”) hide surprises and unconventional contents. They not only include a very good depiction of the traditional, highly orthodox Brahmanical initiation (upanayana), open to males of the three upper castes only, but also devotional, ‘sectarian’ (sampradaic) initiation, open to everybody and often founded by low-caste or even casteless charismatic individuals who found a following among all social groups irrespective of caste and gender. While in this case, the critique of tradition and tracing its problems is solved (although not socially, but only spiritually) by another powerful Hindu tradition, the following examples suggest that Brahmanic textual tradition contains solutions and keys to reform already within itself. Whereas in Surdas a soft and indirect, but still quite definite criticism of the Brahmanic system is voiced while religiousness, pure spirituality, and emotional piety are depicted as a world of freedom, inner satisfaction and egalitarian justice, other episodes make this criticism explicit. This is very pronounced in the attitude towards the castesystem, which becomes obvious, for instance, in “Student Life” (UpG 13). This episode is based on five stanzas of the Chandogya Upanishad (4.4.1–5) which are narratively commented upon and performatively expanded to fill the half an hour of sending time. This technique of performative expansion and elucidation which converts the Upanishadic words into dramatic scenes provides the original text with a wider narrative frame and the looks of a traditional ancient story. The story, visualized in colorful aesthetic pictures and picturesque scenery (once more the Ghats of Varanasi), and dramatized in powerful dialogues and soothing ‘holy’ sounds (like puja bells and Om chanting), creates a stronger dramatic and experiential effect than the original verses and provides sensory immediacy and a powerful emotional anchor for the spectator to identify with and immerse himself/herself in the play. The central kernel of the story corresponds to the Upanishadic narrative: The boy Satyakama has a deep yearning for brahmacarya, the study of Brahman, and approaches respectfully (prostrating and with folded hands) Haridrumata, a famous Brahmin Vedanta teacher, to be accepted as his student. The teacher asks the boy’s family name (gotra), whereupon the boy repeats faithfully what his mother

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told him: He does not know his father’s name, as his mother Jabala served in many households as a maid servant, so his name is Jabala Satyakama. Although born from a servant and domestic prostitution, which makes him a Shudra and even outcast, the teacher accepts Satyakama as a disciple. In keeping with the Upanishadic source, Haridrumata maintains that one who speaks so openly the truth cannot be but a Brahmin. In addition to the Upanishadic narrative, the cinematic extension tells us about the dignity, purity, and pride of Satyakama’s mother while dealing with her suitors, and both the child and the mother is praised by Haridrumata for their honesty. Moreover, we see the contempt on an orthodox Brahmin’s face when Saytakama reveals the truth, and we come to know that he got a regular Brahmanic thread ceremony (upanayana) from Haridrumata. The final scene—Haridrumata’s long speech, i.e. apology for giving upanayana, in front of the king of Varanasi and a group of Brahmins—is again a cinematic fiction, but in terms of content truthfully elaborating Chandogya 4.4.5: “Only a Brahmin can speak that openly. Fetch firewood, my dear, I will initiate you, because you did not deviate from truth.” Upanishad Ganga makes of the somewhat indeterminate message of the Upanishad a determinate one: the true Brahmin is one who speaks the truth— and only such a person is truly eligible for spiritual knowledge. This is a nice example of how religious narratives can become effective in the construction, negotiation, and transformation of religious authority and social status. Not by birth one is a Brahmin, but by noble character. This has far reaching implications in the definition of caste. Caste is not defined by birth, but by character, mental qualities (guna) and actions (karma). This was precisely late Swami Chinmayananda’s contention who maintained that the denial of Vedic recitation and education and higher spiritual learning to Shudras and women and the hereditary caste-system were unsanctioned by ancient tradition, and that quoting holy scriptures to support this discrimination and give it divine sanction was a most “disgusting social crime” and a distorted interpretation of ancient texts like the Vedic creation hymn Purushasukta and the Bhagavadgita 4,13 and 18,41 (Advayananda 2015, 30–48, particularly 43–45; Chinmayananda repr. 2013, 1190). The same argument of social injustice as result of Brahmanic greed and defective hermeneutics of Purushasukta and Bhagavadgita is raised in UpG 18 (“Varna”), dealing explicitly with caste. The story’s moral culminates in the narrator’s conclusion: Everybody is a Shudra by birth and can become a Brahmin by the study of sacred scriptures and the realization of Brahman in everything. Not only the storyworlds UpG 10 (“The Human Goal—Artha”), 13 (“Student Life”) and 18 (“Varna”), explicitly dealing with caste, contain a good deal of social criticism, but also other episodes. The social criticism of Upanishad

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Ganga pervades all historical layers—from Vedic period and the times of Chandragupta’s coronation (320 B.C.) and Kautilya’s Arthashastra to Vijaya Nagara Kingdom (1336–1565 A.D.) and Moghul Empire (1526–1857) up to modern times. Each period is given a long sermon of accusation regarding severe societal problems, such as rulers and merchants exploiting the subjects, the high crime rates, or men exploiting women and forcing them into prostitution. Particularly passionate examples are UpG 23 (“The Glory of Human Birth”) on well-known saint Tulsidas (1532–1623) and his Hindi Ramayana, and UpG 29 (“The True Self”) on the transformation of a good-for-nothing womanizer and immoral scamp Arun turning into the Avadhuta (realized saint) and Dashanami monk Arungiri. Interestingly, both male protagonists are set onto the spiritual path by women—be it wife or sister—and initially less by their own decision and will. Whether it is Tulsi’s wife’s scolding her husband that his infatuation and carnal love for her should turn to loving god as passionately, or whether it is Arun’s sister offering her own body to the brother to make him rethink his hedonist ideology “carnal pleasures are the greatest” and “our body is the only real thing”—it is the women’s critical remarks, moral strength, and spiritual purity who make the men mature moral subjects and spiritual giants. The storylines are enhanced by emotionally moving details, marvelous closeups, plays with color, light and shadow, sharp cuts, and changes of sceneries, mirroring the changes of mind, the opposing views of life, and the surprising turns of life-stories. Shocked and deeply touched Arun will ask his sister’s forgiveness and address her as goddess incarnate, while later Arungiri will teach his wisdom in the whorehouse and explain “the whole world is my home” and that the prostitutes were more in need of spiritual teaching than the virtuous house-wives who waited in vain to venerate him with flower-garlands, coconut, and camphor. The topos that women (from all classes) make men think and change their behavior, world-view, and way of life, reappears in ever new storyworlds. The repeated narrative gives spectators the feeling that it inherently belongs to the fix and important repertoires of Indian literary tradition. At the same time, this repetitive repertoire allows for many surprises and unusual, extraordinary stories and plots, such as Vedanta teaching in the brothel. According to cognitive scientists (e.g. Boyer 2001; Whitehouse 2000), it is precisely the unusual, nonhabitual, and extraordinary which sticks particularly well in mind. Also, the episode “Guru” (UpG 25), already mentioned earlier, has this effect. Surprisingly, the guru is not what Indians would have in mind, one of the well-known highly revered spiritual and charismatic authorities of the past or present, but a woman: the beautiful courtesan Pingala. It is a prostitute who teaches a Brahmin. She enlightens the Brahmin who is passionately craving for her to shift

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the craving from the lust of the body to the love of God—another topos belonging to Upanishad Ganga’s repetitive repertoire. Pingala appears again in UpG 25 in the second story on “Guru.” This guru belongs to a very different storyworld. It is a casteless (almost) naked Avadhuta, a realized master who lives in free nature and teaches that guru can be just anything in the universe, as all is a reflection of the self—from the natural elements, to the ocean, the moon and the manifold animals. Remarkably, the Avadhuta lists 24 gurus, most of whom are not human. The only two human gurus happen to be women: it is the courtesan Pingala (sic!) and a young peasant girl whom he wanted to marry once ago, and whom he remembers by the sound of her bangles whilst pounding grain. Despite heavy accusations and acute consciousness of social problems, Upanishad Ganga paints a rather conservative and traditionalist image of woman—she is chaste, and cooks and cares for the husband inside the house, whereas men are the public figures. However, there are important exceptions beyond Pingala, such as Gargi and Bharati who participate in public philosophical debates, ask clever questions, and decide the winners (see in particular UpG 30 “The Existence Principle,” narrating a story based on Brihadaranyaka-Upanishad 3.8.1–12). Many will be acquainted with the epic heroine Savitri who was able to persuade by her wisdom even Lord Death (god Yama) to give back her deceased husband who had died far too early (UpG 28 “The Not-Self”), not less than with the life-story of the female saint and poet singer Mirabai (1498–1573), the famous queen who declared Krishna to be her true and only husband (UpG 43 “Three Personality Traits”). Hardly anybody, on the other hand, will know the story of the shrewd daughter of a minister who teaches pure Advaita-Vedanta to an atheist king by using persuasive illustrations and metaphors (UpG 35 “God”). The king had been destroying the gods’ images (murti), but she explains (in truly Advaitic manner): “The murtis are only symbolic forms of the omnipresent formless god.” Thus, Upanishad Ganga tells various stories about outstanding heroines, but equally important are those of unspectacular house-wives who faithfully fulfil their traditional roles. Both female ideal types are characteristic for Upanishad Ganga. The second, ultimately more prominent type, takes up in one episode (UpG 45 “Preparatory Spiritual Practice”) the famous norm of Manu’s law-book concerning the dharma of women (stridharma), whose life is never autonomous: as a child she is under the control of her father, as an adult she surrenders to her husband, and as widow to her son. Typically for Upanishad Ganga, the older woman who raises a shy, but nonetheless clear doubt about this rule is cutting vegetables together with her new daughterin-law who modestly covers her head with the Sari. However, what looks ex-

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ternally like complete domestication of women, includes a lot of subversive resistance, the women’s own reflections and their self-image to be Shakti, the real power of men. What is particularly charming about this sequence is the ordinariness, and the unspectacular scenery. The women are simply normal housewives, but self-aware of their power and moral strength—which the males are ready to admit! Remarkably, the notion of particular power, piety and moral strength of women, outdoing in these areas their husbands, is far from fiction, but a wide-spread cultural habitus, as Johanna Vögeli’s study on Sri Lankan Tamil men and women in the diaspora attests (Vögeli 2003). This scene of women’s power, publicly invisible, yet explicit in selfawareness in UpG 45, is in fact a side-subject within the episode but takes up in a new idiom the trope repeatedly occurring in Upanishad Ganga and now explicitly verbalized, namely that women teach and shape men. One of the most instructive examples, which likely sticks in mind, is UpG 49 “Yoga of Knowledge” in which a pious mother and young wife bring the son and husband to his senses. The man, overcome by his hunger and lust to eat, hurriedly gulps down the freshly cooked meal, unable to wait until the women have ended the puja, including offering the food to the gods. Their devoted performance makes him suddenly aware of his own un-pious and adharmic behavior, his uncontrolled greed, selfishness, and delusion. The real point of the story is not that women are the better moral subjects (although one can see this message implicitly communicated), but rather that the “yoga of knowledge” (i.e. Vedantic wisdom) has nothing to do with great intelligence and scriptural knowledge, but means embodied digestion, gained by discrimination and critical self-inquiry. The conviction of the self-purifying nature of tradition is particularly evident in the serials’ perspective of women: whereas existing discrimination is hardly voiced, with the exception of women’s sexual exploitation, and the short allusion to Manu’s lawbook, the lion’s share witness (often exceedingly) positive images of women which undoubtedly in Sanskrit literature and vernacular traditions exist, maybe indeed more abundantly than generally perceived in Western academic discourse—from higher participation in Veda studies in Vedic times and great epic heroines to the important concept of Shakti, cosmic female power. At the same time this abundance of strong female characters is the result of the serial’s selectiveness and focalizing strategy.

5

Concluding Remarks on Film and Narrative Theory

If the previous pages have been convincing that it is worthwhile to look closer at cinematic narratives and transmedial storytelling, one objective of this arti-

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cle is fulfilled. Another objective has been to present how Indian storytelling is taken up by Upanishad Ganga and enhanced by Bollywood aesthetics. Bollywood cinema inheres a long history of making films of religious narratives. Upanishad Ganga, however, makes abundant use of the fact that cinematic storytelling—particularly if performed in such complex transmedial fashion as in the serial—provides opportunities to put forward and construct new messages and meanings. I have shown in the previous pages, how India’s narrative cultures are integrated and re-worked in Upanishad Ganga to constitute new great narratives, starting with the glory of tradition and its self-purifying power. A pattern running through many episodes, which may easily go unnoticed by the tv consumers in the family living room, is tracing both problems of the tradition—sometimes spotted explicitly, but mostly tapped on only implicitly—and that they are potentially already solved by this very tradition itself, providing a lot of data and potential for reform. As exemplified, tradition’s glory is seen to manifest most clearly in bringing forth exceedingly noble characters, numerous saints, and male and female mahatmas (“great people”). Major problems, on the other hand, appearing repeatedly in the series, are the arrogance and dominance of Brahmins, and the discriminative hierarchies of caste and gender. The solution regarding Brahmin dominion and arrogance is showing great people from other castes and women teaching the Brahmins, or Brahmins themselves opposing and challenging the Brahmin ideology of superiority—all of it is shown in storyworlds that tradition itself has to offer. The solution of caste and gender problems again is expounded in thrilling stories and ultimately traces both the problems in wrong hermeneutics: misreading led to a wrong (hereditary) understanding of caste, and historical forgetfulness and insufficient consideration of the numerous stories of powerful women and of the concept of Shakti (divine female “Power”) led to a distorted and false understanding of women’s roles and women’s subordination. As a red thread, one can detect a constant interface of tradition and innovation, of traditionalist values and worldview interlaced with unconventional ideas and surprising effects. Important in terms of aesthetics of religion is that the serial’s explicit and implicit messages are emotionalized, and their plausibility augmented by well-known stories, recurring repertoire, moving plots, and by sensual aesthetics, lush Bollywood sceneries, song, dance, and music. Such sensational forms are what the medium film alone achieves and what language is lacking. Film must therefore be acknowledged as a narrative culture in its own right, a cinematic narrative distinct from the verbal narrative of literature. However, in the following final remarks it becomes clear that I am far from claiming an opposition of the two media. It is important to be aware of the distinction as well as of the continuity of cinematic and verbal narratives. In my Indian example, the continuity is greater than the difference.

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I have shown in this chapter how India’s narrative cultures regarding both, structure and content, including modes of storytelling and tropes, were absorbed into the media of film. Thereby not only cultural mimesis was achieved, but also reworked and elaborated into new narratives and new meanings. This can be explained in more detail by the textual devises described by Iser ([1976] 1994). Before coming back to them, there is need for a short pause of reflection, as Iser puts a lot emphasis on the difference between text and film due to the different activation of mental images (Iser 1994, 219–29). Film is lending more plasticity and distinction to the subject matter and leaves less gaps and blanks to be filled and completed by the recipients’ imagination. Film, thus, is reducing the recipients’ own work of imagination and affective production of mental images. Although I would agree, at least for modern European readers, I suggest that Indian text reception may be closer already traditionally to film and theater than to the silent European reader of novels. So, I would insist, that film is activating imagination not in a less strong, but in a different and multisensory manner. This includes what was called “picturing,” “image act” (Bakewell 1998) or “Bild-Handeln”/“Bild-Akte” (Bräunlein 2004; Bräunlein 2009, 31–33; Uehlinger 2006, 181) and “acoustic piety” (Wilke & Moebus 2011) in foregoing research, referring to visual and audible performances and the culturally specific uses and modes of seeing pictures and hearing texts and sounds. These acts of picturing, imagining, and pious hearing are enhanced by the theater frame within the movie—not only by what happens on stage in the storyworld, but also by the recitals in front of the curtain in the beginning and end. The absorption of theater is a very important ingredient of the serial’s aesthetic transmediality. It allows incorporation of the immense richness of genres, literary forms, and stories, and also a narrator, into film. Moreover, theater’s own aesthetics and long history underscore the textual narrative strategies: the theater frame makes new, reformist interpretations appear like ancient tradition. And finally, it molds the fifty-two narrative episodes into an integral whole. Film as narrative culture is providing plasticity, vividness, and experientiality, but is not on par with India’s narrative cultures, and does not dismiss or replace the genuine textual and narrative strategies outlined by Iser, nor deny their applicability, as it is first of all narrative cultures of different kinds that are staged by the tele-serial. I have given many examples of creating ambiguity and blanks. At this point, I mention three additional features which I have drawn from Iser’s inspiration (expanded here transmedially) and which analytically explain what Upanishad Ganga actually “does” with and to the spectator: (a) it lends plausibility to what is shown by using well-known repertoire, popular stories, char-

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acters, tropes, and notions, and creates familiarity with the less known— like Upanishadic wisdom and Advaita-Vedantic teaching—and with new perspectives on well-known issues—like caste and gender—by repetition which produces new repertoire; (b) the selective decisions in the choice of stories, themes, and tropes, as well as the visual and audible performances, and the multilayered modes of storytelling allow not only a rehearsal of traditional narratives, but also new meanings and re-inventions of tradition to appear; (c) both the old and new meanings get emotionalized by textual, sensoryvisual, and audible strategies. Such aesthetic devices, including the scenery of theater play, recitation, music, colorful dress, and ‘direct’ oral teaching, combine with the texts’ own aesthetics, their narrative structures, modes of storytelling, and poetic imagination which make the processes of semiosis a very complex procedure. I have argued that cinematic narrative must be studied in its own right. Yet, the pragmatics of film do not substantially differ from textual narrative cultures: It produces a reality of its own, going beyond the simple dichotomy of everyday reality and fiction. The implied spectator is activated and channeled to go along with the play, and experience himself/herself: “It’s old, yet new, it’s meant for you.” In the statement “old, yet new,” inheres a persuasive and far reaching ambivalence. It plays with Upanishad Ganga’s apparently willful intersection of timelessness and historical change. No doubt, the phrase alludes to eternally valid age-old wisdom which remains ever fresh for the receivers through the centuries (like the ever fresh and sacred waters of the river Ganga). Sacred literature enjoys cross-culturally the nimbus of eternal truth (Grieser 2013, 325). The dignity of ancient myth in religious settings is not least due to its association with time-resistant eternal significance, strength, and power for the present. However, the phrase “yet new” may also reflect historical consciousness—what is being presented is not simply the old. ‘Eternal wisdom’ needs adjustment, aggiornamento, and translation to remain a living reality and to conform to, to be heard and to be meaningful in modern times. The process to turn the old into the new, the past into the present, and the word into living experience involves reconsideration, selection, re-interpretation, and possibly even critique, discarding the unfitting and making new additions. All of this is being found in Upanishad Ganga. Glorification of the eternal value of tradition and critical reconsideration of tradition (including seeing the need of reform and change with regard to injustice, violence, and intolerance within the much-appraised tradition, starting with caste and gender issues and Brahmin dominion) is a constant theme displayed and staged, although hardly ever explicitly verbalized. Glorification and criticism are two

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implicit story lines pervading the entire serial, i.e. the themes, tropes, and plots of most the fifty-two episodes. As outlined, the solution of tradition’s defaults running through the series is as simple as challenging: the very same tradition (embodied in the vast lore of sacred narratives), that was productive of serious social problems, includes within itself the resources for amendment and reform. Despite this overall pattern is never outspokenly verbalized, the spectator is almost forced to get this impression. The way the stories are told and enacted, using techniques like cutting, assembling, selecting, contrasting, and opposing, (seem to) provide evidence that the reforms searched for were already ingrained in and suggested by tradition. A majority of the fifty-two narrative episodes are pervaded by the implicit claim that tradition has all the potential within itself to correct itself—be it by one and the same text, by intertextual references, by new interpretation, or simply by changing the focal point. This metanarrative element of reconsidering and reshaping tradition is being enhanced by the highly aesthetic multimedia performance catching the attention of the spectators or narrates, and lending immediacy and sensory experientiality to what is heard and seen. Remarkably, the repetitive structure of certain basic topics creates the impression that it is not narrative re-invention or metanarrative reshaping of tradition, but rather a pre-existing repertoire which the spectator was so far not aware of. It remains an amazing fact that Upanishadic wisdom made its way into mainstream television and produced a new narrative culture within film entertainment. It went beyond the usual mythological themes which always enjoyed great popularity in India’s television and Bollywood industry, and found much response in the national reception—and to some extent even transnationally, at least among Chinmaya Mission members around the world.

References Advayananda, Swami. 2015. “The Holy Geeta – In a Class All by Itself,” in Advaitamrtam: Commemorating the Birth Centenary Celebrations of Gurudev Swami Chinmayananda, edited by Sandhya Sundar & Dilip Kumar Rana, 30–48. Ernakulam: Chinmaya International Foundation. Bakewell, Liza. 1998. “Image Acts,” American Anthropologist 1.100: 22–35. Bal, Mieke. 1997. Narratology: Introduction to the Theory of Narrative. Toronto: University of Toronto Press. Basham, A. L. (1954) 1992. The Wonder That was India: A Survey of the History and Culture of the Indian Sub-Continent before the Coming of the Muslims. Calcutta: Rupa.

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Bhagavadgita, see The Holy Geeta. Boyer, Pascal. 2001. Religion Explained: The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Thought. New York: Basic Books. Bräunlein, Peter J. 2004. “Bildakte: Religionswissenschaft im Dialog mit einer neuen Bildwissenschaft,” in Religion im kulturellen Diskurs: Festschrift H.G. Kippenberg, edited by Brigitte Luchesi & Kocku von Stuckrad, 195–231. Berlin: De Gruyter. Bräunlein, Peter J. 2009. “Image Transmissions as Image Acts: Christian Images, Emotions and Religious Conversion in the Philippines,” in Transmission Image – Visual Translation and Cultural Agency, edited by Birgit Mersmann & Alexandra Schneider, 11–37. Newcastle upon Tyne: Cambridge Scholars Publishing. Chandogya Upanisad. With the Commentary of Sankaracarya. 1983. Translated by Swami Gambhirananda. Calcutta: Advaita Ashrama. Chinmayananda, Swami. (1978) 2007. The Art of Man-Making: Talks on the Bhagawad Geeta. Reprint, Mumbai: Central Chinmaya Mission Trust. Chinmayananda, see The Holy Geeta. Fludernik, Monika. 1996. Towards a ‘Natural’ Narratology. London/New York: Routledge. Fludernik, Monika. 2009. An Introduction to Narratology. New York: Routledge/ Taylor & Francis e-Library. Grieser, Alexandra. 2013. “Response: Erzählte Gemeinschaft. Zur Multi-Funktionalität kollektiver Narrative und der dynamischen Rolle von Religion,“ in Konstruktionsgeschichten: Narrationsbezogene Ansätze in der Religionsforschung, edited by Gabriela Brahier & Dirk Johannsen, 319–33. Würzburg: Ergon. The Holy Geeta. Commentary by Swami Chinmayananda. Reprint 2013. Mumbai: Central Chinmaya Mission Trust. Iser, Wolfgang. (1976) 1994. Der Akt des Lesens: Theorie ästhetischer Wirkung, fourth edition. Munich: Fink. Iser, Wolfgang. 1989. “Indeterminacy and the Reader’s Response in Prose Fiction,” in Wolfgang Iser, Prospecting: From Reader Response to Literary Anthropology, 3–30. London/Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press. Iser, Wolfgang. 1978. The Act of Reading: A Theory of Aesthetic Response. Baltimore/London: Johns Hopkins University Press. Iser, Wolfgang. 1970. Die Appellstruktur der Texte: Unbestimmtheit als Wirkungsbedingung literarischer Prosa. Konstanz: Universitätsverlag. Kuhn, Markus. 2011. Filmnarratologie: Ein erzähltheoretisches Analysemodell. Berlin: De Gruyter. Kuhn, Markus & Johann N. Schmidt. 2014. “Narration in Film,” The Living Handbook of Narratology, edited by Peter Hühn, Jan Christoph Meister, John Pier & Wolf Schmid. Accessed March 12, 2019. https://www.lhn.uni-hamburg.de/node/64.html.

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The Mouthpiece of the Master, edited by Central Chinmaya Mission Trust. 2015. Mumbai: Chinmaya Prakashan. Rocher, Ludo. 1978. “Max Müller and the Veda,” in Mélanges Armand Abel, edited by A. Destrée, vol. III, 221–35. Leiden: Brill. Uehlinger, Christoph. 2006. “Visible Religion und die Sichtbarkeit von Religion(en): Voraussetzungen, Anknüpfungsprobleme, Wiederaufnahme eines religionswissenschaftlichen Forschungsprogramms,“ Berliner Theologische Zeitschrift (BThZ) 23,2: Das öffentliche Gesicht der Religion(en), 165–84. Vögeli, Johanna. 2003. “‘Stärker als ihr denkt’: Tamilische Frauen in der Schweiz,” in Tempel und Tamilen in zweiter Heimat: Hindus aus Sri Lanka im deutschsprachigen und skandinavischen Raum, edited by Martin Baumann, Brigitte Luchesi & Annette Wilke, 323–44. Würzburg: Ergon. Whitehouse, Harvey. 2000. Arguments and Icons: Divergent Modes of Religiosity. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Wilke, Annette. 2014. “Die Göttinnen und die Frauen: Genderimplikationen in Symbolisierungen des Göttlichen in Hindu-Traditionen und ihre Inszenierung im Bollywood-Film Kabhi Kushi Khabie Gham,” in Geschlechtergerechtigkeit: Herausforderung der Religionen, edited by Christoph Elsass, Edith Franke & Angelika Standhartinger, 281–306. Berlin: EB-Verlag. Wilke, Annette & Oliver Moebus. 2011. Sound and Communication: An Aesthetic Cultural History of Sanskrit Hinduism. Berlin/New York: De Gruyter.

Chapter 8

Storytelling and Mediation: The Aesthetics of a Counter-narrative of Atheism in South India Stefan Binder

1

Introduction

This chapter explores Atheist activism in the two South Indian, Teluguspeaking states of Andhra Pradesh and Telangana as a form of narrative culture. The movement under consideration consists of loosely organized groups and individuals who self-identify as atheists (nāstikulu),1 rationalists (hētuvādulu), or humanists (mānavavādulu), and understand their form of Atheism as an act of social activism aiming at a comprehensive reconstruction of society along irreligious lines.2 Most of these activists stress that Atheism exceeds a negative denial of gods and constitutes instead a movement toward a practical and constructive secular “way of life” (jīvitavidhānaṃ). In Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, this movement has developed out of a larger milieu of social reform and anti-colonial activism and has been closely linked to the Communist and other leftist movements, including the Progressive Writers, Progressive Theater, feminist, anti-caste, and various educational movements like the science, library, or literacy movements (V. Ramakrishna 1984; Raju 1988; Cody 2013). What distinguishes the Atheist movement is not a critical stance toward religion per se but the emphasis and intransigence with which religion, and more precisely the abstract social and psychological mechanisms productive of religion, are identified as the major cause for inequality, injustice, exploitation, and all sorts of “social evils” (durācārālu). However, in contrast to an ideographic approach focusing on conceptualizations of religion and irreligion, I will analyze practices of storytelling in order to show how the boundary work

1 Unless otherwise noted, all words in italics and brackets are Telugu. 2 Although not all factions choose atheism/nāstikatvaṃ as a public self-designation, they do recognize each other as belonging to a single, coherent movement and acknowledge atheism as a fundamental theological stance of their movement. As I will show in the following section, the conceptual history of the category atheism/nāstikatvaṃ is crucial for the historical development of the movement, which is why I use capitalized Atheism when referring to the whole movement.

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of the Atheist movement is grounded in a specific plot about the history of Atheism in India. Webb Keane (2013) argues that secularism is part of a “moral narrative of modernity,” which is based on a semiotic ideology of spiritualization that constitutes human agency, rationality, and liberation as an act of purifying disengagement from materiality (see also Keane 2007). Due to the inescapable materiality of semiotic forms, however, secularism is continuously fraught by anxieties and “turns out, at the limit, to be an impossible project, one that cannot be fully inhabitable in the terms it often seems to propose” (Keane 2013, 162). My aim in this chapter is to show that, while the moral narrative of secularism as described by Keane and others (Asad 2003; Taylor 2007) is certainly crucial, it is not the only story that can and is being told about secularity and irreligion. By paying attention to actual practices of storytelling, and thus understanding concrete instances of secularism as actual narrative phenomena, it becomes possible to understand how secular people do in fact inhabit their project and creatively engage the semiotic challenges it entails. Following Sybille Krämer’s (2015) take on media philosophy, I propose to approach practices and environments of storytelling as processes of mediation in order to shift the methodological focus from materiality and semiotics to questions of perception and aesthetics. More concretely, I argue that narratives of Indian Atheism contain a reflexive moment that places storytelling at the center of Atheist practice and inscribes its narrative mediation as fundamental to its very existence. Irrespective of variations in the details of the stories told by individual narrators, Atheism gains its contour in contrast and relation to an existing narrative culture. In the following section, I retrace the historical context and plot structure of the main story of Indian Atheism as told by Atheist activists while focusing in the latter part of the chapter on how Atheism is being narrated into existence in a concrete transmedia, multimodal storytelling event. By approaching organized Atheism in South India through the lens of narrative culture, I seek to show how inhabiting the project of Atheism in South India is conditional on an “aesthetic ideology” that makes Atheism perceptible as both an absence and an ongoing act of what my Atheist interlocutors call an “intellectual/mental revolution” (bhāvaviplavaṃ).

2

Indian Atheism as a “Narrative Phenomenon”

Narratives of Indian Atheism in post-colonial India usually have to react to two interrelated contestations of their cultural legitimacy. The first is rooted in widespread Orientalist assumptions about the supposedly religious or spir-

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itual nature of Indian civilization which frame activist Atheism as a historical innovation without traditional roots. The second contestation therefore frames Atheism as a foreign and “Westernized” product of European colonialism. These two contestations are articulated from quarters as varied as Hindu nationalists, religious apologists, or post-modern academics (see also Quack 2012, 294–311). In India and elsewhere, public and academic debates about secularity frequently develop around arguments to the effect that processes of societal secularization—with their outcomes of state secularism and individual secularity or irreligion—are ultimately products of early modern European history, and more specifically of the confluence of enlightenment thought and the confessional fragmentation of Latin Christianity (Bhargava 1998; Bilgrami 2016). In this chapter, I am less concerned with the historical details and methodological intricacies of this argument than with the way allegations of historical shallowness, foreignness, and cultural illegitimacy impact the narrative self-presentation of contemporary Atheists in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana. Atheist activists hardly deny the significance of colonial social reform or the influence of Western intellectuals such as Charles Bradlaugh, Robert Ingersoll, or Karl Marx. On the contrary, the fact that their worldview is indeed worldwide is a source of legitimacy, especially in view of the humanist underpinnings of Atheism: despite all cultural differences and historical peculiarities of time and place, the conflict between religion and Atheism is usually conceived as a civilizational principle that propels the evolution of humankind as a whole. Thus, religions are conceptualized either as unfortunate, temporary aberrations or as strategic cultural tools designed to hinder or deviate an otherwise progressive evolution of humanity toward a rational, equal, and just society (Lavanam 1978; Gora 1989; B. Ramakrishna 2010). The intellectual, social activist, and self-professed Gandhian Goparaju Ramachandra Rao (1902–1975), mostly known by his acronym Gora, formulated one of the most influential Atheist philosophies in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, in which he equates Atheism simply with all forms of “progressive tendencies in civilization” (Gora 1951, 54): Atheism is the opposite of slave mind. Atheism manifests man’s free will. Free men rebel against unequal treatment. So those who supported the inequality between man and man, disliked atheism. They calumniated atheism [. . .]. They called it wicked. [. . .] In fact every attempt to remove inequality of any kind was characterised in the past as heretic, if not altogether as atheistic. The French, the Russian and the Chinese revolutions were at first slandered as atheistic. Socrates, Jesus, Mohammad and

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Gandhi were persecuted for heresy. Obviously atheism has represented the urge for freedom in the course of civilisation. Gora 1969, 1–2

Religious personalities like Jesus, Mohammad, or Gandhi are incorporated into the history of Atheism, insofar as they can be understood as religious reformers and agents of progress in their own times. However, Gora maintains that it is ultimately due to their failure to fully understand and completely reject the true nature of religion as a form of “slave mind” (dāsyabhāvaṃ) that their endeavors eventually fell short and failed to usher in a truly just and free society (ibid.). This failure to go all the way, on one hand, and the customary slander and calumniation of atheism as immorality and wickedness on the other, constitutes a chiasmus, which is crucial to the plot structure of stories about Indian Atheism. I shall return to the question of plot (narrative structure) in the next section after providing, in the following paragraphs, a brief synopsis of the story (content), of Atheism’s history in India. 2.1 The Story of Indian Atheism At the same time as Atheists inscribe themselves into a global narrative of eventually inevitable human/humanist evolution, and even tend to acknowledge the colonial narrative of a head-start of “the West,” it is precisely on account of their humanist framework that it appears all but natural that Atheism is and has been present in India long before the advent of colonial modernity. In his ethnography of the literacy campaign of an educational movement called “Arivoli Iyakkam” (Enlightenment Movement) in the neighboring state of Tamil Nadu, Francis Cody speaks of “retrospective incorporation” (2013, 58–59) in order to describe how literacy activists are aware of the existence of a historically prior European enlightenment but understand its priority within the pragmatic context of their present activism as a merely chronological rather than genealogical precedence. Atheists share this form of pragmatic, retrospective incorporation and undergird it with explicitly genealogical reconstructions of an indigenous Indian Atheism. In a radical inversion of Orientalist and Hindu nationalist stereotypes, India becomes the cradle of Atheist materialism rather than spirituality. This genealogy posits a materialist and non-religious civilization that throve on the subcontinent before religion was brought to South Asia by so-called Aryan migrants from Central Asia in the course of the second millennium BCE. Aryan culture is identified as the religious and social system of the Vedas that ultimately transformed into Brahmanic and later on popular Hinduism, which nearly destroyed and supplanted the popular secular civilization of the people indigenous to India. What remains of this secular civilization are mere traces and indirect vestiges within

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the discourse of Atheism’s detractors. The most famous example of the latter is the refutations of materialist, hedonist, and atheist philosophical schools (Skt. darśana) in Buddhist scriptures of the Pali canon and medieval Sanskrit doxographies (Bhattacharya 2009; Gokhale 2015). Atheists usually follow the influential Marxist philosopher Debiprasad Chattopadhyaya (1959; 1969) in interpreting these so-called Charvaka or Lokayata philosophers as the intellectual elite and last survivors of a once-popular culture of Indian proto-Atheism; this culture was proto-Atheist because it is believed to have flourished even before the invention of theism. Language plays a crucial role in this narrative of indigenous Indian Atheism because the so-called Aryan migration theory was the product of colonial linguistic ethnology, which operated within a language ideology that posited an essential correlation between languages, nations, and races (Trautmann 2006). The theory of Aryan migration was therefore a means to explain the discovery of three distinct language families in India—Indo-European, Dravidian, Austroasiatic—which were taken to represent three distinct “racial stocks” within the Indian populace. While the Dravidian languages prevalent in Southern India, including Telugu, were interpreted by some as the indigenous tongues of the subcontinent, the languages derived from Indo-European, most importantly Vedic and classical Sanskrit, were seen as the languages of an added stratum of later migrants. Given the immense importance of the Sanskrit language within the framework of Vedic religion and Brahmanic Hinduism (Das 1983; Pollock 2004; Wilke & Moebus 2011), the linguistic and ethnological underpinnings of the Aryan migration theory made it possible to identify Sanskrit with Hinduism and with a “foreign” culture of Aryan migrants. It is easy to imagine how such ideas—the linguistic-ethnological theories, concepts of bounded racial and religious identities, notions of belonging and foreignness, and the various ways in which these could be organized into historical narratives—all contained a powerful political potential in the colonial situation of British India (see Bryant & Patton 2005). The so-called Dravidian or Non-Brahmin movement, spearheaded by dominant agricultural castes in the Tamil-speaking parts of Madras Presidency, is the most well-researched political adaptation of the Aryan migration narrative and the most relevant for the context of Telugu Atheism (Irschick 1969; Klimkeit 1971). M.S.S. Pandian has shown how, by the 1920s, the so-called “Self-Respect Movement” under the leadership of E.V. Ramasami (Periyar) had developed a critical discourse of Non-Brahmanism which depended on a form of discursive “transitivity” between Sanskrit, Hinduism, and Aryan migration: By ‘transitive’ I mean that evoking one of these elements could produce a network of references to other elements through a set of discursive

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associations. [. . .] For instance, a critique of Hinduism could simultaneously be, and be understood as, a critique of the Brahmin and the Indian nation. Significantly, this ‘transitivity’ produced the Brahmin as a trope for different forms of power anchored in a range of identities such as caste, gender, region, and language. The network of references that made this critique transitive was based on imagined and real overlaps between Hinduism, the Brahmin, the Sanskrit language, valorized cerebration, devalorized labour, a racialized Aryan identity, and the patriarchal subordination of women. [. . .] The Brahmin and the Brahminical could now be invoked to explain and contest various forms of power. Pandian 2007, 188

Although the Dravidian movement ultimately devolved into a specifically Tamil movement, the trope of the Brahmin—and its counterpart, the NonBrahmin—had an important impact among Telugu speakers as well (Ramaswamy 1978; Keiko 2008). As far as the development of contemporary Atheism is concerned, the Tamil Non-Brahmin movement and its Telugu offshoots are of utmost importance because they accorded the dichotomy of āstika/nāstika a prominent place within their transitive critique, helped cement its English translation as theist/atheist, and were possibly the first and certainly the most influential groups in India to explicitly reclaim the label of nāstika/atheist as a self-designation. Since a detailed conceptual history of the āstika/nāstika dichotomy and its translation as theist/atheist is beyond the scope of this paper (see Nicholson 2010; Binder 2020), I want to emphasize here only those aspects which are most relevant for the narrative culture of contemporary Telugu Atheism. After shedding an earlier meaning as a technical term in the context of Vedic ritual (Heesterman 1968), the word nāstika—literally someone saying “it is not”—gained contour within medieval doxographic discourse as a designation for philosophical opponents. Only gradually it came to refer to a specific group of philosophical schools, namely Buddhists, Jains, and Charvakas, who denied the epistemological authority of the Vedas and the socio-religious order (Skt. varṇāśramadharma) its Brahmin custodians sought to implement. As these schools also happened to be classified as atheist (Skt. nirīśvaravādin3), 3 It is important to stress, however, that this is a case of coincidental taxonomical overlap since atheism in the sense of nirīśvaravāda was irrelevant for a classification as nāstika. Furthermore, it indicated a negative stance with regard to the soteriological and cosmogonic role of a personal god (Skt. īsvara) and not necessarily an ontological denial of the existence of gods as such (cf. Quack 2011).

