Chaos as the Inchoate: The Early Chinese Aesthetic of Spontaneity

In Grazia Marchianò (ed.), Aesthetics & Chaos: Investigating a Creative Complicity (2002)
Download Edit this record How to cite View on PhilPapers
Can we conceive of disorder in a positive sense? We organize our desks, we discipline our children, we govern our polities--all with the aim of reducing disorder, of temporarily reversing the entropy that inevitably asserts itself in our lives. Going all the way back to Hesiod, we see chaos as a cosmogonic state of utter confusion inevitably reigned in by laws of regularity, in a transition from fearful unpredictability to calm stability. In contrast to a similar early Chinese notion of chaotic disorder (luan), early Daoists posit a type of chaos that is to be cultivated rather than feared. This chaos is a primal disorder, akin to Hesiod's, but rather than threatening disruption, it is replete with creative potential and through spontaneous action yields orderly processes that proceed from the concretion of things to their dissolution and back, in a complex web of relations. This processional activity, although taken in one sense as cosmogonic, in a more important sense is immanent at every moment of activity. This article identifies terms of chaos, such as dun dun 沌 沌, hundun 渾 沌, and xingming 涬 溟 in Laozi and Zhuangzi and examines the passages in which they occur. Analyzing these passages brings us to a better understanding of "chaos" in a Chinese sense and to a familiarity with related terms in its semantic field, such as xuan 玄 (dark, mysterious), miao 妙 (subtle/profound), wei 微 (minute/inchoate), xiao 小 (small/minute), and pu 樸 (uncarved block). We see that the Daoist ideal is to return to a chaotic inchoateness by melding with the cosmos and there finding a repository of creative potential. This notion of chaos as the inchoate is used a springboard into understanding the origins of Daoist spontaneity.
(categorize this paper)
PhilPapers/Archive ID
Revision history
Archival date: 2017-01-11
View upload history
References found in this work BETA

No references found.

Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

No citations found.

Add more citations

Added to PP index

Total views
132 ( #26,119 of 46,242 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
14 ( #41,079 of 46,242 )

How can I increase my downloads?

Downloads since first upload
This graph includes both downloads from PhilArchive and clicks to external links.