Home pageTHE SURRE(GION)ALIST MANIFESTOChapter 4.- AnarChapters: Zhuangzi’s Crazy Wisdom & Da(o) Da(o) Spirituality
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-4- Becoming a Bug’s Arm


No Way

Anarchy Rules

Being Good for Nothing

Zuangzi says that when Laozi died, Chin Shih went to the funeral, "yelled three times, and left." [1] The mourners were shocked and thought this was a disgrace. Zhuangzi, on the other hand, saw it as a quite reasonable response. Maybe Chin Shih was giving three cheers for old Laozi. Or maybe he was just getting his mourning over with quickly. Either way it makes perfect sense. The alternative is to hang on to what can’t be caught. "The Master came because it was time. He left because he followed the natural flow." [2] Zhuangzi was a rebel against all that is stupid, unimaginative, cruel, and oppressive, but he never saw the point in rebelling against our own nature and the nature of nature. For Zhuangzi, following the Dao means achieving "freedom from bondage," [3] exactly as Spinoza said almost two millennia later in his ETHICS. Zhuangzi concludes his funeral story in the spirit of his great pre-Ancientist predecessor Heraclitus: "The wood is consumed but the fire burns on." [4] We shouldn’t be surprised that when we try to hold on to the wood we end up with a handful of ashes. And what kind of buffoon would to try to hold on to fire?

Zhuangzi’s spirituality of death is a refusal to fall into the death neuroses of civilization. His approach to death seems weird, shocking, and abnormal because it is neither safely tragic nor safely romantic. It seems unnatural because of its stark naturalism. He is actually willing to approach the unapproachable. He befriends the corpse. Old, dependable Death. "Brother Death, please mind the store." He also avoids death psychosis, civilization’s poisoned legacy from ancient barbarism. The delusion that death is neither tragic nor romantic because its just not there. He announces loudly that the grinning corpse cannot be evaded. Grin back! Zhuangzi recounts the words of Master Li to the dying Master Lai: "How marvelous the Creator is!

What is he going to make of you next? Where is he going to send you? Will he make you into a rat’s liver? Will he make you into a bug’s arm?" [5]

In confronting the reality of death, Zhuangzi confronts the reality of life. To him, the idea that everything just changes form, so there is really no death, is a fraud. "One may say, ‘There is no death.’ What good does that do? When the body decays, so does the mind. Is this not a great sorrow? Is life really this absurd? Am I the only one who sees the absurdity?" [6] Apparently there was some New Age ideology floating around in the Ancient World, and Zhuangzi didn’t buy it. Death is real, so life is irreducibly absurd. But we have no good reason to flee from this absurdity. Rather we need to embrace it—as part of life. The question is whether we are capable of embracing life itself, rather than clinging to our own ghostly phantasms of life.

Zhuangzi’s affirmation of the laughable, sometimes outrageous, sometimes grotesque absurdity of real life runs throughout his stories and aphorisms. In this he was a precursor of the Carnivalesque. Bakhtin explains that the laughter of Carnival is an affirmation of our place in the Cosmos and Chaos of Nature. It "does not permit seriousness to atrophy and to be torn away from the one being, ever incomplete. It restores this ambivalent wholeness." [7]Carnival is "the true feast of time, the feast of becoming, change and renewal" and is "hostile to all that was immortalized and complete." [8] In Carnival, people participate in "the wholeness of the world," and affirm the fact that "they too are incomplete, they also die and are revived and renewed." [9]

Zhuangzi is a Pre-Ancientist rather than a Post-Mortemist precisely because he faces both life and death.


Don’t Fall for it

The Truth is the Hole


[1] Gia-Fu Feng and Jane English, CHUANG TSU: INNER CHAPTERS. (New York: Random House, 1974), p. 59.

[2] INNER CHAPTERS, p. 59.

[3] INNER CHAPTERS, p. 59.

[4] INNER CHAPTERS, p. 59.

[5] Burton Watson, THE COMPLETE WORKS OF CHUANG TZU. (New York: Columbia University Press, 1968), p. 85.

[6] INNER CHAPTERS, p. 25.

[7] Mikhail Bakhtin, RABELAIS AND HIS WORLD (Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1984), p. 123.

[8] Bakhtin, p. 10.

[9] Bakhtin, p. 12.

Exquisite Corpse, 2003 Copyright © 2007 Max Cafard.
This section's articles
  1. -1- No Way
    8 février 2007

  2. -2- Anarchy Rules
    8 février 2007

  3. -3- Being Good for Nothing
    8 février 2007

  4. -4- Becoming a Bug’s Arm
    8 February 2007

  5. -5- Don’t Fall for It
    8 février 2007

  6. -6- The Truth is the Hole
    8 February 2007