This excerpt is from the opening paragraph of Som Raj Gupta’s The Word Speaks to the Faustian Man. I’ve been contemplating this book for years, since reading A Review of Roberto Calasso and Som Raj Gupta.
There are men who read a lot but do not turn into scholars because they do not read for the sake of systematic research and within the parameters of a methodology but in the hope, ultimately vain and futile, of finding some meaning and purpose in life. Their reading is often extensive, almost always profound and concentrated, but not systematic and objective enough to satisfy the norms set up by the great seats of learning and research. Such men think long and deeply but do not turn into thinkers because they think in pain and in anguish, think as much with their blood, their breath, their pulse as with their brains. Their thinking tells visibly upon their health and the working of their minds; its effect can be seen in their nervousness, in their indecisiveness, in their embarrassing clumsiness. They do not turn into thinkers because they do not think in what are called precise and rigorous terms and do not, cannot, look at every aspect of their thought as a systematic thinker would do. They are more anxious to see truth, to feel it and live it than to talk about it in coherent and precisely communicative terms. Such men also fail to be pious people because they find it difficult to observe the accepted laws of piety, or to be civilised because they do not always live up to the norms of civilisation. Nor can they pray with fervent devotion as men of faith do because their souls often remain amassed and frozen within themselves. They are, in one word, unhappy souls that can never come to be successful in life, in thought, in cultural pursuits. To fail in every sphere is their destiny—and the promise of their redemption.
Glad you posted this; it makes me want to return to Calasso’s KA and reminds me of how much I wanted to get to ARDOR. So often, you remind me, that reading without a system won’t fail to reveal a pattern.
I’m always ready to plug my Calasso gaps which include Ardor. I will get around to at least one more Calasso this year.
Hiya Anthony — Howzit? I’m not often on the web-side of the Internet, but when I am, I usually check your latest blog posts to make sure Western Civilization is still thriving thanks to your well-tended sanctuary. 🙂
You may remember our Twitter exchange a few years ago about Som Raj Gupta’s books. It was prompted by Will McPherson’s very good article that you’ve cited here. I’ve been reading Gupta’s *Faustian Ma**n* books since the first volume was published ~25 years ago, and I’ve enjoyed all of Calasso’s books in English since* Ruin of Kasch* appeared a couple of years later. But somehow it never occurred to me to contemplate Calasso’s works in conjunction with Gupta’s works until I read McPherson’s post.
My brief summary of that exercise might help you decide whether you want to invest your time, money, and effort into obtaining and reading even the first crappy volume of *The Word Speaks to the Faustian Man*.
Regardless of the vendor, the expensive new book you’ll eventually receive (and good luck with that) will have been published in 1991 in Delhi, will smell bad, will likely have mildewy water whirls on its front and rear covers, and whole chunks of deeply yellowed pages will be yearning to break free from their loosey-goosey binding. (They’ll soon succeed.) Complain to the vendor, with photos if necessary, to obtain the 50% refund that’s built into the selling price.
Any or all of Calasso’s books will, of course, be of good stock, strong and healthy, perhaps even beautiful; reasonably priced; readily available from your local bookseller; stain- and odor-free; and no doubt longer for this earth than you are.
The essence and substance of the two men’s *oeuvres*, to use McPherson’s word, couldn’t be more different, either. Calasso’s content expands from micro to macro via inspiration, erudition, audacity, and grace. He emboldens his readers to unfasten their seat belts and throw intellectual caution to the devil as they follow his loops and zigzags across continents, cultures, centuries, and canons.
After finishing one of Calasso’s better books, like *Kasch*, the combination of exhilaration and disorientation leaves us wondering what the hell just happened, and please sir, we want some more. Almost immediately we resume sampling books, films, recordings, etc., in habitual pursuit of another of those breathtaking rides.
Gupta is at least as inspired and erudite, but the inherent purpose of his massive five-volume work (in six physical books) is to render you perpetually disinterested in pursuing the pleasures of any conventional cultural product ever again — and they’re *all* conventional cultural products if you manage to absorb and be absorbed by the Upanishadic texts, Shankara’s translations and commentaries on the texts, and Gupta’s translations of Shankara’s writings, along with Gupta’s own stunningly penetrating commentaries (which contract from macro to micro, by the way).
At least two types of readers are well-suited to the *Faustian Man* books: one who is very familiar with the Upanishads, Vedanta, and/or Shankara, and who seeks a more profound understanding of same; and one who suspects it’s time to abandon everything that clearly hasn’t “worked” (which is…well, *everything*) in exchange for a blessed poof! to the fucking chase.
