Zhuangzi and Huizi were strolling on a bridge over the River Hao, when the former observed, “See how the minnows dart between the rocks! Such is the happiness of fishes.”
“You not being a fish,” said Huizi, “how can you possibly know what makes fish happy?”
“And you not being I,” said Zhuangzi, “how can you know that I don’t know what makes fish happy?”
“If I, not being you, cannot know what you know,” replied Huizi, “does it not follow from that very fact that you, not being a fish, cannot know what makes fish happy?”
“Let us go back,” said Zhuangzi, “to your original question. You asked me how I knew what makes fish happy. The very fact you asked shows that you knew I knew – as I did know, from my own feelings [perception/observation] on this bridge.1
Commenting on this famous passage from the Chinese book “Zhuangzi” (chapter 17, one of the so called “outer chapters”, which were probably not written by master Zhuang personally as were the first seven “inner” chapters of the book), the French philosopher François Jullien states, a little bit embarrassed by the bad English translation, I proposed to discuss during our interview, that things are much simpler:
“There is neither perception nor observation, nothing. There is only ‘I know – I realise’ and the bridge over the river. The only verb is ‘to know – to realise’ but there are no choices in between feelings, perceptions or observations. This is the European psychological spectrum. The Chinese text speaks about the ground, the fundament, the stem, where there is no distinction between feelings, perceptions etc.
It is on this ground that I, Zhuangzi, can know the happiness of the fish.”2
So it’s this “ground” or “fundament” or “stem”, where there are no distinctions, demarcations, individuations, determinations and delimitations yet, which enables first of all communication, communitas. It’s the “foncier” or even the ‘fond(s)’ in French, which was translated as “foundation-fount” (Jane Marie Todd)3 and also “source”. I prefer to call it “ground”, although this should not allude to the Greek concept of hypokeimenon (material substratum or substance). I just want to evoke the common ground we all put our feet on, this ground beneath our feet, which we can also lose when spinning around and becoming dizzy. It is on this ground that “Inside” and “Outside” melt or merge in fusion.
This time, my blog entry will pertain to this “common ground”, the “foundation-fount”, the initial ambiguity that is preliminary to the interdisciplinary and intercultural communication in between different kinds of languages. Furthermore, this ambiguity and communication can be understood as preliminary to creation and innovation in the sense of a “new way”, a “new idea” or a “new image”.
In the end, dizziness will reappear as a resource to find a way to this “ground”, where ambiguity is at stake.
1. On compossibility
“…because in the end, dizziness, which I call ambiguity, is compossibility.”
In my last blog entry I’ve asked a question in the context of contemporary physics and its loss of observational certainty and perpetual laminar flows: What “language” is henceforth capable of describing the world as being in permanent transition? And how could we learn to “navigate within the Unknown” when there are neither given coordinates nor any defined positions and momentums?
“Inside” our European culture, there are different “languages”, which try to cope with this “Unknown”: Natural Science, Cultural Science, Art, Literature, Economy, Statistics and last, but not least Politics. Admitting an “Outside” of our culture, we have to acknowledge different languages as well, according this time not to different disciplinary approaches or “scientific cultures”, but to foreign cultures and their distinct languages. Maybe the so-called Babylonian confusion of languages gives one of the most impressive accounts, of this seeming impossibility to communicate among humans.
Where lies the common ground of understanding or at least of communication? Any communication implies misunderstanding, collision, opposition and separation. But it always creates a possible time-space as well, the possibility to exchange, to mingle, to mix up, to melt together – to “con-fuse”4 in a positive sense.
In the interview, François Jullien evokes these positive connotations of confusion, dizziness and ambiguity:
“The interest, which l find in China, is that it makes us get out of the philosophy of being [classical ontology], towards a thinking of processes, of the flux etc. China privileges the transition, the “amorce” (lure or trigger) and this phase when it’s neither the one nor the other, this phase of confusion/dizziness, when both are possible, compossible, and there is no separation yet between the two.
This is what I consider a resource of Chinese thought: To think in the mode of the confused/dizzy and not in the mode of the distinct.”
