On Love and Friendship in The Indian Context and Sigmund Freud
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On Love and Friendship in The Indian Context and Sigmund Freud

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Item Code: NAK749
Author: Probal Dasgupta
Publisher: Indian Council of Philosophical Research and D. K. Printworld Pvt. Ltd.
Language: English
Edition: 2015
ISBN: 9788124608227
Pages: 149
Cover: Hardcover
Other Details 8.5 inch X 6.5 inch
Weight 330 gm
About The Book

This book studies the constitutive role of friendship as a factor contributing to the environment required for serious discussion between accountable adults to take place. The context for this study is a vision that identifies an anti-hierarchical imagination as a prerequisite for democracy and seeks to fashion an institutional format based on friendship, outside patriarchy. This India-focused study, which draws on philosophy, literary I historical analysis, psychological theory and fieldwork, revolves around the insight that exchanging feelings and thoughts with friends, in the light-hearted style of open conversations but with the seriousness that only informality can underwrite, is a uniquely valuable mode of exploring questions; it alone nurtures the growth of personal accountability. The capabilities of this mode as a site for the development of such maturity, the author suggests, go beyond what the institutional structures of academia and other public spaces can possibly support, given the masks that formal structures force on their participants

The author argues that friendship is a metaproject, a crucible within which projects are incubated; this structural fact makes it difficult to initiate friendships if one is a very young child, not yet able to understand what projects are, or a very old adult, no longer willing to launch any. It is in the context of that argument that the author considers the Freudian view that all acts of friendship are nothing but sublimated manifestations of eros; she suggests that such a claim conflates issues of origin with issues of validity and ignores the metaproject character of friendship bonds.


About The Author

Manashi Dasgupta's (1928-2010) degrees in philosophy and psychology (Calcutta University, 1951, 1954) underpinned her research at Cornell University (Ph.D. 1962, for a thesis on Some Determinants of the Judgment of 'Interestingness'). She served as Principal, Shri Shikshayatan College (1963- 66, 1969-72); Regional Officer, USEFI (1967- 69); Special Officer for Rabindrabhavana, Visvabharati (1972-82). She authored Samaj- Man (Society and Mind, 1977), Chabir nam Satyajit (A Picture called Satyajit, 1984), Rabindranath: Ek Asamanvita Dvandva (Tagore: An Unresolved Tension, 1987/2015), Manastattva a Rajniti (Psychology and Politics, 1995), Meyeder Bhumika o Bhashya (Women's Roles and Theories, 2003/2011), biographies of Ashapurna Debi and Upendrakishore Ray Chowdhury, a two- volume autobiography and many other fictional and analytical writings.



This monograph was submitted to the Indian Council of Philosophical Research (ICPR) in 1988 as a project report (for Project No. F.1-18/86 [P&R]) by my mother Manashi Dasgupta (1928-2010). Her approach, combining philosophy with psychology, is articulated more dearly in this text than in the writings published during her lifetime. I am indebted to ICPR for arranging for its posthumous publication. ICPR is not responsible for the delay; I am; and I personally thank Amita Chatterjee, Nirmalya Narayan Chakraborty, Saroj Kanta Kar, Michael McGhee, Mrinal Miri, Arun Misra, Mohan Ramanan, Manendra Pratap Singh, M. Sridhar and P.S. Sundaram for several good turns that helped turn the manuscript into this book that you see.

The following sentence from Chapter 3 of this monograph succinctly articulates the priorities motivating the inquiry reported here: "Chitrangada is a celebration of joyful womanly love blended with personal accountability and self-respect". I hope readers will find the following exposition faithful to those priorities. My purpose in this preface is to suggest that this text is best read as an essay on the constitutive role of friendship and other interpersonal ties as factors contributing to the environment required for serious and equitable discussion between accountable adults to take place. Only if such discussions in micro-social milieux flourish can macro-societal democratic processes come into their own. The reception of this text will take place under contradictory pressures exerted by the global pre-context in which it was incubated and the global post-context of its use by readers today. Other factors become visible when we look at the milieu of intellectual production from which this monograph draws its coordinates. The triangle that this preface highlights - pre- context, post-context, milieu of formulation - may prove methodologically useful as a way of approaching other texts as well.

In its terms of reference this text takes for granted a world whose institutions were based on the ways of warfare. In Manashi Dasgupta's childhood, the world was frankly divided into imperially controlled segments. Neither the geopolitical managers of such control nor their intellectuals were apologetic about the conceptual presuppositions of the world order of colonial Herrenvolker. That order, they argued, was based on a "realism" rooted in a "scientific" understanding of the place of humans vis-a-vis the natural universe and vis-a-vis each other's "hard-headed" pursuit of cultural, economic and political self-interest. In that world, thanks to efforts by the victorious allies in the Second World War to safeguard "freedom" and "liberal democracy" against "racism" and "fascism", the victors did not find it ironic that most societies expected to be under authoritarian rule for the foreseeable future - openly assuming that the Hobbesian war of all against all was here to stay - and that "tender-minded" friendship was thus seen as on the whole a way to escape the worst consequences of the ubiquity of such regimes.

