Friday, July 23, 2004

Reading Laozi, and considering the value of individual Chinese ideograms, Pound came to mind. And sideways from that, I remembered Zhuangzi (an early and especially irreverent 'Daoist,' though from what I remember the term wasn't really in use when he lived, maybe 300 b.c.?), and how he often took Confucius to task for his reliance on rules as the arbiters of virtue. Zhuangzi’s basic attitude towards the Confucians was "look, by making all these rules and imposing them on people in the name of virtue, you create evil, non-virtue. First, you create an environment where people look to superficialities instead of realities. Hypocrites thrive; for in such an environment who can tell a bandit from an honest ruler? You confuse people as to what is good or bad within themselves, by distancing people from themselves and their innate natures. Violence of all sorts goes unbounded, cloaked in piety. Better to let people be themselves; and then all will be fine."

This is a clumsy paraphrase but it will serve. My sense is that this critique, thousands of years old, can be used to understand Pound, in his adoption of Confucianism, and in his adoption of Fascism. EP was looking, in his poetry as well as in his (political) life, for some sort of VERY reliable order—a code, even—by which everything could be understood. Josh Corey in some earlier posts had some deft reasonings regarding EP's see-no-evil hero-worship, and these tendencies seem of a piece. In general, Pound did not like messiness, and seems to have been disposed towards favoring ideas over people. This is what Zhuangzi, and the Daoists in general, criticized Confucius for, which might be an interesting connection for someone who knows more about Pound’s actual use of Confucius and Chinese to develop and inform me of (ah, the daydreams of a lazy literati! or is it literatus?).

Sidenote: The kind of criticism Zhuangzi had for Confucius was collegial, and he had a very high opinion of the man’s teachings, from what I remember. The divisions of philosophy and thought in China don’t seem as strict as they were/are in the Western world: Confucian Buddhists would have no problem going to a Daoist priest for healing etc. Zhuangzi, who taught by parables which almost always involved nature, might use Confucius as a wise and knowing character in one parable, and as less-than-wise-in-the-Dao in the next.

btw, Zhuangzi is most famous in English as the guy who wrote “A person lives in the Dao as a fish lives in water.” He’s also the guy who dreamt he was a butterfly . . .er the butterfly who dreamt . . . well, you know. A nonchalant selflessness was his ideal. Again, I probably should go research before posting this, but there’s only so many hours in this man’s day, and I know at least roughly what I write is right.

Borrowing from this link, as translated by Patricia Ebrey, here’s the man at his own death:

When Zhuangzi was about to die, his disciples wanted to bury him in a well-appointed tomb. Zhuangzi said, ''I have the sky and the earth for inner and outer coffins; the sun and the moon for jade disks; the stars for pearls; and the ten thousand things for farewell gifts. Isn't the paraphernalia for my burial adequate without adding anything?"

''We are afraid the crows and kites will eat you, master," a disciple said.

"Above ground, I will be eaten by crows and kites; below ground by ants. You are robbing from the one to give to the other. Why play favorites?”

And this one, from this link, pretty much sums it up: 

There were three friends
Discussing life.
One said:
"Can we live together
and know nothing of it?
Work together
and produce nothing?
Can people fly around in space
and still forget to exist
World without end?"

The three friends looked at each other
and burst out laughing.
They had no explanation.
Thus they were better friends than before.

Then one friend died.
Confucius sent a disciple
to help the other two
Chant the traditional funeral ritual.

His disciple found that one of them had composed a song.
While the other played the lute,
They sang:

"Hey, Sung Hu!
Where'd you go?
You have gone
Where you were before.
And we are here--
Damn it! We are here!"

Then the disciple of Confucius burst in on them and exclaimed:
"May I inquire where in the funeral ritual it allows you
to sing so irreverently in the presence of the departed?"

The two friends looked at each other, smiled, and said:
"Well trained in liturgy,
but the poor fellow doesn't understand life and death!"

What's funny is, I could see Pound the poet, as I know him, enjoying this bit of drama.

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