As I attempt to write this next book I am constantly challenged by my sense of inadequacy, just as I have been with every previous similar endeavor. I am, quite frankly, not really up to the task. I lack the scholarship, the intellectual capacity, and the will to do the very hard work that attempting to at least partially overcome these deficiencies would require. I am an amateur. Yet I continue nevertheless. For the most part, this is because this is how I teach myself. The idea that any of what I write will be of genuine use to you the reader is secondary, if for no other reason than that even the best of writing would probably fail of that goal in any case. Perhaps I’ve set the bar too high, but I really don’t see much point in writing, except as pertains to one’s own edification, if it makes no real difference in the world.
Still, I believe I have something to contribute. Though I lack the courage to even peruse my own copy of ALL IS WELL IN THE GREAT MESS, I believe there are significant insights within it that might at least suggest new lines of inquiry among scholars and inspire my peers to pursue their own philosophy of life along similar, though necessarily divergent, lines.
I do find some encouragement in the madman Jieyu’s contributions to classical Chinese philosophy. He is twice mentioned in the Inner Chapters, first as one who relates a fantastic vision of a sage, and then as singing a derisive song to Confucius. In the first, his credulity becomes an occasion for a critique of its twin sister, incredulity—belief and disbelief being of the same genus and their transcendence being a matter of the spirit. The second is a parody of the story as it appears in the Analects (18:5) and criticizes Confucius for his political ambitions and the inflexibility of his path. We might profitably ask why his ridicule was included in the Analects, a book devoted to the exaltation of Confucius. We are told that it has to do with Confucius’ virtue of timeliness (which Zhuangzi disputes) and as a means to answering the criticisms of an emerging Daoist challenge. But whatever the specific reasons we find Jieyu here or in the Zhuangzi I would suggest that it is because even in his madness he had a contribution to make.
In a world where nothing can ever be fully and comprehensively understood–which amounts to not really being understood at all, even the stammerings of an amateur might have something helpful to say.