Under the shadow of the war of all against all, your enemy's enemies were your friends, especially if circumstances happened to throw you together and make coalition building look like a plausible move to make. Friendship was a strategy. In such an order of things only an unrealistic dissident, who not only rejected the premises that were in place but was proposing a full-blown alternative of her own "with a little help from [her] friends", would find it meaningful to offer a serious characterization of friendship that did not reduce it to a sublimation of love, to explore the self-understanding of friends present and past, or to bring such a conceptualization face to face with other serious formulations available.

But we are reading this document in a very different world, are we not, one in which formal democracy with formal freedom of the press appears to have become the prevalent norm. These circumstances should have enabled citizens and their states to build institutions that take peace as their point of reference. But such a process has not exactly taken off. Proponents of serious friendship still find themselves marginalized as toothless utopia-mongers. The theories of the "real world" that remain in place (with aggression-laden preferences surfacing in the use of toothless as a term of censure) refuse to conceptualize the third value, fraternity, on the same footing as liberty and equality. And yet conversations between friends are where the public discourse is incubated. The theoreticians' resolute and unembarrassed neglect of friend- ship, pushing its actual role into inappropriately marginal niches in our account of how society works and in proposals about where we should be headed, has catastrophically undermined substantive thinking on the place of the consultative ethos in democratic processes.

Manashi Dasgupta's monograph on friendship and its associates articulates a response to this predicament that goes back to the practices that she and her husband Arun Kumar Dasgupta pioneered in the early 1950s. They were committed to ensuring that children from poor families in the neighbourhood received loosely structured instruction in literacy and numeracy skills and ran a wall newspaper called Spandan, "(heart) beat, pulsation"; but this was not all. The Spandan circle led by this couple anchored itself in a loose congregation of friends rather than relatives - friends who took open and relaxed conversation seriously. The (adult) friends who made the Spandan enterprise then and later a vibrant site of companionship and discourse included individuals who were to become celebrities in the Anglophone academic world, such as Jitendra Nath Mohanty, Ashin Das Gupta and Tapan Raychaudhuri. The philosopher Mohanty and the historian Raychaudhuri have documented their debt to this enterprise (Mohanty, Between Two Worlds: East and West, Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2002; Raychaudhuri, Bangalnama, Kolkata: Ananda, 2007). But the Spandan circle was no mere academic salon. The incubation that took place there drew on the moral, intellectual and aesthetic resources of the resurgence that made South Asia in the 1950s a beacon of hope.

Of course, the resources that nourished the Spandan circle were also available to their peers; but this circle, and its continuations in the 1960s and later, added value by using them as a basis for launching what participants later came to see as an innovative enterprise. After the Dasguptas' passing, friends of theirs such as Mohanty, Raychaudhuri and Asok Sen emphasized how important it was for them to have been initiated into the art of forming and sustaining durable bonds of friendly dialogue across political and aesthetic differences that kept in view the importance of democratic processes in one's private lives. Mohanty and Raychaudhuri have documented their experiences, as mentioned above. Sen, who stayed on in Kolkata, actively continued the intellectual exchange. He provided feedback on the draft of Manashi's 1977 monograph on social psychology and the Indian milieu (Samaj-Mon, "Society and Mind", Firma K.L. Mukhopadhyay, Kolkata). Later, as the editor of Baromas, Sen published articles by Manashi that led to her 1987 psychological study of Rabindranath Tagore (Rabindranath: Ek Asamanwito Dwandwo, "Rabindranath: An Unresolved Tension", Sahitya Samavaya, Dhaka, Bangladesh; 2nd edn., Ebong Mushayera, Kolkata, 2015). Taking those texts as a point of departure (see below for some of the connections), the present monograph, drafted in 1988, articulated the conceptual basis of the practices that made the Spandan enterprise worthwhile.

One key philosophical insight informing those practices was the thought that exchanging feelings and thoughts with one's friends, in the light-hearted manner characteristic of informal conversations but with the seriousness that only such a context is able to underwrite, is a uniquely valuable mode of exploring questions because it alone nurtures the growth of personal accountability in its participants. As a philosopher who was later trained in psychology as well, Manashi took the stand that the capabilities of this mode, as a site for the development of personal responsibility and accountability in these domains, go well beyond what the institutional structures of the universities or the journals can possibly support, given the masks that formal academia forces on participants in its jousts. She articulates this stand in several writings in Bengali - most explicitly in her 1990 paper "Sakhya- priti, prem-kamana o anibarya Sigmund Freud (Friendship I affection, love / eros and the inevitable Sigmund Freud)", liggasa 11:3.287-301, where she argues that friendship is a metaproject, a crucible within which projects can be launched; and that it is this structural fact that makes it difficult to make friends if one is a very young child, not yet able to understand what projects are, or a very old adult, no longer willing to launch any. In the context of that argument, she takes on Freud's claim that all acts of friendship are nothing but sublimated manifestations of eros: she suggests that such a claim mixes up issues of origin with issues of use and that it ignores the meta project character of friendship bonds. The present monograph can be read as a book-length unpacking of that argument and of the engagement with Freud.



