Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Uneven Discourses I

Scott Bradley

The subtitle for Hiding the World in the World (Scott Cook, ed.) is Uneven Discourses on the Zhuangzi. Not until reading one more essay with which I fundamentally disagree ("Realm of the True Man and Its Corporeal Basis" by Rur-Bin Yang) did I begin to understand why this subtitle was chosen; these are indeed "uneven discourses" in that their authors are often similarly in fundamental disagreement.

These essays largely address the pivotal Qiwulun chapter (2) of the Zhuangzi, the central theme of which is how to make even, equalize, the various uneven discourses about things. (Though it can also be said that it is an attempt to show how we can equalize the things themselves by showing their oneness from a psychological point of view.) Thus Cook, in having presented us with some very uneven discourses, offers us the opportunity to even them out.

Zhuangzi's method for doing so is to simply point out that every assertion is born of a point of view and thus 'right' from that perspective; in this way all assertions are equal because every self-affirming thing is ‘right’. But what of the 'truth'? That's beside the point; but that this belief that 'truth' trumps all is such an incredibly hard thing to abandon, is very much the point. Somehow Zhuangzi always leads us to some frontier or another that we can only cross when something fundamental to how we interface with the world is overturned.

So, I disagree with Wang who, once again making a case for Zhuangzi the meditating mystic, imports all manner of metaphysical baggage that typically comes with that package: Zhuangzi is said to have a metaphysics, he believes we can "merge as one with a higher entity" [lord have mercy!], we possess a "mind-soul", an “authentic substance". From my perspective, all of this completely negates what is unique and so appealing in Zhuangzi. That Wang appeals to Huxley's "perennial philosophy" to make his case only serves to further demonstrate how naturally inclined we are to fabricate metaphysical explanations of our experience, something Zhuangzi, it seems to me, absolutely refuses to do.

All of this disagreement is a wonderful opportunity to explore what it means to even out uneven discourses. Finding no easy switch to flip to make it happen, I will spend the following post(s) trying to work it out.

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

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