Father India: How Encounters With an Ancient Culture Transformed the Modern West

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9780060173036: Father India: How Encounters With an Ancient Culture Transformed the Modern West

This is a 1st edition copy of the book signed by the author. Over the past hundred years, India has held an enormous fascination for western intellectuals and artists. Father India explores the life-changing influence of the subcontinent on western ideas of modernity by narrating the curious, spellbinding stories of a succession of twentieth-century Europeans and Americans. These major culture figures--including Lord Curzon, Annie Besant, E. M. Forster, Carl Jung, William Butler Yeats, V. S. Naiipaul, Christopher Isherwood, and Martin Luther King Jr., among others--acted out their most secret dreams in India.

Troubled by a vague but persistent discontent, most of the characters portrayed in this book journeyed to India seeking a perspective on their own culture from outside it. The Swiss psychoanalyst Carl Jung, for example, unable to find within western intellectual tradition an antidote to fascism, scoured India for a different way to integrate an understanding of evil into the human psyche. Martin Luther King Jr. tried to discover a new basis for American politics, incongruously, in India. And V. S. Naipaul came to search for family roots but ended up inadvertently placing the Enlightenment values of individuality, rationality, and progress in a living crucible there.

Gandhi's answer to the question "Why now?" as he observed one westerner after another come to his own ashram, is telling: The contemporary West had misplaced its soul, and pilgrims to India were on a mission to retrieve it. In the process, their unconscious assumptions about politics, religion, and identity in their own cultures were turned upside-down and laid open to question.

"What do you think of western civilization?" Gandhi was once asked. He answered, "It would be a good idea." This book is about a good idea in India, Father India tells the story of those people--Curzon, Besant, Forster, Naipaul, Isherwood, Mirra Richard, and oddly, Gandhi, too, as well as a chorus of minor characters--who attempted to comprehend or even to protect western civilization through India, and of how their successes and failures returned to the modern West a changed understanding of itself.

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Review:

When Lord Curzon, E.M. Forster, Mirra Richard, Margaret Bourke-White, and Christopher Isherwood left their familiar surroundings in places like London, Paris, and Washington and made their way to "exotic" India, they used the experience to question "what they had oppressively taken for granted about society or religion or sometimes their very selves." So writes literary journalist Jeffery Paine, who examines the Western encounter with India--and the Indian encounter with the West--to show how both worlds influenced and changed each other. Paine writes at length, for instance, about the English freethinker Annie Besant, who traveled to India in 1893 to study Hinduism; her sometimes botched but politically charged English translation of the Bhagavad Gita helped give rise to the modern New Age movement, and it also persuaded one reader, Mohandas Gandhi, to return to India from his home in London and devote himself to politics.

Elsewhere Paine considers the travels of the Swiss psychologist Carl Jung, who returned from India with new views of the individual psyche and the collective unconscious, and of the Trinidadian novelist V.S. Naipaul, whose "estranged explorations of uprootedness" among Indians at home and abroad won him literary praise and honor. Through such interpreters, Paine writes, India extended the Western perimeter of vision, and it continues to do so today. Of a piece with Jonathan Spence's The Chan's Great Continent, an examination of China's influence on the West, Paine's imaginative journey through India makes for illuminating reading. --Gregory McNamee

About the Author:

Jeffery Paine is contributing editor, and was for many years literary editor, of the Wilson Quarterly. He has written for the New York Times, Washington Post, New Republic, Chicago Tribune, San Francisco Chronicle, Los Angeles Times, USA Today, and various periodicals. He has taught at Princeton University, the New School for Social Research, and Volksuniversiteit Amsterdam. He lives in Washington, D.C.

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