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The Dao of Rhetoric

SUNY Series in Communication Studies Dudley D. Cahn, editor

The Dao of Rhetoric Steven C. Combs STATE UNIVERSITY OF NEW YORK PRESS .

p. I. Albany.Published by State University of New York Press. Hamel Marketing by Michael Campochiaro Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication Data Combs. 1957– The Dao of rhetoric / Steven C. For information. Suite 700. ISBN 0-7914-6281-1 (alk. PN175.00951—dc22 2004052137 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 . Taoism. photocopying. 4. Series. No part of this book may be stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means including electronic. 2.C53 2005 808’. electrostatic. paper) 1. II. address State University of New York Press. mechanical. recording. or otherwise without the prior permission in writing of the publisher.. 3. Combs. Steven C. Title. Rhetoric. Motion pictures—Moral and ethical aspects. cm. NY 12207 Production by Christine L. Loyola Marymount University Printed in the United States of America No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission. magnetic tape. 90 State Street. — (SUNY series in communication studies) Includes bibliographical references and index. Albany © 2005 State University of New York All rights reserved Cover art by Robert Burchfield. Rhetoric—China.

To my wife. . Kerry Ann Causey. for the balance and harmony you bring to my life.

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Daoist Rhetorical Criticism 73 87 23 37 53 6. Values East and West in Antz and A Bug’s Life 8. The Future of the Past Notes 151 155 115 137 101 References Index 163 . Zhuangzi and the Rhetoric of Evocation 4. and Context 9 2. Is The Tao of Steve Really “The Way”? 7. Laozi and the Natural Way of Rhetoric 3. Shrek as the Daoist Hero 9. Text. Sunzi and the Rhetoric of Parsimony 5. Culture.Contents Acknowledgments ix 1 Introduction: Rhetoric East and West 1.

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copyright by Taylor and Francis ix . and Nina. Elements of each of them are included in the introduction and chapter 1.Acknowledgments This project is the result of the generous support of the universe. have provided materials for this book. Kyra. especially Annika. Nisha. My work has been greatly enlivened by my students—who inspire me in so many ways. listed below. whose support includes research grants. individuals. I have been fortunate to receive tremendous enrichment from Loyola Marymount University. 183–99. and mass I wish to thank and credit the following publications individually: “Sun-zi and the ‘Art of War’: The rhetoric of parsimony. those who teach me the Dao—especially Robin and Jeff. The website for the journal is http://www. 12 (2002). In addition. Three of my previously published works. Walt. whose comments on drafts were very helpful. and my “silent” partners. Hayley. Ryan. who gave me opportunities to present my work and shared their ideas and energy. Cody.” Social Semiotics. 276–94. and Randy. I’d like to foreground and thank those who teach me rhetorical criticism—especially Karlyn. copyright by the National Communication Association. 86 (2000). My colleagues at LMU have been incredibly generous with their time and ideas—thank you all. and IAICS.tandf. ACCS. and funding for research assistants. and those who teach me what’s most important in life—especially Kerry. release time from was used extensively in chapter 4. Aubrey.” The Quarterly Journal of Speech. “The Dao of communication criticism: Insects. and Mom. without whose opportunities. none of this would have been possible. A special thank you to Gale. I’d also like to thank my colleagues in NCA. PACA.

Finally.. was used extensively in chapter 6. The website for the journal is . NJ: Hampton Press. 11 (2002).uk. 117–36. Drucker (Eds. was used extensively in chapter 7. G.tandf.” Intercultural Communication Studies.x THE DAO OF RHETORIC Ltd. a version of Chapter 8 will appear in the forthcoming book Heroes in a Global World.). “The Dao of rhetoric: Revelations from The Tao of Steve. Cresskill. Gumpert and S.

Murphy and Katula (1995) contend. while highly significant. x). by traditional Western standards. then it is essential to examine non-European cultures and their approaches to rhetoric. were not the sole sites for rhetoric in antiquity. and many scholars view the development of rhetorical theory as a decidedly European enterprise. Greece and Rome. rhetoric is a vastly different enterprise. Perhaps that is why some scholars maintain that rhetoric is a unique product of Western culture.Introduction Rhetoric East and West Rhetorical theory is often purported to have arisen from the demands of democracies in ancient Greece.1 Rhetoric. For example. If we take seriously the task of understanding human communication in all its forms. “the study of human discourse is an entirely Western phenomenon” (p. to outsiders. While some make minor mention of non-Western rhetoric. Furthermore. It would be more appropriate to say that other cultures conceptualize rhetoric—its explicit theorizing and applications—so differently from the West that. especially when conceived as persuasive communication. it is worthwhile to look more closely at their unique perspectives. Rather than define away non-Western approaches as something other than rhetoric. 1 . rhetoric is actualized through its practice and thus takes its particular forms from its cultural contexts (Kennedy. has been practiced around the world. 3). look like something other than rhetoric. the practice of rhetoric within a culture may. others ignore it or exclude it from discussion. 1999b). When these cultural contexts are sufficiently different. Bizzell and Herzberg (1990) say that “to speak of classical rhetoric is thus to speak of Aristotle’s system and its elaboration by Cicero and Quintilian” (p.

1963. point-by-point comparison to Western scholarship. 4). studies of classical Chinese rhetoric offer the potential for clear comparisons between Western and Chinese rhetorical traditions and the opportunity to challenge questionable Eurocentric assumptions about communication and culture. 1986. One of the most significant components of classical and contemporary Chinese cultural values is Daoism. 1995). In so doing. Sun. making it antithetical to the early European rhetorical tradition. even cooking” (Nagel. government. their treatments are overly simplistic. which are informed by the philosophical. p. rather than attempt a strict. 3). p.2 Classical Chinese rhetoric is particularly important in understanding human communication because it developed without any significant influence from the West. While these studies contribute to an awareness of Daoist thought on communication. Lu (1998) maintains that Western scholars must study Chinese rhetoric “on its own terms. p. “including religion. 1986. In fact. It would resemble trying to measure the salinity of water with a ruler” (p. and cultural landscape of classical China. 1971). 1998. 1961. Daoism is an intriguing subject for rhetorical studies because it seems to devalue persuasion and argumentation. Oliver (1971) claims. it offers a unique vantage point for revisioning social theory and action. 8). political. Daoist rhetoric offers a challenging and productive alternative to Western rhetorical theory. Lu. “there was no influence of Western ideas of rhetoric on ancient China” (Kennedy. 1998. 167). art. I-ming. It also answers the call for culturally sensitive approaches to Chinese rhetoric by grounding its ideas in readings of pivotal texts by key Daoist theorists. 33). 1994. 1987. Daoism continues to affect all Asian countries influenced by China (Chan. 1992. earlier explorations of Daoist views on rhetoric stressed their strange and exotic nature (Jensen. Its further study has the potential to provide tremendous insight about Chinese cultural and rhetorical traditions. 228). Throughout this book I maintain a focus on Daoism. Consequently. This book engages the vastness of Daoism as an alternative to Western conceptions of rhetorical theory and criticism. because I believe Daoism is significantly underdeveloped in rhetorical . “any attempt to discover in Asia prototypes of the Western rhetorical canons would be unavailing. p. 2000. with an analysis rooted in ancient Chinese cultural texts and contexts” (p.2 THE DAO OF RHETORIC Scholars have become increasingly interested in classical China as a site for rhetoric because it provides rich insights on Asian culture and the communication process. medicine. Indeed.3 Daoism has been a “central and pervasive” factor in Chinese society (Clarke. Oliver. having “permeated every area of Chinese life” (Lu. In addition.

a world that is created by the opposing forces of yin and yang. These forces create ongoing patterns of interaction that both unify and distinguish the entities of the universe in a constant. Consequently. but it is highly susceptible to error and less reliable than experience and holistic intuition in discerning the nature of things.Introduction 3 studies. pathos. because it is finite and perspectival. in order to help Western readers situate Daoism. while the Western philosophical inheritance from classical Greece is vastly different from classical China. over time. and logos. species. “Knowledge” is the proper alignment of human perception with the underlying reality—the ability to distinguish the “real” from the perceived or conceived. Nothing is inherently stable or distinct from anything else. Hence. For example. Reason is celebrated as central to an understanding or recognition of what is real. interdependent flow of events. Daoism holds a “one-world” view of reality. Aristotle defined rhetoric so as to distinguish it from philosophy and poetry. I hope that my analysis creates space for theorists to engage Daoism in the development of their own projects. Classical Greek theorizing posits a “two-world” notion of reality that distinguishes a highly variable world of appearances from a stable world of essences. Daoism . Reason is one way to sort through cognitions. because one cannot grasp the entirety of the universe. Language is an attempt to represent or “symbolically capture” reality. Daoism was originally offered as a challenge to prevailing views in classical China and its unique perspectives and traditions are even more challenging to basic Western concepts. Interestingly. delineated artistic and inartistic proofs. In contrast. one always perceives a sense of the true—what is the case at this moment to the perceiver—as well as the false—what is beyond an individual’s vantage point. Language cannot possibly represent reality. can nonetheless be useful in navigating the everyday world. and subdivided artistic proofs into ethos. Perceptions are inherently incomplete. Any attempts to distinguish or categorize violate the underlying unity of all things. The Greeks attempted to distinguish the various entities of the world by sorting them into categories based on their innate and unique qualities. At the same time. like language. Of course. thus some level of comparison is inevitable. and phylum in the case of living creatures. although reality constantly presents facets of itself that give the illusion of distinction and stability. which are attenuated throughout the first five chapters. Daoism anticipates a great deal of contemporary theorizing in the West—particularly postmodernism4—and seems. but distinctions. to move closer to current iterations of Western thought. I will next summarize basic differences and implications of those differences. such as genus.

the primary works attributed to Laozi. one will not find an explicit definition of rhetoric or an inventory of the “rhetorical canons” of the Daoist sages. Rhetoric is used to serve Daoism. In chapter 1. The “Dao of Rhetoric” is thus a perspective on rhetoric that defies simple categorization or definition.5 . yet productive. respectively. I “foreground” its unique moves. persuasion. which I then use to inform a methodology for rhetorical criticism. I note some of the challenges of working with ancient Chinese texts. I note that Daoism takes an arbitrary. Furthermore. and implications. It emphasizes spontaneity and creativity in an interdependent and unified universe that always presents itself novelly and incompletely. essential meanings and identities. and Sunzi. While certain comparisons to the West are appropriate. and deprivilege reason and rationality. Consequently. I endeavor to honor the generative nature of Daoism as a “living” philosophy that recognizes that reality is not preformed and the future is not preordained but is informed and shaped by ongoing practice. non-Asian world. but also of rhetoric itself. momentums. espoused views that are compatible with postmodern critiques that deny objective foundations for knowledge. approach to the text/context interplay. I situate classical Daoist thought within its historical milieu. Daoist perspectives on rhetoric are conditioned by its worldview and are thus highly divergent from classical Western rhetoric. approximately twenty-five hundred years ago. Daoism shares postmodern views of the plurality and instability of meanings and identities. one should not expect a treatment of Daoist rhetoric to situate itself neatly within traditional Western rhetorical constructs. is not an end for rhetoric. Elements of the works of Daoist sages will be highlighted as groundings for rhetorical theory. I indicate throughout this book that Daoism. In fact. and the decentered. Finally. which empowers interrogation and interpretation not only of society. Zhuangzi. the key personae identified as the authors of these works. in general. perspectival text. The next three chapters explore. I believe that readers will see far more possibilities for Daoism if they are able to engage it with as few expectations as possible. I apply “Daoist rhetorical criticism” to contemporary texts in order to enrich perspectives on both Daoism and rhetoric. and its persuasiveness is designed to make Daoist views accessible and appealing to potential adherents. and outline the political and philosophical context in which Daoism emerged.4 THE DAO OF RHETORIC has not moved toward the West as much as Western thought has moved toward Daoism. Daoists never treat rhetoric as a distinct subject. I attempt to invoke the roots of Daoism while bringing it to life in my contemporary. but incorporate ideas on language and communication in their overall philosophy. universal truths.

and responsiveness. I argue that Daoism constitutes a unique genre of rhetoric. I analyze the Zhuangzi and note its elaborations and revisions of basic Daoist principles found in the Dao de jing. famous for the Art of War. It notes Laozi’s basic strategic approach. these admonitions appear in a text that does exactly those things. or choice is often the starting point for Western communication. to speak naturally. strategy. which can then form a methodology for Daoist rhetorical criticism. Art of War thus adds richness to rhetorical Daoism. Zhuangzi uses fanciful ideas. Conflict. Yet. Yet he uses a strategy and methods that are consistent with his natural way of communication. I then examine the applicability of Daoism for criticism and detail suggested approaches to the critical process. The next three chapters use this genre to examine contemporary films from a critical perspective in order to promote a deeper understand- . I begin by considering whether Daoism can be used as a basis for criticism without violating its basic principles.Introduction 5 Chapter 2 analyzes the Dao de jing in order to indicate the basic architecture of Daoism and the rhetorical principles that can be discerned in Laozi’s work. one that challenges traditional notions of discourse categories. Sunzi provides a parsimonious approach to conflict communication. The analysis indicates that Laozi’s rhetoric is consistent with his philosophy. His rhetoric is conditioned by the limitations of language and the ineffability of the Dao. these principles may lack utility for twenty-first-century Westerners. and one must not try to persuade. characterized by substantive and strategic elements that are bound together by the internal dynamic of the Dao. I expand the scope of Daoist rhetoric by examining Sunzi. and the celebration of the low. intriguing imagery. one cannot particularize or hold a point of view. Using war as a metaphor for rhetoric. His perspective offers abundant tactical advice and advances keen insights on knowledge. making it especially relevant in the contemporary world. In chapter 5. however. Zhuangzi. disagreement. and Sunzi can be fused into a coherent genre. In chapter 4. I advance the idea that the rhetorics of Laozi. weak. using language to persuade others to accept Daoist principles. In chapter 3. and his primary methods for communicating Daoism. These views are reconciled in a rhetoric that relies on evoking the participation of the audience in the persuasion process. Laozi and Zhuangzi promote principles of communication that are predicated on conflict avoidance and minimization. Laozi introduces the substance of Daoist rhetoric by a philosophy that is comfortable with changing permanence. and soft. and striking humor to suggest that language cannot represent meanings. which I term Daoist rhetoric. Next. blended opposition.

the story of Daoism put into practice in the West. one that challenges the traditional Western hero by valorizing the individual who focuses on being content. The chapter examines the Academy Award winning film Shrek as an example of the “Hero Archetype” advanced by Joseph Campbell. I argue that contemporary films provide a particularly useful framework for analysis. These films have significant moral implications. living simply.6 THE DAO OF RHETORIC ing of Daoism and offer insights on various social practices. and the application of Daoism promotes thinking about proper conduct for our nations. It argues that Shrek induces audiences to identify with a new vision of the hero. but important statements about the appropriate role of the individual in a mass society. as a test of Daoism as a critical method. The analysis demonstrates that A Bug’s Life and Antz are not merely animated films. prove useful in the consideration of texts that purport to be Daoistic.” The chapter looks at two animated films. . and illuminate Daoism as a critical response to these issues. ostensibly. providing very different answers to the question of how an individual can live a meaningful life in a mass society. Analysis of the film reveals that the hero uses a number of strategies and tactics found in Sunzi’s Art of War. but to further explore Daoism. A Bug’s Life and Antz. This story may thus be seen as a metaphor for the potential pitfalls that occur when westerners attempt to appropriate Eastern thought. at the least. Consequently. yet fails to comprehend and enact the substantive elements of the philosophy. The chosen films are readily accessible. they have the potential to encourage broad audiences to engage in critical viewing practices. and selves. however. and avoiding conflict. then it must. The critique questions the purported universality of the hero myth. While Daoist rhetoric can potentially be used for any rhetorical artifact. that I analyze these films not as a way to investigate popular culture. winners of awards from film festivals and the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. speak to broad social themes and ideas that transcend particular historical moments. families. businesses. Chapter 7 extends the project beyond the consideration of Daoist texts to determine if Daoist rhetoric is a viable approach for texts that are not readily identifiable as “Daoist. If Daoist rhetoric can function as a method for rhetorical criticism. Chapter 8 considers the prospect of using Daoist rhetoric in conjunction with other analytical tools. The films reflect clear value orientations of Western and Eastern cultures respectively. These artifacts are easily accessed by large and diverse audiences. It must be noted. It celebrates living harmoniously with nature and using the natural flow of the universe to accomplish one’s objectives. Chapter 6 examines The Tao of Steve because it is.

