Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Transcendental Who? I

Scott Bradley


Although his stated goal in writing his essay "How Many Are the Ten Thousand Things and I?" (in Hiding the World in the World; Scott Cook, ed.) is to reconcile the apparent contradiction between Zhuangzi's perspectival relativism and his valuation of a particular perspective (one that affirms every perspective), I would recommend it as one of, if not the best, summations of Zhuangzi's philosophy I have read. This does not mean that it is easily understood, but then neither is Zhuangzi.

Among many other helpful insights is his suggestion of how Ziqi's loss of his "me" that introduces the second chapter is explained in Ziqi's enigmatic explanation which seems not to answer that question. Let me explain: When asked how it is that he has lost his "me" Ziqi provides the metaphor of the wind blowing through the trees and the trees spontaneously giving forth their many different sounds. Further elucidation suggests that the wind is Dao and the sounds of the trees are the various expressions of the philosophers as examples of all human expression. Yet no "blower" can be found. "But since each one selects out its own [way], what identity can there be for the rouser?" (2:5) Thus “Dao” is suggested, but cannot be appealed to as an explanation of anything.

This is a pivotal point in understanding what Ziporyn calls Zhuangzi's "omnicentrism". A "unicentric" view would be to say that harmony derives from the fact that all this apparent cacophony is an expression of Dao; there is one center, and this is what creates the unity of the infinite differences. But Zhuangzi suggests just the opposite; every thing is its own center, and it is through these innumerable centers that are such by virtue of their positing every other center and thus including them in themselves that the harmony arises. Thus Guo Xiang concluded that all things a "self-so" and "self-generating". And this is why, within my understanding of the term, Zhuangzi eschews all essentialism (explanatory meta-realities) in favor of the actual human experience however messy. Call it maya, say it is all a dream, it does not matter — it is the human experience and it is this we embrace, not some escapist essentialism.

If I have lost you, I am to blame, being somewhat lost myself. But I have also gotten lost, as do most commentators, in failing to address how this metaphor answers the question of what it means that Ziqi has lost his "me". This has to do with what Ziporyn calls "the transcendental who?", but I will leave that for the next post.

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

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