TOO MUCH INFORMATION

A Review of N. J. Girardot’s MYTH AND MEANING IN EARLY TAOISM

Doubtless this book is a must read for sinologists, if only to have done one’s necessary homework. For the unobliged layperson, on the other hand, it could easily be given a pass. Its principal focus is the mythological antecedents of hun-dun—primordial chaos. One succinct paragraph could have easily covered this topic for most purposes; instead we are treated to 400+ pages.

Girardot analyses a vast network of mythical stories and symbols, weaves them into a single narrative, and then interprets hun-dun as it appears in specific early Daoist texts accordingly. This assumes that an allusion is an equation; that when Zhuangzi speaks of the death of hun-dun, for example, he is endorsing the cosmogony and metaphysics of the myth to which he alludes. We are led to believe that no rupture with past thought or significantly new ideas are possible. Somehow Zhuangzi’s actual intended meaning remains unexamined.

Then, of course, Girardot treats all Daoist writings as in essential agreement with each other. This is about “Daoism” and must therefore have a single message. The Zhuangzi is understood as it can be taken to agree with the Laozi; the Inner Chapters are understood in the light of the Outer and Miscellaneous Chapters. No voice is truly unique.

All this having been said, Girardot obviously has a broad knowledge of his topic and the intellectual skills to organize it. Someone interested in the exhaustive complexity of the hun-dun myth complex, though often tenuously related, will find it here.

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