It then considers Daoist rhetoric as a potent critical perspective in the contemporary. postmodern world. in part. The analysis begins by focusing on ideas of Kenneth Burke. and can be valuable at the most mundane levels of existence. arguably the most central figure in contemporary Western rhetoric. I explore the potential for Daoism to provide a lens for viewing limitations of current Western rhetorical theorizing. and responding to those views from a Daoist perspective.Introduction 7 The concluding chapter suggests possibilities for Daoist rhetoric to further contribute to rhetorical theory and criticism. and how it might be deployed as a condition for social action. in the past. and social action. is energized when it is put into practice. I maintain that Daoist rhetoric opens exciting avenues for theory. . criticism. I believe that the future of rhetorical studies lies. The intellectual path that is being followed in the West would benefit by considering the path not taken.

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Examining the historical environment or milieu. can assist our understanding of these ancient texts and how their views of Daoism might be applicable to rhetorical theory and criticism. therefore. interactive environmental field. Text. adds richness to the potential meanings and applications of Daoism for rhetoric. DAOISM AND CONTEXT In order to distinguish classical Greek and Daoist rhetorical perspectives on text and context. These factors include the translation process. rhetorical personae. An account of the historical environment or context for the works of the sages. factors outside of the texts. and the political and philosophical environment. and Context Daoists believe that texts are not created in isolation but are products of a vibrant. bound by context in such a way as to be irrelevant in other contexts. I begin this chapter by elaborating on dominant features of classical Greek and Daoist worldviews in order to articulate a Daoist view of text and context. and thereby delineate the unique Daoist perspective 9 .1 It thereby provides an opportunity to investigate important philosophical underpinnings of Daoist rhetoric and contrast those with philosophical suppositions inherent in classical Western rhetoric. Insights about context may help distinguish aspects of the texts that are situation-specific. I then consider contextual elements. which I believe interacted most significantly in their assemblage. Exploring the historical context for these texts also engages a theoretical issue of the text/context distinction. which are analyzed specifically in the next three chapters. from elements that espouse timeless wisdom.CHAPTER 1 Culture.

This view is starkly exemplified by Plato’s distinction between the true world of forms and the seductive pseudoreality of the sensual world. communicates a dualistic sense of the individual that is foreign to Daoists.” This movement “is not ‘cyclical’ in the sense of reversibility and replication. Reason is thought of as “a human faculty independent of experience that can discover the essence of things” (pp. Instead. In contrast to the Greek notion that reality is a “permanent structure to be discovered behind a changing process. as well as body and soul. The Western notion of dualism is also apparent in conceptions of the self. or core self. which constitute the world: . emerging and collapsing. 57). To the Greeks. stabilize. The inherent nature of reality is change and novelty. such as a god. but what one exhibits or how one acts at a particular time may be distinct from one’s fixed nature. and it alone constitutes reality. p. 55).10 THE DAO OF RHETORIC on this issue. essence. but is rather a continuing spiral that is always coming back upon itself and yet is ever new” (Ames & Hall. Within this conception. “knowing” to the Greeks means discovering the “mirroring correspondence between an idea and an objective world” (Ames. In Daoism.” the classical Chinese view is that knowledge is “a perceived intelligibility and continuity that can be mapped within the dynamic process itself” (Ames. By virtue of the belief in an underlying objective reality. there is one world. 28). There is no independent agent. and interacting. 1993. reason plays a paramount role. moving and attaining equilibrium that is occasioned by its own internal energy of transformation. p. At a cosmological level. 2003. 1993. therefore. Knowing. To know something. Ames (1993) characterizes the Greek view as a “two-world” theory while the Chinese espouse a “one-world” view. the comprehensiveness. p. is to discover its “true” reality. to provide order and life. The world’s order results from a continuous interaction of the opposing forces of yin and yang. and make unique the entities of reality. The order in the universe is not created by a grand design but is the natural consequence of the dynamic interaction of all life forms—“the many making one. and “rational explanation” lies “in the discovery of some antecedent agency or the isolation and disclosure of relevant causes” (p. Reality is a ceaseless alternation “between rising and falling. there is a permanent real world that stands behind appearance. and later by the Christian distinction between heaven and earth. Individuals are thought to look a certain way or behave in certain ways. 55–56). developing. 56). one must begin with their respective fundamental worldviews. everything in the universe is constantly changing. The idea of manifest and latent self.” There are no essences that define. rests on the ability to perceive the connections and interactions. then.

. Nothing stands apart from everything else because “the many make the one. would say that a person’s identity is grounded in her or his relationships with other things. The message (text) responds to a preexisting situation—the mind of the rhetor. and it. by his or her roles and relationships with others. or the son of Wu. in a linear way. the father of Qi. the movement from preexisting situation to text to audience effect. message. An individual exists and is defined in relation to everything else. integrating the perceptions of both mind and body in order to see the unity of the universe. A person may therefore be known as the man who lives next to the butcher. the historical circumstances. It is the association of things that constitutes all things. (p. lacking the notion of a unique identity for things and people that stands apart from the experiential thing or person. The Chinese. affects the attitudes and beliefs of the audience. A person has no unique essence. as Aristotle suggests. Rhetoric becomes a quasi-scientific enterprise. is the faculty of observing the available means of persuasion in a given case. The text is thus a product of the context. 64). “Rational explanation” lies “in mapping out the local conditions that collaborate to sponsor any particular event or phenomenon” (p. It also makes it encumbent on rhetors and critics to account for contextual factors in crafting and/or critiquing a text. Artful rhetoric. All conditions interrelate and collaborate in greater or lesser degree to constitute a particular event as a confluence of experiences. “Knowing” is thus being able to trace out and manipulate those conditions far or near that will come to affect the shifting configuration of one’s own place.” The classical Western tendency to emphasize the uniqueness and stability of the elements of reality conditions views of rhetoric. as rhetors apply reason to divine the underlying aspects of the context and then fashion texts that produce desired audience responses. Rhetorical action involves three distinct elements: rhetor. and Context Without an assumed separation between the source of order in the world and the world itself. 56). in turn. One must understand the connections between all things. and the predispositions of the audience—or context. This approach clearly identifies component parts of the rhetorical process and specifies. and audience. but is simply a part of the many. meaning that the human is “irreducibly communal” (p. causal agency is not so immediately construed in terms of relevant cause and effect. Text.” One who knows can see the relationship between all things and break them down into the collaborative elements that explain events and phenomena. 56) 11 Reason is viewed as “coherence—the pattern of things and functions.Culture.

2003. Context is important because rhetorical artifacts are situated historically—there is a spatial and temporal dimension that is relevant when a text is created and has some bearing on meaning. We can propose an arbitrary historical context. nothing stands apart from the world. are inseparable. and are thus intrinsically related to the other ‘things’ that provide them context. Articulating a historical context temporarily places events in the foreground amid the background of reality. as long as we recognize that claims regarding context. in Daoism. As I will further explore in chapter 2. In fact. before ultimately returning its elements to the environment. these processual events are porous. Meanings and identities change and are never fully formed or stable. . Over time. Accordingly. The Daoist view that context is both an important and arbitrary category appears contradictory. for whatever reason. but only because one is looking at that assemblage from a particular vantage point at a particular time. Text and context. distinctions such as text and context are not true distinctions but rather arbitrary and time-bound labels. like rhetor and audience. in Daoism opposites do not negate or repel but complement. Said another way. A text is simply a temporary assemblage of symbols whose meaning interacts cyclically with everything else in the environmental field: “Particular ‘things’ are in fact processual events. or physical object creates the illusion of stability and uniqueness. Texts are connected to time and place because. the more we can understand. message. while important. choose to freeze momentarily into a distinct pattern of discrimination. as being beyond such distinction” (p. 43). but as we shall learn. It is nonetheless useful and necessary. The artifact is a product of all aspects of the environmental field. flowing into each other in the ongoing transformations we call experience” (Ames & Hall. but that they recognize. contrarily. change and interaction produce the identity and meaning of things in the world. Of course. then is an arbitrary imposition on the fundamental nature of reality. elements in the universe generate a body that alternately degenerates and regenerates.12 THE DAO OF RHETORIC Daoists believe. 15). the temporary assemblage of elements into a body. are provisional: “Sages envision a world of changing events that they can. that reality is a unified whole and the individual is not distinct from the rest of the universe. Distinguishing text and context. when we refer to something as a distinct entity or product of a particular set of circumstances we are speaking of how it presents itself at a particular time. when they see clearly. and the more we know about the interconnected aspects of the environment. The assemblage of that body over the course of what we term a “lifespan” is actually temporary and indistinct from the grand mix that constitutes the universe. p.

As long as we recognize what we are doing. we must do these sorts of things in order to survive. such as context. farmers are wise to teach their children to follow the seasons regarding when to plant. Specifying a context foregrounds the elements in the field—historical and cultural events. There is an interactive flux that dynamically conditions all features in the environmental field. which includes any instance when we use language. we create artificial distinctions because they are useful. but what it might have been to emerging identities at one time. At the same time. rhetors. context does not imply causation. Daoists use language and create categories. when to fertilize and water. To treat Daoism with an appreciation for its texts and contexts is to recognize its fluid and dynamic presence in the world. “spring” is not discrete but is a blend of winter and summer. Furthermore. There have been epochs where weather stayed relatively stable from season to season for centuries. It is more appropriate to say that Daoist thought influenced historically situated events just as those events affected Daoist thought. when to harvest. There have been blizzards in the middle of summer and heat waves in the depths of winter. as a way of foregrounding. there is no harm or issue. not positing a claim about the nature of reality. When we do this. It can serve a practical purpose to create categories or distinctions and label them so that we can act in this world. and recognize that the parts we focus on are actually facets of a larger whole. Text. Situating Daoism within a time frame in which certain events took place does not mean that those events caused the sages to say what they did in a linear sense. They see no problem in this because they do not think that they are making statements about the ultimate reality or an individual’s essence. Texts are not caused by situations but are part of them. we must be able to isolate events and individuals from time to time so that we can communicate and organize activities. Daoists reject linear explanations of events. In fact. audiences—that seem to be of great importance in their interaction with each other. We pull things into the foreground and speak of them as though they are discrete in order to do business. If a Daoist were to talk about a rhetorical interactant. Furthermore. . For example. or context it would be assumed that the conversation is not treating these elements as fixed or stable entities that exist in isolation from one another or anything else. text. When we isolate text and context we are using them as a basis for understanding. and when to leave the soil fallow. and Context 13 As a practical matter. the distinctions between the four seasons are arbitrary. Locating a context or historical framework for the crafting of key texts does not tell us what Daoism is.Culture.

52). what I think was in play during the construction of the texts. 2000. situating Daoism contextually may help us understand Daoist thought not as timeless prescriptions but as living events. the meaning of the text is undoubtedly influenced by these divisions. Grigg (1995) proclaims that “translating the Lao Tzu is so difficult that intelligent guessing rather than translating is often the rule rather than the exception” (pp. from my vantage point. or to the Lao Tzu. p. p. Classical Chinese. There is no textual basis for dividing them as they are. 2000. the writings” (Grigg. the person. TRANSLATION Chinese is a highly contextual language that demands a great deal of interpretation. is simply long columns of uninterrupted characters with no indication of chapters. 111–12). . The present chapter divisions have simply evolved by convention. the Dao de jing has been translated in Chinese several hundred times and “continuously reinterpreted throughout Chinese history” (Clarke. no recorded distinction could be made between references to Lao Tzu. While we cannot contain Daoist thought or objectify its teachings. the form in which the various versions of the Lao Tzu are recorded. Because of the difficulties in translating classical Chinese works. even if they were. “because Chinese contains neither definite nor indefinite articles. which has not been used for centuries.14 THE DAO OF RHETORIC Of course. We may even discern how these lessons might be meaningful in our unique circumstances. I cannot claim definitively that the aspects or events that I focus on were necessarily on the minds of the crafters of those texts. that the rhetors were interpreting these contextual elements in the same way that I do. even in modern Chinese. stanza/paragraphs. 1995. to modern Chinese. the stanza/paragraphs are still discretionary. Sentences are determined by what appears to be meaningful units of thought. For example. The translation problems of which I speak are not simply encountered in moving from Chinese to English but originate in translating classical Chinese. or even sentences. nor can I say. 121) The grammatical structure and paucity of characters in classical Chinese make the language “compressed and cryptic” (Clarke. For translators and readers alike. My examination of historical context indicates. 125). (p.

