Skip to content

Vātsyāyana, Daṇḍin, Aristotle: Transference in Love and Language

June 8, 2012

I’d like to start with a stanza from the categorization of “Types of Love” from Vātsyāyana’s Kamasutra: (1)

Those who know the science call it
the love that comes from a transference
when someone says, referring to another object of desire,
“This one here, not the other one from the past, is the one I love.” (2.1.43)

What kind of transference is this, exactly? The thirteenth-century commentary of Yashodhara Indrapada explains:

When someone says, “This one is that one,” referring to some other man or woman who was always an object of desire in the past, the past love is transferred to some other man or woman.  The idea is, “The qualities, the causes of love in the person I loved in the past are also here in this one.” And so they call this past love a transferred love.  Thus V will say [at 6.1.17], “resemblance to someone loved is a reason for taking a lover.”

Yashodhara has confirmed what we perhaps suspected all along, that the “love that comes from a transference” is a love which is transferred from one person to another, similar person.  And yet on the surface of it, he and Vātsyāyana are saying very different things: “This one here, not the other one from the past, is the one I love” is a very different proposition from “This one is that one”; in fact, the two seem to be practically contradictory.  How, then, does Yashodhara justify deriving the latter from the former?

An answer can be found in the Kāvyādarśa of Daṇḍin, one of the very earliest works of Sanskrit literary theory.  For Daṇḍin, the simile is the fundamental poetic trope, or vakroti (“crooked speech”); not only is it paradigmatic for the other instances of vakroti, but a whole host of them can be derived from it.  For instance, from the simile “Your face is like a lotus, your eyes are like bees” can be derived more complex tropes, such as “doubt” (saṃśaya):(2)

Is this a lotus inhabited by a pair of restless bees?
Or is it your face, containing a pair of playful eyes?
My mind constantly wavers.

or “resolution” (nirṇaya):

The luster of the lotus simply cannot shame the moon.
For, after all, the moon has it soundly defeated.
This therefore must be nothing but your face.(3)

or even simply “recognizing an object for what it is” (tattvākhyāna):

This is no lotus; it is a face indeed.
These two are not bees but eyes.

As Bronner points out,

What makes this an instance of vakroti. . .is that it is really a statement of simile in disguise.  Just like the case of the deductive stanza, this accurate identification makes sense only if it is mediated by an earlier doubt stemming from a compelling similarity (vispaṣṭasādṛṣyāt) between a face and a lotus. Indeed, it is possible to think of all three examples as a set of interlinked guises that hide and reveal the original, generic similarity: to assert that “this is no lotus; it is a face indeed” is to assume some prior processes of reasoning, quite possibly the logical procedure of elimination supplied by the nirṇaya example (“The luster of the lotus simply cannot shame the moon . . .”). This reasoning, in turn, clearly presupposes a doubt, as in the saṃśaya example (“Is this a lotus . . . or is it your face . . .? My mind constantly wavers”).  It is only this doubt that, in turn, masks and reveals the conventional formula, “Your face is like a lotus.”(4)

Similarly, the formulation “This one here, not the other one from the past, is the one I love” only makes sense as the resolution of the doubt “Is it that one from the past, or this one here that I love?”, which in turn presupposes “This one is like that one,” or at least “I feel similarly about this one as I felt about that one.”  But we haven’t quite gotten to Yashodhara’s “This one is that one.”  For Daṇḍin, as I have said, the simile is fundamental. We can reduce it no further, inasmuch as it provides a model even for those tropes which do not derive from it.  But for Daṇḍin’s predecessor and elder contemporary Bhāmaha, “rūpaka, or metaphorical identification. . .is the first and perhaps the paradigmatic ornament.”(5)  Inasmuch as a later literary theorist, Vāmana, who, although apparently more influence by Bhāmaha,  took Daṇḍin’s method to its logical conclusion and “analyzed the entire range of tropes and figures of speech as variations on one formal structure, that of the simile,”(6) we can imagine a literary theory which did quite the opposite, deriving the simile itself — and all of the tropes which derive from it — as a variation of the metaphor.

This brings us, at last, to Aristotle, for it is in Aristotle we at last find the final interpretive move which would be required for Yashodhara to interpret Vatsyāyana as he has:

ἔστιν δὲ καὶ ἡ εἰκὼν μεταφορά· διαφέρει γὰρ μικρόν· ὅταν μὲν γὰρ εἴπῃ τὸν Ἀχιλλέα ὡς δὲ λέων ἐπόρουσεν, εἰκών ἐστιν, ὅταν δὲ “λέων ἐπόρουσε”, μεταφορά· διὰ γὰρ τὸ ἄμφω ἀνδρείους εἶναι, προσηγόρευσεν μετενέγκας λέοντα τὸν Ἀχιλλέα. χρήσιμον δὲ ἡ εἰκὼν καὶ ἐν λόγῳ, ὀλιγάκις · ποιητικὸν γάρ. οἰστέαι δὲ ὥσπερ αἱ μεταφοραί· μεταφοραὶ γάρ εἰσι, διαφέρουσαι τῷ εἰρημένῳ.

And the simile is also a metaphor; they differ but slightly.  Because whenever he says that “Achilles sprang upon him like a lion,” it’s a simile, but when he says “a lion sprang upon him,” it’s a metaphor. Because they’re both brave, he makes a transference and calls Achilles a lion.  And  the simile is a useful thing in prose, sparingly: it’s poetic, but they’re to be tolerated just as metaphors are.  Because they are metaphors, though they differ in the way we’ve said. (Arist.Rh. 1406b)

For Aristotle, then, the simile is a metaphor, and differs only in the way its phrased.  The defining characteristic of a metaphor is not its propositional structure (A is like B vs. A is B), but the fact that it incorporates word or words that have no business being there in the first place; if you’re going to start talking about lions in a passage about Achilles, you might as well go all the way and just call him one.  Indeed, Aristotle seems to prefer (non-simile) metaphors to similes for this very reason:

ἔστιν γὰρ ἡ εἰκών, καθάπερ εἴρηται πρότερον, μεταφορὰ διαφέρουσα προθέσει· διὸ ἧττον ἡδύ, ὅτι μακροτέρως· καὶ οὐ λέγει ὡς τοῦτο ἐκεῖνο· οὐκοῦν οὐδὲ ζητεῖ τοῦτο ἡ ψυχή.

For the simile, as we’ve said before, is a metaphor, although it differs by an addition; therefore it is less pleasant, because at greater length; and it doesn’t say “this is that,” so the soul doesn’t get to ferret out “this.”

τοῦτο ἐκεῖνο: “this is that.”  Recall Yashodhara: “When someone says, ‘This one is that one,’ referring to some other man or woman who was always an object of desire in the past, the past love is transferred to some other man or woman.”  We seem to have arrived.  And yet Aristotle’s comments here also recall his remarks at the beginning of the Poetics about the primary pleasure of mimesis:

αἴτιον δὲ καὶ τούτου, ὅτι μανθάνειν οὐ μόνον τοῖς φιλοσόφοις ἥδιστον ἀλλὰ καὶ τοῖς ἄλλοις ὁμοίως, ἀλλ’ ἐπὶ βραχὺ κοινωνοῦσιν αὐτοῦ. διὰ γὰρ τοῦτο χαίρουσι τὰς εἰκόνας ὁρῶντες, ὅτι συμβαίνει θεωροῦντας μανθάνειν καὶ συλλογίζεσθαι τί ἕκαστον, οἷον ὅτι οὗτος ἐκεῖνος·

And the reason for this [i.e. the pleasure we take in mimesis] is that learning is the most pleasant thing not only for philosophers, but also for the rest in the same way, but they take part in it less.  Because of this, they rejoice in seeing images [n.b. the word here, εἰκών, is also Aristotle’s word for “simile”], because it turns out that, as they see them, they learn and reason out what each thing is, for instance, that this one is that one.

We are, if anything, closer to Yashodhara here, having moved (without any clear contextual motivation) from the neuter to the masculine.  But we have also made a more important move, to the very heart of Aristotelian literary theory. οὗτος ἐκεῖνος — this one is that one —  is not only the structure of metaphor, but of the pleasure we take in literature; to put the matter somewhat more boldly, of the love we have for it.

* * *

…. So I wrote all that about a month ago.  I was going to cap it off with a few generalizing comments about pleasure in love and literature, maybe bring in Susan Sontag.  But now I’m revving up to actually turn this bit of madness into a paper for my metaphor seminar; I need to start writing in LaTeX rather than WordPress, put together a proper bibliography, and recast the whole thing as a paper.  (It will ultimately involve Augustine and Dante as well.)  But I figured before I copy the whole thing out and start messing with it, I might as well publish what I have here.


1. All citations from the Kamasutra and its commentaries come from the Oxford World’s Classics translation of Wendy Doniger and Sudhir Kakar.

2. Citations from Daṇḍin can be found on pp. 218-19 of Yigal Bronner’s Extreme Poetry: The South Asian Movement of Simultaneous Narration (Columbia University Press, 2010); translations are his.

3. This stanza actually involves a pun, as Bronner points out: “The moon overpowers the flower with the superior quality of its luster, but also causes it to contract (both these meanings are conveyed by the verbal root nigrah), because it is a known fact that the lotus closes at moonrise.  Thus within the span of only half of a short stanza. . .the poet delineates an intricate three-way competition in which the moon puts the lotus to shame — the flower’s contraction during moonrise, it is implied, is the result of its sense of humiliation — and the moon is, in turn, shamed by the beauty of a woman’s face.” (ibid. 219)

4. Ibid. 220

5. Ibid. 216

6. Ibid. 198
No comments yet

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: