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A Gingko leaf: An image between one and two

Generations of peoples across East and West have already encountered and engaged with one another to one extent or another in ordinary everyday discourse and practice. As Driesch noted within the limitations of his own vocabulary, intercultural communication, hybridity, and interaction have shaped the past and present in which we live and think to such a profound extent that projects of ethnocentric purity are conceptually incoherent and practically impossible. Yet, as critics of modernity and globalization have shown, ideas and practices of identity, oneness, and totality without difference and remainder are themselves highly questionable. The ideal of the whole then needs to be one that encourages concurrently maximizing unity and diversity, complementarity and difference, such that each can be itself without being leveled in synthesis.

In conclusion, in response to the overly Hegelian notion of unity as synthesis operational in Merleau-Ponty’s essay discussed above, we might ponder a poem about a leaf written for Marianne von Willemer in 1815 by the German poet Johann Wolfgang von Goethe.14 Goethe composed the poem “Gingo [gingko] biloba” published in West-ostlicher Diwan (West-Eastern Divan) that expresses an idealized image of the unity of difference in love as well as the potentially complementary relationship between East and West as concurrently one and two.15

Gingo biloba

Dieses Baums Blatt, der von Osten Meinem Garten anvertraut,

Giebt geheimen Sinn zu kosten,

Wies den Wissenden erbaut,

  • 260 Chinese and Buddhist Philosophy in Early Twentieth-Century German Thought
  • 1st es Ein lebendig Wesen,

Das sich in sich selbst getrennt? Sind es zwei, die sich erlesen,

Dafi man sie als Eines kennt?

Solche Frage zu erwidern,

Fand ich wohl den rechten Sinn, Fuhlst du nicht an meinen Liedern, Dafi ich Eins und doppelt bin?

This leaf from a tree in the East, Has been entrusted to my garden.

It reveals a secret sense,

Which pleases thoughtful people.

Is it one living being,

Which has divided itself?

Or are these two, who chose To be known as one?

Answering this sort of question, Haven’t I found the proper sense, Don’t you feel in my songs,

That I’m one and double?

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