Monday, February 16, 2009

The problem of objectivity vs. interpretation is an inescapable conundrum of historical writing

The Strange Case of Dr. M and Mr. S Science, Culture and Integral Yoga
Angiras on Sat 14 Feb 2009 11:10 PM PST Permanent Link

Heehs has written several books as an independent scholar, side by side with his Ashram work, as other Ashramites such as K. D. Sethna have done. All his books carry disclaimers absolving the Ashram from responsibility for their contents. [...] Heehs’s historical research is regularly cited in the Ashram’s reports on its research activities, which are submitted annually to the Government of India. [...]

It is generally agreed that every historian or biographer necessarily “interprets events quite constantly.” At the same time, all strive for as much objectivity as possible – e.g., by not “suppressing details or concealing unwelcome evidence that contradicts one’s thesis,” as Mohanty himself put it elsewhere (Contemporary Reader, p. 5). The problem of objectivity vs. interpretation is an inescapable conundrum of historical writing [...] It is not an accurate overall assessment of Heehs’s writing to say that he writes “against the grain.” On the contrary, he reads Sri Aurobindo “with the grain” on the whole, as in most of his discussion of the major works in The Lives.

Mohanty himself appreciated Heehs’s balanced approach until he recently and unaccountably turned against him.[...] There is no hint of any such reservations in his recent book, Sri Aurobindo: A Contemporary Reader, which is consistently favorable toward Heehs. [...] Dr. Mohanty proposed “to offer an objective account from a sympathetic standpoint.” (pp. 3-4) As a precedent for this approach, he cited Peter Heehs’s Sri Aurobindo: A Brief Biography (Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1989). In Mohanty’s view, Heehs’s book represented “a balanced approach – sympathetic and objective at the same time.” (p. 35, note 4) Science, Culture and Integral Yoga Posted to: Main Page HEEHS BIOGRAPHY CONTROVERSY


A Cultural Misunderstanding Science, Culture and Integral Yoga by Angiras on Mon 26 Jan 2009 02:21 AM PST Permanent Link

Heehs has spent much of his life studying Indian culture and has a good reputation as a scholar among Indian academics. [...] Heehs has evidently proceeded on the assumption that Sri Aurobindo had nothing to hide. [...] By avoiding dogmatism, Heehs has opened himself to charges of heresy. [...]

Heehs is criticized for not emphasizing the devotional approach to Sri Aurobindo, but such an emphasis would have defeated the purpose of the book. [...] Heehs is skilful at communicating to well-educated Westerners.


The Genesis of a Controversy Science, Culture and Integral Yoga by Angiras on Thu 15 Jan 2009 05:29 AM PST Permanent Link

Upon inquiry, it is found that from the beginning of Heehs’s writing career – that is, for the past twenty years – he has voluntarily given all his earnings from books, magazine articles, speeches, etc. to the Ashram Trust, minus a small percentage to cover his expenses. In the case of books consisting primarily of extracts from Sri Aurobindo’s works, 100% of the royalties go directly to the Trust without passing through Heehs’s hands. He has always repaid the Archives for any xeroxes, printouts etc. that he has made using Archives equipment. He has sometimes asked his colleagues for help in the composition of books. The fees for this work went directly to the Ashram Trust without passing through Heehs’s hands. The persons concerned understood this very well. [...]

Peter Heehs [is] an essential member with unique and irreplaceable expertise gained through thirty-five years of experience going back to the founding of the department. Heehs wrote articles and books in his spare time, but never neglected his work at the Archives. He has spent less time attending conferences, etc., than the writers of most of the letters in this section. 9:33 AM

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