Tagore, under scrutiny from the 21st century

– Tagore, from the 21st century perspective, magazine India Perspectives, Ministry of  External Affaires, India,  Vol 24, n°2/2010, ISSN 0970 5674, english, french, et al.; on-line + paper edition.

At the turning point of the year two thousand, of course we entered into a new century. But essentially we turned a page toward a new millennium that, in many respects, imposes on us radical changes in our ways of living; and more so: a revolution, in an unconscious manner, of perceiving the world, of feeling life and of how to envision our futures. And, to proceed, without noticing it, to changing our mentalities, if not to say our consciousness.

Seen from the distance from which we take benefit today, Rabindranath Tagore, with the immense stature of his poetry, literature and creativity, proved to be deeply rooted – even if it was in an unconscious manner, in his “Zeitgeist”, the acting principal of a time, which gave birth to real upheaval, the concrete effects of which still nowadays alter more than ever our daily lifes.

Rabindranath Tagore almost was a voice in the desert, despite his travels and his encounters of many a great man in the Occident and the whole world, where he was seen, often wrongly, as a typical representative of the Orient; just as back home in India, where he called for the necessity of change and evolution in his own cultural, religious and political context.

After his meteoric rise after his Nobel prize he nearly sank into oblivion. Same misfortune happened to Johann Sebastian Bach, to name only one among many. This seems quite incomprehensible. But in fact, it might be that it is justified. Justified not because of lack of quality or because of an overestimation, but because this is what happens to who is innovative and who’s ideas are so fundamental that the mentalities of a given time cannot receive them without a deep questioning of its own values. As a reformer he was hitting hard on our chains and urging for changes unconceivable at that time.

What were these main upheavals of the time of Tagore that made our worldviews start to move? And where is the concordance with the contribution of Tagore, the validity of which still surfaces more and more? This small essay wants to be neither exhaustive nor definitive. Just a first short glimpse that questions, and knows the joy of discovery.

If the war of 1914-1918 is called “first world war”, it is because never before a war had such a dimension and the ruptures and changes that it provoked on an sociological and anthropological level were unprecedented.

It certainly was, on a negative side, among the forerunners of what today, a hundred year later, we call globalization. Like a volcano it was all destruction on the surface of some deeply underlying upheavals and ruptures. At that same time, irreparable disruption took place in the profoundness of all sections of science, soft or hard science, where philosophy is a vital part.  Some names of actors by way of explanation: Darwin, Einstein, Marx, Freud, and the revolution they brought about in each of their fields turned everything upside down. Now, the big voice of thunder came through the advent of Quantum Physics. What happens here is the questioning, if not the abolition of our normal, day by day logic, the logic of Aristotle, which is “the logic of Identity”, no more no less! We already knew that when the sun is rising in the east and setting in the west, it does not mean it turns around us. From now on, everything, any matter is no more what it looks like to be but enjoys a double “identity”, ‘particle’ as well as ‘wave’. The ‘singular’ disappears, ‘plural’ becomes the master. To refresh our memory, here a small catalogue of epistemological and so more philosophical changes, leading to practical ones, that still nowadays we have difficulties to integrate into our consciousness, although we are governed by the facts to which they point.

– the smaller it is, the bigger is the energy;

– matter is replaced by the more subtle concept of matter-energy;

– no more things, nothing but events and processes;

– substance is only one of more possible facets of energy;

– the notion of object is supplanted by the notions of relationinteractioninterconnection of natural phenomena;

– identity is replaced by complementarityat the same time particle AND wave, continuous AND discontinuous;

– local causality makes place for the more subtle concept of global causality, given the non-separability;

– continuity is complemented by discontinuity;

– mechanical determinism has to give way to an indeterminism;

– the observer becomes a participant;

– mechanical optics gives way to organic vision.

Here we have a revolution in our human knowledge. Our perception of reality made a jump. It obliges us to rethink our manner of thinking and acting, in short, to review our Ethics, and even more: to finally invent an Ethic valid for all of us. How shall we start?

It is here that Rabindranath Tagore plays his part. His part as forerunner, a role too rarely recognized. Amidst his exchanges with the grand spirits of his time, certainly, there was that with Einstein, so we can see Tagore being someone, like Dante in his time, who was perfectly informed about the advance of science in his days. However, Einstein fought all his life against Quantum Physics because he could not admit the dictate of the philosophical implications – thus the concrete deriving from there – of its findings. Tagore seems to mention nowhere the shock an encounter with the philosophy of Quantum Physics should have caused him. Nevertheless,  – if we go back to the small list above, imagining it having been conceived by our  “grand homme”, we will have no problem whatsoever to recognise him in each postulate’s new concept (e.g. the organic vision).

Inhabitant of his time, advocating Unity and Universality, underlining the part of the Unconscious as well as the Subconscious, Tagore did not need to follow the phases and vagaries of the construction of the new science in order to herald great truth by which the basic values of his own tradition had nourished him all along:

“We have in front of us the problem of one country; the Earth, where different races, like individuals, would have the faculty to freely bloom and at the same time show solidarity to the federation. What matters is to create a unity more powerful, with broader views and deeper feelings.   …  The science of meteorology knows the truth when it acknowledges that the atmosphere of the earth is one and the same, although it influences the different parties of the universe in different manners. Likewise we must know that man’s soul is One, coming to life through differences necessary for the fertility of its fundamental unity. This truth, a soon as we understand it disinterestedly, will help us to respect all the real differences between men, while staying conscious of our personality, while being aware of the fact that perfection of unity does not consist in conformity but in harmony”. (italics by the author)[1]

There would be so many subjects, battles and keywords of Tagore for which to find in Our “Zeitgeist” parallels, evolutions, resonances – just as if times finally have come where our mentalities have acquired the necessary enlargement in order to, in the future, taking care seriously of the problematics and possibilities of which Tagore, his ideas and acts, already had made us see the importance as well as the inescapable solutions.

May these few notions which follow as examples open slightly a door which others  then will open widely.

In “Towards Universal Man” [2] many times we find elaborated this “Unity in diversity, the One in the number” of which Tagore thinks it could be what India, as an example, has to offer to the world. Nowadays Europe gets down to it and maybe tomorrow the whole world will. Our master, in the worst case, could be the “climate change”, if our wisdoms will not have bent our egoisms beforehand.

Let’s listen again to Tagore:

“… We must know :  every nation is part of humanity and everybody has to answer this question : what do you have to offer to man, which new ways of happiness have you discovered? As soon as a nation loses the vital force necessary for this discovery – it becomes a dead weight – a paralysed member of the body of Universal Man.  Simply to exist is not a glory.

“ It’s a law of life to destroy that which is dead … it does not allow immobility … This make me say that the main truth of our time are these currents of a new life which drive us to act. … But at the bottom of the soul there is a tendency to want to embellish humanity with ones own individuality as ornament.

“ When man ceases to act out of his own will and is driven only by habit, he becomes a sort of parasite, for he loses his means to accomplish the task assigned to him, which is to say ‘make possible that which seems impossible’ and follow the road of progress, man’s true destiny.

“Those who could not reach interior independence in themselves are bound to lose it also in the exterior world. They are not aware of man’s true function, namely to transform the impossible into possible through ones own capacity to work miracles and not to limit oneself to that which was, but to progress towards that which has to be.”

These few citations simply are meant to say : let us go and look for that what the visionary in Tagore has to say to us today. His book “Sâdhanâ” is certainly to be kept among our bibles, just as the notions that follow are to be used as stepping stones:

The Individual (and with it the individuation dear to Carl Gustav Jung), Spontaneity, Creativity, Independence, Cooperation, Power of Invention, Faculty of the Spirit of Universality, Evolution (even in religion), – all these living and current concepts of our era of “Yes we can” have been marvellously highlighted already by Tagore.

Stehane Hessel, who participated in writing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, would like to see the “Declaration of Independence” of Nations be complemented by a “Declaration of Interdependence”. Tagore, at his time, already was its advocate.  It is on us still to make it come true.

On the road which is ours, we fortunately are with companions and are helped by the light of forerunners.

Ilke Angela Maréchal  2010

[1] in : Tagore Educateur : Appel en faveur d’une Université Internationale, mai 1921, p143/4 ; éditions Delachaux & Niestle S.A., Neuchâtel et Paris, 1922

[2] Gallimard, Paris, 1964 ; Visva Bharati, Shantiniketan, 1961