Theosophical labors of loss
The new book The Lost Land of Lemuria by Sumatha Ramaswamy from the
University of California Press:
is the most recent academic study I know of that devotes attention
to Theosophy. The author borrows the term and idea "labors of loss"
from Georges Bataille, but adapts it to her own purposes. She
defines labors of loss as "those disciplinary practices,
interpretive acts, and narrative moves which declare something as
lost, only to "find" them through modernity's knowledge protocols,
the very act of discovery and naming constituting the originary
Ramaswamy's main interest is in the labors of loss surrounding
Lemuria in Tamil culture since HPB's time. She starts out surveying
Lemuria as a scientific construct based on a need to explain
geological facts in terms of lost continents. Then she goes on to
its occultist adaptations, with HPB as the original "loss laborer"
and Cayce as a more recent one. But the bulk of the book focuses on
Tamil notions of a lost Tamil homeland that extended for thousands
of miles into the Indian ocean.
I recommend the book for anyone interested in those topics, but am
posting about it to extend the "labors of loss" model to other
aspects of Theosophy. Theosophy itself is a labor of loss, that is,
HPB defines "ancient wisdom" as lost and then "finds" it. One can
apply the model to Judeo-Christianity, with Eden as a lost paradise
and salvation through Christ the way to "find" our way back. Many
other religions can be interpreted in light of this model.
But it also applies to other areas, for example historical
reconstruction of the mainstream variety. I find myself focusing on
the "lost" civilizations of eastern North Carolina, that is "free
mulattos" who became "white" but retained memories of Indian
ancestry, or Unionists whose descendants "submerged" all memory of
their fight for the Union against the Confederacy, only for another
generation to "find." And so on...
It can be said that any explanatory scheme that explains everything
explains nothing. But for the time being I will be thinking mainly
about how it applies in the very narrow subject area of my current
research. However, I would also suggest that "labors of loss" is
what we see on theos-talk a lot of the time. Blavatskian
teachings "lost" under piles of Leadbeaterian, Baileyite, etc.
reinterpretations, but "restored" by the labors of present-day
rediscovers. Or, in the shorter term, the 1980s hopes and dreams of
young Theosophists envisioning revival/reform, "lost" after a
generation of organization inertia, "found" in the recollections of
those now-middle-aged reformer/revivalists.