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the category of nāstika was translated by European Orientalists as both heterodox/heretic and atheist. Besides this technical doxographic usage, a detailed conceptual history of the category nāstika within different discourses ranging from epigraphy to mythology to folklore remains to be written, but eventually it has come to convey a general sense of otherness, moral wickedness, and social danger; and this is the primary sense in which it continues to be used in contemporary spoken Telugu, namely as an invective against untrustworthy, dubious, or dreadful individuals. The central significance of Non-Brahmin appropriations of the category of nāstika lies firstly in transforming it from a derogatory exonym into a positively revalued self-designation, secondly in using the Aryan migration theory for linking Buddhists, Jains, and Charvakas with a posited indigenous AntiBrahmin, proto-Atheist culture, and thirdly—as we have seen in Gora’s example above—in tying all this via the English translations as “atheist/heretic” into a larger horizon of human, as opposed to merely Indian, civilizational evolution. In the case of the Atheist movement, the āstika/theist//nāstika/atheist dichotomy replaces the Brahmin as the central organizing trope of their transitive critique and historical narrative. Before turning to actual practices of storytelling in the following section, I will briefly retrace the central plot structures of this historical narrative, which I have abstracted from public speeches, qualitative interviews, and published written sources. 2.2 The Plot of Indian Atheism In its most schematic form, the plot of Atheist history is animated by two contradictory principles, which can be considered “modes of emplotment” (White 1973, 5): decadence and progress. Thus, Atheist history combines the story of a lost “Golden Age” of original proto-Atheism, willfully destroyed at the hands of religious propagators and the story of human civilization, whose natural teleological evolution toward an equal, rational, and just society is merely delayed by the artificial perpetuation of an anachronistic religiosity. The plot is furthermore structured by a triadic constellation of character types: firstly, selfish and evil religious propagators, most frequently though not exclusively represented by religious specialists like Brahmanic priests, religious philosophers, gurus, saints, Muslim Mullahs, Christian missionaries etc. It is crucial for these characters that they promote religion and theism only strategically for their own economic gain and power without themselves truly believing in it. Thus, Atheists interpret religious practices, and above all, the philosophies, narratives, and theologies contained in religious scriptures as an elaborate and strategic campaign of misinformation and propaganda against Atheism. Secondly, the gullible yet innocent people are characterized as the victims of religious vil-

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lains, insofar as they are exploited, duped, and manipulated into “blind belief” (mūḍhanammakaṃ) and into a religious way of life neither of their own making nor choosing. Thirdly, there are the few who understand religion to be an ultimately exploitative and duplicitous social relationship and thus they try to heroically counteract it with various degrees of radicalness; they are Atheists, even though they may at times not even be aware of it. While Atheist discourse contains significant portions of argumentation in the form of ontological, epistemological, or scientific theories and critiques of religion, they are usually contained within a larger narrative framework where religion emerges as an essentially social, psychological, and affective phenomenon. This narrative presentation of religion is grounded in three interrelated Telugu concepts, which can be associated with the three principle character types: (1) bhāvajālaṃ, (2) bhāvadāsyaṃ, and (3) bhāvaviplavaṃ. All three are composite nouns qualifying the Telugu word “bhāvaṃ,” whose semantics range from “thought” and “idea” to “emotion” as well as their expression as “opinions.” In Atheist narratives, religion is always pseudo-religion and false consciousness, as it appears either as a duplicitous and exploitative strategy of social, psychological, and affective engineering or as the effect of that strategy among gullible victims. Thus, it is essentially an ideology, which is the common English translation of bhāvajālaṃ, literally a “net” (jālaṃ) of ideas/emotions/opinions. Those who are caught up in that net find themselves in a state of bhāvadāsyaṃ, which can be translated as intellectual/emotional “slavery” (dāsyaṃ) or, in Gora’s words, slave-mind (dāsyabhāvaṃ). The task of Atheists consists in piercing through the ideological net of religion in order to first extricate themselves and then liberate society from slavery by realizing an act of “intellectual/emotional revolution” (bhāvaviplavaṃ). As I have adumbrated above, a central conflict retarding the resolution of the Atheist plot is caused by an incapacity or unwillingness to realize and then reclaim for oneself the true nature of Atheism. This incapacity is, to a large extent, due to the traditional usage of the word nāstika/atheist as a “Kampfbegriff,” a pejorative exonym and polemic invective. This is the site of the chiastic hinge between narratives of Atheism and Atheism as a narrative phenomenon, because the very act of telling the “true” story of Atheism is both the condition for and the effect of its radical revaluation and active appropriation. By telling the truth about Atheism, Atheists tell a counter-narrative with regard to the common understanding of Indian history in general, and the meaning of nāstika/atheist in particular; therein, they also enact their intellectual/emotional revolution: the act of telling the counter-narrative realizes it, as it testifies to the narrator’s escape from intellectual/emotional slavery. Furthermore, it is precisely because the history of Atheism relates that Atheism

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as a social phenomenon as well as its cultural and physical remains have been destroyed and replaced by a slanderous and ideological narrative that the only option left to re-constitute Atheism is to re-narrate it. In other words, narratives of Atheism conceptualize Atheism as destroyed and distorted in such a way that it must be narrated (back) into existence. Thus, the concept of bhāvajālaṃ/ideology epitomizes what Susan Harding in her study on North American Christian fundamentalism calls narrative encapsulation: “a moment in which the cultural story of one people was subordinated to and reframed by the terms of another. Narrative encapsulation marks cultural dominance [. . .].” (2000, 65). Harding describes how, in the first half of the twentieth century, Christian fundamentalists were forced to acquiesce in the master-narrative of secular modernity and in their own status as a marginal group expulsed from a supposedly secular public sphere. The inaugural moment of this encapsulation was the defeat of the fundamentalist camp in the so-called Scopes trial in 1925 about the teaching of evolution in state-funded schools. Harding argues that this defeat lead to narrative encapsulation because the liberal, secular lawyers presented their arguments through fundamentalist strategies of literal Bible exegesis. As the legal battle was played on the fundamentalists’ turf, as it were, they had to acknowledge their opponents’ victory and also the hegemony of their narrative. In a similar way, Atheists claim that all they have left in terms of historical evidence for their Atheist culture is tinged by the ideological distortion of their opponents: they have no other option than to play on Hindu turf and with the material of Hindu narratives, and they can do nothing but accept that both Orientalist and Hindu nationalist notions of India, as an essentially Hindu and religious civilization, are hegemonic. I can now specify what I mean by saying that Atheism constitutes a narrative phenomenon and has to be narrated into existence through acts of intellectual/mental revolution. I argue that Atheist practices of storytelling can be understood as attempts to narrate themselves out of the encapsulating diegesis of another. Their aim is to show that what we think about India, Hinduism, and religion is merely a distorted narrative which has to be transformed and quite literally revolutionized—upended—in order for Indian culture to become again what it really is and once was. As it will become clearer in the following section, Atheists do not seek to tell merely a different story but a counter-narrative within a shared narrative culture. Thus, the concept of intellectual/emotional revolution refers not only to the transformation of a supposedly distorted Hindu narrative into a factual Atheist historiography, but to the narrative dismantling of an ideological diegesis for the sake of Atheist social reconstruction and actual worldmaking. Atheist activists seek to tell the

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truth of Atheism and, by telling it, they also seek to practically realize it in the here and now. Their counter-narrative is meant to break the diegetic spell of religious ideology in order to return to what they perceive as factual reality and historical truth.

3

From Narrative to Worldmaking

In the following, I use the example of a yearly Atheist event at the Charvaka Ashram, an Atheist institution close to Mangalagiri (Guntur District, Andhra Pradesh), in order to explore how a focus on mediation and practices of storytelling can help to place the concept of narrative cultures within the methodological framework of an aesthetic approach to religion and secularity. The Charvaka Ashram was originally founded in 1974 by the Atheist leader and educator B. Ramakrishna, also known by his chosen name Charvaka Ramakrishna, after he had resigned as principal from nearby Tadikonda Oriental College due to difficulties arising from his Atheist opinions and activism (Aruna 2013). While it has always functioned as a sort of community center and base for Atheist activism, the Ashram was primarily intended as an educational institution providing a nonreligious alternative within a private educational sector dominated by schools linked to or run by religious communities. It was referred to as Charvaka Vidyavanam (Garden of Learning) or Vidyapeetam (Institute of Learning) and was renamed Charvaka Ashram only after the school had closed down—partly due to pressure from its environment, including violent attacks and arson, and partly due to difficulties in coping with the demands of increasing formalization, state regulation, and competition in the educational field. After Ramakrishna had passed away in 2007, the Charvaka Ashram was reduced to a family residence of Ramakrishna’s relatives except for an annual conference called Nastika Mela which was held at its premises for the twentysixth consecutive time in February 2018. At its core, the Nastika Mela, literally translatable as “atheist gathering” or “festival,” is a typical Atheist event, insofar as it is mainly a two-day long conference where activists deliver speeches around various topics related to Atheism. Speeches alternate with performances of Atheist songs, cultural programs such as so-called “magic shows” used to debunk miracles (Quack 2012, 109–44; Binder 2019), or announcements of recently published books by Atheist writers. Speeches may cover a wide range of topics related to religion, science, social reform etc., and they are usually staged as a theoretical or argumentative approach to those topics rather than a form of storytelling. They nonetheless tend to ground their

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arguments in the history of Atheism in India and, therefore, do in fact provide occasions to tell parts, versions, or aspects of the story described in the previous section. Speeches often contain retellings of well-known Hindu lore like the panIndian Ramayana and Mahabharata epics, regional and transregional mythological traditions, or different folk stories and literary repertoires. Such retellings tend to employ overtly unsympathetic, hyperliteral, or counterintuitive hermeneutic strategies, of which the most famous consist in a complete inversion of the moral coordinates of Hindu mythology: Hindu heroes and gods are cast as morally deprived villains while their usual enemies— demons, anti-gods, heretics, and of course Atheists—are shown to be the true heroes who triumph in terms of their rationality, intelligence, and moral steadfastness (for written examples and academic interpretations see Ramasami 1972; Richman 1993; 2004, Narayana Rao 2001; 2004; Chalam 2008). This contains a crucial reflexivity about practices of storytelling, as Atheists not only change the moral coordinates of the story, but implicate the storytellers themselves: Hindu ideologues fabricated those stories in order to slander their Atheist opponents by associating them with the supposed villains of Hindu lore. While Atheists understand their retellings as revolutionary, their narratives are not entirely novel; rather, they are translations of existing cultural repertoires into a counter-narrative register that has distinctive features but participates in the dynamics of tellings and retellings within a shared narrative culture. Alternative and critical retellings of Hindu stories and folklore have predecessors in the “heterodox” traditions of Buddhists and Jains as well as “subaltern” sections of society (low caste, peasant, female etc.). Atheist narratives can be distinguished, however, by a particularly radical moral critique of “orthodox” interpretations and the centrality of the āstika/nāstika dichotomy as an organizing trope (see above). Here, I want to focus on the way in which the Charvaka Ashram and the Nastika Mela combine multiple media and narrative modalities, specifically statuary, architectural structures, writing, and oral speech, so as to create an aesthetic space where the counter-narrative of “Indian Atheism” becomes an object of perception rather than merely a narrated story.4 The Nastika Mela is special among Atheist conferences in the region due to its long and uninterrupted history as well as its constitutive connection with the physical location of the Charvaka Ashram. This is a compound of around

4 For the concepts of multimodality and transmediality in relation to narratology see e.g. Kress and van Leeuwen (2001), Page (2010), or Mohr (2013).

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Figure 8.1 Main entrance of the Charvaka Ashram during the Nastika Mela 2014 Photograph taken by author

200 square meters surrounded by agricultural fields. It is shielded from the road by a brick wall of roughly two meters with a large entrance portal topped by a bright, red banner reading “Charvaka Ashram.” This is framed by the name and academic degrees of its founder, B. Ramakrishna, the date of its foundation, and the portraits of E.V. Ramasami, Tripuraneni Ramaswamy (sometimes called the “Telugu Periyar”) and B. Ramakrishna, which are arranged one below the other and slightly set off to the left to form a diagonal. Next to the photo portraits in the right upper corner is the logo of the Charvaka Ashram: a question mark in a circle (see Figure 8.1). A flag with this logo is ceremoniously hoisted before the beginning of the Nastika Mela on a red flagpole of approximately three meters height erected just in front of the portal. Six large, white pedestals are scattered in front of the wall, on top of which are life-size bronze busts depicting the ancient Charvaka philosopher Payasi and the Buddha, the nineteenth-century social reformers Swamineni Muddunarasimha Naidu, Jyotirao Phule, and Savitribai Phule, the famous twentieth-century Tamil and Telugu Non-Brahmin leaders E.V. Ramasami and Tripuraneni Ramaswamy, the Dalit leader B.R. Ambedkar, and the freedom fighter and Marxist K.B. Krishna (see Figure 8.2). Right in front of the entrance is a full-figure sculpture of the Telugu poet Vemana following his usual iconographic depiction in a seated position (Figure 8.1). The wall and the pedestals are covered in multicolored Telugu script providing names and brief introductions of the depicted personalities, anonymous adages as well as quotes and couplets by Vemana, B. Ramakrishna, and the Marxist and rationalist writer

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Figure 8.2 Busts depicting Payasi, Buddha, Periyar Ramasami, B.R. Ambedkar, K.B. Krishna, Tripuraneni Ramaswamy, Jyotirao Phule, and Savitribai Phule (from right to left) Photograph taken by author

Kodavatiganti Kutumba Rao. The gist of these inscriptions is to criticize religion as futile, false, or socially exploitative and exhort the use of reason and science as beneficial alternatives. At the very edge of the compound, a somewhat weathered concrete stela announces the Charvaka Ashram as a “Centre for Lokayata Education” and designates the plot of land as “Mahatma Ravan Maidan,” i.e., as a public place dedicated to the main villain of the Ramayana epic, who is here in a typically Non-Brahmin inversion qualified with the honorific title of Mahatma (great soul). Upon entering the compound, one finds a permanent stage on the righthand side with ample space for arranging rows of chairs and a canopy during the Nastika Mela. To the left is a two-storied building with the living quarters of Ramakrishna’s family, a small library, and the former classrooms of the school. In front of this building is a large, black circular fountain structure with the only other full-figure statue on the compound: a white plaster sculpture of a striding B. Ramakrishna with a book in his left hand and a pen clipped into his shirt pocket; the book and pen are elements reminiscent of the common iconographic depiction of B.R. Ambedkar, where they are seen as indicators of education, intellect, and modernity (Jaoul 2006). Adjacent to this building are wash rooms and the unfinished remains of a construction that had originally been intended to expand the now defunct school. At the back of the compound are another six pedestals with textual inscriptions and bronze busts depicting three ancient Charvaka philosophers (Ajita Keshakambali, Makkhali Gosala, Purna Kashyapa), the founders of the Vaisheshika and Samkhya philo-

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sophical schools (Kanada and Kapila) as well as the famous atheist freedom fighter Bhagat Singh. In order to bring out the entanglement of the Charvaka Ashram’s physical structure with the narrative of Indian Atheism, I reproduce a portion of a 45minute long inaugural speech delivered in 2012 by Mr. Ayyanna, director of Nastika Samajam (Atheist Society), the official host of the Nastika Mela. After welcoming the audience, he concisely recounted the destruction of Indian Atheism and its replacement by Aryan culture before continuing thus: That Aryan culture is even now ruling over us. In order to fashion a society opposed to this, Mr. Ramakrishna said that everybody should live happily and peacefully in society and, as part of an alternative culture, he started the first Nastika Mela in 1994. So, all have their different festivals, different gods, deities, different customs, religions. Yet, one day someone said to me: “You atheist people, where do you have your festivals? You also follow all our [Hindu] festivals, don’t you?” [. . .] Well, materialists are celebrating festivals like Deepavali or Dussera too. But, don’t we have festivals? In [ancient] times, those called Charvakas, those called Lokayatas, conducted many celebrations, but we cannot find their history. Neither can we find the books they have written. Aryan-Brahmin culture has destroyed them, has effaced them. [. . .] And that day, some twenty years ago, our respected teacher [B. Ramakrishna] has set up the statues of Ajita Kesakambali, Makkhali Gosala and so on inside this compound. [. . .] One day, while I was working at the school [in the Charvaka Ashram], someone asked: [. . .] “Now, you are teaching there is no god, you are teaching science. But, so many religions, they all have scriptures, don’t they? Here are the Vedas, there is the Qur’an, the Christians have the Bible. But, what do you have?,” he asked. Here, I started thinking. How about that? Truly, I didn’t find anything he was asking about. Then, after reading what Mr. Ramakrishna had written, the play “Charvaka,” after seeing that book [I thought]: “Ah, we too have something. [. . .] As our fathers acquired their tradition so do we receive it. We also have our intellectual tradition. [. . .] Then I learned; I also asked our respected teacher and I understood all these things. [. . .] At the time of the Buddha too, he [the Buddha] conducted many festivals. In the same way as he arranged for the people to organize festivities, Mr. Ramakrishna too arranged this materialist festival for us. In the remainder of the speech, Ayyanna related how B. Ramakrishna and other famous Atheist activists and intellectuals had not only retrieved the once

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glorious culture of Indian Atheism through scholarly endeavors, but had also begun to rebuild it as a culture and way of life. This culture was to materialize in different genres and forms of storytelling including poetry, plays—like the one mentioned—nursing rhymes, short stories etc. but also festive celebrations of birth and death anniversaries of Atheist luminaries. This new culture also comprises social reform programs like inter-caste marriages or educational projects and, of course, conferences and symposia for the propagation of Atheism. Before introducing the speakers of that year’s conference, he ended his speech with these words: We have culture! He [B. Ramakrishna] went to prove that we have an alternative culture. He has shown the way for it. [. . .] We have the strength. There is no need for us to be afraid of anybody. Some [say] the religious people are in the majority, right? We are so few in number. What can we do? There is no need for such despondency. We might be alone, but we have the strength to confront society. We must read scriptures, read books, listen to rationalist speeches, come to festivals [. . .]. When we come to the Nastika Mela together with [our] families, listening there to the speeches they give [. . .], and to the good things they say, when we understand, when we ourselves read books, then we will be able to give answers to them [religious people] easily. [. . .] But, once this Mela is over and we go home, you too have to come forward courageously and make known all these things to those around us. In that way, we will make this program a success.5 This speech blends the larger narrative of Indian Atheism with the narrative of its retrieval and reconstruction through activist efforts by B. Ramakrishna and other eminent Atheists and frames it with Ayyanna’s personal development. Through his direct address of the audience at the end, Ayyanna furthermore invites his listeners into this multi-layered narrative. He admonishes them to continue it into the future by further spreading the narrative of Indian Atheism that they have heard him narrate, just as he had heard it from their “respected teacher” (māstarugāru) and other predecessors. This invitation is possible because Atheist narratives, whether actualized as oratory or written text, are understood by members of the Atheist movement as factual narratives; the narrative is considered to be different from fictional or insincere modes

5 Ayyanna. “Svāgataṃ,” Charvaka Ashram, February 11, 2012; recorded speech in Telugu, translation S.B.

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of storytelling, and authors tend to identify as the narrators, who frequently, as in Ayyanna’s case, also appear as figures in the story. The “real” world and the “narrated” world are understood to coincide.6 Moreover, through narrative layering, Atheist narratives do not merely bear reference to the “real” world, but seek to undermine the very distinction between diegesis and world; they are not only factual narratives but a paradigmatic case of “constructive narratives” (Konstruktionsgeschichten) (Brahier & Johannsen 2013), which build worlds rather than merely representing them (see also Nünning 2013). From a narratological perspective, this function of “worldmaking” (Goodman 1978) is, to a large extent, grounded in a superimposition of narrative layers facilitated by a particular formal feature of the narrated story, which I introduced above as a triadic structure of character types: the religious villain, the innocent people, and the heroic Atheist. While villains and people usually appear as generic types and anonymous masses respectively, the rarity of Atheists (“We are so few in number”) finds its formal correspondence in the fact that they tend to be concretely identified, historical personalities. Consequently, the history of Indian Atheism is rarely presented as an abstract social or intellectual history, but as a succession of concrete Atheist personalities. As soon as this history reaches its modern phase, it moreover takes the form of a genealogy. It is narrated from a perspective of the present: the modern history of Atheism consists of Atheists reconstructing and re-narrating the history of Atheist personalities. It is this personalized history of acts of narration which renders Atheism itself a narrative phenomenon and undergirds its potential for worldmaking. In somewhat exaggerated terms, to realize Atheism means to tell its history and thereby become part of that history, which consists itself of acts of historiographic storytelling. The Charvaka Ashram is here more than merely a physical setting for practices of storytelling; it is itself a “space of imagination” (Imaginationsraum)

6 For a discussion of the problematic distinction between factional and fictional narratives see Schaeffer (2009). It furthermore bears mentioning that a distinction of factional and fictional narratives cannot be mapped onto a distinction of the secular and the religious. While many of my Atheist interlocutors would qualify religious stories and doctrines as “made up” or “fictional,” because they deny the existence of some of their central elements, like deities, spirits, or supernatural powers etc. At the same time, the crux and premise of the Atheist counter-narrative and its inverted retellings is precisely that the Aryan version of Indian civilization is not just a figment of the mind but an ideological distortion based on—or at least prompted by—historical and thus indeed “factual” events. Bluntly put, for the Atheist counter-narrative, the factual non-nonexistence of gods is less important than the existence of those who came to be misrepresented in religious narratives as the demons and enemies of the gods.

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(Hermann, Laack & Schüler 2015) that helps to fuse physical and perceptible space with the diegetic space evoked by narratives of Atheist history and, more specifically, the character types and concrete personalities propelling its plot. This has already been adumbrated in the way Ayyanna’s speech deictically referenced the Charvaka Ashram as its own condition of possibility. Furthermore, Ayyanna condensed the founding of the Charvaka Ashram in an inaugural moment of installing statuary. Insofar as it can be described as a sculpture park, the Charvaka Ashram does not only illustrate the narrative of Indian Atheism in its structural reliance on personalization but helps to make it perceptible by extending it into the medium of visually perceptible statuary. 3.1 The Aesthetics of Statuary as a Narrative Medium Indian sculpture is frequently discussed in relation to Hindu practices of devotional seeing (Skt. darśana), where images are treated as living icons of deities and participate in reciprocal and quasi-substantial transactions of glances (Babb 1981; Eck 1998). As far as Atheists are concerned, they follow a regime of visuality that considers such practices as mistaken projections of human agency onto lifeless material objects and, therefore, as acts of “superstition” (mūḍhanammakaṃ). While this attitude towards images is a defining part of what Webb Keane (2003) calls the narrative of modernity, it has roots in discourses of fetishism and idolatry that predate the modern era (Pietz 1985; Davis 1997). More importantly, the immediate context of comparison for the aesthetic form, social function, and visual regime of Atheist statuary is not devotional, but political sculpture, namely in the context of the contemporary Dalit7 movement. Like the Atheist movement, many Dalit movements adhere to Non-Brahmin claims of civilizational indigeneity, yet they place a stronger emphasis on Buddhism as the original culture of Dalits (Geetha & Rajadurai 1993; Bergunder 2004). Studies of Dalit statuary tend to focus on its use as political symbols that negotiate relationships between a largely disenfranchised community and the state by means of claiming access to and dominion over public spaces (Tartakov 1990; Jaoul 2006; Narayan 2006). In her analysis of monuments commissioned by the government of Uttar Pradesh under the Dalit chief minister Mayawati Prabhu Das, Melia Belli (2014; Belli Bose 2017) has shown how 7 “Dalit” is a frequently, though not unanimously, used self-designation intended to replace Brahmanic and colonial categories like “untouchable,” “Harijan,” “Scheduled Caste/Tribe,” “pariah” etc. Its semantic meaning is “broken” or “downtrodden” and it was first used by the Marathi Non-Brahmin social reformer Jyotirao Phule and then taken up and popularized by B.R. Ambedkar and his followers.

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the appropriation of Buddhist iconographic and architectural elements creates spaces of empowerment, pride, and aspiration that link Dalits to a bygone “Golden Age” of Buddhist civilization. It is precisely the association of Buddhism with elite and royal culture, mostly during the Maurya Empire (322–187 BCE), as well as its iconographic use in national symbols of independent India that is significant in relation to the “subaltern” status and the political aspirations of contemporary Dalit movements. Mayawati’s monuments are particularly instructive for my discussion of the Charvaka Ashram because they also combine sculpture with textual inscription in order to evoke a larger historical narrative through personalization. The large complexes commissioned by Mayawati contain sculptures, friezes, and reliefs which are physically arranged and accompanied by narrative texts so as to suggest a personal succession leading from the Buddha to Mayawati via B.R. Ambedkar and Kanshi Ram, the founder of Mayawati’s party, her mentor, and immediate predecessor. According to Belli, this visual-textual narrative of personal succession mobilizes notions of “Indic kinship” (2014, 87–88 and 104) based on the iconic conflation of ruler and state as well as the material and corporeal display and transfer of political charisma. The Charvaka Ashram also visualizes the history of Atheism as a genealogy from the Charvaka Philosophers to B. Ramakrishna, via the Buddha, Vemana, and nineteenth and twentieth-century social reformers. Whereas Mayawati’s memorials display concrete scenes depicting Mayawati feeding her mentor Kanshi Ram or caring for him while he was sick, the statuary at the Charvaka Ashram consists primarily of busts and portraiture. The focus on heads resonates with a typical Atheist emphasis on cerebration and evokes a more severe and prosaic notion of intellectual genealogy, which eschews “irrational” associations with transactional, bodily charisma. Interestingly, it is the poet Vemana with his full-figure sculpture placed directly in front of the entrance who forms the central link between B. Ramakrishna and the Charvakas. From its beginning, the Atheist movement has been closely associated with progressive literary movements, and many of its leading intellectuals were, like B. Ramakrishna, trained in Sanskrit studies and classical literature. Literary and linguistic knowledge was essential for the aforementioned re-interpretation of “Hindu” lore, and this crucial role of poetry is often overlooked in a prevailing tendency to associate Atheism with natural science and philosophy. Most of the personalities depicted at the Charvaka Ashram are identifiable because their sculptures are based on existing photographs, drawings and/or conventional iconographies. This does not apply, however, to the “original” materialist philosophers at the back of the Ashram, as there is very little biographic information available about them, let alone about their visual ap-

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pearance. They are represented through generic imaginations of what ancient philosophers are supposed to look like: elderly men with long hair, sometimes with a bun, and full beards. They are recognizable only through inscriptions, to which I will return in a moment. What Gary Tartakov has pointed out with regard to the political art of Dalit Neo-Buddhism also holds for Atheist sculpture: “it is an art stylistically and pictorially conventional in the extreme.” (1990, 415). The “revolutionary” (ibid.) nature of Dalit art, like Atheist art, is not located at the level of form or aesthetic novelty but in its instrumental use as a tool for social transformation. This art’s efficacy is based, somewhat counterintuitively, on its conventionality: in order to be effective as a tool for the revolutionary re-interpretation of Indian cultural history, it needs to be recognizable as belonging to that history. The major difference between contemporary Dalit and Atheist visual culture resides in the fact that Dalits can appropriate the remains of a bygone Buddhist culture, whereas Atheist narratives maintain that their culture was either completely destroyed or distorted beyond recognition; there are no (known) Atheist architectural styles, iconographic traditions, or any other authentic material or textual remains to be appropriated. This is precisely why the history of Atheism becomes the history of its narrative genealogical reconstructions by (more or less contemporary) Atheists, and why the textual inscriptions on sculptures are of crucial significance. Since the sculptures at the back of the Charvaka Ashram are all designed in a similar way, a closer look at one of them (see Figure 8.3) may suffice to illustrate this point. The front of the white pedestal contains the name of the depicted person, Makkhali Gosala, followed by a brief introduction in red, green, and blue script: They say he got this name for being born in a cowshed.8 He is also one among India’s materialists. They say he was first a Jain and later changed. He adhered to the Ajivika tradition. He lived as a slave. Gosala was a fatalist [akarmaṇyavādi]. He taught that man is the most excellent being and through effort he may reach whichever highest rank. On the right-hand side, a satiric quatrain about the futility of ritual actions by the poet Vemana echoes one of the main tenets of Gosala’s philosophical fatalism. Many of Vemana’s verses circulate widely as well-known adages, but even obscure ones will be easily recognizable, as they end in the signature line “viśvadābhirāma vinura vēma” (beloved of Vishwada, listen Vema). While

8 Gośala is a Sanskrit word for cowshed.

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Figure 8.3 Bust of Makkhali Gosala with inscriptions at the backside of the Charvaka Ashram Photograph taken by author

this poem is written in green color, a poem by B. Ramakrishna on the back of the pedestal is blue in color. It resonates with Vemana’s poem in both form and content. It is a quatrain ending in a signature line designating it as one of Ramakrishna’s creations (samasamāja kāṃkṣi cāruvāka; wisher for an equal society, Charvaka) and picks up the theme of futile religion, to which it adds a Marxist twist about its intoxicating effect. The left flank of the pedestal contains two Sanskrit shlokas written in red Telugu script and followed by a Telugu exegesis in green letters: “Good and evil, deaths and births, joys and sorrows; all these occur naturally. To depend on any god for their sake is useless.” Despite the absence of a formal citation, this verse is to be attributed to Gosala himself. This sculpture visually manifests my notion of Atheism as a narrative phenomenon: the white pedestal functions as a narrative canvas, a sort of global visual narrator, giving diegetic space to different voices that are marked by different colors and emerge while reader-spectators circumambulate the sculpture. The two poems are clearly marked as being “voiced” by Vemana and B. Ramakrishna and reinforce their genealogical tie through a similarity in form and content as well as spatial contiguity on the pedestal. The Sanskrit shlokas are attributed to the personality depicted by the bust while its exegesis as well as the brief introduction in the front imply an undefined external narrator. Metacommentaries in the form of “they say” or—as is the case on other pedestals—grammatical mood (potential) evoke conventions of historiographic reliability; again, Atheist history is here presented as itself consisting

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of a pluri-vocal historiographic narrative and, furthermore, a historiography that is well-aware and upfront about the second-hand nature and often desolate condition, if not complete absence, of direct sources. 3.2 Atheist Narrative as Messenger and Trace In order to unpack the specific mode of worldmaking of the Nastika Mela as a constructive narrative event, it is helpful to take up Sybille Krämer’s (2015, 174–86) distinction between “messenger” and “trace” as two complementary principles of mediation. Krämer conceptualizes mediation as a process whereby something is made perceptible even though it is currently or on principle not present to the senses. The functioning of a medium–as–messenger depends on its ability to efface itself, or rather its own materiality, in the process of mediation in order to become transparent for the message it presents and thereby makes perceptible. The materiality of the medium– as–trace, by contrast, is opaque insofar as it represents something which is no longer present by foregrounding its own materiality; what the material remains of traces make perceptible is precisely the absence of what they represent. Media are neither messengers nor traces, but can become one or the other, or both, only in the context of a particular usage, which frequently implies a specific narrative framing (ibid., 188–91). I argue that Atheist practices of storytelling frame the sculptures at the Charvaka Ashram in such a way that the Nastika Mela as a transmedia narrative event functions simultaneously as a messenger and a trace because it mediates—as in makes perceptible— Atheism as (1) a narrative culture, (2) an absence, and (3) an act of intellectual/emotional revolution (bhāvaviplavaṃ). Firstly, the Nastika Mela combines “speech acts” (Austin 1962) and “image acts” (Bredekamp 2018) in a way that makes Atheism perceptible in the present as a living community of physically co-present human beings constituted by a shared intellectual and material culture. In Ayyanna’s words: “[B. Ramakrishna] went to prove that we have an alternative culture.” Spoken and written language, architectural elements (walls, buildings, stage, flagpole), sculptures, and corporeal co-presence all function as media whose materialities become transparent messengers insofar as they make Atheism present. The Charvaka Ashram and the Nastika Mela do not only relate Atheism, they constitute a mediated immediacy of Atheism. Secondly, and simultaneously, they function as material traces which represent and refer to Atheism’s history as a history of destruction and distortion; they make it perceptible as an absence. The Charvaka Ashram and the Nastika Mela are explicitly designated as instances of cultural invention and reconstruction. The Atheist nature of this invention is not mediated by specific aesthetic forms, as these are “stylistically

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and pictorially conventional in the extreme” (Tartakov 1990, 415). Aesthetic forms do not transport any “message” in and of themselves, as they do not refer to a specific Atheist aesthetic tradition; rather, the semiotic opaqueness of their materiality and their stylistic conventionality is a trace of the destruction of Atheist tradition that necessitates its narrative reinvention. This brings us to the third aspect, and the concept of intellectual/emotional revolution as the very essence of Atheism, where the mediating principles of messenger and trace coincide. The re-invention of Atheism cannot be creation ex nihilo, as it is dependent on reinterpretations of existing cultural “material” already engaged in historical dynamics of tellings and retellings: Hindu epics, philosophy, folklore, stylistic and iconographic conventions, visual culture, existing historical and civilizational narratives etc. Neither its artificial createdness nor its dependence on existing culture are denied; rather, Atheist aesthetic forms are so “extremely” conventional that they are depleted of any specific reference and turned into an opaque material substrate which can be made to convey new meaning through narrative framings. The most striking instances of this are the words “ashram” and “mela,” both of which are rich with semantic and metaphorical associations and have a distinctly Brahmanic and Hindu ring to them. Yet, by applying them more or less oxymoronically to a dwelling of antiBrahmanic Charvakas and a festival of Atheists, the historicity of their form is decoupled from the actual content of that history. They are therefore transformed into an “empty” convention that becomes a medium for the translation of Hindu culture into Atheist culture.

4

Conclusion

Conventional forms as well as existing narrative repertoires become the site where Atheists produce difference–in–sameness by inverting the AryanBrahmanic ideological distortions of Indian civilizational history and material culture through acts of intellectual/emotional revolution: Ravan becomes a Mahatma and ashrams become places for Atheist festivals. Jacob Copeman and Johannes Quack have interpreted this as attempts “to reclaim materials for materialism” (2015, 43). The ongoing cognitive dissonance of a Charvaka Ashram and Nastika Mela show how they function simultaneously as messengers and traces, insofar as they realize Atheism in the present, yet do so as something that is irretrievably lost and must be performatively reconstructed as an ongoing revolution of existing cultural “matter.” Precisely because this revolution is ongoing, it is contested and precarious—even within the Atheist

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movement. There are activists who doubt whether it is really necessary and even advisable to create an Atheist material culture, when it is really all about rationality and the liberation from superstitious belief and intellectual/emotional slavery. There is always the danger of people becoming too attached to their material creations or, god forbid, beginning to worship them. In India, stories of “uneducated people” worshipping all sorts of material objects are aplenty in everyday conversations, on social media, and in Orientalist and anthropological literature on Indian visual culture. Some critics of the Charvaka Ashram, Atheist and otherwise, find the installation of statuary too reminiscent of Hindu practices of devotion and the visual regime of darśana. Some even find the very name of “ashram” wholly inappropriate and confusing. For them, it seems, the transformation of objects and aesthetic forms into messengers of Atheist presence and traces of Atheist absence fails, as they do not perceive acts of revolutionary reconstruction but rather sterile and counterproductive acts of mimesis. After all, media are not messengers or traces in an ontological sense; they are made to function as such in narratively framed processes of mediation that can always fail. In the example of Ayyanna’s inaugural speech, Ramakrishna is lauded for establishing an Atheist culture that is opposed to religious culture in its content but replicates many of its forms or media, whether it is literary genres, cyclical festivals, or physical structures like the Charvaka Ashram itself. This is in part a reaction to the common argument that Atheism is not viable as a way of life due to its lack of a distinctive “culture.” The concept of culture, in this context, is invariably and unquestioningly modeled on religious customs and traditions. It is, however, highly contested within the Atheist movement whether this form of “replication” is desirable, as some fear it merely transforms Atheism into another religion of secular content. The question is not whether one or the other viewpoint is correct, but within which kinds of narrative and aesthetic frameworks they gain plausibility. Internal criticism within the Atheist movement shows that the storytelling culture of Atheism cannot be reduced to a specific story, and that the constructive efficacy of that story—its worldmaking potential—is not solely a question of historical credibility or factuality. Tapati Guha-Thakurta (2004) has shown how discourses of scientific archeology and historical evidence have become part and parcel of public debates and sometimes violent conflicts about Indian history and its material remains rather than being means to end or adjudicate such conflicts. While Guha-Thakurta focuses on the continuing significance of popular legends, myths, metaphors, and beliefs, I have tried to retrace how the plausibility and efficacy of certain stories is grounded in a narrative culture within which practices of storytelling and material objects function as messengers

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and traces that make those stories aesthetically present and perceptible rather than merely “believable.”

