Yin-yang, Transdualism

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This article is a note on the concept of yin yang

Yin-yang has its history

Even though the long history of masculine domination and pervasive heteronormativity in China does help but to confirm this kind of reductive reading of yin-yang as a hierarchical sexual binarism, I cannot help but think that yin-yang has been crudely colonized in 2012. It has been reduced to an ahistorical concept, whose prehistoric origins—along with the mythology of Fuxi Nvwa in the 20th century BCE; the warring-state instantiation in the I Ching in the 5th Century BCE; the Taoist modification and Confucian adaptation from the Taoist in the Zhou dynasty around the 5th to the 2ndcenturies BCE; its further stratification, moralization, and might I add heteronormativization in cosmological Confucianism, notably by Dong Zhongshu in the Han dynasty, around the 1st and 2nd centuries BCE; and its resurgence in philosophical treaties of the neo-Confucians of the Song dynasty, notably Zhou Dunyi and Zhu Xi in the 11th to 12th centuries, to name but only a span of three thousand years of dramatic changes.

But seeing yin-yang as sexual difference or more precisely as “coital harmony with eastern wisdom” is omnipresent in, for example, self-cultivation sexual manuals, massage oil, or herbal teas that claim to balance mind and body.

Richard Wilhelm’s 1923 introduction to the German translation of the I Ching:

However, speculations of a gnostic-dualistic character are foreign to the original thought of the I Ching […] At that time, the Book of Changes was much in use as a book of magic, and people read into the text all sorts of things not originally there. This doctrine of yin and yang, of the female and the male as primal principles, has naturally also attracted much attention among foreign students of Chinese thought. Following the usual bent, some of these have predicated in it a primitive phallic symbolism, with all the accompanying connotations. To the disappointment of such discoverers, it must be said that there is nothing to indicate this in the original meaning of the words yin and yang [emphasis added].

Marcel Granet:

rien n’invite à voir, dans le Yin et le Yang, des Substances, des Forces, des Principes.

The two contradictory propensities are constantly in the process of becoming each other (like day and night, light and shadow). This inter-becoming does not really allow for clear differentiation and demarcation.

They are not two ontologically separated entities or forces that would be jointed together with an “and.”. The Confucian commentary on the Yi Jing states: “one yin and one yang, this is called Dao” 1; the Daoist classic Dao Dejing has it: “all things carry yin yet embrace yang” (Chapter 42). In order to tease out the complex yin-yang relationality and to avoid misunderstanding apprehension of yin-yang as a sort of ontology of sexual difference or of any ontology at all, it is important to stress, through a violation of the English grammar: yin “and” yang are either mutually restraining (克) and mutually generative (生). As it is stated in Chapter 1 of the Dao Dejing, “these two, they come from the same place yet bear different names” (Chapter 1). ​ What’s more, these “two” are a process with four stages in accordance with seasonal changes of spring-summer-autumn-winter. In the Yellow Emperor’s Inner Cannon, two stages are added. The Treatise on Cold Injury by Zhang Zhongjing elaborates in details these six different degrees in detail: absolute yin, lesser yin, greater yin, less yang, yang brightness, absolute yang.

这牵涉两种相反的趋势持续地相互转化(如,白天和黑夜,向光与背光)。并没有任何清晰的分界可以划定其相互流动的途径。它们并非可以被“合二为一” 的两种相互分离的实体或力量。儒家《易经系辞》道:“一阴一阳之谓道” ​王弼,《周易注(附周易略例)》;道家《道德经》第四十二章:“万物负阴而抱阳”。为了弄清复杂的阴阳关系,并避免将阴阳误以为是一种性别差异的存有本质,或任何其它事物的存有本质,我想强调阴和阳的“相生相克”,这在现代语言学中并不这么容易理解:阴与阳的相克意味一种非a即b的“either/or”,但同时,它们的相生意味着既a且b的“and”。正如道德经开篇所说,“此两者,同出而异名”。重要的是,这两个“过程”根据四季节气发展出事物变化的四阶段,《黄帝内经》再细分出另外两阶段,总共是:厥阴,少阴,太阴,少阳,阳明,太阳等六个不同程度的状态,这也在张仲景《伤寒论》中得到完整的阐述。

Either/Or, Either/And

We could summarize dualistic thinking spatially in terms of “either/or” and temporally in terms of secessionism (before/after) through, the production of “turns”: the linguistic turn, the visual turn, the affective turn, the ecological turn, the ontological turn, the decolonial turn. Transdualism attempts to critique dualism without reproducing a dualistic model of “either/or,” one that pretends to move beyond, to overcome or overthrow dualism, but always locked in a temporal secessionism within a seemingly linear Euro-American-centric genealogy. I want to use transdualism as a critique that moves below the logic of secessionist “either/or” and may be captured with the pairing “either … and.” “Either” marks their distinct “identities,” qualities, and tendencies in time and space; “and” marks their dependency and entanglement, their propensity for running into and becoming each other, which therefore renders the distinct “identities” frangible and evanescent.

