Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Tianxia I

Scott Bradley


This and the following post are inspired by the previous series on Shenzi as represented by the author of the Tianxia chapter (33rd) of the Zhuangzi and examines his philosophical orientation. I have struggled about whether to further consider this since it involves both a bit of negative commentary on the opinion of respected others, and may not lead to anything particularly 'inspirational' in any case. However, this exercise of writing posts is primarily an occasion for personal growth and thus despite a desire to please an audience, seeks first to please myself. (And frankly, it seems presumptuous to assume any 'audience' at all.)

I begin then with a line from Victor Mair's (Wandering on the Way) introductory comments to the 33rd Chapter concerning why Confucius or any Confucians are excluded from the author's critique of the philosophies of the day: "Confucius is beyond the pale — hardly worth mentioning after having been devastated in the rest of the book." I find this statement beyond the pale of reasonable scholarship.

My premise is that Confucius and his now contemporary disciples (Mencius and Xunzi, at the least) are not mentioned because they are largely believed to be practitioners of the "ancient Art of the Dao" which the author bemoans as having been lost except among "many gentlemen of Zou and Lu" [Confucian strongholds]. If the author is representative of a school of Zhuangzi (as Liu suggests, and I seriously doubt), then he is one whose syncretism has effectively subsumed Zhuangzi under a more Confucian rubric. It is unclear, however, who suffers the most from this amalgamation, Confucius or Zhuangzi.

Returning to Mair's comment, we can begin by exposing the implied fallacy that the author believes himself to be contributing to "the rest of the book". The implication is that since Confucius has been thoroughly debunked in the "rest" of the anthology, the author, who sees himself as writing the final chapter, sees no need to mention him. This, of course, is nonsense; it is highly unlikely that there already was a 'book' to which to contribute, and if there was, that he saw himself as contributing to it. But this mistake, even if offered as a proof of an anti-Confucian bias, is not really all that germane to a discussion of the actual content of the chapter.

Nevertheless, it is also worth noting that this presumption that Confucius has “been devastated in the rest of the book” is also untrue. It is true that there is a very strong anti-Confucian tone to several of the chapters which verge on outright hostility and disrespect, but these are not consonant with Zhuangzi’s sentiments as expressed in the Inner Chapters. However much he might disagree with Confucius, it is not his manner to disrespect him. Even when he puts his own words in the mouth of Confucius one has a sense that he is thereby attempting to honor him. This is also the opinion of Graham. Mair’s mistake is in representing the Zhuangzi as a harmonious whole, which it most certainly is not.

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

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