Monday, October 18

Reading:  Zhuangzi, Introductory sections (pp. 1-6), Chapter 1, pp. 7-12

The Zhuangzi is the most provocative and exciting text of early Chinese thought.  It is also a very confusing text, in part because its central philosophical ideas are complex and elusive, and in part because the author or authors convey these elusive ideas through unusual literary devices, such as humorous or absurd anecdotes, intentionally over-convoluted analytic passages, undisciplined poetic musings, and puns.  Unlike the Dao de jing, the Zhuangzi does not sound like a sage speaking (in Chinese or in English); sometimes, the speaking voice of the text sounds incoherent or . . . drunk.  We will be devoting five periods to the Zhuangzi: quality earns respect!

The first chapter of the Zhuangzi sets the literary tone for the entire text. It introduces subtle philosophical notions by recounting facts and tales that you may find questionable.  Do fish eggs become birds?  Do cicadas have conversations with doves?  Do people fly?  Should we assume that Zhuangzi was unaware that there were problems with answering yes to these question?  Not really.  In no case should you understand the text to be claiming that any of its facts or tales are true -- but, for that matter, you can't assume that it does not mean them to be true either.  Just bear in mind that in each case, the facts or tales are meant to convey a point, and it is that point which is the key. 

Note that in the Zhuangzi, each chapter is divisible into sections - I have added numbers and titles to each, but these are not in the original. After you read each small section, ask yourself: What's the point? What does the anecdote tell us? At the end of the chapter, see whether there are common themes shared by a number of the sections.

Your readings for the Zhuangzi will not amount to many pages. Read them closely!