Look at Me! the Mimetic Impersonation of Indra
Smith, Caley Charles
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AbstractThis dissertation examines the impersonation of Indra in the R̥gveda (conventionally Rigveda), arguing that a ‘textualized self’ emerges during performance. What does it mean to disguise oneself verbally during ritual sacrifice? In order to answer this question, I examine how the text conceives of poetic performance, a kind of speech act which occurs in the same time frame and spatial proximity of its speaker. Reference to that performance, I argue, is marked by proximal deixis and performative verbs, both of which characterize actors and events as being in the here and now of the text.
Through these traces, I distinguish two distinct Indras. One Indra is the mythological figure responsible for cosmogonic events, and the other is the present speaker. To collapse these two Indras into one is to collapse time and make the primordial Indra present at the performance. Stylistically, this is often accomplished through the so-called injunctive, a finite verb form which is temporally and modally unspecified; its use renders narrative time ambiguous. The hymns are not only linguistically marked, but articulate what I term a ‘mimetic circle’, in which the song presents itself as its first singing, establishes its origin, and imagines a future in which it shall be re-performed. Each new performance of the song repeats the mimetic circle, re-creating the connection between primordial Indra and the performer who asserts he is Indra. These ‘mimetic circles’ reveal a curious relationship beteen text and self which bears further investigation.
To pursue that investigation, I use the ‘grammar of mimesis’ developed by studying the impersonation of Indra to approach mimetic impersonation in the rest of the R̥gveda. I find evidence that during the Soma sacrifice the seven priests mimetically impersonate the seven seers, who accompany Indra to the Vala cave to re-enact that cosmogonic event. The idea of a ‘textualized self’ restored to life in performance constitutes a developmental missing link between the Indo-European concept of 'immortality in song' and the notion of an immortal self reincarnated in body after body which is ubiquitous in Hinduism and other South Asian religions.
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