In this case. most likely made by Confucians who “adjusted the Taoist texts to accommodate their own particular purposes” (p. 7). as a central contextual factor. 119) While some of these errors were wholly inadvertent. If nothing else. Of the traditional texts that do exist. Nonetheless. Thus. “Daoism has neither helped to shape the mentality of colonial rulers nor been a focus of anti-imperialist struggle. is complicated by the fact that there were no extant or systematic historical records of China until centuries after the . some were deliberate. there are no extant copies of the original version. 50–51). 7). the Western appropriation of Hinduism during the colonial period “helped both to reinforce European hegemony over India and at the same time to construct a nationalist Indian ideology” (Clarke. Interestingly. (Grigg. p. and Context 15 pp. as we read these germinal works we must remain aware that all translations are perspectival interpretations. Western encounters with Daoism have been diverse and complicated. indicating that “the recently emerging relationship with Daoism cannot be understood simply in terms of Western power over a passive and subjugated Orient” (p. Hence. however. One might wonder to what extent translation politics may have affected Western versions of the text. Existing traditional renditions are rife with errors. RHETORICAL PERSONAE Many traditional approaches to textual analysis make the seemingly obvious assumption that it is valuable to examine the author. p.” More recently. 2000. This has been confirmed by the recently discovered Ma-wang-tui texts. the study of Daoism in the West came largely after the primary colonial period. Text. Still other characters—indeed. 1995. which have filled in as many as three lines in one so-called chapter. Daoism is certainly affected by the politics of translation. however. or rhetor. 119). Situating the texts upon which I rely. For example.Culture. in the case of Daoism this has not been particularly pervasive. And some characters and lines are missing entirely. while there is always a certain politicization of texts. identifying authorship provides a historical time frame for the text that can point to significant social forces that may have interacted with the rhetorical act or artifact. most scholars now agree that some of the characters are incorrect and the meanings of others are uncertain. whole lines of them—are incorrectly placed.



deaths of the Daoist sages; the lack of clear records makes it difficult to separate folklore from fact. Grigg (1995) points out “there is no definitive evidence that Lao Tzu himself even existed” (p. 123). The book Dao de jing was originally titled Laozi, in accordance with the Chinese custom of attributing philosophical texts to a named figure thought to have originated or popularized the ideas (Kaltenmark, 1965). The most prevalent, and I think credible, view is that Dao de jing is a composite work. Ames and Hall (2003) agree: “It would seem that a great many hands across an expanse of time set down, sorted, re-sorted, edited, and collated the Daodejing and the materials that constitute it” (p. 7). While the precise compilation dates for Dao de jing are unknown, Ames and Hall, in a recent and impressive translation and commentary, maintain that the book was “born” during the Warring States Period (circa 403–221 B.C.E.). The text is also referred to in Zhuangzi, indicating the order in which those works were rendered. Like the Dao de jing, the authorship of the Zhuangzi is uncertain. The text is widely considered to be a composite of several works by different authors from different periods of time (Clarke, 2000). The book is divided into three sections—the Inner Chapters (1–7), the Outer Chapters (8–22), and the Miscellaneous Chapters (23–33). The Inner Chapters are thought to be composed by a single individual, most likely the historical Zhuang Zhou (Chuang Chou), during the Warring States period (Clarke, 2000; Graham, 1986; Roth, 1991). The Inner Chapters, which are my focus in chapter 3, contain “all the major themes for which the Chuang Tzu has been renowned” (Roth, 1991, p. 80). The core text of Art of War, consisting of thirteen chapters, was probably written by Sun Wu or his disciples (Ames, 1993; Griffith, 1963; Huang, 1993; Sawyer, 1994). Because of questions regarding the accuracy of historical records, and the possibility that Art of War was compiled by adherents of Sun Wu after his death, there are conflicting ideas regarding when it was written. According to Ames, the historical Sun Wu is estimated to have lived circa 544-496 B.C.E., making him “a contemporary of Confucius at the end of the Spring-Autumn period” (p. 18). Most scholars date the compilation of Art of War somewhere between the end of the Spring-Autumn period and the late Warring States period (Ames, 1993; Griffith, 1963; Huang, 1993; Sawyer, 1994). Regardless of its exact date of compilation, Art of War responds to major philosophical perspectives and political events that occurred during the intense military campaigns of the latter SpringAutumn period (circa 770–481 B.C.E.), and the text informed military strategists during the brutal Warring States period (circa 403–221 B.C.E.). In sum, all three texts upon which I rely were most likely compiled between the fifth and third centuries B.C.E., during the Spring-Autumn

Culture, Text, and Context


and Warring States periods. Sunzi’s teachings appear first, followed by Laozi and Zhuangzi, who were preceded by and highly aware of Confucius.2 Furthermore, it is likely that many hands, either original authors and/or translators, have crafted the works of these sages. They are “not the heroic inventions of a single originating author but redactions created over periods of time out of a variety of sources, shaped by a mixture of influences and interpreted in widely different ways” (Clarke, 2000, p. 50). Consequently, I treat Laozi, Zhuangzi, and Sunzi as rhetorical personae and not necessarily actual historical figures solely responsible for particular texts.

POLITICAL CONTEXT The political climate of the Spring-Autumn and Warring States periods is a critical spur to not only Daoism but also many of Asia’s most profound thinkers, writers, and artists. The years of chaos spawned a free and diverse intellectual environment that “laid the foundation for subsequent literary forms, philosophical thinking, and cultural formation” (Lu, 1998, p. 66). This era, the “Golden Age” of Chinese literature, includes the life and works of Confucius, as well as Laozi, Zhuangzi, and Sunzi. Graham (1989) observes in reference to the ancient scholars that their “whole thinking is a response to the breakdown of the moral and political order which had claimed the authority of Heaven” (p. 3). This political context is rooted in the Zhou (Chou) dynasty, which was formed around 1100 B.C.E. While the early years of Zhou rule are thought of as a Golden Age that unified the world, the “dynasty” gradually disintegrated to a point where city-states operated on an independent basis with little or no acceptance of, let alone deference to, the house of Zhou. Zhou kings were plagued by the problem of controlling a vast empire of “disparate peoples and far-flung territories with only a small Chou population” (Sawyer, 1994, p. 48). Barbarians to the north and west presented an ongoing danger to the dynasty. The kings countered these threats by granting fiefs and monetary rewards to feudal lords who pledged loyalty to the Zhou. As the feudal lords became more powerful, the central government became increasingly ineffectual. Within a few generations, the power of the western Zhou began to erode precipitously. In 770 B.C.E., after years of barbarian attacks, the Zhou lost their western capital. The Zhou capital was retrenched in the east, and the loss of political power by the Zhou royal house allowed the city-states, ruled by feudal lords, to exert increasing power. Lords of some of the more power-



ful states were eager to fill the power vacuum left by the weak central government, but no city-state was strong enough to control the others. The result was a period of continual battle for conquest and survival. In the period from 722–464 B.C.E., at least 110 states were conquered or annexed (Sawyer, 1994). Eventually, a permanent imbalance of power prevailed: The conflicts of the Spring and Autumn period had segmented China into seven powerful survivor-states, each contending for control of the realm, and fifteen weaker states for them to prey upon. The feudal lords had by then evolved into despotic monarchs who were compelled to nurture the development of extensive economic and political bureaucracies just to survive. (Sawyer, 1994, p. 53) No state was immune, “and even the most powerful state, should it fail to prepare its defenses and train its soldiers, could be vanquished” (Sawyer, 1994). In the following centuries, from 464–222 B.C.E., “wars were even longer and larger” (Hsu, 1965, p. 77), so much so that 403–221 B.C.E. became known as the Warring States period (Ames, 1993; Sawyer, 1994). This era was noted for its “political and emotional turmoil, constant warfare, treachery, and personal danger” (Major, 1975, p. 265). According to Sawyer (1994), “the scale of conflict surged phenomenally” (p. 53). Even the minor states “easily fielded armies of 100,000 and the strongest . . . reportedly maintained a standing army of nearly a million,” mobilizing “600,000 for a single campaign” (Sawyer, 1994, p. 54). As the size of warfare increased so did its brutality: The “art” of warfare progressed from swarming militia to the efficiency of phalanx-like fixed troop formations. At every level of innovation, from the introduction of cavalry, to standard issue crossbows, to siege engines, these instruments of aggression made a folly of defense. Cities were walled and fortified only to be breached; borders were drawn up only to be redrawn; alliances were formed only to be betrayed; treaties were signed only to be reneged upon. (Ames & Hall, 2003, p. 1) The ability to project these powerful armies into battle constituted an enormous threat to all: “In the race to empire, the game was zero-sum. And to lose was to perish utterly” (p. 1). Constant offensive warfare, political betrayal, and official corruption dominated life in classical China. Ames and Hall (2003) point out that

Tremendous energy was devoted to coping with the uncertainty and brutality of everyday life. sought the advice of learned men of various schools of thought. increased power for themselves and hegemony over the whole land” (Smith. or scholar class. Legalist. but because of the decentralization of political power. 3) These philosophers proliferated.3 From its beginnings in the Dao de jing. Rulers were desperate for sources of philosophical insight. propounding their theories and arguing them in open debate. with but little understanding of the arts of government.E. so that mothers gave birth to sons with the expectation that they would never reach majority” (p. was disrupted during the Spring-Autumn and Warring States periods and China was divided into independent feudal territories ruled by various lords. 1983. both politically and spiritually. spiritual authority had also been scattered. Confucianism became the official philosophy of . To these blandishments of the rulers the Taoist mystics turned a deaf ear. and military strategies that “would ensure peace and prosperity to their people.” By the year 100 B. and Logician.Culture. Text. gathering adherents. death became a way of life. Daoism is offered as an alterative to Confucianism. The central authority. “traveling from one court to another. These rulers tended to the ceremonial needs of spiritual practice. Confucius was the founder of the earliest of the “Hundred Schools. and lavished wealth and honours on those whom they trusted. Hence. The various philosophical perspectives—including Mohist. political. 317). Daoism and Confucianism arose from the debates of the Hundred Schools as China’s two principal philosophies and indigenous religions. 1). as well as Daoist and Confucian— have been described as the “Hundred Schools” of philosophy. who found themselves with valuable opportunities to influence rulers and thus increase their own prestige. PHILOSOPHICAL CONTEXT The political context in classical China had significant philosophical implications.C. Daoism is seen in a richer light when juxtaposed with Confucianism as competing responses to challenging social. and philosophical conditions in ancient China. each seeking a prince who would put their way in practice” (Parrinder. and Context 19 “for generation after generation. p. 1980. Sophist. political ideas. 3). (p. This invigorated the shih. The rulers. In return they offered positions of prestige and dignity. p.

Enlightenment was achieved through study of the classics and respectful participation in correct ritual. and transcending the material world. custom. Classical Chinese philosophy is centered on the Dao. While Daoists emphasize tian Dao. but also dress. and detailed rules of behaviour which formed a veneer to cover hypocrisy and selfseeking.20 THE DAO OF RHETORIC China. moral way to live. 1983). His code for proper conduct governed not only morality. recognizing the unity of things rather than their distinctions. 1983. the early Taoists contrasted the artificialities of man- . For Zhuangzi. the observance of rituals. prescribing detailed guidelines for behavior. For Confucians. The answer was not duty to ancestral traditions but to align oneself with the eternal. it became part of the apparatus of government. Furthermore. and highly critical of the social conventions. and Confucianism as the dominant philosophy of administrative classes became institutionalized in official rites and ceremonies and in the imperial sacrifices. Daoists would agree with Confucians that the Dao had been lost and that this explained the current problems in society. Confucius was interested in the perfection of the human in society. p. 305). In this way. Confucius created a system of moral conduct governing virtually every aspect of life. Drawing on the authority of revered ancestors. Confucians focus on ren Dao. and tradition (Schwartz. “for nearly two thousand years the Confucian canon was the mainstay of the curriculum in Chinese education” (Parrinder. Confucius believed that the good order once existed in the two preceding dynasties and that the only hope for the future was to recapture the past splendor by restoring the values and practices of a prior golden age. The imperial house and the Chinese ruling establishment have been pre-eminently Confucian. the Way of Heaven. and from a long and sacred tradition of religious ceremony. He taught what he believed was the correct. and gesture (Parrinder. the Dao had been lost because of the human’s alienation from nature. but Confucians and Daoists view the Dao differently. elaborate ceremonial. 1985). Duty and social propriety are clearly marked paths. and resurrection of practices of sage monarchs. They disagree in the notion of why the Dao was lost and where it may be discovered. This orientation allows everyone to know what is expected of them and others as well as how to conduct oneself. universal force of the Dao by living consistently with the natural world. intrigues and sycophancy of the feudal courts. demeanor. the Way of Human. moral precepts. the problem was forgotten traditions and the solution was a strict conduct code. manners. Disillusioned by the scheming. emerging as “final and permanent victor” of the battle for religious dominance.

It is because of these challenges that we can learn much from the rhetoric of the Daoist sages. entrenched the problem. (Smith. speciesism. CONCLUSION While the task of approaching classical Daoism with sensitivity toward context might seem problematic. especially for an English speaker in the twenty-first century. it is capable of leading “socially to nepotism. and will be centered throughout this book. 1980. The Dao itself is universal. and within the natural environment. it endorsed humanism and hierarchy. Our discussions will always be tempered by the inadequacy of language to account for the ineffable. but changing. by insisting on conformity with humanmade laws. There is no inherent reason why a scroll penned by Laozi himself would be more “genuine” or useful for us than an English translation rendered over two thousand years later. The ways we perceive and talk about the Dao are always reflections of our perspectives. The Confucian solution to chaos. base drives. 2003. are the methods the sages used to communicate given these difficulties. and by strategies for social regulation that privilege an ordered uniformity over spontaneity” (Ames & Hall. but also a study of the uses of rhetoric. and moved humans further from the Dao of Heaven. 32). To a Daoist. Yet these difficulties are no different from the ones Laozi faced. parochialism. 4) 21 While Confucius’s “superior man” overcomes natural. What is of particular interest to rhetoricians. p. and the pathetic fallacy” (p. and Context made institutions with the ordered sequences of natural processes. . the dynamic. The natural way is thus “trivialized by recourse to contrived rules and artificial relationships that are dehumanizing. and they are not insurmountable. Zhuangzi’s “pure man” or “true man” adapts to nature and avoids imposing human ways on the rhythm of the universe. and jingoism. In fact. While the Confucian perspective created order. Text. generative nature of Daoism deproblematizes this issue. to anthropocentrism. p. A study in Daoist rhetoric is a study in working with the fluctuating ineffable with imperfect tools. what makes this book unique is that its objective is not only a deeper understanding of Daoism.Culture. from the perspective of the Daoists. 32).

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23 . there is no question that the text has had a profound influence on the world. and saddened and disillusioned that people were unwilling to follow the path to natural goodness. ix). Lu (1998) says. 1998. setting out for the western border of China. I will next examine Laozi’s insights regarding language and appropriate communication as well as his own use of rhetoric.” and “wu-wei.” These concepts are key components of the substance of Daoist rhetoric. The central focus of Laozi’s philosophy is encapsulated in the terms found in the title of his work—Dao and de—and I will begin with the first and end with the latter. he became tired of his work.CHAPTER 2 Laozi and the Natural Way of Rhetoric According to legend.” “the natural way. disgusted with the abuses of the court. He attempted to flee from the kingdom.” “harmony. Laozi then composed in five thousand characters the Dao de jing. In between are explorations of the concepts of “yin/yang polarity. Sometime after the age of eighty. This analysis allows consideration of the consistency of Laozi’s rhetoric with his philosophy and indicates principles of rhetorical strategy and method. p. While the legend behind the Dao de jing is highly disputable. “one cannot truly understand the Chinese mind without understanding the Daoist sensibilities embodied in the Dao De Jing.” The teachings “have permeated every area of Chinese life” (Lu. 228). toward what is now Tibet. Ames and Hall (2003) note that it “has probably been translated into the English language more often than any other piece of world literature” (p. The warden of the frontier guard stopped him at the border and insisted that he write down his teachings and ideas before he departed. Laozi was the curator of the Royal Library and keeper of the archives at the imperial court.

