Sunday, December 23, 2012

Wrong Again! I

Scott Bradley

Wrong again! Once again I discover that some of my pet verses in the Zhuangzi mean not what I thought they did. What's worse is that I have mounted the pulpit here in the Church of Zhuangzi and expounded expansively upon them. Alas, I cannot be trusted to faithfully deliver the Word. But you already knew that. Yes, but is it I alone who has failed or is it, god-forbid, that we must all necessarily fail to discover the definitive truth of Zhuangzi? Is the Zhuangzi so amorphous, so ambiguous, so obscure that we can never know for sure its intended meanings, or whether it has any? If it is, what can we depend on? We'd have to live lives cut adrift from all fixed moorings. We'd have to somehow reconcile ourselves to a world of fundamental not-knowing. Could we do it?

In his The Butterfly as Companion Wu offers his own, very literal translation of the first three chapters of the Zhuangzi and it is here that we discover the seemingly innocuous and admittedly interpretive parenthetic phrase: "(The sophist says)". Sophists are 'bad'. What does this sophist say? He says a series of paradoxical statements intended to break us free of our addiction to a narrow intellectualized ("logical") view of reality. A huge mountain is small. No on lives longer than a dead child. "'Heaven and earth, with I-myself are born-at-the-same-time,' and 'Myriad things with I-myself make one.'"

So, Zhuangzi didn't originate these, but only quoted them. The last, we knew, was at least an extension of a conclusion reached by Zhuangzi's friend, the sophist Hui Shih: "Love all things without exception, for heaven and earth are one body" (Chap. 33; Ziporyn). He demonstrated oneness by deconstructing the logic which separates them. It may even also be an adaptation of Mencius: "All things are complete in me" (Mencius 7A4). He matched the moral purity of his Dao. But does this mean that Zhuangzi did not agree with them? Or is it perhaps that he agreed with their conclusions, but not their presuppositions? Alas, as might be expected, the answer to both questions is both yes and no.

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

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