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Reviews423 Chuang-Tzu for Spiritual Transformation: An Analysis of the Inner Chapters, by Robert E. Allinson; 203 pp. Albany: State University of New York Press, 1989, $39.50 cloth, $12.95 paper. One ofthe marks ofa truly profound work ofphilosophy is that it can survive the ordeal of translation and inspire significant comment and controversy among readers of a wholly different language and culture. The Chuang Tzu, the collection of writings connected with the early Chinese Taoist philosopher of that name, is surely such a work, as testified, among other things, by these essays by Robert Allinson, professor of philosophy of The Chinese University of Hong Kong. Professor Allinson's book offers both a review and critique of earlier discussions of Chuang Tzu's ideas in English, and his own interpretation of the Taoist philosopher's provocative but often elusive and seemingly contradictory writings. In reviewing earlier treatments of Chuang Tzu's philosophy by Western writers, Allinson takes particular note of the number of persons who have characterized Chuang Tzu as a relativist and, quite righdy, I think, objects to the use of this term as a description of Chuang Tzu's philosophy as a whole. Certainly in criticizing the philosophical discussions of his time, Chuang Tzu adopts the stance of a relativist, because his aim is to show that logical debate and reasoning do not and cannot lead to an understanding of higher truth as he defines it. But this is simply a part ofhis assault upon the validity oflanguage itself. Philosophical debate in his view can lead only to relative values and truths because language itself is purely relative in nature. Just because Chuang Tzu vigorously waves us away from such an avenue of approach, however, is no indication that he holds all truth to be relative or that he has no other approach to recommend. Allinson focuses his attention on the Inner Chapters, the first seven chapters of the Chuang Tzu, which are regarded as the most authoritative section of the work. In discussing the myths and monster metaphors that abound in these chapters, he examines the way in which such metaphors function in the text and argues that they are deliberately designed to turn off the analytical mind and appeal instead to the intuitive and aesthetic mind of the reader. They represent, in other words, attempts to circumvent the shortcomings of conventional language and logic and encourage the reader to make a leap of the imagination, to soar into the realm of the Tao or the Way, where truth is no longer relative. It is these aspects ofAllinson's discussion that interested me most, his analyses of the literary devices of the text and their philosophical implications and effectiveness, particularly the brilliant concluding chapter, "The Goose That Cackled," which is a work of literature in its own right. In the anecdote upon 424Philosophy and Literature which this is based, there are two geese, one that cackles and one that does not, and one is to be killed for a guest's supper. Which should it be? The host elects to kill the silent goose, and Chuang Tzu approves the choice, despite all he has said earlier about "the use ofthe useless" or the need to stay out ofthe limelight. Allinson argues that Chuang Tzu is here deliberately flouting his earlier rules in order to warn the reader against making pat assumptions about his philosophy , against following any fixed set of rules, even Chuang Tzu's, instead of responding spontaneously to each new situation as it arises. As often pointed out, the Chuang Tzu is in a sense a poem, perhaps the finest in the language ofancient China, and one at times tends to feel that any attempt to analyze it in logical terms will somehow do violence to the text or trivialize its message. Allinson's essays demonstrate, however, that this need not be the case, and that analysis can actually help to bring out beauties of the work that would otherwise go unnoticed. This is not to say that I agree at all points. I do not, for example, see the need for his elaborate reconstruction of the famous passage on the butterfly dream. In...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 423-424
Launched on MUSE
2011-10-05
Open Access
No
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