关于二元论思维,非此即彼的“either / or”是这种思维的空间表述,而“之前/之后”则可以说是其时间性的表达,以至于一系列“转向”的生产都是如此:语言学转向,视觉转向,情感转向,生态转向,本体论转向,去殖民转向。跨二元论(transdualism)尝试在批评二元论的同时不重蹈二元论的“非此即彼”模型,这个模型常常假装超克或推翻二元论,却仍旧被锁定在一个欧美中心的线性谱系之中。反之,我对跨二元论作为批评空间的使用,则是要向下潜入分裂主义“非此即彼”( either/or)的逻辑之下,将它篡改成“非此…也是”(either …and)的逻辑。其中,“非此”标志着事物的独特性,标志其“身份”、特质和趋势;而 “也是”则标志着他们的依存和纠缠,以及它们相互碰撞并成为对方的倾向,并使独特的“身份”显得转瞬即逝。

Granet elaborates his theory that yin-yang points to aspects, or what he calls “emblems,” rather than forces or principles, through an attention to the entanglement of time and space by rendering the Confucian commentary on the Yi Jing “一陰一陽之謂道” [one yin and one yang, this is called Dao]” as “un temps yin, un temps yang /un côté yin, un côté yang, c’est là le Tao”. He contends rightly that to understand these time-space entanglement, one needs to remember: “ce mot [tao] signale une notion appparentée aux idées de yi (mutation), de pien (changement cyclique), de t’ong(interpenetration mutuelle)” Yi is part of the title of I Ching. The same-–difference interbecoming of yin-yang and the (un)changing Dao have been explored in the I Ching. Its title, I Ching, for example could be more accurately translated as “The Unchangeable Script [經] of (Non)Changeabilities.” “Trans-” in “transdualism” primarily follows the multiple meaning of “yi” (易), connoting effortlessness (transformation silencieuse), changeability, and invariability.

葛兰言的法译版本将儒家的系辞“一阴一阳之谓道”解为:“一个阴时,一个阳时/一个阴面,一个阳面,之谓道”。这版翻译注意到了阴与阳在时空中相互纠缠的特质,葛兰言以此强调阴阳并非某些具体力量或法则,而是一些面向(aspects),或他所说的“象” (emblems)。他也正确指出,若要理解这些时空纠缠,就必须知道:“道字隐含了易穷则变,变则通的道理”。他将易译为“变异”、变译为“循环”,通译为“相互穿透”。​简言之,《易经》的阴阳研究异与同的相互变化,道探讨变与不变。《易经》的标题我们原该如此看待:关于变异(易)的不变之道(经)。“跨二元论”中的“跨”正是遵循“易”的多重含义,暗含轻易(弗兰索瓦·于连说的“默化”),可变性和不变性。

What remains less elaborated, but a more intriguing and more important aspect that I bring to the discussion of yin-yang transdualism to our discussion here, is the idea of t’ong, translated by Granet as “interpénétration mutuelle.” The notion of tong is passive and active, penetrating and pervading. In fact, it is an ideal status of the things.

除此之外,阴阳跨二元论更重要的概念是葛兰言翻译为“相互穿透”(interpenetration mutuelle)的“通”。 “通”既被动也主动,它意味着穿刺、弥漫。 实际上,它是事物的理想状态。


Ilan Kapoor’s argument that “the Western legacy […] may well be (and is indeed) imperialist domination and plunder […] supplied the very standards by which it (and its critics) measures its own critical past,” echoes with some critical discourse that busily denies any decolonial attempt as “nativism” and “nostalgia of an imaginary past.” Eurocentrism, including the “critical one,” is soaked in the denial of pervasion. Denial of pervasion, together with denial of coevalness is the Eurocentric response to what they deem as “European legacy” on the one hand, and on the “inscrutable Chinese” on the other. If one were to agree with the theory of postcolonial totality, indeed one of pervasion, albeit the undesirable kind, called colonial imposition, we need to fundamentally debunk the very idea that Europe has created itself ex nihilo, that European thinkers Hegel, Sartre, Freud, Lacan, and so on, just miraculously created emancipatory theories as if from nothingness.

伊兰·卡普尔的论点是:“西方遗产[...]当然可能是(也确实是)帝国统治和掠夺[...],但也提供了它自身(及其批评者)衡量其过去的准绳”,这也呼应了一些急于否认任何去殖民的尝试都是“本土主义”和“对想象中的过去的一种怀旧”的批评话语。欧洲中心主义,包括“批判性”的欧洲中心主义在内,完全是拒绝承认他者渗透的重灾区。对他者渗透的否认 (denial of pervasion),以及对与研究主体共时性的否认(denial of coevalness;Johannes Fabian语),正是欧洲中心对他们认为的“欧洲遗产”之反应,也是对“莫名其妙中文”的反应。如果我们必须接受后殖民是普遍和总体状况,也即是说一种相互渗透的状况——尽管是不受欢迎的一种渗透,曰殖民主义强加于人,我们就必须从根本上揭穿如下思想:即,欧洲自我发明,自我创造,无中生有(ex nihilo);欧洲的思想家黑格尔,萨特,弗洛伊德,拉康等人也奇迹般地,仿佛是无中生有地创造了解放性的理论。

Differences per se are not the problem. Not only that, but also difference is what enables the transing of movement and the potential of porosity.

Transdualism relies on the “entangled differences” and “distinguishing sameness” of yin-yang. It regards dualist pairs as operative in the immanent making (sense) of the world while, at the same time, it highlights the queerly transformative propensities of yin-yang in a way that keeps both yin and yang both discernibly different and porously unified.

In the ‘same way’ that Europe remains Europe after the incorporation of Mesoamerica (chocolate, cacao, […] but also the concepts of the noble savage, cannibalism, wildness, New World, America) into its systems of thought and everyday life, Mesoamerica remains Mesoamerica after the incorporation of European life-forms. The process of appropriation, expropriation, and exappropriation involve a two-way street.

This is, of course, not to support the enforcement of borders or the maintenance of “our way of life”; on the contrary, their distinctive identities can only be attained through the messy entanglement with each other, not a two-way but an intersectional street.