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Yueya

The Happiness of Fish

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The Happiness of Fish

 

Zhuangzi and Huizi were strolling along the bridge over the Hao River. Zhuangzi said, “The minnows swim about so freely, following the openings wherever they take them. Such is the happiness of fish.”

Huizi said, “You are not a fish, so whence do you know the happiness of fish?”

Zhuangzi said, “You are not I, so whence do you know I don’t know the happiness of fish?”

Huizi said, “I am not you, to be sure, so I don’t know what it is to be you. But by the same token, since you are certainly not a fish, my point about your inability to know the happiness of fish stands intact.”

Zhuangzi said, “Let’s go back to the starting point. You said, ‘Whence do you know the happiness of fish?’ Since your question was premised on your knowing that I know it, I must have known it from here, up above the Hao River.”

 

(from Zhuangzi: The Essential Writings With Selections from Traditional Commentaries by Brook Ziporyn)

 

 

I've read numerous interpretations of this, but never found any entirely satisfactory. Hence I'm interested in reading this book I've just now ordered containing 14 interpretive essays...... 

 

 


Zhuangzi and the Happy Fish

 

Edited by Roger T. Ames , Edited by Takahiro Nakajima

 


 

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The Zhuangzi is a deliciously protean text: it is concerned not only with personal realization, but also (albeit incidentally) with social and political order. In many ways the Zhuangzi established a unique literary and philosophical genre of its own, and while clearly the work of many hands, it is one of the finest pieces of literature in the classical Chinese corpus. It employs every trope and literary device available to set off rhetorically charged flashes of insight into the most unrestrained way to live one's life, free from oppressive, conventional judgments and values. The essays presented here constitute an attempt by a distinguished community of international scholars to provide a variety of exegeses of one of the Zhuangzi's most frequently rehearsed anecdotes, often referred to as "the Happy Fish debate."

 

The editors have brought together essays from the broadest possible compass of scholarship, offering interpretations that range from formal logic to alternative epistemologies to transcendental mysticism. Many were commissioned by the editors and appear for the first time. Some of them have been available in other languages—Chinese, Japanese, German, Spanish—and were translated especially for this anthology. And several older essays were chosen for the quality and variety of their arguments, formulated over years of engagement by their authors. All, however, demonstrate that the Zhuangzi as a text and as a philosophy is never one thing; indeed, it has always been and continues to be, many different things to many different people.

Edited by Yueya
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Here’s an interpretation I’ve previously read, written by one of my favourite theorists...... 

 

THE HAPPY FISH—OR: JOY WITHOUT JOY

 

A short but rather well-known story in the Zhuangzi contains a discussion about the happiness of fish. While Zhuangzi and his philosopher friend and opponent Huizi are out on a leisurely stroll, a dispute arises between them:

 

Zhuangzi and Huizi were rambling around [you] at the bridge across the Hao river. Zhuangzi said: "Out come the minnows and drift along [you], so free and easy. That's the happiness of fish!" Huizi said: "You are not a fish. Whence do you know about the happiness of fish?" Zhuangzi replied: "You are not me. Whence do you know that I don't know about the happiness of fish?" Huizi answered: "I am not you, so I surely don't know about you. You are surely not a fish, and this proves completely that you don't know about the happiness of fish." Zhuangzi said: "Let's go back to where we started. When you said 'Whence do -you know about the happiness of fish' you asked me the question already knowing that I knew. I knew it from up above the Hao.”

 

Just like many other allegories in the Zhuangzi, this story includes several puns (which unfortunately do not receive appropriate recognition in many English translations). The crucial pun occurs in the first line of the story, and understanding it is necessary for understanding the debate that unfolds in the following sentences. Zhuangzi's and Huizi's stroll is described as "rambling around," which is you in Chinese (not the same character as you meaning "presence"!). This word is also used in the title of the first chapter of the Zhuangzi: "Going Rambling without a Destination" (xiao yao you) and is an important term for the "lifestyle" of the Daoist sage. When Zhuangzi starts talking about the fish in the river Hao, he uses the very same word for their "drifting along." Both the men's wandering and the swimming of the fish is thus described with a Daoist terminus technicus for the complete absorption in one's natural environment or in one's natural place and position. If one "rambles" free and easy, one has no friction whatsoever with one's surroundings and so is part of a seamless, easygoing process. The notion of you expresses how it feels to be part of a perfect scenario—it is the perfect Daoist "feeling," so to speak.

