As previously mentioned, Genuine Pretending is very much about wrestling “the” philosophy of the Zhuangzi away from the imposition of modern interpretive models that are largely inconsonant with the book in its historical context. Heidegger’s authentic being (self) is especially critiqued. A quote sums it up:

“One of our intentions in this book is to liberate Zhuangzi from Heidegger’s all-too-tight and all-too-constraining –and, even more uncomfortably, all-too-German and all-too-serious –embrace.”

The most telling aspect of this embrace is seriousness. Readers might remember that I have often spoken of seriousness as antithetical to Zhuangzian wandering. The whole point is to be free from all attachment to anything—life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness—Truth, belief, self, enlightenment. It is total unconditional non-dependence. This does not mean that we cannot care deeply about many things—we can, and to do so is to be human. Only we can also rest secure in the meta-perspective that, well, “all is well in the great mess”. We “hide the world in the world where nothing can be lost”, but our failure to do even this can be wandered in. We don’t depend on wandering; we can wander in our inability to wander. No need to get overly serious about any of this.

Seriousness is most germane to the authors’ argument because they understand Zhuangzi as responding to the Confucian seriousness that dominated the era. Confucian “role-ethics” not only required that one do the duties of a good son, for example, but also that one actually be a good son in the deepest reaches of one’s heart. This is to be serious. This sounds entirely affirmable on the surface, but the end result, according to the authors, is to put one in a perpetual bind of not living up to such a high standard. One should not do something because it’s right, but because one is right; yet we are all steeped in our inadequacies and hypocrisies. It is, moreover, an even greater transgression to do the right thing to at least appear to be good. Confucius’ project was thus doomed to failure. What’s to be done?

Zhuangzi (and other “Daoists”) replied that we can both play the game of doing what society believes to be the right thing and remain free from taking any of it too seriously. We can genuinely pretend. We can play the game of life, follow the rules as necessary, try our best, yet never depend on outcomes, whether winning or losing, for our enjoyment.

My analogy of a game of chess is worth repeating. Without a first level seriousness about the game wherein we try our best, wish to win, follow the rules and don’t cheat there would be no game. Yet on a second level, a meta-level where all things are equalized, there is no seriousness at all. Indeed, there’s nothing like a game of anything to bring us face to face with this possible dynamic. The egoic-self, which takes itself—its supposed being—far too seriously, is easily identified when our play is really no play at all.

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