Monday, December 15, 2014

Knowledge through Connections

As I continue to work my way through the Upanishads (an ongoing project, which happens to have lain dormant for quite some time), the one things that sticks with me is the introduction that Patrick Olivelle wrote for my Oxford University Press edition. This is the passage that has been the most memorable:
The assumption then is that the universe constitutes a web of relations, that things that appear to stand alone and apart are, in fact, connected to other things. A further assumption is that these real cosmic connections are usually hidden from the view of ordinary people; discovering them constitutes knowledge, knowledge that is secret and is contained in the Upanishads. And it is this knowledge of the hidden connections that gives the person with that knowledge power, wealth, and prestige in this world, and heavenly bliss and immortality after death. While in the earlier vedic texts the focus is on the connections between the ritual and cosmic spheres, the concern of the Upanishadic thinkers shifts to the human person; the connections sought after are between parts of the human organism and cosmic realities.
I have been bold enough to assume that the social world, like the Hindu conception of the universe, is also a web of connections and that individual knowledge is as much a matter of appropriating the connections of others as it is one of appropriating the connections of the universe.

I was reminded of this perspective while reading Charles Baxter's essay about H. P. Lovecraft in the latest issue of The New York Review. He discusses how Lovecraft put a particularly horrifying spin on the concept of resurrection, which he then illustrated with a quotation. However, the quotation was taken not from Lovecraft but rather from that section of The Last Temptation of Christ in which Kazantzakis describes what life was like of Lazarus (and those around him) after Jesus raised him from the dead. Most people would not think of Kazantzakis when discussing Lovecraft's work, but Baxter found a connection and used it to his advantage. It is that particular take on knowledge that always seems to lurk in the back of my mind when I am trying to write about either a piece of music or how a performer approached it.

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