 

The second pun is based upon the ambiguity of Huizi's question, which initiates the philosophical dispute: "Whence do you know about the happiness of fish?" This can be—as it was obviously intended by Huizi—a rhetorical question meaning simply, "How should it ever be possible for you to know about the happiness of fish?" Huizi seems not to be merely asking Zhuangzi how he can have such knowledge, but denying that he can have it at all. Huizi is addressing an epistemological issue: One should not claim to have knowledge to which one has no access.

 

Zhuangzi, at first, takes Huizi's philosophical attack seriously and tries to defeat Huizi by his own means—but this attempt is not successful. His argument that Huizi cannot claim any knowledge about him—not even his claim about the fish—is defeated by Huizi's reprisal that this argument—the invalidity of knowledge claims about realms one is somehow separate from—proves Huizi, and not Zhuangzi, to be correct. It is epistemologically problematic to claim such knowledge, and thus Zhuangzi's claim to know the happiness of the fish may be some "poetic" expression of one's feelings strolling along the river, but it cannot be taken seriously as a philosophical statement.

 

Zhuangzi, having lost the epistemological dispute, twists the whole philosophical direction of the discussion in the last sentence of the dialogue. He plays with the ambiguity of Huizi's initial question. Both in English and Chinese the question "Whence do you know about (an zhi) the happiness of fish?" can also mean "From where do you know about the happiness of fish?" It can be a question like "From where did you see that fish hiding behind the stone?" If the question is understood in this way, it is not a rhetorical question, but a real one. Literally, Huizi had indeed asked this question, and by asking this question—although not intentionally but linguistically—acknowledged that Zhuangzi knew about the happiness of fish whereas he himself did not. Thus Zhuangzi now answers Huizi's question in a literal way: "From where did you see the happiness of the fish?—"Oh, I just see it from here, from my perspective while strolling along and above the Hao river." And this has again a double meaning: It means, first of all, "I simply see the fish from here where I am" but it also means: "I see that the fish are happy, because while I am rambling here (you) and they are drifting there (you), we are actually sharing the same 'lifestyle.' We are both youing! That's how I know what they feel."

 

This pun with the term you explains whence Zhuangzi knows about the happiness of fish. With his final sentence he answers Huizi in a Daoist way. He fails to convincingly prove his knowledge claim using Huizi's epistemology, but with the final sentence he alludes to the notion of you—and thus supports his claim in a particular Daoist manner. Guo Xiang's commentary to the fishnet allegory explains this Daoist "epistemology":

 

Well, what things are born into and what they rejoice in—heaven and earth cannot change this position, and Yin and Yang cannot take back this livelihood. Therefore it cannot be called strange if one can know what beings born into the water are happy with from [being familiar with] what beings born on land rejoice in.

 

With Guo Xiang's help, Zhuangzi's point is elucidated: Zhuangzi is a human being and his way to you is to ramble around carefree on the land. Fish have a different position and "livelihood," they have a different place in the scenario of Dao, they have a different nature, and accordingly, they have a different way to you—they you by drifting along in water. Each being has its own natural place in its environment, and Zhuangzi can only feel like fish in the water while on land. Both species have their respective "elements." When Zhuangzi claimed to know about the happiness of fish, he did not claim to be able to feel the exact same feeling. He was just saying: I feel perfect by rambling around, and the fish feel perfect by drifting around. Both are you—but two kinds of you, a fish-you, and a human-you. There are different kinds of "happiness," a fish-happiness, and a man-happiness, and these are not exchangeable! The fish will never be able to ramble on the land and feel perfectly happy there, and it would be a miracle for a man to drift around in the water just as happily as fish. Both kinds of happiness are entirely different and separate, but they are both equally in perfect accord with the Dao.

 

Comparing this story with the butterfly dream allegory one might say: Just as the butterfly call be perfectly content and in its element during the time of the dream, and as Zhuang Zhou can be perfectly content and in his element while being awake, so also the fish in the water and the human being on land can be perfectly content and in their elements. They do not know exactly how the other feels, but they can know that each of them can rejoice in what they are. Because one can be self-content in a dream, one can know that one can be self-content when awake; and because a man can be self-content on land, one can know that fish can be self-content in water.

