Reflecting on another beginning: hermeneutics, the Yijing, and philosophy
Along with the Zhuangzi, the Yijing ШШ- offers an additional example of the transformative tendencies of Chinese thinking, indicating another way of reflecting on origins, images, and generation than what has been articulated in the German tradition from Hegel to Heidegger. The already ongoing intercultural encounter and exchange between Western and Chinese philosophy is not merely a one-way street determined by “active” Western and “passive” discourses and intellectual figures. The reflection on hermeneutics and the question of beginnings has been elucidated in response to Heidegger with regard to Chinese philosophy and the Yijing by the Chinese philosopher Chung-ying Cheng
Cheng’s approach will permit us to place the Chinese discourse of origins in a different light than that offered by either Heidegger or Misch. Cheng has usefully confronted Heidegger’s thinking of origin and beginning in relation to Chinese discourses and emphasized the extent to which “Chinese philosophy is strongly hermeneutical from the very beginning.”60 From this perspective, one can trace the hermeneutical tendencies of Chinese philosophy from its roots in the Zhouyi ЩМ (Changes of Zhou)—the earlier strata of what became the Yijing—through its classical Confucian (rujia ШШ), Daoist (daojia ШШ), Neo-Confucian (xin rujia ШШШ), and modern Confucian (xiandai xin rujia Ш^ХШШШ) developments. The Yijing (Classic of Changes) in particular has operated as a primary orientating point of Chinese philosophizing and hermeneutics. The generative modes of thinking stemming from the Yijing allow in a contemporary intercultural context for the rearticulation of philosophy and its beginning in the context of the spacing between Western and Eastern conceptions of the philosophical domain.61
The Yijing is not merely a text but an interpretive and reflective practice and art; that is, it indicates a hermeneutical encounter with the happening of the world that is distinct from Western models of “hermeneutics” as the art and theory of interpretation. Based on his limited understanding of the Chinese language and the Yijing, Hegel categorized Chinese thinking as a preconceptual image thinking unable to reach the purity of conceptual thinking, and deprecated Chinese thought as non-conceptual and imagistic. Hegel missed the philosophical character, articulated by Wang Bi and the
Yijing’s commentarial tradition, of Chinese reflective uses of the image and its reflections on how concepts incipiently emerge and operate in relation to the dialectically mediated images that are evident in the Yijing.62 Chinese thought, as enacted in the models of the Yijing, is more phenomenologically appropriate to human experience in perceiving how concepts and philosophical reflection have beginnings in images, and emotional and bodily dispositions, while not being limited by these origins to which concepts inevitably return in myriad ways.
The Yijing comprises a play of dialectical image-constellations, a changing show of images and perspectives, and it is much more. It is an interpretive practice encompassing and integrating processes of empirical observation, empathetic feeling, and self-reflection in the generation of concrete indicative “images” (xiang ^). Such images are indispensable to the practice of the Yijing, and they do not function as mere abstract symbols.63 The transformative play of images—inspired by the traces of heaven, earth, and humanity (tiandiren Affi A)—forms prototypical models and dynamic paradigms that can be described as “form-objects” or “process-events” These image-situations allow interpreters to performatively enact a comprehensive ontological and situationally appropriate understanding of nature, society, and the self through the reflective practice and employment of the trigrams and hexagrams of the Yijing.64
Despite the affinities with Western understandings of hermeneutical philosophy, the onto-generative hermeneutics implicit in the Yijing and its philosophical interpretation differs in crossing and transversing different images and models in which one cannot be claimed to have absolute priority. The Yijing encompasses a multi-perspectivalism that challenges, when they are brought into dialogue, the closed horizons and perspectives of Western philosophy. Such a generative hermeneutics offers to this extent a noteworthy alternative to Western approaches to understanding and interpretation and offers a complex and nuanced way of “divining” and modeling the multifaceted and dynamic relationships between self and world.
Hermeneutics refers in the Western situation to the art of interpretation and its methodological, theoretical, and philosophical explanation. There is no hermeneutics in the limited sense of a strict discipline or definitive theory of interpretation or interpretive methodology in Chinese intellectual history. However, there are arts of interpretive practice, and there is a preeminently “philosophical hermeneutics” in understanding the dynamic interpretive relational nexus of reality. Both are evident in the creativity expressed in the reception, adaptation, and employment of the Yijing in East Asian discourses and traditions.65
Chinese thinking—in its beginnings in the divinatory, ethical-political, and empirical observational sources of the Zhouyi—does not require a bifurcated division between appearance and reality, the immanent and the transcendent, or mere words and “the word.” Instead, it indicates how the real consists of “the incessant and constant change of all things”66 This art of thinking does not then separate one image and reify it as a concept or abstract form separated from the dynamic logic of the plural relations of particulars for which the Yijing presents myriad interpretive models that are imaginatively and reflectively employed by its interpreter. One discovers in the singular-plural-indicative hermeneutics of the Yijing multiple indicative models—at least sixty-four and infinitely more— which present variations on the interactive generative character of nature and humanity.
Conceptual-imagistic constellations such as benti (root-body) and
yinyang ШШ indicate both the “origination and embodiment of being and becoming”67 Benti is not so much a discrete essence or substance in a static or disembodied sense; it is the continuous, integrative process occurring through things and in their generative-hermeneutic interpretation. The bodily oriented onto-cosmology of benti in Chinese discourses points toward the concrete, dynamic, interconnected, and transformative embodiment of the person amid things.68 It suggests therefore an alternative—once it enters into a relation with Western philosophical discourses—to “ontology” as the doctrine of beings and the notion of a fixed ontic/ontological difference as it is (according to the idea of its continuity) articulated in Western philosophy from Parmenides to Heidegger.
