Los Angelese Review
Date: September 15, 2019
By: David E. Cooper, Paul J. D’Ambrosio, Hans-Georg Moeller
REVIEW BY DAVID COOPER:
THESE ARE GOOD TIMES for Daoism. In China, since the death of Mao, there has been a vigorous revival of an organized religious Daoism whose esoteric creeds and disciplines go back to the second century CE. Affiliated Daoist associations have sprung up in the West, and the religion continues to attract large numbers in Taiwan. Equally encouraging is the current lively interest, Chinese and Western alike, in the classic texts of Daoist philosophy, above all the Daodejing and the Zhuangzi, compiled in the fourth and third centuries BCE. This interest is not purely historical or textual. From Martin Buber and Martin Heidegger to the present day, philosophers find in these works insights into themes that loom large in modern metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics. Lay readers have been attracted to the two works by their apparent promotion of a godless, yet spiritual way of life marked, not least, by a harmonious and respectful relationship with the natural environment.
While the marvelously terse Daodejing is one of the most heavily translated of all books, it is in the Zhuangzi — originally attributed to the shadowy figure of Zhuang Zhou (c.369–286 BCE) — that recent philosophical interest is more pronounced. This is despite, or perhaps because of, the challenges it presents to readers, its dense passages of speculation interspersed with parables, jokes, and episodes whose points are often obscure. The book is, moreover, the work of many hands besides Zhuang Zhou’s, and there are tensions, if not contradictions, between its various emphases. There is, for example, a “primitivist” or “back to nature” streak in some chapters that is missing from others. [FULL STORY]