 

The happiness of the fish is the happiness of complete absorption in one's natural environment or in one's natural place and position. This happiness is attainable for fish, humans, and butterflies. But this happiness is not just some kind of emotional "joy." The perfect happiness of the fish or man is that they lose themselves in their respective element. And if they lose themselves, they will also be able to lose their joy. The perfect Daoist happiness is joy without joy. It is not tied to any particular emotional sensation and is not felt in a specific way. The Zhuangzi also says: "Utmost happiness is without happiness." A Daoist sage does not only forget words, ideas, and him/herself, he/she also forgets any particular kind of happiness. The perfect emotional quality is a feeling one no longer feels. A Daoist sage takes on the "zero-perspective" of joy—he/she will know about the happiness of men and fish while enjoying the "utmost happiness without happiness" him/herself.

 

(from Daoism Explained: From the Dream of the Butterfly to the Fishnet Allegory, by Hans-Georg Moeller)

Edited by Yueya
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When Zhuangzi claimed to know about the happiness of fish, he did not claim to be able to feel the exact same feeling. He was just saying: I feel perfect by rambling around, 

no he does not say anything like that. well, if words do have any meaning, he does not.

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no he does not say anything like that. well, if words do have any meaning, he does not.

But then, some people read more into a story than is actually there.  We put the story into our perspective and therefore into our life.

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莊子與惠子遊於濠梁之上。

莊子曰:「儵魚出遊從容,是魚樂也。」

惠子曰:「子非魚,安知魚之樂?」

莊子曰:「子非我,安知我不知魚之樂?」

惠子曰:「我非子,固不知子矣;子固非魚也,子之不知魚之樂全矣。」

莊子曰:「請循其本。子曰『汝安知魚樂』云者,既已知吾知之而問我,我知之濠上也。」

 

 

莊子與惠子於濠梁之上。

Zhuangzi  with  Huizi  wander / roam / travel / drift  on  top of  Hao bridge.

 

莊子曰:「儵魚出從容,是魚樂也。」

Zhuangzi said: "The  white-with-black / quick / 'minnow'  fish  drift / dart  leisurely / freely,  is  fish  happiness."

 

惠子曰:「子非魚,安知魚之樂?」

Huizi said: "You are not a fish,  how / from where/what  (do you)  know  happiness of fish?"

 

莊子曰:「子非我,安知我不知魚之樂?」

Zhuangzi said: "You are not me,  how / from where/what  (do you)  know I don't know  happiness of fish?"

 

惠子曰:「我非子,固不知子矣;子固非魚也,子之不知魚之樂全矣。」

Huizi said: "I am not you, certainly   don't know   (what it is to be)   you;   you   certainly  not  fish,  complete / entirely / wholly / maintain   you  not  know  happiness of fish."

 

莊子曰:「請循其本。子曰『汝安知魚樂』云者,既已知吾知之而問我,我知之濠上也。」

Zhuangzi said: "Please  follow / according to  the beginning. You said, 'You  how / from where/what  know  fish happiness?'   In saying,  already  know  I know  and so ask me.  I know  (from being) on  the Hao."

 

 

 

I agree with the above interpretation in that the ambiguity of the language is used a number of times to great effect -- as it is throughout the Zhuangzi.

 

Something Moeller doesn't appear to mention is the potential alternative meanings of 儵魚, which is generally translated as "minnow" ("thryssa" by Legge); the character 儵 also means "white 'stitched' with black and green" and "quickly", and is connected to others such as 倐, 倏 (hastily, suddenly).

 

So the name of these fish describes them as inherently quick/darting, and when Zhuangzi first remarks on them, he might as easily be saying, "The quick fish drift and dart freely -- this is the joy of (being a) fish." It is almost tautological. This is what the fish do, the thing that makes them what they are, that means they are not dead; if they have any joy, this is it.

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, "The quick fish drift and dart freely -- this is the joy of (being a) fish." 

 

so..do they dart just for joy or there is a biological purpose behind darting?

 

and does it mean that ZZ thought that fish have any other emotions? or just joy?

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yes.

 

Any guess why do they do that?

I think it is mostly so that they can personalize the story.  It then becomes a part of their life.  (But only via illusions and delusions.)

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so..do they dart just for joy or there is a biological purpose behind darting?

