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Detour and Access: Strategies of Meaning in China and Greece

by François Jullien, Sophie Hawkes

Buy the book: François Jullien. Detour and Access: Strategies of Meaning in China and Greece

Release Date: 14 August, 2000

Edition: Hardcover


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Buy the book: François Jullien. Detour and Access: Strategies of Meaning in China and Greece

The art of grasping the mist

Jullien is a rare scholar. He has succeeded in presenting things Chinese to be interesting in a way that Western sensibility can (finally) understand. Equipped with vast erudition in both traditions, Jullien sets out to question for the Western mind the significance, ramifications, and benefit of going about doing and saying things in an oblique way.

He traces the canonical texts --Lao tse's Taotejing, Lun Yu, Zhuangtse, etc-- in which this sort of sensibility and praxis took on literary form. But as the topic is not a matter of philology but sensibility, he also draws large examples of the oblique as practiced in modern China under Mao.

The author writes that he was drawn initially to Chinese studies because, for him, China represented the ultimate Other--not as theory, not as deconstruction, not as rhetoric, but as STRUCTURE. His aim in this study undertaken here is to understand the Chinese way of getting a loose grip on things so as to better "control" them -- which in "Chinese" terms would mean, letting 'them' come naturally, ineluctably into the field of one's (secret) intentions, rather than forcing them to obey one's will.

Jullien points out the difficulty involved in grasping this "Chinese" phenomenon lies in the very way in which the Western languages operate. The West's habit is to tackle whatever straight on. Arguments lead to counter-arguments, and the whole agonistic process is hinged on both sides keeping a tight grip of the objective involved in the argumentation. Gong-ans (Koans) from Ch'an (Zen) Buddhism will give you some idea of asking/answering in manner that is utterly different from the Western.

Jullien shows how the tradition of logical argumentation in the West is directly related to that of warfare, and the rise of democracy among the Greek city-states. And he contrasts this history with the Chinese "art" of war by which an adversarial situation, for example, can be obliquely manipulated to bring the adversary to a condition not of DESTRUCTION but of DESTRUCTURATION. And so on.

He makes comparisons with ancient Greece for specific reasons to clarify what he is trying to show, which is something that flies outside the normal range of the Western sensibility/mind's radar. However, he is too sophisticated to go for that naively academic comparison that can only lead to the obvious after several hundred unnecessary pages of belabored indexing: Namely, 'A' is similar to 'B' in these many banal ways but different in those ways.
No, Jullien wants to keep his distance so that he may observe and describe that which moves without a clear, calculable vector. His aim is to secure and illuminate that which makes for 'originality,' which for him is another name for none other than 'culture.'
By using China as the living model of the Other, he manages to shed light on what in the West remains exceedingly difficult to see for the Westerner. His aim therfore, ultimately, is to create the space necessary for him and the Western reader to see what is truly unfamiliar about the West itself.
Refreshing and penetrating. Highly recommended as required reading to all who wish to go beyond the shallow media-hype about globalization and understand what really is necessary for a planetary understanding of humanity's intellectual diversity.

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