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Deep rivers

 | 
Kannan M.
, 
Jennifer Clare

Introduction

Kannan M.

Texte intégral

1Deep rivers: Advise to the discerning traveler

Town ending road and road extending town:
do not choose one or the other; rather alternate
one after the other.

Mountain encircling, hemming in, and imprisoning
your view; until it’s released by the circular
plain. Leap from stone to stone, step to step;
but tread lightly on the pavement where
the foot falls flat and firm.

Seek relief from sound in silence; let yourself
be drawn back from silence toward sound.
Keep to yourself if you can and know how;
and then at times let yourself flow back
into the crowd.

Beware of electing a retreat. Do not put your faith
in the power of a durable virtue; but break
its hold with a strong spice, one that burns
and bites and gives pungency even to that
which is tasteless.

And thus, without a single false step or pause,
with neither stable nor halter, nor any special
merit or hardship, you will attain, my friend,
not the marshland of immortal delights,

But the intoxicating eddies of the great river

Diversity.

  • 1 Victor Segalen, 1987, Steles, Translated by Michael Taylor, The Lapis Press, San Francisco.

-Victor Segalen.1

  • 2 Victor Segalen, 1987, Steles, Translated by Michael Taylor, The Lapis Press, San Francisco.

“And listen to words.”
-Victor Segalen.2

  • 3 Rimbaud, quoted in “Letter to Léon Felipe”, Octavio Paz, 1971, Configurations, Jonathan Cape, Lond (...)

fixing vertigoes?”
-Octavio Paz.3

I

  • 4 Names of renowned poet–commentators of classical Tamil of the medieval period, 12th to 14th c. AD; (...)

2Going from bookshop to bookshop with my Srilankan Tamil friend Cēṉā, May 2006, Toronto, it struck me that I didn’t know Cēṉā’s full name. I asked him if it was Cēṉātipati? “No, it is Paramcōti Cēṉāvaraiyar”, he said. Surprised, I said, “Isn’t that the name of the classical Tamil commentator?” and he confirmed that it was. Joking, I asked him, “What is your brother’s name then, Nacciṉārkiṉiyar?”. He was no longer smiling as he said, “Yes, my younger brother’s name was indeed Nacciṉārkiṉiyaṉ, he was sixteen, when he died in Jaffna, he was a militant”. I stared at the street as he went on, “My father was a Tamil teacher, from Nellliyaṭi, Jaffna, you know, and he named us all after classical Tamil commentators, one elder brother Perāciriyar lives in Trikonamalai, another, Iḷampūraṇar, lives in Colombo, and a younger one is here in Canada, Amirta Cākarar. None of us is with our parents who are alone at Nelliyaṭi, they live there and, I am here Cēṉāvaraiyar, working for a courier company in Toronto”.4 This is the contemporary Tamil world interwoven with the living classical world that François Gros describes.

II

3François Édouard Stéphane Gros, was born and grew up in Lyons, France. He belonged to the generation of the Second World War and like many European children was sent to the country during hostilities, for safety’s sake and because of food shortages. Having received a classical French education, he studied pre-history under André Leroi-Gourhan and learnt anthropology from Louis Dumont, and sociology and economic history under Daniel Thorner; senior to him at Fondation Thiers, Paris, was Michel Foucault. He worked as a French Teacher in Algeria during the war of liberation.

4He has been visiting the French Institute of Pondicherry in various capacities since 1963, to study Tamil language, literature and culture. Should you be walking on the seaside promenade of an evening in Pondicherry you might even meet him on his daily walk and should you brave an initially abrupt response you will find yourself on a rare journey, through France, India, the Tamil landscape and Pondicherry with excursions into food, a conversation, exhaustive and packed with erudition and entertainment. A man of literature first and a collector of books in the manner of a Walter Benjamin, he has a comprehensive and rare collection of classical and contemporary Tamil books, journals and of European books dealing with South India at his home in Lyons.

  • 5 Albert Camus, 1980. Aṉṉiyaṉ, Cre-A, Madras; Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, 1981, Kuṭṭi Iḷavaracaṉ, Cre- (...)

