Kakkar wants to have both Freud and Hinduism and ends up taming both
REVIEW BY PRATAP BHANU MEHTA
BOOK REVIEW By
Book: Mad And Divine
Author : Sudhir Kakar
Published by: Penguin/Viking
The attempt to extend the boundaries of the self, to discover its hidden possibilities, can lead in two directions. It can give glimpses of what we call the "spiritual", a new form for self-knowledge. It can also sometimes lead to self-obsession, delight in breaking taboos and sexual experimentation that seem more like an exercise in perversity than self-knowledge.
Kakar doesn’t resolve the conjunction in the title: are madness and divinity part of the same process or distinct phenomena?
The most interesting cases are where the two movements of the self, its ascent into something finer and its descent into the chaos of its own desire, exist in the same person. Rajneesh, one of the subjects of this accessible and agreeably written book, is a prime example: a man of extraordinary learning and spiritual insight, but also capable of the most ridiculous forms of self-delusion. Kakar's book is mostly a psychoanalytic discussion of cases where madness and divinity coexist. As he puts it, "we can say that the spirit when it soars often pulls up the psyche in its wake. But we also know that the spirit never completely escapes the pull...of narcissism, aggression and desire in the psyche." And Kakar sensitively adds, "what may be essential to our gaze however is to attend to the spirit's soaring, not the oft- repeated tragedy of its fall."
The book has case studies of this yoking of the divine and the mad: most extremely Rajneesh, but also a 15th-century tantric/saint, Drupka Kunley, along with other figures who broke the taboos on the self in both directions, including Gandhi. All the essays are even-handed, with a mixture of history, culture, religious context and some elementary psychoanalysis. The narrative is easy to read. But there is often the sense that some of the most difficult questions have been avoided. For instance, Kakar never quite resolves the conjunction implied in his title: are madness and divinity to be understood as two movements resulting from the same process, or two distinct phenomena? What is the extent to which our experiences and beliefs are under control? The most revolutionary aspect of psychoanalysis was the thought that there was a surfeit of meaning in our actions, most of which are not accessible to us. This made the idea of self-knowledge a tenuous one; indeed the best we could hope for was to cope with rather than transcend all that makes us. The fundamental tension between spirituality as a form of self-knowledge, and psychoanalysis as a mode of explanation and interpretation, remains deep and is never quite confronted.
In the last chapter, Kakar makes the oft-repeated point that in Christianity the emphasis is on belief, while in Hinduism the emphasis is on experience; and he implicitly seems to suggest that while belief might not survive the onslaught of modernity, experience might. While there is something to this contrast between experience and belief, Kakar seems to grossly overstate this contrast, as if there can be a mode of experience independently of beliefs about what it is that is being experienced. The problem is that he wants to have both Freud and Hinduism and ends up taming both too much in the process. The charitable interpretation would be that Kakar is trying to be generous; the uncharitable one that the true demands of the quest for self-knowledge on the one hand and the complicated depths of our soul on the other evade him.
Lastupdate on : Wed, 27 Jan 2010 21:30:00 Makkah time
Lastupdate on : Wed, 27 Jan 2010 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Thu, 28 Jan 2010 00:00:00 IST
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