Every beginning has a beginning, in so far as human projects are concerned. Rabindranath in his inimitable style compares this process to that of "getting the wicks ready at dawn to have the lamps lighted at dusk".' The inquiry reported here also started out in that mode. Let me begin the narration by recalling the moments when my attention was first focused on two significant personalities of the nineteenth century: Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) and Rabindranath Tagore (1861- 1941).

Tagore was a household word when I grew up in the 1930s in Calcutta; his name gradually gained even greater importance as years passed by. Freud was hardly known in this part of the world in the 1930s except in the departments of psychology and his name was, for all practical purposes, banned in respectable households. Youthful litterateurs and a handful of academicians knew of Freud. The situation has not substantially changed even today. I came to read him as a student, first of Mental and Moral Philosophy, and later of Psychology. During those years, we came to know of Gandhiji inquiring about the "Philosophy of Sigmund Freud" from the former's secretary, Nirmal Kumar Bose and felt somewhat puzzled that anyone of the stature of Nirmal Kumar Bose would not inform Gandhiji that Freud was no philosopher in a proper sense of the word. This was true of Tagore as well: the orthodox circle of academics would not accept him as a philosopher.

Tagore and Freud differed in their vocation and outlook; but they also had something in common to which I would like to draw my reader's attention. Freud's recognized role was that of a doctor, and Tagore's was that of a poet; however, they both crossed the boundaries of their roles to express their concern - each in his own way - about the predicament of the individual-in-society. Freud's Civilisation and its Discontents can be read along with Tagore's Crisis in Civilisation even today to advance our understanding of the nature of the wounds inflicted by civilization on hapless human beings locked into social frames.

Social frames differ from place to place and time to time. India and Western Europe in the nineteenth century came closer than ever before for reasons which will be duly discussed in the section on the contemporary social climate in India in Chapter 3. It is of interest to note that the Vienna experienced by Freud in the 1850s was not totally different from the Calcutta in which Tagore lived in the 1860s. Although Tagore did grow up in Calcutta, as a child he was prevented from getting the full taste of the life of the city by the walls of family pride and protectiveness. Much of the wealth had departed from their home by the time Tagore was born; his grandfather had died; his father was not as interested in adding to the family resources as he was in revitalizing the spiritual heritage of India by launching a religious movement to save the young from the lure of Christian missions. Tagore was initiated into reciting sacred texts by his father, who also protected the young Tagore from the drudgery and pain of going to a school where he was subjected to teasing and jokes. When Freud was growing up in Vienna, the city was throbbing with intellectual activities, which, however, were quite beyond his reach as he was a Jewish child, and a poor one too, due to his father's lack of success in business. Freud did not remember much of his childhood when he wrote about his early years in Vienna, perhaps because he did not wish to.' He recalled with distaste that in school his surname became a subject of incessant jokes, which caused him considerable distress (there were allusions, which recurred in his dreams, to die Freude, joy, and prostitutes)." When Tagore wrote his reminiscences, he did not seem to recall many of the factual details of his own childhood, either; but instead of setting his childhood aside as an unpleasant period, he took special care to add cheerful colour to all that he remembered that had aroused his poetic imagination. This was his way throughout his itinerary: to speak of the good things of life, removing the depressing aspects from the account as much as possible, as if he was wishing them away. That style helped him to remain an "incurable optimist", which Freud was not.

Are there neutral criteria that would enable us to choose between these attitudes? Russell treats us to a witty comment:

Optimism assumes, or attempts to prove, that the universe exists to please us and pessimism that it exists to displease us. Scientifically, there is no evidence that it is concerned with us one way or the other.

No relevant facts, then, only attitudes: the optimist accepts the universe as it is, and feels happy about it, while the pessimist resists such acceptance. Tagore and Freud were perhaps equally convinced of the indifference of the universe to human affairs; but they remained differently disposed towards this indifference, which is what made them different. Tagore accepted the universe and its lack of concern with due humility and, in humility, he shared a common fate with others. Freud, on the other hand, focused his analytical scrutiny on the fact that human beings expect the universe to have concern for human life and well-being, even though human beings, in general, have very little mutual concern, very little willingness to help other persons; in this inquiry, he stood apart.




  Editor's Preface vii
  Biographical Note xvii
  Author's Introduction 1
1 Freud: Some Observations on the Man and His Theories 15
2 The Indian Context of Love and Friendship 38
3 the Contemporary Indian Scene: Constructs and Response Patterns 68
4 Mythis, Rules and Romandtc Divotion 109
5 Conclusion 121
  Index 128

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