Had planned to go to Historiska Museet and look at mediæval stuff. Made it as far as Skeppsholmen and going to the Östasiatiskamuseet. “We close in an hour. But an hour is usually enough. For most people.” Even for me. Small and average. The collection of Chinese (and pre-China) pottery and ceramics was the best part. Also the stone sculptures of various Buddhist, Daoist (I know!) deities. The Japan collection was mediocre. I wanted to steal quite a bit of the Tang and Song dynasty. And use it. The Ming stuff looked like Lack of Subtlety by comparison. Even cheap tea would taste better in a Song Dynasty bowl.
A much easier one to trace why I’m reading it. Published in September, Readings in Later Chinese Philosophy: Han to the 20th Century edited by Justin Tiwald, Bryan W. Van Norden was on Warp, Weft, and Way: Chinese and Comparative Philosophy 中國哲學與比較哲學, and looked like the kind of thing that would nicely summarise a couple of millennia of Chinese thought, philosophy, and religion.
Besides some Chuang Tzu—I mean Zhuangzi, (and some decidedly awkward teenage messing around with the I Ching) my exposure to Chinese philosophy has been by osmosis. Even communist China in any of its forms is unavoidably aligned with some form of Confucianism. To read the the sources, for all my China reading is something I haven’t done.
I do dislike Confucianism, and everything in the translated selections here only confirms that. The Cosmology section (coming chronologically before Buddhism) alone for me is worth the “Oh why am I paying so much again for a book?” price. Not the least for the notes on that favourite pop-spiritual object of Western culture: Yin and Yang, which can only be understood as unmistakably misogynist and generally hegemonically normative.
For me, the dogmatic aspects of Confucianism in Chinese history and culture seem to be balanced—or at least resisted from achieving complete dominance—by Daoism, Buddhism, and Mohism (this latter I’ve read effectively nothing on). Perhaps experiencing confirmation bias while reading.
It could do with a couple more female translators, especially as it suffers from that “women in the kitchen” problem of them represented in the Women and Gender section but a distinct minority elsewhere. Anyway, it’s my go-to book for the subject.
I went on a bit of a philosophical forest experience while staying in Waldsieversdorf. First, while feeling all introspective, I went on a very not sensible bike ride, the result of not paying attention to the topographic contour lines on the map meant what I thought would be a gentle, horizontal-ish amble through Wald and around See was a hellish excursion of muddy verticality, up and down slippery flights of stairs and inclines too steep to cycle, unloading bike from shoulder and mounting only to have to dismount five meters later for the next impasse, all the while darkness creeping in.
I arrived back at the bach in semi-darkness to finish watching Avatar: The Last Airbender, which is all kinds of buddhist philosophy and struggle which caused me to wonder why I think I’m so clever to take the hard path or think I don’t even need to pay much attention and then find myself in situations where I’m genuinely not having fun. Instead, for example, just going for a gentle ride around the lake.
Later, I was writing an application, and sorting through my scrapbook when I came across a pdf of Eugen Herrigel’s Zen in the Art of Archery. It turned out to be a short 60 pages and as I began reading, it dragged me in. I’ve been finding Chinese philosophy more appealing lately, and more practical, than European, particularly Daoism and Zhuangzi, which of course have strong parallels with Zen (or at least in my mind they do). I find also there is little mysticism or spirituality in the texts—or no more than any European philosopher has of Christianity. It was the practicalness of doing in this book that I had to read, coming off such a horrible cyclocross experience, something in general I have struggled with often as a dancer, climber, doing yoga, cycling, in my thinking of how to get through a task. Yeah, it sounds like I’m going all hippy here.
Early next year I’ll be working with Isabelle Schad, and we were speaking about this. I’d been thinking—as a result of reading Zen that I might take up Kyudo, but it occurred to me that Aikido, which Isabelle practices would be a better fit, given how the form influences her movement. Actually this book should be required reading for me on a monthly basis, if nothing else than to remind me not to do stupid things on my bike.
I saw Justin Tiwald & Bryan W. Van Norden’s Readings in Later Chinese Philosophy: Han Dynasty to the 20th Century on Warp, Weft, and Way: Chinese and Comparative Philosophy 中國哲學與比較哲學 a month ago, and my interest was piqued by “Within those topics, issues of contemporary interest, such as Chinese ideas about gender and the experiences of women, are brought to light.” I’m also in something of a philosophical reading frame, specifically Chinese and Japanese (to be honest, I find I just can’t focus on European philosophy lately). I was troubled at seeing a couple of pieces by Liu Shaoqi, one of the instigators of the Great Leap Forward and well, perhaps I tend to absolutism on the one hand and recognise on the other it’s necessary to read people such as he because of his influence on the country, but it still feels unpleasant.
I haven’t read much yet, still pushing through the Confucianism stuff, which I find horrible in the way having to endure Descartes or Marxism is. The cover is beautiful, as are the illustrations throughout, and yes, it does really cover everything from the Han Dynasty onwards. One (perhaps misplaced) criticism is that I would have liked to have seen both more female translators and female philosophers, and not just where they are present writing on women and gender.
Michel Serres is probably my favourite philosopher. Of the crop of post-68ers, Deleuze, Foucault, Derrida, all the names that are almost compulsory to be able to at least nod knowingly about if one wants to seem relevant in the contemporary dance milieu (to speak nothing of elsewhere) he goes strangely unmentioned. Possibly it’s changed in the last few years, but it was for me only by hanging out with some philosophers in Auckland and Melbourne who were dead keen on Serres that I know of him at all, as I am pretty certain I’ve not come across him otherwise, or not in a way that I can pin down as notable.
