Elmar Schenkel’s Fiction Book: “On the Way to Xanadu” – Culture

From Marco Polo, the first legendary visitor to China from the West, to Indo-pop guru Bhagwan, Elmar Schenkel has a dazzling array of dancing characters, inspired by life’s spirit, sometimes surprising, sometimes confusing, but always deeply intriguing and enlightening. The exchange between the Far East and the West procreation. In three main chapters—India, China, and Japan—Schenkel, born in 1953 and a retired English scholar from the University of Leipzig, has collected diagrams illustrating the intertwining of Far Eastern thought and action in religion and mythology with the Western tradition of thought and belief.

But this is not all, because not only real confrontations, but also expectations, dreams and fantasies play a role. One thinks of the enchanted Shangri-La, hidden somewhere in the Himalayas in Tibet and as untraceable to humans as Grail Castle Montsalvatsch was in the medieval West. Or that splendid place in Xanadu, where Kublai Khan built a domed palace, as stated in the fragment of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s poem, the first poem allegedly written under the influence of drugs: “In Xanadu did Kubla Khan / Decree of Luxurious Dome.”

The most influential Indian scholars did not set foot on the land of their longing – and perhaps they did not want to, either

The influence of these places of healing, to this day, where wisdom, peace, prosperity and happiness are guaranteed to the people who live there, if they abandon all those materialistic and selfish pursuits that strengthen the heart and mind. In any case, Schinkel’s photographs have become a diverse and contrasting gallery of images between West and East, which makes one want to read more.

The biographies of the Indian scholars Max Müller (1823-1900) and Heinrich Zimmer (1890-1943) show the dreams that India alone evoked in the minds of German poets and thinkers. Müller, son of the “Winterrys” poet Wilhelm Müller, who was a great connoisseur of Greek without having gone to Greece, became the first and most important translator of Sanskrit and other ancient Asian languages. Building on his extensive knowledge of ancient India, he developed the scientific concept of comparative religious studies and comparative mythology and was the first to occupy the new chair of comparative literature at Oxford University.

Elmar Schenkel: On the Way to Xanadu – Encounters between East and West. Fischer, Frankfurt 2021. 368 pages, €26.

On the other hand, Max Muller is still one of the symbols of the Indian research portal for Indologists and also in India itself – the Goethe-Instituts are often referred to as “Max Muller Bhavan” in India – and was forgotten in German-speaking countries after his death. The term ‘Aryan’, a Sanskrit word, goes back to him, though he only linked it to his research in the related language family. Mueller protested vigorously that others then turned him into a concept of racism with horrific results. It is against all logic to equate language families with physical race or descent.

In this bleak context, Schenkel also traces the life of brutal Nazi supporter Savitri Devi, who strongly believed in Hitler, the swastika and the victory of the Aryans, and tirelessly met old Nazis, neo-Nazis and Holocaust deniers: the French-born woman she is still well known in relevant circles.

The great Indian scholar Max Müller was never in India. Heinrich Zimmer, also a scholar of the Indians with great consequential influences to this day, never set foot on the land of his longing and perhaps did not want it, lest he be awakened from his romantic dreams by an ancient and wise culture the harsh reality of Indian life.

Schenkel also investigates the deadly legend of “Yellow Peril”.

Indian, Swami and Yogi gurus were always admired when they came to the West. Like Vivekananda at the World Religions Conference in Chicago in 1893 or Rabindranath Tagore, the first Indian Nobel Prize winner for literature, in his travels around the world, which also brought him together with Albert Einstein, they caused quite a stir with their outstanding teaching and great speeches on peace and wisdom. You became famous as a teacher the Beatles Like Maharishi Mahesh Yogi. Or, as advocates of nonviolence like Mahatma Gandhi, they continue to inspire Western civil rights movements to this day. The fascination with India also had a lasting effect on Rudolf Steiner, Hermann Hesse, and CJ Jung.

The chapter on China then begins with the pilgrimage of the Uyghur monk Raban Bar Soma to Rome. The journey will take about ten years. Previously, Nestorian Christians, condemned as heretics at the Council of Ephesus in 431, had fled as far as Sumatra. A great admirer of China, Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz, appears, Schenkel investigates the deadly legend of the “Yellow Peril”, which was then carried to Japan with the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Finally, in the final chapter, it turns out that Japan is the farthest culture. Much remains a mystery: the intensity and “purity” of Zen Buddhism, the concentration of haiku poems or colors and poetry of Japanese, that is, the fashion in Japan that appeared especially in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, art, music and literature under the impression of the famous woodcuts of Hokusei and others Just think of Claude Debussy’s “La Mer” or Van Gogh’s fascination with Japan. But for their part, the Japanese took the initiative after World War II, not only to learn about the West but also by drawing inspiration from its strengths. On the other hand, Western philosophers and researchers such as Roland Barthes or Michel Foucault – like many of their predecessors – continue to search for foreign objects in the country. An ambiguous cultural exchange.

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