Misch’s trans-perspectival Daoism
Misch’s thinking of the tensions between the typical and the unique is still salutary given contemporary discourses that continue to reduce the specificity of a form of lived-experience and reflection to a generic formula whether it is mysticism, skepticism, the perennial philosophy, or the question of being. Because of the specificity of their content and social-historical milieus, texts such as the Daodejing and the Zhuangzi resist being reduced to the abstract formula of Western categories such as mysticism and skepticism, and are often addressed with more nuance and depth in literature than in philosophy.56
Misch claims that early Daoism, which he interprets through the Daodejing and the Zhuangzi, differs as a philosophy focused on the question of the self from
Greek and Indian conceptions of the subject or self. Misch also distinguishes Daoism from mysticism. Daoism did not achieve the same results as Christian mysticism, or a formulaic definition of mysticism in general, since it cannot break with its own contextual conditions such as the broader formative concern in early China for ethics and politics. Misch is particularly concerned with the tensions between—to employ his vocabulary—the realistic power politics of the “realists” (legalists), the focus on a moral ideal of humanity and social integrity in Confucianism, the idealistic social reformism of Mohism and the multi-perspectivalism, and the emancipatory power of symbolic expression, and free sensibility of life evoked in the Zhuangzi.57 The tensions between these overlapping discourses form a pattern indicating the early Chinese concern for an immanent worldly understanding of life—whether understood naturalistically or culturally—and how to comport oneself and the community within the space between heaven and earth. The counter tendencies in such shared cultural matrices, for instance, of Buddhist non-self (andtman) vis-a-vis Hindu self (dtman) in South Asia, reveal the power of a dominant model in a given form of social-historical life.58
The plurality of feelings of life, perspectives, and arguments constitute a shared pattern constituted through its tensions and distinct responses to common questions that form focal points of this pattern. To this extent, each classical philosophical culture had its prevailing and countervailing tendencies toward understanding and articulating life. But, as one must ask of every “life- philosophy,” what is life? Life is in this hermeneutical context a structuring- structured nexus with myriad perspectives and possibilities for differentiation and integration, individuation and connectedness, in the hermeneutical Lebensphilosophie of Dilthey and Misch. Life can accordingly be experienced through nature in the sense ofphysis and cosmos in Greek thought, through the interiority of the subject in classical Indian philosophy, and through social and ethical community in early Chinese philosophy.
Notwithstanding Misch’s critical appreciation ofConfucius as a figure ofsocial- political enlightenment, it is Zhuangzi who has the first and last hermeneutical life-philosophical word. The “poet-thinker” Zhuangzi is a primary exemplar of philosophizing, as he provocatively challenges, expands, and reverses our perspectives and horizons. Zhuangzi functions a point for interrupting and reorienting the conditional perspective of the philosophers. The stories and paradoxes of Zhuangzi liberate us from our conditional limited perspectives through relativizing them and by immanently locating and articulating life from and in life itself: hiding the world in the world so as not to lose it.59
Misch’s intercultural hermeneutics can be described as intimating a more radical Zhuangzian perspectival art of interpretation that undoes the fixed identities and essences of ethnocentrism, including its relativistic and liberal forms. The Zhuangzian character of interpretation entails interrupting and going further than Misch’s hermeneutical perspective in interrupting the ethnocentric a priori, revealing through the transformation (hua ft) of perspectives and horizons its provincial, conditional, a posteriori character. Accordingly, for us reading Misch reading Zhuangzi, it is a Zhuangzian trans-perspectival strategy that is indicative and most appropriate for our contemporary intercultural hermeneutical situation and for articulating a new intercultural hermeneutics.