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Showing posts from June 10, 2012

Dao and modernity

The Christian and secular books of the world stand in stark contrast to the Dao, as it is articulated in the classic Daoist texts.  There is no more radical reflection on uselessness than is found in Daoism. The notion of that being comes from nothingness and is secondary to it was one that the Daoists shared with Buddhists. But in the Buddhist system, the consequence of insight into nothing is compassion for all creatures and a teaching designed to produce an absolute liberation from the bonds of being. This is the opposite of the Daoist doctrine of inaction. The insight into the way does not lead us to compassion, but a certain type of perfection: perfect uselessness. This is the theme pounded over and over in the Chuang Tzu. In the chapter entitled Heaven and Earth, Tzu-kung and his disciples encounter a farmer laboriously lugging pitchers of water to his field from a well. Stopping, Tzu-kung offers some friendly advice about a machine the farmer could use to do this work.

blank spaces on the map: the adventurer and the clerk

Simmel’s essay on adventure (1919) begins by considering the “double-sidedness” of events in a life. On the one hand, events fall into a pattern in relationship to one another, so that one can talk of a life as a whole and mean a unified thing – on the other hand, events have their own center of gravity, and can be defined in terms of their own potential for pleasure or pain. To use an example not mentioned by Simmel, but getting at what he means: Famously, Kant had a regular habit of taking a certain stroll each day in Königsberg. It was famous as a regular habit – it was an example of some craving for order in Kant’s life, which some have read into his work. Now, one walk was, intentionally, much like the other – and yet, they all formed a distinct sub-system in Kant’s life of Kant’s walks. In ordinary life, we often talk about what we are “like”. If I lose, say, my wallet, I may say, I always leave it on the table. In so saying, I’m observing myself anthropologically – this