Book of Interest: The Paradox of Being: Truth, Identity, and Images in Daoism by Poul Andersen

Please see below or the publisher page for further information.

About This Book

The question of truth has never been more urgent than today, when the distortion of facts and the imposition of pseudo-realities in the service of the powerful have become the order of the day. In The Paradox of Being Poul Andersen addresses the concept of truth in Chinese Daoist philosophy and ritual. His approach is unapologetically universalist, and the book may be read as a call for a new way of studying Chinese culture, one that does not shy away from approaching “the other” in terms of an engagement with “our own” philosophical heritage.

The basic Chinese word for truth is zhen, which means both true and real, and it bypasses the separation of the two ideas insisted on in much of the Western philosophical tradition. Through wide-ranging research into Daoist ritual, both in history and as it survives in the present day, Andersen shows that the concept of true reality that informs this tradition posits being as a paradox anchored in the inexistent Way (Dao). The preferred way of life suggested by this insight consists in seeking to be an exception to ordinary norms and rules of behavior which nonetheless engages what is common to us all.

About the Author

Poul Andersen is Associate Professor of Chinese Religions at the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa.

4 replies on “Book of Interest: The Paradox of Being: Truth, Identity, and Images in Daoism by Poul Andersen”

  1. Bill Haines says:

    “a new way of studying Chinese culture, one that does not shy away from approaching “the other” in terms of an engagement with “our own” philosophical heritage.”

    Would that be new?

    • Poul Andersen says:

      It could be. But in order to determinate that, you would have to look into the book itself, as opposed to simply asking a four-word rhetorical (and apparently sarcastic) question referring to a truncated version of one sentence in the book description in the publisher’s catalogue and on the cover of the book. In the opening parts of the book, the author discusses how he seeks a departure from some dominant traditional ways of doing Sinology in terms of the notion of a radical distinction between East and West, and from widespread notions about “Orientals” among some of (even the most reputable) Western philosophers. Would that be something new? Does it have to be? You tell me.

    • Bill Haines says:

      Thank you, Poul!

      I was not commenting on the book, nor asking a rhetorical question, nor being sarcastic, and I am sorry for having given that impression. I suppose I was expressing surprise.

      In the past this blog was almost wholly for discussion rather than announcements; and I cling to the legacy. I was trying to start a conversation (with anyone) on whether it would be new for Westerners to study Chinese culture (philosophy) “in terms of an engagement with” Western philosophical heritage, as the blurb, the blog post, seemed to say. I wasn’t sure I understood that language, but I thought I should be brief at first.

      I don’t know the field well; my own involvement with it is only with a small corner, not really including Daoism or the controversy about “truth.” But my impression is that a concern to find ways in which Chinese and Western traditional gears could engage has always been a leading part of the Western study of Chinese philosophy. I don’t know whether what the blurb is calling new is this or something else.

      Granted, surely some very prominent long-deceased Western philosophers have been casual about “Orientals.” And granted, as I’ve commented earlier on this blog, there is at least some ugly racism still to be found among big names in Western sinology. I can’t get out of my head the moment in a PBS documentary I saw just a few years ago, on the archaeology of early China, when a scholar commenting on an important dig in or beyond China’s far West, containing something suggestive of very early Chinese culture, told the viewers with excitement that the people whose relics these were “may have been white!” And granted, as I’ve commented earlier on this blog, there has been an enduring myth of a still-to-be-bridged divide between China and the West – a Western myth that China and the West continue to be for each other the unexplored country –that we are new to each other even today. But none of those points, except maybe the last, would be prima facie relevant to my question. I wasn’t asking whether lack of engagement is old, or still common; I was asking whether engagement would be new.

      You raise a new question: “Would it have to be [new]? You tell me.” I say, of course study with engagement would not have to be new in order for it to be good. But something would have to be new in order for one of the blurb’s main claims to be true. The post put the question on the table. Still, strictly speaking, the language can be read to say, not that study with engagement would be new, but only that a certain mode of study with engagement not there specified would be new. And then to understand the claim one would have to look inside the book or ask.

      Of course the bare question whether some blurb or post is misleading is of no interest. What could be interesting or exciting is the substance: is there something important that could be described in the terms of the blurb/post that would be new to the Western study of Chinese philosophy?

    • Bill Haines says:

      Here’s another way to put the question: The blurb/post appears to impugn all or most previous Western work on Chinese philosophy by saying that it avoids terms of engagement, and I would like to know whether others agree (or whether I’ve misunderstood).

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