References Aruna, B. 2013. Siddhāntam – Ācaraṇa – Jīvitam: Cārvāka Rāmakṛṣṇa. Vijayawada: Janasāhiti Pracuraṇa. Asad, Talal. 2003. Formations of the Secular: Christianity, Islam, Modernity. Stanford: Stanford University Press. Austin, John L. 1962. How to Do Things with Words: The William James Lectures Delivered at Harvard University in 1955. Oxford: Clarendon Press. Babb, Lawrence A. 1981. “Glancing: Visual Interaction in Hinduism,” Journal of Anthropological Research 37 (4): 387–401. https://doi.org/10.2307/3629835. Belli Bose, Melia. 2017. “A Modern Chakravartin: Mayawati’s New Buddhist Visual Culture,” in Urban Utopias – Excess and Expulsion in Neoliberal South Asia, edited by Tereza Kuldova & Matthew A. Varghese, 139–67. Cham: Palgrave Macmillan. Belli, Melia. 2014. “Monumental Pride: Mayawati’s Memorials in Lucknow,” Ars Orientalis 44: 85–109. Bergunder, Michael. 2004. “Contested Past: Anti-Brahmanical and Hindu Nationalist Reconstructions of Indian Prehistory,” Historiographia Linguistica 31 (1): 59–104. Bhargava, Rajeev, ed. 1998. Secularism and Its Critics. Delhi: Oxford University Press. Bhattacharya, Ramkrishna. 2009. Studies on the Cārvāka/Lokāyata. Alti Studi Di Storia Delle Religioni. Firenze: Società Editrice Fiorentina. Bilgrami, Akeel, ed. 2016. Beyond the Secular West: Religion, Culture, and Public Life. New York: Columbia University Press. Binder, Stefan. 2019. “Magic is Science: Atheist Conjuring and the Exposure of Superstition in South India,” HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory 9 (2): 284–98. Binder, Stefan. 2020. Total Atheism: Secular Activism and the Politics of Difference in South India. New York: Berghahn. Brahier, Gabriela, & Dirk Johannsen, eds. 2013. Konstruktionsgeschichten: Narrationsbezogene Ansätze in der Religionsforschung. Würzburg: Ergon Verlag. Bredekamp, Horst. 2018. Image Acts: A Systematic Approach to Visual Agency. Berlin: De Gruyter. Bryant, Edwin F. & Laurie L. Patton, eds. 2005. The Indo-Aryan Controversy: Evidence and Inference in Indian History. London: Routledge. Chalam, Gudipati Venkata. 2008. “Talking Back: Sita Enters the Fire,” in Ramayana Stories in Modern South India: An Anthology, edited by Paula Richman, translated by Sailaza Easwari Pal, 58–63. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

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Keiko, Yamada. 2008. “Politics and Representation of Caste Identity in Regional Historiography: A Case Study of Kammas in Andhra,” Indian Economic & Social History Review 45 (3): 353–80. https://doi.org/10.1177/001946460804500302. Klimkeit, Hans-Joachim. 1971. Anti-Religiöse Bewegungen im modernen Südindien: Eine religionssoziologische Untersuchung zur Säkularisierungsfrage. Bonn: Röhrscheid. Krämer, Sybille. 2015. Medium, Messenger, Transmission: An Approach to Media Philosophy. Translated by Anthony Enns. Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press. Kress, Gunther R. & Theo van Leeuwen. 2001. Multimodal Discourse: The Modes and Media of Contemporary Communication. London: Arnold. Lavanam. 1978. Nāstikatvaṃ Abhivṛddhi Caritra. Vijayawada: Atheist Centre. Mohr, Hubert. 2013. “Transmediales Storytelling – Ein Konzept auch für die Religionswissenschaft?” in Konstruktionsgeschichten: Narrationsbezogene Ansätze in der Religionsforschung, edited by Gabriela Brahier & Dirk Johannsen, 343–54. Würzburg: Ergon Verlag. Narayan, Badri. 2006. Women Heroes and Dalit Assertion in North India: Culture, Identity and Politics. New Delhi: SAGE Publications India. Narayana Rao, Velcheru. 2001. “The Politics of Telugu Ramayanas: Colonialism, Print Culture, and Literary Movements,” in Questioning Ramayanas: A South Asian Tradition, edited by Paula Richman, 159–85. Berkeley: University of California Press. Narayana Rao, Velcheru. 2004. “When Does Sītā Cease to Be Sītā? Notes toward a Cultural Grammar of Indian Narratives,” in The Rāmāyaṇa Revisited, edited by Mandakranta Bose, 219–41. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Nicholson, Andrew J. 2010. Unifying Hinduism: Philosophy and Identity in Indian Intellectual History. New York: Columbia University Press. Nünning, Ansgar. 2013. “Wie Erzählungen Kulturen erzeugen: Prämissen, Konzepte und Perspektiven für eine kulturwissenschaftliche Narratologie,” in Kultur – Wissen – Narration: Perspektiven Transdisziplinärer Erzählforschung für die Kulturwissenschaften, edited by Alexandra Strohmaier, 5–53. Bielefeld: transcript. Page, Ruth E., ed. 2010. New Perspectives on Narrative and Multimodality. New York: Routledge. Pandian, M. S. S. 2007. Brahmin and Non-Brahmin: Genealogies of the Tamil Political Present. New Delhi: Orient Black Swan. Pietz, William. 1985. “The Problem of the Fetish, I.” RES: Anthropology and Aesthetics 9: 5–17. Pollock, Sheldon I. 2004. “The Meaning of Dharma and the Relationship of the Two Mīmāmsās: Appayya Dīksita’s ‘Discourse on the Refutation of a Unified Knowledge System of PūrvamīMāmsa and Uttaramimamsa,” Journal of Indian Philosophy 32 (5–6): 769–811. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10781-004-8650-5. Quack, Johannes. 2011. “Atheism and Rationalism,” in Brill’s Encyclopedia of Hinduism, edited by Knut A. Jacobsen, Helene Basu, Angelika Malinar & Vasudha Narayanan, 626–32. Leiden: Brill.

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Part 3 Arts: Narrative Craft beyond Words



Chapter 9

Braiding Ropes, Weaving Baskets: The Narrative Culture of Ancient Monasticism Ingvild Sælid Gilhus

1

Introduction

As a conceptual framework for studying religion, speaking of narrative cultures serves to highlight the strategic use of narrative, the dynamics of telling and listening to stories, and their impact on both religious imagination and practice. It aims to explain how storytelling in religious discourse facilitates immersion into religious storyworlds via performances, as well as sensory and mediated practices. Narrative cultures highlight the numerous aspects of storytelling, and the ways in which these stories become internalized, embodied, and part of us. Its aesthetics pertains to performances and the sensory and mediated practices. When religious stories are told and listened to, in what ways are the body and the senses engaged in the processing and internalization of these stories? In this chapter, the focus is on how biblical narratives were integrated into the lives and practices of Egyptian monastics in Late Antiquity and how the monastics immersed themselves in the biblical storyworld. In what ways did the reception and appropriation of Scripture take place? How were biblical narratives internalized and embodied? What types of sensory and mediated practices contributed to transform the monastics from secular persons to Christian ideals? Ascetic life implied living with a strict disciplinary regime with restrictions on food, clothing, sleep, and sexuality. These aspects have been studied heavily in recent years. But the ascetic regime of Egyptian monasteries and desert cells also included braiding rushes and weaving baskets on a daily basis. How were braiding and weaving integrated with the monastic narrative culture based on Scripture? In what ways did these activities contribute to induce bodily sensation, changed moods, and scriptural-based imaginaries in the minds of the ancient monastics? The chapter presents the biblical narrative culture of ancient Egyptian monasteries; it illuminates the aesthetic formation of the monastics, and contributes to the research on the special role played by their work on rushes,

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baskets, wool, and mats. It discusses the transformative spaces of assemblies and monastic cells; and finally, it analyzes the monastics’ processual approach to work and the interaction between the tangible aesthetics of economy and the aesthetics of spiritual immersion.

2

Narrative Cultures and Stories within Stories

The ascetic cultures in Egypt, in the fourth and fifth centuries, included individuals living in monasteries, such as semi- and solitary hermits and wandering ascetics, both males and females. Some of the monasteries had hundreds of inmates, such as those founded by Pachomius in Upper Egypt in the early fourth century CE, and the monasteries of Shenoute, founded later.1 Here, biblical texts were read, recited, interpreted, listened to, memorized, meditated on, copied, performed, and embodied (see Dilley 2017, 15). One of the first leaders of the Pachomian monasteries, Horsiesios, urges his audience: “Let us devote ourselves to reading and learning the Scriptures, reciting them continually, aware of the text” (The Testament of Horsiesios 51 in Veilleux 1982, 51). Palladius, who visited Egypt and wrote a travelogue, informs the readers that the Pachomian monastics “learn all the Scriptures by heart” (HL 32. 12). This is in line with the Pachomian Rule, which states that the monastics had to learn to read and were expected to memorize at least the New Testament and the Psalter (Precept 139–140 in Veilleux 1981, 166). The degree to which such ideals were realized is impossible to know, though clearly scriptures were closely integrated into monastic life and formed an essential part of their narrative culture. For example, after their meal, “our father Pachomius took a seat and spoke the Word of God to them, commenting on the Scriptures” (Bo 29 in Veilleux 1980, 52). In another monastery, after their meal, “each one brought forth the saying he had learned or that he had heard from the lips of others” (Bo 29 in Veilleux 1980, 53). Decisions were made in accordance with the Scriptures; for instance, when Theodore, one of the Pachomian leaders, wanted to persuade a monastic not to “go again on visits to his parents,” he referred to Luke 14:26: “If anyone comes to me without hating his father and mother” (Bo 63 in Veilleux 1980, 53, cf. G1 68). However, how to interpret the Scripture became an issue. In the biography of Pachomius, an angel told Theodore, that “we should try to understand first of all on the

1 Pachomius lived 292–348 CE, the dates for Shenoute are usually given as 347–466 CE (sic!).

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literal level before we speak of its spiritual meaning” (Bo 179 in Veilleux 1980, 75–76).2 These examples offer glimpses of how the monastic narrative culture was saturated with interpretations of Scripture. In addition to the books of the Bible, an extensive secondary literature was developed consisting of various genres. A driving force behind this literary output was to create a life consistent with that of the biblical heroes. Aesthetic mimesis had a long tradition in Greco-Roman culture (Halliwell 2002). The concept of imitating both living and textual models can be found in both Jewish and Christian writings (Moss 2010, 21). The prologues to both the systematic and the alphabetical collections of the Apophthegmata Patrorum—the Sayings of the Desert Fathers— begin with an invitation to imitate (mimesis) the ascetic way of living and the sayings of these fathers (Bolman 2007, 420). Mimesis has several levels in monastic life; it includes the use of biblical language, wearing clothes depicting biblical models, and the act of emulating biblical heroes. Monastic literature originated from ascetic and monastic living, and took the form of rules, instructions, homilies, travelogues written by people who visited monasteries and famous ascetics, and biographical narratives about the monastic pioneers including Pachomius, Antony, and Shenoute. A few holy women were also included in the hagiographic literature, such as amma Sarah and amma Syncletica in the Apophthegmata and Melania and Melania the Younger in Palladius’ The Lausiac History. Much of this literature was created because of a desire to write about the recent past: “Abba Pachomius often used to speak the word of God to them. Some who loved him dearly wrote down many interpretations of the Scriptures they had heard from him. And if he ever had a vision or an apparition by the permission of God, he would tell it privately to the great [brothers] for the sake of the faith and profit of the hearers” (G1 99 in Veilleux 1980, 365). It is striking how this literature is permeated by biblical language and allusions. In the biography of Saint Antony, Vita Antonii, there are 2000 references to Bible quotes from both the Old and New Testaments (Bartelink 1994, 48). In the Pachomian corpus, half of the references are to the OT and the other half to the NT (Veilleux 1982, 237–96). Sometimes the language relies so heavily on that of the Scripture that it becomes a sort of “biblish.” In the Pachomian literature, this type of aesthetic mimesis is seen in the writings of Horsiesios. 2 The same text presents a pedagogical tool as well. Theodore meets some philosophers who present a riddle to him: “So now, tell me who was not born and died, who was born but did not die, who died but did not decay” (Bo 55 in Veilleux 1980, 75–76, cf. G1 82). Theodore solves the riddle: the correct answer is Adam, Enoch, and Lot’s wife.

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The huge literary output of Shenoute is in a similar way filled with biblical allusions and citations; “even Shenoute’s own diction and vocabulary mimic that of the Coptic Bible, so that it is difficult at times to differentiate between the voice of the Bible and that of Shenoute” (Brakke & Crislip 2015, 4).3 At the same time, the ascetic and monastic literature has a certain diversity and strong locale flavour (Frankfurter 2018, 191). David Frankfurter points out that in Egypt “the production of Christian books from the second century through late antiquity shows less a coordinated, medieval scriptorium-styled factory for Christian books than quite localized and even private enterprises that may, indeed, have overlapped with intellectual circles and collectors beyond the monasteries” (Frankfurter 2018, 191). The interaction between monastic life and Scripture is emphasized when monastic texts use biblical heroes as models in a way that creates “box myths.” A box myth is a myth within a myth, which means that a personal myth can be created within a cosmic myth (Hexham and Poewe 1997, 69–70). When Palladius writes about Pachomius receiving the monastic rules on a brass tablet from an angel, the story refers to Moses and the Ten Commandments; therefore, it stages Pachomius as the new Moses (HL 32. 1). In a similar way, the Old Testament prophets Elijah and Elisha are cast as models for the monastics, and the lives of the most eminent among them are imitations of the life of Elijah. For instance, when a monastic inherits a garment from a monastic father, the act is modeled after the story of Elisha who inherited the mantle of Elijah (2 Kings 2: 13–14). A typological relationship is made between the Old Testament prophets and outstanding monastics. Biblical scenarios are reenacted in the Egyptian monasteries and desert cells: “Christian biographies of prominent figures thus united the contemporary world with the Bible in an ongoing grand Christian narrative, in which the divine presence could be recognized and understood just as it was in the lives of the prophets and apostles” (Williams 2008, 101). When the stories about Old Testament prophets enfold the stories about the monastic heroes, they create a continuity and an interaction between the ascetic life in Egypt and life according to the Old Testament. The biblical world had the character of a virtual reality, or self-contained “phantasmagoric space” (Kapferer 2004, 47). Bruce Kapferer stresses that “the virtual of ritual is a thoroughgoing reality of its own, neither a simulacrum of realities external to realities nor an alternative ritual” (Kapferer 2004, 37). His approach “accentuates the internal dynamics of rite as the potency of the 3 According to Samuel Moawad one rarely finds a page in a manuscript by Shenoute that does not contain a direct or indirect quotation from the Bible. Moawad points out that the quotations derive from the Sahidic translation of the Septuagint (Moawad 2013, 325).

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capacity of ritual to alter, change, or transform the existential circumstances of persons in nonritual realities” (Kapferer 2004, 47). The monastics were expected by means of rituals to immerse themselves in the biblical storyworld and to be gradually changed by that immersion. Among the “immersion techniques”4 used in transporting the ascetic into this virtual world were rituals consisting of reciting accompanied by bodily movements and prayers, as well as rituals in the form of braiding and weaving.

3

Making It Real

Birgit Meyer has pointed out that “a community is not a pre-existent entity that expresses itself via fixed set of symbols, but a formation that comes into being through the circulation and use of shared cultural forms and that is never complete” (Meyer 2009, 4). She stresses that “imaginations are required to become tangible outside the realm of the mind, by creating a social environment that materializes through the structuring of space, architecture, ritual performance, and by inducing bodily sensations” (Meyer 2009, 5) and adds that “in order to become experienced as real, imagined communities need to materialize in the concrete lived environment and be felt in the bones” (Meyer 2009, 5). Meyer has launched the concept of “aesthetic formation,” which describes social entities based on sensory experiences and sensory knowledge and are in the process of being formed (Meyer 2009, 6). In the monasteries of Pachomius and Schenoute, biblical narratives and interpretations interacted with social patterns and disciplinary regimes and with the objects and the material conditions of monastic life. In this way, they created new imaginative formations of the surrounding world. Imaginations based on Scripture became “tangible by materializing in spaces and objects” (Meyer 2009, 5). What were the aspects that made biblical stories real and effective for monastics and ascetics? The realness and effectiveness of these stories intended to reorient and reposition the listeners to change them by means of religious rituals and ritualized actions. The Pachomian monasteries, similar to those of Shenoute, consisted of spaces such as the monastic cells, the refectory, and the church; items that circulated in the monasteries, such as food, mats, baskets, clothes, and books; and bodily regimes such as fasting, eating restrictions, and keeping physical distance from other people. These spaces, items, and regimes were informed

4 See Bielo (2018, 295), see below.

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by biblical narratives and transformed by means of ritual. Time was punctuated by Scriptural performances in ritual contexts in the form of recitation, prayer, and the singing of psalms. According to the Bohairic Life of Pachomius, the monastics were expected to pray sixty times during the day and sixty during the night (Bo 10 in Veilleux 1980, 31). By means of ritualized reading and praying, knowledge was embodied and internalized. One example of how this was done is offered by the Regulations of Horsiesios (7–13 in Veilleux 1981, 199–201). In the synaxis (the assembly of monastics), they listened to Scripture being read and they recited together, all while conducting a series of standardized bodily movements. At the beginning of prayer, the monastics made the sign of the cross on their forehead (Hors. Reg. 7). When the signal was given for prayer to begin, they rose, knelt, prostrated themselves, and were expected to cry in their heart, which means to repent their sins (Hors. Reg. 8). Then they rose again, made the sign of the cross, prayed, and recited Psalm 19: 13–14 and 51: 10 (Hors. Reg. 9). When a signal was given for them to sit down, they once again made the sign of the cross. The monastics then listened to recitations of Scripture without making eye contact with anyone else in the room (Hors. Reg. 10–11). They were asked to meditate over God’s mercy with reference to several biblical passages (Hors. Reg. 12), and when the assembly ended, everyone returned to their houses without talking, while they quietly recited verses from the Scripture (Hors. Reg. 13). The Regulations of Horsiesios describes a ritual scenario in which attentive listening and prayer are coordinated with bodily movements that encompass both the body and mind of the individual. In addition to the highly ritualized practice in the synaxis, the sources also present examples of individual practices and ad hoc interpretations, which, in a similar way, integrate Scripture with bodily experiences. This example is taken from the biography of Pachomius: As for Pachomius, he gave himself up ever more to important exercises to a great and intensive ascesis, and to lengthy recitations of the books of Holy Scripture. He had his heart set on reciting them in order [and] with great ease. He would mainly practice his mortifications in those deserts, in the acacia forest that surrounded them, and in the far desert. If thorns happened to pierce his feet he endured them without removing them, remembering the nails that pierced our Lord on the cross. Bo 15 in Veilleux 1980, 38, cf. G1 11

In this case, recitation and bodily pain combine to make present the central narrative of Christianity regarding the suffering and death of Jesus.

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Hugo Lundhaug has made an analysis of the monastic literary practices and how “individual and collective memories are encoded, shaped and evoked, and how they functioned in the monastic communities in question” (Lundhaug 2014, 99). These practices created “as uniform an interpretive community as possible” (Lundhaug 2014, 107). According to Lundhaug, “we are here looking at a totalitarian system, and indoctrination in its most literal sense” (Lundhaug 2014, 106). He describes how the shared collective memory of scripture, doctrine, and practice was encoded in the monastic’s way of life, and how it was distributed across “their primary cultural artefact, namely their books, by way of institutionalized textual practices” (Lundhaug 2014, 107). Narrative culture, and the creation and maintenance of collective memory, are dependent on shared cultural tools (Wertsch & Roediger 2008, 322–24; Lundhaug 2014, 102). These cultural tools and human agents are components of a single memory system and the processes of memory coding, memory storage, and memory recall, which are interdependent and overlapping (Lundhaug 2014, 107–09). In line with Jan Assmann’s thinking, the collective memory can be divided into both a cultural memory and a communicative memory (Assmann 2006). The cultural memory is connected to stories of origin and the past, while communicative memory “is a generational memory that changes as the generations change” (Assmann 2006, 24). In the monasteries, the cultural memory of Scripture was integrated with the communicative memory of the monastic fathers. Books obviously belonged to the cultural tool kit, which helped to integrate Scripture in the minds and bodily practices of the monastics. However, the monastics also had recourse to other types of cultural artifacts, which functioned as tools in their adaption to monastic life. They were mnemotechnical devices to reduce distractions and make the mind receptive and focused. An obvious example of this is the monastic habit (Gilhus 2018a; Gilhus 2018b), which represented the dramatic change from a secular person to a monastic. Some aspects of the habit worked directly on the body, like the hood, which, according to Palladius, was worn during meals and kept the monastic from seeing what others ate (HL 32. 6). A garment, which was not part of the standard monastic outfit, but was worn by some ascetics, was the hair-shirt. It was usually made of coarse animal hair, especially goat, which irritated the skin. By inducing bodily suffering, the hair-shirt worked as an insistent reminder of the weakness of the flesh and the need for salvation. The sheep- or goatskin, which was usually part of a monastic habit, the so-called meloté, refers to Elijah’s mantle (1 Kings 19: 19 and 2 Kings 2: 8). Besa’s Life of Shenoute goes one step further and claims that Shenoute had inherited the mantle of Elijah (8, 10). In this case, the myth materializes itself in an actual garment and makes

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a palpable connection between one of the heroes of the Old Testament and a monastic hero. In addition to books and garments, rushes and wool also belonged to the cultural tools of the monastics. The handling of these raw materials was an integrated part of their lives. How did rushes, braiding and weaving help the monastics to embody the imaginary world of Scripture?

4

“Do Not Trample on the Rushes!” Braiding Ropes, Weaving Mats

All activities in the monasteries were expected to keep the mind of the monastic in the world of biblical imagination. Some of the activities were more directly involved in the process of internalizing Scripture and served the purpose of quickening the process of developing a secular person into a monastic. While Horsiesios’ description, referred to above, gives a glimpse of the ritualized reading and praying in the monastic assembly, it leaves out one important part of what went on. According to Pachomian Rule, when a monastic finds his place in the synaxis, “he should not thread upon the rushes which have been dipped in water in preparation for the plaiting of ropes, lest even a small loss should come to the monastery through someone’s negligence” (Precept 4). The rushes had been gathered by groups of monastics (Bo 108 in Veilleux 1980, 159, cf. G1 71 in Veilleux 1980, 346 and Paralipomena 9 in Veilleux 1981, 30) and prepared in advance by the person who did the weekly services. In the monasteries they worked with several types of fibres, some were gathered wild, such as rushes (esparto grass or alfa), while some came from cultivated plants, such as flax and date palms.5 Wetting the fibres made them less brittle and easier to work with. The fibres were made into rope and thread, which were then used to make mats, baskets, and textiles.6 The following rule speaks directly to the monastic, “nor shall you sit idle in the synaxis, but with a quick hand you shall prepare ropes for the warps of mats, although exception is made for the infirmity of the body to which

5 Making string and thread from fibers is one of the oldest human skills, which goes back at least 20000 years as shown by E. J. W. Barber, who also speaks of this as the “string revolution” (1991). 6 Ewa Wipszycka points out that it was the first stage of the process of making mats and baskets—making fibers into ropes and thread, which took place in the monastic assembly. She also stresses that the second stage, the making of baskets and mats, was sometimes done by specialists (2009: 511–12) and that some monks were skilled in several crafts (2011, 183).

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leave must be given to rest” (Precept 5 in Veilleux 1981, 146). The next rule guides the one who recites from Scripture by heart to clap with his hand when the monastics should rise without delay (Precept 6 in Veilleux 1981, 146). It is followed by a rule that says: “Let no one look at another twisting rope or praying; let him rather be intent on his own work with eyes cast down” (Precept 7 in Veilleux 1981, 146). Several times in the Pachomian rules it is mentioned that the ropes they have twisted shall be counted each week and recorded for the annual gathering (Precept 12, 26 and 27 in Veilleux 1981, 147, 149–50), which means that their crafting also had an economical side (see below). The presence of rushes helped create a sensory space for the assembly and shows the close integration between reciting, praying, and handiwork. According to Armand Veilleux, there “was a very close unity between prayer and work in Pachomian monasteries; the monks constantly prayed during their work and they did weaving and plaiting during the synaxis” (Veilleux 1981, 185). This also implies that when the monastics were working on the rushes, the rushes were working on the monastics, and that the synaxis was a space of transformation of both rushes and minds. The braiding of ropes was an everyday activity connected to the process of internalization and embodying the Scriptural world. The process engages the body to a certain point but is not a very demanding activity, for, when it has been properly learnt, the necessary movements are done automatically. Similar to what happened in the Pachomian monasteries, in the monasteries of Shenoute, “each meeting seems to have consisted of two activities: a service of prayers and the activity of weaving” (Layton 2007, 66). In the male monasteries, “soaked reeds for the assembly” are spread out, and in the female monastery “the wool that you work on” is laid out before the morning assembly (Canons, book 5, ZA 224 and Canons, book 9, DF 187, in Layton 2007, 66, note 119). The braiding of ropes took place as part of the ritual and accompanied the ritualized biblical recitation. It created a collective culture in which each and every member of the community took part. Generally speaking, working together as part of a group and with a shared occupation, such as making ropes, creates a collective sense of self and shared emotions (Riley 2008, 63). The hypothesis is that the braiding of rushes and the weaving of baskets and mats, because of its rhythmic character, created a meditative and receptive mood among the monastics.7 Here, mood is regarded as a psychological state, and an

7 Reciting was not only connected to processing fibers and textile-making, also when the monastics were baking, they should recite (G1 89 in Veilleux 1980, 358).

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effective phenomenon that is more durable than an emotion (see Caracciolo 2018). In this case, it is an attitude that facilitates the internalization of the biblical stories. James S. Bielo defines “immersive techniques” as “any strategy interactively designed to physically or affectively enhance the experience of being caught up” (Bielo 2018, 295). The narrative and emotional engagement, dependent on the monastics’ attachment to the characters in the biblical narratives, is facilitated by the immersive techniques of crafting.8

5

Transformative Spaces and Their Framing

While Biblical stories were recited and interpreted in the monastic assembly— along with braiding and weaving—in the cells of the monastics and hermits, reading, repeating, and meditating over Scripture is closely connected to the industrious processing of fiber and thread: “While the weekly communal gatherings were important for the health of the community and for an accounting of sins, the real sanctuary was one that emerged when the monk entered his cell and became part of the holy residence of god” (Hedstrom 2009, 788). In Coptic, manšope, or “dwelling place,” is the technical term for a monastic cell (Veilleux 1982, 46). It stresses that the cell is a place where the monastic spends much of his/her time. In a perceptive article, Darlene Hedstrom has shown the great importance of the monastic cells. She points out that sanctity was attributed to them; “these places were sacred spaces” (Hedstrom 2009, 759). According to her, the cells were training grounds and the true transformative spaces (Hedstrom 2009, 765)—“the cell was a physical image that modelled a spiritual reality for the monastics” (Hedstrom 2009, 789). Hedstrom describes the efficacy of the cells and stresses the mental work of its inhabitants and their performative acts of devotion, and she refers to Cassian and Palladius who “explicate the spiritual benefit of labor and its physical ability to restrain the mind” (Hedstrom 2009, 776). Much has been said about the monastic space as a battleground, often based on Vita Antonii, the Life of Antony, written by bishop Athanasius (Williams 2008, 105). This biography became the primary model for the ascetic life, both in the East and the West. Though the author mentions that Antony wove baskets as a product for barter (VA 53, 1), in addition to cultivating a garden (VA 50), the vita stresses how he repeatedly fought with demons in the

8 See Marie-Laure Ryan’s analysis of emotional immersion in fictive characters (2003, 148–57).

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guise of animals. The monastic cell tends to be perceived as a space where the monastics struggle with a mixture of passions, evil thoughts, and demons, but monastic literature also reveals that the cell was a place of crafting. According to Bentley Layton, “the totalizing character of the system even extends into the mind and voice of the monk when he is alone in his cell, for in this situation he is commanded to continue doing simple handiwork with his hand while he meditates (Greek meletan is the verb) with his brain and his vocal cords” (Layton 2007, 70–71). Layton understands this as “the constant recitation or mumbling of prayers and passages of Scripture” (Layton 2007, 71). The biography of Pachomius presents the story about Silvanos, a young monastic, “he applied himself to vigils in such a way that when he had prayed abundantly and grown weary, he would sit in the middle of his cell, weaving through the night, and in that position, he would take the sleep he needed. And to say it short, he became a living man” (G1 105 in Veilleux 1980, 370). To become “a living man” (ánthropos zon) is high praise indeed, because it encapsulates the goal of monastic life, which was to become a human destined for salvation. The two pictures of the cell, respectively as a battlefield and a solitary workshop, are not necessarily in opposition to each other because letting the hands work helps keep the mind focused. This was recognized as a way to keep evil thoughts and demons at bay. However, the cognitive effects of crafting as part of the monastic culture, and as something which occupied much of the time of the monastics, have not been fully recognized even if the intended cognitive effects of this work are stated very clearly in the literary sources. Carrying out monotonous crafts based on rhythm and repetition creates special moods and shuts the world out (see Riley 2008, 69–70). While the social and cognitive effects of rhythmic behaviours, such as dancing and music, are recognized (for instance Schüler 2017), crafting is also a type of rhythmic behaviour, which influences the individual and the group. In the case of the ancient monastics, it also helped them actively listen to Scripture being read and narratives being told in the assembly, and helped facilitate the positive effects of solitary meditation in their cells. As pointed out above, the monastics read, recited, listened to, memorized, and internalized Scripture. Their interaction with texts was intended to have a transformative effect (Rousseau 1999, 81; Williams 2008, 177). The monks were especially urged to listen with their “heart and ears” (Hors. Reg. 10 in Veilleux 1991, 200), which means to shut everything out while listening intensely and meditating. This type of listening is consistent with how, in antiquity, reading and memory were seen as visual and as consisting of phantasmata, or mental images (Carruthers 1999, 17–18). It is reasonable to assume that the same type of intense focus was part of what braiding and weaving were meant to help the monastics obtain. The anecdotic

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literature supports the hypothesis that craft making was expected to have cognitive and emotional effects, helping the monastics to become absorbed in the spiritual world. Several of the apophthegms about John the Dwarf point to the cognitive aspects of crafting. In one story, John was so preoccupied with weaving that a camel driver, who had come to fetch his products, had to call John back three times (Apophthegmata Patrum A: John the Dwarf, 31). The third time, and in a last attempt to try not to forget the items that he was meant to bring with him, John went into his cell while he mumbled, “weave—camel, weave— camel.” The reason why he forgot what he was repeatedly asked to fetch was “because his spirit was fixed on God.” In another story, when John was asked for the third time to fetch the baskets he had made, he took the intruder by the hand and said: “If you want the baskets, take them and go away, because really, I have no time for such things” (30). John the Dwarf is totally absorbed in what he is doing. The implication of immersing oneself in crafting is also shown when John is weaving rope for two baskets, “but he made it into one without noticing, until it had reached the wall, because his spirit was occupied in contemplation” (11). The following story gives an indication of the content of his meditation, which is the same as in the first story: When a guest came to his cell and praised his work, John did not answer, “for he was weaving a rope.” When the guest tried for the third time to break John’s silence, John said to the visitor, “Since you came here, you have driven away God from me” (32). According to these stories, John’s absorption in the process of weaving does not only consist of shutting the world out, he has immersed himself in the spiritual world and fixed his mind on God. As an inhabitant of that world, he has no thought on the results of his work, which are ropes, mats, or baskets. In ritual there “is a slowing down of the tempo of everyday life and a holding in abeyance or suspension some of the vital qualities of lived reality” (Kapferer 2004, 48). How such a state was obtained is indicated in one apophthegm about an elder who was asked what one should do to be saved. The elder was braiding rope, and not looking up from his work, he replied, “What you see here” (Apophthegmata Patrum S 21, 6, cf. N 91). In another story, “the Holy Abba Antony” saw another person who was combining working at rope braiding with ritual prayers (Apophthegmata Patrum S 7, 1, cf. A Antony 1). The narrator explains that what Antony saw was an angel, and that the angel told him, “Act like this and you shall be saved.” The two apophthegms show the importance of braiding as a tool to reach a higher spiritual level. One of the stories about Pachomius suggests that crafting is thought to work cognitively. One day, when he was working on a mat “a demon appeared to him in the aspect under which the Lord used to appear to him” (Bo 113 in Veilleux

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1980, 165–66). Pachomius understood that it must be a demon because normally, when Pachomius sits weaving and has a divine vision, his thoughts disappear (Veilleux 1980, 285, note 113, 1). In another version of the narrative, it is said that, “since the Holy Man had the discernment of spirits so as to discern the evil spirits from the holy ones, as it is written, he immediately thought, ‘When the apparition is of spirits that are holy, the thoughts of the man who sees it vanish completely, and they consider nothing but the sanctity of the apparition’” (G1 87 in Veilleux 1980, 356).9 These narratives imply that it is possible to obtain a state of mind in which ordinary thoughts can disappear. Making textiles, ropes, and baskets are meaningful occupations based on repetitious bodily movements. Generally speaking, when the skills and the bodily movements have been properly learnt, “weaving, basket-making and carpentry all have their own rhythms and consequent forms and again those rhythms derive from the interplay of skilled bodies and the materials that have enskilled them” (Gosden & Malafouris 2015, 707). The close interaction between the body and the items it is working with creates a positive state of mind (see Meyer 2009). Modern studies of crafting have shown that it can have therapeutic benefits (Riley 2008; Pöllänen 2015). According to Pöllänen, who has studied female textile craft makers in contemporary Finland, “crafting had helped to increase self-awareness and enabled the craft makers to set larger goals for their own lives. The concrete act of making had pushed the self to a higher or a new plane. This kind of experiential knowing by doing may have allowed a greater understanding of life and relationship with others” (Pöllänen 2015, 70). Contemporary craft makers are not necessarily characterized by the same aspects in which monastic craft makers in Late Antiquity were; however, with the particular stress placed on craft making in the ancient literary sources, it is possible to combine the activity of crafting with the all-embracing and totalizing religious project of Scriptural immersion and monastic discipline. Inspired by Lambros Malafouris’ book, How Things Shape the Mind: A Theory of Material Engagement (2013), one could ask: How do rushes, baskets, and mats shape the monastic mind? But since so much stress in the monastic sources is on the process of making things, the question should be: How do braiding and weaving shape the monastic mind? It has repeatedly been pointed out that this type of work is automatic and monotonous and that it does not need much concentration of attention. Ewa Wipszycha points out that it is a type of work that is not disturbed by prayer and meditation

9 Should be “he,” cf. Koinonia I, 417.

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(Wipszycha 2009, 477, 479); in fact, it supports it. This type of non-complicated work does not only hinder the mind from wandering, but it creates a receptive mood, which emotionally and cognitively helps the monastic in transferring his memories, thoughts, and fantasies to the world of biblical narratives and persons. It is also striking how frequently rope-making is mentioned at the cost of making mats and baskets. Rope-making is a type of crafting that needs less conscious attention (see Malafouris 2013, 237 with reference to Tim Ingold).10 In the self-contained imaginal space of the monastics, personal change and transformation took place. “Through the virtuality of ritual, the world is not changed in some totalizing sense; rather what changes is the way persons are re-oriented and re-positioned within the ongoing flux of actuality so that they can participate in its continuing change and transformations” (Kapferer 2006, 672). Bruce Kapferer’s description of the virtuality and dynamics of rituals aligns well with the situation in monasteries where the goal was personal transformation and becoming more spiritual. However, there is also a question about how the everyday world of the monastics appeared in relation to the pervasive use of rituals in the monasteries. This was, among other things, a question of framing. Gregory Bateson, who pointed out how ritual spaces are framed by metacommunicative devices, has inspired recent research. According to Don Handelman, ritual framing has several twists and includes switching in and out of the ritual frame—there is a “dynamic relation between ritual frame and non-ritual life” (Handelman 2008, 572). He stresses that framing “draws immediate attention to three major issues in studying ritual: the structuring of the ritual frame, the organization of ritual within the frame, and the relationships between the interior and exterior of the frame” (Handelman 2008, 572). Handelman uses the model of the Moebius ring to show the flexibility of the interior and exterior of the ritual frame. Even if fieldwork in ancient cultures is impossible, there are some clues about how ritual framing was practiced in the ancient monasteries. For instance, when monastics looked at each other and laughed in the assembly, they left the ritual frame but were immediately called back by their superiors who were correcting the culprits and re-framing the ritual. The frame’s “ongoing relationship to its inside and to its outside” (Handelman 2008, 578) also throws light on the ambiguity, which, as a matter of routine, is involved in monastic life, and especially in the monastic ritualization of crafting. Crafting was not only used as a way to facilitate immersion and meditation, but also for personal and economic gain. 10

Wipszycka points out that in the semi-eremitical Kellia the literature mentions ropes and baskets, but not mats (2009).

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263

The Economy of the Kingdom and the Economy of This World

Until now, the stress has been on the cognitive and emotional gains of braiding and weaving and on how these activities were an integrated part of the Scripture-based narrative culture of ancient monasticism. However, there was, of course, an economic aspect to this activity. Economic and spiritual gain are sometimes seen as one, as Layton does when he observes that “daily sessions of weaving not only generated an economic surplus for the monastery; they also symbolically generated or regenerated the monastic identity, which each monk ritually wove for themselves, five times a day, out of the strands of the semi-eremitical tradition” (Layton 2007, 67). A similar point is made by Ewa Wipszycka when she stresses that work in the monasteries has a double character: it is both an economical and spiritual exercise.11 Wipszycka shows that the main source of economical income of the monasteries was farming (Wipszycka 2009, 522–28; see also Brakke & Crislip 2018, 16). Basket-making and weaving mats were more of an economic surplus activity. Wipszycka states bluntly that, “the image of a monk weaving baskets for a living conveyed by apophthegms and similar literary texts is so suggestive that it must be continuously combated with incessant reminders of its falseness” (Wipszycka 2011, 172–73). However, Wipszycka has also pointed out that the economical profile of the farming-based monasteries differed from the semieremitic settlements, such as Kellia in Lower Egypt, where crafting seems to have played a more prominent role in the economy, though she stresses that commercial exchange of goods did not generate high profit (Wipszycka 2011, 229–32).12 Wipszycka, and more recently, Peter Brown, have rightfully pointed out that basketwork and plaiting obtain most of the attention among literary sources. Brown contrasts this “timeless work” which continued day after day without

11 12

“C’était à la fois un moyen pour pourvoir à la subsistance et un exercice ascétique,” (Wipszycka 2009, 527). In the preface to his Latin translation of the Pachomian Rule, Jerome mentions that “brothers of the same craft are gathered into one house under one master” (Jerome’s Preface 6 in Veilleux 1981, 143). Jerome lists linen weavers, those who weave mats, tailors, carriage makers, fullers, and shoemakers. Similarly, the biography of Pachomius describes how Pachomius established “other houses with their housemasters and seconds to work at the crafts and at the mat-making and to be ready for every obedience without any personal wish in their hearts, so that they might bear fruit to God” (G1 28 in Veilleux 1981, 316). Exactly how specialized the activities were in the monasteries is difficult to say. It is, for instance also mentioned that Pachomius, like the other monastics, wove one mat each day (Bo 72 in Veilleux 1980, 93–94).

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change, and which was based on reeds and straw—raw materials from the margins—with the seasonal work on the land (Brown 2016, 84). It is easy to see that the simpler types of crafts are more in line with monastic life and ideals and easier to integrate directly with the religious practice of internalizing Scripture than farming. This is also one reason why crafting gets so much space, both in the rules and in the literary and anecdotic sources. An additional reason consistently mentioned in this chapter is that braiding and weaving are actively promoted by literary sources because they are considered catalysts for internalizing and embodying Scripture and monastic discipline. The economic side of crafting tends to be downplayed, most likely to promote the idea of distancing oneself from wealth and searching for the treasure in heaven (for instance Matt 19:21 and Luke 12:33). The economy of this world, and the economy of the kingdom, are based on different sorts of capital (see Moxnes 1988). Sometimes, however, the two economies are developed by the same means, as when monastics are braiding rushes or carding wool in the assembly, weaving mats in their cells while they are praying and meditating, and finally selling the end products on the market (see Brown 2016, 85).13 The need to strike a balance between spiritual gain and economic profit are expressed in several of the monastic stories about braiding and weaving. When economic gain is mentioned more positively, like when Palladius tells that Dorotheus sat all night long “braiding rope from palm fronds to gain his living” (HL 2. 2); the point is also to show that monastics support themselves and do not live off of society (see Brown 2016). A theme in the literary sources is that monastics shall be absorbed in their work in a meditative way that opens up for spiritual thoughts and experiences, but they shall not be preoccupied with the potential economic gain of their efforts. In other words, they should not focus on the end products of the crafting, but on the process. John the Dwarf was so immersed in what he was doing that it was almost impossible to switch him out of his meditative mood to even think about economic transactions. Another example from the Apophthegmata is “a great elder” who shows his lack of interest in the result of his work and in economic gain by repeatedly cutting shoots from the river, braiding rope, and throwing it back into the river. The apophthegm presents the moral of the story in this way: “He did not work because he needed to but for the toil and for the hesychia” (S 2, 32, cf. N 424). Hesychia is a technical term in monastic literature referring to a state devoid of memory, imagination, and

13

In his recent book, Peter Brown shows how economical profit was ideally given to the poor (Brown 2016).

