Wednesday, 7 April 2010

Richard V. De Smet: dissertation

Going through some correspondence of Richard De Smet that was recently discovered among the papers of Paul Kehres, SJ, I came across a letter from George McLean, speaking about the publication of De Smet's dissertation.

Fortunately there was an email, and I tried my luck. To my great surprise and pleasure Prof. McLean responded almost immediately to my queries. This is what he wrote (28 Feb 2010):

The project of the dissertation is something like this: .
a. I edited the work when in India in the mid 70s.
b. Brad reconstituted the work (ms was unclear) and sent it to Notre Dame Univ. Press.
c. The Press held up on publication for absence of agreement by Richard to publication of the edited version.
d. I found the from Richard (one of his last two letters the night before his final operation) telling me to go ahead with the publication, which I am ready to do.
e. I thought that Brad was getting a release from NDU press for this publlication, but have been distracted and have not followed up.
f. I will write to Brad about this and look forward to making this work available.

Brad Malkovsky had earlier written to me (19 August 2009):

As to the original De Smet thesis, I put a lot of time and effort into it many years ago, trying to get it ready for publication. I used a copy of the original manuscript, which was riddled with problems involving English, Sanskrit, organization, incomplete source citations and incomplete bibliographical entries. I tried tidying it up as best I could. Along with that manuscript I worked with another, one that was alleged to be an improved later version by De Smet. It turned out it wasn't. I had wanted to publish De Smet's work, synthesizing the two versions. When I learned the second version was spurious I gave up the project out of frustration.

In retrospect I no longer feel that De Smet's dissertation is worth publishing, though it was his desire to do so, even at the end of his life. Proving that Shankara was a theologian rather than a philosopher is already well established (though still not usually accepted by Hindu Advaitins) by other scholars, including Frank Clooney, SJ of Harvard. Also many of the sources De Smet thought were from Shankara are no longer counted as genuine today, e.g. the Vivekacudamani. So the work is very much out of date and no longer eye-opening in its insights. What is more important is to get De Smet's essays published, especially those from the last twenty years of his life. They are far superior to his dissertation in terms of precision and insight.

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