UNDER HEAVEN LXXIII

Huizi’s writings “filled five carts”. That’s a lot of blabber—I’ll never catch up.

“Viewing Huizi’s skills against the Dao of Heaven and Earth, they look like the busy labors of a mosquito or fly. What use are they to other creatures?”

We might rather ask, What use were they to Huizi? Why this presumption that they must be useful to others? And why would they need to be of any use at all? Could we say that they can be viewed as useful in both their usefulness and uselessness? Could we dispense with this utilitarian point of view altogether? If, so, how so? If not, why not? Go deep enough and you’ll discover a Daoist sensibility here. It’s all about you.

Putting Huizi’s actual intentions aside for the moment, since I see writing as a kind of “spiritual” practice, its value is primarily personal. Any benefit to others is purely incidental. Otherwise, I would be proselytizing, would I not? And that is a most un-Daoist activity. Admittedly, it helps to imagine that someone reads and enjoys this. And of course, as between daos, there are “no sealed borders” between our various possible intentions. Like right and wrong, it’s all “hopelessly tangled up”.

But what did Huizi get from his labors? How could we know? Given human nature, however, it is likely that he got the ephemeral satisfaction of thinking himself “someone”, as the Tianxia repeatedly suggests. And given that that is what everyone else on the planet is also doing (with the possible exception of that sage who subsists on wind and dew) it’s hard to fault him overmuch.

But to answer the author’s question, we can think of several occasions when his labors were useful to others. They were most useful to Zhuangzi, as we have seen. They were useful to the author, because they gave him someone to criticize and thus to have a definitive other by which to establish his own “someone”. And they are useful to me, since I get to write about him, and do the same. So, it turns out that Huizi’s five carts of blabber—even though all lost—were and continue to be most useful indeed.

It is ironic that Huizi’s most persistent criticism of Zhuangzi was that his ideas were “big but useless”. Presumably, he thought his own ideas useful, though we don’t know in what way he thought so. Deconstruction is indeed useful, but conventional wisdom would only say so when there is also reconstruction, something that Huizi apparently did not bother to do.

For his part, Zhuangzi would understand that deconstruction was itself already reconstruction, and vice versa. (2:21)

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