A Recent Insight I had (The task of distinguishing)

I had an interesting insight recently. It involved this magazine I found lying around, it was kind of like a Chinese Reader’s Digest, “DuZhe”. As I flipped through it, I mean, in an entirely cursory way — in the sense of, looking over the font, the title, a few words here and there, etc. — I was struck by the sophistication of it all. It struck me as a sense of perfection — perfection, sophitication, and awareness.

I myself had the feeling, some while ago, while reading a buddhist text in classical Chinese — for school, I mean — that there was a lack of … theology there. It seemed to full of numbers, I mean. It didn’t seem to answer all the moral questions that we would expect religious texts to answer. That earlier moment came back to me in this distilled moment I spoke of above, when I seemed to have a minor epiphany. I sensed the subtleties of the distinctions being made there — I felt the extremism of being normal, or taking the middle road — as a magazine as innocuous as the one I was holding would be presumed to take. In other words, it wasn’t the middle road of a compromise — it was the subtlety of extremism — of all the theology I was missing.

It’s hard to pick up on this most subtle moment, or the most intense moment. After all, the strength of intellect is not required for easy oppositions but precisely at the moment when when one is distinguishing something form what is most apparently close to it. Ie, the moments of greatest intellectual intensity occur in distinguishing between things that are very alike. And perhaps, as in the case of DuZhe, it is not concentrated in a psychological moment — and furthermore, these categories are not given beforehand, I mean. It is hard to fathom what exactly DuZhe is proclaiming itself as being or being not — it is not given beforehand.

Let’s actually talk about passage 57 in HoD, I mean, those general passages when Marlow is taking to the candle-maker. The effort of this passage is not to set up some dynamic of manipulator and manipulated. There is here this very similar effort at making a distinction. There are various angles one can approach this, I mean, as the two stroll hand-in-hand in a kind of grandiose, mephostelian dialogue. They both end up referring to this higher authority, with Marow claiming, somehow, to represent it. The pilgrims’s world is “fantastic”, but I don’t think it’s possible to argue that Marlow’s is any less so. And Marlow leaves the candle-maker in a puzzled state, and not really one of defeat or dejection — ie, a state where, as the saying goes, one is unsure who is trolling who. The point is that it is harder than may appear at first to draw any distinctions here in this dialogue — fantasy versus reality, work versus idleness, immediacy versus distance, honesty versus nihilism, etc..

But how, then — or should we — can we continue to insist on a difference, or continue to insist on the ‘weird holism’ that we sensed in DuZhe? I don’t think I can fully defend this claim at this moment — but I believe that the insistence on this difference has to do, ultimately, with an appeal to a kind of authority, an appeal to some unifying agent in the past. I believe that there is no real structural or “qualitative” difference that can be maintained — all such differences are deconstructible — but only a unity of reference or origin — in Kurtz.

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