Saturday, November 23, 2013

Intraworldly Mysticism III

Scott Bradley

In the previous post I wrote that if I have correctly understood Lee Yearley's description of Zhuangzi's "intraworldly mysticism", then I believe he has fallen into the same trap as the author of the 17th Chapter who, Yearley tells us, conventionalized Zhuangzi's otherwise radical vision. That disciple of the school of Zhuangzi did this by rendering the original vision an intellectual exercise. He suggests the adoption of a detached point of view on the basis of the relative nature of all our judgments; he develops and grounds his world-response on the foundation of refined argument; he never really moves beyond reason.

The relative character of our every judgment was indeed an important component of Zhuangzi's argument, but it was intended to bring us to that place where "the understanding consciousness comes to rest in what it does not know" which is to have "reached its utmost". (2:36; Ziporyn) The point is to realize the limits of reason so as to experience life outside those limits. It is the difference between thinking about life and living it. One might argue that we are living it in any case, but when we find ourselves casting about for 'purpose' and 'meaning', permanence and redemption, we are living it through the mediation of the mind. We are still "taking our mind as our teacher".

Zhuangzi's intraworldly mysticism (Yearley's term) is this experience of re-integrating with life as self-so, as it is without any need to justify itself. I have just spoken of it, suggested its contours, but no amount of talk can encompass it. This is why we call it mysticism.

I have suggested that Yearley has mistakenly misidentified the fruit of this experience, the ability to actively and presently engage with things as they arise (thus "intraworldly"), while completely releasing them as they pass, with the root. (We fully engage in the experience of life, for instance, while simultaneously releasing our grip on it as if it were 'something' that 'someone' could lose.) The 'root', I would suggest, is the mystical experience of unmediated re-integration with life; and this does not depend on anything, especially well-made arguments.

There are then in some sense two sides to Zhuangzi's philosophy. On the one hand (and mostly), he tells us of the behavioral consequences, the fruit, of his mysticism. On the other, he points to that mystical experience, their root and impulse, through metaphorical imagery: wandering carefree and non-dependent in "our homeland of not even anything", "the vast wilds of open nowhere". For obvious reasons, scholarship finds it much easier to discuss the discussable, or even the undiscussable, than to let the "understanding rest in what it does not know".

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

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