CONSIDER “VANISHING” HERE: A REVIEW OF ZIPORYN’S “PENUMBRA UNBOUND: THE NEO-TAOIST PHILOSOPHY OF GUO XIANG”

After three readings of Penumbra I can say that, after Ziporyn’s Zhuangzi: The Essential Writings, it has most influenced my own philosophical response to Zhuangzi.
The first three introductory chapters are themselves worth the price of the book. Ziporyn has a way of bringing fresh insight into the heart of the Daoist project; one never finds the common (and superficial) hackneyed repetition of the “principles” of Daoist philosophy.
Why Guo Xiang’s philosophy does not more immediately interest sinologists today completely escapes me. That it was essentially rejected by subsequent Ruists (Confucians) and Daoists, only testifies to its positively radical character. I wonder if the same might be said of Ziporyn’s work as well, at least in that it is not discussed more widely.
Ziporyn makes clear that Guo often misrepresented parts of the Zhuangzi, but since he took his edition as representing a single voice this was unavoidable, and can often be helpful in demonstrating how those voices themselves diverged from the spirit of Zhuangzi’s philosophy. In any case, whether we completely agree with his interpretation of Zhuangzi or not, much of its more radical elements seem to be a profoundly practical, yet mystical, “next step” in harmony with Zhuangzi.
One does wish for a complete translation of Guo’s commentary for one’s own study and to compare with Ziporyn’s spin, but it is not for us to tell a scholar what work he or she must do.
I would recommend this study as essential to anyone with a desire to better understand Zhuangzi or classical Chinese philosophy generally. It is not an easy read, but this is because Ziporyn always takes us to the edge of what the mind can fathom.

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