“Compossible” was first used by the European philosopher Leibniz and means that two or more individuals, things, states, languages, meanings etc. are possible together and at the same time. 5 Only since contemporary philosophy could compossibility also mean that opposites, several mutually contradictory worlds or heterogeneous truths, are possible within the same universe and without necessarily entailing separation, distinction or any dichotomy between them. Besides French philosophers like Deleuze and Badiou, there are also Jullien and the German philosopher Steinweg who refer to the notion of compossibility. Both Jullien and Steinweg make different uses of this concept, but both imply the creation of a time-space where/when something becomes possible, which wasn’t possible before or, at least, it was not thought to be possible before.6
In this sense, compossibility reminds us of the paradoxes that physicists face when trying to understand quantum entanglement. The particles involved in quantum entanglement are said to occupy multiple states at once – a condition referred to as “superposition”. The problem lies within our Occidental frame of observation, perception and maybe imagination. Put into this context, Jullien is only suggesting taking a step out of this Occidental frame, within which “two contraries at the same time” are not possible to think. Jullien’s “Outside” is maybe better understood as an “in-between” ,the one and the other world, language or philosophy.
Either we speak of the ocean, the source, the river where all lively creatures evolve freely, or we speak of chaos, matrix, khôra, Tao – we always seem to mean some time-space in the sense of an intermediary “in-between”. I believe there are many names for what we try to find out when exploring the phenomenon and implications of dizziness.
2. Let’s go back!
Let’s go back to the initial quotation from the Zhuangzi. The Japanese philosopher Nishida has another name for what Jullien calls “foundation-fount”, the ground (souche) or the source: a “field” in the sense of an “absolute contradictory identity of space-time-self”7. Nishida himself borrows his concept originally from Plato’s term xora/khôra (as a “place in which principles develop and come into being”8). So there is an exchange in between Eastern and Western thinking, which goes simultaneously in both directions: French philosopher Jullien goes off to China to find what is the un-thought of Greek thought – and Japanese philosopher Nishida turns towards the Occident to find what is maybe the un-thought of Oriental thought. Both are moving on this “common ground”, creating and thinking out of this common source.
Hisaki Hashi is another thinker of the in-between who tries to come down to this “common ground” of thinking in between Oriental and Occidental thought. Working on the communication between physics and philosophy, she refers to notions of Nishida and concepts of quantum physics in order to establish her concept of the field of “between”. In one of her recent articles, the passage of the happy fish, and the verbal exchange between Zhuangzi and Huizi serve as metaphors for this possibility of a common ground of interdisciplinary and intercultural exchange – or shall I say “con-fusion”?
Hashi quotes the 1949 Japanese Nobel prize winner in physics, Yukawa, who was of the opinion that only Human and Natural Science together could serve the cognition of the human being. In order to communicate his interdisciplinary thought, he refers to the happy fish-dialogue of the Taoist Zhuangzi and his rival Huizi. “Huizi took a positivistic and materialistic view against the Taoist Zhuangzi. In comparing the Taoist and positivistic positions, Yukawa developed his own thesis that this kind of concurrence is also found among philosophers and natural scientists in the contemporary period.”8 Here is one part of what Yukawa said:
“ ‘(…) To find and establish a new thesis or principle, the true scientist must hold a position between the two extreme poles: regarding the systematic construction of a hitherto unknown part of nature, they have developed their insight and imagination (like philosophers or Taoists). On the other hand, they have clarified what is provable in a positivistic way by employing a maximum of scientific deduction. I, as a particle physicist, want to find the systematic principle of a particle which is not recognizable as a ‘substantial and independent particle’. The nature of a particle is recognizable only if we observe it in a relation with another particle: we cannot observe a particle in a constant and consistent state, but only in an extremely short time-span, i.e. when another particle is near the observed one and when the first particle removes the second one. The theory of particle physics is built on this field of relations, in which I, as the scientist, move always between the two poles; one of them is the insight to grasp a new cognition, and the other one is to prove a hypothesis by the scientific method.’” (Bold emphasis added)10
This steady movement “between two poles” seems to be what enables communication and “true insight”. Hashi uses the metaphor of the field in order to articulate that the meeting of A and non-A “constructs a field of an ‘emerging relation dependent on each other’.”10 It’s the relation of A with non-A, the (re-)connection of opposites, which enables creation and emergence of new “determinations” and “oppositions” in Jullien’s wording.
