Friday, December 21, 2012

Sinning Boldly

Scott Bradley


Thank you Kuang-Ming Wu! Thank you for allowing the spirit of Zhuangzi's way to find expression in you. Thank you for sinning so boldly! Wu's The Butterfly as Companion is a delight for me to read because he has so obviously gone beyond words so as to let the Zhuangzi continue its evolution through him. He understands. He's got it. What he's got most especially is the sense of that which cannot be "gotten".

There are many profound and helpful insights in this book for one who wishes to deepen his understanding of Zhuangzi. But what I think is the most important insight is that which is seen in his approach to the work as a whole. In a sense, he imitates Zhuangzi; or rather, he continues the creative work that Zhuangzi inspires.

The essential spirit of the philosophy of Zhuangzi is that change and growth and creativity are the only sureties. To enter that spirit is to change and grow and create beyond Zhuangzi. There was never anything "fixed" to begin with. To follow the way of Zhuangzi is to grow beyond him into your own life expression. And this Wu does.

Speaking to the idea of "Life-'logic'", Wu writes, "The first chapter, Hsiao Yao Yu, can be regarded as an allegory on the liveliness of the 'system' of thinking in life." In other words, Zhuangzi's "system" is open, evolving, and never completed — like life itself. It is a system that is not-a-system: "It 'spills over' outside itself. And an overflowing system is not a system, which is a self-contained logical network with which we explain things."

Wu's book is an experiment in taking Zhuangzi at his word and allowing his call to free and unfettered imaginative wandering — of not-really-knowing-anything — to find a similar expression in him. Though he has scholarship and a keen insight into the thought of Zhuangzi in his quiver, still he is aware that he may be missing the mark and is perfectly willing to do so. Zhuangzi did not intend that it should be otherwise; he did not wish to be understood, but to provoke others to understand for themselves.

Speaking of his somewhat fanciful interpretation of the first chapter of the Zhuangzi as a creation myth (albeit tongue-in-cheek, a parody), Wu writes: "Especially in the imaginative text of the Chuang Tzu one must sin boldly, and beware of killing the spirit by adhering slavishly to the letter." If Zhuangzi intended to break the fetters of static-thinking so as to evoke each individual's potential self-evolving understanding of herself and the world, then that spirit dies each time it is codified. If you meet Zhuangzi, kill him!

Wu is willing to be 'wrong' in his interpretation of Zhuangzi. What's wrong with wrong? Wrong might be more right than right. Wrong about what? Right about what? Cut free from the fetters of dogma, where can one wander that is not right? Where can one wander that is not Dao? Is life negated because mistakes were made? Or are mistakes as much life as successes and as much the foundation for one's life in the present, whether wrong or right?

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

1 comment:

  1. Inspired, beautifully expressed post, Scott. The Zhuangzi, along with Joyce's Finnegans Wake, is a pivotal text for me. Both texts are not just books, but rather playful word-dives into the noumenon ("playful" is the keyword!). Sounds like Kuang-Ming Wu's book achieves a similar effect. Thanks so much for posting.
    --Roman
    ps Daoism (along with everything else) of course shows up in Finnegans Wake, though I haven't been able to find a reference to Chuang Tzu (or various spelling of his name). Laozi, however, does show up several times, including as "laotsey taotsey."

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