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passion, and for that reason, “there is profound calm and great peace within” (S 2, 22). When material gain is discarded in this apophthegm, a firm connection is made between braiding ropes and reaching a spiritual state of mind. However, these stories also show that the tangible aesthetics of economics and the aesthetics of spiritual immersion existed as two layers in the ritual situation, and that framing and reframing were part of it. On one hand, the monastics were present in a virtual space of attentive listening or praying, while they felt the rhythm of their hands working with rushes and fibers. On the other hand, the practical consequences of their work, such as its quality and commercial value, were part of it. This means that a continuous framing and reframing of rituals took place in monastic life, as well as continuously switching between being on the inside and on the outside of the rituals. This implies an ambiguous type of framing, which becomes a sort of routine in the ritual situation (Handelman 2008, 578–82).14

7

Conclusion

Alexandra Grieser has raised an important question about how “religion becomes culturally and historically ‘effective’ beyond categories of doctrines, confession, and belief” (Grieser 2015, 17). In the case of ancient Christianity, it is well-known that its ascetic regime became effective through systematic bodily discipline such as fasting, sleep deprivation, and sexual abstinence. In this paper, I have argued that the aesthetics of renunciation were part of a narrative culture—one which included work on rushes, baskets, mats, and wool. These practices involved the body and the senses, created rhythms, and contributed to the internalization of Christian narratives. Their efficacy consisted in shutting out distractions, thus creating a meditative mood and leading to immersion in the virtual reality of Scripture-based imagination. Abbreviations A: Alphabetical Collection Bo: Bohairic Life of Pachomius G1: First Greek Life of Pachomius HL: Historia Lausiaca Hors. Reg.: The Regulations of Horiesios 14

In line with Handelman’s thoughts, the monastic ritual practice also questions the strict Durkheimian distinction between the sacred and the profane (Handelman 2008, 578–82).

266 N: S: VA:

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Anonymous Collection Systematic Collection Vita Antonii (Life of Antony)

Ancient Sources Apophthegmata Patrum: A: The Alphabetic Collection. J.P. Migne, Patrologia Cursus Completus, Series Graeca, vol. 65, cols. 71–440, Paris 1868. A: The Sayings of the Desert Fathers: The Alphabetical Collection. Translated with a Foreword by Benedicta Ward. Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 1984 [1975]. N: The Anonymous Sayings of the Desert Fathers: A Select Edition and Complete English Translation by John Wortley. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013. S: Les Apophthegmes des Pères. Collection Systématique: Introduction, texte critique, traduction, et notes par Jean-Claude Guy. 3 vols. Paris: Éditions du cerf, 1993, 2003, 2005. S: The Book of the Elders: Sayings of the Desert Fathers: The Systematic Collection. Translated by John Wortley. Kentucky: Cistercian Publication, 2012. Athanase d’Alexandre, Vie d’Antoine: Introduction, Critical Text, Translation, Notes and Index by G.J.M. Bartelink, Sources Chrétiennes, 400. Paris: Éditions du cerf, 1994. Besa, The Life of Shenoute. Translated with an Introduction by David N. Bell (Cistercian Studies) USA: The Liturgical Press. Pachomian Koinonia, 3 volumes. Translated and Introduced by Armand Veilleux. Kalamazoo, Michigan: Cistercian Publications, 1980, 1981, 1982. S. Pachomii Vita Bohairice Scripta, edited by L.H. Lefort, 2 vols. Louvain: Officina orientali et scientifica, 1964–5 [1925/1936]. The Life of Pachomius (Vita Prima Graeca). Text and Translation. Translated by Apostolos N. Athanassakis, introduced by Birger Pearson. Missoula, Mont.: Scholars Press, 1975. Palladius, The Lausiac History. Edited by Dom Cuthbert Butler. Cambridge: Cambridge, 1898–1904. Palladius of Aspuna. The Lausiac History. Translated by John Wortley. Athen, Ohio: Liturgical Press.

References Assmann, Jan. 2006. Religion and Cultural Memory. Stanford: Stanford University Press. Barber, Elizabeth J. W. 1991. Prehistoric Textiles. Princeton: Princeton University Press.

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Bartelink, Gerhardus J. M., ed. 1994. Athanase d’Alexandre: Vie d’Antoine. Sources Chrétiennes, 400. Paris: Éditions du cerf. Bielo, James S. 2018. “Immersion as Shared Imperative: Entertainment of/in Digital Scholarship,” Religion 48 (2): 291–301. Bolman, Elizabeth S. 2007. “Depicting the Kingdom of Heaven: Paintings and Monastic Practice in Early Byzantine Egypt,” in Egypt in the Byzantine World, 300-700, edited by Roger S. Bagnall, 408–33. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Brakke, David & Andrew Crislip. 2015. Selected Discourses of Shenoute the Great: Community, Theology, and Social Conflict in Late Antique Egypt. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Brown, Peter. 2016. Treasure in Heaven: The Holy Poor in Early Christianity. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press. Caracciolo, Marco. 2018. “Perspectives on Narrative and Mood,” in How to Do Things with Narrative: Cognitive and Diachronic Perspectives, edited by Jan Alber & Greta Olson, 15–28. Berlin: De Gruyter. Carruthers, Mary. 1999. The Book of Memory: A Study of Memory in Medieval Culture. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Dilley, Paul C. 2017. Monasteries and the Care of the Souls in Late Antique Christianity: Cognition and Discipline. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Frankfurter, David. 2018. Christianizing Egypt: Syncretism and Local Worlds in Late Antiquity. Princeton: Princeton University Press. Gilhus, Ingvild Sælid. 2018a. “How Things Make Monks: Objects and Artifacts in the Pachomian Rules,” in Religion, Law, and Justice: Seven Essays, edited by Håkan Rydving & Stefan Olsson, 41–62. Oslo: Novus Forlag. Gilhus, Ingvild Sælid. 2018b. “Sheepskins, Hair Shirts and Tunics of Palm Leaves: Charismatic Authority and Monastic Clothing in Egypt in Late Antiquity,” Temenos 54 (1): 79–102. Gosden, Chris & Lambros Malafouris. 2015. “Process archaeology (P-Arch),” World Archaeology 47 (5): 701–17. Grieser, Alexandra. 2015. “Aesthetics,” in Vocabulary for the Study of Religion, edited by Robert A. Segal & Kocku von Stuckrad, vol. 1, 14–23. Leiden: Brill. Halliwell, Stephen. 2002. The Aesthetics of Mimesis: Ancient Texts and Modern Problems. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press. Handelman, Don. 2008. “Framing,” in Theorizing Rituals, Volume 1: Issues, Topics, Approaches, Concepts, edited by Jens Kreinath, Jan Snoek & Michael Stausberg, 571–82. Leiden: Brill. Hedstrom, Darlene L. Brooks. 2009. “The Geography of the Monastic Cell in Early Egyptian Monastic Literature,” Church History 78 (4): 756–91. Hexham, Irving & Karla Poewe. 1997. New Religions as Global Cultures: Making Human Sacred. Oxford: Westview Press.

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Kapferer, Bruce. 2004. “Ritual Dynamics and Virtual Practice: Beyond Representation and Meaning,” Social Analysis 48 (2): 35–54. Kapferer, Bruce. 2006. “Virtuality,” in Theorizing Rituals, Volume 1: Issues, Topics, Approaches, Concepts, edited by Jens Kreinath, Jan Snoek & Michael Stausberg, 671–84. Leiden: Brill. Layton, Bentley. 2007. “Rules, Patterns, and the Exercise of Power in Shenoute’s Monastery: The Problem of World Replacement and Identity Maintenance,” Journal of Early Christian Studies 15 (1): 45–73. Lundhaug, Hugo. 2014. “Memory and Early Monastic Literary Practices: A Cognitive Perspective,” Journal of Cognitive Historiography 1 (1): 98–120. Malafouris, Lambros. 2013. How Things Shape the Mind: A Theory of Material Engagement. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Meyer, Birgit. 2009. “Introduction: From Imagined Communities to Aesthetic Formations: Religious Mediations, Sensational Forms, and Styles of Binding,” in Aesthetic Formations: Media, Religion, and the Senses, edited by Birgit Meyer, 1–28. New York: Palgrave Macmillian. Moawad, Samuel. 2013. “Schenute von Antripe und die Auslegung der Heiligen Schriften,” in Asceticism and Exegesis in Early Christianity: The Reception of New Testament Texts in Ancient Ascetic Discourse, edited by Hans-Ulrich Weidemann, 320–33. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht. Moss, Candida R. 2010. The Other Christs: Imitating Jesus in Ancient Christian Ideologies of Martyrdom. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Moxnes, Halvor. 1988. The Economy of the Kingdom: Social Conflict and Economic Relations in Luke’s Gospel. Philadelphia: Fortress Press. Pöllänen, Sinikka. 2015. “Elements of Crafts that Enhance Well-Being: Textile Craft Makers’ Descriptions of Their Leisure Activity,” Journal of Leisure Research, 74 (1): 58–78. Riley, Jill. 2008. “Weaving an Enhanced Sense of Self and a Collective Sense of Self Through Creative Textile-Making,” Journal of Occupational Science 15 (2): 63–73. Rousseau, Philip. 1999: Pachomius: The Making of a Community in Fourth-Century Egypt. Berkeley: University of California Press. Ryan, Marie-Laure. 2003, Narrative as Virtual Reality: Immersion and Interactivity in Literature and Electronic Media. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press. Schüler, Sebastian. 2017. “Aesthetics of Immersion: Collective Effervescence, Bodily Synchronization and the Sensory Navigation of the Sacred,” in Aesthetics of Religion: A Connective Concept, edited by Alexandra K. Grieser & Jay Johnston, 367–87. Berlin: De Gruyter. Veilleux, Armand, ed. 1980–1982. Pachomian Koinonia, 3 vols. Kalamazoo, Michigan: Cistercian Publications.

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Wertsch James V. & Henry L. Roediger III. 2008. “Collective Memory: Conceptual Foundations and Theoretical Approaches,” Memory 16 (3): 318–26. Williams, Michael Stuart. 2008. Authorized Lives in Early Christian Biography: Between Eusebius and Augustine. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Wipszycka, Ewa. 2009. Moines et communautés monastiques en Égypte (IVe-VIIe siècles) (The Journal of Juristic Papyrology XI). Warszawa. Wipszycka, Ewa. 2011. “Resources and Economic Activities of the Egyptian Monastic Communities (fourth–eighth century),” The Journal of Juristic Papyrology XLI: 159–263.

Chapter 10

Immersing in the World of Radha and Krishna: Visual Storytelling in the Context of Religious Practice Caroline Widmer

1

Introduction

The religious cultures of India provide scholars of religious studies with abundant material for research on narrative cultures. Even more challenging than just its quantity is its variety. Texts, images, sculptures, and performative arts such as dance or music are all worth studying regarding their narrative aspects, as they are intertwined in many ways. In Indian culture, art and literature (both in written or in oral tradition) are connected in many ways. Philologists are usually tempted to consider art a creative but merely illustrative addition to a text. Art historians, on the other hand, often focus on questions of iconography, style, and identification of artists, but narration is rarely of interest to them if it does not help to identify a particular scene or topic. Addressing the resulting research gap, this chapter explores the imaginative practice related to the interplay of visual and textual storytelling in a religious context. Considering the multiple cognitive effects and worldmaking aspects of fiction, as well as the religious content of many Indian paintings and stories, attending or practicing religious storytelling is interpreted as a religious practice. The following considerations are based on a research project about religious storytelling in Indian miniature painting.1 The project’s focus was on the tradition of visual storytelling in Indian miniature painting, while taking into account the correlation of text and image. Within a field of countless possibilities, the so-called Second Guler Gitagovinda was of first choice. The Second Guler Gitagovinda is a series of miniature paintings from c. 1775 referring to the Gitagovinda. It probably consisted of 151 paintings and drawings offering a clearly defined but still rich study material. Due to its refined style and technique, as well its intriguing history of origin, this series of paintings ranks

1 The project was realized during a Post-Doc Mobility Grant, financed by the Swiss National Science Foundation (2014–2017).

© Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2020 | DOI:10.1163/9789004421677_012

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among the most prestigious examples of Indian court painting from the late eighteenth century. The series is not only a retelling of the Gitagovinda’s story, but includes the entire text inscribed on the reverse of the paintings reflecting its complex narrative structure in an unchallenged accuracy, which is why the paintings are so crucial to this project. Written in the twelfth century AD, the Gitagovinda was, and continues to be, a key text for the Krishna-bhakti movement. Bhakti, most often translated as ‘devotion,’ refers to a personal god and asks the devotee to engage in a direct and intimate relationship with god. By determining the relationship through love as the primordial emotion, Krishna-bhakti narrative culture is centered around a specific set of motifs, emphasizing and cultivating a specific range of emotion. The imagination of being in love with Krishna is taken as the ideal attitude approaching the god. The Gitagovinda provides its audience with a sense of how it feels to be the god’s beloved, and offers models of emotional patterns like when it is told how Krishna spends an amorous night with his beloved cowherdess, Radha, followed by a time of separation and longing, before concluding in a happy end. The narration with its characters, setting, and plot tempts the audience to immerse itself into the storyworld instead of giving doctrinal instructions of behavior or liturgical practice. Through immersion, the devotee can adapt and share emotions and thoughts to the degree of the imagination of identification with the character, especially Radha’s. However, cognitive effects such as immersion, sympathy, identification, envisioning, and the ability to reinterpret personal experiences are essential issues of narrative competence in general; to followers of the Krishna-bhakti movement, these effects become relevant in terms of salvation (moksha): Becoming Radha, devotees tend to embody full devotion. In this context the worldmaking qualities of the Gitagovinda, i.e. the offered mindsets to make sense of daily life and experiences and to reinterpret them in a social and religious context, can be understood as promises of salvation (moksha). Viewed by a Krishna-devotee, the paintings of the Second Guler Gitagovinda reflect these qualities and admit with its figurations an immersion more complete than the text. Taken as a multimedia narration, it provokes immersion and imagination which can lead into a religious practice.2 This chapter focuses on the specific visual storytelling of the Gitgagovinda in the Second Guler Gitagovinda and its immersive and imaginative potential by converting the text’s particular narrative devices into images. It begins with a few words on the Gitagovinda: its history, perception, content, and particular narrative features. These basic remarks are followed by a description of 2 For an introduction to imagination as religious practice in general see Traut & Wilke (2015).

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the series of miniature paintings, its specific use, and social context. From here, the close relationship between the text and the paintings is revealed. Different forms of visual narration are essential for understanding the series’ composition and for preparing the exploration of the visual representation of emotional states described in the Gitagovinda. A closer reading of a single folio, in connection with the referring verse, reveals the series’ imagery of feelings. A second example is dedicated to the question of how complex narrative structures can be translated into visual readings. Besides the intense examination of innermost feelings, the Gitagovinda is shaped by a constant change of perspective. However challenging for artists and audience, the effects are striking as they bring forth a wide range of emotions connected with a variety of situations, but all are connected with love. As a consequence, these emotions work as culturally and socially determined models and are integrated in the devotional context of immersion and imaginative practice, where emotions are not only religiously authorized but even idealized. The second to last chapter presents a theoretical framing by discussing cognitive effects of storytelling and its worldmaking quality. The conclusion suggests the interpretation in the context of Krishna-bhakti.

2

The Gitagovinda

Over the past centuries, many legends have developed about Jayadeva, the poet of the Gitagovinda. Historically, little is known about his life and work. Being a poet laureate of king Lakshmanasena (r. c. 1179–1205), Jayadeva composed the Gitagovinda, ‘Song of Govinda’ (i.e. Krishna, often seen as a “descent” or appearance of Hindu god Vishnu) at the end of the twelfth century in Eastern Bengal. The text is passed down in two versions—the longer containing 289 verses, the shorter 264—with both versions organized in twelve sections (sarga) and 24 songs (prabhandas).3 Considering the principle directions of the text’s history of reception, critical Vaishnava theologians condemned the Gitagovinda for its presumptuous anthropomorphization of God and for its eroticism. More often, it was and still is seen as an unprecedented allegory for the love between a human being and a god, a metaphor of the human longing for the divine. This interpretation turned the Gitagovinda into a key reference for Krishna-bhaktas, devotees

3 Frequently used editions and English translations of the Gitagovinda are: Siegel (2009) or Stoler Miller (1977).

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of the Hindu god Krishna. Loving devotion to a personal god, regardless of the devotee’s social status or gender, is essential for the growing bhakti movements that emerged around the eighth century onwards. This new perspective was linked to further changes and especially to certain suspensions of exclusivism, e.g. the divine became accessible for everyone as it could be addressed in every language (not only with the traditional Sanskrit texts). At the same time, the composition of the Gitagovinda fell in a period determined by “a revival and reaffirmation of traditional religious values and classical cultural ideas” (Siegel 2009, xxix) which explains its courtly origin as well as its language being Sanskrit. The literary genre of the Gitagovinda is ambiguous: is it a poem, a song, a drama, a tale? Irrespective of how the Gitagovinda is classified, it contains crucial elements of narration and can be read and analyzed as a story. It includes anthropomorphic protagonists; a storyline, evolved in a spatial and temporal setting; insight into the different characters of the story; a storyteller or narrator, as well as different narrative modes. With regard to content, the Gitagovinda accounts for the love between the cowherdess, Radha, and the blue-skinned Hindu god, Krishna. It refers directly to the narratives of the Bhagavata Purana, describing how Krishna was saved by this father who smuggled him out of the palace in Mathura to the little village of Gokul in Vrindavan. This was necessary because the ruling king Kamsa, the cousin of Krishna’s mother Devaki, wanted to kill the newborn baby. In rural Vrindavan, Krishna grows up in secret and safety, brought up by a foster family. In that time of is his life, numerous heroic deeds as well as all kinds of capricci are attributed to him. For example, various existing anecdotes describe him as juvenile glamor boy who turns regularly the villages’ girls’ heads. The Gitagovinda takes up this latter motif and elaborates a young lady’s passionate emotions and amorous feelings, Krishna is able to arouse—not leaving them unanswered. The story begins with Krishna’s foster father Nanda, asking the tale’s heroine Radha to guide the young and fearful Krishna through the dark forest. Radha obeys, and the two spend their first and, for the moment, only amorous night together. The following sections tell us about the lover’s separation. Subsequently, all the emotions one can possibly undergo in such a situation are described in detail: the exciting feeling of falling in love, ineffable longing, sweet dreams, hurtful (self-)reproaches, painful separation, unsteady hopes, gnawing jealousy, defiant withdrawal, and angry rejection. An essential, but unnamed character, is Radha’s friend, who functions as a mediator between Radha and Krishna, running to and fro and reporting to each the other’s state of mind. The credit belongs to her, that, only in the very last section, the two lovers are

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finally reunited again. But it is this all-consuming reunion which is the climax of the story and, at the same time, its very end. The plotline is not continued, no further stories of Radha and Krishna are told in the Gitagovinda.4 Some narratological remarks are relevant for the discussion: The repertoire of narrative characters, as well as the storyline, is highly limited. This could provoke the assumption that the Gitagovinda contains a simple story, which can be summarized in a few words as exemplified above. But the narrative’s complexity and suspense are established through two important aspects: First, the constantly changing narrator and, as a consequence, the multiperspective character of the text. An author always has different possibilities to present his story, not only by modeling characters and assemble events etc., but by deciding about the perspective through which the events are told. Choosing a specific narratorial voice, the author distances himself from his story and is to be seen separated from the literary narrator. In the Gitagovinda, Jayadeva created a complex structure of different narrators: Once it is Radha speaking about her point of view, then it is Krishna revealing his emotions; but most of the time it is Radha’s unnamed friend who is reformulating Krishna’s or Radha’s perspective to the other. Furthermore, the text includes an authorial narrator who catches the speaker’s eye by not only presenting the scenes, but also addressing the audience, speaking of the author Jayadeva in third person as well as Krishna by praising him directly. Second, it is not always clear at first sight whether the retellings refer to present or past events, and if they actually happened or were imagined. The textual format can be seen to challenge readers again and again to identify the current narrator and level of imagination. Recognized as key challenges of the Gitagovinda, the artists of the painted miniature series under discussion incorporated them in their visual interpretation of the text and created a masterpiece, which reflects not only the storyline, but also the entirety and complexity of its narrative structure.

3

The So-Called Second Guler Gitagovinda—Production and Reception of a Series

The Second Guler Gitagovinda was painted around 1775 in the Northwest of India, more precisely in the Pahari region at the foothills of the Himalayas.

4 After some centuries, poets as Surdas in his Sursagar reworked the story of Radha and Krishna and added episodes of their later lives. See Stratton Hawley (2009).

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Originally consisting of 151 paintings, this series of Indian miniatures visualizes the Gitagovinda and belongs to the most important oeuvres of Indian painting. ‘Guler’ is a geographical denomination and refers to the homeland of the painters. The comparisons of single folios reveal that different hands have been working on the Second Guler Gitagovinda, but we do know that they all belonged to the same family, being brothers and cousins. Working in the same family-workshop and painting in a homogenous family-style, art historians refer to them collectively as “the First Generation after Manaku and Nainsukh of Guler.”5 Because another Gitagovinda series was painted in Guler in 1730, the one discussed here is often designated as the “second.”6 Today, the series is dispersed all over the world and paintings of the Second Guler Gitagovinda can be found in public and private collections around the globe from Delhi to Seattle.7 During three years of research, I could reconstruct a notable part of the series by tracing and identifying single paintings and ordering them according to the chronology of the text, as inscribed on their versos.8 Composed as a series, it is crucial to study the paintings both as single folios and in their serial context in order to understand their positions, contents, narrative devices, and connections to the text. Besides the fully painted folios of the series, we have numerous drawings. Originally serving as preparatory work and for the archive of the painter’s workshop, today they complete missing paintings and lead to intriguing insights into the production and design of a series, a process which has still not been entirely recorded. The result of my search is a database consisting of more than ninety paintings and almost sixty drawings. Only about twenty of them could not be identified unambiguously for the inaccessibility of the inscriptions and it is still unknown to which verse of the Gitagovinda they refer. In methodological terms, this problem perfectly exemplifies Panofsky’s second phase of interpretation of an art work: the iconographic analysis is based on the knowledge of literary sources (Panofsky 1975). In defiance of some gaps, the reconstruction of the series, for the time being, reveals unexpected information about the narrative outline and the artists’ possibilities of translat-

5 Manaku was the painter of the Gitagovinda series of 1730. 6 For further information about the Guler-family see: Beach, Fischer & Goswamy (2011, 641–718); Goswamy & Fischer (1990, 211–365). 7 A notion of the dispersion based on an incomplete list of folios is given by Goswamy & Fischer (2011, 689). 8 The inscribed text of the Gitagovinda as well as inscribed numbers served as primordial criteria for ordering the paintings. For more information about the connection between text and paintings see below.

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ing a complex narrative structure as described for the Gitagovinda into painting.9 The paintings of the Second Guler Gitagovinda are in horizontal format with an average size of 18 × 28 centimeter. They are painted in miniature style which means that the heads of the figures are more or less of the same size of an adult person’s thumbnail (see Figures 10.1–10.3). To paint all the details of faces, jewelry, or flowers etc., the artists used very delicate brushes—legends say that some brushes included only a single hair of a squirrel’s tail. Because of the delicacy concerning the technique, production, and material of these paintings, the interaction between an Indian miniature and its viewer is culturally and historically defined:10 The folios were luxury goods, produced for a princely court; only a few people had access to them, a circle of well-educated, noble, and elite audience members who were trained in arts and literature (Skt. rasikas). For protection against risks of damage (foremost caused by climatic conditions, moisture, or insects), the paintings were wrapped into primed cloth bags and taken out only for special occasions. Therefore, the viewing of paintings was a very intimate moment and required physical engagement, which included more than the activity of the eyes. While looking at a single folio, it is grasped at its borders and moved close to the eye to focus a particular detail or the entire image from a little further. More movements allow watching the painting from different angles revealing various views on it. The viewer can study the painting alone or together with someone else, but not more than two or three persons at the same time. Because of the small size, they will have to discuss what they see as well as what they recognize, what they find amazing or confusing, fascinating, or attracting.11 As a consequence, the different persons will never see the painting from the same position at the same time. If they are holding it together, they will even have to agree about movements, and thus the joint retelling or communal reconstruction of narration was an essential part of a shared viewing. Therefore, viewing a miniature painting—always subordinated with some restrictions due to its material conditions—becomes a social event combining practices of looking, telling, using different senses, and finding agreements.

9 10 11

For the different way of visual narration found in Indian miniature painting, see below. On cultural specification of seeing and viewing or more generally of visual practice see Morgan (2012). Various paintings from the eighteenth century show the historical use of miniature paintings, e.g. ill. 117 in Goswamy & Fischer (1990) or figs. 3 and 11 in Goswamy & Fischer (2011, Purkhu). For more information on the paintings at the Mughal court see, e.g., Seyller (1999); for Rajput paintings see Ohri (2001).

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Another peculiarity about such paintings is given by the texture of the colors used by the painters. The pigments respond differently to varying exposure to light and reveal different shades, showing up matte or shiny. In addition, through polishing—which renders the colors bright, intense, and durable— painters could emphasize parts of the paintings that are only visible if light falls from the right angle. Many paintings contain, for example, golden applications which only appear once the folio is slightly tilted. The same is true for some patterns, perforations, or corrections. Considering all this, the painting is not to be seen as a mere two-dimensional and flat surface but as an object revealing its secrets only by physical activity. The visual practice of miniature painting includes a physical engagement, which has been stated as an important aspect in aesthetics of religion (see Morgan 2012; Meyer 2009). Viewing becomes a performative act. In the context of the Second Guler Gitagovinda, the handling of the paintings in a visual practice is only one of several aspects that involves the audience’s body.

4

Revealing the Secrets: The Relationship between Visual Narration and the Text

In the Second Guler Gitagovinda, references in the paintings concerning subject or content, as well as quotes of the poem inscribed on the folios’ versos, reveal the intimate proximity of text and image. The verses inscribed cite the Gitagovinda in original Sanskrit and are often supplemented with a commentary in the local dialect of the Pahari region. Although some folios are still missing, the reconstructed inventory of the series indicates a full and complete text and visual form of the long version of the poem. The inscriptions are very neat in terms of the handwriting as well as the textual accurateness. The wording on the folios is the same as in modern critical editions of the Gitagovinda.12 There are only a few deviations concerning the order of verses and omissions of a number of verses, whereas the musical instructions about intonation and rhythm are fully included. On average, with 151 paintings referring to 289 verses, a single folio of this series refers to less than two verses of the poem. In the majority of the folios, only one verse is inscribed, but some 12

In reference to the long version in accordance to the Kāvyamālā ed. (Jayadeva, Gitagovinda: Based on the Kavyamala ed. (Calcutta 1878), checked against several other editions (Version 2.00), http://gretil.sub.uni-goettingen.de/gretil/1_sanskr/5 _poetry/2_kavya/jaygit2r.txt (last accessed September 5, 2019) and Siegel’s edition based on Nirnaya Sagara Edition (Bombay 1949) and the Kulkarni edition (Ahmedabad 1965); see also Steinbach (2008).

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show two, three, or even ten.13 Important to the handling of the paintings is the fact that the image and its corresponding verse are on the same folio. Though text and image are physically present at the same item, the two media are not available together: It is impossible to read the text and look at the painting at the same time and if viewers want to read the text, they have to turn the folio. However, this might not have been necessary if people knew the text by heart (which is not unlikely as the Gitagovinda is—compared to other Indian texts—quite short and oral tradition was of importance as well as an indication of education). But then, why did the artists include the inscription after all? And why did they inscribe the text in two languages? Relating to the parallel transmission of text and image, Losty notes: “This concept in a way makes the text superfluous” (Losty & Ahluwalia 2008, 6). I suggest the search for completeness and integrity, the possibility of indicating the full program of text, visualization, and music. As the musical realization existed already at the Gitagovinda’s composition (given in its title and by the instructions concerning rhythm and intonation), the interplay of different media was at its origin.14 One aspect of this multi-media tradition is that of insurance: whenever a single folio seems to be ambiguous, the verse gives clear indication of the content and vice versa. The text on the back of a folio therefore does not only complete it but identifies also the iconography of the painting. We can state an intimate connection between paintings and texts concerning the content. The images depict in detail what is told by the text, be it freezing moonbeams, blazing rays, buzzing bees, or mango-trees. The lyrical and figurative language typical of poetry prompts artistic interpretation and has attracted the interest of classical art historians.15 Emotions being the foremost content of the Gitagovinda, the majority of the paintings depicts the characters in different states of mind. But since the Gitagovinda is not only treated as a poem but also as a story, the series of paintings can be seen as a visual form of a continued narration. Besides the emotional aspects, the paintings reveal key moments of the ongoing storyline to the audience. The artists included different ways of visual narration, alternating between single scenes (snapshots of single moments), iconic pictorials (images with references to external nar13

14 15

There are also folios with inscriptions that do not cite the Gitagovinda (e.g. Collection of Barbara & Eberhard Fischer, on long-term loan to the Museum Rietberg, Zürich, published in: Goswamy & Fischer 2011, 701, fig. 7), and at least one folio has only half a verse on its verso, published in Randhawa (1963), fig. 1. The earliest painted Gitagovinda-visualization on paper is dated c. 1450, produced in Gujarat. Lyrical descriptions of the images or quotes as captions or titles are common in referring literature. See e.g. Losty (2017) or Goswamy & Fischer (2011, First Generation).

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rative traditions),16 and multiple sceneries (depictions of several episodes in one painting). Similar to a poet or an author as the historical producer of a text having different techniques to present narrative fiction, the painters made use of various narrative devices and strategies to render the story in an interesting and varied way, going far beyond mere illustration. The information discussed below makes clear that for such a subtle artistic representation, a deep and intense examination and understanding of the referred text is essential for the artists.

5

Visual and Textual Representations of Emotions in the Gitagovinda’s Narration

The text of the Gitagovinda focuses on the description of the character’s emotional states. To cite an example, I refer to section 4 of the Gitagovinda which deals with Radha’s despair of longing for Krishna. The intriguing issue of this section is that for the first time in the storyline, the feelings of one character are described entirely by another one. While acting as the central character of this section, Radha is actually absent. The preliminary events leading up to this are as follows: After the first night with Radha, Krishna withdraws himself and spends time with other girls (section 1). Hurt by his behavior, Radha gets jealous and complains to her friend (section 2). Realizing his mistake, Krishna searches for Radha, but cannot find her (section 3). Talking to her friend, he learns about her feelings: Radha is feeling bad (section 4). Her state of mind is rendered mainly through physical uneasiness. The sweet and usually pleasing smell of santal causes her nausea; the light of the moon burns her skin. She is frightened by the hot and poisonous winds of the South as well as by the blossom-arrows of the god of love, Kama. She is yearning for her lover, missing him terribly. She already prepared a bed of leaves for Krishna but wets it with her own tears. The lovesickness she suffers gives her physical pains from which she tries to protect herself by shielding her body with lotus leaves. As her memories and desire keep the image of Krishna in her mind, she draws his face with musk. In verse 4.2 it is said: Sandal scents sicken her and moonbeams waste her away, venom-spiked seem breezes from lairs where vipers stay; 16

Paintings may incorporate and reproduce intertextual references made by the text, e.g. when Krishna is praised as conqueror of the elephant demon Kuvalyapida. Painters included this topic as a motif.

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Figure 10.1

The sorrow of Radha. Folio of the Second Guler Gitagovinda, Pahari region, India, around 1775 Copyright: The Metropolian Museum of Art

Anguished in your absence, Krishna, Radha knows not what to do; And fearing Love’s arrows, she imagines clinging close to you. Siegel 2009, 61

The painting visualizing this verse refers exactly to her feelings (Figure 10.1). Radha’s posture expresses her pain. Crouched and completely collapsed, she sits on the banks of the river Yamuna which, with its sharp zigzag-course, mirrors Radha’s inner disturbance and turmoil. The couple of birds recall her longing for togetherness with Krishna, the moon tortures her with his cold light, and the decapitated but flowering tree represents her conflicting feelings. The landscape with its open view to the horizon and the scattered rocks refer to the winds from the South gusting over the hills as well as to Radha’s endless sorrows; the flowers symbolize the disgusting fragrance (McInerey, Kossak & Najat Haidar 2016, 222–23). Concerning the narrative style of the folio, two aspects are to be mentioned: first, it is a single scene. The verse does not refer to a particular action of Radha but describes mainly her state in a metaphorical way. The painters cite some of these metaphors (moon), indicate others (winds), and interpret others by modeling physical anguish. Second, the painting deals only with Radha—though Krishna is addressed directly in the refrain of the verse. Only knowing the verse and the narrative construction of section 4 could the viewer of the painting realize that the image itself refers to an imagination evoked by a narrator. Something that is hardly comprehensible from the isolated verse nor visible in the painting is the complexity of narration concerning the particular narrative level of the scene

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depicted above. To describe Radha’s inner life, the author has different possibilities: he may let an anonymous narrator tell about her feelings, let Radha herself speak herself, or he may let another character tell about her feelings. In Chapter 4 of the Gitagovinda, it is Radha’s nameless friend who fulfils this task. When Radha is unable to move anymore because of her pain, her friend goes to Krishna and describes Radha’s state of mind. What we read in the cited verse 4.2 or what we see in the corresponding painting is not directly Radha’s or an (un)involved narrator’s voice, but the vision of her awakened in Krishna by the words of Radha’s friend. Radha herself is absent in this scene, only present through the report of her friend and Krishna’s imagination. In the text, this narrative feature is introduced by the poet’s words at the beginning of section 4 (verse 4.1), saying Overwhelmed by the burden of being in love, Krishna languished in a cane grove on the banks of the Yamuna; and there Radha’s friend spoke to him. Siegel 2009, 61

In the paintings, the narrative markers of retelling are often implemented by an additional scene within the same pictorial, to be found in an upper corner (left or right). As the painting referring to verse 4.1 is not available, an example of section 7 will exemplify this issue. Radha waits in vain for Krishna who promised to her friend that he will come. To quote verses 7.1b–2: A bereft Radha cried out these doleful lamentations: Krishna did not come to the woods, oh, oh, didn’t come to our meeting, And so, although my body is young, its youth is fruitless and fleeting; Fooled by friends’ false promises, to whom can I turn now for refuge? Siegel 2009, 99

Later in this section, it is told how she overcomes her feeling of despair and gets angry when she thinks of the reasons for Krishna’s nonappearance. As a consequence, and of course obvious to a disappointed lover, she imagines how Krishna betrays her again. She complains to her friend and describes Krishna’s erratic behavior envisioning it as almost real. In verse 7.11b we read: Seeing her friend, made mute by disappointment, return without Krishna, Radha supposed that he was being enthralled by some other woman; and she described it as though she could see it. Siegel 2009, 103

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Radha’s imagination of Krishna’s cheating and memories of her first meeting with Krishna melt in the following description, and as a consequence, the subsequent verses and paintings are similar to section 1. Without knowing the exact corresponding verse or chapter one can get easily confused, assuming the girl described or depicted is Radha. But she is not. It’s her (imagined) rival. Text and painting refer only to her imagination of Krishna and his amorous play, when verses 7.23–24 say He adorns with amaranth, bright like lightning, the storm clouds of her thick dark hair, Those locks a deer park, round her face all aflutter, as Love goes hunting there; In the forest, on the banks of the Yamuna, a triumphant Krishna now takes delight. Her breasts, dusted with dark musk and firm, are the dark firmament of night, There a moon he etches with fingernail, and stars arrays with jewels bright; In the forest, on the banks of the Yamuna, a triumphant Krishna now takes delight. Siegel 2009, 107–08

To compare the text with the painting, the latter is more complex (Fig. 10.2). On the right-hand side, we can see what the verses describe: Blue-skinned Krishna embraces a half-naked beautiful young lady. Both are sitting on a bed of leaves at the river banks, surrounded by trees. Whereas he leans towards her, one of his hands touching her breast, the other clawing her black hair, she glances into his face from the corner of her eyes. She is dressed in a light pink jama—the same as Radha wears in folios corresponding to section 1—and therefore another detail which can lead to confusion by referring clearly to the blend of Radha’s imagination and memory. However, in the upper left corner, set apart from the main scene, two other female figures are depicted: Radha and her friend. Sitting vis-à-vis, their gestures (typical of Indian paintings) suggest that they are talking to each other. The painters of the Second Guler Gitagovinda found a bright way to remind the viewers of their paintings that the poem now moved in terms of perspective. The scene is narrated through Radha’s character sitting in the upper corner in the painting. This is a clear reference to verse 7.11b, in which the authorial narrator tells how Radha is talking to her friend. What is depicted on the foreground of the painting is only reflecting her words and her vision. This detail is a distinct rupture, shattering the illusion that what our heroine tells her friend is apparently real. By this and similar paintings referring to other chapters of the tale, we can state that the artists perfectly knew about the text’s specific features concerning narrative devices and that they were able to transfer them into a visual interpretation of the story.

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Cunning Krishna. Folio of the Second Guler Gitagovinda, Pahari region, India, around 1775 Copyright: Museum Rietberg, Zürich

The intense description and depiction of emotions through changing perspectives serve to suggest readers, listeners, and viewers of the Gitagovinda to obtain a full insight into the character’s innermost feelings. It reveals to the ideal reader their intimate world and gives him the chance to sympathize and identify with the two heroes, Radha and Krishna. Because both points of view are granted, we are not restricted to a single character or controlled by one’s arguments, nor to an uninvolved narrator—a situation dissimilar and yet similar to our real life. It is dissimilar because we never gain the same dramatic insight into someone else’s mind as to our own. And still, it is similar as we have to change perspective when we are confronted with a friend’s retelling of his or her feelings asking for empathy, or we have to foresee or guess what our fellows might think or do next, like Radha tries to do in the Gitagovinda. However, the language of the Gitagovinda is not ours, neither in respect of region nor time. It has been written in a courtly and lyrical Sanskrit at the end of the twelfth century in Eastern Bengal. Reading and viewing the poem nowadays—and so it already has been at the time the paintings were produced—requests a multiple translation in order to relate to its content. If we assume that language and imagery (of emotions) is defined by culture and history, the effect on the audience has certainly been different in the original context of the Gitagovinda and its paintings. Text and images offer a variety of love-linked emotions ordered in a literal chronology and connected to particular situations. The precise description of how the characters of the story feel at every moment preset an emotional process, which can work as a prototype or a model and therefore enables the audience to adapt and share. Annette Wilke (e.g. 2017) emphasized the importance of hearing or listening narratives

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(or any form of acoustic elements) in Indian culture as well as the significance of sound in devotional practice and its relation to emotion. Viewing visual narratives is a further “aesthetic immersion triggered” (Wilke 2017, 247). Following the narratological approach to the Gitagovinda and its referring paintings as laid out in this paper, cognitive effects of narratives and worldmaking qualities become relevant and offer a promising theoretical framing for these considerations.

