Reaction by Georgi Krastev

Here is another reaction by my colleague Georgi Krastev to my previous post, sent to me via e-mail:

Hi Vitus, I really agree with your assertions and I thought it would be supportive to offer a few lines in response:

While it is true that the field of South and East Asian Studies has always been a remote battlefield, it has also been, especially in its academic iteration, a faraway fortress of scholar-wizards who have zealously guarded their arcane knowledge from wannabe initiates, unless they stay at the gates for seven days and seven nights (sometimes not even then).
On the question of international mobility, I need to disagree with the stance that IM is a good under all and any circumstances. Everything is good in moderation. Forced IM is just as big of a fallacy as forbidding it. Forced internationalization is actually limiting, as a scholar might fit well in a certain milieu but be forced to go away, regardless of prowess or expertise ‘because we must be diverse’. This is nothing more than an ideological superimposition on reality. It is a reductionist and deplorable simplification.
As a student who aspires to one day be a valued scholar it seems to me that unless one occupies a tenured position, a South and East Asian Studies scholar is under the constant stress of uncertainty, as a current position has a time limitation and even if one is blessed enough to receive a major project grant, that too does not bring a long-term feeling of stability.
One thing which is needed in my opinion is PR (and I am not saying better PR, because no such thing exists for South and East Asian Studies at the moment). A remaking of the current system requires a fundamental rethinking of the educational and public relations approach of the discipline.
A discussion must be held as to what the course the field should take ought to be and then on what steps should be undertaken and that discussion must include young scholars who will form the future of the discipline, as well as the people on top of the academic ‘food chain’ with all their expertise and experience.
This is obviously problematic, since it is generally not in the interest of the Establishment to do any of this. It should be made clear that an opening of this nature does not aim to antagonize it, or fight against it, but to acknowledge that times are changing and a sustainable and positive model must be found if the discipline is to survive. At a certain point one must think beyond one and one’s own institution’s individual success, but to also consider what will come after. The discipline must be prevented from committing suicide by old age.
If the Establishment in all its guises is not willing, however, they should be shown that it can also be done without them, if not even better. But for that solidarity and camaraderie of the international South and East Asian Studies are an absolute key.

Perhaps one reservation has always been that if more assets are made more available ANYONE will be able to become a scholar, do translations and publish editions, monographs and papers. This is an understandable fear. But there is a difference between a resource being made available and its use. Contrary to popular assumption, this will not suddenly spawn endless competition – the fact that becoming a scholar takes long study will never change. As long as there is a reasonable certification and examination system, there will be no such danger, but instead great respect and admiration for what we do. It will actually inspire more people to be more rigorous and diligent. FOr that reason, however, we must learn to be better communicators, to enthrall and inspire people and most importantly – to collaborate.
While I agree with Vitus’s assertion that professors should “be honest with students and not try to produce graduates if there are no jobs for them, only because the University administration demands it. Tell the officials that this is irresponsible, uneconomic and insane.” – institutional capture, the GIN (Gated Institutional Narrative) and the DISC (Distributed Idea Suppression Complex) are not things that can easily be toppled. It will be much more free to found alternative institutions, rather than futily try to change the existing ones. That would be a syzyfian effort.
Part of the solution is to form alternatives to the legacy organizations. This is absolutely possible, especially so if pundits of the field are willing to lend their support, as most of Indology’s authority still lies with individuals, rather than institutions. This is by no means meant as a negative.
An international system of support of young graduates and scholars, as well as job counseling are necessary. Cooperation between institutes, libraries, museums and manuscript repositories, digitalization institutions, restorers and many other professionals can only be fruitful for everybody. A place where people can get in contact, seek help, support, education and information and even funding.
An extension of that would be a unification of resources – an electronic library, manuscript catalogue, dictionaries, literary references, conversion software, an Indologipedia (terrible name, but gets the idea over) – modern technology makes this perfectly possible, and the more people participate – the bigger and easier it will be to make such a thing. And it does not require all that much money – it requires above all passion.
For example, everyone working on different texts can digitally add references, textual excerpts, words in context, their own translations and notes. With minimal effort in a few years it’s possible to have dictionaries that incorporate a massive amount of work and information, rather than wait for a few hermit literati to spend 30 years on half the entries for the letter “A”. Obviously, only very experienced scholars should be granted access to add information, but there are enough! And such a resource will be invaluable for students and even the general public. Sometimes people are outraged how people who do yoga for example, are often so ignorant. Well, part of the reason is that there are almost no accessible materials targeted at non-scholars! You cannot tell your local yoga teacher to go check Volume 17 or some such of the Encyclopaedia of Indian Philosophy or something only available in manuscript form in a remote Tibetan monastery. We, South and East Asian Studies scholars must remember we are rarely scholars for scholarship’s sake only – we’re also keepers and rediscoverers of this precious knowledge, and what better purpose for us could there be, but to make it accessible and open for the world.
_____________________________

Georgi Krastev MA
Sanskrit & Buddhist Studies
University of Vienna

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