 

and does it mean that ZZ thought that fish have any other emotions? or just joy?

If one knows about fish one will know when they are playing or eating or evading being eaten.  I would think Chuang Tzu spent a lot of time at the river watching the fish.  He would know that they were playing and that playing was a joy for them.

 

Empathy is another consideration.

 

But both that I spoke to above would short circuit the story.  Can you know what I know and can I know how a fish feels?

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Today, most scientists agree that all vertebrate animals — mammals, birds, reptiles, amphibians and fish — are, to varying degrees, sentient.A rich and varied collection of research has made the evidence impossible to dismiss.

But this perspective wasn't always popular.

Historically, for example, sea-life rarely made it into humanity's realm of concern when it came to the ability to suffer. But meticulousexperiments performed on trout a decade ago essentially have laid to rest the common view that a fish cannot feel pain. There now is also scientific support for sentience in at least some invertebrates. In research by Canadian biologist Jennifer Mather and colleagues, octopuses show curiosity, play and personality.

http://www.livescience.com/49093-animals-have-feelings.html

 

And in a study led by Robert Elwood at Queens University Belfast, prawns spent more time grooming and rubbing a pinched antenna, unless they received a follow-up application of local anesthetic.

 

Err..what?

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I find it most interesting to read different commentaries for what they tell me about our ever evolving human conceptual reality. These enigmatic stories can be a gateway into the unknown. Hence my interest in reading the essays in Zhuangzi and the Happy Fish. 

 

From The Daoist Tradition by Louis Komjathy...... 

 

The foundational Daoist worldview incorporates a vision of human existence in a larger energetic, cosmological and theological context. One endeavors to follow a way of life that is participatory, that is fully present to the moment. For example, we encounter an exchange between Zhuangzi and Huizi, a famous representative of the so-called Mingjia (Logicians / Terminologists).

 

THE JOY OF FISH

Zhuangzi and Huizi were strolling along the dam of the Hao River when Zhuangzi said, "See how the minnows come out and dart around where they please! That's what fish really enjoy!"

Huizi said, "You're not a fish, so how do you know what fish enjoy?"

Zhuangzi said, "You're not me, so how do you know I don't know what fish enjoy?"

Huizi said, "I'm not you, so I certainly don't know what you know. On the other hand, you're certainly not a fish—so that still proves you don't know what fish enjoy! "

Zhuangzi said, "Let's go back to your original question. You asked me how I know what fish enjoy—so you already knew I knew it when you asked the question. I know it by standing here beside the Hao River." (Zhuangzi, Chapter 17; adapted from Watson 1968: 188-9)

 

Although passages like this tend to be read "philosophically:' I would suggest that they are about being alive in the world. Huizi can only understand the conversation , and "reality" through his own linguistic and conceptual frameworks. He can only speak from the limited perspective of his own philosophical commitments, especially through the cognitive faculty of intellect and reason. In contrast, Zhuangzi views existence from a different perspective. By walking through the landscape, by enjoying its contours and presences, by observing the joy of fish, Zhuangzi participates in the underlying mystery and all-pervading sacred presence of the Dao. While the experiences of fish and humans appear to be different, the actual condition of experiencing and participation is the same.

 

 

Once again we have the recurring Daoist theme of moving beyond words and concepts. And how do we convey this? Through words and concepts.

Edited by Yueya
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I could well add that the preferred method of the Zhuangzi is allegory and imagery. I know next to nothing of the Chinese language but gather that written Chinese is well suited to conveying such poetic forms. Hence, for me, appreciation of Chinese poetry is extremely helpful for understanding the Zhuangzi.

 

According to Wai-Lim Yip, writing in the preface of Chinese Poetry…..

 

The words in a Chinese poem quite often have a loose relationship with readers, who remain in a sort of middle ground between engaging with them (attempting to make predicative connections to articulate relationships between and among the words) and disengaging from them (refraining from doing so, since such predicative acts would greatly restrict the possibility of achieving noninterference). Therefore, the asyntactical and paratactical structures in Chinese poetry promote a kind of prepredicative condition wherein words, like objects (often in a coextensive and multiple montage) in the real world, are free from predetermined relationships and single meanings and offer themselves to readers in an open space. Within this space, and with the poet stepping aside, so to speak, they can move freely and approach the words from a variety of vantage points to achieve different perceptions of the same moment. They have a cinematic visuality and stand at the threshold of many possible meanings.