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Cognitive Effects and Worldmaking Qualities of the (Second Guler) Gitagovinda

The relationship between insight into a character’s mind and the cognitive effects of storytelling is often discussed in recent narratological studies (e.g. Nünning 2014). Based on psychological and neurophysiological studies attesting that reading fiction has cognitive effects on the readers, Vera Nünning analyzes the correlation of these effects and narrative devices. Some cognitive effects that Nünning refers to for example include social learning, the acquisition of knowledge in general, the enhancing of narrative abilities including the cognition of correlations and causalities, the adjustment and acceptance of attitudes, and, most of all, the improvement of the capability to change perspective and empathize with others (see also Zunshine 2006). Essential for the connection with narratological categories, the degree of the cognitive effects depends on the persuasiveness of what is read or—in our case—what is seen. Reading or viewing leaves traces and changes minds if the story is convincing and accessible. If fictional narrative (either as text or image) gives us the opportunity to engage with opinions and views of somebody else, it enables us to experience situations we do not know from our own lives. The same is true of emotions. Something we never felt or we cannot express by words is revealed to us through a narrator’s tale of a character’s innermost thoughts. Describing, contextualizing, framing, and naming emotions and thoughts, an author does not only provide us with support classifying our own experiences, but (re)produces a given set of how to feel or think. Nünning argues that narrative devices determine to what extent the audience is willing to accept this set and to immerse into the story and its characters. Immersion refers to a “mentally represented world” (Schaeffer & Vultur 2005, 238) in which readers are absorbed. However, based on a “simulative process” (238), the represented world is of imagined quality: Because we are fully aware of the difference between fiction and real life, immersion is al-

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ways of limited time. The process of slipping into fiction or back into real life is described by the term of “transportation” (Nünning 2014, 44). This also means that the audience is able to have recourse of what is read or viewed, back in normal life. Transportation guarantees the transfer to our reality, and, by transportation, we can adapt the experiences of our reading (or viewing) and realize them in specific situations of our everyday life. An important issue in Nünning’s approach is her interest in “the cognitive potential of (fictional) narratives with regard to enhancing reader’s empathy” (94). Referring to “affective” as well as to “cognitive parameters” (95), Nünning considers empathy and the “conscious attempt to come to know what other human beings feel and think” (131) to be essential for perspective taking, and therefore, for the mind-changing power of fiction. Based on a critical approach, the author argues that “narrative competence is an important component” (133) of the ‘theory of mind,’ i.e. the cognitive faculty allowing and forcing us to attribute mental states to others, necessary for understanding others as well as for social learning. As a consequence, the effect of reading fiction must be seen in a larger context, for which I suggest to follow Nünning & Nünning’s account. Nünning & Nünning (2010) declare narratives to be fundamental “for the ways in which we make sense of the world and our experience” (6). The authors understand narrative as a “means of negotiating, constructing, and deconstructing knowledge, norms, values, and worlds” (6) and interpret literature as “a practice of worldmaking that allows readers to experience ‘the world’ differently” (7). Narrations can give meaning to a historical (or fictional) happening, turning it into an event with relevance. What Ansgar Nünning states about “chaotic events [. . .] [that] can only be made accessible and communicated in society after having been transferred into comprehensible stories and pictures” (Nünning 2010, 202) also goes for the confusing inner processes caused by the overwhelming emotions of love. The Gitagovinda provides the audience with a wide range of love-linked emotions that can—and maybe even should—be adapted. The attraction of the Gitgagovinda lies in the insight into the character’s innermost feelings and thoughts as well as in the constant change of the narrator’s perspective. The Gitagovinda is neither a complicated story, containing numerous characters and their tricky relationships, nor is it about great adventures or heroic deeds. It is the intensity of emotions related to love and the demand to listen to different points of view that challenge the audience. The paintings of the Second Guler Gitagovinda help to understand and augment the imaginative potential of this retold world of emotions and help to envision it. They give a support to the viewers, to follow Jayadeva’s verses and to im-

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merse themselves into them. While the poem provides feelings with words, the paintings provide them with images; both give us the opportunity to look into a character’s inner life. Text and image each address different senses and call for different abilities of empathy. Whereas words retrieve a linguistic competence and designate thoughts and emotions explicitly, images are comparable to situations of everyday life, as when we have to interpret the facial expressions of our fellows. The paintings translate the terms given by the text into physical constellations, postures, and environmental settings, and establish or cultivate, by this entanglement, a particular set of emotions. The combination of text and image creates a more intense experience; in case the interplay of the multi-sensory experience—as it is intended with the combination of music, image, and text (in different languages) in the Second Guler Gitagovinda with its inscriptions—is successful, immersion and therefore imagination can become more complete.17 For the viewers of the eighteenth century in the Pahari region, there is another unique aspect which supports the imaginative impact of the Second Guler Gitagovinda. Jayadeva wrote his oeuvre surrounded by the countryside of Eastern Bengal with its local flora and fauna as well as their specific symbolic meanings. The Guler painters converted the natural setting into the environment of their homeland. The story of Radha and Krishna is shifted from a faraway place next to the original viewers of the Guler paintings. The natural setting of the Gitagovinda’s storyline, originally composed and described in Eastern Bengal, is translated into the regional characteristics of the Pahari region: The landscape painted in the Second Guler Gitagovinda is not the one of Jayadeva or the one of Krishna and Radha, as legends tell they lived in Vrindavan; it is the one of the painters as well as of the native audience of the eighteenth century. By depicting the river Yamuna, mentioned by Jayadeva and venerated by many devotees, the way a Pahari mountain stream looks like, every river around Guler can become a Yamuna. The spatial setting becomes entangled with the storyworld, and the surrounding landscape is highly emotionalized through the paintings. This extraordinary skill must have facilitated the possibility of immersion. Transferred into a (visual) narration, not only happenings are turned into events, but also emotions are equipped with the concreteness of a character, situation, and reason. By a (pictorial) story, the subjective and sometimes fuzzy sentiments are submitted to limited space, time, and causality; the un-

17

For a discussion about possibilities and limits of immersion in the context of different media see Ryan (2015).

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The south wind cools itself in the snows of the Himalayas. Folio of the Second Guler Gitagovinda, Pahari region, India, around 1775 Copyright: Museum Rietberg, Zürich

structured struggle of different feelings is turned into a well-ordered world. With poem and paintings, the artists create a cohesive universe. At first, it is the universe of Radha and Krishna which stands in a distance to the one of the audience. However, we are given a new world through narration, and we are related to it through transportation and empathy. The paintings could intensify the process of transportation by adjusting the natural setting of the Gitagovinda’s world to the one of the original viewers. But until this day, as readers and viewers, it is possible to retrieve to the heroes’ feelings and their world. It is also possible to learn how it feels to be in love, or to be separated, or to be reunited, or in which context particular feelings are culturally coherent. The combination of textual terms and formulated values with visual representations of postures, natural setting, physical communication through gestures, and mimics reveals the audience with culturally defined models for the interpretation of the world. The special issue of our story is that we get access to both sides of the lovers. This enables us to imagine a variety of different perspectives. Therefore, the Gitagovinda, especially in combination with the paintings, contains the essential elements for cognitive effects as mentioned by Nünning (2014) like social learning, the acceptance of attitudes, and the improvement of the capability to change perspective and empathize with others. All this reveals the Gitagovinda with a unique worldmaking quality. The resulting intense engagement with the Gitagovinda’s world greatly impacts the audience, leading to the idea of imaginative practice in a religious context.

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Conclusion: Imaginative Practice Comprised and Initiated by the Gitagovinda as Religious Practice

In the Hindu religious context, cognitive effects and worldmaking qualities of narratives and imagery play an important and outstanding role. In India’s history, religion is closely linked to storytelling about deities and divine deeds. The pictorial culture is strongly related to religious contexts as well. Both help incorporate the divine into the human world and turn the invisible into the visible, to bring the impalpable within one’s reach. Stories and images in India have never been used solely as devices to educate children, women, and fools as it is often suggested, being the primordial function of Christian art in medieval times (e.g. McDannell 2012). They were and still are of immediate presence. They exist in various forms, some for the socially unprivileged and some, as in the case of highly estimated Sanskrit poems or miniature paintings, for the elite. The purpose of narration and imagery is not meant to be mere distraction, education, or decoration, but to render divinities as Krishna envisioned as present, real, and alive. By this, they become relevant and cross the lines of pure fiction and imagination. Through narration or integral immersion, imagination is to be understood as a course of action turning the unapproachable into something attainable. The Gitagovinda and its subsequent paintings are a fine example of how it is possible to enter the divine world of Radha and Krishna, to feel like them and to draw near to them. The general objective in Indian art is to get the audience emotionally involved. According to the Indian art theory, the experience of art is called rasa (juice or essence) and is meant to evoke bhava (sentiment or impression). Ideally, listening or viewing should evoke all senses.18 This issue became especially relevant in the religious context of the bhaktimovement with its poetic, aesthetic, and erotic dimensions of devotion. The combination and performance of poetry and imagery is fundamental to all bhakti-movements. Based on the fact that Krishna-bhakti is based on the principles of rasatheory, the most important rasa is shringara (passion, romance) connected with the bhava of rati (love). This love is manifold and contains various facets, as for example jealousy or separation as we can learn from the Gitagovinda. However, the Gitagovinda reveals the perspectives of both lovers. In Indian temples, especially in Vrindavan, Radha and Krishna are often worshipped as

18

For a short introduction into rasa theory see Schweig & Buchta (2012).

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one divinity, but since the view of Radha is elaborated in more detail, we may be more inclined to adapt to her. Immersing into her world, the audience, adapting her emotions, falls into the role of sweet (madhurya) loving Krishna. According to the bhakti-tradition, this is the ideal estate to approach the blueskinned god: loving devotion. Because the plot of the Gitagovinda mainly focuses on the situation of separation, the prevalent emotional aspect is longing (viraha) for the absent Krishna. This longing for a beloved personal God, somehow absent, combined with the promise of reunion and repeated assertion of God’s love were taken as the metaphorical meaning of the Gitagovinda. As a consequence, immersion in terms of imagining, empathizing, visualizing, and envisioning the Gitagovinda is provided with religious meaning for a devotee of Krishna. Reading, listening, or viewing the Gitagovinda and immersing into Radha and Krishna’s world becomes a religious practice promising salvation. It is not a doctrinal text giving advices or clear instructions how to behave, but it provides devotees of Krishna with meaning for their lives and helps to keep up the presence of a religious reality (see Traut & Wilke 2015). Therefore, Jayadeva himself dedicates his work, at the beginning, to those willing to recollect Krishna (verse 1.3). In a bhakti understanding, it asks for far more than cognitive effects. It is important to convert daily experience into religiously meaningful events that help to merge divinity and final bliss. The effects of the Gitagovinda on a devotee are of religious quality as set an example by the Chaitanya in the sixteenth century. It is told that listening to the Gitagovinda, the Vaishnava saint was provided with epiphanies of Krishna.19 Singing songs, chanting the name of the divinity (kirtan), and contemplation are all key rituals for bhakti-movements; immersion is provoked by the interplay of visual and textual narrative, and the resulting imaginative practice is to be taken into consideration for further studies of the narrative and religious culture in India. The idea of providing divine characters like Radha and Krishna with human-like emotions, based on the assumption that divine emotions might be similar to human emotions, was not comprehensible to everybody. However, from a human point of view, this is most likely and the foremost basis for social approach, immersion, and empathy. It is hard to yearn for someone without imagining his thoughts or feelings. But for critics of the Gitagovinda, this is the problematic point. For theologians or philosophers convinced that the divine is the absolute opposite of the human being and therefore not to be described in human categories, Jayadeva’s poem, as well as the Second Guler Gitagovinda, is taken as deep insult and despicable blasphemy. The current

19

On Chaitanya and the Gitagovinda see Siegel (2009, xxxii).

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discussions in contemporary Indian journals suggest no end to this issue, neither in (hi)storytelling nor in art.20 To return to the poet Jayadeva himself and his own words: The Gitagovinda was not only composed for the delight of Krishna and his devotees; following a humble praise, it is said in verse 1.4a that the Song of Govinda may also please and captivate those “curious about the arts of erotic love” (Siegel 2009, 5).

References Roda Ahluwalia & Jeremiah P. Losty. 2008. Art Historical Overviews of the Mewar Rāmāyaṇa books. http://www.bl.uk/onlinegallery/whatson/exhibitions/ramayana/ pdf/mewar_ramayana_art_historical_overviews.pdf (accessed December 20, 2018). Ahuja, Naman P. & Latika Gupta, eds. 2018. Art: Faked, Stolen, Censored. MARG: A Magazine of the Arts 69, no. 3 (March–June). Beach, Milo C., Eberhard Fischer & B. N. Goswamy, eds. 2011. Masters of Indian Painting. Zürich: Artibus Asiae. Goswamy, B. N. & Eberhard Fischer. 1990. Pahari-Meister: Höfische Malerei aus den Bergen Nord-Indiens. Zurich: Museum Rietberg. Goswamy, B. N. & Eberhard Fischer. 2011. “The First Generation after Manaku and Nainsukh of Guler,” in Masters of Indian Painting, edited by Milo C. Beach, Eberhard Fischer & B. N. Goswamy, 687–718. Zurich: Artibus Asiae. Goswamy, B. N. & Eberhard Fischer. 2011. “Purkhu of Kangra,” in Masters of Indian Painting, edited by Milo C. Beach, Eberhard Fischer & B. N. Goswamy, 719–32. Zurich: Artibus Asiae. Losty, Jeremiah P. 2017. A Mystical Realm of Love: Pahari Paintings From the Eva and Konrad Seitz Collection. London: Francesca Galloway. McDannell, Colleen. 2012. “Scrambling the sacred and the profane,” in Religion, media and culture: A reader, edited by Gordon Lynch, 135–46. London: Routledge. McInerery, Terence, Steven Kossak & Navina Najat Haidar. 2016. Divine Pleasures: Paintings from India’s Rajput Courts. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art. Meyer, Birgit, ed. 2009. Aesthetic Formations: Media, Religion, and the Senses. Basingstoke: Palgrave MacMillan. Morgan, David. 2012. The Embodied Eye: Religious Visual Culture and the Social Life of Feeling. Berkeley: University of California Press. Nünning, Ansgar. 2010. “Making Events—Making Stories—Making Worlds: Ways of Worldmaking from a Narratological Point of View,” in Cultural Ways of Worldmak-

20

On the current situation see Ahuja & Gupta (2018).

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ing: Media and Narratives: Concepts for the Study of Culture, edited by Vera Nünning, Ansgar Nünning & Birgit Neumann, vol. 1, 191–203. Berlin: De Gruyter. Nünning, Vera. 2014. Reading Fictions, Changing Minds: The Cognitive Value of Fiction. Heidelberg: Universitätsverlag Winter. Nünning, Vera & Ansgar Nünning. 2010. “Ways of Worldmaking as a Model for the Study of Culture: Theoretical Frameworks, Epistemological Underpinnings, New Horizons,” in Cultural Ways of Worldmaking: Media and Narratives: Concepts for the Study of Culture, edited by Vera Nünning, Ansgar Nünning & Birgit Neumann, vol. 1, 1–26. Berlin: De Gruyter. Ohri, Vishwa Chander. 2001. The Technique of Pahari Painting: An Inquiry into Aspects of Materials, Methods and History (Based upon Observation and Field-Work). Shimla: Indian Institute of Advanced Study. Panofsky, Erwin. 1975. “Ikonographie und Ikonologie,” Sinn und Deutung in der bildenden Kunst, edited by Erwin Panofsky, 36–50, 63–64. Cologne: DuMont Schauberg. Randhawa, M. S. 1963. Kangra Paintings of the Gita Govinda. New Delhi: National Museum. Ryan, Marie-Laure. 2015. Narrative as Virtual Reality II: Revisiting Immersion and Interactivity in Literature and Electronic Media. Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press. Schaeffer, Jean-Marie & Ioana Vultur. 2005. “Immersion,” in Routledge Encyclopedia of Narrative Theory, edited by David Herman, Manfred Jahn & Marie-Laure Ryan, 237–39. London: Routledge. Schweig, Graham & David Buchta. 2012. “Rasa Theory,” in Brill’s Encyclopedia of Hinduism, edited by Knut A. Jacobsen, Helene Basu, Angelika Malinar & Vasudha Narayanan. http://dx.doi.org/10.1163/2212-5019_beh_COM_2040070 (last accessed May 19, 2019). Seyller, John. 1999. Workshop and Patron in Mughal India: The Freer Ramayana and Other Illustrated Manuscripts of ’Abd al-Rahim. Washington, D.C.: Artibus Asiae Publishers. Siegel, Lee, transl. 2009. Jayadeva. Gītagovinda: Love Songs of Rādhā and Krishna by Jayadeva. New York: New York University Press. Steinbach, Erwin, transl. 2008. Jayadeva. Gītagovinda: Lieder zum Lob Govindas. Frankfurt am Main: Verlag der Weltreligionen. Stoler Miller, Barbara, transl. 1977. Love Song of the Dark Lord: Jayadeva’s Gitagovinda. New York: Columbia University Press. Stratton Hawley, John. 2009. The Memory of Love: Surdas Sings to Krishna. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Traut, Lucia & Annette Wilke, eds. 2015. Religion—Imagination—Ästhetik: Vorstellungs- und Sinneswelten in Religion und Kultur. Göttingen: Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht.

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Wilke, Annette. 2017. “Imaginary Spaces, Emotions and Ethics in Hearing the Story of Ram,” in Stimmen aus dem Jenseits / Voices from Beyond: Ein interdisziplinäres Projekt / An Interdisciplinary Project, edited by Martina Wagner-Egelhaaf, 241–51. Würzburg: Ergon Verlag. Zunshine, Lisa. 2006. Why We Read Fiction: Theory of Mind and the Novel. Columbus: Ohio State University Press.

Chapter 11

Foundational Narratives in Chan/Zen Buddhism and the Observation of the Ineffable: Two “Public Cases” (gong’an/kōan) of the Gateless Barrier of Chan Lineage Martin Lehnert

1

Introduction

Inquiries into the self-institution of a religion or the initial foundations of traditions tend to address mythological and metaphysical aspects as prominent features of narrative sources. In the case of Chan/Zen1 Buddhist tradition, however, this would require tracing a plethora of narratives in a variety of configurations, such as following the dynamic of patrilineal differentiation in doctrine and practice. Chan started to emerge in China after the sixth century and subsequently developed into one of the most influential Buddhist traditions widely ramified throughout East Asia. Chan not only made a lasting cultural impact on the various languages, literatures, and arts, but was also influenced by local traditions, Daoism, and the Confucian literati culture as Chan institutions and eminent priests often entertained close relations to the governmental and cultural elite. In terms of monastic practice, Chan is generally focused on “meditation” (Ch. chan 禪, from Sanskrit dhyāna), a strict and ritualized discipline, and a particular style of teaching said to have been transmitted from the Buddha directly pointing to the mind. In Chan, narratives rarely deal with mythological or metaphysical reflection on the initial foundation of tradition but instead tend to focus on the chronological emergence and development of Chan lineages (Ch. Chanzong, Jap. Zenshū 禪宗). Highlighting various characteristics ex post deemed essential for a founding patriarch or related central figures in the line of succession, narratives help not only to authenticate and to distinguish one particular lineage from another but also to reflect on the diachronic perspective of 1 The Pinyin transliteration of Chinese terms will be indicated as a standard, a Japanese transliteration occasionally added in order to facilitate the identification of words better known in Japanese pronunciation.

© Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2020 | DOI:10.1163/9789004421677_013

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Chan tradition in normative, doctrinal, and pragmatic terms. Hence, if understood as literary devices of historical self-description, narratives accompany the genealogical differentiation of tradition in the form of anecdotal reports— historical and legendary accounts of encounters between prominent teachers and their disciples defining decisive moments of patrilineal succession, their confrontations shaping the formation and decline of traditional authority, which in turn highlight differences in style of learning, ritual practice, and doctrinal position. The differentiation of Chan lineages was also concomitant to a crisis of textual authority during the tenth to twelfth centuries, which caused changes in literary communication habits and a shift away from emphasizing orally transmitted orthopraxy to establishing “a firm ground for Chan learning and sectarian identity in the fixed form of a book” (Ahn 2009, 4). In this context, narratives do not constitute a literary subgenre in its own right but tend to appear in a variety of contexts as “narrative blocks” (Anderl 2012, 26–30) in the shape of implied stories, motifs, and tropes. They exemplify circumstances by which the “transmission of the dharma” (Ch. chuan fa 傳法) has taken place and—from a normative perspective—should take place within Chan tradition. Narratives are an essential part of various genres of Chan literature, such as the “records of the transmission of the flame” (Ch. chuan deng lu 傳燈錄), “records of sayings” (Ch. yulu 語錄), hagiographies, chresthomathies, and in particular the collections of the so-called “public cases” (Ch. gong’an, Jap. kōan 公案). Regarding the literary form, the narratives of “public cases” represent short and pointed stories, terse dialogues, or statements attributed to prominent figures. The Chinese term gong’an (or kōan in Sino-Japanese pronunciation) alludes to official reports on court judgments or governmental decisions. In a figurative sense, the word gong’an can be understood as if connoting “precedent cases” of the Chan tradition that were known and referred to for different reasons, mostly in terms of a casuistic understanding of their relevance to monastic learning and practice (Sharf 2007, 207–10). Such casuistic storytelling, however, not only puts in jeopardy the lineal account of dharma transmission, but it also counteracts a teleological preunderstanding of the related “public cases.” It nevertheless requires a strong sense for using stories as an irreplaceable form of linguistic expression, which conveys meaning by emplotment—to refer to Ricœur’s dialectic of prefiguration, configuration, and refiguration—synthesizing “the features of a text into a coherent temporal flow” (Stiver 1996, 138). John Lagerwey once pointed out in an essay on the relation between the oral and the written in Chinese religion that the non-lineal has to be considered a particular feature of Chinese religious communication, which he interpreted as a “science of patterns”

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where the oral supplements the written sign of an “architext” (Lagerwey 1985, 304–08). His general observations on Daoist ritual and Buddhist teleology implicitly suggest taking a closer look at the narrative aesthetics of gong’an texts and the way they deal with temporality and the lineal concept of Chan dharma transmission. With this in mind, I propose to examine the ways gong’an narratives represent the temporal, cognitive, and sensory aspects of the particular act of the “transmission of the dharma,” as well as the diegetic elements by which the taking place of transmission is described. As we will see, the formal and linguistic features of the written gong’an (as in contrast to actual uses in meditation and ritual practice) counteract the linearization of oral storytelling by exposing temporality and iconicity as properties of the narrative, which on the contrary help to define the fundamentals of patrilineal transmission and the status of the transmitted ineffable in almost tautological terms as something (visually) obvious in an eidetic and paratactic fashion. Bearing in mind that gong’an texts represent a highly codified literary genre, the aim of this chapter is to highlight linguistic features that characterize the emplotment of foundational narratives and the sensory representation of the ineffable of which they give an account. This, of course, does not imply a claim to represent actual sensory and cognitive aspects of potentially related religious practices, which in fact would—epistemologically speaking—require us to identify actual religious experiences as reproducing a gong’an emplotment of foundational narratives, a claim that would in our case have to cope with the impossibility of actualizing historical semantics in terms of experience. In fact tradition has it that the evolution of written records and historiographical accounts of Chan lineage formation was rather correlated with the emergence of new hermeneutical approaches to textual studies and the codification of literary genres, which also affected the uses of gong’an in Chan practice: In the monastic context, apart from their function as objects of meditation, gong’an were initially used in a more or less routinized if not ritualized setting as linguistic devices employed by a master in order to examine the progress of a disciple. In this regard, the function of gong’an was understood as a “barrier” or benchmark that helped not only to check the requirements a disciple was expected to meet but also the erudition and repartee a Chan master may have, indicating strengths in their individual style of practice and learning. Hence, the casuistry of “public cases” was relevant to the selection procedures, authority formation, and mutual recognition within the monastic community. It was referred to in factional conflicts and debates between competing Chan masters and lineages, which necessitated further doctrinal contextualization, hermeneutical reflection, and mastery of literary techniques

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besides the routinized implementation in monastic learning, meditation, and ritual. At least since the twelfth century, gong’an were systematically collected and commented upon, printed, and disseminated among the monastic elite, thus becoming a medium for the monastic “politics of reading” which was aimed not only at confirming traditional authority but also at the growing need for “comprehension” (Fuchs 1989, 64; Ahn 2009, 7, 58). As they are rich in implications, gong’an narratives provide ample wiggle room for commentaries that reflect both the monastic and orthopragmatic aspects of Chan learning as well as the linguistic and narrative prerequisites of its transmission. Narratives not only play an important role in the communication of distinctions and self-descriptions of particular lineages; they also self-referentially reflect on why they are told. They do so not in merely doctrinal terms, for example by reference to more or less normative descriptions of the proper act of transmission (as between historical or legendary figures), but also by recursively exposing their groundedness in narrative communication: The stories of encounters between central and archetypical figures of Chan lore give expression to individual styles of communication among which ineffability and secrecy were understood and commented upon in terms of a codified artifact of verbal and symbolic interaction (Lehnert 2015, 430–33). Hence, gong’an can be described as narrative exercises in communicating about the communication of the ineffable (Fuchs 1989, 61–63). Consequently, my approach assumes that a gong’an—despite its brevity and the variety of ways in which it can be used in religious practice—is basically a short narrative giving diegetic expression to doctrinal traits, monastic conduct, and requirements of transmission. In this sense, gong’an can be understood as a form of self-description produced by the religious system. Against this backdrop, I wish to discuss two prominent “public cases” by which (1) the foundation of Chan tradition by the Buddha and (2) its transmission to China were reflected upon. If read in direct comparison, they show different approaches for depicting the legendary circumstances by which the “transmission of the dharma” took place first from the Buddha Śākyamuni to Mahākāśyapa and subsequently from Bodhidharma to Huike down the line of patrilineal succession. In order to identify the relevant characteristics, I will outline the historical formation of the narrative of the Buddha’s foundational act in relation to a normative formula that defines Chan tradition in terms of a special transmission beyond words and letters (section 2 below). A short description of the historical context and the literary form of the 48 seminal gong’an included in the Gateless Barrier of Chan Lineage (Ch. Chanzong Wumen guan 禪宗無門關, comp. 1228 CE) further introduces basic structural features connected with the diegetic reconfiguration of the re-

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lated narratives (section 3 below). The main part of this chapter consists of a contrastive reading of the two “public cases” mentioned above. Special attention will be given to the relation between narrational technique and doctrinal self-reflection, the poetic and social framework both narratives draw upon (section 4 below). The subsequent discussion of the relevant diegetic elements is focused on the temporality of emplotment and the planes of observation the narrational technique introduces (section 5 below) in order to make more precise how ineffability is communicated by means of an eidetic way of describing the obvious (section 6 below). The tentative observations presented here will be based on two closely related levels of examination: One refers to the modality of description by which both gong’an depict the foundation of a tradition, the other refers to the redescription and self-reflection they entail, i.e. the implicit distinctions by which the foundational narrative establishes itself and how this is observed from a self-referential perspective (Luhmann 2002, 328). Both aspects are closely interconnected and will be approached in terms of the historical formation of the related narratives and the adaptive, structural, and functional aspects of their configuration as “public cases.”

2

The Historical Formation of a Foundational Narrative

The genealogical understanding of the patrilineal differentiation of Chan tradition requires a short explanation as to how the individual lineages apparently came to agree ex post on a foundational motif, the hagiographic figure of Bodhidharma (Faure 1986, 196–98) and his legendary arrival in China in the late fifth or early sixth century (or depending on other sources either in the year 520 or 527 CE). The extant sources indicate this motif taking shape around the early or mid-seventh century and subsequently gaining greater and more general acceptance during the eighth and ninth centuries, at a time when the self-conception of Chan tradition started to evolve in terms of more or less institutionalized lineage formations (Foulk 2007, 438–47). During this formative process, Bodhidharma has been established not only as the “founding patriarch” (Ch. chuzu 初祖) of the Chinese lineages but also as the 28th Indian patriarch in the succession of a “special transmission” (Ch. bie chuan 別傳) entrusted by the Buddha Śākyamuni to Mahākāśyapa. The related formula defining the particular status of Chan practice as separate from other Buddhist teachings evolved with minor variations around the tenth century and was fully developed in the Chrestomathy from the Patriarch’s Halls (Ch. Zuting shiyuan 祖庭事苑, comp. 1108 CE):

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A special transmission outside the teaching; Do not establish words and letters. Directly point to the human mind. See one’s nature and become a Buddha. Zuting shiyuan, X 64.1261.379a2, tr. Welter 2000, 79

The four normative statements of this formula define a stance maintained by Chan lineages as their common distinguishing feature vis-à-vis other Buddhist denominations. The formula implies a privileged access to the attainment of Buddhahood by means of mind-to-mind transmission, which in turn refers to the original enlightenment of the Buddha Śākyamuni, as well as the capacity to directly mediate his attainment to the Chan practitioner that cannot be transmitted by means of referential language or by providing a specific knowledge on the basis of scriptures, such as doctrinal explanations or orthopractic directions. The formula is part of a larger narrative context centered around the foundational myth of the Buddha Śākyamuni transmitting the dharma to Mahākāśyapa: As the Buddha declares in public that he has entrusted to Mahākāśyapa the “true dharma” (Ch. zheng fa 正法) he authenticates him as his exclusive successor committed to the protection and maintenance of that teaching (Welter 2000, 75–76). This declaration first appears in the Baolin Record (Ch. Baolin zhuan 寶林傳, comp. 801 CE) and remains largely unchanged until the Jingde Era Record of the Transmission of the Flame (Ch. Jingde chuan deng lu 景德傳燈錄, comp. 1004 CE): The pure eye of the dharma, the wonderful mind of nirvāṇa, the true mark that is no mark, the subtle and wonderful true dharma I impart to you. You will protect and maintain it. Jingde chuan deng lu, T 51.2076.205b28

While the “true dharma” was initially understood as relying on a particular set of scriptures, emphasis has been put on secret transmission and nonverbal communication since 1029. The Tiansheng Era Extensive Record of the Flame (Ch. Tiansheng guang deng lu 天聖廣燈錄, comp. 1029 CE) adds a narrative stating that the teaching has been “secretly entrusted” (Ch. mi fu 密付) to Mahākāśyapa at the “Stūpa of Many Sons.” It proceeds by adding that subsequently on “Vulture Peak” the Buddha silently held up a flower to instruct the congregation; as Mahākāśyapa smiled, the Buddha declared him his successor in the transmission of the “true dharma” (Foulk 2007, 447–48; Lachs 2014, 209–10).

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The final and most elaborate version of this narrative constitutes a wellknown “public case” included in the Gateless Barrier of Chan Lineage (Ch. Chanzong Wumen guan 禪宗無門關, comp. 1228 CE), one of the most appreciated pieces of Chan Buddhist literature (Foulk 2007, 448; Welter 2000, 98). As the Buddha tacitly holds up a flower to instruct the congregation, Mahākāśyapa is the only one who responds by showing a faint smile. The Buddha immediately declares that he has entrusted to him the “true dharma.” This final realignment insinuates that transmission took place as an act of nonverbal communication in the very moment he held up the flower and Mahākāśyapa’s smile gave expression to his understanding. In sum, the emergence and subsequent alignments of the foundational narrative shifted the emphasis away from a verbal expression of acknowledgement to a deictic indication of tacit understanding. The transmission of a teaching initially relying on scriptures and verbal communication has become an act of secrecy (see Ahn 2009, 38–41) and an act of sharing something ineffable “outside the teaching” (Ch. jiao wai 教外). The narrative nevertheless insists on the unequivocal authentication and reproduction of authority by means of a verbal declaration since the Buddha is held to explicitly confirm, in the presence of the congregation, his imparting of an unspoken teaching to Mahākāśyapa. The interpersonal and social dimension required by this depiction, in terms of mutual recognition between master and disciple, complements the persona muta of the assembly, which is relegated to the role of a witness bereft of any adequate basis for recognition of either objection or approval.

3

Historical and Structural Aspects of the Gateless Barrier of Chan Lineage

The Gateless Barrier of Chan Lineage (Ch. Chanzong Wumen guan 禪宗無門 關, T 48.2005.292a24–299c25) is a collection of 48 prominent “public cases” compiled by Wumen Huikai (無門慧開, 1183–1260 CE) and his disciples following his instructions at the Longxiang monastery in the summer of 1228 CE (Dumoulin 1953, 8) and printed shortly afterwards in 1229 CE (Sasaki & Kirchner 2009, 418–19). It is a much shorter and structurally tighter composition in comparison to earlier prominent collections such as the Blue Cliff Record (Ch. Biyan lu 碧巖錄, comp. 1128) and the Congrong Hermitage Record (Ch. Congrongan lu 從容菴錄, d. 1224), each of which contains hundreds of “public cases” contextualized by a layered plethora of supplemented comments, verses, and glosses. These and many other of the later and less prominent col-

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lections of Chinese, Korean, and Japanese provenience draw on the expanding repertoire of cases and dialogues, some of which were also transmitted in the “records of the transmission of the flame” (Ch. chuan deng lu 傳燈錄) and “records of sayings” (Ch. yulu 語錄), literary genres that also serve to trace or stipulate careers and encounters of individual Chan masters and their lineages (Sharf 2007, 205–6) in a less formalized fashion. Wumen Huikai belonged to the Chinese Linji lineage (Jap. Rinzai-shū 臨濟宗) named after Linji Yixuan (臨濟義玄, d. 866 CE), which—bolstered by imperial support since the early 11th century—became known for its normative stance of positioning its teaching and practice as fundamentally different from all other Buddhist denominations and as superior to that of other competing Chan lineages. Subsequently, the reputation of the Linji lineage as an antinomian school started to emerge, placing emphasis on its allegedly iconoclastic and transgressive practices opposed to traditional doctrinal learning (Young 2009). The above quoted Jingde Era and Tiansheng Era Extensive Records of the Transmission of the Flame which give an account of how the teaching has been entrusted to Mahākāśyapa also helped to establish the exclusionary (self-)description of the Linji lineage and paved the ground for Wumen Hukai’s account of Chan transmission and practice. The 48 “public cases” the Gateless Barrier of Chan Lineage contains are similar in structure, comprising four textual layers: (1) The case title indicates the content of (2) the case narrative or “original pattern” (Ch. benze 本則), which in terse and anecdotal style relates encounters between eminent historical as well as mythical figures of the Chan tradition, including the Buddha. The encounters often depict instances deemed significant for the transmission of the “true dharma.” (3) The third layer consists of incisive comments attributed to Wumen Huikai. Rather apodictic and paratactic in style, they do not establish a doctrinal, technical, or systematic interpretation of the narrative as if following the model of conventional sūtra exegesis but instead show specific features that may be roughly characterized as narrative in style and transgressive in terms of content. (4) The concluding verse echoes the second and third layer; the style is laconic and eidetic. It often makes use of metaphorical and tautological expressions obviating a definite conclusion or solution of the case. These four layers are neither conducive to a doctrinal interpretation nor do they represent an arbitrary combination of text modules that potentially worked independently of each other. The layered structure of title, narrative, commentary, and verse constitutes a self-referential form in which each part works as a supplement of one another. Although different in style and narrative configuration of the content, each layer shows a great mastery of literary

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technique and gives expression to an acute awareness of the linguistic intricacy required for communicating the alleged ineffability of Chan teaching. The arrangement of the “public cases” in the Gateless Barrier of Chan Lineage presupposes not only a sophisticated and self-reflective style of learning but also an appreciation of language as an evocative tool (Fuchs 1989, 58).

4

Two Foundational Narratives Included in the Gateless Barrier of Chan Lineage

The Gateless Barrier of Chan Lineage contains two foundational narratives of Chan tradition, which depict the transmission of the teaching (1) from the Buddha to Mahākāśyapa as the first patriarch and (2) from Bodhidharma as the 28th patriarch in his succession and first patriarch of Chan lineage in China to Huike (487–593 CE) as the second patriarch. The first foundational narrative referring to the Buddha and Mahākāśyapa is listed under the title “The Buddha Holds Out a Flower”2 (Ch. Shizun nian hua 世尊拈花, T 48.2005.293c12–24) as the sixth gong’an of this collection. The predicate of the title refers to the deictic moment when a choice is made by picking up and showing (Ch. shi 示) the flower as if drawing lots (Ch. nian 拈). The “original pattern” (Ch. benze) of the case narrative is subdivided in two parts: The first part describes the Buddha’s gesture and its circumstances, the silence of the congregation, and Mahākāśyapa’s smile. In the second part, the Buddha explains the meaning of his gesture by giving an authenticating declaration, indicating either a public confirmation of a preceding act of transmission or the act of nonverbal communication between the Buddha and Mahākāśyapa: Once, when the World-Honoured One, in ancient times, was upon Mount Grdhrakuta, he held up a flower before the congregation of monks. At this time all were silent, but the Venerable Kasyapa only smiled. The World-Honoured One said, “I have the Eye of the True Law [i.e. the true dharma], the Secret Essence of Nirvana, the Formless Form, the Mysterious Law-Gate [i.e. access to the dharma]. Without relying upon words and letters, beyond all teaching as a special transmission, I pass this all on to Mahakasyapa. Chanzong Wumen guan, T 48.2005.293c13–26; tr. Blyth 1974, 76 2 In the following, I quote Blyth’s (1974) translations. Differing implications of the original Chinese wording (if relevant) will be added in square brackets or addressed accordingly.