I would like to propose that Jullien’s “foundation-fount”, which is characterised by ambiguity and compossibility, is related to the notion of the “field of ‘between’” as Hashi defines it with regard to European and Japanese philosophy, as well as to contemporary particular physics.12 It’s not so much about being “inside” or “outside” a specific language and/or culture; what really seems to count in order to gain new cognition and “to reset the field of oppositions” (Jullien in the interview), is the state of the “in-between”, the slash (/), which separates and connects the inside/outside-formula. Somehow it’s the threshold, which marks the “just before” something changes, the critical point within crisis.
In this context, Jullien also speaks about the “sas”, a kind of “sluice chamber” which he uses as a metaphor for this time-space when “the precedent determinations and oppositions, by which we have been thinking, are fusing – “con-fusing”.
From this con-fusion emerges a fundamental ambiguity, the non-separation of opposites, which is fertile because it enables an outside of our current oppositions, and from this outside other determinations could result.” (Jullien in the interview)13
Jullien’s “Outside” seems to be the “in-between” induced by dizziness and con-fusion. So now the question comes up of how to access this field, time-space or foundation-fount? Maybe this is the moment when Art enters the dizzy picture, which was dominated so far by Cultural and Natural Sciences.
3. Dizziness as chance
“It is a striving towards this ontological root of creativity that is characteristic of the new processual paradigm. It engages the composition of enunciative assemblages actualising the compossibility of two infinities, the active and the passive. A striving that is in no way constrained, catatonic or abstract like those of capitalistic monotheisms, but animated by a mutant creationism, always to be re-invented, always about to be lost. The irreversibility belonging to the events-advents of autopoietic grasping and transmonadism is consubstantial with a permanent resistance to circular, reterritorialising repetitions and with a constant renewal of aesthetic boundaries, scientific apparatuses of partial observation, philosophical conceptual montages and the establishment of “habitats” (oikos) that are political or psychoanalytical (ecosophy).” 14
This dense quote from Guattari’s last book “Chaosmosis” appears like the (con-)fusion of many topics that I discussed above – “just before” (en amont). Guattari uses the word “striving”, that indicates a specifically Occidental attitude towards movement, strategy and method (or poros). Jullien would not speak about “striving” when analysing the Chinese “way” (Tao). Striving implies making an effort in order to achieve an aim. In several books, Jullien tried to demonstrate that Chinese thinking is in a “écart”, in a “distance-deviation”, to this very European conception of “striving towards”.
The Chinese approach – at least the one which is interesting in Jullien’s eyes – is more about waiting for the right moment to act, luring reality in order to make it bite like luring a fish. “It’s the sensitivity for what is going to emerge and what begins only to get configured in a very ductile way. […] There is an aptitude to be attentive to the first signs, to the cohesion, which is found at the very beginning, in the penumbra and not in the salience of the event. […] In this sense, Chinese thought dissolves the dramatic event of the occasional moment into the continuity of silent transformations.” (Jullien in the interview)
Anyhow, Guattari also speaks about a kind of continuity when he says that this “striving” is “always to be re-invented, always about to be lost”, it is irreversible and made of “events-advents”. Maybe the latter concept has more to do than it seems at first sight with Jullien’s analysis of the Chinese non-event under its label of “silent transformations”. Less meaning “striving” than “dérive”, going with the flow as when “the minnows dart between the rocks” in their river, evolving freely, that is to say “without constraint”. But any “dérive” implies the danger of losing the ground beneath the feet or of drowning in deep water.
In the interview, Jullien also evoked this danger and paired it with opportunity. It was his proposition to translate “occasion” (in the sense of the Greek kairos, the right moment to act) into Chinese. I had asked him if he had suggestions regarding a Chinese translation of “dizziness”. Within this semantic field, he suggested the Chinese binomial (a Chinese character composed of two Chinese ‘graphs’) “wei-ji”, what commonly is translated as “crisis”. Actually, Jullien pointed out that “wei” means danger and “ji” means opportunity.
“Danger means at the same time opportunity.
