Disorienting Dharma: Ethics and the poetics of suffering in the “Mahābhārata”
The Sanskrit Mahābhārata, one of the longest narratives ever composed, is a notoriously difficult text. Indeed, stories about its "knots," or complicated passages, is part of the epic tradition. In this dissertation, I develop and implement a method for locating meaning, particularly religious and ethical meaning, in the epic that focuses not on hermeneutics, but rather on aesthetics. Drawing from Sanskrit poetics and Euro-American reader-response theory, I argue that the epic conveys its messages predominantly through its "narrative strategies." On my use of the term, a narrative strategy refers to the complex interaction between the form and content of the text, and their impact on a reader or listener. Through the deployment of its narrative strategies, I contend that the Mahābhārata makes a specific argument about the existence of suffering, the forces that cause it, and the processes that lead to its elimination. Ultimately, my goal is to show that an exploration of the Mahābhārata 's narrative strategies is generative not only for thinking about how the epic conveys its ethical and religious messages, but also for developing a new method in the study of religion for locating meaning in complex literary texts both belonging to and extending beyond the South Asian religious tradition(s).
0305: Asian literature