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Apart from the location, an unspecified date in the past, and the names of the characters, the unmarked narrator provides no further information about what is going to happen, such as intrinsic motives for the characters’ action or external reasons unknown to an observer of the action which he sees unfolding before his eyes. In that sense, the narrator’s and the reader’s positions do not introduce a difference vis-à-vis the position of the silent congregation referred to in the narrative. It remains open whether the narrator is located on an extradiegetic or an intradiegetic level. The narrator may have been part of that very congregation as well, an unmarked homodiegetic narrator so to speak, who is lacking any privileged understanding of what he has observed. There is no secondary emplotment introduced, no extradiegetic narrative implied— the story plainly tells a sequence of acts as if taking place in real time. It preserves a unity of action, time, and place, and hence, could be envisioned or enacted on a stage within a definite (short) duration and without further reference to an extradiegetic context providing further coordinates and information. Consequently, both the narrator and reader appear to be located on one simultaneous level of observation they share with the silent congregation, perpetuating the exclusive distinction with respect to the Buddha’s and Mahākāśyapa’s privileged positions of knowing the transmission taking place. Hence, the whole narrative appears to be organized around the question “What is happening?”3 Coherently, all explanation comes from the Buddha’s intradiegetic and self-referential account of what has just happened and by which he introduces a primary distinction defining the foundation of Chan lineage: “A special transmission outside the teaching.” In order to crosscheck the sequential emplotment outlined above, a short look at the second foundational narrative allows us to further refine these observations. It appears under the title “[Bodhi]dharma pacifies the mind” (Ch. Damo an xin 達磨安心, T 48.2005.298a15–24) as the forty-first gong’an of the Gateless Barrier of Chan Lineage and depicts the very moment in which Bodhidharma recognizes Huike as his successor and second patriarch in China. The “original pattern” implicitly refers to a legend according to which Bodhidharma at first refused to accept Huike as a disciple: As if he had been expected to demonstrate his resolution and sincerity, Huike cut off his left arm once he had spent the night standing in the snow outside Bodhidharma’s cavern. In contrast to the sequential emplotment of the first narrative (“What is happening?”), the temporality of the second narrative emphasizes the perfect aspect—as if it were based on the question, “Something happened, but what?”

3 Cf. Deleuze and Guattari on the form of the novella (1987, 192–95).

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Daruma [i.e. Bodhidharma] sat facing the wall. The Second Patriarch, having cut off his arm, stood there in the snow. He said, “Your disciple’s mind has no peace as yet. I beg the Teacher to give it rest.” Daruma replied, “Bring your mind here and I will give it rest.” The Patriarch said, “I have searched for that mind, and have not found it.” Daruma said, “Then I have put it to rest.” Chanzong Wumen guan, T 48.2005.298a16–28; tr. Blyth 1974, 268–69

All verbs express either actions completed before the actual story begins in medias res (“having cut of his arm” Ch. duan bi 斷臂, “I have searched for that mind” Ch. jue xin liao bu ke de 覺心了不可得) or a desire for completion (“beg the teacher to give it rest” Ch. qi shi an xin 乞師安心, “I will give it rest” Ch. jiang xin lai wei ru an 將心來為汝安). Bodhidharma’s final declaration conflates the temporality of the related actions under the perfect aspect, saying: “Then I have put it to rest” (Ch. an xin jing 安心竟). None of these actions are depicted as a sequence actually taking place within the narrative’s time-spacecontinuum, like Huike’s cutting of his arm and Bodhidharma putting Huike’s mind to rest. Instead, they refer to past events, expectations, anticipations, and perfected yet unobservable (mental) actions. The emplotment dispenses with the sequential approach characteristic of the first narrative and proceeds without describing visible action, so that the narrated acts merely consist of a dialogue between the two characters. On the intradiegetic level of the dialogue, however, verbs are used in a figurative sense related to unobservable objects: “Bring your mind here.” Coherently, Bodhidharma’s pacifying Huike’s mind is indicated post facto by his conclusive declaration, which by implication of the Chinese character jing 竟 (“to finish”) indicates completion and thereby authenticates Huike as successor and second patriarch of Chan lineage in China. The perfect aspect of emplotment the unmarked narrator assumes is further corroborated by the fact that from the beginning Huike is referred to as the “Second Patriarch” (Ch. er zu 二祖) and not by his secular name Shenguang or his monastic name Huike, which again, in a circular fashion, is emphasizing the perfect aspect of the second foundational narrative. In view of the condensed literary form of both “original patterns,” it would be inadequate to focus on the temporal aspect without taking into account their hypertextual redescription in Wumen’s comments. Comments generally imply a diachronic relation to the subject they refer to—such as a given text or narrative—irrespective of whether the narrative or the comment are presented orally or as written text. In the case of the Gateless Barrier of Chan Lineage, Wumen’s comments redescribe the content and expose specific implications of the “original patterns” but rarely harness linguistic and lexico-

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graphic aspects of verbal representation in a technical sense, as would be expected for example in doctrinal sūtra commentaries. In this respect, Wumen’s approach can be understood as a narrative realignment of the narrative, a hyper-narrative refiguring particular aspects deemed important for the comprehension of the “original pattern.” Often, the comment appears to directly address the narratee by asking rhetorical questions, getting the implied reader involved in the diegetic process as if he were one of Wumen’s disciples challenged to provide an appropriate answer. Whereas such narrational technique may be interpreted as a rhetoric reminiscence of Wumen’s original instructions at the Longxiang monastery in the year 1228 CE (Dumoulin 1953, 8), the narrative function is to position Wumen on an extradiegetic position—that is, as an observer of the second order observing the narrative (see Luhmann 2002, 30–31, 72). The narrative then becomes an observation of first order, implying again an (unmarked) observer or narrator watching the events taking place as observation of zeroth order, i.e. the characters of the narratives, the Buddha, Mahākāśyapa, the congregation, Bodhidharma, and Huike. The diachronic and extradiegetic difference between “original pattern” and comment suffice to introduce the distinction of these three planes of observation on Wumen’s plane of observation, thereby refiguring the narrative according to his own distinctions. Wumen’s comment on the “original pattern” of “The Buddha Holds Out a Flower” comprehensively contains the features mentioned above: Golden-faced Kudon [i.e. Gautama Buddha] impudently forced the good people into depravity. Advertising sheep’s heads, he sells dog-flesh,—but with some genius. However, supposing that at that time all the monks had laughed, how would the “all-including eye of absolute truth” have been handed on? Or if Kasyapa had not smiled, how would it have been handed on? If you say, it can (anyway) be handed on, that’s the Goldenfaced Old Huckster with his loud voiced swindling at the town-gate. If you say it can’t, why did the Buddha say he had handed it on to Kasyapa? Chanzong Wumen guan, T 48.2005.293c17–22; tr. Blyth 1974, 78–79

The comment is functionally subdivided in two parts: The first part recapitulates what was happening in the narrative, the second part deconstructs the contingency of the situation it depicts, as if the Buddha, by showing the flower, was drawing lots (Ch. nian 拈). In the first part, Wumen understands the Buddha’s gesture as an act of communicating exclusion. The gesture—whether actually intended as an act of communication, that is: an act of conveying an intended meaning to someone through the use of mutually understood signs, or alternatively as a gesture

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with no referential meaning at all (i.e. outside any teaching, Ch. jiao wai 教外; cf. Fuchs 1989, 64)—paves the ground for a fundamental division of the community. If Mahākāśyapa’s smile was recognized by the omniscient Buddha as evidence of message decoding and acknowledgement by the recipient (i.e. as successful communication and hence: transmission), the nonverbal interaction appears as a symbolic act of communication communicating ineffability vis-à-vis the congregation. Communication of the ineffable is coherently conceived of in social terms of segregation and subsequent lineage formation, as a matter of producing further distinction and secret transmission relying on the recipient’s tacit comprehension. Correspondingly, the Buddha’s explicit confirmation of Mahākāśyapa as his successor acknowledges such secrecy as a “policed” form of communication (see Luhmann 2002, 61–62). Wumen’s comment “honestly” reframes this function of secrecy as a form of calculated “deceit”: “Advertising sheep’s heads, he sells dog-flesh” (Ch. xuan yang tou mai gou rou 懸羊頭賣狗肉 T 48.2005.293c18). In the second part of the comment, Wumen exposes the operational aporia of a teaching about which tradition claims that it does “not establish words and letters,” a teaching communicated “directly from mind to mind” which nevertheless remains dependent on a social distinction that needs to be acknowledged by verbal communication and univocal recognition in front of those excluded from this communication. Without using conceptual or doctrinal language, Wumen’s comment precisely deconstructs what the “original pattern” insinuates: As soon as the ineffable is referred to as the referent of a tacit symbolic (or any other referential) interaction, it becomes an artifact within communication. As subject of the foundational narrative, it becomes an object of secrecy and then secrecy an artifact within communication as well, a form of exclusionary recognition that must be explicitly acknowledged in order to be witnessed by others (see Luhmann 2002, 42, 60–61). The comment observes the contingency of lineage formation protecting and controlling the proper transmission of the “true dharma,” and demonstrates that both the ineffable and its transmission remain grounded in verbal communication. To further crosscheck these observations, Wumen’s comment on the second narrative regarding the transmission from Bodhidharma to Huike should be taken into account as well. This short comment highlights the aporetic disposition of Chan lineage formation in terms of an accomplished fact with no choice: The broken-toothed old foreigner crossed the sea importantly from a hundred thousand miles away. This was raising waves when there is no

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wind. Daruma had only one disciple, and even he was a cripple. Well, well! Chanzong Wumen guan, T 48.2005.298a19–21; tr. Blyth 1974, 269

The comment states that Bodhidharma had only one disciple and emphasizes the inappropriateness of the dharma transmission to Huike who is characterized as incapable of meeting the requirements. Wumen thereby conceives of the act of transmission as a barrier or obstacle that has to be crossed so that in hindsight, once the transmission is accomplished, the teaching is exposed as the very problem it claims to resolve—as “raising waves when there is no wind” (Ch. ke wei shi wu feng qi lang 可謂是無風起浪) as the comment says. In other words: The comment conceptually refigures the narrative of the Chinese foundation of transmission lineage(s) as an act that requires its own sublation each time the teaching is passed on to the next successor. Both comments reframe the foundational narratives in negative terms, making precise the aporetic disposition of Chan teaching. They do so by highlighting the synchrony of the social dimension as an act of communicating recognition and exclusion, and—with regard to the diachrony of tradition— as necessitating lineage formation. The information tacitly referred to in the “original patterns” appears in both comments either as something ineffable and unobservable or as a matter of secrecy. Both aspects understood as artifacts within communication consistently define the status of the teaching as a special transmission directly pointing to the human mind outside the lesson. In the verses that conclude each case, the relation between transmission and its emploted representation is outlined in circular terms. In the case of “The Buddha Holds Out a Flower,” the verse depicts the status of the congregation as being a witness excluded from the initial transmission, as if the monks were deliberately left behind in a state of ignorance: Holding up a flower, The snake shows his tale. Kasyapa smiles, The monks don’t know what to do. Chanzong Wumen guan, T 48.2005.293c24–25; tr. Blyth 1974, 79–80

The verse concluding the case: “Dharma pacifies the mind,” characterizes the very act of nonverbal transmission as a “direct pointing” (Ch. zhi zhi 直指) which again constitutes an act of (self-)referential communication. The trope of immediate mind-to-mind transmission is turned into a paradox—in the sense of an operation that contradicts its requirements for completion:

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Coming from the West, and direct pointing, – All the trouble comes from this! The jungle of monks being all at sixes and sevens Comes from these two chaps. Chanzong Wumen guan, T 48.2005.298a23–24; tr. Blyth 1974, 271–72

Consistently, the concluding line maintains that Bodhidharma’s act of “direct pointing” abetted a great variety of lineage formation—a “jungle of monks” or rather “an annoying clamor of Buddhist monasteries” (Ch. nao gua cong lin 撓聒叢林), as the verse literally says. Historically speaking, this seems to refer to the emergence of institutional differentiation with its great variety of communication styles among which narratives dealing with the patrilineal transmission of the dharma have become a medium for competition and recognition. The concluding verse indicates—to put it in Luhmann’s words—a clear understanding of the fact that emergence, maintenance, and reproduction of monastic as well as patrilineal order can be explained only by reference to the effecting operation of actual and self-reproducing communication (Luhmann 2002, 40).

5

Emplotment and Observation

Without detailing the intricacies of the linguistic, lexicographic, and terminological features of the two gong’an discussed above, at least a set of basic features characteristic of their narrational design can be discerned, related to the (1) temporal and the (2) observational aspects of emplotment. Both cases show a well-defined formal and functional organization. (1) Temporality of emplotment: The plot and “original pattern” of the gong’an in question can be understood as linguistic representations of sensory and cognitive elements rooted in Buddhist lore and mythology. The temporal linearity of emplotment is characterized by dense brevity and an apparent lack of extradiegetic context information. Although unity of action, time, and place is maintained throughout the narrative, specific temporal aspects of the related course of events can be discerned. The first case largely refers to the sensory aspects by giving a sequential depiction of an action progressively taking place, the meaning of which (“what is happening?”) is finally unveiled on the intradiegetic level and in the form of a univocal declaration of the Buddha as if presented in direct speech. In contrast, the second case emphasizes the perfect aspect of completion (“something happened, but what?”), yet without ascribing any univocal meaning to the intradiegetic direct speech—a terse

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dialogue, which constitutes the only action taking place, relating to the indeterminate moment of Huike’s mind being pacified as an unobservable referent located within the cognitive sphere. Both narratives take opposite positions at least as far as the temporality of emplotment is concerned. Despite their brevity, the inherent temporal perspective must be considered as a significant narrative feature that insinuates different conceptual perspectives on tradition and the very act of transmission. The first case progressively emphasizes the exclusionary aspect of founding a tradition; the second case highlights the aporetic act of patrilineal transmission pertaining to an established tradition. (2) Planes of observation: The hypertextual “comments” do not explain a “plain” story by ascribing a new layer of (doctrinal) meaning to either the wording of the narrative or the course of events it relates. Rather, they enrich the emplotment by introducing a sort of reflexivity that, in both cases, can be characterized as a self-thematization of tradition. The comments presuppose the fundamental claim of a special doctrine, the practice of which aims at reproducing an ineffable truth initially realized by the Buddha. Generally speaking, the claim of ineffability does not prevent a religious system from using language and communicating the ineffable it doctrinally presupposes. Often the opposite seems to be the case, and the Chan literary tradition can be regarded as a perfect example of this phenomenon. The claim of ineffability generates sophisticated linguistic and narrative techniques that aim at communicating the incommunicable in the sense of a via negativa, and pin-point the productive potency and paradoxical limitations of any such attempt in social terms (see Fuchs 1989, 66–68). In the case of both foundational narratives, considering the iconic status of the Buddha’s silent gesture, i.e. him holding a flower, requires reflection on both the very act of foundation and the contingent media of transmission including verbal, symbolic, and nonverbal interaction. The ability to understand the act of transmission as an obstacle or a barrier for the practitioner becomes not only apparent in the transgressive yet well calculated choice of words that characterize Wumen’s comments, but also in his reflection on the contingency of communication. Wumen seems to be well aware of the fact that communicating the ineffable inevitably means self-defeating and yet successful acts of communication, which both verses describe as a technique pertinent for the monastic community, causing the proliferation of competing transmission lineages reproduced by exclusion, deceit, secrecy, as well as their correlates, namely inclusion, honesty, and the obvious. Such self-reflective observations of the social implications of Chan transmission again produce an image of transgressive honesty,4 which is coherent 4 On honesty as a by-product of paradoxal forms of communication see Luhmann (2002, 170–71).

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with the situations of communication described in the “public cases” and— in some regards—also reproduced in monastic practice. Such communication serves to check the opponent’s level of observation and self-referential awareness, which determines his capacity to anticipate transcendental insight (Ch. wu, Jap. satori 悟). “Public cases” are therefore not merely linguistic exercises in communicating about the communication of the ineffable, but rather represent transformative expressions of a social model—in emic terms: a casuistry of “original patterns” (Ch. benze 本則)—aptly exemplifying communication as the means of religious practice. The tightly layered form of narrative, comment, and verse corresponds to the social dimension of observation and self-reflection. As mentioned above, the “original pattern” represents an observation of first order, which implies an (unmarked) narrator or observer of the events taking place as observations of zeroth order, i.e. the intradiegetic observers such as the Buddha, Mahākāśyapa, and the congregation. In the monastic context, the “original pattern” allowed for a large variety of uses as an observation of the second order, becoming an object of meditation in a ritualized setting or subject to hermeneutical reflection. Within the hermeneutical context of monastic learning, “public cases” can be qualified as “narratives of transmission” (Duyfhuizen 1992) in the sense of intra-narrative texts pertinent to Chan tradition. Therefore, the very act of transmission cannot be separated from acts of transformative transgression; both remain closely intertwined in the adaptive practice of Chan learning, as the relation between “original pattern” and comment indicates. The brevity, self-reflexivity, and complexity of linguistic expression make them suitable for different ways and purposes of hermeneutic deconstruction and recontextualization, establishing a common ground for the sectarian appropriation and realignment within the dynamics of lineage formation.

6

Conclusion: Imagery of the Ineffable and the Obvious

In contrast to the rather transgressive stance of the comments, the concluding verses show a specific quality of literary expression that may be characterized as circular or tautological honesty (see Fuchs 1989, 67), as if they were saying: “It is what it is, and that is all there is.” The impression of affirmative bleakness evoked by the verses also corresponds to the transgressive honesty produced by the comments when they negatively address the traps, obstacles, and failures of verbally communicating about a teaching supposedly transmitted without relying on words and scriptures. Whether in the intradiegetic dialogues, the comments, or the verses, both “public cases” make ample use of figurative language that helps to represent the ineffable or the unobserv-

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able as if it were related to observable sensory objects: “This was raising waves when there is no wind.”—“Bring your mind here and I will give it rest.” Such language is vividly eidetic; it evokes an imagery that appears to be almost selfexplanatory in its approach to relate the ineffable as something obvious. The depicted situations might be even visualized as a still picture or moving image, a single take of short duration: Buddha holds out a flower, Mahākāśyapa smiles, and Huike standing in the snow, his left arm cut off. This, however, does not imply a tendency towards any sort of visual representation in terms of imaging or actual staging. Gong’an practice addresses what tentatively may be called the cognitive faculties of a practitioner trained within Chan monastic learning, ritual and linguistic practice, drawing upon traditional knowledge, personal experience, doctrinal understanding, insight, and other aspects related to the formation of intellect. In this regard, the eidetic emplotment gives expression to the obvious in combination with wordings that put emphasis on tautological or circular expression, thereby approximating the ineffable as the unobservable referent the intradiegetic dialogues refer to as if it were observable. Eidetic emplotment also abets a tendency to maintain silence about any inner motives or backgrounds of the figures the “public cases” portray. It focuses on the parataxis of linguistic actions and the obvious whereas the use of figurative language helps to evoke an almost emblematic sort of expression: “Holding up a flower, / The snake shows his tale.” This tendency, however, does not necessarily imply a general shift from univocal, conceptual, or referential language to an equivocal, perceptual, or evocative language. Rather, the eidetic emplotment of the obvious and the figurative references to the unobservable reproduce ineffability as an artifact within doctrinally appropriate linguistic practice. The narrative, as concrete though rich in linguistic implication it may be, takes on a position by which an iconic dimension is established and at the same time superseded by the linguistic interaction that informs gong’an practice. In Luhmann’s terminology: The sensory trace of the ineffable, which the narrative depicts, can be defined as the unity of the distinction between the observable and the unobservable. On a more general level, we can observe a narrational aesthetic of communication, which gives primacy to describing particular acts that were held by tradition—in retrospect—to be decisive instances establishing and defining patrilineal transmission. Such narrational aesthetic, however, is different from a teleological way of storytelling, which tends to depict every act or event in relation to the universal truth of a master narrative hence expounding a hidden meaning or inherent structure of the world it construes. With regard to the aesthetics of gong’an texts, both the eidetic emplotment by which particular acts are described or referred to as (visually) obvious and the paratactic

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way the temporality of the “original pattern” is refigured in a multi-layered textual assemblage, can be characterized as features belonging to the sphere of the written sign rather than the linearization of oral narration. If we consider the significance of the written as understood by John Lagerwey in his discussion of Chinese religious communication where the written sign of the “architext” is given priority over the oral, and the oral is a supplement pertinent to the related “science of appropriate actions, of rituals” (cf. Lagerwey 1985, 304–08), the narrational aesthetics of gong’an texts have to be understood as meant to be conducive to a transformative mode of perception: The linguistic sphere serves to approximate the ineffable and unsymbolized, the extra-linguistic real, i.e. the obvious in its “such-ness” (Ch. zhenru 真如, Skt. tathātā). Under these hermeneutical preconditions, the theoretical concept of narrative culture would refer neither to a primacy of linear oral narration nor to the assumption of a teleological master narrative. Instead, if we were approaching the formation of Chan tradition, more specifically, in terms of a narrative culture communicating about the communication of the ineffable, one would need to observe the written text at least in two different regards: (1) its transformative actualization—such as represented in the variety of monastic learning and gong’an practice, and (2) the iconicity of the obvious the text evokes as a particular mode of perception by precisely avoiding introspective descriptions relating to cognition which often appear to be a strength of linguistic modes of representation. With regard to the latter, the aim of the present chapter was to point out some diegetic features the eidetic emplotment of Chan foundational narratives engendered.

Ch.: Jap.: Skt.: T: X:

Abbreviations Chinese Japanese Sanskrit Taishō shinshū Daizōkyō 大正新脩大蔵経. Tōkyō: Taishō Issaikyō Kankokai, 1924–1934. Manji Shinsan Dainihon Zokuzōkyo 卍新纂大日本續藏經. Tōkyō: Kokusho Kankokai, 1975–1989.

References Ahn, Juhn Y. 2009. “Who Has the Last Word in Chan? Transmission, Secrecy and Reading during the Northern Song Dynasty,” Journal of Chinese Religions 37: 1–72.

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Anderl, Christoph. 2012. “Chán Rhetoric: An Introduction,” in Zen Buddhist Rhetoric in China, Korea, and Japan, edited by Christoph Anderl, 1–94. Leiden: Brill. Blyth, Reginald H. 1974. Zen and Zen Classics. Volume Four: Mumonkan. Tōkyō: Hokuseido Press. Chanzong Wumen guan 禪宗無門關. Wumen Huikai comp. 1228 CE. T 48.2005. Deleuze, Gilles & Félix Guattari. 1987. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Translated by Brian Massumi. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Dumoulin, Heinrich, S.J. 1953. Wu-men-kuan 無門關: Der Pass ohne Tor. Tōkyō: Sohpia University Press. Duyfhuizen, Bernard. 1992. Narratives of Transmission. Rutherford: Farleigh Dickinson University Press. Faure, Bernard. 1986. “Bodhidharma as Textual and Religious Paradigm,” History of Religions 25 (3): 187–98. Foulk, T. Griffith. 2007. “The Spread of Chan (Zen) Buddhism,” in The Spread of Buddhism, edited by Ann Heirman & Stephan Peter Bumbacher, 433–56. Leiden: Brill. Fuchs, Peter. 1989. “Vom Zweitlosen: Paradoxe Kommunikation im Zen-Buddhismus,” in Niklas Luhmann & Peter Fuchs, Reden und Schweigen, 46–69. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp. Jingde chuan deng lu 景德傳燈錄. Daoyuan, comp. 1004 CE. T 51.2076. Lachs, Stuart. 2014. “The Zen Master and Dharma Transmission: A Seductive Mythology,” in Minority Religions and Fraud: The Good Faith, edited by Amanda van Eck Duymaer van Twist, 203–28. London & New York: Routledge. Lagerwey, John. 1985. “The Oral and The Written in Chinese and Western Religion,” in Religion und Philosophie in Ostasien: Festschrift für Hans Steininger zum 65. Geburtstag, edited by Gert Naundorf, Karl-Heinz Pohl & Hans-Hermann Schmidt, 301–22. Würzburg: Königshausen + Neumann. Lehnert, Martin. 2015. “‘Zhaozhou kan po’: yi zhuang li shi yi yinmi zuowei xinxi zhuandi de gongan《赵州勘婆》: 一樁例示以隐密作为信息传递的公案.” Translated by Yang Xingjian. Fojiao Wenhua Yanjiu 佛教文化研究 1: 424–44. Luhmann, Niklas. 2002. Die Religion der Gesellschaft. Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp. Manji Shinsan Dainihon Zokuzōkyo 卍新纂大日本續藏經. 90 vols. Tōkyō: Kokusho Kankokai, 1975–1989. Sasaki, Ruth Fuller & Thomas Yūhō Kirchner, tr. and eds. 2009. The Record of Linji. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press. Sharf, Robert. 2007. “How to Think with Chan Gong’an,” in Thinking with Cases: Specialist Knowledge in Chinese Cultural History, edited by Charlotte Furth, Judith T. Zeitlin & Ping-chen Hsiung, 205–43. Honolulu: University of Hawai‘i Press. Stiver, Dan R. 1996. The Philosophy of Religious Language: Sign, Symbol, and Story. Oxford: Blackwell.

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Takakusu, Junjirō & Kaigyoku Watanabe, eds. 1924–1934. Taishō shinshū Daizōkyō 大正 新脩大蔵経. 100 vols. Tōkyō: Taishō Issaikyō Kankokai. Welter, Albert. 2000. “Mahākāśyapa’s Smile: Silent Transmission and the Kung-an (Kōan) Tradition,” in The Kōan: Texts and Contexts in Zen Buddhism, edited by Steven Heine & Dale S. Wright, 75–109. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Young, Stuart. 2009. “Review of Welter, Albert, The Linji lu and the Creation of Chan Orthodoxy: The Development of Chan’s Records of Sayings Literature,” H-Buddhism, H-Net Reviews, March 2009. Accessed April 1, 2019. https://www.h-net.org/reviews/ showrev.php?id=23405. Zuting shiyuan 祖庭事苑. Shanqing, comp. 1108 CE. X 64.1261.

Chapter 12

Poetic Imagination in Scientific Practice: Grand Unification as Narrative Worldmaking Arianna Borrelli

1

Introduction

In the course of the nineteenth century, religion became associated with a newly emerging notion of “poetic imagination” which stood in explicit contrast to the equally new ideal of “scientific objectivity” (Daston & Galison 2007). The two notions can be regarded in cultural-historical and sociopolitical perspectives as the two faces of the same coin, belonging to a central constellation of modernity that saw the emergence of science and religion as two neatly separated spheres whose relationship could be thought of in terms of conflict, coexistence, or cooperation, but never of mixture. Whether imagination was dismissed as a deceptive (mal)function of human cognition, or objectivity attacked as a technocratic strategy for power validation, the two modes of perception of reality were—and still often are—seen as fundamentally incompatible. As shown by recent research in the academic study of religion, the prism of aesthetics can help reveal the cognitive, performative, and social dimensions of religious narratives (Grieser 2015a; Grieser & Johnston 2017). In a similar, yet specular way, looking at the allegedly objective and rational practices of modern science by focusing on their aesthetic, medial aspects brings to light their poetic and imaginative—if not allegedly irrational—components and the role of worldmaking narratives as constitutive factors in scientific knowledge production (Borrelli 2017; Grieser 2015b; Grieser & Borrelli 2017). These investigations also show how much cognitive and imaginative heritage modern science and religion actually share, and in the following pages I will use the example of the Grand Unified Theories (GUTs) from high energy physics of the 1970s and 1980s to show how scientific theoretical constructs can display both narrative character and aesthetic analogies to the modern Western religious sphere. The argument is structured in two levels. First, I will attempt to show how theoretical constructs in the field of High Energy Physics display narrative character because their meaning unfolds through a dynamic, time-based se-

© Koninklijke Brill NV, Leiden, 2020 | DOI:10.1163/9789004421677_014

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quence which cannot be reduced to any static, logical-mathematical form, a sequence which might be seen as an extremely simple plot. More specifically, theories of unification were not primarily about static unity of natural forces, but rather purported to describe their dynamic processes of becoming one. On a second level, I will argue that this scientific narrative, as expressed through a hybrid composite of words, formulas, and diagrams, makes use of an aesthetics of knowledge sharing features with that of modern Western religion. In doing so, I build upon research showing how, since the nineteenth century, the aesthetics of knowledge of both science and religion has tapped the potential of Romantic schools of thought, literature, and art (Grieser 2015a; 2015b; 2017; Grieser & Borrelli 2017; Borrelli & Grieser 2019). This specific aesthetic mode of knowledge construction and communication, which for simplicity’s sake I will refer to as Romantic, constitutes a template for the poetic imagination ascribed to the religious sphere, yet it is also deployed in the scientific field where it is often unjustly dismissed as a mere metaphor or as a consciously provocative joke, like the (infamous) “God particle.”1 Instead, as I will try to show, Romantic aesthetics provide in science both material and motivation for worldmaking practices, fostering belief in central tenets of the relevant scientific community and helping embed the everyday practices of its members in a shared conceptual and performative framework. Thus, scientists came to form a narrative culture and, as we shall see—besides words and images— they made use of a peculiar means of storytelling like mathematical formulas of a more or less rigorous nature. Since science and religion share some aesthetic modes, from an aesthetic perspective, no clear-cut boundary can be drawn between the religious and the scientific sphere, although they appear separated from an institutional and sociological point of view. As I will argue more in detail later on, there are some practices which, despite being institutionally and sociologically located in the scientific sphere, nonetheless are at the same time part of both scientific and religious discourse. The structure of the chapter is as follows: In the first two sections I will discuss the aesthetic relation between modern science and religion and then recent work on the role of narratives in science. The two following sections introduce some background on the practices of theoretical high energy physics and on Grand Unification, with particular attention placed on the privileged epistemic status enjoyed by symmetries, to the notion of energy scales and to the non-rigorous mathematical practices of particle theory. After that, I will

1 The term was coined to refer to the Higgs boson in the popular science monograph The God Particle. If the Universe is the Answer, What is the Question? (Lederman & Teresi 1994).

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analyze some of the seminal texts from early Grand Unification, showing how the historical actors exploited the worldmaking potential of ideas of unity of nature to create a new object of scientific research, and how they deployed a Romantic aesthetics to make their hybrid theoretical narrative plausible in the eyes of their colleagues. The final section sketches how the narrative of the unification of forces was presented and disseminated through images and textbooks, and how it eventually came to connect with cosmological Big Bang scenarios, a step allowing cosmologists to participate in the narrative culture of unification. A short summary concludes the chapter.

2

A Shared Aesthetics of Knowledge in Science and Religion

The methodological approach deployed in this study is that of an aesthetic of knowledge (Grieser 2017; Borrelli & Grieser 2019). One of its central tenets is that there is no clear-cut distinction between form and content of knowledge, so that the choice of specific aesthetic strategies is constitutively linked to given themes—and vice versa. In this sense, there is, in principle, no difference between a religious and a scientific aesthetics, as both can make use of the same means to express the same themes (Borrelli 2017; Grieser 2015b; Grieser 2017; Grieser & Borrelli 2017, and Borrelli & Grieser 2019). Alexandra Grieser has introduced the notion of “aesthetic ideologies” to indicate the connection between aesthetic modes of knowledge and the message they convey (Grieser 2017, 261–62). I will argue that the narrative of Grand Unification employs aesthetic strategies which have their origin in the Romantic period and, although they are today usually seen as pertaining to the religious and esoteric sphere, they are also part of the scientific one. A paradigmatic example discussed by Grieser is the set of images produced by the Hubble Telescope, which deploy the same visual aesthetics as nineteenth-century Romantic pictures of Man contemplating the vastness of the beautiful universe (Grieser 2015b). While this visual similarity might be dismissed as a purely superficial effect due to a standardized aesthetics of images of the universe, Grieser has convincingly argued that it is the product of conscious aesthetic choices for expressing an “overwhelming aesthetic experience” (“überwältigende aesthetische Erfahrung,” Grieser 2017, 451) of imagining non-knowledge. This aesthetic mode is linked to religion as conceived since the Romantic period but is also a trait of the contemporary scientific enterprise in astrophysics, where scientists are not external observers gaining knowledge about the cosmos, but rather participate in it by experiencing both what they do and what they do not (yet) know.

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Recently, scholars from religious studies have noted how storytelling strategies and themes from the religious spheres are increasingly often employed in science communication. Gregory Schrempp highlighted parallels between popular science writing and ancient mythology, while Nancy Menning and Luke Keller analyzed the movie Journey of the Universe, arguing that it employs “mythic storytelling strategies” to present cosmology to non-specialistic audiences (Menning & Keller 2016, 21; Schrempp 2012). Although these authors are quite correct in their observations, they limit their remarks to science popularization, and implicitly or explicitly assume that the use of religious themes and narrative strategies is motivated by the scientists’ wish to reach out to the general public, and that scientific knowledge could also be expressed without recourse to storytelling. While Schrempp is careful on this point, noting only that his analysis focuses on popular science writing (Borrelli 2015b, 83–84; Schrempp 2012, 5), Menning and Keller make a distinction between religious and scientific knowledge (“objective scientific facts,” Menning & Keller, 23), framing the relationship of science and religion in the traditional terms of conflict or integration (Menning & Keller 2016, 26–28). Menning and Keller make use of Jerome Bruner’s distinction between a “paradigmatic” and a “narrative” mode of thought, the first characteristic of the sciences, the second of the humanities, although they admit that in some cases, like Darwin’s evolution, narrative strategies may be employed in science, too (Keller & Manning 2016, 23–24). Significantly, they state that “the scientific process is grounded in the use of observational evidence to evaluate the efficacy of theories” (Menning & Keller 2016, 30), thus uncritically and rather naively endorsing a view of the scientific method which, as we shall see in the next section, has long been seen as problematic in the philosophy of science. On this basis, they then argue that the movie Journey of the Universe “successfully employs narrative strategies to align scientific content and evidence (observation) with the viewer’s personal experience (and observations) of nature” (Menning & Keller 2016, 30). In turn, the viewer’s personal experience is linked to what they call “physical intuitions” such as that “the universe is characterized by a hierarchy of systems” (Menning & Keller 2016, 30). These physical intuitions are allegedly derived from everyday experience, yet also shaped by cultural elements, for example “what they tell us about our place in the universe” (Menning & Keller 2019, 30). Yet the authors fully fail to note how these intuitions and the culture shaping them also provide the basis for the construction of modern scientific knowledge, and are closely linked to a Romantic aesthetics shared with modern religion. Indeed, the images of the cosmos discussed by Menning and Keller display the same aesthetic strategies as the pictures from the Hubble Telescope analyed by Grieser. It is precisely to over-

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come the bias of seeing scientific knowledge as qualitatively different from other modes of knowing that the perspective of an aesthetics of knowledge is a necessary complement to analyses as those by Schrempp, or by Menning and Keller, as it allows to understand how some aesthetic choices made by scientists are not purely dictated by the wish to popularize but rather express a common heritage of science and religion. Aesthetic experiences are constitutive of scientific practice not purely as means of validation, but also at the epistemic level of knowledge construction. From this perspective, no distinction can be drawn between a scientist’s allegedly rational search for natural laws and her allegedly poetic appraisal of natural order. As we shall see, a similar situation appears in the case of Grand Unification, at whose core is a narrative of discovery which goes well beyond the classical notion of scientific discovery of observable phenomena and empirically successful theories. Grand Unified Theories extended the object of scientific research to a sphere characterized as existing, yet not accessible to observation because it is either situated in the far past or is manifest only under conditions which it is (and always will be) beyond human capability to realize. This is a field of inquiry at the intersection of knowledge and non-knowledge whose speculative character is explicitly underscored by scientists, and simultaneously portrayed not as an obstacle, but rather as a motivation for its study. Moreover, although I will not focus on this issue in the present paper, it may be noted that, in this period, scientists particularly efficient in the worldmaking activity were often portrayed as possessing not only technical competence, but also a strong imagination: they were “geniuses” in a Romantic sense, and in fact often mutually competed for such special status. The Romantic themes of the quest for knowledge and non-knowledge beyond the empirical sphere, and of the genius are not the only ones deployed in the context of Grand Unification. In many cases, mathematical features of the theories are associated to a perceived beauty which is presented as a further ground for truth, a vision made plausible by explicitly appealing to the well-known rhetorical figure from philosophical and religious traditions (Borrelli 2017). Moreover, as we shall see, the creation of these theoretical constructs was not originally motivated by phenomena to be explained, but rather by the belief in the existence of a hidden unity behind the diversity of phenomena. This theme, too, was a key element both of Romantic religion and Romantic science, and its contribution to the emergence of modern science has often been underscored, for example, in the development of electromagnetism or of the principle of energy conservation (Caneva 1997; Brain, Cohen & Knudsen 2007). The factuality of the unified scenario in the eyes of the scientific community was therefore generated and supported both by the refinement and inner coherence of the

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mathematical, verbal, and visual elements of the narrative construct, and by the adaptation and declination of the themes of the quest for a reality, not accessible to the senses, of a connection between beauty and truth and of the existence of a unity of nature to which physicists refer to as hidden or spontaneously broken. By appealing to the Romantic heritage which is constitutionally part of modern science as well as of modern religion, theorists developing Grand Unification could make their approach plausible to their community even though, as noted by philosophers of science, both theories of Grand Unification from the 1970s and their later offspring, like string theory, do not conform to the ideal of the hypothetico-deductive method, according to which scientists proceed by first formulating falsifiable hypotheses and then testing them against an experiment; string theories make predictions which would be testable only at energies so high, they cannot be reached through experiments (Dawid 2013). These worldmaking narratives are not fictional in the sense of describing thought experiments or hypotheses to be empirically verified or falsified. Although the original Grand Unified Theories of the 1970s actually died out because they made the falsifiable (and eventually falsified) prediction of the decay of the proton, they were immediately replaced by other unifying “theories of everything” (supersymmetric Grand Unified Theories, supergravity, strings and more) which have since constantly been reshaped to withstand adverse experimental indications and are still being regarded as plausible by their community of practitioners. As I will argue in the following pages, Grand Unified theories are narrative scenarios whose primary requirements are inner coherence and the capability to adjust to a broad, potentially infinite range of future experimental results. The construction of these scenarios is a worldmaking practice which draws out the contours of a field situated between knowledge and non-knowledge. By locating the sought-for unity of nature at high energies and shortly after the Big Bang, the activities of all physicists theoretically and experimentally exploring that field—and not only of a few geniuses—could be embedded in the scenarios of unification, which therefore took up a function analogous to the religious affordances described by Markus A. Davidsen in the case of fictional texts fostering religious belief in supernatural beings (Davidsen 2016).

