Monday, December 3, 2012

Indirect Communication

Scott Bradley


I have begun reading Carr and Ivanhoe's The Sense of Antirationalism: The Religious Thought of Zhuangzi and Kierkegaard. If you have been following my ramblings for long you will know that these are my two most favorite philosophers and that I have often made mention of the similarities between them, so you will understand my enthusiasm for this study.

In their introduction to Kierkegaard's philosophy they make mention of his commitment to indirect communication, an aspect which I am sure they will later relate to the technique of Zhuangzi, who never quite delineates anything as cut and dry. For Kierkegaard, the use of pseudonyms was the principle means by which he sought to communicate indirectly. But this was not simply a question of using false names, but also of taking contrary positions. The value of this approach is multifaceted.

Most importantly, Kierkegaard understood that 'truth' is a subjective experience and has to be "appropriated" by each individual through existential struggle. No one can spoon feed it to another. In this, he was a devout follower of the Socratic Method wherein one acts as a 'midwife' in helping a person to realize their own 'truth'. Socrates helped people question their assumptions and believed that that was enough to set them on their own path to understanding.

Secondly, he understood that when you tell someone something they automatically set up defenses against it. Believing that nominal Christianity had robbed people of the true Christian experience (think of this as a form of enlightenment), he did not tell them that he was a Christian and they were not, but instead that they were and he was not, in such a way that they questioned if they really were. Nearly every attempt that I have made to share the Daoist vision has ended in failure, so this speaks to me directly. I won't pretend that my failure to live my blabber had no part in this failure or that my presentation was well conceived, but I have also seen how this innate defensiveness comes into play.

Thirdly, this allowed Kierkegaard to say more than was true for him. By writing pseudonymously he was able to distance himself from what he wrote: "Thus is the pseudonymous works there is not a single word by me. I have no opinion about them except as a third party, no knowledge of their meaning except as a reader, not the remotest private relation to them . . ." (Concluding Unscientific Postscript). I have said the same of Chen Jen and Zhouzi and say the same to a lesser extent about these posts. They are 'poetic' aspirations, not expressions of my actualization and speak to me as to a third party.

Returning to Zhuangzi, it is probably the case that all of these aspects of indirect communication apply in his use of fantastic stories, anecdotes, and seemingly contrary assertions. Above all, we are invited to think — to think ourselves out of our boxes and to discover truth that is true for us.

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

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