 

In retrospect, I must consider myself fortunate to live during a time when both poets and philosophers in the West have already begun to question the framing of language, echoing in part the ancient Taoist critique of the restrictive and distorting activities of names and words and their power-wielding violence, and opening up reconsiderations of language and power, both aesthetically and politically. When Heidegger warns us that any dialogue using Indo-European languages to discuss the spirit of East-Asian poetry will risk destroying the possibility of accurately saying what the dialogue is about, he is sensing the danger of language as a "dwelling," trapping experience within a privileged subjectivity.' When William Carlos Williams writes "unless there is / a new mind there cannot be a new / line," he also means "unless there is / a new line there cannot be a new / mind." Until we disarm the tyrannical framing functions of the English language, the natural self in its fullest sentience cannot be released to maximum expressivity.

 

The syntactical innovations initiated by Pound (aided by his discovery of the Chinese character as a medium for poetry), Stein, Williams (who, among other sources, took William James's lesson very seriously, i.e., to retrieve the real existence before it is broken up into serial orders through language and conceptions), and E. E. Cummings, and reinforced in practice and theory by the Black Mountain poets, John Cage, Robert Duncan, and Snyder, suddenly open up a new perceptual- expressive possibility in English, a new ambience whereby I can stage Chinese poetry according to its original operative dynamics rather than tailoring it to fit the Western procrustean bed.

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That was a difficult read for me.  Sounded almost Greek.

 

I found it quite straight forward. 

 

Perhaps you might relate more to this perspective from the the preface of David Hinton's Hunger Mountain.......

 

 

I've been translating classical Chinese poetry for many years, and slowly over those years I've come to realize that in translation I've stumbled upon a way to think outside the limitations not just of the mainstream Western intellectual tradition, but also of my own identity, a way to speak in the voice of ancient China's sage-masters, and for them to speak in mine. Ancient China had a long and diverse philosophical tradition centered on the nature of consciousness, the empirical world, and the relationship between them; but virtually all of that tradition's diversity begins with the same, relatively simple conceptual framework. This framework, apparently originating at the earliest levels of Chinese culture, in Neolithic and Palaeolithic times, appears in the Taoist and Chan (Zen) Buddhist philosophical traditions and, even more fundamentally, in the structures of the classical Chinese language itself. It therefore provided a deep form that the minds of all ancient Chinese intellectuals shared, even across their remarkable diversity, as did all aspects of the cultural tradition they produced: classical poetry, for instance, or landscape painting.

 

Inhabiting the minds of those poets and philosophers as I translate, I have inhabited that conceptual framework. It is a kind of practice in which I have slowly cultivated the elemental dimensions of that framework over the years; and eventually I wanted to work through that framework with as much thoroughness and clarity as I could, in part because it represents such a remarkably contemporary worldview. It is secular, and yet deeply spiritual. It is thoroughly empirical and basically accords with modern scientific understanding. Although articulated in the written tradition entirely by male members of a virulently sexist society, it is profoundly gynocentric: a primal cosmology oriented around earth's mysterious generative force, a cosmology whose deep sources in the oral tradition may well be female. And it is what we now call "deep ecology," meaning it weaves human consciousness into the "natural world" at the most fundamental level. In fact, the West's separation of "human" from "nature" is entirely foreign to it.

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According to Wai-Lim Yip, writing in the preface of Chinese Poetry…..

 

 When Heidegger warns us that any dialogue using Indo-European languages to discuss the spirit of East-Asian poetry will risk destroying the possibility of accurately saying what the dialogue is about, he is sensing the danger of language as a "dwelling," trapping experience within a privileged subjectivity.'

How does Heidegger know? There is no asian language fluency on his resume. And why is it repeated by someone who makes a living from being a cultural compradore?

 

 

 

  Until we disarm the tyrannical framing functions of the English language, the natural self in its fullest sentience cannot be released to maximum expressivity.

 

  new ambience whereby I can stage Chinese poetry according to its original operative dynamics rather than tailoring it to fit the Western procrustean bed.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wai-lim_Yip

 

I can understand that english is lifelong torture for a chinese man who moved to an english speaking milieu at 26. But there is no need to project it on the rest of us please.