Chinese and Western hermeneutics cannot be identical to the extent that a different kind of circle is involved in the interpretation of the Yijing than what is evident in either the hermeneutical circle central to the European understanding of hermeneutics or the speculative circle of Hegel’s dialectic. Interpretive understanding can be described as oscillating between experiencing and the experienced, the personal encounter with the world and the objective disclosure of the world, and the overlapping interpretive circling of understanding and ontological circling of disclosure.
To discuss one example, one manifestation of hermeneutic circling is the onto- generative image found in Xici ЖШ, I:8 and related passages. The ancient sages, it is claimed, “were able to survey all phenomena under heaven and, considering their forms and appearances, creatively and concretely imagined and indicated (xiang) things and their appropriate attributes. These were accordingly called images or ‘forms’ (xiang).”69 The word xiang can mean here: image, symbol, figure, or a pictorial configuration of meaning.70 To form or generate “forms” is called the creative, generative, and originating (qian $?).71
The word xing Ш, which appears in Xici ЖШ, I:8 and associated sources, is frequently translated as “appearance.” It also signifies shape, form, figure, or body. In this context, xing can be interpreted not merely as a becoming visible or as the semblance of the real, as an idol or shadow of reality, but as the material manifestation that is the interpretive encounter with reality itself. The reflective empirical investigation of things, which embodies a “concrete rationality” or a logic of embodied universals, stems from the Yijing.72 The observational interpretive character of the Yijing is evident in statements advocating empirically encountering the world by seeing above to observe heaven, seeing below to observe the earth, and witnessing all things.73
The empirically and reflectively generated images of the Yijing situate both self-examination and a reflective observation of the natural world through perception, relational and responsive feeling, and situated mindfulness. The empirical ontic tendency in Chinese thinking was stimulated by and in turn informed observation of and research into astronomical, geographical, and meteorological phenomena, among others. The onto-hermeneutical oscillation or circling movement occurs through natural worldly phenomena and the reflective or interpretive image that is more indicative than symbolizing. This dynamic and vibrant motility is concealed by the language of isolating or atomistic abstract ideas and symbols, as Chinese thinking in this form has upheld the preeminence of the practical and of the good (ethics)—here again revealing its distinctive structure in contrast to Heidegger’s discursive strategies—over impersonal and neutral ontological knowledge.
In the context of this generative circling, a situated grasp of the whole as whole is generated through the particularity of phenomena and a situated grasp of the phenomenon as phenomenon occurs through an understanding of the whole as a dynamic interconnected process. The indicative images intimated in the Yijing offer points of inspiration and orientation of the self who observes itself and the circumstances in which it participates from the local and the ordinary to the universe and ultimate itself.
We should mention at this point the variance between the visible as an arena for a detached and independent observer, who seeks to neutrally contemplate and reconstruct a pre-given reality in art or in ideas, and the visible as an interactive dynamic field for an involved and moved participant in the flow of the generative or embodied constitutive forces of reality.
The qualitative experientially rooted participant perspective with its potential for creative renewal becomes evident in forms of Chinese thinking. As Chinese philosophy or art can exist in its otherness from Greek philosophy or art, in a resonance and tension of non-identity without either coercive exclusion or assimilation, Chinese philosophy can be—to think through and take a step beyond Heidegger’s argument—an “other beginning” in confrontation with its “first” Greek beginning.74 As the recently published Black Notebooks (Schwarze Hefte) reveal, Heidegger initially understood this other beginning as a uniquely German one.
A different image of beginning occurs in the “Appended Statements” (Xici ЖШ), I. 11. It tells of how in the beginning of the universe the supreme ultimate (taiji ^®) is both the original element and matter. The Yijing arises with taiji and it is taiji that generates heaven and earth or yin and yang; these generate the four forms or images that in turn generate the eight trigrams (“yiyou taiji, shisheng liangyi, liangyi sheng sixiang, sixiang sheng bagua”
М'Щ, ШШ^ШШ,ШШ^Л^).75 The word is spoken through words. The world appears through the mediating process of images that generatively return the embodied participatory interpreter or observer to taiji, the structured- structuring whole, through things or phenomena themselves in their own dynamic benti. Such an understanding of human sensibility, feeling, and creative responsiveness has significant consequences for practical life, including how humans interact with their environment and ecological sustainability.76
In the formation of the relation between the “Greek” and the “other” beginning—which when articulated by Heidegger means first and foremost the Germanic and Occidental repetition and renewal of the Greek origin—there is an opening generative space for both boundless reversal and creative and imaginative transversal that is needed in contrast with Heidegger’s confining Greek-German axis. Oriented by the guiding creative thread of the correlational transformational thinking indicated by the reflective enactment and practice of the Yijing, an unconditioned and static distinction between the originary and the non-originary is inadequate to both, as they are themselves changing positions in the process of change. Nor can there be an absolute difference between philosophy and non-philosophy, between Western and Chinese thinking, or “East” and “West.” These are relational and positional terms. The encounters between them are not then so much an external futural event to be merely prepared for and anticipated. Despite academic philosophy’s ethnocentric resistance to the very idea of philosophizing happening outside of the West, which it does every day everywhere as Misch and this work have argued, such encounters and exchanges have long been underway—indeed, since the very beginning—and continue to be ongoing.