Narrative as Argument in Indian Philosophy: The Astāvakra Gītā as Multivalent Narrative

Stroud, Scott R.
February 2004
Philosophy & Rhetoric;2004, Vol. 37 Issue 1, p42
Academic Journal
This study explores the ways in which the text of Indian narrative "Astāvakra Gītā" argues its philosophical positions to its audience of potential pupils. This audience can be a Western or non-Indian one, or even a non-Vedantic Indian audience. The point of Vedantic texts in the narrative is to convert or enlighten whoever is reading it. This conversion must be done, in many cases, through recourse to experiential multivariate narrative (EMN) texts and their use of experiential measures. Prevalent Western notions of argument as logically rigorous and as consisting of clearly labeled conclusions and premises must be transcended if the argumentative tactics of Eastern narratives, such as the Astāvakra Gītā, are to be appreciated. They simply cannot rely on discursive thought and argumentative use of language to convey a truth that is beyond truth and falsity, beyond reality and unreality, and beyond duality and non-duality. Of course, many treatises and texts in Indian philosophy are quite analytical and discursive in their argument, but a significant portion takes the form of dialogue and story, using narrative in an interesting but argumentative fashion. These texts can and do argue. The Astāvakra Gītā , an excellent example of an EMN, is not arguing for an explicit conclusion. Instead, it is useful to see it as arguing for the experience of a certain type of transcendental disposition. While the mere reading of this text may not transform one into a fully enlightened individual, the microstructure of enlightenment can be felt by the process of truly interacting with this text.


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