” means surrendering to the universe’s energy source in order to tap into it. we can refer to the Dao of architecture. Hence the Dao that can be communicated is not the ultimate Dao.” “Using the Force. “The way that can be spoken of is not the constant way” (ch. 1. there is only Dao. artful. p. Athletes sometimes talk about being in a “zone” or “the flow” when they are playing well. thirsty. while the nameless Dao stands behind creation as the origin of the universe. When I bodysurf I sometimes lose track of everything except the ocean. when we name the Dao we refer to the “mother” or creator of all things. Only later. do I notice that I am tired. Their consciousness is so keenly attuned to the moment that everything fades into the background.” Contextually. Dao de jing continues to distinguish the nameable and nameless Dao: “the nameless was the beginning of heaven and earth. 57). Is this because the ineffable Dao defies linguistic description. the next time you watch Star Wars. although its forms and processes seem divided and paradoxical: Dao was considered both unchanging in its essences and changing in its expression of that essence: unchanging in that its principles were enduring and encompassing with the capacity to transcend and reconcile opposites.24 THE DAO OF RHETORIC KEY CONCEPTS Dao has been literally translated as “way” or “path. Lau.1 Similarly. substituting “Dao” whenever you hear a Jedi refer to “the Force. Dao also refers to an ultimate state of being. 1. only then do I reflect on where I am and how long I was in the water. I feel the salt water moving. Time seems to slow down. Numerous books. Dao can also mean a power or energy source. Hence. war. typically titled. p. the named was the mother of myriad creatures” (ch. in just the right way. or wellness. it can also refer to a skillful. attempt to convey this sense of the Dao. Thus. and “know” where to stand so that I can stroke into a wave. without thinking. and find myself carried to shore like I am floating on air. p. glide almost effortlessly into the wave’s rhythm. Wu (1989) translates the first line of the Dao de jing thusly: “Tao can be talked about. Consider. 1. or effective method or approach. 1963. The Dao of (blank). and sunburnt. 3). then focusing that energy to accomplish something. Lau (1963) says. and they are able to move instinctively. or both? While questions regarding language will be taken up later. 57). but not the Eternal Tao” (ch. language is limited and cannot adequately represent certain ideas. Of course. as well as the design that stands behind that reality. changing in that all . Dao can also stand for the underlying reality of all things. when I lose my connection to nature’s rhythms and am no longer with the Dao.

as the boundless potential of everything that can be. and numerous martial arts techniques are grounded in the Dao. It does everything and nothing. no words can express the ultimate infinite.” Thus. Furthermore. p. Feng shui placement. it makes available efficacious methods and approaches that tap into the design of the universe. . and can be appropriate.” or “the grand design of the universe. and it is the potential for all things because it takes no particular form. and the nameless.” It is an undifferentiated void in the sense that it can be defined as the absence of light. But the total and all-encompassing nature of the Dao cannot be expressed in words. The Dao can and cannot be named because it is eternal and universal. (Lu. the Dao is all that is and will be. Hence. Tai chi exercise. It is the sense of the Dao as the “ultimate design” that I tend to think of and refer to when I contemplate or attempt to communicate its meaning. it has no “is not. because it is all.” Since the Dao is everything. 25 The Dao’s processes are universal and unnamable. Because the Dao is the way. They are only distinguishable through a specific context.38–39). we cannot use words for the Dao because naming something demarcates its opposite. At the same time.” but that does not tell us what is that reality or design. Furthermore. time-bound and particular. which can be named. It is the many and the one. Similarly. “Is” implies “is not. at the same time. It is also important to remember that the Dao.Laozi and the Natural Way of Rhetoric things were said to undergo a perpetual cyclic movement from birth to death to birth to death (25. I recognize that all of these meanings of the Dao overlap to a certain extent. Yet. We have some ability to describe what is with language. we cannot speak of the Dao since there is no not-Dao. because the nature of the Dao is the unity that is all. Consider the color “black. black is a nonvoid containing and sustaining all things because when all colors are combined together they become black. are constantly changing. as mother or creator of what is. Furthermore. allowing us to move with the rhythm of the universe. black does everything by doing nothing because it is the completion of all things. It is the named. the combination of all colors. black can be seen as a unification of all things—the result of blending everything together. Its manifestations. 230). we can lose ourselves and become one with the unity. includes the potential of all that is not. We can label Dao “the ultimate reality. It has the boundless potential to be anything if light is introduced. We cannot find words to express the nameless Dao because we cannot apprehend the universal. 1998. To distinguish the Dao that can be named from the nameless Dao is also to say that we can name certain aspects of the Dao.

deriving their vital harmony from the proper blending of the two vital breaths” (p. and the skeleton every three months. for example. In this view it does not make sense to think of things or creatures as “objects” that have unchanging features. p. which so often accompanies Western worldviews. In fact. and the sense of permanence. 1993. it recedes. 1989. and nitrogen that just an instant before were locked up in solid matter. Of course. the stomach lining every five days. 87). All creatures are constantly moving. the liver every six weeks. Laozi goes on to explain that everything is formed and harmonized by the interaction of the two: “All the myriad things carry the Yin on their backs and hold the Yang in their embrace. p. constitute the rhythm and design of the universe. liver. your body must live on the wings of change. being replaced as quickly and endlessly as they are being broken down. earthy. you are exhaling atoms of hydrogen. oxygen. To the naked eye these organs look the same from moment to moment. 9) . The process of change places one or the other in ascendancy. the mingling of all things into the one thing. nothing is entirely yin or yang. Two gave birth to Three. 98 percent of the atoms in your body will have been exchanged for new ones. the Dao is the source of these two elements: “Tao gave birth to One. heart. just like the darkest moment of night is immediately followed by a touch of light. fiery. Wu. and organs—are regenerating. The skin replaces itself once a month. (Chopra. or light. at the molecular level. the constant blending of opposites. is illusionary. and brain are vanishing into thin air. Yin is passive energy— motionless and still. as stable entities. 87). Three gave birth to all the myriad things” (ch. We may see ourselves. bones. At this moment. carbon. or at least control. sometimes described as feminine. or dark. but we are not as cognizant of the fact that our entire bodies—skin. Yang is active and overt energy—male. elements. According to Laozi. One gave birth to Two. or essences. By the end of this year.26 THE DAO OF RHETORIC Reality is a flow of events that emanate from the constant interaction of the opposing forces of yin and yang. In order to stay alive. but at its peak. Hence. 42. lungs. but they are always in flux. our cells are constantly degenerating and regenerating. (p. 9) We readily recognize that our hair and fingernails grow. your stomach.

The way of tian is like archers drawing their bows. 15). Harmony. Since identity inheres in the interactions of reality. To be a balanced person. “solid” objects are mostly space. They “breathe. the universe must also be balanced. it is harmonious and balanced. Hence.” in the sense that they accumulate and discharge humidity. and their temperature changes. but at a microscopic level they are being eroded and degraded. and the subatomic particles moving at lightning speed through this space are actually bundles of vibrating energy” (p. Constant flux and transformation is the natural state. must be harmonious. and the constant movement of vibrating particles of energy enlivens the space. We can also consider particular qualities that are natural for certain things: “some move ahead while others follow behind. Ames & Hall. but Laozi acknowledges that humans have the ability to follow what is natural or defy the natural way and be governed by human conventions. is enabled by the natural way of things. Nature may thus be universal. 2003. as well as individual identity. When they have . 29. it is natural to make minor adjustments to adapt to different circumstances. some accumulate while others collapse” (ch. and “nature” becomes a crucial touchstone for conduct. To hit something high in the air. and all its constituents. For example. to hit something lower. some are strong while others are disadvantaged. individuals. they pull the string upward. Chopra (1993) notes. When the world is in a state of equilibrium. at a molecular level. 123). Thus. The sage understands the natural way and attends to the universal and particular—the one and the many. “quantum physics tells us that every atom is more than 99. All things come into existence from the one. They may also provide habitats for microscopic creatures. in Daoism. And whatever departs from the way of things will come to an untimely end” (ch.Laozi and the Natural Way of Rhetoric 27 We might also be tempted to think of solid objects as stable or fixed. nature has a oneness but it also can be differentiated or particularized. p. by virtue of their interaction. 122). one is completed by all others. of the process that makes everything as one. 30. as in this example from Laozi: “for something to be old while in its prime is called a departure from the way of things. is a paramount goal for human activity. or nature. And for the world to be harmonious. p. they pull the string downward. Just like everything else. The Dao created a natural equilibrium where everything blended perfectly. some breathe to warm themselves while others breathe to cool themselves down.9999 percent empty space. life itself.

Laozi laments the shortcomings of the rulers of the Spring-Autumn and Warring States periods and notes the solution to the problems of the world is for rulers to stop acting out of personal desire and be guided by the larger. 134). 77. It is instead to take away from those who do not have enough in order to give more to those who already have too much. Species die when the environmental field cannot enable and sustain them. and the future will not necessarily include human life. What exactly is the natural way? After all. I suspect Laozi would remind us of two things. p. then Laozi believes they are at risk when they set themselves apart from it. the Earth. and goes about trying to do so. they let some go. 37. 122) . First. much of Laozi’s advice is directed to rulers and his urging is for them to restore the natural way. It would seem wise to recognize that our ability to do something does not make it natural or desirable. There was a time before humans. they would achieve equilibrium. The world is a sacred vessel. In fact. p. will retain a capacity for life regardless of human activity. 29. The way of human beings. humans may tragically learn that the natural way stands above human convention. on the other hand is not like this at all. the outcome will be disastrous if we are motivated by our desire and not the natural way. they pull harder. and is not something that can be ruled. and all the world would be properly ordered of its own accord” (ch. By this reasoning it is also natural to commit genocide and destroy the ability of the Earth to sustain its various species. (ch. (p. 196) But humans do not readily make the minor adjustments to sustain the equilibrium of the world. Ultimately. I foresee that they simply will not succeed. In response.28 THE DAO OF RHETORIC drawn the string too far back. If someone wants to rule the world. since humans have done these things. 196) Whether we act out of greed or benevolence. (ch. Those who would rule it ruin it. those who would control it lose it. p. If humans wish to be a part of the world. and when they have not drawn it far enough. if not blown to bits. because our history includes genocide and we now have the capacity for ecological destruction. one can argue that it is natural for humans to try to conquer disease and fly to the moon. universal way of things: “in not desiring.

Laozi and the Natural Way of Rhetoric


Second, we can perhaps discern what is natural, even for humans, if we use the overall state of nature, not just human tendencies, as a guidepost. Human activity must coordinate with the workings of the rest of the world. Laozi argues that the natural way is temperate and moderate. The example of the archer’s micro adjustments indicates that nature moves constantly but inexorably. Laozi says that is why “the sages eschew the excessive, the superlative, and the extravagant” (p. 122). He suggests that we pay attention to the small things, because they preempt large problems. It is easy to keep one’s grip when things are subtle, it is easy to plan for a situation that has yet to happen, it is easy to snap something that is brittle, it is easy to break something up that is just beginning. Deal with a situation before it happens; Bring it under control before it gets out of hand. (ch. 64, p. 177) Nature also affirms softness and flexibility: While living, people are supple and soft, but once dead, they become hard and rigid cadavers. While living, the things of this world and its grasses and trees are pliant and fragile, but once dead, they become withered and dry. Thus it is said: Things that are hard and rigid are the companions of death; Things that are supple and soft are the companions of life. (ch. 76, p. 195) One of Laozi’s favorite metaphors to illustrate these principles is water. Nothing in this world is as soft and weak as water and yet in attacking what is hard and strong, there is nothing that can surpass it. This is because there is nothing that can be used in its stead. There is no one in the world that does not know that the soft prevails over the hard and the weak prevails over the strong, and yet none are able to act accordingly. (ch. 78, p. 197) The way of nature is balance and harmony that derives from diversity and interdependence. Nature also moves slowly and is best adapted to with minor changes made early and often. Life is affirmed by being soft and flexible, while hardness and rigidity move toward death. Nature also stands at the intersection of theory and practice. It is understood theoretically as a manifestation of Daoist cosmology and



expression of ontology. Practically, nature is the movement of the here and now that we all experience. Its pragmatic sense is enlivened by the concept wu-wei, which is the expression of the natural way in human activity. The presence of wu-wei in one’s actions indicates that the individual is aligned with the natural way of doing things. Wu-wei refers to effortless action—the ability to accomplish without coercion. When one is aligned with the Dao it is possible to move like a leaf on a stream of water. One abandons the Western sense of being goal oriented, that is, driven to achieve something external, and instead attempts to enact one’s internal nature. To be moved by one’s nature requires no effort. A tree does not try to be a tree; it simply is one. Similarly, a Daoist does not strategize and strive to achieve humanistic objectives but simply moves in accordance with the natural coherence of the world. Once again, water exemplifies a difficult concept: “The softest things in the world ride roughshod over the hardest things. Only the least substantial thing can penetrate the seamless. This is how we know that doing things noncoercively [wu-wei] is beneficial” (ch. 43, p. 145). To be with the Dao also means that one is thinking only of the moment and what is at hand. The attention is so keenly focused on the nature of the present that there is no planning per se. One simply responds intuitively to the circumstances. When one knows well “the principles, structures, and trends of human and natural affairs” then “one uses the least amount of energy in dealing with them” (Watts, 1975, p. 76). Hence, wu-wei combines comprehensive and innate intelligence “with taking the line of least resistance in all one’s actions” (p. 76). When one accomplishes without exertion it indicates that one knows the Dao and is attuned to the natural way of things. Action that is actionless (wu-wei) entails the ability to flow with the stream of reality. In the sense that wu-wei puts a human component to the natural way, and signifies or marks its presence in an individual, de brings the eternal and theoretical aspects of Daoism to the pragmatic human level. Dao is the container word for the ineffable and it organizes cosmological aspects of Daoism. De is the presence of the potency of the Dao within an individual. It is “the fulfillment of the dao through wise speech and proper action” (Lu, 1998, p. 230). De is frequently translated as virtue or power. For Confucians it is “pursued through one’s full participation in the ritualized community, where achieved excellence in the roles and relationships that constitute one’s person makes one an object of deference for others” (Ames & Hall, 2003, p. 60). In the Daoist context de refers to efficacy or virtuality— “inherent virtue or power to produce effects” (p. 61). Laozi explains that

