Here at the frontier, the leaves fall like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians, and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are still two cups at my table.

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~

Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Propensity of Things

I've mentioned several times that one of my favorite authors is Nassim Nicholas Taleb, the author of Fooled by Randomness and The Black Swan.

I read somewhere where one of his favorite authors is Francois Jullien, a French sinologist and the author of The Propensity of Things: Toward a History of Efficacy in China

The propensity of things. Understanding this opens the way to wu wei, effortless action.

Below are excerpts from a review at the MIT Press.

The Propensity of Things
Toward a History of Efficacy in China
Fran├žois Jullien
Translated by Janet Lloyd

In this strikingly original contribution to our understanding of Chinese philosophy, Fran&ccedille;ois Julien, a French sinologist whose work has not yet appeared in English uses the Chinese concept of shi—meaning disposition or circumstance, power or potential—as a touchstone to explore Chinese culture and to uncover the intricate and coherent structure underlying Chinese modes of thinking.

Jullien begins with a single Chinese term, shi, whose very ambivalence and disconcerting polysemy, on the one hand, and simple efficacy, on the other, defy the order of a concept. Yet shi insinuates itself into the ordering and conditioning of reality in all its manifold and complex representations. Because shi neither gave rise to any coherent, general analysis nor figured as one of the major concepts among Chinese thinkers, Jullien follows its appearance from one field to another: from military strategy to politics; from the aesthetics of calligraphy and painting to the theory of literature; and from reflection on history to "first philosophy."

At the point where these various domains intersect, a fundamental intuition assumed self-evident for centuries emerges, namely, that reality—every kind of reality—may be perceived as a particular deployment or arrangement of things to be relied upon and worked to one's advantage. Art or wisdom, as conceived by the Chinese, lies in strategically exploiting the propensity that emanates from this particular configuration of reality. 

While we're on the subject, I also want to highlight The Disputers of the Tao by Angus C. Graham. This book is a a history of philosophical thought in ancient China and really puts Daoism in context. This is really a classic.


walt said...

Been eyeballing Jullien's books for awhile, and wondered whether you knew of him. He certainly writes to subjects that interest!

Re: your Lenten Update -- it's when you can be effective though others around you are not, that you know your training is working. In turn, your stability is "real help" for others.

Rick Matz said...

I've got Jullien's books on my wish list. The next time I make a batch order for books, I'll get one of his.

Philosophy practiced is the goal of learning. - Thoreau

jc said...

thanks for passing along those authors...

Rick Matz said...

Perhaps I should post my favorite books on Zen and Daoism and ask visitors to leave comments stating their own?

Rick Matz said...

Perhaps I should post my favorite books on Zen and Daoism and ask visitors to leave comments stating their own?

Bernard Kwan said...

Perhaps you saw it here:)

Rick Matz said...

Actually, I take advantage of a feature of Blogger and have posts queued up in advance. Right now I have posts queued up through late February of next year. If I hit a dry spell, I don't have to worry about it for some time.

I had the post on The Propensity of Things already queued up.