Friday, November 29, 2013

Another Look at the Laozi II

Scott Bradley


In the previous post we considered how, according to Ziporyn (Ironies of Sameness and Difference), one earlier version of the Laozi (the Guodian) evinces a sympathy for Confucianism in sharp contrast to our received version. This reflects a "pre-ironic proto-Daoism" while our received version presents an "ironic proto-Daoism", and is thus compatible with the philosophic outlook of the Neiye ("Inner Training"), a chapter of the Guanzi which was contemporary with it (some of its chapters being later contributions). This being the case, we can see how our received version of the Laozi, like the Inner Chapters of the Zhuangzi, represents a break with the 'trending' philosophy of its day. Some, though Ziporyn is more cautious on this point, understand this non-ironic Laozi and the Neiye as representatives of the "Huang-Lao Daoism" thought to have only come after Zhuangzi and is represented in a significant slice of the Zhuangzi. At minimum, we can see how they are similar in that they both default to a more conventional and religious, that is non-ironic, project of self-cultivation; this should not surprise us in as much as this is the natural inclination of the "understanding consciousness".

All this is offered here to make the case, my case, that the ironic philosophy of Zhuangzi is not just more of the same, but rather a unique and solitary island standing in the stream of non-ironic, religious daos. All these other daos seek to resolve the tenuous exigencies of human existence, whereas Zhuangzi ever embraces them. In this, it has a special kind of dynamism in that it ever self-critiques and self-negates; it lives with and in the questions and eschews all answers. It is, to my thinking, a more thoroughly existentialist response to the human experience than even the more contemporary philosophies that bear that name.

You can check out Scott's other miscellaneous writings here.

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