Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Chuang Tzu and Kafka - actionless action and the authentic life.

I was pleased to discover today that it is indeed as I suspected that Kafka had read the writings of Chuang Tzu. I love the writings of both of these guys. If  you like Kafka and haven't come across Chuang Tzu, he's definitely worth investigating. The writings are from around 300 BC but sound so fresh and full of life - a collection of short tales / writings, entertaining, both humorous and serious - stuff to make you think and challenge your perspective and ideas about life and what's important. (There are various translations and some you may take to more than others.)

Stepping stones across the water


The writings of Chuang Tzu writing contain a broad variety of ideas including challenges to the way we view and judge ourselves and others. For example, several stories illustrate his views on disability which seem forward thinking even today over two thousand years after they were written.
 
In recent times, Kafka and the existentialist writers such as Sartre and Camus have used stories to illustrate their ideas of what it might be to think about an authentic life. This seems to me very much in tune with the ideas of Chuang Tzu. His 'actionless action' (wu wei) certainly seems to include ideas of authenticity, though it also seems to say more than this too.
 
Being in tune both with the whole of ourselves as well as the world around us, in how we are and how we express ourselves, may be something of what this actionless action is about. (That's just my crude attempt at trying to say something about it.) It is also about being part of the natural world as opposed to an authoritarian culture.
 
It also strikes me that all these guys used stories or vignettes to illustrate what is hard to say in words. Metaphor or story telling can be a better way to describe things that are hard to get hold of otherwise. Easier to get a picture in your mind of what it is about.
 
Interested to hear other people's thoughts on this.