RAIMON PANIKKAR’S RESPONSE TO NEPSIS
[As A Doctoral Dissertation Project]
Tavertet (Spain), November 14, 1994
To: The Committee of Stephen Frost Doctoral Dissertation, University of California at Berkeley:
This is an unusual dissertation. It requires therefore unusual categories to evaluate it. But unusual does not mean illegitimate.
Nevertheless, I have asked myself whether, in spite of this distinction between rarity and improperness, can Academia accept it as a doctoral dissertation.
After serious consideration, I have come to an affirmative answer–obviously, in as much as my evaluation is concerned.
The Dissertation is unusual both in its contents and in its style. I have followed its progress, evolution (‘involution’ as well), and wrote my impressions to J. Empereur some time ago. “We” have not succeeded in bringing the Candidate fully into “our” parameters, hard and gently as “we” tried. I consider this fact, seen from the other side, as academic initiation. He has accommodated as much as he could, and yet he has not yielded the main thrust of this work. I consider this as a victory for both him and Academia– specially for him. Then, in recent times Academia has opened up to such more personal and artistic approaches, even on the field of philosophy. The least academic attitude is to dictate once and for all what “academic’ means. And yet, there are some criteria we should maintain: coherence, seriousness, accuracy, honesty, and any dissertation should be an original contribution to the field of knowledge. I feel that Frost’s investigation meets those criteria.
The work is serious. Steve has painstakingly taken the pulse of our modern times and has tried to mediate between the rational and the irrational, the theoretical and the artistic. And this he has done from a perspective which stands middle way between the two–which is the cause of some irritants now and then. But my assignment is now not one of going into details.
The thrust of the book is not shamanism, buddhism, … or my thought. Much should be said regarding the thesis if this were the case. Steve Frost, like a bee, drinks very selectively from here and there, in order to put forward his thesis that there is more in reality than what our human reason is capable of ‘digesting’.
The way in which he does it is through a narrative in which he mingles anecdotes with argument, pictures with literature, autobiography with allegory. One may wonder if he has really succeeded in the integration, but the praiseworthy effort is there. [After this evaluation another dozen years was spent progressing this integration with greater success… Ed.]
And here is where I ask myself whether we should not enlarge our habitual categories in order to do justice to his overall intuition. I see it as a challenge. The eye of the beholder is part and parcel of a work of art, and empathy is a hermeneutical key–although not the only one. Mendeleev’s periodic table was rejected by the British Academy; one of Einstein’s first papers was once ‘failed’…
As far as the interpretation of my work is concerned, I can only say that “nemo iudex in causa sui”. Or, as I mayself have written, any text says what ‘it’ says, i.e., what a reader is capable of congruently and convincingly extracting from it. I would rather speak of extending the field of human awareness than of a “shift” of consciusness. For me awareness covers a broader context than consciousness. But this does not invalidate Frost’s investigation.
My standpoint is not whether I agree or disagree with some of the ideas exposed in the Dissertation, but whether I judge the Candidate capable of putting forward an important point of contemporary research, and in this sense I consider it a pioneer’s work– and thus with no absence of loopholes.
Although the many references to my work and the friendship with Steve may incline me to emit a favorable verdict, being conscious of it, I have been candid enough so as to express my opinion to the committee in the most objective way I could.
All in all, considering also the amount of time spent and the mass of work accumulated, I sustain the opinion expressed in the beginning, and I think that it is proper of a major University to accept such an original work.
Professor Raimon Panikkar