Laozi and the Natural Way of Rhetoric


it does not result from cultivation of ritualized human conventions, but from a communion with the Dao. Way-making [dao] gives things their life, and their particular efficacy [de] is what nourishes them. Events shape them, and having a function consummates them. It is for this reason that all things honor way-making and esteem efficacy. As for the honor directed at way-making and the esteemed directed at efficacy, it is really something that just happens spontaneously without having ennobled them. (ch. 51, p. 156) It must be remembered that de is not overtly powerful but quietly so. In fact, the highest efficacy may be invisible or involve the use of proxies. Those who are good as students are not militant; those who are good at waging war are not belligerent; those who are good at vanquishing their enemies do not join issue; those who are good at employing others place themselves beneath them. This is what is called having noncontentious efficacy [de]. It is what is called making use of others. It is what is called an axis that is as old as the heavens. (Ch. 68, pp. 184–85) This communion allows one to be highly productive. Those with de can be thought of as “paragons of achieved excellence” (p. 61). Their de is both generated by their character and the recognition conferred by those around them (p. 60). Thus, those with de are efficacious because they manifest qualities of the Dao and produce outcomes that engender gratitude and appreciation, which further enables their accomplishments. In this sense, de is a marker for the Dao in an individual. When one has de, one is with the Dao. We cannot “see” the Dao, but we can note its manifestation in an individual as de. De gives a particularity to the Dao and indicates that an individual is walking the path of the Dao. While this overview of Daoism provides mere glimpses of its principles, it seems fair to ask if Daoism is valuable for those who do not understand or accept it as a worldview. I believe that Daoist principles are important even without Daoist metaphysics. Daoism highlights the continuity or connection between all things. We are reminded that we are part of something that is larger than ourselves. Furthermore, things have come before us and things will continue after our bodies leave the earth. We are interdependent creatures who are invited to find our identities in interaction, pay attention to the small details, and consider the ease with which

The Dao also forces us to question. 164). 43. and individual relationships. Look for it and there is nothing to see. The Dao includes all things. Laozi’s philosophy of language recognizes the inability of words. While there is a sense of destiny. and social justice. But were way-making [dao] to be put into words: It could be said to be so bland and insipid that it has no taste. listen for it and there is nothing to hear. environmentalism. to express what is infinite. In fact. yet also abound in communities. and yet in availing oneself of it. and avoid the dangers of conquest. The issues are global. (ch. as well as things that have not come into material existence. These observations provide a foundation for discussions of equality. p. p. communicators must resign themselves to the conditionality of their discourse or find modes of expression that do not rely on words. Logically. p. which are finite and temporal. 56. . We are encouraged to reject human conventions that are inconsistent with the bigger picture. We can deny our nature and make choices that are inconsistent with the natural flow for us. 35. “rare are those in the world who reach an understanding of the benefits of teaching that go beyond what can be said. Laozi’s precepts for effective use of language begin with recognition of its shortcomings. thus a linguistic claim is always particular and projects the rhetor’s unique standpoint at a given time. possibility for choice. As was noted earlier. He points out that “those who understand it do not talk about it. 145). and stakes involved in our decisions also create a vital space for rhetoric.2 The indeterminacy of the future. it is inexhaustible.32 THE DAO OF RHETORIC we go through life. and of doing things noncoercively” (ch. and those who really talk about it do not understand it” (ch. it is not predetermined. even those for which there are no words yet. Any use of language to express the Dao would inherently devalue its magnitude. and discover. organizations. accept the inevitability of change. discern. 132) Laozi’s statement that the Dao that be put into words is not the universal Dao suggests that universal statements are impossible. LANGUAGE AND RHETORIC Laozi’s views on rhetoric entail a philosophy of language woven into his views on the use of language.

” someone can counter with “piranhas eat bigger fish. While I agree with much of what Oliver observes. hence claims that appear competitive are not because they represent discrete statements of localized actors at a given point in time. The second claim is thus additional information and not complete contradiction. He suggests further that a .” Yet this retort does not actually invalidate the original claim as much as it reduces its generalizability. The Dao de jing ends with the line. “the big fish eat the little fish. One cannot universalize particulars. p. Thus Laozi not only points out the futility of arguing because of the universality of reality. their recognition that nobody wins an argument. like all discourse. One could argue that the move to see the two claims as noncompetitive is an act of transcendence. but also because of the particularity of perception and limitations of language. that big fish eat little fish. The rhetorical contribution in the writings derived from LaoTzu is their insight concerning the futility of argument and contention. the notion of transcending and identifying with the universal glosses over some of the nuances of interaction. (p. but nonuniversal. p. Laozi says “it is only because there is no contentiousness in proper way-making that it incurs no blame” (ch. 81. remain particularized and do not require reconciliation through transcendence. 236). 87). 8. It can be the case sometimes. Furthermore. Both statements. but it can also be true that there are exceptions. Earlier. but even then the move does not rely on identification with a higher good. that he who appears to win actually loses more than he gains. Oliver (1971) maintains that this theme is the singular rhetorical insight. A strategic response might be transcendence. “the way of sages is to do without contending” (ch. 235) Oliver (1971) believes that Laozi’s focus on the singular Dao and the futility of overt uses of force recommends a strategy of “identification of the contesting viewpoints with a higher good so inclusive of complementary ideas that their true unity becomes evident” (p. If I say. such as in the case of piranha. it will be shown that Laozi suggests additional implications besides the futility of argument. but it is also viable to remain silent or reframe the seemingly disputed claims. 204). The second claim reveals the general. nature of the initial claim and/or the unique vantage point of the person who utters the comment (and may not know about piranha).Laozi and the Natural Way of Rhetoric 33 A consistent theme of Laozi is that we should avoid contentiousness. even most of the time.

111). They are part of the Dao. THE RHETORIC OF LAOZI Laozi recognizes the inadequacies of language and the nonproductivity of argumentation. that is. Furthermore. p.34 THE DAO OF RHETORIC strategy for avoiding contention is to see the conditional or localized nature of certain claims. Because knowledge is an attunement with the natural workings of the world. and cycle their linguistic choices through a lens that sees the particular and its connection to or inclusion in the universal. thereby preempting further argument. Communicators must not draw too much attention to their words but must focus on the Dao. Laozi suggests that “able travelers leave no ruts or tracks along the way. 23. it is largely apprehended through the ongoing assessment of the world itself. It is only because they do not contend that none are able to contend with them. yet uses words to espouse a philosophy in opposition to Confucianism in the Dao de jing. Communicators must focus on the Dao. those who are with the Dao realize that their words are simply attempts to express the Dao. those who are not self-important are enduring. nor is he opposed to the use of language. Words have very limited utility in this scheme. 110) Hence. Recognizing their limitations allows one to avoid the need to contest them. . 203). (ch. 22. words must be chosen very carefully. Words are markers of meaning and not significant in themselves. Words can also be used to obscure the Dao and champion undesirable qualities. those who do not show off shine. He sees verbosity as unnatural: “It is natural to speak only rarely. Violent winds do not last a whole morning and torrential rains do not last a whole day” (ch. 119). those who do not brag have lots to show. rarely and plainly. Those who are not self-promoting are distinguished. Furthermore. This also suggests another approach for noncontention—avoiding mistakes. Able speakers make no gaffes that might occasion reproach” (ch. p. p. and a reliance on words may indicate a lack of true insight. “credible words are not eloquent. perhaps over claims. but are not the Dao itself. but also excessive verbiage or ornamentation. 27. His advice to communicators is to speak naturally. Notice that he does not advocate silence. Eloquent words are not credible” (p. Laozi warns not only against arguing.

Considering Laozi’s rhetoric from these vantage points reveals the consistency of his philosophy and rhetoric and the potential for additional insights about rhetoric. Ames & Hall. . they demonstrate ways that Laozi “employs the water metaphor as a persuasive tool in Dao De Jing for the purpose of reforming social life” (p. 14. Curl and you will be straight.” indicate what the Dao is. The second rhetorical strategy Xiao identifies is paradox. p. Xiao (2002) notes that Laozi uses three methods to communicate the Dao: negation. Furthermore. 1989. Grow old and you will be renewed” (ch. 2002. by stating negatively what the Dao is not. 22. Water becomes a proof of the value of vacuity. and notes a final and positive method Laozi uses: analogy and metaphor. Encountering it you will not see its head” (ch. Paradox functions rhetorically by forcing the audience to confront inconsistency that is posed as consistent. Great sound is silent. 154). 41. Words such as “indeterminate. Laozi avoids limiting the infinite Dao. 2003. . 96). Wu. Chen and Holt (2002) examine Laozi’s use of the water metaphor in order to make its metaphysical principles meaningful at the social and behavioral levels. 2003. 14. Laozi is fond of using the seemingly contradictory to indicate that the Dao is neither one thing nor its opposite. and analogy. The smooth Way looks rugged. To these insights I add an additional positive rhetorical method that Laozi employs: the use of vague expressions to refer to the Dao. spurring insight by challenging habitual assumptions. . paradox.Laozi and the Natural Way of Rhetoric 35 Scholars have analyzed the ways that Laozi operationalizes his philosophy in his own use of rhetoric (Xiao. . but both simultaneously: “The bright Way looks dim. Specifically. Negation is a way of describing the Dao by what it is not: “as for this ‘one’—its surface is not dazzling nor is its underside dark” (ch. Chen & Holt. Ames & Hall. Laozi’s methods are not discrete. he combines negation with paradox to invite new ways of thinking about the Dao: “following behind you will not see its rear. but they do little to limit its vastness: “Way-making [Dao] being empty. Paradox can also teach us how to conduct ourselves: “Bend and you will be whole. 2002). Xiao argues that negation and paradox are “destructive” or negative ways of communicating. and subordination/ noncompetition. softness/weakness. 96). 45). The progressive Way looks retrograde. The incongruity is meant to be uncomfortable. Since attributing positive qualities to something indicates also what it is not. Analogies and metaphors allow rhetors to move beyond the limitations of language because their meaning is not literal but is informed by context. p.” and “bottomless. For example. 85).” “empty. Great Form is shapeless” (ch. p. p. Keep empty and you will be filled.

p. 2003. to speak naturally. So abysmally deep—it seems the predecessor of everything that is happening” (ch. This analysis of the Dao de jing suggests a number of implications for rhetoric. His rhetoric is conditioned by the limitations of language and the ineffability of the Dao. and indicates that the natural style is brief and plain. 83). Ames & Hall. it notes Laozi’s strategic approach. the analysis suggests that Laozi’s rhetoric is consistent with his philosophy. Yet he uses a strategy and methods that are consistent with his natural way of communication. Laozi maintains an ambiguity that does not detract from the infinity of the negative. Second. it specifies the substance of Daoist rhetoric by outlining basic Daoist principles.36 THE DAO OF RHETORIC you make use of it but do not fill it up. examinations of the rhetoric of Laozi reveal his use of four methods for communicating Daoism: negation and paradox (negative methods). Finally. as well as analogy/metaphor and vague expressions (positive). Third. . 4. By using vague referents to positively describe the Dao. First.

1989). (5) reconstructed anecdotes. repeated words. By using this strategy. (4) pseudodialogues. 55). Despite Zhuangzi’s literary and philosophical significance.CHAPTER 3 Zhuangzi and the Rhetoric of Evocation Zhuangzi stands with Laozi as the best known ancient Daoist philosophers. Zhuangzi could freely express himself through other persons. (3) fables or parables. in any language” (p. and goblet words. 37 . The three models of speech are imputed words. in the process. 251) These language strategies. Imputed words were those put into the mouths of individuals who were not followers of Zhuangzi. Graham. This strategy appealed to the Chinese cultural tendency to value the elders and. His germinal work. She identifies six elements that characterize his rhetoric: (1) three models of speech. are frequenly presented by Zhuangzi in the form of fables and parables. giving equal treatment to different schools of thoughts. (2) paradoxical and oxymoronic sayings. p. 1998. Lu (1998) offers a notable exception to the scant treatment of Zhuangzi’s rhetoric. it has received little attention from rhetorical scholars. Repeated words were those spoken by respected and established elders. Zhuangzi. primarily Confucius and Laozi. 1985. and (6) glorification of the ugly and handicapped. Goblet words were those used to present all sides of an issue. as well as other rhetorical elements. also added to the credibility and persuasive effect of Zhuangzi’s ideas. Creel (1970) proclaims Zhuangzi “the finest philosophical work known to me. has been lauded as a literary masterpiece and philosophical classic (Schwartz. (Lu.

The parable is particularly interesting because it encapsulates the major ideas in the text. chimed in but never led. and knew no more than what went on right around him. the story uses imputed words. they thought only of him and couldn’t break away. repeated words. PRELUDE AND PARABLE The central action of the parable is found in a monologue delivered by Duke Ai of Lu within a dialogue with Confucius. and he had no store of provisions to fill men’s bellies. Just as they said—he was ugly enough to astound the world. I really trusted him. and when women saw him. It demonstrates further that. He certainly must be different from other men. pseudodialogue between Duke Ai and Confucius. paradox. On top of that. I conclude that the defining characteristic of Zhuangzi’s rhetorical strategy is evocativeness—the use of rhetoric designed to induce others to join in a communication interaction and engage in self-persuasion. he was ugly enough to astound the world. and I wanted to hand the government over to him. and glorification of the ugly. The analysis deepens our understanding of key elements of Zhuangzi’s rhetoric delineated by Lu (1998). and before the year was out. given the constraints of Daoism. and I summoned him so I could have a look. saying “I’d rather be this gentleman’s concubine than another man’s wife!”—there were more than ten such cases and it hasn’t stopped yet. it exemplifies several of Zhuangzi’s rhetorical methods. supplemented by other key passages from the Inner Chapters. There was no one in the state to act as chief minister. Besides being a parable. And yet men and women flocked to him. Zhuangzi was a remarkably adept rhetorician and his use of rhetoric provides valuable insights on rhetorical theory and its relationship to Asian culture. Furthermore. But when men were around him. Duke Ai is recounting his experiences with an unusual man: In Wei there was an ugly man named Ai T’ai-t’o. I thought. they ran begging to their fathers and mothers. He was vague . No one ever heard him take the lead—he always just chimed in with other people.38 THE DAO OF RHETORIC This examination of the Zhuangzi is centered on a parable contained in the fifth of the seven Inner Chapters. He wasn’t in the position of a ruler where he could save men’s lives. But he hadn’t been with me more than a month or so when I began to realize what kind of man he was.