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Both English and Chinese have their strengths and weaknesses. Some will recognize and value certain ones more than others.

 

The Chinese used for example by Zhuangzi is often very ambiguous, and can be used to great effect in the ways described above. One can interpret such writing in a number of ways, and translate each interpretation fairly satisfactorily into English, but one cannot usually translate an entire section of text, with all its layers of meaning, directly into English. Some must be lost, or "destroyed".

 

English, though, has its own merits, and likewise cannot be translated perfectly into Chinese. In English, I can describe events along a timeline in a range of ways that is not possible in Chinese, or at least not nearly as specific -- I can tell you what happened, what was happening, what has happened, what has been happening, what had been happening, what might have happened, what is happening, what happens, what is going to happen, what will be happening, what will have happened, what will have been happening, what would be happening, what would have been happening...

Edited by dustybeijing
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Perhaps you might relate more to this perspective from the the preface of David Hinton's Hunger Mountain.......

Yes.  That was so much better, IMO.

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https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wai-lim_Yip

 

I can understand that english is lifelong torture for a chinese man who moved to an english speaking milieu at 26. But there is no need to project it on the rest of us please.

 

On what evidence do you base your assertion "that english is lifelong torture" for him? I have never heard him speak but the quality of his written English is excellent, as testified by his numerous works..... 

 

Wai-lim Yip has been Professor of Literature at the University of California at San Diego for the past 30 years. A bi-cultural poet, translator, critic, and theorist, Yip has written more than 40 books in two languages. His works of poetry include Fugue, Crossing, Edge of Waking, Thirty Years of Poetry, Between Landscapes, and The Voice of Blooming. Yip’s scholarly works include Ezra Pound’s Cathay, Reading the Modern and the Postmodern, Chinese Poetics, and Diffusion of Distances: Dialogues between Chinese and Western Poetics. His translations include Modern Chinese Poetry 1955–1965, Lyrics from Shelters: Modern Chinese Poetry, 1930–1950, and Hiding the Universe: Poems of Wang Wei. He has been honored as one of the main figures of modern Chinese literary and cultural theory in Beijing and Taiwan and was awarded recognition in Taiwan as one of the “Ten Major Modern Chinese Poets.” 

 

https://www.dukeupress.edu/chinese-poetry-2nd-ed-revised/?viewby=title

 

 

How does Heidegger know? There is no asian language fluency on his resume

 

I'm no expert on Martin Heidegger but I do know he was one the first Western philosophers to take Eastern thought seriously, and because of this alone, in my eyes, he is worthy of respect. Although his relationship to Eastern thought is complex and ambiguous, he certainly seriously studied such works as the Daodejing and the Zhuangzi. For instance, he worked for a period of time on his own translation of the Daodejing with translator Paul Shih-Yi Hsiao. 

 

(I note with some amusement that you have criticised Heidegger for not being fluent in Chinese and Wai-lim Yip for being fluent in Chinese.)

Edited by Yueya

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Both English and Chinese have their strengths and weaknesses. Some will recognize and value certain ones more than others.

 

The Chinese used for example by Zhuangzi is often very ambiguous, and can be used to great effect in the ways described above. One can interpret such writing in a number of ways, and translate each interpretation fairly satisfactorily into English, but one cannot usually translate an entire section of text, with all its layers of meaning, directly into English. Some must be lost, or "destroyed".

 

English, though, has its own merits, and likewise cannot be translated perfectly into Chinese. In English, I can describe events along a timeline in a range of ways that is not possible in Chinese, or at least not nearly as specific -- I can tell you what happened, what was happening, what has happened, what has been happening, what had been happening, what might have happened, what is happening, what happens, what is going to happen, what will be happening, what will have happened, what will have been happening, what would be happening, what would have been happening...

 

You raise some interesting issues here.  It seems to me our perspectives, while not at odds, are somewhat different.  One of my interests in studying classical Daoist thought is to try and orientate myself to a worldview shaped by a foreign ontology. By way of establishing such an outside reference it’s possible to break out of the unconscious assumptions that underpin our contemporary thought.  That was my purpose in referencing Wai-Lim Yip and David Hilton insights into Chinese poetry. It’s also why I want to read Zhuangzi and the Happy Fish. I’m hoping for some poetic interpretations, rather than yet more philosophical ones. (It will be a week or so before I receive the book; it was just today dispatched from the Book Depositary in the UK.)

