Greek Heroes, Jewish Nomads, and Hindu Pilgrims: Ulysses, Abraham and Uddhava at the Cross-Cultural-Roads

  • Thomas B. Ellis
Part of the Sophia Studies in Cross-cultural Philosophy of Traditions and Cultures book series (SCPT, volume 3)


This chapter engages in a bit of cross-cultural dialogue pertaining to the putatively imperious nature of the transcendental subject. It specifically addresses the role of what I call “ethnotropes” in contemporary comparative philosophy of religion. I align the Greek Hero, Ulysses, with the transcendental subject associated with Edmund Husserl’s phenomenology and Hans-Georg Gadamer’s philosophical hermeneutics (the latter an extension of the former). Likewise, the Jewish Nomad is associated with the subjectivity of Franco-American postmodernism, that is, the work of Jacques Derrida, John D. Caputo, and Mark C. Taylor. The Greek Hero is the subject who encounters only himself in what is other. The Hero travels out to the other (i.e., transcendental intention) but soon realizes that whatever of the other is worthwhile is either something the Hero easily assimilates into his base or is something there along in the Hero himself. Heroes – like transcendental egos – never truly leave home. The Nomad, to the contrary, is the one who apparently never returns home. This subject roams aimlessly through the desert without ever returning home, a position rightly associated with political and ethical indifference. The Pilgrim – Mehta’s unique contribution to contemporary thought – strikes a certain balance between the Hero’s conservatism and the Nomad’s transcendental prodigality. The Pilgrim is the one who travels out to another, knowing that return to home/self is inevitable (thereby maintaining the hermeneutic centripetality). However, whereas the Hero returns (the Nomad does not), the Pilgrim’s return is not one of triumph and glory but rather one of disruption and incompletion. Insofar as the Nomad never returns, and thus cannot allow the other’s alterity to displace him or her, the Pilgrim’s return is precisely the moment of allowing the other’s alterity to remain other. The Pilgrim is the postcolonial subject freed of metaphysical pretense, a pretense equally applicable to both the ontotheological traditions’ commitment to presence and the deconstructive traditions’ commitment to the other to come. Deconstruction’s messianic – i.e., a philosophy of the other to come (to presence) – is offset by Mehta’s “negative messianic” – i.e., the other withdraws. The dynamics of Mehta’s Pilgrim truly complete the ethical criticism of Husserl’s transcendental subjectivity begun – but left incomplete – by deconstruction.


Welling Water Transcendental Idealism Philosophical Hermeneutic Transcendental Subjectivity Messianic Time 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Philosophy and ReligionAppalachian State UniversityBooneUSA

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