Saturday, December 8, 2012

A Position of No Position

Scott Bradley


I have changed horses in mid-stream — I could not resist beginning my newly acquired The Butterfly as Companion: Meditations on the First Three Chapters of the CHUANG TZU by Kuang-Ming Wu. This is going to be a delight if for no other reason than it is a genuine interaction with the Zhuangzi on a personal and spiritual level as well as a scholarly one. I have often made this point: that without personal engagement in this philosophy (or any similar philosophy), one cannot truly begin to understand or elucidate it. It requires psychological commitment if for no other reason than that it is about subjective experience, not objective knowledge.

In his Prologue, Wu tells us that Zhuangzi had "a position of no position". That this involves a self-contradiction does not faze him in the least since he recognizes that "life is larger than logic". With reference to Confucius, who held to a definite position, Zhuangzi advocates no position. Every position is relative to one's perspective; no one perspective is definitively right. With reference to Hui Shih, who denied every position, Zhuangzi advocates a position, that which affirms every position. The relative nature of our perspectives does not negate them; they remain genuine human expressions.

Consequentially, Zhuangzi was able to make full use of the position of Confucius and the no-position of Hui Shih. He was like a butterfly flitting from flower to flower, enjoying them all. "By opposing opposition" (that is, by introducing a not-not-A into the A as opposed to not-A equation), Wu writes, "Chuang Tzu has two non-positions. First, Chuang Tzu can tarry like a butterfly wherever he happens to be and then flutter away, leaving no trace behind. Chuang Tzu enjoys roaming nonchalance, at home everywhere without claiming anywhere his home."

Secondly, when, like a butterfly, he tarries at any one flower, he is able to engage with that flower in the play of life. His negation of Hui Shih's negation, as when for instance they debated the possibility of knowing the happiness of fish while watching them from the bridge over the Hao, was not a negation of Hui Shih himself; rather it was an affirming engagement.

Confucius knew truth; Hui Shih denied all truth; Zhuangzi embraced life as truth. His was an affirmation of life that necessarily affirmed the life expressions of both truth-knowers and truth-deniers.

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

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