Mark Saltveit, professional comedian and author, guest-posted last year on comedy and Daoism. Subsequently, he published his thoughts on that topic with MeFiMag (available for download). Mark is back with some questions that he has about popular Daoism, to get some discussion and opinion from members of our forum. He plans to publish an article about this topic as well (note Mark’s comments below about seeking permission to quote or cite from those who comment in this forum). Please address all comments or questions directly to Mark.
Hello. I’m working on a feature article (for an intelligent general audience) about criticism of popular Daoist authors (particularly Ursula K. Le Guin and Benjamin Hoff) by certain academics of Eastern religion who are centered around the University of San Diego and the Center for Daoist Studies (http://www.daoistcenter.org/homepage.html).
Some of this criticism seems rather polemical, rooted in an anti-Orientalist critique of the concept of Philosophical Daoism as a Western (and arguably Protestant) gloss. (I’m using the term “Culturalists” as shorthand for this group, and positing Michael Saso as its founder.) Russell Kirkland calls Le Guin a “fraud” and Louis Komjathy won’t even write “Philosophical Daoism” without applying strikethrough to the words to show his disapproval. Kirkland goes so far as to argue that the Daodejing itself distorts Daoism, “sanitized” by its 3rd Century BCE redactor in a “marketing ploy” designed to strip it of “cultural baggage” and make it more presentable to Northern Chinese courts. Continue reading →
(Scott Barnwell continues his guest-posting on this topic. Here is Part II of Scott’s thoughts. This post also appears on his own blog. Please address Scott directly in your comments.)
The first person to be investigated will be Laozi 老子, the “Old Master”; his supposed text being the Laozi or the Daodejing 道德經 (The Classic on the Way and Its Power). Although the Laozi has long been regarded to be the work of more than one author in both China and the West, Sima Qian 司馬遷, in his biography of Laozi, gives no indication that he thought the text was written by more than one person. Although he reports that there was uncertainty about the actual author, he seems to have felt the most plausible one was Lao Dan 老聃, “Old Long-ears” (a.k.a. Li Er 李耳), the keeper of the Zhou archives from the southern state of Chu 楚 whom Confucius (551 – 479 B.C.E.) had gone to see. The words exchanged at this famous meeting are always different in the various accounts we encounter. The Lüshi Chunqiu, Zhuangzi, Liji, Hanshi Waizhuan, Xinxu, and Baihu Tong also all affirm that Lao Dan was a teacher of Confucius’; however, they do not suggest he was the author of the Laozi.
Continue reading →
(Scott Barnwell, a long time friend of the blog, will be guest-posting on this topic. Here is Part I of Scott’s thoughts. This post also appears on his own blog. Please address Scott directly in your comments.)
Daojia and Huang-Lao
Classical Daoism, Philosophical Daoism, Early Daoism: these terms are increasingly being seen as obsolescent by scholars in the last couple of decades. The general public – those who have heard of Daoism or have read a little bit of it – are largely unaware, despite the fact that for quite awhile writers have admitted that there were no “Daoists” in pre-Han China and that the two most famous “Daoists,” Laozi and Zhuangzi, surely never thought of themselves as Daoists. The more recent interest in what was once called “religious Daoism (Daojiao 道教),” as opposed to “philosophical Daoism (Daojia 道家),” has seen a shift towards using “Daoism” to refer only to the former.
In this series of blog posts I am going to explore this matter. First, I will look at the oldest evidence for a “Daoist school” in the Historical Records (Shiji 史記) and the Han Documents (Hanshu 漢書). Next I will look into both the text and the legendary man Laozi 老子, followed by Zhuangzi 莊子. Texts that will be mentioned along the way will include: the Laozi 老子, Zhuangzi 莊子, Hanfeizi 韓非子 (esp. Jie Lao 解老, Yu Lao 喻老), Lüshi Chunqiu 春秋左傳, Mengzi 孟子, Xunzi 荀子, Guanzi 管子 (esp. Neiye 內業), Huainanzi 淮南子, Heguanzi 鶡冠子, and the Huangdi Sijing 黃帝四經. I will also survey various scholars’ views on early Chinese “schools of thought.”