 

Your mention of different linguistic expressions of time between Chinese and English is exactly one such point of departure I have in mind.  Time as commonly perceived as a continuum is entirely a cultural construct. For instance, if I discount any conventional notion of time and instead orientate myself to a world where there is nothing but continual change, then my reality shifts into a continuing present.

 

According to David Hinton in the chapter of Hunger Mountain titled 宇宙 (which he translates as ‘Breath-Seed-Home’), “It [宇宙] describes the Cosmos as an all-encompassing present, a constant burgeoning forth that includes everything we think of as past and future. This cosmology survives from such an early level of Chinese culture that it even shapes the verbal structure of classical Chinese. Rather than embodying a metaphysics of time, rather than tenses reifying a metaphysical river of past, present, and future, the uninflected verbs of classical Chinese simply register action, that steady burgeoning forth of occurrence appearing of itself (tzu-jan)…...”

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How does one conceptualize "cause and effect" if time is not considered?  And old age too?

 

These are all changes.

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For instance, if I discount any conventional notion of time and instead orientate myself to a world where there is nothing but continual change, then my reality shifts into a continuing present.

 

This is wonderful stuff!

 

I once read a fascinating discussion of time called Time's Arrow and Archimedes Point by Huw Price that helped to open my ideas on time. Not at all an easy read but very compelling.

 

Meditation can be very helpful to loosen the grip our concept of time has on us as well.

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It seems to me our perspectives, while not at odds, are somewhat different.

 

I should think so ^_^

 

 

One of my interests in studying classical Daoist thought is to try and orientate myself to a worldview shaped by a foreign ontology. By way of establishing such an outside reference it’s possible to break out of the unconscious assumptions that underpin our contemporary thought.

 

Studying both Chinese language and Daoist / Buddhist / other Eastern thought (in both English and Chinese) has indeed helped me to see things in ways that I would not have had I stopped with English and Western philosophy. I have no doubt of that.

 

 

Your mention of different linguistic expressions of time between Chinese and English is exactly one such point of departure I have in mind.  Time as commonly perceived as a continuum is entirely a cultural construct. For instance, if I discount any conventional notion of time and instead orientate myself to a world where there is nothing but continual change, then my reality shifts into a continuing present.

 

Yes... language/culture/history/society, working as one, limit the way we understand almost everything. I don't think there's a person on this forum (indeed, very few in the world) who can see past all of it, but as you say, our study of other modes of thinking can help us see past some of it.

 

 

According to David Hinton in the chapter of Hunger Mountain titled 宇宙 (which he translates as ‘Breath-Seed-Home’), “It [宇宙] describes the Cosmos as an all-encompassing present, a constant burgeoning forth that includes everything we think of as past and future. This cosmology survives from such an early level of Chinese culture that it even shapes the verbal structure of classical Chinese. Rather than embodying a metaphysics of time, rather than tenses reifying a metaphysical river of past, present, and future, the uninflected verbs of classical Chinese simply register action, that steady burgeoning forth of occurrence appearing of itself (tzu-jan)…...”

 

Either way, talking in terms of time can be very useful in describing our experience. And ancient/modern Chinese did/does of course have past, present, and future structures -- they're just not as descriptive as in English.

 

Out of interest: much is made by some of the apparently arbitrary way in which sentences can be structured in Chinese, but it's generally not as loosey-goosey as some think; there are a number of constraints, perhaps most importantly that of time. Word order in a sentence generally follows a temporal sequence of events/agents as perceived by the subject.

 

In the first example from the pdf linked above:

 

In English, "Call me after I have finished eating."

                      4   5          1       3                 2

 

In Chinese, "我吃過電話我。"

 

"I have eaten food, you then use/touch telephone give me."

 1       3            2       4                 6               5                 7

 

We can actually use an extra structure, which I think is technically 'better Chinese', which serves to present all events/agents in spatial-temporal order:

 

"我把饭吃完了,你再把電話打給我。"

 

"I food finished, you then telephone use/touch give (i.e. call) me."

 1   2         3        4                 5               6                                7

 

It begins with me, describes events in order (as I perceive them [1] beginning with me and moving physically further away and [2] temporally) , and loops back around to me, finally receiving the call.

Edited by dustybeijing
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