Zhuangzi On Card-Playing

Brook Ziporyn, in his excellent translation of Zhuangzi (Zhuangzi: The Essential Writings with Selections from Traditional Commentaries, Hackett, 2009) points to an associated article, “Zhuangzi As Philosopher” on his publisher’s website. That article contains this:

Imagine that you find yourself in a card game, where cards are continually being dealt to you from a nonobvious source. You do not know how you got there, where the cards come from, or what the object of the game is—for example, whether you should be trying to collect high cards or low cards. You have no guidelines whatsoever. Every so often, in addition to the ordinary numbered cards, you get what might be called an “instruction card.” This is a card on which is printed some assertion about the goal of the game. One such card might say, “Collect high cards, discard low cards: whoever has the most high cards wins.” But then another instruction card might show up in your hand saying, “Collect low cards, discard high cards; whoever has the most low cards wins.” Perhaps a card will say, “There is no object to the game.” Another might say, “All goals are relative, so all cards are of equal value.” You might act in accordance with one of these cards, but it is still just another card, and can be contradicted by another. If you are committed to the “collect high cards” card, you might discard, ignore, or reject the “collect low cards” card when it arrives, since you already “know” the object of the game. But these two instruction cards are invested with equal validity; they are both just cards that appeared in your hand from an unknown source. Your commitment to follow the instructions of the first one is based on nothing more than its accidental temporal priority.

That’s as good a description of life as I’ve ever read. Makes me want to play Flux.

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