Continue reading →
I often wonder about the connections—or lack thereof—between some interesting and potentially mind-blowing metaphysical claim and what might be called (although I don’t like the phrase) “real life.” Lately, that wonder has been directed toward ways in which training in a practice such as taijiquan that at least purports to be meaningfully Daoist might inform and be informed by academic study of Daoist metaphysics.
I’ve had a bunch of different taijiquan teachers over the years. Some of them were widely read about Chinese culture and history. Others, not so much. For whatever it’s worth, only one them—my first taijiquan teacher, who taught Yang family style in Chapel Hill back in the late 90’s—was Chinese, and though I never found out how well-read he was, I have come to appreciate how deeply knowledgeable that old man was about both taijiquan and Chinese traditions. I feel like I learned a great deal from some of my teachers and that I managed to learn a bit less from others, but I’m grateful to all of them for offering me something important, and I suspect that I could have learned more from each and every one of them than I did, had I understood how to be a better student. In each case, the teacher taught with sincerity.
As I’ve tried to learn taijiquan, I’ve had various moments when I’ve had the opportunity to think about the connections between the practice I was learning and the Chinese philosophy I work on academically. Let me share two such incidents. Continue reading →
On a tip from friend of the blog and guest blogger, Mark Saltveit, here’s a link to a translation of the Zhuangzi by Livia Kohn. You can preview part of it by clicking on the “Google Preview.” Anyone know anything about this? It seems to have been translated for a non-academic press — not that there’s anything wrong with that. Any thoughts about Kohn’s translation choices, either based on the Google preview or from knowledge of the translation otherwise acquired?
From friend of the blog, Mark Saltveit who, among other things, is a professional stand-up comedian, we have a special guest post. Mark writes:
I’ve written about my profession of standup comedy as applied Daoism. I’ve just turned in a draft of this for editing to MefiMag, the print expression of the Metafilter website, who commissioned it. I would love to get feedback and corrections from your readers for my final version. (MefiMag doesn’t mind if this appears on the web before they print it.)
Mark will be replying to your comments himself. Enjoy.
Comedians as Taoist Missionaries
By Mark Saltveit
I’ve worked as a paid standup comedian on the West Coast for 12 years. It’s fascinating, rewarding, and usually compelling – but it’s still work. Comedians joke around a lot and are usually fun people, but the job itself is not especially amusing. I’ve heard that stripping and prostitution aren’t that sexy, either.
Continue reading →
Terry Kleeman and Steve Bokenkamp will be jointly offering an intensive, 3-week Summer Seminar this coming summer. They write:
This intensive reading seminar, introducing texts from the earliest Celestial Master petitions to manuscripts still in use among Daoist in Taiwan and China, will be held on the campus of the University of Colorado in Boulder from July 18 to August 5, 2011. We are looking for scholars who want to learn how to read Daoist texts and would like to expand their research and teaching to incorporate Daoist individuals, texts, teachings, and practices. There will also be an opportunity to participate in an anthology of translations from Daoist sources. The Seminar will be demanding but participants will be free to explore the mountains on weekends. NEH provides a $2,700 stipend to defer travel and living expenses; we expect housing on campus to run roughly $1150 (shared) or $1800 (single) per person.
For more information, see their website.
In comment #14 in this thread, I suggested that “parts of the Zhuāngzǐ are committed to a form of political liberalism, on which all individuals should be allowed to live, without government interference, in a way that comes naturally to and pleases them, provided they allow others to do so as well.”
It occurred to me that explicating this claim might make for an interesting post.
The Chinese political tradition is generally regarded as authoritarian, in cases even totalitarian, in both theory and practice. This view is one basis for certain claims about differences between traditional Asian and contemporary Western political cultures, which have sometimes been cited as grounds for resisting liberal democratic reforms in Asian countries. Continue reading →
Having finished the Daodejing section of my introductory course, one of my students said to me, “The Daoist sage doesn’t sound very friendly.” That caught me by surprise because I had always based my images of Daoist sages on the colorful — and it seems to me, friendly — figures in the Zhuangzi, including the image of Zhuangzi and Huizi having clever and fun conversations with each other. But I realized that my student was responding to the account in the Daodejing and that she was onto something. Continue reading →