3

The Epistemic Role of Narratives in the Sciences

At least since the late nineteenth century, religion has largely been defined in terms of immutable master narratives while science has usually been seen

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as characterized by a core of fundamental theories. A widely-held yet, as we shall see, problematic view about these theories is that they are logicalmathematical constructs whose predictions can in principle be tested and whose validity in a given phenomenal field, once established, holds until they are superseded by the next step in scientific progress. Examples include Newton’s laws of classical motion, electromagnetism, quantum mechanics, or the theory of relativity. Philosophers of science have often discussed how these mathematical structures might be interpreted to provide indications on the features of the real world.2 While the realism-antirealism debate is of no interest for the present topic, the focus on mathematical structures and their interpretation is. Philosophers regarding scientific theories as logical-mathematical structures see a clear-cut distinction between them and their (usually verbal or visual) interpretation. However, in the last decades this view has been criticized by a more pragmatic notion of scientific theories, according to which they have a composite nature comprising more than only mathematical elements. From this point of view, no sharp distinction between a theory and its interpretation is possible, and the aesthetic approach can provide a powerful heuristic tool to investigate theoretical constructs by regarding mathematical formulas as only one among various aesthetic strategies employed to construct and communicate scientific knowledge, each having its own specific epistemic premises and implications. Investigations by historians of science and scholars from cultural and media studies have shown how mathematical symbols, verbal statements, images, or diagrams are more than interchangeable forms of an unchangeable content. Understanding and communicating scientific knowledge, even of the most theoretical sort, requires the capability of relating to and manipulating a broad range of codes and media from which, as historical studies have shown again and again, very different meanings can emerge depending on context and actors involved (Bredekamp & Velminski 2010; Galison 1997; Kaiser 2005; Klein 2001). Notions and theoretical structures emerging from such epistemic constellations are not immutable, sharply defined, logical-mathematical constructs, as the traditional image of science may suggest. They are rather vague, hybrid, and at times even self-contradictory objects which communities of scientists with different backgrounds and aims may appropriate and adapt to their own methodological and conceptual frameworks. At the same time, because

2 For an up-to-date review and further references on philosophical views on scientific theories see (Winther 2016), on which the following short remarks are based.

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of their flexible character, those conceptual frameworks may provide a means to embed the practices of the various groups into a broader, yet vaguer landscape. In this way, they also allow communication across disciplines, serving as “trading zones,” to use the term which Peter Galison borrowed from anthropology (Galison 1997). Examples of vague, productive concepts are those of gene and heredity in the life sciences and of engine in the physical ones (Keller 2000; Müller-Wille & Rheinberger 2007; Wise 1988). Both at the aesthetic and at the epistemic level these objects can be seen as products of and raw material for the unfolding of a specific kind of poetic imagination whose role in science has often been noted (Borrelli 2019a; Brandt 2009). In this context, narrative strategies are deployed—which an analysis informed both in narratology and in the aesthetics of religion may recognize as closely related to those of religious worldmaking, as discussed in the previous section. Setting aside for now the question of a shared aesthetics of science and religion, let us now see how narratives may play a role in modern scientific practice. Historians, sociologists, and rhetoricians of science have highlighted the importance of literary and visual narrative strategies for communicating and validating scientific results, especially experimental ones (Gross 1990; Shapin 1984). Cultural historians have underscored how much the whole scientific enterprise depends, for its validation, on grand narratives such as that of scientific progress (Azzouni & Böschen 2015; Blume & Leitgeb 2015; Lyotard 1979). Philosopher Joseph Rouse has suggested that scientific practice is fundamentally structured as a “narrative in construction” which scientists share and to which they are compelled to contribute (Rouse 1990). Finally, some authors see narratives as playing a constitutive role not only in communicating and validating science, but also in scientific understanding. The epistemic objects of science may be constructed also by employing narrative strategies involving aesthetic means ranging from literary techniques to computer simulations (Beer 2009; Morgan & Wise 2017a; Wise 2011; Wise 2017). These results challenge the traditional divide between a narrative mode of cognition, characteristic of the historical, philosophical, or economical disciplines, and a rational, logical-mathematical one typical of the natural sciences. Here a few words are in order on how the term narrative can be understood in this context. Narratologists have proposed different, often elaborate definitions for it, but scholars from science and technology studies usually adopt a minimal definition of narrative as a series of at least two events connected in a sequence in such a way as to implicitly or explicitly suggest causality, agency, and, more generally, an event (Borrelli 2019a, Morgan & Wise 2017a). The sequence is usually temporal, although it need not relate to lived, experienced time, and in some cases narrative unity may be achieved without any specifically temporal element.

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However, in the case study discussed below, the narrative has a time-based structure. A path-breaking study of narrative in science is Gillian Beer’s monograph Darwin’s Plots: Evolutionary Narratives in Darwin, George Eliot and Nineteenthcentury Fiction (2009, third ed.). Beer convincingly argues that Darwin could only both conceive and express his theory of evolution by creating a new, multi-layered narrative construct. The reason is that evolution by natural selection could not be supported by empirical evidence or formulated in causal terms. Instead, by following small exemplar stories of competition and selection playing out in a real, albeit not specifically situated time, the readers of The Origin of Species (1859) could connect them into a broader, overarching narrative comprised of both individuals and species—a narrative which unfolded over time spans beyond the limits of human experience. According to Beer, Darwin created this new, multi-layered narrative by deploying the literary strategies of his age, and, in turn, shaped the further development of English literature, as his master narrative was eventually taken up by authors of his time, especially George Eliot and Thomas Hardy. The story of evolution became so entrenched in modern culture that it is today an explanatory pattern employed beyond the biological sphere. While the life sciences may seem a plausible candidate for narratives in science, examples from mathematics have been brought forward, like the idea that theorems are not pure logical inferences, but actually need an element of emplotment which only human mathematicians can produce (Harris 2012). In the Routledge Encyclopedia of Narrative Theory, Arkady Plotnisky argues that the passage from classical to quantum mechanics displays both aesthetics and cognitive analogies to that from the modern to the post-modern novel (Plotnisky 2005). Among the authors discussing narrative as a constitutive element of scientific knowledge production, particularly notable is Norton Wise, who argues that in contemporary science a kind of explanation has established itself which is based upon a time-based unfolding of the object or system being explained, as, for example, when scientists simulate the coming-to-be of snow crystals or molecular bonds with the help of computers (Wise 2004, 2011, and 2017). In a special issue devoted to narrative science and narrative knowing (Morgan & Wise 2017a), Mary Morgan and Wise provide examples of the constitutive epistemic role of narratives in science “knocking aside some oftmade, simple, or stereotypical, assumptions about there being a fundamental opposition between narrative and science” (Morgan & Wise 2017b, 1) and explaining how narratives are able to connect fragmentary elements like mathematical formulas, verbal statements, computer simulations, diagrams, or im-

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ages into a hybrid, but meaningful whole which provides the basis for the production of new knowledge. I have argued elsewhere that narrative strategies have played an increasingly prominent role in theoretical constructs in fundamental physics since the 1970s (Borrelli 2012, 2015a, 2015b, 2019b). From that period onward, extensive employment of non-rigorous, yet empirically effective mathematical methods in model-building has led theoretical constructs to display a hybrid character as composites of formulas, verbal statements, and diagrams. These elements are often kept together by a multi-medial narrative structure, usually of minimal character, which confers the whole a great flexibility, allowing its components to also function as strategies of worldmaking, leading both to the enlargement of the knowledge horizon and to a closer bond among those science practitioners who share both the worldmaking tools and the belief in their efficacy. These practices will play an important role as tools of storytelling also in the narrative culture of Grand Unification.

4

The Narratological Perspective: Is Darwin’s Evolution Theory “Unnarratable Knowledge”?

The issue of narrative in science has been considered in the studies of factual narrative, although historians of science have noted that the factual/fictional distinction is not very useful when dealing with scientific practice (Brandt 2009). In general, however, narratologists have not devoted much attention to the role of narratives in scientific knowing, one exception being Porter Abbott, who interestingly argued that Darwin’s evolution theory can be seen as an example of “unnarratable knowledge” (Abbott 2003). It is instructive to discuss here Abbott’s argumentation and compare it with those of historians of science. Abbott’s contribution is part of an edited volume on Narrative Theory and the Cognitive Sciences and, accordingly, the author assumes an a-historical, naturalized notion of narrative, stating that “as a general rule, human beings have a cognitive bias toward the clarity of linear narrative in the construction of knowledge” (Abbott 2003, 143), and later claiming that “natural selection [is] difficult to describe in any historical context or at any level of sophistication” (Abbott 2003, 143 and 146, note 3). Abbott characterizes the “clarity of linear narrative” which is allegedly somehow (he does not explain how) hardwired into human brains by requiring some anthropomorphic agency, singular events and a plausible causal structure (Abbott 2003, 146–48, 150–51). Examples of such “lean” and “clear” narratives are “any moment in the summer 1941 when Ted Williams swung his bat and hit 400” (Abbott 2003, 150–51) and Bib-

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lical narration (Abbott 2003, 152–54). On the other hand, Abbott’s “unnaratable” goes in the direction of “something that transcends the limits of tolerable narrative, something strangely postmodern, like John Cage’s Concerto Grosso for 4 TV Sets and 12 Radios” (Abbott 2003, 148). All in all, what Abbott regards as narratable seems to display the traits of traditional Western storytelling, whereas complex, multi-layered constructs in which chance plays a central role are tangentially unnarratable, and as such—this is Abbott’s central claim—particularly difficult for humans to understand (Abbott 2003, 148). It is however important to note that Abbott again and again qualifies his notion of unnarratable, toning it down to “a bad story” or a story “more grand and convoluted by some exponential factor than War and Peace or A la recherche du temps perdu” (Abbott 2003, 148, 151). The exact connection between narrative and understanding as a cognitive faculty nonetheless remains in Abbott’s paper fully undetermined, except for a short reference at the end to Roger Shanck and Robert Abelson’s claim that “all knowledge is encoded as stories” (Abbott 2003, 160). It remains therefore unclear how strong Abbott’s epistemic claim is and how it specifically connects to cognitive science. However, I will not delve into these more philosophical aspects of Abbott’s thesis, and rather focus on the narratological and historical ones. According to Abbott, Darwin’s theory of evolution is unnarratable in the sense defined above, because (1) it tells about struggles of individuals, but actually focuses on a more abstract level (“narrative disjunction”), (2) it contains too much chance and no causality, and (3) there are no elements which can be constructed as (at least to some extent) anthropomorphic actors, because species are conceptually too vague—they “ooze,” to use Abbott’s term (Abbott 2003, 146–51). From this perspective, Abbott interprets Beer’s results as proof that Darwin’s Origin of Species was difficult to accept by his contemporaries because of its unnarratable character. Moreover, while admitting that Darwin did have an impact on the narrative style of his time, he seems to believe that this only made those narratives slightly less narratable (Abbott 2003, 146). In short, while Beer argues that Darwin developed a new kind of narrative which eventually transformed the ways of storytelling within and outside of literature, Abbott regards literary narrative as essentially conforming to the (biologically hardwired and culturally independent) standards of what he regards as narratable, both before and after Darwin, while the doctrine of natural selection is “more deeply resistant to narrative than scholars such as Beer or Levine have indicated” (Abbott 2003, 146, note 4). What to make of Abbott’s claims? First of all, if one accepts his definition of narratable as a linear, anthropomorphic, causal narrative such as those of classical plot-based novels, then other storytelling practices will automatically

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become unnarratable, among them probably much of today’s literature, films, and TV-shows, postmodern novels, as well as many traditional non-Western narratives. The question is of course, how far this de facto normative definition should be seen not as an expression of (Abbott’s) individual taste, but rather as a trait common to human beings of all times and cultures. Not being a narratologist, I am in no position to discuss how far evidence for changing historical and cultural standards of narratives supports such a strong naturalistic claim, an issue which seems to still be open (Fludernik 2010). I will instead look more closely at Abbott’s thesis that “narratable” knowledge enjoys a cognitive advantage which is independent of historical and cultural context. In this sense, a quite naive claim by Abbott is that the explanations of gravitation by a force of attraction is narratable, because the force can be constructed as a causal agency (Abbott 2003, 146). In fact, though, when Isaac Newton presented his work on gravitation, it was deemed unacceptable by many authors exactly because the “force of attraction” was not seen as a viable causal explanation (Joy 2006, 99–105). Thus, what appears to Abbott as absolutely narratable was perceived as not understandable in the eighteenth century, and in fact Newton’s work on gravity was a factor which transformed the notion of causal explanation away from a multi-causal, Aristotelian scheme, towards a monocausal one. Let us now consider Darwin. There is no doubt that, as explained by Beer, his narrative broke the traditional schemes of his time, and was accordingly difficult to accept. However, Beer’s main point is that Darwin was forced to develop a new narrative style to present his theory not because he wished to narrate it, but because he could not cast it in the linear, logical, monocausal mold which was largely standard in the science of his time. Interestingly, much of Abbott’s discussion of the theory of evolution does not even focus on what Darwin actually wrote but is rather an attempt to define natural selection on the basis of texts by much later authors, like Mayr or Dawkins. Since the exact definition of evolution and natural selection is still today a matter of debate among scientists and philosophers (Brandon 2014), it is hardly surprising that Abbott finds it hard to understand, but this may not be necessarily linked to its narrative structure. On the other hand, the general story of natural selection as “survival of the fittest,” while of probabilistic rather than causal character, has become a common explanatory template used not only in biology, but also to explain human behaviour, economy, or cultural and sociological features (Lewens 2018). Finally, Abbott devotes a long section to discussing how Creationist doctrines are much more narratable than natural selection, as they build upon (narratable) Biblical stories, and are therefore more successful in convincing people thanks to the cognitive bias towards narratable knowledge.

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However, Abbott fails to consider the fact that Creationist doctrines are indeed very popular, but only among very religious communities in which a (usually literally interpreted) Biblical narrative provides the framework for understanding more or less everything. Since the theory of evolution bluntly contradicts the main Biblical narrative of Genesis, while other theories like quantum mechanics or gravitation do not, it is hardly surprising that in those communities Creationism should be more successful than evolution theory. This is the case both in the USA, where Creationism originated, and in Europe, where it has recently been spreading among religious communities of different kinds (Kjærgaard 2016). In conclusion, I believe that evidence from past and present science hardly supports Abbott’s claim of a cognitive bias in favor of what he calls narratable knowledge.

5

Grand Unification as the Core of a Narrative Culture

From the 1970s onwards, Grand Unified Theories (GUTs) became the core of a narrative culture within the scientific community: a story of unification beyond observable phenomena which physicists could adapt and disseminate in more or less elaborate versions depending on their backgrounds and aims. Like Darwin’s theory of evolution, GUTs were both theories and narratives. They were expressed through a mixture of formulas, words, and images in which aesthetic modes of knowledge from the Romantic traditions played a prominent role. Romantic aesthetics could be effective in forming a new narrative culture within science because it was already part of the modern scientific heritage. Moreover, as we shall see presently, theories of Grand Unification built upon a notion which already heavily relied on Romantic aesthetics for its expression and validation: the idea that there exist in nature hidden symmetries that are not manifest in phenomena (Borrelli 2017). Before discussing this topic in more detail, it is necessary to briefly sketch the context from which GUTs emerged. During the 1970s, the Standard Model of particle physics emerged: a theory which describes particle phenomena in terms of three interactions known respectively as electromagentic, strong forces, and weak forces, each characterized by its own specific coupling constant, a parameter determining the intensity of the interaction (Hoddeson et al. 1997). Although the Standard Model soon proved empirically successful, physicists started searching for a new theory in which the three forces might be unified, speculating that the unification would become manifest only at very high energies inaccessible to experiment (Pickering 1984, 383–402). Here, it is important to note the difference between

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GUTs and other cases of unification which are found in the history of science. To this aim, it is helpful to consider the example of electromagnetism. In the late eighteenth century, empirically successful theories of electricity and magnetism were formulated, yet the two areas were regarded as distinct from each other (Wise 1990). During the first decades of the nineteenth century, however, experiments showed that electricity and magnetism were intimately connected, and eventually the theory of electromagnetism emerged. At that point, the unified theory of electromagnetism superseded earlier models of electricity and magnetism, which remained only used in very few instances. Instead, even if a satisfactory GUT had been found, it would not, and could not have been directly employed to describe observed phenomena. In our lived space and time, the three distinct theories of electromagnetic, weak forces, and strong interactions would continue to be the only empirically relevant references. Yet the idea of unification characteristic of GUTs was not simply an interpretation of existing theories: authors took great pains to devise mathematical methods which allowed to extrapolate those theories into an experimentally unobservable energy range where they would become one, thus showing how unification might in principle be possible. It is because of this dynamic nature that GUTs can be seen as having an in-built temporal dimension and therefore displaying narrative character, albeit of course a very simple one. They are theories telling the story of how forces become one—or, equivalently, of how a single, unified force breaks down into three apparently distinct interactions. Within this basic narrative framework, theorists could then exercise their own imagination, creating new, increasingly complex unified landscapes on the basis both of their physical and mathematical competence and of their storytelling skills. In the course of the 1970s, the narrative of Grand Unification captured the imagination of physicists beyond the small community of theorists where it had originated, and its worldmaking potential became an essential component of research practices in High Energy Physics. By the 1980s, it was difficult to find a particle physicist who did not, at least to some extent, know, share, and re-tell the story of unification of forces at high energies. At this point, one might ask: Why did physicists take an interest in developing GUTs and disseminating a narrative of unification, if they already had a perfectly valid theory covering most particle phenomena, i.e. the Standard Model? As is usually the case with historical developments, no monocausal explanation can be given, and it is not possible to discuss here this complex topic. As mentioned above, however, an important factor motivating and fostering the narrative of unification was the fact that it started with the notion of hidden symmetries of nature, which was already linked to Romantic aesthet-

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ics and so provided an ideal seed for the further development of storytelling in the same aesthetic mode. Today, the notion that symmetries provide a guideline for the formulation of fundamental laws of nature is usually presented by scientists as an ageless, possibly in-born intuition of human beings, and often linked to artistic expressions. However, historical studies have shown how drawing a continuous line between pre-modern concepts of natural symmetry or harmony and the late-twentieth-century assumption of the existence of symmetries of nature is extremely misleading (Hon & Goldstein 2008). The view that fundamental laws of nature display hierarchies of (broken) symmetries became a central tenet of theoretical physics only during the 1960s and early ’70s (Borrelli 2017; 2018). In that period, the view became established that the approximate regularities displayed by particle phenomena are not accidental, but rather due to symmetries which somehow exist in nature but manifest themselves in phenomena only in an incomplete way. In this context, physicists started speaking of hidden or spontaneously broken symmetries of nature. As I have discussed in detail elsewhere (Borrelli 2017), they increasingly often discussed symmetry and symmetry-breaking by employing verbal and visual strategies which had a long tradition in Romantic aesthetics of knowledge. In particular, it was in this context that the connection between symmetry, beauty, and truth was established and linked to broader, immediately sensory experiences of beauty. In this way, scientists were able to frame their newly-found, highly idiosyncratic interest in symmetries and symmetry-breaking in terms of a search for beauty and truth in nature which could be projected back in time to the furthest past and linked to an aesthetically reinterpreted Romantic view of the religious experience. The connection between symmetry, beauty, and truth did not necessarily display a narrative character but became an important ingredient in the story of Grand Unification around which a narrative culture would form. The reason is that the theories describing the three forces in the Standard Model displayed different versions of the same kind of symmetry (so-called gauge symmetry), prompting theorists to speculate on how they might be connected at a hidden level of reality. By taking empirically observed, exact or approximate symmetries as hints to higher, hidden symmetries of nature, they could construct speculative scenarios of unification whose plausibility depended both on the alleged beauty of the unified symmetry and on the ingenuity with which the authors could set up a more or less rigorous mechanism of its breakdown. As we shall see in the next section, this could be done thanks to the peculiar mathematical methods which had been developed within quantum field theory and which proved to be a very efficient means of storytelling.

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Storytelling with Formulas

As explained in the previous sections, the narrative of Grand Unification of forces obtained in a realm is generally described by the term “at high energies.” The idea of different energy scales in which different physical phenomena manifested themselves was not new in the 1970s. Earlier in the twentieth century it had been noted that the same kind of interaction could give rise to quite different phenomena. For example, nuclear forces are very strong at close range, but become quickly negligible when distance grows; while gravity is strong at large distances, it plays no noticeable role at the molecular scale or below it. Distance and energy were seen as connected because phenomena at short distances could be studied only by means of particle collisions at very high energy penetrating atoms and nuclei. By the 1970s a paradigm had established itself in particle physics: each energy scale was characterized by its own specific type of phenomena, and new kinds of manifestations of nature could be discovered by making experiments at increasingly higher energies (Pickering 1984, 347–81). However, the situation for theorists was more complex: they could build speculative models of physics at higher energies, but it was not obvious how to connect those models to the theories valid in the observable range. In this context the peculiar mathematical features of theoretical particle physics became relevant, and therefore they will be sketched below. The overarching physical-mathematical framework for particle physics is quantum field theory, which delivers numerical predictions to be compared with experiments. However, such predictions can only be achieved by using mathematical procedures (renormalization), which are regarded as nonrigorous by mathematicians (Brown 1993). This situation is generally seen as unproblematic in the physics community: as long as the predictions match the experiment, physicists assume that their methods, albeit formally questionable, are essentially sound. Moreover, as we shall see, the procedures of renormalization provided theorists with the formal tools allowing them to move from one energy scale to the other, and eventually became a productive storytelling tool for a new narrative culture. The problem with quantum field theory is that it often leads to expressions (integrals) which, in strict mathematical terms, simply make no sense. The issue may be understood by considering a simple example: the expression 1/0, i.e. the formal division of one by zero. This symbol might at first sight appear as a mathematical formula, but, as we learned in school, it actually makes no mathematical sense because it was written down in breach of a fundamental rule of arithmetic: one may not divide by zero. There are, in mathemat-

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ics, a potentially infinite number of similar expressions, which in the eyes of mathematicians derive from an improper use of formal symbolism, and the integrals of quantum field theory are one example. Like 1/0, those integrals make no mathematical sense and should therefore never appear in a computation. In the years immediately after the Second World War, however, methods were developed to formally “subtract” all the nonsensical integrals, obtaining from the theory predictions which perfectly matched experiment (Schweber 1994). As noted above, these methods are mathematically non-rigorous, but their empirical success acquiesced any doubts physicists might have had about their soundness. It is not possible to go here into the details of the highly complex and standardized procedure of renormalization. What is important to note for our topic is that, to subtract the problematic terms from quantumfield-theoretical computations, one must pay a price: introducing in the final expressions a parameter, usually indicated as µ, having the dimensions of energy and an arbitrary value. Since this parameter is the product of a purely formal procedure, all physically measurable quantities must be independent from it. This (purely formal) dependence of a quantum field theory from the parameter µ could be expressed by regarding the relevant coupling constant (electric charge, strong or weak coupling) not as a fixed number, but as a function of the parameter µ: the so-called running coupling constant. The running constants take on their measured value when µ is set equal to the energy scale at which the constant in question has been measured, and their dependence from the parameter µ has no physical significance, as it should be. However, in the early 1970s theorists started to deploy the formalism of the running coupling constant to imagine how physics might look like at energy scales different from those at which experiments can be performed. The non-physical formalism of the running coupling constant thus took up the function of a tool for physical-mathematical imagination. Once again it is important to note that the imagination did not produce verbal or visual interpretations of formulas, but that the mathematical expressions themselves took up a role analogous to that of words and images as tools for worldmaking. Like words or images, formulas, too, have their own rules of syntax and semantics, which can be bent or broken to construct a hybrid, poetic and poietic narrative. As is the case in poetry or visual arts, disregarding rules does not necessarily result in chaos and thus can also give rise to new meanings in the perception of beholders sharing the same cultural premises. Together with Romantic aesthetics, the formalism of running coupling constants became a medium of storytelling allowing the creation of a new narrative culture.

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331

From Pati and Salam’s Beginning to the Dreams of Nobel Prize Laureates

A paper usually quoted as the starting point for GUTs was published in 1973 by the two theorists Jogesh Pati and Abdus Salam (Pati & Salam 1973), both of Indian origin, although at the time working in U.S American and European institutions. Pati and Salam took as starting point the (approximate) symmetries displayed by two distinct groups of particles: hadrons, which interact through all three forces, and leptons, which are only subject to weak and electromagnetic forces. Pati and Salam proposed that the two symmetries could be unified into an overarching, albeit “badly broken” one, a “supersymmetry” that might form the basis for unifying the three forces (Pati & Salam 1973, 1240). They wrote: [T]he full dynamical content of such a supersymmetry group may provide new insights. For example [it] may lead to a unified treatment of the strong as well as weak electromagnetic interactions. Pati & Salam 1973, 1240–241

Pati and Salam noted that they were only exploring possibilities: “we attempt to make a beginning toward a unified treatment of the hadrons and leptons” (Pati & Salam 1973, 1241). While in this paper they considered a number of symmetry schemes, in a later one they looked more in detail at a specific class of models, yet underscored that “the notion that all fundamental matter is of one variety [. . .] is something which lies at a level much deeper than the particular models discussed in this paper, [. . .] and it is this unification which we principlally wish to stress” (Pati & Salam 1973, 275). This quote expresses a wish for knowledge about a unity lying beyond the realm of what can be bodily experienced, even with the help of the most refined experimental apparatuses: a unity at the border of knowledge and non-knowledge. The unification of forces obtained fully outside of observation’s grasp, except perhaps for extremely rare occurrences like proton decay, to which I shall return. Pati and Salam’s proposal might have remained an isolated, idle speculation, if it had not been taken up and re-told with more detail and powerful rhetorics by two U.S. American theorists, Howard Georgi and Sheldon Glashow, who published in 1974 a paper entitled “Unity of all elementaryparticle forces.” In the abstract, they stated: “Strong, electromagnetic, and weak forces are conjectured to arise from a single fundamental interaction based on the gauge group [i.e. symmetry] SU(5)” (Georgi & Glashow 1974, 438). Later on, they candidly but proudly made clear the speculative character of their model:

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We present a series of hypotheses and speculations leading inescapably to the conclusion that SU(5) is the gauge group of the world that all elementary particle forces (strong, weak, and electromagnetic) are different manifestations of the same fundamental interaction involving a single coupling strength, the fine-structure constant. Our hypotheses may be wrong and our speculations idle, but the uniqueness and simplicity of our scheme are reasons enough that it be taken seriously. Georgi & Glashow 1974, 438

Georgi and Glashow were the first to use the formalism of the running coupling constants to tell the story of unification. Recent results had used that formalism to explain why strong interactions are apparently weaker at higher energies, a phenomenon labelled as asymptotic freedom. Georgi and Glashow suggested that all coupling constants might be weak and equal at high energies, and that the formalism of the running coupling constants could help reconstruct how the three values converged. They employed a quite suggestive language to describe their hypothesis. As a complement to “asymptotic freedom” (weak interactions at high energies), they referred to strong forces at low energies as “infrared slavery” (Georgi & Glashow 1974, 439). Again, they underscored how “outrageous,” and possibly unfounded their speculations were: The same coupling strength—the fine-structure constant—characterizes all three kinds of interaction. This outrageous possibility may seem palatable after the following discussion about asymptotic freedom and its complement, infrared slavery. Georgi & Glashow 1974, 439

Unification unfolded as a movement along the energy scale which Georgi and Glashow narrated and anthropomorphized by associating it to a passage from low-energy slavery to high-energy freedom, or the reverse: a fall from (hypothetical) freedom into (observed) slavery. They were not interpreting the formalism of the running coupling constant, but rather using it as a narrative worldmaking tool by combining it with verbal and non-verbal elements. The paper was short and sketchy, but extremely suggestive, turning Pati and Salam’s rather barren suggestion into a Romantic narrative. The ending expressed once again the pride the authors took in their own creation and prompted further speculative exploration of the imagined unified landscape:

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From simple beginnings we have constructed the unique simple theory. [. . .] More theoretical work is needed to determine whether the idea of infrared slavery, necessary for our unification, actually makes sense. Georgi & Glashow 1974, 440

This invitation to take up, adapt, and disseminate the narrative of Grand Unification was quite successful, with the paper quickly becoming one of the most often quoted in the field and remaining such until the early 21st century, when it was eventually displaced by works devoted to versions of the narrative of unification which also included gravity.3 Georgi and Glashow made use of wordings which might have been uttered by Romantic heroes expressing their belief in the unity of nature, and their repeated appeal to the simplicity of their model can be seen as connecting to the theme of truth as simplicity and beauty. As a final example of the verbal aesthetics of early GUTs, let us look at a paper by Georgi, Helen Quinn, and Steven Weinberg. Georgi, Quinn, and Weinberg made further proposals on how the three coupling constants could become equal at high energies, underscoring the beauty of this idea: “We find the notion of a simple gauge group uniting strong, weak, and electromagnetic interactions extraordinarily attractive” (Georgi, Quinn & Weinberg 1974, 451). Their final remarks offer an example of how the authors combined technical issues (the distinction between two types of symmetry breaking) with scenarios calling into play the emotions of authors and readers, and again offering “attractiveness” as a motivation for speculative, narrative theory-building: Finally, we want to emphasize what seems to us to be the most disturbing feature of the class of models discussed here, that is, the existence of two stages of spontaneous symmetry breaking characterized by radically different mass scales [. . .] we can find no natural explanation of the enormous ratio of superheavy mass to ordinary mass. We have nothing quantitative to say about this mystery, but the following speculation seems attractive to us. Georgi, Quinn & Weinberg 1974, 453–54

The picture of a unified force whose symmetry mysteriously broke down spontaneously at two different energy scales tapped the resources of Romantic aes-

3 Lists of most quoted papers of all times for the years since 1974 can be found at http:// inspirehep.net/info/hep/stats/topcites/index.

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thetics and the imagination of non-knowledge. Unification was a “mystery” rather than a puzzle, and speculations about it were “extraordinarily attractive.” It is interesting to note here how all authors discussed on the one hand expressed great confidence in their exceedingly bold hypothesis, and on the other hand candidly admitted that they had little or no support for their correctness. A parallel might be drawn with storytelling of traditional legends discussed in this volume by Dirk Johannsen, where belief in a story about supernatural beings was often also expressed in form of ritual doubt (Johannsen, this volume). In the following years, a growing number of theorists attempted to solve the mystery, re-telling their own technically precise version of the unification story. Evidence of its popularity in the scientific community is the fact that, in 1979, when the Sheldon Glashow, Abdus Salam, and Steven Weinberg received the Physics Nobel prize, all three of them stated in their Nobel lecture the conviction that the unification of fundamental forces at high energies lay ahead (Glashow 1979, 494–95; Salam 1979, 531–33; Weinberg 1979, 521). This message, on the one hand, shows how much particle theorists shared and valued the story of unification, and on the other, also contributed to making it more popular among experimenters and physicists in general.

8

The Narrative of Grand Unification in Images and Textbooks

A very important means to express and prompt the spread of the narrative of Grand Unification was the image of the three running coupling constants becoming one at high energies like that shown in Figure 12.1. According to physicist and popular science writer John Barrow, a diagram of this kind was proposed for the first time by Jagesh Pati in 1978, to be soon appropriated and adapted by many other theorists, becoming an icon of the story of Grand Unification (Barrow 2008, 512, 590, note 89; Pati 1978, 278). Although the image might appear as the visualization of an exact computation, it is rather a qualitative picture which, thanks to small adjustments, could fit any model of unification through running coupling constants. Barrow included these figures among the “key images of science” (Barrow 2008, 507–13), and still today a quick internet search for images of Grand Unification results in a number of its variations, also often including gravity. These images express both the shared core of the narrative of unification and the many ways in which that story has been and is being told and re-told by theorists in their imagination of unified scenarios. They took up a central role in the narrative culture of unification, as they were accessible to all members

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The merging of coupling constants at high energies Reproduction by Arianna Borrelli

of the particle physics community independently of their mathematical competence, yet it could also be connected to refined theoretical constructs. It is no chance that the image appeared and rapidly spread at the time at which Glashow, Weinberg, and Salam spoke about their belief in unification at the Nobel ceremony. By the early 1980s, Grand Unified Theories, despite being still fully speculative, had already a place in textbooks. In the first edition of their widely used manual of theoretical particle physics, which was published in 1984, Ta-Pei Cheng and Ling-Fong Li devoted a whole chapter to Grand Unification (Cheng & Li 1984, 428–52). Right at the beginning, they stated how Grand Unification was not a theory, but a wide class of speculative projects driven by a desire to find unity behind observed variety. The authors, reflecting the general perception of the high energy community, presented this desire as self-evident and in need of no explanation: Clearly it is desirable to have a more unified theory which can combine all these three interactions [i.e. electromagnetic, weak and strong] as components of a single force: a theory with only one gauge coupling. Georgi and Glashow showed that for the standard model, with the presently known quarks and leptons in each family, the simplest unification gauge group of colour and flavour is SU(5). However, because of the large differences in coupling strengths of strong and electroweak interactions, the unification would not become apparent until the energy scale of 1014 GeV was reached, corresponding to a distance of 10− 28 cm. Cheng & Li 1984, 429

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As all physicists and advanced students, like those reading the manual, would know, the values of energy and distance at which unification would “become apparent” were fully outside the range of observation. For human eyes and human-made instruments alike, the unified force and its unbroken symmetry would never actually “become apparent,” yet theorists “clearly” desired to show how such a unity might be achieved. The belief in unification was explicitly acknowledged as not being supported by empirical or mathematical evidence, but rather as motivated by a desire for unification shared by the community. The textbook not only provided technical information to the students, but also made them familiar with the shared narratives of the community, facilitating their entrance in the narrative culture. Besides the theme of a quest for a hidden unity of nature, Cheng and Li also employed the topos linking beauty and truth. They explained that the simplest unified symmetry was the one usually referred to by physicists as SU(5), but many other “attractive” schemes were possible (Cheng and Li 1984, 428). In their discussion, they focused “on the simplest grand unified model,” presenting this scheme as an example to introduce readers to the story of unification, using also the image discussed above (Cheng & Li 1984, 434–37, 437–42). The grand unified theory, by definition, has only one coupling constant associated with the unified gauge [symmetry] group. The same coupling constant should apply to the [symmetry] subgroups as well. [. . .] Before proceeding with detailed analysis we shall first make some qualitative statements about the coupling constant unification, which is represented graphically in figure 14.2 [This figure has the structure of figure 2. A.B.]. Cheng & Li 1984, 437–38

Cheng and Li’s presentation aimed at younger or less experienced members of the theoretical high-energy community and presented the desire for unobservable unification as a generally shared trait which students would be expected to accept and mimic. The chapter also contained a brief section on a quite important development that had taken place in the late 1970s: the connection between Grand Unification and Big Bang cosmology. The central assumption allowing the connection was that, according Big Bang cosmology, the very early phase of the universe right after the Big Bang corresponds to a small, highly energetic and quickly expanding universe. In that primeval scenario, the simplicity of a unified force might be assumed to have manifested itself. As suggested among the first ones by Motohiko Yoshimura in 1978, the laws ruling the early, hot universe might not be as “hopelessly complicated” as one might

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think, but rather correspond to “state made of almost freely moving objects” (Yoshimura 1978, 281–82). If this picture obtained, GUTs might be employed to tentatively explain why our universe is made only of matter, although, according to fundamental laws, a perfect symmetry between matter and anti-matter should hold. Cheng and Li briefly presented recent suggestions in this direction, and concluded that, although so far no fully satisfying model had been formulated, Grand Unification schemes had “qualitatively correct features” to provide a “natural explanation” of the matter-antimatter asymmetry in our universe (Cheng & Li 1984, 446). The use of the term natural, which as we saw also appeared in the text by Georgi, Quinn, and Weinberg, can be seen as invoking a moral authority of nature common to religious and scientific themes (Daston & Vidal 2004). Indeed, it was precisely in the early 1980s that theoretical physicists introduced the notion of naturalness as an aesthetic trait which high-energy theories are expected to possess (Borrelli 2015b). Situating Grand Unification not just at high energies, but more specifically in the early universe strengthened its connection to religious themes through implicit and at times also explicit references to the creation story and enhanced both its attractiveness and its worldmaking potential, making it interesting also for cosmologists. This development fit the research trends of the time, as particle physicists and cosmologists joined forces in a period in which, both in the U.S. and in Europe, funding for fundamental research was being drastically reduced (Kaiser 2006). Moreover, the narrative of Grand Unification also provided a powerful template for communicating the epistemic potential of fundamental research to politicians and to the broader public, a potential which is still often deployed in popular science literature. In this context, the use of religious aesthetics by scientists becomes particularly evident, although often dismissed as window dressing, metaphor, or tongue-in-cheek way of speaking. However, as the discussion above should have shown, both the multi-medial narrative of Grand Unification and its compelling aesthetics of a bold search for unity and truth originated in scientific papers and constituted a component of research practices: physicists were not making up fairy tales for the laypeople but were letting them participate in their own narrative culture. The connection between unification of particle forces and cosmology became even stronger during the early 1980s, when attempts to unify gravity with the other three interactions emerged, and today’s versions of the narrative of unification often include gravitation. Meanwhile, the original GUTs from the 1970s had been ruled out during the 1980s by the absence of the only observable phenomenon that they could predict: the decay of the proton (Pickering 1984, 391–96, Raby 2002). However, new kinds of theories took their place and,

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as the steady flow of popular science books on the topic shows, the narrative culture telling and re-telling the scientific stories of unification is alive and well, and continues to make intensive use of Romantic, religious aesthetics.

