Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Building on Zhuangzi III

Scott Bradley

In making his argument for Zhuangzi being a "critical thinker", Lusthaus ("Aporetics Ethics in the Zhuangzi"; Hiding the World in the World) devotes considerable time to an analysis of the 17th Chapter of the Zhuangzi, "Autumn Floods" ("Qiushi"). In doing so, he illustrates by way of graphic "models" (which he tells us are a common tool of the time) the systematic 'logic' of the author's arguments. These are a great help for an understanding of both the arguments and beauty of this most refined of Zhuangzian interpretations, and I will be exploring some of his insights in posts to follow. However, here I would simply like to point out that in clarifying the thought and method of the author of this chapter Lusthaus has also clarified how he differs from Zhuangzi. His use of this chapter as an explanation of Zhuangzi is thus highly suspect. Lusthaus consistently refers to the author of this chapter as "Zhuangzi" without the usual qualifications, namely that it is only for convenience. We cannot assume that he actually believes that Zhuangzi wrote this chapter since scholarship is nearly unanimous in believing that he did not. We can only assume, therefore, that he has chosen to overlook this inconvenient fact for the sake of making his case. For this reason, this particular presentation of evidence is fatally flawed.

We should be very careful in using materials from the Outer and Miscellaneous Chapters of the Zhuangzi to explain the Inner Chapters. They can certainly provide insight into what Zhuangzi was about, even by way of their divergence, but they are the work of other minds located in different perspectives. They are not the same. Ziporyn suggests that all the chapters of the Zhuangzi outside of the Inner Chapters (with the possible exception of a few that may be outside the purview of Daoism) are essentially responses to Zhuangzi. For this reason, his inclusion of a wide variety of commentaries in his translation of the Zhuangzi is a continuation of this on-going process of responding. In fact, he has encouraged me in my own ramblings (however misguided) for this same reason. Every interpretation of Zhuangzi is going to be unique, which Zhuangzi himself would have declared both right and necessary.

The author of the 17th Chapter has rationalized Zhuangzi's thought beyond what Zhuangzi himself chose to do. He seems to "know" a great deal more than his mentor. This does not mean that his presentation is 'wrong', only that we can learn from an appreciation of their differences. From my perspective, all that really matters is the extent to which either presentation, Zhuangzi's or his disciple's, helps to facilitate a mystical leap that liberates. I say "a" mystical leap because there are no doubt many varieties and ways of realizing them. Let me say again: all this pseudo-scholarly discussion notwithstanding, this is all about transformation, not understanding or creating a philosophy. My sense of the 17th Chapter is that it fairly faithfully builds on the Inner Chapters and provides some very helpful insights into the implications of Zhuangzi's philosophy, but should one choose the kind of mystical leap that Zhuangzi advocates, then it needs to be tempered by Zhuangzi's more visceral experience of not-knowing. Where it might take one on its own, I cannot say.

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

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