Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Uneven Discourses II

Scott Bradley

I am considering how to “even out” the various contradictory perspectives on the philosophy of Zhuangzi as presented in Hiding the World in the World: Uneven Discourses on the Zhuangzi. In other words, I am exploring how to actually apply that philosophy as I understand it — a novel idea to be sure. This is no easy task, embedded as I am in a particular reading of Zhuangzi and inclined, as most, to think there is a right way and a wrong way to read him.

Perhaps the best place to begin then would be to remember that Zhuangzi himself makes no claim to truth. He suggests a way of looking at the world, not an explanation of it. There are, therefore, no truthful assertions to defend. Ah, but this is my reading, my perspective. Yes, but since that perspective (Zhuangzi's!) affirms every perspective, even those that contradict it, this perspective neither negates the others nor can be negated by them. The perspective that says that all perspectives are 'right' from the point of view of the one whose perspective it is, is not in opposition to any perspective. (I am drawing on Ziporyn's arguments here.)

"Each one selects out its own [way, perspective]" (2:5). The pine does not tell the oak that it is wrong to have leaves or to be deciduous, nor does the oak laugh at the needles of the pine. It is easy to draw analogies from nature; what is it in humanity that makes it so hard to follow suit?

Zhuangzi's words did have intended meanings, but are we able to definitively find them? Apparently not. In this, he would probably smile at his success. Thus are we required to "select out our own".

I come to Zhuangzi with what I require — a non-religious, metaphysically belief-free philosophy of life — and come away with the same. Someone else comes with other requirements and leaves with something else. No problem. It is not that I do not believe that Zhuangzi is, in fact, non-religious and metaphysically belief-free, but that in so believing I am able to "walk two roads". I can allow others to "select out their own" without it mattering all that much since the non-religious, metaphysically belief-free character of that philosophy is precisely what allows me to do so. I can thus affirm my own perspective (one road) and still affirm those that contradict it (the other road).

Now that this has been established, let me say again that I think Wang is full of it when he makes of Zhuangzi yet another spinner of metaphysical fantasies full of "higher entities" and "authentic substances". But if it turns his crank, that's okay too. My perspective does not need to be 'true' for all, but only 'true' for me, where 'true' really just means effective. And Wang, for his part, does his part in helping to clarify for me how uniquely free of religious belief Zhuangzi's philosophy really is.

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

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