Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Equalizing Things XVII: Some Reckless Words

Scott Bradley


Though there is still much more in this second chapter of the Zhuangzi, since I have discussed a lot of it previously, this and the next will be the final posts in this series. Someone asks Chang Wuzi about the nature of the sage and he consents to do so with the proviso that his words be understood as "reckless". He also declares that they can only be helpful if listened to "recklessly". I take this to mean that we should not mistake his finger for the moon.

The 'sage', he tells us, stands "shoulder to shoulder with the sun and moon, scooping up time and space and smooching them all together, leaving them all to their own slippery mush so that every enslavement is also an ennobling." This, of course, speaks to an attitude toward the apparent universe in which we find ourselves, not to any supernatural powers. What is this attitude? It is clearly not devout. In fact, it seems almost irreverent; but then someone who calls the Source "the Great Clump" would not be expected to be otherwise. To my thinking, this 'sage' acknowledges the apparent messiness of reality, its hap-hazardous arisings and passings, its opaqueness in rationality and purpose. No sweat! These are precisely the things which enable us, like Peng, to rise out of them and soar. Our material and psychological enslavement is precisely that by which we free ourselves, not 'in spite of which'. This applies not only to our universal and shared conditions of enslavement, but also to our very own peculiar ones as well. My issues are my personal passport to freedom.

This is not an unfamiliar aspect of Zhuangzi’s vision of freedom. Peng rises out of one Oblivion and makes use of the wind to accomplish his mission to enter yet another. The sage is said to chariot upon the material and environmental contingencies of existence. It is the special difficulties of existence that humans face which are the agencies of their triumph.

This 'sage', it is worth noting, is existentially engaged with the world and in her manner of being in the world. She is mindfully present, and makes her own accommodation with reality; it does not fall from the sky. Camus, I think, would be comfortable here.

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

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