Monday, February 24, 2014

Ziporyn on Zhuangzi XI: Beyond Self/Other and Back Again

Scott Bradley


If, through the mythical imagery of Peng, we have yet to learn to fly without wings, to depend on nothing and thereby follow along with whatever happens, well then, Zhuangzi offers us another point of entry, a reasoned demonstration of how the actual mechanics of our hewing a self from out of the unintelligible whole invites us to loosen our grip on that self and its objectified other so as to become unfixed.

Zhuangzi begins with the sage Ziqi who declares, "I have lost me." Much conjecture abounds as to how this happened, but Zhuangzi seems more interested in describing the mechanics of the self that makes it possible, and judging from the explanation provided by the sage himself, insight into this is in itself a means to that end, the loss of "me". For Zhuangzi, as for Zen, cracking the nut of our conventional interface with our experienced reality opens us up to an experience beyond the dualism of thought.

The simple statement, "I have lost me", suggests the profound paradoxical subtleties of a self that both is and is not. It finds its parallel in metaphysical Dao, apparently necessarily, everywhere manifest, yet nowhere to be found. Indeed, in Ziqi's explanatory metaphor of the sounds of the wind in the forest, and his unanswered question as to "who is the rouser?", it is not always clear of which he speaks, Dao or self; perhaps it is both.

"I have lost me" (wu sang wo), Ziporyn tells us, uses two words for "self": "unlike wu, wo can be paired as a dyad with bi, signifying the contrastive self, the self as opposed to others . . ." What has been lost is not self per se, but that aspect of self that posits an other. This is reflected in Zhuangzi's introductory description of Ziqi as found by his disciple, "as if loosened from a partner", or as if he had "lost his opposite". The first and primary "other" is oneself, "me". If Ziqi is no longer an object to himself, presumably neither is the world. He has experienced the (psychological) oneness later expressed as "the ten thousand things and I are one" (2:32).

This, Ziporyn says, reflects the "monistic" interpretation of the wind in the trees — every sound is the expression of Dao. But though in some sense 'true', nothing is ever so straight-forward with Zhuangzi, and he goes on to have Ziqi say that "each one selects out his own [identity]". One may experience oneness, yet there remains the not-one, and this Ziporyn calls the ironic identity, and I describe as that which both is and is not. The Zhuangzian vision of the transcendence of self is thus profoundly paradoxical in that one is, remains, and exercises being a self, while realizing that there is no self at all. Is this not an invitation to wander and to play?

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

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