This seems interesting compared to the idea of dizziness (Taumel). Because dizziness could mean imperilment and endangerment of vitality or rationality […] – and how could an endangerment be an opportunity at the same time?!” (Jullien in the interview)
I have already referred to the concept of crisis in the Greek sense in my first blog entry. It is the critical turning point of something evolving, changing. It’s exactly the moment of something turning into something different or other than it was before. It’s the moment of the “just before”, “en amont”, when only a kind of seismographic detection of what will come about could anticipate the up-coming, the whole movement and where it is evolving towards. And there is danger within this dizziness – the danger of not finding a way out (a poros), the danger of losing oneself within this kind of trance, spinning, twirling and turning around. It’s the danger of losing any relation to time and space, losing grip and dissolving within chaos. But the big chance could be that we acknowledge a part of the still Unknown as unknown (without assimilating the Unknown into the yet Known), that we become open for what we do not yet know or are not yet able to think and that we “free our mind”.
Dizziness could maybe then be regarded as a cultural technique, supported by artistic experience
and knowledge, which allows us to access this “field of ‘between’”, this time-space of the non-separation of opposites (“con-fusion”), this “foundation-fount” or simply: this “common ground”.
— See also In Conversation with François Jullien.
— See also Get Entangled!.
– See also The unexplained „Rest“.
Photo © Anderwald + Grond
Billeter, Jean-François: Contre François Jullien, Paris: Allia, 2006.
Guattari, Félix: Chaosmosis. An Ethico-Aesthetic Paradigm, transl. by Paul Bains and Julian Pefanis, Bloomington/Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1995.
Hashi, Hisaki: “The Significance of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity in Nishida’s ‘Logic of Field’”, in: Philosophy East & West, Vol. 57, nr. 4, University of Hawai’i Press, Oct 2007.
Heubel, Fabian: “Immanente Transzendenz im Spannungsfeld von europäischer Sinologie, kritischer Theorie und zeitgenössischem Konfuzianismus” in: Polylog. Zeitschrift für interkulturelles Philosophieren. Nr. 26: Selbstkultivierung. Politik und Kritik im zeitgenössischen Konfuzianismus, Wien, Winter 2011, p. 91-114.
Kofman, Sarah: “Beyond Aporia?” in: Post-Structuralist Classics, ed. Andrew Benjamin, New York: Routledge, 1988, p. 7-44.
Jullien, François: Traîté de l’efficacité, Paris: Grasset, 1996.
Mair, Victor H.: “danger + opportunity ≠ crisis. How a misunderstanding about Chinese characters has led many astray”, in: Pīnyīn.info. A Guide to the Writing of Mandarin Chinese in Romanization, University of Pennsylvania, 2009
Look, Brandon C., “Leibniz’s Modal Metaphysics”, in: The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Edward N. Zalta (ed.), Spring 2013, online:
Steinweg, Marcus: Philosophie der Überstürzung, Berlin: Merve, 2013.
Zhuangzi: Mit den passenden Schuhen vergißt man die Füße. Ein Zhuangzi-Lesebuch von Henrik Jäger, Zürich: Ammann, 2009.
Quoted from Lucas Klein’s commentary on this famous Daoist passage by Zhuangzi.
Quoted from the interview with François Jullien on the 26th of May 2015 in Paris.
Jane Marie Todd explains in her “Translator’s Note”: “The expression I translate as “foundation-fount” is fond(s), which combines two French terms, each with a wide range of meanings. Fond means, amongst other things, “bottom” and “foundation”; it is also contrasted to forme in the form/content binary, and to figure in figure/ground. Au fond or dans le fond means “fundamentally” […]. Although the English “fund” once meant “font” and still means “a supply of material resources,” “a reserve of intangible resources” (Webster’s Third New International Dictionary), its connotations are too monetary for this context. Jullien defines fond(s) as “à la fois fond et source, fons et fundus” (both ground and source, source and ground) and often pairs the term fonds with words alluding to its liquidity: amont, résorber, irriguer, découler (upstream, resorb, irrigate, flow). Hence “fount”, which Webster’s defines as “a reservoir for liquids” and, most pertinent in this context, as “something that resembles a spring or reservoir: source”, is particularly felicitous.” Quoted from François Jullien, The Great Image Has No Form, or On the Nonobject through Painting, transl. by Jane Marie Todd (Chicago University Press, 2009), p. xii.
