WORDS VI

“But human speech is not just the blowing of air. Speech has something of which it speaks, something it refers to. Yes, but what it refers to is peculiarly unfixed. . . . You take it to be different from the chirping of baby birds. But is there really any difference between them?” (2:14)

To my thinking, this equation of human speech to the chirping of baby birds invites one of Zhuangzi’s most powerful imaginative exercises. Just going there for a moment can be truly mind-expanding. Being shaken out of our self-absorbed anthropocentrism can be an exhilarating experience.

What may seem at first like a negation can in fact be profoundly affirming. There is unity in Nature, and we are invited to experientially return to our participation in it. Ultimately, this entails the exchange of a fixed-identity for identification with “The Great Openness”. It’s a pretty good deal all in all.

Pascal’s Wager has relevance here: “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” Nothing beyond a temporal enhancement of the quality of life is “gained”, of course. (Pascal had salvation in mind.) All is as it is, in any event. No need to mend a cosmic rift is imagined.

There is, of course, also that sense in which human speech is different from the chirping of baby birds. It’s just that words cannot carry the weight of truth which we wish to place upon them. They are “peculiarly unfixed”. Their foundation is ultimately vacuous.

So let’s have fun with words. Let’s play the hand we’ve been dealt as best we can, while not taking things so seriously as to destroy all the fun.

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