Science of Myself: Translation and the 'Pivot of the Dao' in the Book of Zhuangzi

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Science of Myself: Translation and the 'Pivot of the Dao' in the Book of Zhuangzi
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  1 SCIENCE OF MYSELF: TRANSLATION AND THE ‘ PIVOT OF THE  DAO ’  IN THE  BOOK OF ZHUANGZI Words are thought to be different from the twittering of the birds  —  but is there a real difference or not? i    But as I am saying that all things and I are one, how can speech not exist…the  Dao has no boundaries; speech has no fixed form. ii   The problem that confronts academics trying to address themselves to the  Book of  Zhuangzi  is not that writing about it is too difficult, or complex, or challenging. Writing about Zhuangzi is, rather, far too easy; speech comes naturally  —  is, in fact, itself natural. Writing takes a more static manifestation, presupposing the fundamental communicability of its products and the use-value of its articulations, and is always underwritten by the availability of speech, the  phenomenal manifestation of ideas. There are many aspects of Zhuangzi’s daoism that might be taken up in academic form, but why? Why ask questions of the great question asker himself? The problem of Zhuangzi is a problem of translation  —  translating the phenomenal world, the “speech” of nature  into words. As the final chapter of Zhuangzi’s work, which looks more like a commentary, underscores, “regarding the  Dao , [Zhuangzi] was precise and right, expanding our thought to the highest and the widest realm. Notwithstanding, regarding the phenomenon of transformation, the implications of his theories are unlimited and srcinal. They are elusive, complex, and cannot  be fully analyzed.” iii   Using what many translators take to be “the light of the mind” in the passage describing the “pivot of the Dao,” Zhuangzi aims to describe to us what this process of transformation is  2 and what might be gained by making no intellectual distinctions in terms of discursive exposition and its relationship to mentally apprehending both concrete knowledge and abstract concepts. iv   In fact, if there is any such thing as a “distinction” that Zhuangzi allows, it is that this intellectual light meets with a barrier where it is no longer adequate to dispel darkness. Unfortunately, this darkness is made much bigger and more pervasive when we view ourselves as limited creatures in the context of space and time: “Small knowledge cannot fathom what is  great, or a few years reach many years.” v  The issue of nominalism that our author takes aim at is manifold  —  as linguistic creatures, we are attached to symbolic relationships of non-commensurability; that is, we acknowledge that language does not encompass the whole of reality, nor even exhausts a  particular thought object, and this suggests to us our own intellectual limitation. There is within this the concern of saying that a person is a person and attaching denotative and connotative meaning to such terminology in the case of particular things, since there is very little correspondence between the name and the object. In other words, “the name is but the guest of reality.” vi  But because of this line of thought, if we stop there, we are left with a suspicion of language that Zhuangzi does not quite share  —  for our author, names, or words, certainly  participate in reality, and communicate an aspect of what is it for us to be thinking animals, but they do not live, or move, in the way that the infinite complexity of the ecosystem of even a single garden lives and reproduces itself. To attempt to establish a relationship of equivalence  between word and object is effectively asserting the “equality of all things,” but to see t hat move only in terms of its limitations is to completely miss the Daoist point. Words do not in fact fail us completely  —  we need them now, established as we are in linguistic experience, and to undertake only a critique of nominalism would be effectively anti-Daoist one-sided thinking.  3 Zhuangzi cannot communicate the  Dao , but he can show us the failure of language  —  and what it means about our minds that we interact with language such as we do. By making reference to our creaturely nature, Zhuangzi allows the light of the mind to be turned on itself and its own  presuppositions and fundaments in an act of translation so sophisticated that the poetic and discursive in his work interact dynamically, showing possibility and creativity rather than strictly ontifying intellectual limitation. It is possible, and a fundamental part of my assertion in making these statements, that Zhuang zi’s native language made this performance accessible to him and also demonstrated the necessity of making it. Chinese characters are suggestive of both sound and sense in a way that Latin script is not, and as images suggest a correspondence to their objects that I suppose is the more dangerous for its affinity with the forms of external experience. One can easily see the relationship between many signifiers and their meaning in Chinese: the character for tree looks very much like a tree, the character for forest