The hyphen is used in this text to emphasise the Latin origin of the word confusion: confusus, past participle of confundere – poured together, mingled together. The prefix con- meaning with, together.
See for the notion of “compossibility” also: Look, Brandon C., „Leibniz’s Modal Metaphysics„, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Spring 2013 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Compossibility.
Because of the actuality of the Jullien-interview, I’ll refer with more details to the French thinker. Just a hint towards Steinweg who says in an interview with Thomas Martin, published under the title “Philosophie der Überstürzung”: “Philosophy only exists as experience of fundamental disorientation. To get oriented within disorientation […] would be one first definition of philosophy.” Furthermore, Steinweg defines for any act of thinking that it has to take the risk to be “as much precise as headless” or “excess and exact” (Steinweg 2013, p. 135-136). “In any case, the point is to articulate the compossibility of precision and excess.” (Ibid., p. 136, all my translation)
“Space is grasped as a dimension of being something; time is grasped as a period of being something. Our self as a thinking and living subject performs this recognition. Things that can be recognized include not only objects of cognition outside our bodies, but also our self-consciousness itself. The existence of our body as being here and the existence of time as being now are displayed in a contrasted relation. Simultaneously we can say that this contrast is issued as a united recognition of time and space, in which we recognize the form and the contents of our self-consciousness as itself. There is a unity which includes the three contents of existing space, existing time and existing self, which recognizes this unity in various directions: space-time, time-space, unity of space and recognizing self, unity of time and recognizing self.“ The complete synthesis of these elements is defined in Nishida’s terminology as follows: the absolute contradictory identity of space-time-self at the absolute contemporary point of here and now.”, Hashi Hisaki, The Significance of Einstein’s Theory of Relativity in Nishida’s “Logic of Field”, in: Philosophy East & West, Vol. 57, nr. 4, University of Hawai’i Press, Oct 2007, p. 457-481, here: p. 460.
Ibid., p. 458.
Quoted from Hisaki Hashi, “The Field of “Between” – A New Principle for Interdisciplinary Epistemology” in: Global Journal of Human-Social Science: H Interdisciplinary, Vol. 15, Issue 1, Version 1.0, Global Journals Inc. (USA), 2015, p. 12.
Hashi 2015, p. 12.
Hashi 2015, p. 13.
Compare with this following passage in Hashi: “The Field of ‘Between’, viewed purely physically, is a field of space-time that enables a physical interaction. Viewed physically, in the double-slit experiment, a physical interaction emerges between the shooting light quantum and the receptor. Viewed philosophically and epistemologically, the Field of ‘Between’ is the [space-time], where the things [A and non-A] enter into a relation.” (Hashi 2015, p. 13)
“This is what I call “le fond indifférencié”. There is a non-differentiated ground that enables the communication among all differences. Your theme of dizziness – and that’s what I find interesting – is that dizziness makes one flourish again, pulling us back to this non-differentiated ground of confusion, where the differences are fused/melted together and from where other differences could also appear. It’s a kind of melting-pot where all differences melt and where reality again communicates beyond its individuations and particular demarcations. This is what China is thinking. The Tao is this. The Tao is this undivided, non-differentiated ground, from where all differences and divisions could come out. Maybe the interest of the kind of vertigo, of dizziness as you use it, is to bring us back to this ground of seeming confusions, but which is actually a ground of ambiguity, non-separation and communication of opposites among each other.” (Jullien in the interview)
Quoted from Félix Guattari, Chaosmosis. An Ethico-Aesthetic Paradigm, transl. by Paul Bains and Julian Pefanis (Indiana University Press, Bloomington/Indianapolis, 1995), here p. 116-117. See also: “Transmonadism through the effect of retro-activity crystallises within the primitive chaotic soup spatial coordinates, temporal causalities, energy levels, possibilities for the meeting of complexions, a whole ontological „sexuality“ composed by axiological bifurcations and mutations.” Ibid., p. 115.