The authors of Genuine Pretending make extensive use of Brook Ziporyn’s work on Zhuangzi, and that, not surprisingly, immediately endears me to their book since I think Ziporyn really gets what Zhuangzi was all about.


One theme of Ziporyn’s take on Zhuangzi is the idea of the sage being like a “wild card”. This can be found at https://www.hackettpublishing.com/zhuangziphil. Ironically, I have never really warmed to this explanation of the sage’s “genuine pretending”—largely because I find it too complicated for my not-so-philosophically-astute mind. The gist of this metaphor is that the sage, being unfixed from any point of view or identity can adapt so as to represent whatever is helpful in any given “hand”. She acts like a “wild card”.


Though the authors find this helpful, they prefer their own designation of the sage as a “joker”. This amounts to the same thing, though it adds the important dimension of the sage’s lack of seriousness as evinced in Zhuangzi’s own presentation of his philosophy. He too was a joker. And here again the authors turn to Ziporyn, specifically his translation of the title of the book from which Zhuangzi claims he got his first wild story about the flight of Peng from Oblivion to Oblivion—The Equalizing Jokebook. (1:3) The implication is that Zhuangzi’s entire work is itself a big joke—a joke with a purpose, an equalizing joke book.


Genuine Pretending thus devotes a great deal of time to a discussion of humor and irony to demonstrate that Zhuangzi used both to overturn the seriousness of the Confucians and with it all religious seriousness. But he did not just tear things down for fun; he wished to suggest another way of being in the world. He wished to suggest a way of carefree wandering unattached to dogma and egoistic self-building.


The psychological dynamic of irony is perhaps one of the most telling attributes of the Zhuangzian mentality. Whatever one thinks, says or does is always tempered by an internal distancing, an awareness that however serious one’s involvement in something is (and many things are very serious matters indeed), there is also the liberating realization of the equalization of all things in “the vastest arrangement” where all is well in this Great Mess.


Yes. Thankfulness arises.

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