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Sunday, February 14, 2010

("The Tao is in the dung," said Chuang Chou.)

To the Taoists, humor was what paradox is to Chesterton: a manifestation of divinity. Tao fa tsu-jan: "The Tao just happens." (Footnote to this: The entire passage reads: Jen fa ti, ti fa ti'en, ti'en fa Tao, Tao fa tsu-jan. "Man is subject to earth, earth is subject to heaven, heaven is subject to Tao, Tao is subject to spontaneity." In short, determinism on one level results from chance on another level, as in thermodynamics.) Whether you call this Organicism and wax as self-consciously profound as Whithead, or call it Materialism and get as self-righteously priggish as the American Association for the Advancement of Atheism, you still miss the point. That the Tao just happens, that it has no purpose or goal, no regard for man's self-importance ("Heaven treats us like straw dogs," Lao-Tse says) - this is not a gloomy philosophy at all. When one understands this fully, on all levels of one's being, the only possible response is to have a good laugh. Taoist humor results from realization that the recognition of the most joyous truth of all seems to the egocentric man (you and I) frightening and gloomy.

Joyce is nowhere more thoroughly Taoist then when he answers all the paradoxes and tragedies of life with the brief, koan-ish "Such me." Genial bewilderment ("Search me!") and calm acceptance ("Such I am") meet here as they meet nowhere else but in Taoism, and its intellectual heirs, Zen and Shinshu Buddhism and the neo-Confucianism of Chu Hsi. We cannot understand; neither can we escape - "Such me." (page 597)

It is this attitude - which women seem to be able to grasp much more easily than men - that gives Finnegans Wake its air of goofy impartiality. The Buddhist (outside of the Zen school) labors strenuously to rise over the opposites; the Taoist dissolves them into a good horse-laugh. Joyce's method is Taoistic. "Sonnies had a scrap;" "Now a muss was the little face;" "You were only dreamond, dear" - the tolerant, existentialist female voice, vastly unimpressed by masculine abstractions and ideologies, breaks in at every point where a Big Question is being debated. The Zen Patriarch who said, when he was asked for religious instruction, "When you finish your meal, wash your plates," had this attitude.


-robert anton wilson, joyce and tao

1 comment:

  1. I find the idea that "women seem to be able to grasp [this attitude] much more easily than men" very interesting. Unfortunately, I think I've always been tremendously self-conscious and egotistical when it comes to the "big question" debates of philosophy and religion: I want in, to hear and be heard. Relegation to the kitchen brings on a tantrum. But this "tolerant, existentialist female voice, vastly unimpressed by masculine abstractions and ideologies... breaking in at every point" is very appealing, almost an adversary figure, a conflation of Sophia and the devil, with a dash of the Wife of Bath. I like her. Thanks for the insight.

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