5He has founded of a number of research programmes at the French Institute of Pondicherry: the Grammatical encyclopedia of Tamil, Architecture and Cultural Geography of Tamil landscapes, Contemporary Tamil culture and the Historical Atlas of South India, to name a few. He has associated and worked with many generations of Tamil scholars: P. N. Appusamy, N. Kandasamy Pillai, V. M. Subramania Iyer, Ku. Pa. Sethuraman, Pa. Sundaresan, R. Nagaswamy, T. V. Gopal Iyer, Y. S. Subbarayalu, again to name but a few. Both as part of his research work and apart from his research work, he has been the mentor and guide for many European, American, Indian and Tamil students and researchers working on South Indian languages, literature and culture. He was an active consultant on the translation and lexicographic projects of the Chennai based Tamil Publisher Cre-A (French-Tamil Translations of L’Etranger by Albert Camus, Le Petit Prince by Antoine de Saint Exupéry, Cre-A’s contemporary Tamil dictionary).5 As far as Tamil studies are concerned, he may be the only western scholar other than Kamil Zvelebil to do in-depth research in both classical and contemporary Tamil. While most scholars of classical literature are averse to anything contemporary, François Gros is an exception in that he is enormously interested in both; his masterly grasp of written Tamil and its registers carries him equally through the deepest and most obscure waters of the classical and allows him to enter into the spirit and experimentation of the modern.

III

6“It is syntax that reveals the individual”

  • 6 Edmond Jabès, 1992, The Book of Margins, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

7- (Max Jacob), Edmond Jabès.6

  • 7 Among them, Essays:
    “Why Dalit literature on the premises of the French Institute?”, Kannan, M., ed (...)

8This book brings together for the first time in English all the major essays written by François Gros on Tamil literature; only a few contextually very specific essays, occasional papers and reviews have been omitted.7 Every effort has been made to maintain consistency in terms of transliteration and bibliography. We have retained the format of the original in the bibliography, so there and elsewhere the reader may come across a few scattered Latin abbreviations, particularly in the footnotes. All the essays presented here were translated into English in close collaboration with the author. Contemporary French readers are apt to find the author’s style literary, nuanced, and multidimensional and to appreciate it as a example of a kind of well seasoned writing once the mainstay of French culture. M. P. Boseman’s translation reflects those qualities if it does not reproduce the style exactly, always the most elusive element in translation and particularly so in these essays which are academic in form and content and very much enriched by their deeply literary style. In translation, this duality appears as a haunting shadow shifting beneath sentences and this shadow is nothing but the author’s French and its configurations. Particular themes and references are repeated in different essays and we have purposely retained these as they are of help in tracing the development of the author’s career in research. It is also to be noted that as many of the essays presented here originally accompanied French translations of Tamil literary texts, some internal references are to those translations.

IV

  • 8 Paul Celan, 1980, Poems, Translated by Michael Hamburger, Carcanet, Manchester. p. 99.
  • 9 Arthur Rimbaud, 2003, Rimbaud Complete, Translated by Wyatt Mason, The Modern Library, New York. p (...)
  • 10 Octavio Paz, 1971, Configurations, Jonathan Cape, London. p. 171.

9Studying Tamil, one cannot escape the impression that the Tamil world generally seems to be portrayed in black and white with nothing in between and nothing beyond: Sanskrit versus Tamil, Aryan versus Dravidian, Classical versus Contemporary, Brahmin versus non-Brahmin, Tamil versus Pure Tamil, Dalit versus non Dalit: the opposing positions in which the Tamil culture seems to be enmeshed are endless. The essays of François Gros, which a typical western reader finds complex but enriching, may leave an Indian, and especially a Tamil, reader perplexed. The attempts of such a reader to pigeonhole the essays of François Gros may lead to frustration due to their fluid character and way of presenting things. These articles unfold as do dialogues, bringing the opposing sides into face to face confrontation; arguments flow in from both the sides while additional references are at the same time destabilizing the apparently stronger positions. In the course of a sentence or a paragraph, we see the evidence pouring in from all sides and a pendulum (or perhaps a hammer) swinging to and fro;8 it looks as though it would be an impossible task “to find a still point on the turning earth”9 and a “diaphanous balance between fixity and vertigo”,10 but in the end we see the arguments leading us to the point of a fusion of elements and to a singularity from which no culture, no language, no literature can ultimately escape.

  • 11 In echo of the titles by Marguerite Yourcenar and José Marίa Arguedas.

10By bearing witness to Tamil in all its forms and by addressing Tamil through the medium of Tamil literature, these articles repeatedly remind us of the diverse, composite and tolerant depths in which we live. They invite us to leave the islands we inhabit in unawareness of the deep rivers11 surrounding them that gave rise to them in the first place. By this token, the writings of François Gros stand out as an authentic example of what multicultural scholarship can be.

V

  • 12 Paul Celan, 1995, Breathturn, Translated by Pierre Joris, Sun and Moon Press, Los Angeles.

11I’ve been lucky enough to have been working with Professor François Gros since 1991 and to have collaborated with him on various projects at the French Institute of Pondicherry. During this time we have seen research in Indology changing into a pathology of texts devoid of any human element, context or life. My task in this work has always been to be a witness to a witness12 and in editing the present volume it is to show how Professor François Gros witnesses Tamil, through its archaeology, epigraphy, history, and literature, as well as anthropology and linguistics, and how he places literature in context, never for a moment forgetting to emphasize the human element that animates it. This goes along with the sympathy and interest with which he listens to people and the manner in which he effaces himself, always putting the work first. There are times when simply to read a book is to honour literature and life: this is one of those times.

