Friday, June 15, 2012

Crazy Words I

Scott Bradley

There are two references to "the madman Jieyu" in the Inner Chapters and it should come as no surprise, given Zhuangzi's penchant for taking the despised as exemplars of Dao, that in both cases he is represented as having important things to say.

Jieyu's first appearance was not here, however, but in the Analects (18:5) where he sings a song in ridicule of Confucius. Dr. Ziporyn points out that for this reason he became "a classic symbol of anti-Confucian sentiment", and it is thusly that he is represented at the end of Chapter Four where we have a parody of that song found in the Analects. In the next few posts I propose to explore what he had to say.
"When Confucius went to Chu, the madman Jieyu wandered past his gate. He was singing this song:
Oh Phoenix! Oh Phoenix! How your Virtuosity declines!
You cannot wait for a future era, nor can you recapture the past...."
(Zhuangzi, 4:20; Ziporyn)
Why did Confucius go to Chu? Because he was forever in search of some ruler who would take and apply his Way, and until he did so, he could not see himself as a success. From a Daoist perspective, this dependence alone suffices to demonstrate the decline of his Virtuosity (de). Confucius had put himself in an untenable situation; he in fact sought the impossible revival of a previous era (the Chou), on the one hand, and found himself in one in such utter chaos that it would have nothing to do with him, on the other. He had made himself dependent on the external.

I can't say so with certainty, but I suspect that the appellation "Phoenix" in reference to Confucius is one of great respect. Though Zhuangzi saw Confucius as misguided in his moralizing rigidity, never does he treat him as other than a great sage. Indeed, to speak of "the Sage", is understood as a reference to Confucius. Later authors within the anthology, however, were not always so respectful.

"Virtuosity" is de, the expression of Dao in the concrete. Its primary meaning is amoral; it is "virtue" in the sense that something fulfills what it is. The virtue of humanity is the fullest expression of that humanity. Confucius was well on the track of doing just that, only in focusing on others, in trying to transform them, the power of his de was dissipated.

Confucians consider Confucius to be the greatest sage, precisely because he was "inwardly a sage and outwardly a king" — his virtue was manifest not simply in the personal, but in the political, as well. And in theory it would be hard to argue against such a position, were it not for the fact that it did not, in fact, work. By attempting to impose his Way on others, he only managed to alienate them. It is not that personal sagacity should not impact the world at large, Daoism would offer, but that it can best do so through incipient means, that is, by virtue of its virtue alone.

You can check out Scott's writings on Zhuangzi here.

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