A round table on reuse

The Round Table at the end of the panel on Adaptive Reuse (see here) has been a chance for rethinking almost all the categories we had used until that point (and having to rethink is one of the things I appreciate more in scientific works).

General problems with the definition of “reuse”

Sven Sellmer suggested that one cannot speak of ”reuse” in the case of ideas (whereas texts are still material enough to be reused). Philipp suggested to speak of reuse of “concepts” instead.

JH noted the parallel risks of overextension (if “reuse” is intended in its broader meaning, everything is reused) and underextension (if we only focus on the resemantisation of textual materials being reused in a new context).

On a similar vein, AZ noted that if “reuse” is used too broadly, it will just end up being no more than a new label for the same concepts previously called “Change and Continuity” or “Dynamics of ritual”.

CZ asked whether reuse is a phenomenon (which just happens) or a strategy?

Reuse and arts

KK had noted in a previous conversation that “reuse” cannot be applied to architectural elements and to texts in the same way, since only in the former case the fact of reusing involves the destruction of the previous buildings.

In this connection, Cristina Bignami proposed to limit the category of “reuse” to the reuse of iconographic motifs (and not of architectonic elements).

Was there plagiarism in Classical India?

WS observed that the concept of plagiarism was (against what I had claimed) quite clear for at least Kāvya authors (who called plagiarism caura ‘theft’). Further, Kāvya-authors claim to have originality (pratibhā), speak of authorship and comapre themselves to Prajāpati and other “creators” (bhāvayitṛ). Philipp further suggested the case of the addition of names to Vedic hymns, which also seems to be a mark of authoriality (although, as a Mīmāṃsakā, I beg to disagree).

KK, thanks God, rescued me by saying that this only occurs in Kāvya, and not in Śāstra. He went even further, asking whether at all one can speak of originality, in a context where there are no authors (recorded as such).

JH further noted that since Indian authors used to learn a lot by heart, it can be easily imagined that they also reused unconsciously previous material (even verbatim reuse could be unconscious).

WS agreed that the kavi claims originality, whereas the śāstra-author only claims to be the voice of an eternal truth belonging to anyone.

Kiyokazu Okita noted that the adequate reader (the one who has the adhikāra to read a certain text) will know its forerunners and immediately recognise what is reused and, by contrast, what is original.

RS observed that also in other fields authors may claim authoriality. For instance, Ratnākaraśānti underlines his progresses in the field of chandas ‘metrics’.

Further directions of research

Kiyokazu Okita suggested to investigate about the possibility of regional differences on habits of reuse etc.

JB strenghtened this point by observing that Brahmanism is just one aspect of Indian culture. This ideology was not there before the Brahmanisation, although later even Buddhists and Jains were forced to adopt it.

Malhar Kulkarni suggested to take into account the reuse of techniques (e.g., the sthānin-ādeśa model) and to keep in mind the difference between genres. He also asked whether the length of a text tends to increase or decrease through reused materials.


The good news is that Philipp Maas and I are now working on the Introduction to the proceedings of the panel and have benefitted a lot from these points. The bad news is that we might have overlooked some other objections. What would you object/say to this topic?


Comments and discussions are welcome. Be sure you are making a point and contributing to the discussion.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *