A Brief Excerpt
of John Robert Gardner's Dissertation
viz. HTML and Humanities Study
Revised site note 1/26/10: The dissertation, "The Developing Terminology for the Self in Vedic India," was completed and successfully defended in the spring of 1998. The discussion below was part of my work to gain grant support from the University of Iowa Graduate College for what was--at the time--a "novel" idea to use e-texts and their related technology for humanities study. The links immediately below are to the original navigation of this site at the time of this page's first upload.
Handling the Texts and Making the Links
The combined impact of the issues and problems listed above has likely proven to be the primary reason why the current study will be the first of its kind. Additionally, of course, the advent of electronic texts (e-texts), the World Wide Web (WWW), Hyptertext Mark-up Language (HTML), and the PowerPC have assisted in resolving many of these obstacles. In the present study, the results of historical analysis of internal and external evidence for establishing chronological date and sequence for Vedic literature, coupled with linguistic analysis of the relevant passages, will provide both the innovation and organization necessary for a detailed assessment of the Vedic conceptions of the self. These conceptions, derived from semantic and syntactic analysis of the usage of key words related to individual existence, will provide a framework for sociological investigation of the changing currents of Vedic culture.
The use of technology cannot replace detailed analysis. A "search and find" mechanism with an e-text--even if there were one which worked with the complexity of the Vedic alphabet and accent--cannot reliably identify the many possible variations in nominal declension or compounds, to say nothing of the intricacies of verbal inflection. Accordingly, nothing can replace the time-honored approach of detailed, line-by-line reading and identification of terms for study and analysis. The real problem comes when trying to extract and synthesize this data. A scholar either has to laboriously flip through page upon page of data that he/she has marked or write while in the process analyzing the text, thus dividing the energies of study and analysis. This latter prospect runs the danger of supplanting a useful assessment of the forest with a tree-by-tree summary. Further still, it is almost logistically impossible to adhere to the actual historical development within a text. For instance the RV, which has several periods of composition that are not reflected in its composite arrangement, extracting data of a careful term search of this kind even if it were marked would be a chaotic undertaking. Not only would one have to read and make notes from the text, but then this collection of notes would have to be sequenced according to historical timelines, then be physically accessed from volume-to-volume and note-to-note. Such a mechanism encumbers adequate perspective to analyze the data identified. The process is further compounded, or even made impossible, when a larger pool than just one or two terms are at issue, especially accross several texts.
The advent of hyptertext and e-text databases enables such large studies, and a convenient, efficient, and rapid means of accessing the data such as that chosen for this study. It can be cross-linked with related terms being studied within one text or throughout several. The concept, at least in a technological sense, originated in 1945, with the article "As We May Think," by Vannevar Bush. Bush was hypothezising a "memex " as a solution to the "growing mountain of research," confronting and even overwhelming scholars. The memex would be a "sort of mechanized private file and library" (1945:102). Its function would be to store, link and retrieve information. Espen J. Aarseth remarks, "His user is clearly modeled on the traditional academic author, who can carry out his critical comparisons and annotations of sources with the same serene distance as before, only much more efficiently." The actual word "hypertext" did not come about until 1965.
The title of Bush's article is somewhat ironic in connection with the creation in this dissertation of a "memex " for Vedic data. While "As We May Think" is considered the "modern" origin of the concept (1994: 68), I would argue that--in Vedic terms--the title could well be "As They Did Think." Certainly it is a model of how modern thought is being conceived in the physical and neurological sciences. Associative theories of intellectual activity and memory are common. I am suggesting as well that this is not only a modern but a human phenomenon, and that this emulates how the Vedic RSi constructed images of the universe and human presence within it. The development of the canon, and its existence and transmission being in the form of an oral tradition, provide a dynamic database to the ya evam veda from which a multitude of thematic, metrical, and semantic links could be drawn for ritual and meditative purposes. There are instances of this wherein the BraahmaNas directly quote the RV as an invocation in a ritual, or the justification of mantra choice according to the content of a ritual or signficance of a given word, and--especially as evidencing "developmental" thought--the brahmodya. At any given moment, a RSi had at their mental disposal an intricately interlinked database in their mind from which they could draw in expounding on a topic.
This is also consistent with the manner in which the mantras came to be composed according to the analysis of Elizarenkova. She describes the importance of multivalence in vocabulary, particularly in the form of polysemy. The RSi's would correlate their semantic choices on multiple levels, most frequently with the myth and ritual, in a context of stylistic play (1995: 285). Gonda notes in Vedic Literature (SaMhitaas and BraahmaNa's ) the RSi's would take their revelation and transpose it into a verbal form marked and shaped by tradition and the canon as it was handed down and stored in memory from previous times. Elizarenkova expands upon this "handed down" criteria, characterizing it as a palette which includes syntax, metrics, sound, vocabulary, and morphological hues which can be woven and reworked according to the demands of expression for a given revelation. This database of stylistic elements was selectively drawn upon in the dynamic utterance of the mantras and later in the chosen tapestries of their repetitions in sacrificial or meditative contexts.
In this dissertation, I am constructing and employing a "cyber- RSi " of sorts. While the hybrid term may be novel, the reality is valid: the hard drive on the computer or WWW server has memorized the shruuti, and this database is drawn upon as would a RSi in active thought (e.g. brahmodya or yajña recitation), through the HTML coding programmed into the e-text. In this case I have tried to create something akin to the Yaajñavalkya of BAAU IV with regard to the self in Vedic and pre-UpaniSadic literature. However, as this study is an analysis of diachronic change in the terminological pallette from which images of individuality were drawn in Vedic times, I have imposed a strict linear timeline of links upon this virtual Yaajñavalkya. As in the case of the RV, (see above in the following chapter on Textual Parameters), the order of the text as canonically transmitted and its actual historical sequence of composition differ greatly. As in the diagram discussed above from Witzel's study (page 21), to follow the historical sequence there are a multitude of non-sequential segments. Thus, in reading and mapping with HTML the terminology related to the self in the RV I have linked each term according to the temporal--rather than textual--sequence of the passage. The RV is also cross-linked with the ShB. To this is correlated use of Bandhu's VaidikapadaanukramakoSaH for terms either not included in the primary database, or those texts not currently in electronic form.