Surprisingly, the Zhuangzi has its own article on the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, but after reading it, Hui and I thought it to be contrived or misinterpreted.
“Cook Ting was cutting up an ox for Lord Wen-hui… He slithered the knife…in perfect rhythm. “Ah, this is marvelous!” said Lord Wen-hui. “Imagine skill reaching such heights!”
A “Strange” Interpretation
Chad Hansen, the author of the Encyclopedia’s article who’s a private professor at Hong Kong University, wrote that the tale of Butcher Ting illustrates the “world-guided” behavior with which we performers can find ourselves and goes on to say that it “reminds us that such satisfying states of performance can be experienced in.. the most low caste…activities, including butchering… as well as in the finest of arts, and philosophy.” Yet, Zhuangzi didn’t write to endorse the notion of fine arts and base activities, nor did he to endorse the notion of satisfactory performances. In fact, I believe Zhuangzi wrote the passage of the Butcher to emphasize nondistinction by illustrating perfection in Tao-abiding behavior. If he sought to remind us about such worldly matters as satisfactory performances, then Zhuangzi would be contradicting nondistinction, one of the most central principles of the philosophy.
“What I care about is the Way, which goes beyond skill. When I first began cutting up oxen, all I could see was the ox itself…now I go at it by spirit…”
Interpretations Must Follow
It is true that Zhuangzi lends itself to many interpretations. After all, the book uses a lot of figurative language, and maybe it does as a way to explore and approximate ideas like the Tao, acting with inaction, and the value of uselessness. Still, analogies, questions, and other devices abound for a reason. The author meant certain ideas, and to neglect this is to interpret another work. The intention of the author must be given priority. It must frame its interpretations. If a 21st century philosopher inserts his inclinations and presuppositions, is it the Zhuangzi anymore? Perhaps, or perhaps not, but my point is that interpretations imparting presuppositions undermines the creation of the text and the philosophy itself.
“I go along with the natural makeup, strike in the big hollows, guide the knife through the big openings, and follow things as they are. So I never touch the smallest ligament or tendon, much less a main joint.”
I thought I ought to cite Mr. Hansen:
Hansen, Chad, “Zhuangzi”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2015 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), URL = <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/fall2015/entries/zhuangzi/>.
The practice of Interpretation is debatable, so if you concur, let me know if I’m in good company, and if not, then let me know why, but regardless, consider following Tao Practiced.