as though I’d suffered a loss and didn’t have anyone left to enjoy my state with. and I was embarrassed. and his ambivalence about government office. Further contemplation of the parable evokes at least three additional interpretations: the man personifies the Dao. The man is “ugly enough to astound the world” yet women would rather be his concubine than be married to someone else. exemplifying appropriate .Zhuangzi and the Rhetoric of Evocation about giving an answer. because he forces the control of government onto the unusual man. but in the end I turned the state over to him. Watson. are striking.” What qualifies him to lead a government? Finally. Given what seemingly little the man had to offer to others. there are at least three notable features of the story: the man’s incredible ugliness. And why is the Duke left with the sense of being “completely crushed. he sees something good. one is struck with the question “why?” The man “chimed in but never led. before I knew it. What kind of man is he anyway? (ch. the man leaves and “goes away. The story does not say. What does the Duke see? Apparently. 6. as though I’d suffered a loss and didn’t have anyone left to enjoy my state with. has no extraordinary wealth. 76) 39 INTERPRETATIONS OF THE PARABLE In one sense this is a simple story. Then. 1964. All told. Both the situation and the extent of his ugliness.” Why would the man do this? Where did he go? No motive is discussed.” or “one cannot judge a book by its cover. the exaggeration. his unassumingness. Duke Ai is around him for a month and then comes to realize “what kind of man he was. but they stop short of other possible interpretations that may be more revealing. p. it is also interesting to consider the strange attachments other people have for him. A common man. and is ugly. On further reflection. Again. as though he hoped to be let off. and knew no more than what went on right around him. it is difficult to understand why he is adored by all.” But we are never told what kind of man he is.” The man’s initial reluctance to take the job should have tempered any illusions the Duke might foster about the man’s commitment to the position. who follows the crowd. The moral appears to be that “beauty is only skin deep. evasive. and one is left with the explicit question “What kind of man is he anyway?” This is certainly a strange tale. Given these three features. he left me and went away. is nonetheless adored and respected.” These interpretations are appropriate. I felt completely crushed. the simplicity of the story masks its oddities.” “beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

yet people flocked to him and women threw themselves at his feet. exemplifying the ideal person or True Man. people were attracted to the man because they saw something in addition to. the story is a survival manual for peasants during the Warring States period. Consequently. unassumingness. 1989. Watson. posing alternatives and attempting to label things as right or wrong is “the fundamental error in life” (Graham. his physical appearance.40 THE DAO OF RHETORIC conduct for individuals. if . Daoists are loath to make distinctions in or particularize about the natural world. and. or instead of. Obviously. the narrative suggests and enacts principles for effective communication from a Daoist perspective. standards that preference particular physical features assess what is judged to be beautiful. Zhuangzi would focus on the universal Dao and not in a particular combination of superficial features: Men claim that Mao-ch’iang and Lady Li were beautiful. 1985). Zhuangzi helps his audience to find the Dao in their own lives. 1964. is that the man personifies the elusive qualities of the Dao. By making a metaphorical connection between a common man and the divine Dao. a leper or the beautiful Hsi-shih. “Whether you point to a little stalk or a great pillar. The richness of these interpretations in themselves is evidence of the evocative nature of Zhuangzi’s parable. but if fish saw them they would dive to the bottom of the stream. I shall consider each of these interpretations in turn before discussing their implications for rhetoric and culture. or defining a person by particular characteristics—one violates the very essence of the Dao. 2. Recall that the man “was ugly enough to astound the world” (a line which is repeated twice). and effortlessness. p. These qualities demonstrate that the man epitomizes the Dao by manifesting its fundamental and essential elements. 36). Usually. things ribald and shady or things grotesque and strange. body. the sage must approach the Dao in the way of the Dao. Because the Dao is the unification of all things. based on its philosophical context. 186). the Way makes them all into one” (ch. The unusual man can be seen as the enactment of the Dao when one considers his looks. By making distinctions—perceiving something as good or bad. and spirit in order to see the underlying unity and creativity in all things (Blofeld. begging their parents to allow them to be his concubines. PERSONIFICATION OF THE DAO An interpretation of the story. p. For Zhuangzi. What they saw in him was the Dao. One must integrate the powers of mind.

p. “to live by the Tao is to function like the Tao. 1998. bemused. and displays no obvious talents. relaxed. or Great Man: This was the True Man of old: his bearing was lofty and did not crumble. 44). one must release oneself from an effortful life “by engaging in the activities which are actionless” (Parrinder. silence. and to produce what is of use to others as the Tao produces beneficial rains and dews with never a thought of praise or thanks. In other words. Tolerant. let alone define himself by his looks. p. and if deer saw them they would break into a run. He is unpretentious. shows that the man is whole. 75) The man moves effortlessly and makes no judgments. he rested in his virtue. p. 333). Ultimately. 1964. he was vast in his emptiness but not ostentatious. he could be checked by nothing. withdrawn. they ultimately discover his de. His de is apparent and the man exemplifies the fundamental Daoist notion of wu-wei. he let it show in his face. . The demeanor of the man is also an indication of his perfection. towering alone. he was dignified in his correctness but not insistent. he is neither. offers no opinions. These are the fundamental qualities Zhuangzi perceives in the True Man. 41) 41 By making distinctions between things one loses the essence of the Dao. he seemed to prefer to cut himself off. Perfect Man. The man is the Dao because his demeanor displays the characteristics of virtue—“limpidity. 1985. The fact that the man does not acknowledge his physicality. If one judges the man to be ugly then one is committing a fundamental error and indicating a profound alienation from the Dao. further testifying to the man’s sagacity. he could not help doing certain things. 1983. Thus. and inaction” (Lu.Zhuangzi and the Rhetoric of Evocation birds saw them they would fly away. which knows how to fix the standard of beauty for the world? (ch. Of these four. Lu (1998) describes wu-wei as the natural. Watson. reluctant. because the Dao resides in him and makes him one. he seemed to be part of the world. he appeared to lack but accepted nothing. he forgot what he was going to say. p. still less reward” (Blofeld. spontaneous movement that harmonizes everything. Mild and cheerful. he can appear ugly or beautiful. Watson. to conform with that marvelously effortless way of getting all things done. He personifies the Dao by avoiding distinctions and being unified. 243). While others perceive his particular characteristics. 1964. p. he seemed to be happy. 2. Like the Dao. 6. emptiness. (ch. annoyed.

p. 5. Having recognized the mingling of opposites and transcended the material. 1982. accomplishes nothing and is loved. perceptions regarding one’s appearance are antithetical to the Dao. and being true to nature and fate we may live with the Way.42 THE DAO OF RHETORIC The man recognizes what is fated or destined to be. Yet. 56). 1964. Confucius’s prologue to the parable explains that: Now Ai T’ai-t’o says nothing and is trusted. Zhuangzi chooses as the hero of this story a person who most people would consider insignificant. something over which he has no control. He has been given a deformity or imperfection of features. Thus. thus discovering the Dao: “To know what you can’t do anything about. since it renounces their fates. pp. Concentrating on certain aspects of persons is unnatural. The story also illustrates that the personification of abstract ideals can be an important rhetorical strategy. the man is a unified spirit who moves effortlessly. The challenge for the man is to transcend his material self and unify his total self. including toads. Great wisdom “recognizes small without considering it paltry” (ch. 1964. Watson. to . If a man of extremely bad looks is capable of transcending his physicality then he must surely be a True Man. 69–70) This analysis indicates that the unusual man can be viewed as a metaphor for and personification of the Dao. snakes. Zhuangzi believed that the simplest things. Further. the unusual man. He not only shows us the way by example. He accepts what he cannot change and sees no distinctions that would make him ugly. though his virtue takes no form. It must be that his powers are whole. 1964. we learn that our outward appearance and the circumstances of the material world are unimportant. The sage recognizes that such matters are the concerns of the foolish. and to be content with it as you would with fate—only a man of virtue can do that” (ch. p. insects. 66). it is because of the extreme nature of his gross features that he stands as proof of his own sagacity. 1998). Watson. Furthermore. Watson. The man’s apparent ugliness is thus a “vehicle for perfection” (Wu. so that people want to turn over their states to him and are only afraid he won’t accept. living easily. the seemingly humblest person can serve as an example of the divine. We learn that by avoiding distinctions. 98). Zhuangzi attempts to make the Dao accessible to his audience by using a persona. 5. 17. he metaphorically is the way. can give insight because they live in nature (Lu. and birds. the unusual man is evidently a personification of the Dao. p. (ch. Hence. Despite the temptation to judge people and things by their superficial features.

“a man of few rights. or “True Men. Zhuangzi responded to the brutality of the Warring States period with a message for all of humanity. and cruelty. Hsu (1965) observes that the peasant in classical China was. go by what is constant. In fact. Zhuangzi’s man does not discuss any of his ideas. ancient China remained a place of widespread illiteracy. and few pleasures. as war meant conscription and front-line fighting or being killed as a deserter. philosophical concepts. 46). Instead. Analysis of this context and the text of Zhuangzi reveal that Zhuangzi goes beyond Laozi’s advice for rulers and offers the common peasant a manual for practical living during an incredibly dangerous period in Chinese history. This advice also suggests principles for appropriate ways to communicate. Be careful. be on your guard! If you offend him . Unlike Jesus and Plato. particularly the peasant class. on how to live harmoniously and in acceptance of one’s lot in life. Watson. official corruption. p. keep yourself alive. 1964. Zhuangzi also admonishes us not to bring attention to ourselves. does not venture an opinion. unaware that they were incapable of stopping it? Such was the high opinion it had of its talents. In the same way that Jesus exemplifies goodness to Christians. for it may be hazardous to one’s health: Don’t you know about the praying mantis that waved its arms angrily in front of an approaching carriage. He is almost at the bottom of the social scale” (p. Rather. look after your parents. His goal is to help all people become wise in the Dao.Zhuangzi and the Rhetoric of Evocation 43 concretize abstract. MANUAL FOR SURVIVAL The historical. indicating the Dao need not be directly communicated. and you can stay in one piece. on the whole. few opportunities. he appears devoid of original or profound thought. 3. political context that dominated classical Chinese thought also enlivens an account of the story of the unusual man and the bulk of Zhuangzi. one may infer the presence of the Dao through outward demeanor. 11). the man exhibits ideal behavior.” The story of the unusual man suggests that a sage goes along with the crowd. and live out your years” (ch. Zhuangzi tells us to “follow the middle. and possesses nothing that may be deemed valuable by others. and Socrates personifies the ideal philosopher for Plato. The effect of warfare on the peasant class was significant. the unusual man walks in the everyday world and attempts to discover ultimate and profound meaning. Despite new opportunities for many people as states were conquered.

The man could no longer avoid the Duke and resigned himself to the imposition of office. This is because one must “not attempt to control things or go beyond what one can know. 17. and stores it in the ancestral temple. said. leaving without confronting the Duke. A key idea that is embedded in the story is that one should avoid communicating uncomfortable ideas. 57–58).” Chuang Tzu held on to the fishing pole and. 4. when Chuang Tzu was fishing in the P’u River. Of course. yet he did not refuse it directly. 59) Notice also that when the Duke offered to make him the prime minister the man did not accept. 1964. before anyone realized what was happening.” Given the political situation. leading citizens. pp. Despite his lack of interest in government office. you will be in danger! (ch. and military officers of a defeated state lost all social status. 77). Chuang Tzu said.” said the two officials. Another chapter of Zhuangzi tells of a time that Zhuangzi was offered a prime ministership: Once. Watson. “resign yourself to what cannot be avoided and nourish what is within you—this is best” (ch. The king keeps it wrapped in cloth and boxed. unexpectedly. 109) When states were vanquished. When he left he did so without con- . Zhuangzi tells us that the prestige of office is shortlived and hardly worth the nearly inevitable consequences.44 THE DAO OF RHETORIC by parading your store of talents. without turning his head. the unusual man cannot resist when the Duke presses the office onto him. “I have heard that there is a sacred tortoise in Ch’u that has been dead for three thousand years. “Go away! I’ll drag my tail in the mud!” (ch. 4.” but in the end the state was turned over to him. the man went away. “he left me and went away. Now would this tortoise rather be dead and have its bones left behind and honored? Or would it rather be alive and dragging its tail in the mud?” “It would rather be alive and dragging its tail in the mud. it is not surprising that we are warned to avoid working for a lord. He was “vague about giving an answer. members of the ruling family. After a short time. Hsu (1965) notes.” Instead. p. The man did not want the ministership. Presumably the man knew that his destiny lie elsewhere and quietly moved on. “large numbers of people were forced to undergo this humiliation” (p. p. the king of Ch’u sent two officials to go and announce to him: “I would like to trouble you with the administration of my realm.

1964. regardless of our physical circumstances. PRINCIPLES OF DAOIST RHETORIC A final interpretation of the story. avoiding what goes on outside of us. 1964. 118). just pleasantly chime in with everyone else. Never take the lead in a conversation. “if the Way is made clear. Being at one with the Dao frees one from physical limitations and otherwise daunting circumstances and allows one to enjoy longevity. focusing only on our internal states and avoiding what goes on outside of us. 2. p. Zhuangzi illustrates this by showing words may “capture” meanings but they are not the things they represent. Laozi. perhaps even immortality (Thompson. Our ability to harmonize all gives us endless joy. Maintaining a focus on our internal states. By knowing the Dao no human can harm us. . Communicating an idea in a manner that is consistent with Daoism can be difficult given Daoist views on language and persuasion. language must be thought of as a crude tool that cannot literally represent meanings. Avoid confrontation and conflict. This message must have been heartening to many of the common people of China who led a miserable material existence. and avoid conflict. stay out of the spotlight. By living easily and focusing on our inner strength we may live with the Dao. p. Watson. The message to communicators is clear: do not use words to draw attention to yourself. and being satisfied with what fate has destined is a prescription for a satisfying life. saying. especially when one might be called upon to provide information that would be viewed negatively. based on its rhetorical context. Hence. 19. A final strategy for coping with difficulties is to transcend them. Zhuangzi agrees with his predecessor. Analyzing the communication principles at work in the Zhuangzi should help scholars not only understand Zhuangzi’s theory of rhetoric but also judge his use of rhetoric and ability to enact his own principles.Zhuangzi and the Rhetoric of Evocation 45 fronting anyone with his decision because leaving would make many people unhappy. 1989). 40). it is not the Way” (ch. Notice that the man in the story is unconcerned about anything that went on around him because “if you abandon the affairs of the world. universal one. that language cannot fully express the Dao. Watson. is that it illustrates a Daoist view of appropriate ways to communicate persuasively. The story of the unusual man advises peasants that long life is possible if one communicates in such a way as to blend in with the crowd. your body will be without toil” (Ch. Zhuangzi is a mystic who advocates the use of introspection to reach elevated states of awareness that allow one to transcend the everyday world and align with the eternal.

you can forget the trap. (ch. “In other words. He believed that the use of language created distinctions and value judgments that “clouded” people’s minds. Recall also that the man says nothing of consequence. “For Laozi. 238–39). once you’ve gotten the fish. roam the infinite. words were not only lacking. 6. p. and encouraged people to engage in endless disputations over truth and falsehood” (pp. but also caused a number of problems in classical China. to the extent it functions as a dichotomizing element. .46 THE DAO OF RHETORIC The fish trap exists because of the fish. 82) Notice in the parable the Duke says of the unusual man that he “began to realize what kind of man he was. caused greed and fear to flourish. p. I suggest that the Duke implicitly acknowledges a limitation of language.” yet we are never told what it is that he sees. 1964. you can forget the words. once you’ve gotten the meaning. Watson. indicating that his union with the Dao may be unrelated to his ability to verbalize. p. language. Zhuangzi maintains that words create distinctions that can prevent attainment of the Dao. is an obstacle to truth and knowledge” (p. 244). There was no disagreement in their hearts and so they became friends. Meng-tzu Fan. said to each other. of the universe. you can forget the snare. it can be a figurative spur that goes beyond language and promotes deeper mental communion (Lu. the abuse of symbols “led to the formation of a hierarchical society. preventing them from seeing the unity. 140) Language does not represent reality. 26. Furthermore. The rabbit snare exists because of the rabbit. 235). 1998). it interferes with the natural order of things. Besides the fact that language is unable to fully represent reality. and Master Ch’in-chang. three friends. once you’ve gotten the rabbit. 1998. Zhuangzi took the problem of classification even further. Where can I find a man who has forgotten words so I can have a word with him? (ch. Words exist because of meaning. either in silence or agreement. or Dao. Thus. or the dao” (Lu. “Who can join with others without joining with others? Who can do with others without doing with others? Who can climb up to heaven and wander in the mists. because everyone understands: Master Sang-hu. to the extent that language classifies and dichotomizes reality. At best. and forget life forever and forever?” The three men looked at each other and smiled. Zhuangzi illustrates his preference for avoiding words by describing conversations that seem to end prematurely.

