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jeudi, 17 janvier 2013

Ananda K. Coomaraswamy

Ananda K. Coomaraswamy

Anthony Ludovici

Ex: http://www.wermodandwermod.com/

Editor's Note: This is Anthony Ludovici's obituary for Ananda K. Coomaraswamy, published in The New English Weekly 32, 1947–8, pp. 82–83. Ludovici knew Coomaraswamy well for a time, and talks about this here.

The death of Dr. Ananda K. Coomaraswamy last September in the U.S.A., where for some years he had been Fellow for Research in Indian, Persian and Mohammedan Art at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, Mass., deprives the Indian people themselves of the greatest champion of their nationalist aims, and the civilized world at large of one of the most enlightened, persuasive and scholarly advocates of an aesthetic as opposed to a mass and machine-produced material culture. In both of these spheres he had shown himself consistent and convinced from the very first and, in one of his last brochures — "Why Exhibit Works of Art?" (1943) — made, I think, the most compelling appeal of all in favour of once more reconciling "work" with culture. The fact that for generations they had been divorced and that "work" is understood by the great majority of the populations of the West to mean something from which the worker has to recover by a resort to "edifying," or at least relaxing, leisure pastimes, was a theme Coomaraswamy never tired of expounding. But he expounded it with a much more formidable apparatus of knowledge and insight than did either Ruskin or Morris and, above all, with a much deeper understanding of what was at stake. For he saw, as no man before him had ever clearly seen. the imminent peril of a world situation in which the majority of common men know of no deeper incentive to their labours than the remuneration these secure them.

In the first decade of the century I knew Coomaraswamy well. We used often to meet and discuss the problems we each had at heart and, although we differed on certain fundamental matters, to one of which I shall allude, my artistic upbringing and leanings inclined me to accept at least his analysis of the essential wrongness of Western industry. Nor have I read any of his works which has not confirmed me in my general agreement with him on this subject. For he was no romantic reactionary, but a logical, cool and penetrating analyst of the subjects of which he made himself master.

He was a tall, strikingly handsome man, with features decidedly Eastern, one in fact who could speak of beauty, as it were, by the right of an instinctive affinity. Owing to his mixed parentage (Indian father and English mother) he was not so dark as the average Indian and having the accent and demeanour of an Englishman could be convincing on a London platform or in any company of Englishmen. Thanks to his command of Greek, Latin and Sanskrit, he was probably the greatest scholar of his age in the Scriptures of both East and West, and was therefore a formidable exponent of the philosophical and ontological foundations of his cultural doctrines.

Educated as a scientist (he made the original Government geological survey of Ceylon) he soon, however, turned his attention wholly to aesthetics, and one of his principal services in this field was to make the art-treasures and art-principles of his Fatherland familiar both to the Western World and the Indian people.

His contributions to the philosophy of art, despite the mass and distinction of his predecessors in the field. are original, profound and, in my view, uniquely important; whilst his successful attempt properly to place the artist in society, is indispensable to all who pretend to any grasp of sociological problems. For in Coomaraswamy, they will encounter no vagueness, no sentimentalizing, no merely nostalgic revivalism. Everything is clear-cut and wholly matter-of-fact. The artist's rôle, his function, his impulses, even his moral code, are all defined with the coolness and exactitude of a mathematician discoursing on the magnitudes of given bodies. But the reader feels the burning passion which could inspire such calm clarity; for only fire could have reduced to their elements the tattered and heterogeneous heaps of refuse which constitute Western aesthetics and the Western conception of the place of aesthetics in a civilization.

Coomaraswamy's last piece of writing — Art, Man and Manufacture — contributed to an interesting symposium on Our Emergent Civilization,* sums up and restates the fundamental principles for which he stood. But those who cannot get access to this book need not despair. In his other writings, most, if not all, of which are to be found in England, they will be able to become acquainted with his considerable achievements in the special domain which he made his life's study.

By way of conclusion, I must mention, all too briefly I am afraid, one of the more fundamental matters on which I felt bound to differ from him. I should have pointed out above that, in his advocacy of Indian Nationalism, Coomaraswamy always argued strictly on purely cultural grounds. He expressly denied that the nationalism he had in view had any basis in breeding and racial standardization. Nevertheless, he claimed emphatically that its prerequisite was what he termed the "re-establishment of a standard of quality." This position I attacked from the first, and for the following reasons:—

 I never have believed that Man can express what he is not. This expression, whether in Art, or any other individual utterances, is always the externalization of what is in him. If there is not quality in him, therefore, it is futile to expect quality in what he expresses. To recover or re-establish quality in Man's expressions of himself, he must first be re-born as a psycho-physical organism possessing quality. Thus I ascribe the Brummagem wares of Western industry, so deeply offensive to Coomaraswamy, not to any extraneous influences, whether economic, scientific, moral or political, but to the fact that Western mankind long ago became biological Brummagem; therefore, that their natural expression could not, in any case, be other than shoddy and devoid of the quality Coomaraswamy sought for in vain. Similarly, if it is essential, for the recovery of Indian Nationalism, that "a re-establishment of a standard of quality" should be effected, I claim that it is idle to work or agitate or reform with this end in view by hortatory and educational means alone. Not until you have made a population something more than biological Brummagem will you eliminate shoddy from its life.

But this objection to Coomaraswamy's doctrines, although fundamental, leaves his penetrating analysis of the artist and his function in society wholly unscathed, and it is by this analysis and the teaching that arises out of it that the brilliant subject of this brief and inadequate appreciation is likely to be known and valued by an enlightened posterity.


Source: Studies in Comparative Religion

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