“Tell me what is in these pages” the teacher continued.
“I do not know” he replied.

  • 13 Edmond Jabès, 1991, From the Book to the Book, Translated by Rosmarie Waldrop, Wesleyan University (...)

“If you do not know, who will?” said the teacher.
“The book knows”.13

Notes

1 Victor Segalen, 1987, Steles, Translated by Michael Taylor, The Lapis Press, San Francisco.

2 Victor Segalen, 1987, Steles, Translated by Michael Taylor, The Lapis Press, San Francisco.

3 Rimbaud, quoted in “Letter to Léon Felipe”, Octavio Paz, 1971, Configurations, Jonathan Cape, London.

4 Names of renowned poet–commentators of classical Tamil of the medieval period, 12th to 14th c. AD; rarely given as personal names.

5 Albert Camus, 1980. Aṉṉiyaṉ, Cre-A, Madras; Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, 1981, Kuṭṭi Iḷavaracaṉ, Cre-A, Madras; Cre-A: Dictionary of Contemporary Tamil, 1992, Cre-A, Chennai.

6 Edmond Jabès, 1992, The Book of Margins, The University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

7 Among them, Essays:
“Why Dalit literature on the premises of the French Institute?”, Kannan, M., ed., 2004, Dalit literature: My experience, IFP, Vitiyal, Pondicherry, pp. 13-15.
“Negotiating with the Past” Kannan, M., Carlos Mena, ed., Negotiations with the Past: Classical Tamil in Contemporary Tamil, IFP, Tamil Chair, UCB, Pondicherry, 2006, pp. xix-lvii. (in French and English).
“Problems and policies in language and literature”, Kannan, M., ed., 2008, Streams of Language: Dialects in Tamil, IFP, Pondicherry, 2008, pp. 1-20.
Reviews:
1975, Review of The Smile of Murugan by Kamil Zvelebil (1973), International Journal of Dravidian Linguistics, IV-1.
1980, Review of Dhamotharan’s Tamil Dictionaries: A Bibliography, in BEFEO.
1982, Review of Tamil Temple Myths, Sacrifice and Marriage in the South Indian Tradition by David Shulman, (Princeton University Press, 1980), Revue de l’Histoire des Religions CIC-1.
1987, Review of Seltmann, Frierich, Schattenspiel in Kerala: sakrales Theater in Süd-Indien, in Arts Asiatiques, vol. 42.
1996, Review of Viramma, Une Vie Paria, Le rire des asservis by Josiane and Jean Luc-Racine in BEFEO.
Occasional Papers:
1976, EFEO Domaine indien 1951-1976: Vingt-cinq ans de philologie? in Soixante-quinzième Anniversaire de l’EFEO, Pub. EFEO Hors série.
1981, “A French Approach to Tamil Studies”, IATR Conference, Madurai.
1981, La Conférence Tamoule Internationale de Madurai 1981 Le Trait-D’Union mars.
1988, France-Asie, propos sur la langue française et le contact des cultures, Rapport introductif au thème «Langue française et le contact des cultures» de la IVème Rencontre internationale de l’AUPELF, New Delhi, Décembre.
1988, Address to Indian Students of French Literature, Workshop on Comparative Literature, JNU, New Delhi, December.
1988, Discours au Séminaire Melayu-Campa, Kuala Lumpur, 13 Septembre, (Sur la politique scientifique de l’EFEO).
1990, Indology today: questioned or vindicated? Seminar on Indo-French Relations: History and Perspectives, New Delhi, 17-19 April, Pub. Embassy of France.
Interviews with François Gros:
1997, Tamil: Marapum taṟkālamum, Tina mani, Pongal Malar, Chennai, January, pp. 99-104.
2006, Tamil scholar from France, Frontline, Vol. 23, No. 25, Chennai, December, pp. 94-97.

8 Paul Celan, 1980, Poems, Translated by Michael Hamburger, Carcanet, Manchester. p. 99.

9 Arthur Rimbaud, 2003, Rimbaud Complete, Translated by Wyatt Mason, The Modern Library, New York. p. 208.

10 Octavio Paz, 1971, Configurations, Jonathan Cape, London. p. 171.

11 In echo of the titles by Marguerite Yourcenar and José Marίa Arguedas.

12 Paul Celan, 1995, Breathturn, Translated by Pierre Joris, Sun and Moon Press, Los Angeles.

13 Edmond Jabès, 1991, From the Book to the Book, Translated by Rosmarie Waldrop, Wesleyan University Press, Hanover, p. 182.

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