9

Concluding Remarks

In the previous pages I have discussed the Grand Unified Theories (GUTs) of the 1970s and early ’80s, which represented the early phase of a still ongoing quest for a so-called theory of everything in which all known fundamental interactions are unified beyond observable phenomena. I have argued that GUTs could be characterized as narrative constructs because they purported to represent not a static unity, but a dynamical, time-based process of unification. These theoretical constructs were a combination of words, formulas, and images, with each of these different medial elements contributing in equal measure. In particular, mathematical formulas based on the non-rigorous methods which were (and still are) an essential component of quantum field theory were employed by theorists as special tools of worldmaking. This was possible because, like words or images, formulas, too, have their own specific syntactic rules that, depending on circumstances, could be respected, bent, or broken to generate new meaning. The theory was a multi-medial narrative, and not a mathematical construct to which verbal interpretations or visual representations were attached. As we saw, the time in which the story of unification unfolded was initially associated to a quite abstract motion up and down the energy scales, but later also came to be identified with a period of real time: the instants immediately after the Big Bang. In both cases, unification was obtained in a dimension of nature inaccessible to observation, either because it was situated in the far past or it required such high energy for its realization as could not be generated by human technology. The realm of high energy and the moments at the beginning of time were therefore characterized by a unity which was necessarily lost in the world we experience. Yet, although it was not physically possible to access the unified force of nature, physicists came to believe that it was possible to intellectually see it, drawing scenarios of what we might—or not—know about the hidden structure of natural laws. As I have argued by analyzing some of the seminal texts in the development of GUTs, in narrating unification scientists made ample use of aesthetic devices (words, images, rhetorical figures) rooted in a Romantic tradition which played a fundamental role in shaping both modern religion and modern science. The themes evoked were the quest for the experience of a hidden layer of nature which cannot

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be understood in terms of the dichotomy of knowledge/non-knowledge; the conviction of an inner unity of nature behind the multiplicity of phenomena; the connection between beauty and truth. A final point of contact between the search for unification at higher energies and religious narratives is the fact that the storytelling serves to express epistemic ideals and to allow the knowing subject to embed his or her own activity within them, thus fulfilling a function analogous to the religious affordances of fictional narratives identified by Davidsen (2016) in a special issue of the journal Religion devoted to the function of fictional narratives in inspiring religious belief. On the basis of the case studies discussed in the special issue, Davidsen argued that fictional narratives can afford religious belief in supernatural beings at three levels of “religious affordance” which fictional narratives can possess: [T]here exists a hierarchy of three levels of religious affordance that fictional narratives can possess: to afford belief in the supernatural beings of the story, a text must present those supernatural beings as real within the story-world; to afford ritual interaction with said beings, a text must include model rituals and inscribe the reader into the narrative; to afford belief in the historicity of the narrated events, a text must anchor the story-world in the actual world. Davidsen 2016, 489

Davidsen discussed novels such as Lord of the Rings or the Harry Potter series and consequently only referred to verbal text, yet a similar thesis may be put forward regarding the hybrid narratives of Grand Unified Theories and the way they afforded belief in unified theories at high energies not only by presenting them as real in the storyworld and anchoring the latter to the actual world, but also by allowing scientists to interact with them in their work. Theorists access high energies through the construction of speculative models, while experimentalists do so by building increasingly powerful accelerators. This is an effect of immersion similar to those discussed in the present volume for Norwegian legends (Johannsen, this volume), for weaving in Egyptian monasteries of Late Antiquity (Gilhus, this volume) and for miniature painting in Indian religious culture (Widmer, this volume). In conclusion, I hope to have shown how storytelling is neither incompatible with, nor a disposable by-product of research, but rather part and parcel of scientific practice. Learning about unification theories, teaching them to students, or expanding and testing them through research are activities which presuppose and foster membership both in the scientific community and in a narrative culture. Here, we see an analogy between religion and science which

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goes beyond a shared Romantic aesthetic. Like religious communities can be understood as narrative cultures sharing stories which can be varied and retold while being perceived as the same, scientific communities may, at least in some cases, be kept together not only by institutional, methodological, or socio-political factors, but also by the participation in a common storytelling enterprise which can change and adapt to transformations in the scientific community, yet be perceived as a stable and stabilizing factor binding physicists into a narrative culture.

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Afterthoughts

What Happens When the Story Is Told? Reflections on the Aesthetics of Narrative Worldmaking and Aesthetic Sensation—Afterthoughts Jens Kreinath

The broad array of themes and topics addressed in the different contributions to this volume dwell in several ways on the implications and implicatures that narratives create. They make religious meanings aesthetically appealing and effective through the construction of imaginary storyworlds. Be it through images, rituals, or any other means of communication, discourse, or practice, numerous religious traditions implicate the production, dissemination, application, and appropriation of narratives. These allude in distinct ways to the various media, modes, and genres of storytelling and worldmaking. Religious narratives can be told and retold and, in their themes and motives, combined and recombined in seemingly endless ways, creating and recreating various narrative cultures; but these narratives can also be heard, read, remembered, memorized, understood, participated in or debated upon so that these diverse dimensions of reception and co-production become a part of narrative cultures through the aesthetics of apprehension and appreciation. As indicated in the introduction to this volume, the study of religion as an academic discipline emerged through the critical scrutiny of religious texts. However, with its novel theoretical and methodological orientation, the aesthetics of religion approach significantly shifted the focus of this scrutiny and broadened this endeavor by providing new analytical tools and research objectives. By analyzing the processes of their transmission and reception in conjunction with the diverse forms of their sensory perception and imagination, the aesthetics of religion facilitates the study of the inherently formative and transformative dynamics of narrative cultures. As the contributions to this volume demonstrate, novel insights into the study of religious narrative cultures and the aesthetics of religious sensation can be gained through historical or ethnographic case studies that address different religious and cultural contexts, localities, epochs, or the like. While the contemporary academic study of religion deals with matters of the ‘real’ history of religion rather than with matters of the ‘imaginary’ worlds of storytelling and alternative worlds created through the slippage between

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fact and fiction, the aesthetics of religion allows for extending and transgressing the boundaries of such binary distinctions through the exploration of new venues and the creation of a new realm of possibilities in the nexus between the visible and invisible, or the real and imaginary. The different temporalities of the real and imaginary have the potential to shape different modes of sensory perceptions. The aesthetic study of these temporalities can include religious texts and traditions enacted, performed, and represented through bodily senses and emotions (Gilhus, in this volume; Wilkens, in this volume) or visual and audible modes of perception in the reconstruction of religious images and imaginaries (Feldt, in this volume; Laack, in this volume; Wilke, in this volume). With its theoretical and methodological approach and its focus on the contextual analysis of individual case studies, the aesthetics of religion has established itself as a robust field of study within its own right, and it is able to provide new insights to study narrative cultures within the context of religious traditions. To elaborate on the theoretical and methodological potential of the aesthetics of religion approach, these afterthoughts follow the sectional structure of this volume and explore a multitude of venues for approaching aesthetics as a means to study religion and religious narratives “in a new key” (Langer 1942). By way of imagination and immersion based on an ethnographic case study, the objective is to exemplify the potential of this approach by applying it to a case study that allows for methodological and theoretical reflections on issues central to the aesthetics of religion. With a clear focus on the theoretical and methodological questions as touched upon in the diverse contributions, these afterthoughts highlight formerly unrecognized connections and further expand on the aesthetic junctures of sensation and imagination in the construction of religious storyworlds. By presenting a historically and ethnographically telling case study in which different narrative cultures are intertwined through lines of socially and culturally interconnected storyworlds, the primary intent is to synthesize the most significant insights of these contributions through a potential framework for future analysis that emerges in the assemblage of the individual contributions. A nuanced consideration of all dimensions and aspects—as outlined in the design of this volume and based on a single case study—promises to exemplify the theoretical and methodological relevance of the aesthetic frame and narrative focus as integral to the makeup of this volume and the study of religion as a whole. By applying the aesthetics of religion approach to different types of narrative cultures that emerged through the story about a single historical event refracted in various contexts and traditions, the objective attempts to demonstrate how the theoretical and methodological approach as proposed

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in this volume could be put into practice and would work within the context of a case study. This will allow me to illustrate the theoretical and methodological potential of the aesthetics approach and show how it can be used to elucidate less obvious forms of narrative cultures and the different aesthetic means of their transmission within different religious and cultural contexts. The various intersections and interconnections that may emerge through the assemblage of the contributions to the aesthetics of religion and the study of narrative cultures alike will be discussed in my concluding remarks. The afterthoughts aim to bring the diverse narrative accounts of Armenian Christians from the Musa Dağı—a mountain range in the southernmost province of the Turkish Republic, also known as Moses Mountain, where the most astounding resistance to the Armenian genocide took place in 1915—into the fold. In doing so, I propose a model of aesthetic analysis that demonstrates how the different dimensions and layers of diverse narrative cultures can be integrated into a holistic perspective. By utilizing a holistic approach to the historical and ethnographic study of religion and by embracing Lila AbuLughod’s conceptual alternatives to write an “ethnography of the particular” (1991), these afterthoughts trace the various refractions of a narrative through a complex web of different storyworlds. With deliberate focus on narrative discourses and practices of how the descendants of the Musa Dağı community commemorate and tell the story of their ancestors’ collective survival, the ethnographic case study shall demonstrate those aesthetically tangible features of what could be called a culture of commemoration. By challenging established aesthetic categories and regimes of sensation, perception, and embodiment as they manifest in different modes of bodily attention (Kreinath 2019; Johannsen, in this volume), this study traces the nodes of narrative discourses and practices where the paths of different storylines intersect with the aim to untangle the complex web of diverse narrative cultures through their various media, forms, and genres. By telling the story of fieldwork experiences, these afterthoughts utilize the aesthetics of religion approach to reconstruct some of the most prevalent narrative features in the collective memory culture of a particular group which survived the Armenian genocide. To better contextualize the web of relationships of positioned subjects, and to account for the knowledge gained in fieldwork encounters, anthropologists of religion and culture aim to overcome the “ethnographic present” (Fabian 1983) in describing and representing religious and cultural practices and discourses as a tradition. As will be shown, the aesthetics of religion approach is able to capture narrative cultures that are performed and embodied by this group of survivors through unique rituals of commemoration.

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Commemoration Culture without Storytelling? Encounters with Armenian Christians from Musa Dağı

The first time I heard about an Armenian Christian village in the remote Musa Dağı was when I visited Antakya on an exploratory trip during the summer of 2008 seeking to establish a research project on interreligious relations in Hatay. I was made aware of this village during a conversation with a member of the local Christian community. During our conversation, in which we talked about the Armenian Christian community this individual pointed toward the site on a mountain, remotely visible from Antakya. I later came to understand its exceptional character as the only remaining ethnic Armenian village in Turkey and its appeal to so many European and North American travelers. Initially, I had no preference or particular interest in visiting this village during my first stay in Hatay. I knew of the possible difficulties, not to mention potential dangers, of not getting research permission from local authorities for a project that implicates an interest in events or locations that are even remotely related to the Armenian genocide in Turkey. During the early evening hours after a daylong trip to some of the most remote Arab Alawite and Orthodox Christian sanctuaries, my Turkish Sunni and Arab Alawite interlocutors who led me to these sites suggested that we should visit the Armenian village in Vakıflı, despite my initial hesitations. My Arab Alawite interlocutor was eager to show me a deserted house in front of which the Armenian villagers annually commemorate their survival during the Armenian genocide through the Feast of the Assumption of Mary on August 15, an event in which my Arab Alawite interlocutor had previously participated. Other buildings in the village were all maintained and well furbished, but this building in the village center was left in ruins as a way to remind people of the massacre and persecution that had taken place. While there, we only had a brief conversation at that time with several women in the courtyard of the church next to the house who were selling embroidery and wine. Other than that, none of the villagers seemed to be keen on interacting with unknown foreigners at all. It was only in 2012 that I had my first interviews with members of the Armenian Christian community in Vakıflı about their perception of interreligious relations in Hatay. However, none of the interviews I conducted at that time went beyond the obvious. After I completed my initial interviews, an elderly member of the community, nonetheless, offered a first tour to some of the other villages formerly inhabited by Armenian Christians. Once he showed me the ruins of one of their churches on top of which a mosque now exists, I could not resist asking about the history of the site and the events that took

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place during the summer months of 1915. Namely, I asked about when Armenian Christians that lived in seven villages along the slopes of the Musa Dağı resisted the deportation order to march into the Syrian Desert. The only response I received was “Just read Franz Werfel’s Forty Days of Musa Dagh. There you have everything you need to know.” Caught by surprise, I hesitated to ask any further questions as answers always fell short when it came to matters of local religion and history, even though he was known to be the most knowledgeable storyteller of the village. It was here that our conversation on that topic ended. The obvious discrepancy between local traditions of storytelling and the silence surrounding their history and memory of the 1915 events struck me as recurrent in my subsequent encounters with Armenian Christians from Vakıflı. It is this undeniable absence of a narrative culture among Armenian Christians from the seven villages of the Musa Dağı regarding their ancestors’ heroic resistance that Franz Werfel so famously carved into his monumental work of world literature while chiseling the multi-layered and elaborate story lines of his protagonists. With his narrative depiction of the desperate and yet heroic struggle of some 4,000—basically defenseless—Armenian Christians fleeing to the top of a mountain, Werfel created a complex storyworld that, despite its fictional character, served as a master narrative not only for the commemoration of the horrendous genocide that happened to the Armenian people but also as a template for readers to immerse themselves into the novel’s storyworld or to enact some ideas of resistance against dictatorial regimes. In fact, the protagonists of Franz Werfel’s novel actually inspired the heroic leaders of resistance movements in the Warsaw ghetto and in some concentration camps throughout eastern Europe, despite the fact that Nazi Germany forbade the production and dissemination of the novel immediately after its publication in 1933. Although the prohibition of this novel was made upon the order of the Turkish government as their clear denial of the Armenian genocide, its fame among Jews inspired the organization of resistance in a most hopeless situation. It also reflected a narrative culture that must have inspired this particular form of reception in what one can call an “aesthetics of resistance” (Weiss 2005). In numerous ways, the storyline of The Forty Days of Musa Dagh resembles various biblical characters and unquestionably encouraged numerous Jews to do something similar in the 1930s and to resist the dictatorial regime of the Nazis by standing up against their genocidal attempts. Werfel, himself a Jew who later on had to flee the Nazi regime, noticeably associated the suffering of the Armenian people with that of the Jewish by using various motives of the biblical narrative. His novel even had a considerable impact on the perception of the heroic resistance of Armenians from the Musa Dağı

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as well as that of the Jews in the Warsaw ghetto as Marcel Reich-Ranicki, a survivor of the holocaust, testified (Reich-Ranicki 1980, 192; Ihrig 2016, 365). Considering Werfel’s impact on the aesthetics of Jewish resistance and the perception of the Armenian resistance, it is surprising to witness how silent most Musa Dağı Armenian Christians are regarding their ancestors’ heroic past. However, it is not as surprising if one takes into consideration that the nearly 150 ethnic Armenian Christians living in the present-day village of Vakıflı are very well aware that they must be very careful how they are perceived by their Muslim neighbors and the Turkish government. They are, in fact, the last remaining descendants of the 1915 resistance fighters still living in the vicinity of the Musa Dağı. Their ancestors chose to stay in their homeland when Hatay was in 1939 annexed to Turkey, despite the possibility of yet another round of persecutions by the successors of their former oppressors. However, as the subsequent presentation of my case study will show, the social and political context in Turkey is not the only factor determining the virtual inexistence of a narrative culture amongst Armenian Christians regarding the community’s defining fight for survival in 1915. Trauma and fear commonly account for the unchosen silence among survivors of genocidal atrocities. This, however, is not likely the case for the survivors of the 1915 genocide. In fact, Musa Dağı Armenians are known as proud and courageous fighters who stood up against the injustice incited against them. This is at least articulated by those descendants of Musa Dağı Armenians who now live outside of Turkey, in places like Los Angeles or Anjar in Lebanon. It is their understanding that they only fought for their right to live and then survived after being rescued by French warships by accident. And yet, it is frowned upon among many Musa Dağı Armenians to publicly tell the story of their survival to outsiders or to brag about the heroic deeds of their ancestors. This code of conduct can be viewed in line with Bourdieu’s aesthetic concept of distinction which serves as an emblem of collective identity (Bourdieu 2013). This distinction is particularly important as it shaped their forms of narrative culture, which is perceived as being special among the survivors of the Armenian genocide. Musa Dağı Armenians relate to one another in special ways, not only in their distinct dialect but also in how they are aware of being descendants of the only Armenian community that effectively resisted the deportation of the Young Turks; yet they take pride in never openly talking about the event but, rather, collectively celebrating the survival of their ancestors in their own ways. It is in the doing—rather than saying or telling—in which Musa Dağı Armenians establish their own vernacular culture of telling the story of survival. This does not mean that Armenian Christians do not have a narrative culture at all.

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However, there is no specific form of narrative culture pertaining to the events surrounding the 1915 resistance and rescue of their ancestors. This vernacular form of narrative culture has broader implications for the aesthetic study of narratives in religious contexts: namely, for understanding the narrative culture of survivors of the Armenian genocide and for studying the aesthetics of religion in the context of the culture of commemoration among descendants of resistance fighters. This form of narrative culture must be contrasted with that of the early textual account of survivors rescued from the Musa Dağı in 1915 and with Werfel’s contribution. As the brief account below will indicate, the different forms and features of the Musa Dağı Armenian narrative culture are interrelated. In order to outline the relevance of the story of Musa Dağı Armenians for the aesthetics of religion and the study of narrative cultures in religious contexts, I focus on the memory culture among Armenian Christians from the Musa Dağı. Exemplifying the section outline of this volume, I will 1. Present my case study by first accounting for the rituals of commemoration and the small narrative forms and vernacular fragments that constitute the embodied form of collective memory of Musa Dağı Armenians living in Turkey, Germany, and the United States of America, 2. Provide insights into the identity formation process by discussing some of the most prominent survivors’ accounts and the main features in the transmission of the collective memory about the defining event of 1915 that tied human and non-human agents together and shaped how Musa Dağı Armenians perceive their ethnic identity and religious heritage today, and 3. Discuss the broader social and political impact that Franz Werfel had on the Musa Dağı Armenians with his historical novel in which he used the survivors’ accounts and interviewed the son of a leading resistance fighter living in Vienna.

2

Encounters with Rituals of Commemoration: Or, the Vernacular Form of Religious Storytelling

On the weekend closest to August 15, Armenian Christians in Vakıflı traditionally celebrate the Feast of the Assumption of Mary into Heaven jointly at the village square and the courtyard of their church. This feast serves as the annual date to commemorate their rescue from the Musa Dağı by the French warships on September 12, and their arrival in Port Said on September 14, 1915 (Trowbridge 1916). Although both festivals are of major significance for the Ar-

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menian Orthodox Christians, the commemoration of their rescue would be timelier and, for some Musa Dağı Armenians, more meaningful. Vakıflı Armenians, however, continue to celebrate their salvage during the Feast of the Assumption of Mary, as it was done since they first returned to their homeland in 1919 (Shemmassian 2016). This earlier date celebrating the commemoration of the rescue also has further religious and cultural implications that become most apparent in how and when the respective celebrations are performed. It should be noted that it is not possible to directly infer, neither from the name nor from the rituals performed during the Feast of the Assumption of Mary, that this is actually a time of commemoration of the survival of their ancestors. There are no speeches, songs, stories, or any other program that would address the events that occurred during the summer of 1915, though the festival participants likely know its implications for the locals. There are only two elements of this celebration that index the commemoration of the past. These are the ritual dance of commemoration and the animal sacrifice with its indirect reference to the seven villages at the Musa Dağı as they existed in the past, both of them performed annually in Vakıflı, during the Feast of the Assumption of Mary. After days of preparation in Vakıflı, the celebrations for the Feast of the Assumption of Mary begin in the evening hours of the Saturday around August 15. The feast begins with a priestly blessing of seven massive cooking pots in the church’s courtyard, filled to the top with ingredients for a sacrificial meal called hrisi. A small group of men guards the seven pots throughout the night and stirs them regularly with human-sized wooden spoons; simultaneously the whole community assembles in the village square for a nightly music festival with traditional circle dances, which resemble the dabke or dabka, a native Levantine folk dance. These dances, which require full bodily attention and follow elaborate coordinated patterns of bodily movement, last until the early morning hours. This late summer festival brings together the community of Musa Dağı Armenian Christians, with family members arriving from near and far. It is the participation in this nightly dance that brings community members to the limits of exhaustion and ecstasy, described as one of the most rewarding and inspiring moments in the course of a year. This dance has numerous implications for the sensory aesthetics as experienced by those who participate, both physically and emotionally. Although there is no direct correlation, I was told that this dance is not only performed by Musa Dağı Armenians at convivial and joyous occasions— it is also performed in hopeless or potentially deadly situations, and when the community needs to energize for the struggle for bare survival, like when the majority of the Musa Dağı Armenians fled in 1939 to Latakia and danced

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throughout a cold, wet night on the coast to fight chill and hunger. It, therefore, might not be exaggeration to conceive this dance as both a dance of life and a dance for survival. The historical details that led to the survival of the Musa Ler Armenians, as the descendants of Musa Dağı community like to be called in Anjar and elsewhere, may not matter to the individual member of the community and are not collectively remembered during the performance of these rhythms and dances. It might only be the breath of the flute (zurna) and the beat of the drum (davul) that render the moments of exhaustion and ecstasy for the participants through which they imitate and sense their ancestor’s struggle of survival. As a community member told me: “You have to experience it, otherwise you would not get a feel for it.” The rhythm is like a memory awakened by sound of the music; one cannot resist the urge to dance, as every Musa Ler Armenian might be willing to confirm. Even though the transition into the dance as an entry into the fray could be described in terms of a ritual that leads to ecstasy, the posture and stature of this dance is highly choreographed and performed in a disciplined way. Though exhaustive, the nightly festival could not be characterized as being excessive. One individual stated his observations about the collective experience of this dance: “There is no you and me anymore, there is only us.” If understood correctly, it is the doing and feeling that matters the most in their culture of commemoration, and in this vernacular form of narrative culture there is no need to tell and listen. Throughout the night of commemoration, one may not be able to witness or observe any specific form or context of storytelling. It is worth noting, however, that there are other means of storytelling, namely seven cooking pots in which the sacrificial meal in Vakıflı is prepared, that are used represent the seven Armenian villages at the Musa Dağı which were inhabited by Armenian Christians until Hatay’s annexation to Turkey. The remaining villages in Hatay were subsequently occupied by the Turkmen who lived in the mountainous region northeast of the Musa Dağı. Aside from the dance of commemoration, which tells the story of their ancestors’ survival in Vakıflı, only the seven cooking pots that serve as emblems to commemorate and mourn their history and former identity indicative and representative for the traces of their community’s past at the Musa Dağı. I was told that the sacrificial meal was the only meal the Musa Dağı Armenians were able to eat during their time of refuge on the Damlajik, the wide plateau that stretches over the ridge of the Musa Dağı. For the Musa Dağı Armenians, this festival commemorates the story of their ancestors’ experience of survival. The sacrificial meal, prepared in seven cooking pots to represent and commemorate the seven villages, and the dance, reliving the struggle of rescue and survival, are vernacular forms of a narrative culture that is based on the performance of a distinct nonverbal form of

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storytelling. While the stories and memories of what happened one’s direct ancestors are usually shared and transmitted only within the respective family setting, the stories of the individual martyrs who died during the battle at the Musa Dağı are commonly known but never talked about in public settings. However, it should be noted that the most general features of the survival story as recounted and published by the main leaders of the Musa Dağı community are widely known among the members of the community, but, as I was informed by many of my interlocutors, it would be frowned upon if individual members were going to share in public—or in any social gathering—the story about their ancestors’ heroic acts of resistance. It is my sense that the storylines of the resistance and survival battle are set as a normative tradition that fosters the coherence and cohesiveness of the community, as it would undermine the embodied sense of community if individual members were going to stress the importance of their ancestors and counter the commonly accepted narrative of their ancestors’ resistance and survival. With the act of commemoration always being performed in public through the celebration of the Feast of the Assumption of Mary in Vakıflı or the Elevation of the Holy Cross in Anjar and everywhere else, the aesthetics of collective memory are socially coded and coordinated through the fine distinction between the public and private sphere. Here, the aesthetics of bodily sensation and perception matters when it comes to the most sensitive issues in the culture of commemoration among the Musa Dağı Armenians, as it relates to one of the most decisive moments in the formation and narration of their present-day identity. Aside from this event, the annexation of Hatay marked a second defining moment in the collective identity of the Musa Dağı Armenians. In 1939, again most of the about 5,000 Armenian villagers once again left their villages in fear of retaliation; in the end, only one of these villages, Vakıflı, remained exclusively inhabited by Armenians after the vast majority left to Anjar. Anjar was founded in the same year and organized according to the shape of an eagle, with the Orthodox church representing the head and seven neighborhoods named after the seven villages at the Musa Dağı assembled around the church in commemoration of their former homeland. This loss of homeland is also reflected in the fact that one of the members of the Musa Ler community from Anjar returned on a spectacular walk to the Damlajik, the main plateau on the ridge of the Musa Dağı where the 1915 resistance took place, to excavate some of the bodily remains from each of the 18 martyrs who died during the battle and whose graves were defiled by the Turkish government sometime during the 1980s. As I was told by my Armenian interlocutors and this person, who made the walk of about 220 miles to the Damlajik and smuggled pieces of the martyrs’ bodily remains, he wrapped the remains in small sacks and mixed

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with soils in a suitcase to be transported first over the border to Syria and then throughout the long way back to Anjar in Lebanon. This courageous act of wresting the martyrs’ remains from the soil of the Musa Dağı became itself part of the narrative culture of Armenian Christians living in Anjar. These remains were then inserted into a memorial monument in the Orthodox Church located at the center of Anjar, a little town in the Bekka Valley in Lebanon and exclusively inhabited by Musa Ler Armenians. The church and the square beside it are also the places where the Musa Ler Armenians celebrate annually their resistance and survival. In the yearly procession on September 15 from the Orthodox Church to the memorial site, the martyrs’ remains play now a significant part of the culture of commemoration among the Musa Ler community in Anjar. I was directed by my interlocutors from within Los Angeles to these celebrations in Anjar. In fact, I could witness first-hand how similar the music and dances still are in Los Angeles and Anjar to those in Vakıflı, as they have been performed for decades in commemoration of the 1915 events—even though most community members are already in their third or fourth generation living abroad. The significance remains in the fact that the ritual tradition seems to have remained stable and almost unchanged, regardless of whatever stories are told about their 1915 battle of resistance—as it is engrained in the ritual tradition that shapes the form of storytelling, not the other way around. The stories that emerged from this event, however, did not impact their culture of commemoration.

3

Formations of Religious Identity: Dynamics of Narratives and Counter-narratives on Human and Non-human Agency

The second aspect to be addressed here is the survivors’ witness accounts, which were recorded by the leading members of the first generation. These narratives of survival are primarily told to inform about the atrocities that took place. However, the stories of survival are not part of Musa Dağı Armenian narrative culture, as there is a clear separation between oral traditions of storytelling and the historical accounts of the rescue and survival of their ancestors. These stories of survival, as documented in historical accounts, are communicated primarily to outsiders of the Musa Dağı community. These accounts play a significant role for the Musa Dağı community in the transmission of their collective memory. Although they are not transmitted in contexts of storytelling, they play a decisive role in instructional settings that initiate young members into the community in preparation for the festivals to

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appreciate the celebrations’ significance for other members in their community. One of the earliest accounts of the resistance and rescue was written as a testimony of faith by one of the main leaders of the resistance. In it, nearly 200 men with their privately-owned shotguns protected the community of about 4,000 members against the onslaught of approximately 20,000 Turkish troops. Those troops were ignorant of the perils of late summer fog on the mountain and the intricacies of its slopes and valleys into which the Musa Dağı community tricked and trapped the troops. They instead marched on top of the Musa Dağı, where they built a camp of temporary huts with their remaining goods and chattels. After more than fifty days of distressed defense and desperation in a battle between uneven forces, the Musa Dağı community was finally successful in their attempt to find help from outside forces. The crew of a French cruiser was the first to discover the Musa Dağı Armenians who only had a human-sized red cross stitched on a white flag, and a message written on a banner of about the same size reading “Christians in Distress Rescue” hanging over the outermost mountain prong and facing the Mediterranean Sea to signal their desperate search for outside help. After contact was established, several British and French warships were called in. The whole community of about 4,000 survivors descended in the first weeks of September 1915, down the steep mountain ridge to the narrow stony seashore, to be rescued on the open sea with small lifeboats that could only carry up to 20 people at a time. The story was featured in the New York Times on September 23, 1915, as presented in a statement issued by the Ministry of Marine, entitled “RESCUED 5,000 ARMENIANS. French Warships Carried Them from Syria to Egypt” (Elbrecht 1992). It reportedly noted: Pursued by Turks [. . .] 5,000 Armenians, 3,000 of whom were women, children, and old men, took refuge in the Djebel Moussa Mountains at the end of July. They succeeded in keeping their assailants at bay until the beginning of September. Ammunition and provisions gave out, and they would inevitably have succumbed had they not succeeded in getting word of their grave situation to a French cruiser. The earliest account that ‘tells the story’ of the survivors of the Musa Dağı resistance was written by Dikran Andresian (or Tigran Andreasean), the principal of an Armenian Protestant school in the Anatolian town Zeitoun, where he witnessed and survived some of the most ferocious atrocities against Armenian Christians before seeking refuge in the Musa Dağı community. In “A Red Cross Flag that Saved Four Thousand,” Andresian described in less than five

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thousand words the main events that led to the formation of resistance and the final rescue of the Musa Dağı Armenians, and their departure to Port Said in Egypt (Andreasian 1915). By framing his testimony as “a narrative,” he helps to underscore his personal tone and perspective by placing the historical events in the context of the victims most affected by these atrocities. His testimony provides a generic account of the main events without claiming that the information could be fully objectified or based on the critical inquiry of a distant observer. It suggests that his personal account has the weight of a victim and survivor of these atrocities that adds to this testimony the degree of authenticity, as presented through the lens of his testimony which sheds light on the suffering of the community. The tone and message of this testimony is very clear. It gives witness to the conviction of a religious leader who was with his decision in support of the resistance deeply involved in the subsequent course and outcome of these events. In drawing some wide-ranging conclusions from a theological perspective, he places the horrors of 1915 in the context of a religious interpretation of these events. It is as if the author was well aware of other perspectives but is cautious enough to remain as unbiased as possible by providing a balanced yet clear depiction of the Turks and their responsibility in the events. Despite the religious interpretation of the events and the theological nature of his testimony, Andresian concluded his account by providing a census. He gave the exact number of survivors differentiated according to age group and sex with 4,058 as “the total number of soul [sic!] rescued” (Andreasian 1915a, 802; 1915b, 73). In the conclusive statement that follows the census, Andreasian transmits in tone and spirit his interpretation of the main course of events and accordingly frames his understanding of them within the context of the intended audience for his narrative: After the Turks’ first challenge, July 13, we had eight days’ parley and preparation. For fifty-three days we defended ourselves on Mousa Dagh; and a two days’ voyage brought us to Port Said on September 14. We do not forget that our Savior was brought in his infancy to Egypt for safety and shelter. And the brethren of Joseph could not have been more grateful than we are for the corn and wheat provided. With greetings to American, British, French, and Armenian friends, in the name of Christ under the shadow of those Red Cross we are indeed one people. Andreasian 1915a, 803; 1915b, 73

With this powerful statement, alluding to traditions of the Biblical narrative and appealing to an international audience, Andresian aims to preserve his

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personal story as a most accurate and concise account of the events possible and yet to have the freedom to present his theological interpretation. It is this play with different frames of references that transforms this witness account into a religious testimony and alters the aesthetics of its perception into an effective testament of a survivor’s faith. Considering that this narrative was published within a time frame of less than three months after the dramatic rescue, the sensory aesthetics of memory and trauma are still fresh in light of the fact that the flashpoints of such cruel experiences do not vanish so quickly over a short period of time (Hovannisian 2015). After being rescued and brought to a provisional camp in Port Said on September 14, 1915, Movses Der Kalousdian was recognized as one of the commanders of the revolt in the monthly journal of the Red Cross. His father, the spiritual leader and one of the chief priests who supported and justified the resistance by military means, is quoted with the saying that “The evil only happened [. . .] to enable God to show us His goodness” (Steiman 1985, 86). This framing of the Musa Dağı survival story in the context of divine providence and provision makes this story worth studying in the context of religious narrative cultures. Despite the truthfulness and historicity of eyewitness accounts, the telling of this story of rescue and resistance goes far beyond a detailed account of the specific events. It has religious implications with apparent biblical references and their imaginary ramifications. This narrative played a significant role in the formation of a collective memory that marks the transformation and transition into a religious identity, according to which the Musa Dağı community is defined by their skill and courage. As my interlocutors indicated, descendants of the Musa Dağı survivors are proud of what their ancestors did, and this story encourages them to fight for their rights and to stand up against injustice regardless. In this regard, this story acts as a form of embodied memory and shapes the aesthetics of sensory perception. In fact, the identity of the Musa Dağı community is irreversibly shaped and transformed through these events and their commemoration in such a way that one can speak of a bodily memory. This is exemplified by various studies on memory culture that show how collective traumatic experiences like those of the Armenian genocide or the Holocaust are transmitted through second, third, or fourth generations (Miller & Miller 1993; Hovannisian 2015). It was also apparent in an incident during an interview with one of the descendants of the fighters. He told me about a rare incident when he heard for the first time the full story of what happened during the late summer of 1915. It must have been in the 1970s, when a reporter from the Republic of Armenia came to Anjar with the plan to write a story about the Musa Ler community. He requested to meet with the leaders of the community and

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those members who fought in the 1915 resistance. Even though the reporter did not understand the unique dialect of Western Armenian of the Musa Ler community spoken in Anjar among the older generation, he insisted that he wants to hear the story of one of the few still living fighters in his own words. Despite his lack of understanding, the reporter started to cry simply by hearing the voice of the survivor and watching him tell his story. In fact, it was at this moment during our interview that my interlocutor was emotionally so immersed in the story he told that he also began to tear up over this memory. In that moment, I was not even sure whether or how to continue our interview, as his expression of compassion, pain, and sorrow was so moving that it not only overwhelmed him, but also had a considerable impact on me as a researcher. The staggering moment of silence that followed this incidence is central for the role of narrative culture in the context of an aesthetics of religion, namely how the telling of a personal story of a witness can shape the forms of sensory perception. Even though words cannot fully represent or capture the feelings, emotions, or experiences held by a storyteller who gives a witness account or to depict a story they heard in their community, these stories evoke sensory responses in the audience. Those moments are rare, but they provide some insights into the power of storytelling. Even though this incident might be considered an exception for narrative culture among Musa Dağı Armenians, it is relevant for the aesthetics of religion as it reveals the importance of commemoration and remembrance for the survivors of the Musa Dağı massacre and the power these stories hold for those who witnessed them.

4

The Craft of Storytelling: Arts of Narrative Worldmaking and the Aesthetics of Religious Sensation

It was in 1929, years after the Armenian Christians from Musa Dağı had already returned to their homeland and were able to establish some form of normalcy, the Austrian writer Franz Werfel and his wife Alma Mahler visited Damascus and Baalbek where they encountered orphan children who survived the Armenian genocide of 1915 and for the first time heard about the fierce resistance of the Musa Dağı Armenians. In the prologue to his opus magnum, The Forty Days of Musa Dagh, Werfel noted the context and significance of his decision to write the historical novel of a group of rebellious villagers: This book was conceived in March of 1929, in the course of a stay in Damascus. The miserable sight of maimed and famished-looking refugee children, working in a carpet factory, gave me the final impulse to snatch

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from the Hades of all that was, this incomprehensible destiny of the Armenian nation. The writing of the book followed between July 1932 and March 1933. Werfel 1934, v

Werfel took Andreasian’s eye-witness account as his template for designing the narrative plot of The Forty Days of Musa Dagh, a fictionalized account of the main events during the summer months of 1915. The main protagonist of the novel, Gabriel Bagradian, is modeled after Movses Der Kalousdian, the recognized leader of the Musa Dağı resistance; Werfel also included the massacre of Zeitoun as told by Dikran Andresian, fictionalized in the novel as pastor Aram Tomasian, and took it as the decisive turning point in the decision of the Musa Dağı Armenians to resist the deportation order of the Young Turks. While Werfel fictionalized his protagonists and tried to depict the historical events, local geography, culture, and religious traditions as accurately and elaborately as possible, he left intact the course of historical events that Protestant Pastor Johannes Lepsius had previously described in the report of his ‘visit to Constantinople’ in July–August 1915 and adopted in his novel Lepsius’ name. It should be noted that Chapter 5 of Book One, which was entitled “Coming Events,” was taken verbatim from “the historic records of a conversation between Enver Pasha and Pastor Johannes Lepsius” (Werfel 1934, v). It was Pastor Lepsius who was on a mission to prevent the Armenian Genocide and initiated high-level talks with leading authorities of the Young Turks, including the Minister of War, Enver Pasha, and urged him to abandon the plans of wiping out the whole Armenian population from Turkish soil (Lepsius 1915). Aside from the use of Andreasian’s eye-witness account, it is this vivid retelling of historical instances that gives Werfel’s novel not only some sense of historical authenticity but also clothes his narration of the depicted events with such an “aura of factuality” that they “seem uniquely realistic” (Geertz 1966). It is probably no coincidence that Werfel specifically used this encounter between Enver Pasha and Johannes Lepsius when he read this chapter in its present form on a lecture tour through German cities in November 1933, a time when this book was already forbidden to be sold under the Nazi regime by the order of the government of the Turkish Republic, which—like Hitler—denied the Armenian Genocide (Waldman 2005; Ihrig 2016). Other than these two published sources that shaped the historical aura and color of this novel, Werfel used all sources available in the library of the Mekhitarist Congregation in Vienna that discussed Armenian history and culture and interviewed multiple times the congregation’s abbot who was the son of Hovhannes Koojanian, one of the 18 martyrs who died during the 1915 resistance on

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the Musa Dağı. It is probably through these interviews that Werfel was able to account for most of the geographic and historical details throughout his novel, giving it an “aura of authenticity” despite the interwoven love story between Bagradian and Iskuhi, one of the main characters as a fictionalized survivor of the Zeitoun massacre (Wagener 2007). With this monumental artwork of storytelling, Werfel aimed to snatch the unimaginable destiny of the Armenian people from the realm of the dead of all what happened (“das unfassbare Schicksal des armenischen Volkes dem Totenreich alles Geschehenen zu entreissen,” Werfel 1933, 7). Despite its fictional character, this novel is taken by many Armenians as an authentic testimony that transformed the seemingly hopeless and forlorn battle of some villagers on the top of a mountain into a heroic story of cosmic dimensions and biblical proportions. By introducing each of the three books, “Coming Events,” “The Struggle of the Weak,” and “Disaster, Rescue, the End,” with a quote from the Biblical Book of Revelation, Werfel frames the events of his novel in clearly religious terms of death and resurrection. The self-sacrifice of Bagradian and his relationship to his beloved son insinuates the biblical narrative of Moses’s death in hindsight of the Promised Land and Jesus’ crucifixion, transcending the story of historical narrative into almost a religious one. The instant impact The Forty Days of Musa Dagh had on the international literary and political scene can possibly not be overestimated, with even translations into numerous languages immediate after its publication in 1933, including English, French, Italian, Spanish, Hungarian, Rumanian, Danish, Swedish, Armenian, and Hebrew. With the attempt of the Turkish government to prohibit or block its publication and dissemination wherever possible, this book became one of the most contested cornerstones in Turkey’s denial campaign of the Armenian genocide (Hovannisian 1992; 2015). After successfully prohibiting the dissemination of this book in Germany, Hungary, and Romania, the Turkish government also succeeded for decades to prohibit the production of the movie based on this novel. Even though a film company in Hollywood already gained the full production right even before the first English translation was published in 1934, the Turkish government interfered and suffocated all attempts for more than eighty years now. Through the continued efforts, with one book and numerous articles published on this project (Welky 2006; Minasian 2007; Shemmassian 2008) and a documentary film production in the making to tell the story of the failed movie production, like Epic Denied (Avaness, personal conversation, May 2018), it should be noted that Sarky Mouradian created in 1980 a low budget film production with the only purpose to reserve the film rights for the Armenian community (Kurkjian, Mouradian, and Hakobian 1982). This film,

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which some call a B-movie (or even less than that), is shown by the Armenian American Television Corporation every year on the day on April 24 for t