Daoism has been presented in the West in so many ways: from the mythologic/folkloric (see esp. EJ Girardot) to the philosophic (esp. Chad Hansen) to practices such as Tai Chi and Chinese medicine (see your Yellow Pages). This book is a wide ranging exploration of how Daoism may stimulate meanings and perspectives in science, ethics, spirituality, politics, the arts, philosophy and health.
Clarke's book allows the Western reader to better contact Daoism by an awareness of the contexts in which we read and experience Daoist texts and practices. He shows how we may misinterpret, misapply, sometimes just miss what the Daoist tradition offers because of assumptions and perceptions from Western history and theory, as well as differences in language. His aim is not so much to correct distortions as to appreciate cultural and philosophic differences as essential to scholarly and personal experience and meaning. He hopes that we encounter Daoism (or any Other we may want to understand) through a continuing dialogue "in which meaning is a function of the interaction between the two." He doesn't advocate a better Eastern Way for the West. What I believe he'd anticipate from the interaction is the kind of spontaneous and unpredictable re-constituting effects upon each of the traditions as has been observed from the vantage of chaos theory and the Daoist hun dun.
Clarke questions the "ism" of Daoism. He persuasively argues it developed differently from the Western tradition of wars or antagonisms among religious sects or doctrines, that it fluidly interacted with Confucianism and Buddhism in China.
Among facets of Daoism explored by Clarke, I note:
-Science and the natural world: "In process philosophy, a way of thinking chiefly associated with A.N. Whitehead, emphasis is placed on universal flux and on the idea of an open, creative universe in which order is seen as `emergent', arising out of the mutual adjustment of natural processes within a synergistic whole, an `aesthetic' rather than a `logical' or `transcendent' order, as some have termed it. ... Nature, in this Daoist/Whiteheadian view is therefore `an inexhaustible field of creative potential.' ... As with Chinese thought in general, it is concerned primarily with placing human life firmly within the wider domain of nature and cosmos, and `seeks to recapture a sense of the cosmic context of human life--that man's well-being is primarily related to and defined by nature even while he lives within the cultural order'." (p. 66)
-Politics: What I find really cool is not just Daoism's "robust individualism, its anarchist radicalism, and its decentralist, anti-statist tendencies," but especially how "the privileging of non-violent activities and attitudes in Daoist traditions is not based on a high estimation of the virtues of meekness and humility, but rather on a belief that violence is a form of weakness, not of strength ..." (p. 110)
-Spirituality: This realm has been divided in the West from materialism, which contrasts with Daoism in fascinating ways: "... we tend to overlook the fact that in Daoism there is a general indeterminacy in the ordering of events; and we fail to appreciate that the interdependence of things requires no externally initiated cosmic source, no Leibnizian pre-established harmony but a harmony which arises spontaneously. ...[F]or the Daoist, the spiritual quest is one which seeks not to go beyond the particularity of things to their ultimate source, but rather to discover unity with the dao within that very particularity, within the flux and flow of existence itself." (pp. 161-2)
-Acceptance of the body: Contrasting the body's renunciation in much of the Buddhist and Christian traditions, Daoism places the body at the center of it all.
The book is accessible to the non-academic, but familiarity with 20th century currents in Western philosophy is almost necessary for parts of it. Though a scholar may find some historical or philosophical flaw, or someone may disagree over some of Clarke's explorations (e.g., of parallels in postmodernism), the benefits of his work shouldn't be missed. After more than a decade, the book still points to the potential of Daoism to catalyze creativity, meaning and ethics. Lest you think it's about archaic texts and art, see the art of Haegue Yang, whose current exhibition in Aspen (Haegue Yang) draws from Daoism. Her work is just the kind of unpredictable and inspired interaction Clarke would hope for.
- Paperback: 288 pages
- Publisher: Routledge (24 April 2000)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0415206200
- ISBN-13: 978-0415206204
- Product Dimensions: 15.6 x 1.6 x 23.4 cm
- Boxed-product Weight: 481 g
- Average Customer Review: Be the first to review this item
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 299,742 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)