Monday, November 19, 2012

Making Use of Ambiguity

Scott Bradley


We wish to understand. We want not just 'answers', but 'the answer". Zhuangzi tells us there are none; make use of that, for our hunger for that which alludes us is what is most essential about us.

It might be argued, and most generally is, that the hunger for a static truth is indicative of the fact that truth is there to find. This is seen in a standard Christian apologetic for the existence of God: We are like fish out of water, gasping for water; how could it be that there is no water? Like most such arguments, this begs the question, assuming the answer in the question; since the world conforms to the intelligibility of an intelligent Creator, it follows that our hunger for surety has an intelligible resolution. Yet this did not begin with Christianity, but can be found in the earliest (Western) philosophic ponderings, in Socrates and Plato, of which Christian theology is the inheritor.

"How could it be there is no water?" How could it be that this human aspiration is absurd? It is only absurd because we insist on there being an answer. The deep sense of absurdity that pulses at the heart of existentialism is largely a consequence of existentialism’s insistence that there should be an answer; what it rejects (essentialism — truth, an answer, an original nature) is the cause of its need for rejection.

If, when reading Zhuangzi, we hope to discover some fundamental truths, we have already imposed upon him precisely what he suggests as impossible. His whole point is that we would do better to release our chaotic selves into the chaotic nature of reality. Chaos, for Zhuangzi, is how reality presents itself; it is as close to reality as we can get. Chaos is by nature undefinable; it just happens as it happens and we can just happen with it.

Who was Zhuangzi? What parts of the book that bears his name did he write? We cannot be sure. His fantastic characters are never completely 'right' or 'wrong' in their pronouncements; his own apparent pronouncements are deconstructed no sooner than they are made. Where is there anything upon which to grasp? It is itself chaos. Its form is its message.

What is that message? It is that life is like the chaotic and roiling waters beneath the falls and that the most efficacious way to live it is to follow along with where it takes us, letting go of where we would rather go.

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

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