Zhuangzi points out limitations of speech without rejecting it entirely. it would be so obvious that it would not require rhetoric: If right were really right. 1998. Leap into the boundless and make it your home. one can use rhetorical strategies that are consistent with wu-wei. 44) Given Zhuangzi’s loathing of distinction. While language can be used detrimentally. it would differ so clearly from not right that there would be no need for argument. forget distinctions. spontaneity. but only in those instances where they failed to conform to the virtues of nonaction. 1964. and noncontention” (Lu. For example. one must use it “in a limited way. however. and interference with others. which is impossible. it would differ so clearly from not so that there would be no need for argument. p. 2. and remain true to the nondirective wanderings of Daoism. enhancing its accessibility to potential adherents. let alone engage in persuasion. The claim that Daoism is antagonistic to rhetoric overgeneralizes certain textual statements and fails to fully account for the philosophical and cultural context in which the literature was written (Lu. “flowery. and hollow expressions” impose “too much artificiality upon the natural process” (p.” and rely on one’s thoughts “for more profound and subtle exploration” (p. (ch. Given the utility and limitations of language. does not necessarily prevent one from . Forget the years. Wu-wei. Appropriate language use can be enabling by illuminating the Dao. Similarly. Wu-wei suggests that one must avoid doing anything that is effortful. 234). Zhuangzi muses that if there were a true perspective. right and wrong. it is difficult to conceive how anyone could formulate even an intention to persuade. merely the need for appropriate language and speaking techniques. 234). Contrary to the positions taken by Jensen (1987) and Oliver (1971). Similarly. 245). including striving to persuade others of a particular point of view. certain speaking practices are highly correlated with ineffectiveness. the Dao of language would imply that it is both good/bad because it is part of the unity of all things. meaning unnatural. Watson. p. But none of this analysis suggests the abandonment of speech. 1998). Of course. Laozi “did not condemn speech and argumentation out of hand. The fact that Laozi and Zhuangzi use language to expound their views demonstrates that their admonitions about language are not meant to be taken as absolute indictments. given their limitations. If so were really so.Zhuangzi and the Rhetoric of Evocation 47 A final constraint on language and rhetoric stems from Daoist principles that valorize effortlessness (wu-wei) and nondistinction.

they invite the audience to engage in self-persuasion. such as parables. striving. They display “a sharp economy in the presentation of characters/agents and plot” (Tolbert. and they are universal. 1989. 1981. 1979. Zhuangzi’s answer to these challenges is to use imaginative rhetorical forms. on the other hand. 1981). Common to all of these views is the sense that the configuration of the story places the known with the unknown. or frame the ordinary within the extraordinary (Tolbert. to evoke contemplation about a universal point of view. 1981). Hence. and parables are an appropriate form for Daoist rhetoric because they are brief stories that use odd comparisons to promote images that are otherwise difficult to explain. In so doing. must be consonant with or harmonized within the oneness of reality. It will be shown that these forms can be consistent with Daoist admonitions against language. and vociferous delivery do so because these rhetorical forms can be difficult to harmonize with the Dao. The realistic element of parables also shocks the imagination by conveying the idea that . provoking the hearer to reconcile what seems odd. This story is a parable. are exemplified in the story of the unusual man. More inherently harmonious rhetorical forms. p. and teach without striving to uphold a particular point of view. 4–5). Daoist admonitions against inappropriate rhetorical approaches such as disputation. This generalization also holds true about rhetoric in particular. communicate a philosophy that is based on the ineffable. 36). This juxtaposition tends to radicalize the comparison. “it may well be the very brevity of the narrative that first impels us to look elsewhere for its fullest meaning” (pp. with few if any useless details” (Scott. brevity is a central feature of an effective parable. Lambrecht. They appear “scrubbed clean.48 THE DAO OF RHETORIC influencing others. Crossan (1980) adds. Zhuangzi’s parables place minimal reliance on language. ornate language. 17). rather than particular. or outward appearances. concrete narratives that stem from the oral tradition (Crossan. are to overcome the inherent problems of language use and speaking technique. 1989. Parables are short. 1979). 1980. p. Scott. The rhetorical challenges for Zhuangzi. and particularizing. shocking the hearer into potentially new insights (Lambrecht. The story of the unusual man demonstrates Zhuangzi’s belief that forms. Tolbert. juxtapose the familiar with the unfamiliar (TeSelle. 1975). Parables are said to compare the usual and the unusual (Lambrecht. The Dao of action implies that one may engage in persuasion if it is effortless and encompassing of all views. and all Daoists. they are effortless because they flow naturally from Zhuangzi’s fated role as a teacher and place the persuasive onus on the audience. because they make the Dao central to the message. 1979).

They speak to the total person. By making comparisons. The juxtaposed elements in parables encourage the listener to confront the disparate elements in the story. and contradictions is the sort of response that results from Zhuangzi’s rhetoric. enacting the choice is challenging. In the same way that scientists use models to illustrate what cannot be fully described. as the language of ‘a body that thinks. Because parables are metaphoric they can illustrate ideas that defy rational explanation through language. simultaneously gaining insights through the use of satire. therefore. is the most appropriate way— perhaps the only way—to suggest this meaning and truth” (p. TeSelle (1975) contends. providing the hearer with many possible choices or interpretations (Kirkwood. Because parables invite us to see the familiar in a new way they invite spiritual insight. 33). parables function metaphorically. while the parable provides an obvious choice for conduct.Zhuangzi and the Rhetoric of Evocation 49 “important things happen and are decided at the everyday level” (TeSelle. The audience applies the spur to itself because. 79). metaphorical language. Lu (1998) notes “Zhuangzi’s strategy was to shock his readers into self-realization of their own bondage. p. Scott. 1979).’ knows no subjective-objective split” (p. poets and philosophers have long relied on metaphors to invoke images that would perhaps otherwise escape linguistic description. 1975. humor. . Our wondering about the oddities. TeSelle (1975) notes. Parables also speak to the whole person. appear to be an exemplary rhetorical strategy for a Daoist. Tolbert. paradoxical anecdotes. Employing parables would. A parable exemplifies a particular way of behaving or state of mind (Kirkwood. Effective parables creatively use incongruity to motivate audiences to move beyond the limitations of language and into the realm of spirit. Lambrecht adds. If a parable appears ordinary but defies easy interpretation because of its oddities. I am affected at the core of my being. at the center of my decision-making” (pp. “meaning and truth for human beings are embodied. I am no longer the same person as before. 1981. “metaphorical language. 76). A further confrontation exists because parables challenge us to act. 1985). absurdities. with his [sic] understanding and power of decision. p. is involved” (Lambrecht. and dazzling descriptions of mythical and magical figures” (p. then it can move an audience to wrestle with its potential implications. 1989. 5). A fitting parable works because hearers “begin to understand (not just with their heads) that another way of believing and living—another context or frame for their lives—might be a possibility for them” (p. 240). 1985. “once I have heard and understood a parable. When this happens the parable “initiates a process in which the entire person. hence embodied language. 15). evoking a holistic response. 4–5).

Zhuangzi introduces his readers to the essential unity of the Dao. DISCUSSION The story of the ugly man could be a simple expression of the theme “beauty is only skin deep. it is about all of that and not all of that. however. and. Furthermore. with conflicting but persuasive ingredients thrown in and even an unbelievable plot laid out. The parable is also appropriate for a Daoist message: the Dao is central to the message. it is effortless from the standpoint of the rhetor because it is the audience that must struggle with determining its meaning and implications. yet complete story. it promotes a holistic audience response rather than one that dichotomizes the world and self. Zhuangzi provides us with a story that never ends—a vehicle with no destination. Zhuangzi avoids advocating a particular point of view and engages audiences in a process of selfenlightenment: Chuang Tzu’s style beckons us to complete in our own lives what he initiated. how to survive difficult times. 16) Hence. and then suddenly chops it off. Considering the text in its philosophical context shows it to be an account of the groundings and major attenuations of Daoist thought. it idealizes certain behavior stemming from a spiritual perspective. it presents ugliness as beauty. and rhetorical contexts. the concept of wu-wei. The audience is . defying ordinary social conventions. (Wu. Zhuangzi demonstrates the essential nature of Daoism. p. or how to communicate the ineffable. The parable could be about how to live with the Dao. It is as though Chuang Tzu begins an interesting story. The intrigued reader is left on his own to complete the story in his own life. is that there are three fruitful additional interpretations that correspond respectively to philosophical. historical. and the natural way of things. Using the rhetorical tactic of personification.50 THE DAO OF RHETORIC Zhuangzi’s story of the unusual man is a prototypical parable: it is a brief. its metaphoricity is unaffected by the limitations of language. by exemplifying a philosophically ideal human. and it provides analogical referents that evoke a holistic audience response. More likely. As such. Zhuangzi thereby enacts a rhetorical strategy that is consonant with his view of Daoism. 1982.” The suggestion throughout. Thus. it is itself a metaphor for the eternal Dao. the errors of drawing distinction or passing judgments.

avoids the need for external proof. and recognizes the importance of harmonious relationships. Zhuangzi’s “evocation. Examining the text from the vantage point of the three perspectives collectively—philosophical. to help ordinary people respond to difficult times. the defining characteristic of Zhuangzi’s rhetoric is his use of evocation to persuade. 1995).” Looking at the story of the unusual man in its historical context reveals a pragmatic treatise written. and adds a vital element to Western rhetorical theory. Zhuangzi uses evocative rhetorical forms to induce the audience to go beyond literal meanings of language and put the message together themselves. Evocativeness differs from these concepts. and without talent. minimizes conflict. given the general state of knowledge in their cultures. Zhuangzi tells people to be inconspicuous. is a valuable contribution to rhetoric that may prove no less remarkable than Aristotle’s “enthymeme” or Burke’s “identification. Daoists need to contend with the limitations and distinctions inherent in symbol use. It has been suggested that the evocativeness of one’s rhetoric can be an important test of its significance (Combs. Analysis of the rhetorical context indicates how a communicator might approach persuasion given the constraints of Daoist philosophy. historical. All three demonstrate the incredible insight of their proponents in understanding the human mind. while still communicating effortlessly.Zhuangzi and the Rhetoric of Evocation 51 given a role model with whom they may identify. When viewed in this context. Unlike Western views that may extol the conspicuous display of virtues such as bravery and prosperity. and rhetorical—demonstrates that it is a highly evocative work. to be content to be unattractive to others in every way. offers a strategy for survival and a principle for appropriate communication: do not communicate in a way that draws attention to oneself. suggesting how to “walk the walk. considering the previous analysis.” All three concepts advocate the use of language to induce audiences to engage in a process where they participate in their persuasion. Zhuangzi’s rhetoric. Zhuangzi gives sound advice on rhetoric and life in general. It suggests how to “talk the talk. unworldly. during the Warring States period in China. Zhuangzi also provides a case study in the power of rhetoric to respond to difficult situations.” along with his use of forms such as parables. His advice. possessions. In so doing. capable of inducing the audience to engage in challenging mental forays. he enacts a message that is consistent with his philosophy. In fact. Zhuangzi is remarkable because it offers a fitting response to a difficult rhetorical problem. because of the relatively low level of immersion of the rhetor in the persuasive process and the way audiences are induced to elaborate on messages. His advice to the common people of . unlike classical Western rhetoric. or anything of apparent value to others.” In this sense.

Different views. Scholars must persevere in attempting to understand the differences in rhetorics. including Western and Daoist. like Daoist rhetoric. Daoism per se. but parts of the whole. are not opposites. This analysis of Zhuangzi offers insight into the culture dependence of rhetoric and the classical Chinese rhetorical tradition. Zhuangzi indicates Daoism’s viability as a pragmatic situational response at the same time that it espouses a universal and enduring perspective. can be situationally responsive without compromising its universal precepts. . it lies in the unification of all rhetorics. Scholars must continue conversations that explore Chinese and other rhetorical traditions in order to more completely understand the nature of human communication. but Zhuangzi would admonish us that the many make the one. It indicates that Chinese thinkers crafted ingenious approaches to rhetoric in cultures that developed quite differently from Western cultures. If there is a Dao of rhetoric.52 THE DAO OF RHETORIC Warring States China demonstrates the pragmatic value of rhetoric in different and challenging contexts.

They challenge deeply held values and beliefs in the West and offer intriguing ways to rethink basic communication principles and practices. They place a great deal of value on harmonious. indirect methods of self-persuasion. While the utility of Laozi and Zhuangzi is not readily apparent in those far too common situations where overt conflict is unavoidable. these approaches recommend that conflict be kept to a minimum because it can be unproductive and moves interactants into pointless disputes for the sake of being deemed correct rather than moving toward the unified Dao. while valuable. in the monumental work attributed to him. Furthermore.1 offers an accessible and rich account of strategy from which one may reasonably 53 . Art of War. Foss and Griffin (1995) note. may not offer comprehensive perspectives on rhetoric because their approaches are suited for dialogic encounters where rhetorical interactants are amicable. “as far back as the Western discipline of rhetoric has been explored. and/or behaviors of the interactants in order to demonstrate the superiority of one view over another. These qualities and assumptions are not always present in many typical rhetorical interactions. open minded. The rhetorics of Laozi and Zhuangzi. rhetoric has been defined as the conscious intent to change others” (p. In fact. 2). and willing to interact solely for the purpose of enlightenment.CHAPTER 4 Sunzi and the Rhetoric of Parsimony A common thread in the rhetorics of Laozi and Zhuangzi is the notion that communication should not be designed to impose one’s ideas on others but to induce the audience to engage key ideas in novel ways that promote self-persuasion. attitudes. the focus for a great deal of rhetoric in Western culture is persuasive communication designed to explicitly address a conflict between the beliefs. Sunzi.