It’s because he wrote on dance, specifically ballet, that think so highly of him. Or perhaps it’s because when I first encountered him he wrote so beautifully, so poetically, so unlike every other philosopher, sometimes incomprehensibly (though never in the way that say, Derrida or Lacan did). I photocopied all the books of his I could find in the University library: The Parasite, Rome: The Book of Foundations, Hermes: Literature, Science, Philosophy, of course Genesis … his brilliant essay Gnomon: The Beginnings of Geometry in Greece in A History of Scientific Thought: Elements of a HIstory of Science (along with every other essay in there, especially Catherine Goldstein’s Stories of the Circle), photocopied because otherwise impossibly expensive. Even by the affordable prices of Germany, I can seldom afford what translations exist of his work: Variations on the Body caused me to wince and look the other way when I handed over the cash, and it’s tiny, a mere 162 pages. Beautifully bound and presented though, which honestly makes up for a lot for me when it comes to buying academic-ish texts; it’s really a book to hold and enjoy the tactile pleasure of the embossed cover and heavy paper.
This translation then, by Randolph Burks (member of the Unemployed Philosophers’ Guild: The Lens Grinders) I have in two versions: latterly this printed one, an actual book; formerly a pdf which I think I snagged on the most excellent blog devoted to Serres. Same translation, different work. The French version is lavishly illustrated, something of a habit for Serres (Angels: A Modern Myth, for example). The English translation in book form is entirely bereft of illustrations, a compromise to getting it printed at all, which likely indicates the relative popularity of Serres compared to other French philosophers. The illustrations and photographs are not careless decoration, so the printed translation actually is substantially a lesser work, despite the work of Burks, who I think – based on the other translations I’ve read – makes me feel like I’m reading Serres without a go-between.
Serres does have his problems: there’s a distinct heterosexual male perspective in both his choice of words and choice of metaphors, similes, examples, which if nothing else shows his age (83, born in 1930), and Variations on the Body, with long sections devoted to romanticising mountaineering as an understanding of the philosophy of the body seems prone to this more than others. Ah, but it’s beautiful, it’s really not frequent for philosophy to make me smile with joy, but Serres, he does it all too often. He sometimes writes in a way which reminds me quite a bit of Chuang Tzu’s The Inner Chapters. So I’m enjoying this book immensely and think I will take seriously my desire to go on a Serres bender.
This is the last of the six I picked up because of Jo Walton’s Among Others, (one of which is so dreadfully bad I won’t mention it), which has sent me to sleep several times already. Plato, who is unavoidable for anyone with even a passing interest in Western philosophy, is someone I’ve managed to successfully avoid, having more of a preference for Lucretius and others of the minor echelons.
Plato, I wasn’t intending on mentioning him here either — the Symposium and the Death of Socrates — but last night while well-bondaged, a pair remarked how we were tied was like the original nature before Zeus and Apollo hacked the three sexes into two (leading to hetero and homo and other things), which I thought dead funny because I’d just read that part; Aristophenes account of Eros in the Symposium.
I don’t have much to say about this or Plato in general, given I’ve read so little of him directly and not much of this book, but it seems a pity that Western philosophy has spend two and an half thousand years circulating around a drunken bore. Drunken bores. Socrates isn’t much better.
It might be that it is however a clear representation of why I don’t bother with Marx (or Freud for that matter), more than just because my philosophical upbringing by way of Deleuze and Guattari encouraged a scepticism and distance to the grand canon. Making willful generalisations here, it’s just that at their best and when not outright wrong, they’re not that good. Other philosophers have covered the same territory in far more considered terms, yet there is a constant demand to regard issues through the lens of these names. It may be that because of they paint their arguments in such dialectical terms they are attractive in their ultimate simplicity and resolution; they provide certainty, even if it’s on first glance buried.
I have been thinking of Chuang Tzu (The Inner Chapters) while reading this, who was around the same time as Plato, and who by comparison I would say engages in serious philosophical thought; even The Water Margin manages this, and the drunkenness is funnier. But these Chinese texts are regarded as either more or less, somewhat religious and not properly philosophical and deserving consideration alongside the Western canon (the former), or classical literature of the populist kind, again not proper philosophy (the latter), both things it’s pretty easy to say about the Symposium.
About a week ago, a quote from Chuang Tzu turned up on The Useless Tree (another shortly after explaining just how useless the tree is). There are things I don’t want to write about here, that on occasion in the past I did, and short of starting another blog, I doubt at the moment I will even venture to explain why. Which doesn’t mean I don’t read and think and get angry and upset and…
I was thinking about people I’d forgotten when I was reading Stone Butch Blues, thinking about one in particular, a tough Maori butch named Dutchess. She’d been a street kid, and… I wrote to Gala about her, “she was staunch and when she decided she was your friend she’d never throw you away, it took time to get to that though. And she’d stand up to anyone who showed her disrespect.”
Somehow in the last few weeks amidst everything that’s been written on these and other blogs, I’m reminded of her…
I don’t know what else to say so I’ll say nothing.
We’re cast into this human form, and it’s such happiness. The human form knows change, but the ten thousand changes are utterly boundless. Who could calculate the joys they promise?
And so the sage wanders where nothing is hidden and everything is preserved. The sage calls dying a blessing and living long a blessing, calls beginnings a blessing and endings a blessing. We might make such a person our teacher, but there’s something the ten thousand things belong to, something all change depends upon – imagine making that your teacher. (87)