Friday, February 21, 2014

Ziporyn on Zhuangzi VIII: What? Means Who?

Scott Bradley


I always say that Zhuangzi suggests that we depend on nothing, but this is not, in fact, what he says. He actually says that if we simply ride atop whatever happens, we will depend on — what? I answer: Nothing. But Ziporyn (Ironies of Oneness and Difference, p.164) draws attention to the fact that Zhuangzi restrains himself from saying anything so definitive; for him, the question is the limit. We have already seen how Zhuangzi's non-dependence is in effect dependence on everything; for, since the psychological non-dependence of which he speaks is the consequence of not depending on any one thing, not selecting out any particular thing or event upon which to depend, not hewing out something from the unhewn upon which to fix, one is involved with and “charioting upon” everything. So, there is dependence — but upon what? Upon whatever this life-experience is all about, that is, the unknowable. And this is why I suggest his is essentially a call to surrender into Mystery.

We have also seen that the apparent ceaselessness of transformation, if allowed to truly inform our orientation to the world and our experience, calls forth our non-dependent dependence, and this in turn calls forth no-fixed-identity. If all is transformation, and we unite with that so as to not fix in dependence on any one thing, then neither are we able to remain ourselves a fixed identity. These 'three' (all is transformation, non-dependent dependence, no-fixed-identity) must certainly be spontaneously and mutually arising; it is not that one leads to the other, but that each one is the other.

Thus, Ziporyn points out that the 'what?' of our dependence ineluctably leads to the 'who?' of our identity. "This dependence on 'what?' — not as an answer but as a perpetual question — is the ironic independence of the ironic Daoist identity, the perpetual 'who?'" "The true self, in short, is 'Who?'. Or, to put it otherwise, the true self is, 'Is there really a true self or not?'" "The true self is, in a word, unintelligible, or, more to the point, unintelligibility itself." Zhuangzi advocated neither "no-self" nor 'true-self', but rather 'no-known-self'. We are as much Mystery as everything else; we needn’t look to the cosmos to discover the perpetual ‘what?’. Surrender into one’s self is no different than surrender into the ultimate Mystery.

This is an "ironic identity" in that it both is and is not; like metaphysical Dao, it is conspicuous in its absence, present as an absence. 'Someone' seems to be here, and thus we get on with the stuff of living, but now transformed by an awareness of the apparent emptiness of that 'someone', we do that living as unfixed: "The Zhuangzian person does not possess any particular value or merit or identity, but is able to produce endless values and merits and identities." We are able to live and engage in the realities of the moment, yet are also able to follow along with the ever-changing nature of the moment, without loss. ‘No-self’ and ‘true self’ are equally in some sense fixed. Where the question ends, the fantasy begins.

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

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