THE LIBERATION OF THE WELL FROG IX

Zhuangzi:  We had best get to your take on the liberation of the well frog—all this wine is making me groggy and I need to take a celestial nap.

Scott:  Okay. But I was hoping we could discuss more about the relativizing of all value and discriminations—I mean it seems to me that that’s the real strength and beauty to be found in this passage.

Zz:  I agree. Maybe we could do that the next time I wander this way. And I’d also enjoy some back and forth about the “happiness of fish” that’s also in this chapter. But then I’ve got all eternity in which to blabber, while you—poor thing—are getting pretty long in the tooth.

Scott:  Yeah, well, “in the writing of books there is no end”, but this one will have an end. So where should we start? Context—as you have said?

Zz:  So there are a bunch of stories appended to this dialogue between the River God and the Ocean God—and most of them deal with my favorite subject . . .

Scott:  You.

Zz:  Yeah, me. But they aren’t really about me, of course, but about someone else’s version of me. In any case, your well frog story is embedded in one of these stories and is used as a metaphor for the vast difference between the understanding of the “Logician” Gongsun Long (that great deconstructor of language) and my own. My understanding is vast—I “begin in the dark obscurity, and return to the Great Openness”. His is like that of a well-frog—narrow and self-contained—an incredibly circumscribed world-view that takes itself as the best and vastest.

Scott:  I like that description of your understanding. You begin in not-knowing and end in One Big Open-endedness.

Zz:  So do I! Only I would call it my imagined understanding. So, though the author has his protagonist Prince Mou tell Gongsun Long that he’d do best to just forget my imagined understanding, you would liberate him and his analogical well-frog. And how would you do that?

Scott:  Hmm. I’m not sure that they can be liberated—or even that they need to be. What interests me is what form that liberation would take, if they were liberated. And I already mentioned my conclusion at the beginning of this conversation—the well-frog is liberated right there in his well. He doesn’t fly out the top of the well and swim in the vast ocean. He doesn’t attain knowledge of the ocean, or anything else. It all has to do with perspective, and a transformation of perspective is still an imagined perspective.

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