is simply a doubling of tree, the character for mountain evokes a mountain and so-on. My claim here is to be understood more generally, as not all characters necessarily possess this resonance with the natural world, but the point holds that the Chinese language is closer to ocular experience than is English, in terms of “word” composition. In fact, there is a possibility that we do the Chinese language an injustice by calling the characters “words” at all, and that what Zhuangzi is highlighting in his  native language is a different problem than that of the English language circa 2014. It is possible that  part of Zhuangzi’s  point is that the aesthetic forms of the Chinese are misleading because of their mimesis of natural forms; the apparent naturalness of the Chinese language ’s approximate  stand-in for nature can be deceptively comfortable to our minds. This becomes an all the more significant observation when we remember that Daoist anti-nominalism is in large part a  4 response to the Confucian “rectification of names,” and it is important to keep in mind that  in the srcinal Chinese, the right name was the right image . For Zhuangzi, it is obvious that speech makes distinctions and places intervals between experience and communication, something seemingly unique to human beings. On the other hand, however, our use of language can be itself read as a way to examine the nature of our consciousness and highlight how malleable we are as entities  —  in fact, to show the possibility of thinking other than nominalistically. As beings possessed of agency, we can direct the light of the mind, but only if we afford ourselves the possibility that language is an integral part of our  being, or at least is part of our being once we have adopted and conventionalized it. Thus, the human mind must work with and not against itself if it is to be successful in achieving an appropriate understanding of reality  —  crucially, an understanding which does not conclude with an assumption of human limitation but rather one which branches fractally from the philosophic activity of taking the mind as object to itself as a step to the cognizance of reality via the circuitous and mutually-mediating nature of language and experience. To put all this in a more explicitly Daoist vernacular, we may use what appears to be the case in order to see that what does not appear to be the case is also true : “to take a mark in order to show that a mark is not a mark is not as good as taking what is not a mark to show that it is not a mark. ” vii  And we may see that each particular thought object has a participation in the  Dao  in a manner that corresponds to the way in which each word for that object has a relationship to language as a whole such that words may be used as signifiers just as one bird might be the whole of nature encompassed and expressed. Another more poetic way of demonstrating this might be to say that the speech of a human being or the song of a bird is something that the whole of nature is doing in the same way that a particular wave is the work of the entire ocean. viii    5 The dao , the “srcinal creative force,” manifests in organic particulars just as meaning manifests in the particular terms in which we speak about something  —  thus, rather than denounce the abstract nature of language, Zhuangzi shows it to be the very framework which gives us the means to  —  and illustrates our capacity for and access to  —  metaphysical thinking within a single organism. In order to lend my argument concretion, I want to approach a passage from Book II of the possibly apocryphally- named “Inner Chapters” in the srcinal  Chinese text. The specific  passage I am interested in shows up about halfway through the second book, and is our first and only occurrence of the phrase “pivot of the  Dao .” This passage is particularly useful for my argument because of the fact that it references a specific locative moment in our mental grammar   —  apparently there is  a standpoint of sorts in all the supposed amorphousness of the  Dao , and this standpoint appears to have an extreme dialectical subtlety that eludes an English- only reader’s  attempt to grasp it, in part because of what I have already pointed out in terms of the Chinese language’s appearance and  thus the semantic aspect of Zhuangzi’s response to the  predominant Confucian nominalism of the time. What is this standpoint, or pivot, and what is its activity? Is the nature within us  participating in a mimicry of the nature of heaven when we think, and when we think and abide in extreme complexity, does that get us closer to finding the dao  in the expression of infinite confusions as to the nature of things? How could we find a basis for linguistic validity without recognizing the necessity and fundamental nature of speech? If discursive description is merely intellectual proximity masquerading as intimacy with the nature supposedly outside ourselves, is the problem not viewing our relationship to nature in these terms? Why not choose a different intimacy, and one not requiring shallow knowledge or static terms, an intimacy of mind with
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