Whoever becomes interested in India can only have as his invisible patron Anquetil-Duperron, the youth who boards a ship full of convicts in order to go and search for a book. Dozens of grave conferences on multiculturalism, hundreds of lofty mediations on the Other’s dignity (or rather, the “autre”, which sounds better), are emptied and reduced to their natural fatuity by one single saying of Anquetil-Duperron: “Why have you come to India?” “To see you”. In the first place it’s necessary not to be a soldier, nor a missionary, nor a merchant. Not to be a representative of one of the three powers of oppression and devastation that the West has wrought and goes on exercising, with untiring good conscience. And then: to be endowed with an inborn curiosity of the eye — that is, with the simplest wish to see and to understand. Human beings are by nature metaphorical and plastic, able to take on all kinds of forms and also to understand themselves in all kind of forms. If we set aside this quality, man is a rather modest being, less interesting than many animal species. As Canetti wrote, the power of metamorphosis belongs to each of us, “but very few realize that they owe to it the best part of what they are”.
If you’re in Calcutta, Calasso will be lecturing tomorrow (Monday December 12). The Jabberwock snatched ten minutes with the man and didn’t let that stop him from getting some frumious bandersnatching on. Back in 1998, Sunil Khilnani surveyed Ka for the New York Times–read the whole thing.