Can tragic views of the human condition as known to Westerners through Greek and Shakespearean tragedy be identified outside European culture, in the Indian culture of Hindu epic drama? In what respects can the Mahabharata epic's and the Bhagavadgita's views of the human condition be called 'tragic' in the Greek and Shakespearean senses of the word?Tragic views of the human condition are primarily embedded in stories. Only afterwards are these views expounded in theories of tragedy and in philosophical anthropologies. Minnema identifies these embedded views of human nature by discussing the ways in which tragic stories raise a variety of anthropological issues-issues such as coping with evil, suffering, war, death, values, power, sacrifice, ritual, communication, gender, honour, injustice, knowledge, fate, freedom. Each chapter represents one cluster of tragic issues that are explored in terms of their particular (Greek, English, Indian) settings before being compared cross-culturally. In the end, the underlying question is: are Indian views of the human condition very different from Western views?
Lourens Minnema is Senior Lecturer in Religious Studies in the Department of Philosophy of Religion and Comparative Study of Religions at VU University, Amsterdam, The Netherlands.
This ambitious study explores, in nine chapters, a wide range of aspects of tragedy in ancient India, Greece, and Shakespeare. It is marked throughout by deep scholarship and sensitivity to cross-cultural and historical differences. Minnema begins with narrative and literary-cultural issues: plot patterns, specificity of literary genres, world views, mythic and epic traditions in India and Greece that are questioned in tragic stories, and ethical dilemmas faced by epic/tragic heroes. Then he analyzes sociopolitical aspects of tragic narrative--the state, family, and religion as sources of legitimation and conflict. Closely related is discussion of the martial ethos of heroes, which is challenged in tragic narratives. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Upper-division undergraduates through researchers/faculty.
The book is particularly strong on the ethical systems of these texts, and has useful observations about all of the texts ... [A] thought-provoking comparison ... In short, there is much here of value.
Bryn Mawr Classical Review
Lourens Minnema's ambitious attempt to study the tragic predicament in Greek and Elizabethan tragedy, the Mahabharata and the Bhagavad Gita, results in a work that is ... challenging in scope ... The outcome ... is enlightening and subtle ... I will certainly want to re-read the book.
Journal of Indian Council of Philosophical Research
This book represents a new kind of scholarly Comparative World Literature for a new kind of global, multicultural readership with common anxieties, a readership no longer in the grip of colonial attitudes of resentment and arrogance or post-colonial neurosis, one which can cross equably from one cultural tradition to another without estrangement or alienation, in pursuit of the poetry and drama that reflect a shared human condition. Lourens Minnema's study of European and Indian notions of the tragic takes us from the Maharabharata and the Bhagavad-Gita-made familiar to us in the West by Peter Brook's theatre and T S Eliot's poetry-to Sophocles' Oedipus Tyrannus and Antigone to Shakespeare's Hamlet. It is writing like this, elegant, eloquent and judicious, that contributes to the formation of a shared literary and critical canon. Minnema focuses first on the stories in which views of human nature are embedded and only then on the philosophical and theological theories that derive from them. His ability to move between literary, philosophical and theological discussion provides a masterly example of interdisciplinarity.
Michael McGhee Honorary Senior Fellow, Department of Philosophy, University of Liverpool, UK
In this multi-faceted and comprehensive study, Lourens Minnema explores subject-matter of wide appeal: tragedy and human nature. The reader is immediately engaged by a direct and accessible style, and will benefit from a wealth of absorbing detail and stimulating analysis. This work is a successful demonstration of the value, scope and potential of cross-cultural comparison.
Martin Ovens, Philosophy Tutor, Member of Wolfson College, University of Oxford, UK
Minnema forges a powerful way to bring textual traditions from Eastern and Western cultures into dialogue and mutual edification. Erudite and insightful, Minnema makes real contributions to philosophy, literature, philology by restoring to the human sciences the most important questions concerning humanity. This is the most original reading of the Bhagavad-Gita in the last few decades. Minnema avoids the mind-numbing mechanics of text-historical methods and bravely asks intelligent questions-questions these texts themselves grapple with, not questions generated in academic laboratories. This book is a pleasure to read.
Vishwa Adluri, Adjunct Assistant Professor in Religion and Philosophy, Hunter College, The City University of New York, USA