Whether reading and re-reading Gupta’s extremely unusual writings induces either a profound understanding, a blessed poof!, acid reflux, or something else altogether can’t be predicted, naturally. These books aren’t guru worship or satsang or yoga or meditation or Hinduism or cushion-sitting or incense and spiritual practice; there are plenty of such things available elsewhere. Reading *The Word Speaks to the Faustian Man* is like voluntarily becoming lost in an all-consuming, hot-as-hell, beautiful desert with no convenience stores anywhere.
Please let me know what you decide, and what you think of the first hundred pages, say, of Volume I, if it’s a go.
On Mon, Mar 21, 2016 at 7:47 PM, Times Flow Stemmed wrote:
> Anthony commented: “I’m always ready to plug my Calasso gaps which include > Ardor. I will get around to at least one more Calasso this year.” >
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Hey there! Of course I recall our conversations about Gupta. I intended to sample his book back then but either I ordered and nothing arrived or I forgot to order and then got distracted (more likely).
You could cover my knowledge of the Upanishads, Vedanta and Shankara on a cigarette paper, only what I’ve read in Calasso and in following that obsession we’ve talked about previously about the Eastern origins of pre-Socratic thought. My paucity of knowledge is possibly what is stopping me from tracking a copy of Gupta’s work down.
But I am utterly convinced that western philosophy, religion, psychology and anything else readily available isn’t going to bring about the blessed poof! Heraclitus and Wittgenstein get closer to most, maybe, if I could get my fuzzy grey matter around what they have to say, or don’t say but infer.
I am going to try to track Gupta’s book down.
If I’d known a mention of Gupta would get you commenting again I woulda done it years ago. Very, very good to hear from you.
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Thank you for your warm reply, Anthony. I don’t comment here only because I’m not sure when I’ll be back this way, and I’d hate to give you the impression that my silence is a deliberate response to any subsequent replies you might post. But you’re right: You totally reeled me in with the Gupta bait! McPherson’s review of a few years ago surprised me enough (who is he?!), but you’re the first person I’ve ever encountered who was so genuinely roused by a paragraph from the preface to Faustian Man that you considered buying the book. So yes, a bond like ours must be honored. 😉
Actually, your “paucity of knowledge” may serve you well with this work. Its intended readership is neither the hordes who’ve cherry-picked seductive Buddhist and Hindu praxes and feel compelled to sprinkle their “spiritual” conversations with Sanskrit words, nor the seasoned devotees devouring yet more exegeses in order to re-ping their endorphin transmitters, nor scholars exchanging interpretive tomes on abstruse aspects of the Vedas or Eastern “philosophies.” Who’s left, then, to discover and embrace Gupta’s books in the way he certainly must have imagined?
Not many of us, and we don’t even share identifiable marketing demographics. That’s why you’ll find practically nothing on the web about this specific Som Raj Gupta (it’s not a unique name), and why you’ll have some difficulty obtaining fairly-priced, decent copies of any of his books, none of which has ever been printed outside of India, as far as I know…and they didn’t exactly hit the bestseller list there, either. In fact, it’s probable that most of the copies sold since day one are successive replacements of the first few hundred original purchases. (Surely Yeats was inspired by the second coming of books from India when he wrote “Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold.”)
Near the end of Vol. 1’s preface (which I can email to you if you don’t have the entire text), just prior to his thanking 13 globally prominent scholars who’ve “liked” his approach to the Advaita Vedantic tradition (that “liked” always reminds me of a social-media click), Gupta poignantly states: “This work was written in intellectual loneliness….”
Well, in order for it to be properly absorbed as an effective antidote to a lifelong accumulation of existential toxins, it must be studied in intellectual loneliness, as well. Which is likely another reason Gupta’s work receives so little attention online, or even in print: One generally doesn’t initiate a discussion with fellow dinner companions, or publish a journal article or blog post, about this obscure set of books one really doesn’t feel like talking about because there’s no way to describe them, and besides, hardly anybody will be interested in them anyway (hence McPherson’s tie-in with Calasso’s books).
So yes, you in particular ought to give at least the first book a try.
I shall certainly track down and try volume one. Thanks again for your comments on the post. Maybe I shall become so enriched by the work that a blog post will be required but maybe not.
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That sounds like me. I wonder where it goes from there.
You and me both. I keep wondering but resist taking the plunge.
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Sorry. I posted previous reply via Gmail and somehow all italics and bold markers were lost. Looked fine in the Gmail editor. Any idea why that happened?
No idea, sorry, the formatting on WP commenting is unpredictable.
Very funny that this time I didn’t even try to figure out WP’s latest markup scheme for italics. I just fell back on our online method from 1981: enclosing words in underscores, which I noted (upon posting) that WP’s juju sauce has transposed into…italics!