ZHUANGZI DISSES THIS BLOG IV

Scott:  If the story of a shadow conversing with its own shadow—Penumbra—can illuminate the dynamics of my conversation with you—a dead guy—then it’s on you to do make the connection. I love the story, but find it near impossible to understand.

Zhuangzi:  That’s quite an admission given that you’ve “explained” it on several occasions. But if it makes you feel any better, I don’t understand it all that well either.

Scott:  You made it up, but you don’t understand it?

Zz:  Honestly, sometimes you are so dense! If I were a Zen master your head would be covered in knots. Its value is in that I don’t understand it, not in that I can or do. But its applicability here is a bit different than its overall intent—which is to question causation and to suggest the self-so-ness of things. Do you know how Penumbra literally translates?

Scott: If Ziporyn is right, it means “neither of the two”.

Zz: He got it right. Penumbra is neither the person who makes the shadow nor that shadow. It is neither this nor that. Its identity is unfixed. It is totally dependent on the other two, yet somehow is uniquely and non-dependently itself. It is neither real nor unreal, neither substantial nor insubstantial. Can you see how that applies here?

Scott:  I put words in the mouth of a dead guy, and they are neither my words nor his. They seem real, but are somehow empty. They are real but somehow unreal.

Zz: Exactly! They are something new—something said, but clearly unfixed. Can you see how this applies to your entire enterprise of engaging with my writing?

Scott:  You meant something specific when you wrote, but when I try to understand it I bring my own needs and presuppositions into it, and thus what comes out is neither what you said, nor what I think, but something new and unfixed to either of us.

Zz:  Yes! And how does it apply to me and what I wrote?

Scott: Hmm, I need to think on that one. What you wrote and what you experienced and knew were not the same—the product was neither of the two. You were creating something new and . . . you weren’t what you were imagining? It was just an exercise to move you in a particular direction!

Zz:  You got it! I wasn’t a “sage” telling you how it is, but a guy just like you creating the vacuum—the space between the real and unreal—the qi!—that could move me where I wanted to go.

Scott:  So that means I can stop apologizing for not walking my talk!

Zz:  Well, in your case the gap is so vast that it might be a good idea to make the occasional disclaimer.

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