35). warfare. Nonetheless. The principle of parsimony. eclipsing all the other military strategy books combined” (p. 20). calling the book “the world’s foremost classic on military strategy” (p. Sunzi’s Art of War is considered to be a masterpiece of military strategy. It was common for ideas about rhetoric to be “embedded in texts which do not treat rhetoric as an explicit topic of discussion. “almost every one of the early Chinese philosophers took warfare to be an area of sustained philosophical reflection. are embedded in works of ethics. Ames (1993) notes.” In fact. 166). 1998. on the other hand. Griffith (1963) notes that the text “has had a profound influence throughout Chinese history and on Japanese military thought. The political context helps account for the fact that warfare received explicit treatment. 15). are considered to be “applied philosophy” (p. Rhetoric in ancient China. Second. essentially. v).54 THE DAO OF RHETORIC infer a comprehensive and insightful treatment of persuasive communication. it is the source of Mao Tse-tung’s strategic theories and of the tactical doctrine of the Chinese armies” (p. therefore. “ancient Chinese rhetorical theories. War and rhetoric can both be seen. Huang (1993) declares it “the most brilliant and widely applied strategic book ever written” (p. 7). xi). This analysis will demonstrate that the underlying strategic principle in Art of War is parsimony: the use of extreme economy in the expenditure of resources. Sawyer (1994) notes. 1963. with the exception of those expounded by the Later Mohists. was not studied as a separate discipline but “as a part of political and moral philosophy” (Kennedy. Its ideas are considered unsurpassed “in comprehensiveness and depth of understanding. p. 2–3). pp. First. principles of military strategy can be used as a source of metaphors for rhetoric because warfare and rhetoric are both philosophically based arts. Art of War is also applicable to Western views of rhetoric for two reasons. while rhetoric did not.” Chinese military texts. 1998. lauding “its sweeping grasp of strategy’s comprehensive truths” and the “inspiring prose” that “sophisticatedly forges these versatile principles into an uncomplicated but perfectly tangible system” (p. its subject matter. . is analogous to contentious persuasion—“the battle for hearts and minds. 16). Sun-tzu’s Art of War predominates. “in every sphere. and statecraft” (Lu. epistemology. as applications of philosophy. p. a philosophical manual on strategy. Ames (1993) agrees. from the classical Chinese view. as explicated in Art of War. can add to our understanding of Daoist rhetoric and inform contemporary rhetorical theory and practice. They might well be termed the concentrated essence of wisdom on the conduct of war” (Hart. Art of War is. both subjects presuppose conflict.” While rhetoric is less extreme than war.

I refer to this principle as “the rhetoric of parsimony. . It is true that Sunzi is not a Daoist in the sense that he is not usually identified as such by sinologists. Surprisingly. hence it is applicable to the adaptation of discourse to achieve certain objectives with a particular audience. In fact.Sunzi and the Rhetoric of Parsimony 55 For example. or development require strategic guidance” (Huang. that he is not actually a Daoist. rhetors must exert the minimum level of resources needed to restore harmony. he most likely predates Laozi. 130). Consequently. The overarching subject is a philosophical approach to strategy. Analysis of the text of Art of War reveals the nature of parsimonious rhetoric as well as the three key attendant principles of knowledge. Pursuing this question is not an esoteric exercise. however. when applied to persuasion. The bottom line is to win” (p. I must consider whether Sunzi’s approach is so different from those of Laozi and Zhuangzi. rather than the swirling paradox of Laozi and Zhuangzi. 1993. It also considers in greater depth the nature of wu-wei.” and it may be stated thusly: when conflict is inevitable. discriminations. p. . military strategy is “invariably deliberate and goal-oriented. like Aristotle. he delineates categories. Before moving to parsimony. offers a central principle of Daoist rhetoric and a unifying strategic guideline for rhetorical practice. 2000). the military commander may be compared to the rhetorician because both roles require “a thorough understanding of the conditions determining the situation and the manipulation of these circumstances to his chosen end” (Ames. . its principles. Simpkins and Simpkins (1999) point out “Taoist values permitted strategic maneuvering and deception in marital arts. 1993. Sunzi’s philosophy violates the notion of wu-wei and Sunzi is not a Daoist. strategy. while Art of War is thought to have been “extensively adopted in all areas where problem solving. 436). who is thought by many to be the “founder” of Daoism. for it further illuminates Daoist views on the utility of particularizing— using categories.” Furthermore. as shown in The Art of War. Furthermore. “the perspective given by the book . according to Ma. 96). I will attempt to enter the dispute as to whether Sunzi is a Daoist in true Daoist fashion by saying the claim is both true and not true. Contrarily. and language—in everyday existence. have not been adapted to the realm of persuasion. is clearly that of a Taoist skilled in the ways of war” (p. Ma (2001) makes the argument that Sunzi’s approach is closer to Aristotle’s than to the two Daoists because. and responsiveness. p. competition. 15). I will argue throughout the chapter that Art of War. with the exception of my previous work (Combs. such as types of attack and terrain.

Interestingly. And. But the way the Dao is manifest in the world. and does that in delineating yin and yang. What is most relevant is what I will indicate in the progression of this chapter. and it is very conceivable that Sunzi might do this in order to help people survive the Spring-Autumn period. the world itself for that matter. that Sunzi uses categories as foregrounding. Thus.E. Sunzi’s approach may resemble Aristotle’s in a superficial way. not a Christian. Daoism is a spiritual perspective that is identified in name long after its founders have passed from the Earth. This kind of silliness is an example of the Daoist recognition that linguistic categories do not approximate or create reality. . or adopt an easily identifiable spiritual perspective. Sunzi is not a Daoist in that he did not deliberately follow a school of thought. The way we talk about reality and move through the world is always to move between the infinite and particular. Laozi is not opposed to categorizing. it is inconceivable that a Daoist would be opposed to categorical thinking per se. 2000). but I recognize not only the legitimacy of disagreement but also the necessity to question any categorization. While Jesus was not born a Christian. but the form that Sunzi’s rhetoric takes is not determinate of its meaning or reality. Laozi and Zhuangzi are not Daoists either. As I note in chapter 1. somewhat crude. Categories operate as foreground and are meaningful as ways to talk about the world in its various forms. It is an absolute and universal process. of course. For that matter. In the background there is always the infinite Dao. I will advance a rationale for why I believe that Sunzi is a Daoist. When I say that the sages are Daoists I am making the claim that their features that I focus on resonate harmoniously with what I am able to understand about Daoism. but Daoists are unique in stressing the cosmological aspects of the Dao. he was instrumental in the spiritual perspective that now bears his name. or choose to be involved in a named group. because I think Ma raises interesting and valuable issues. is a constant transforming flux of appearances and forms. there is a constant tacking between background and foreground. while remaining consistent with the basic worldviews of Laozi and Zhuangzi. The idea that a Daoist would not write about categories of anything but would only pose paradoxes and vagaries that represent the infinite unity is questionable. Similarly. (Clarke. and to particularize necessitates distinction or categorization.56 THE DAO OF RHETORIC All early Chinese philosophers were interested in the Dao. Technically. the term “Daoism” was not actually used until the nineteenth century C. Jesus was a Jew. What is important in deciding upon a category in which to place someone is recognition that the category name and placement will always be somewhat arbitrary.

changing a tire on a car can be forceful and calculating. the people have weapons but “do not show them” (Watts. While Daoists hold harmony to be paramount. rather than . 1965. his approach was to put forth a strategy designed to win without fighting. War was pervasive and nearly unavoidable. viewing Sunzi in his historical context. Ma also seems to believe that Daoists are pacifists and that warfare is inherently forceful and calculating. even the sage can use arms in self-defense. they were essential in classical China.Sunzi and the Rhetoric of Parsimony 57 The remainder of Ma’s (2001) rationale is that Sunzi’s purpose is to show how to win wars. Tilling soil to plant crops is forceful and calculating. because its machinations are based on the natural way. and in light of the textual analysis to follow. then there would be no need to have them. p. If I am changing a tire. or eat to live. To begin. I suggest that people do not show their arms because their weapons deter outside aggressors so effectively that they never need to be displayed. While these activities would be completely unnecessary in a perfect world. There is nothing in Daoism that rejects being prepared for war or using strategy to win. While war would seem to be forceful or calculating. and that warfare. For example. and dolphins hunt in a calculated way and use great force to overpower their prey. that Ma views Sunzi’s purpose superficially and makes questionable assumptions about the nature of wu-wei. One can even fight for survival. they are not pure pacifists.” or seemingly so. Wu-wei is not void of movement and is not mindless. Being forceful and calculating is not inconsistent with wu-wei. In fact. If there is no use for arms. Hence. while the use of weapons is deplored. p. that depends on the way that one approaches warfare and the sense in which one uses those words. the process will flow better if I loosen the lug nuts while the car is firmly on the ground. In Laozi’s vision of community. so that I have leverage. “war is sometimes a regrettable necessity” (Kaltenmark. 1975. I believe. While Sunzi was interested in winning. What is important is whether one is working within natural rather than human conventions when being forceful and calculating. is antagonistic to wu-wei. It is “effortless. the approach to war must always be informed by the Dao and the natural way. Every predatory animal is forceful and calculating. Of course. being calculating and deliberate. their very existence depends on their ability to make effective calculations and applications of force. till the soil. there are strong indications that Sunzi’s purpose is not to win wars but to prevent them. hawks. Cheetahs. During the SpringAutumn and Warring States periods one did not need to strive to go to war. It does not make sense to say that we cannot change a tire. Furthermore. War is a viable though regrettable option but it is not necessarily antagonistic to wu-wei. 82). on the other hand. 56).

(ch. warrior. takes the enemy’s walled cities without launching an attack. Ames. or more appropriately. the highest excellence is to subdue the enemy’s army without fighting at all. company. conflict serves no more than one of the strategic tools. So. or five-man squad intact.58 THE DAO OF RHETORIC jack the car in the air and attempt to remove the nuts in vain while the tire spins with my every move. It is best to keep one’s own army. battalion. 3. p. and to overthrow his State without bloodying swords” (Griffith. 1963. “the expert in using the military subdues the enemy’s forces without going to battle. Sunzi upholds the Daoist principle of avoiding conflict. 23). those that are not forceful and can be approached mindlessly. I may find that if I tighten every other lug nut in order. wu-wei does not come into play by virtue of the types of activities in which one may engage. battalion. If one’s nature is to strategize or be a warrior. and believing instead “that the skillful strategist should be able to subdue the enemy’s army without engaging it. p. conflict is a tactical choice rather than a certitude” (p. Hence. company. Therefore. to crush the enemy’s army. which I then apply to rhetoric. I stand a better chance of the wheel being in alignment. and one’s actions flow from the natural way. but advantage. to win a hundred victories in a hundred battles is not the highest excellence. Huang (1993) notes that for Sunzi. The most parsimonious response to conflict is to deter or end aggression without fighting. but by the state of mind or self that one brings to an activity. and crushes the enemy’s state without a protracted war” (p. It is best to keep one’s own state intact. to crush the enemy’s state is only a second best. viewing war as one of the least desirable strategic outcomes. rather than pinning one side to the tire first and off-setting the balance point. or five-man squad is only a second best. then one can be a strategist. “the purpose of strategy is not conflict. The preference for subduing an enemy without fighting reflects the Daoist idea that conflict occurs because at least one party is not cognizant . PARSIMONY Sunzi’s Art of War is a philosophy of strategy that attenuates the concept of parsimony. strategy. to take his cities without laying siege to them. and not too tightly at once. and Daoist sage. is not inherently contrary to wu-wei. War. 111) Thus. 111). After I replace the tire. x). 1993.

and all efforts to restore harmony peaceably have failed. p. “whose only concern is to protect his people and promote the interests of his ruler. If the way (tao) of battle guarantees you victory. Because of the commander’s duty to the harmony of the world. The principle of parsimony. If the harmony of the world has been upset. 69). or economical use of resources. Therefore. p. p. it is right for you to refuse to fight even if the ruler has said you must. 70). p. 1995). seek the quick . the commander may even disobey orders. always pro-social” (p. Superior character in a leader is viewed as the ability to achieve harmony. Military action must be predicated “on the necessity of such action to revive and reshape the shared world order” (p. A central element in cost minimization is to overwhelm an opponent quickly and decisively. Ames explains that once “a commitment has been made to a military course of action. 150). if conflict is fated. (ch. 150) The commander who is free of ego or thoughts of personal reward or punishment. military engagement must be “seen as an attunement on the existing order from within—ideally it is always responsive. If it is impossible to avoid warfare. 12. 85).Sunzi and the Rhetoric of Parsimony 59 of alternatives that may facilitate harmony (Sun. Accordingly. In fact. Sunzi believed that “even military victory is a ‘defeat’ in the sense that it requires an expenditure of a state’s manpower and resources” (Ames. 24). always punitive. and must ply his military skills from a foundation of superior character” (p. war is a last resort. 10. 1993. then one may contemplate warfare. warfare may be justified. where the way (tao) of battle does not allow victory. 85). Military leaders must be endowed with the ability to act on the basis of harmony. The justification for war must be made on the basis of harmony. is the nation’s treasure” (p. 166). “Not battling” is as much a form of strategy as is battle (Huang. 87). While “striving” to do battle is unacceptable. “the first and foremost defining feature of the consummate military commander is that he must be an exemplary person (chun tzu). p. is the key to understanding Art of War. the project becomes to achieve victory at the minimum cost” (p. This is the way (tao) to keep the state secure and to preserve the army” (ch. an action that is justified “only when all possible alternatives have been exhausted” (Ames. then one must employ the military economically. 85). 1993. it is right for you to insist on fighting even if the ruler has said not to. Sunzi says that “in joining battle. and the good commander moves with caution. 1993. Sunzi proclaims “the farsighted ruler approaches battle with prudence.

economically. assault major argumentative positions (attack walled cities).60 THE DAO OF RHETORIC victory” (ch. the next to attack alliances. In less confrontational settings. The rhetor should avoid attacking an audience’s deeply held attitudes and values. When conflict is necessary. such as when a single speaker is addressing an audience. Art of War. parsimonious military commanders are advised to avoid protracted battle because of the huge expense in lives and equipment (Ames. the next to attack soldiers. 1993. saying that “the best military policy is to attack strategies. to restore the balance of the world. Sunzi adds an additional level of insight. 1994). then. Only as a last resort should one attempt to disprove an audience’s deeply felt attitudes and values. the “speaker-warrior” must use persuasion judiciously. attempting instead to create identification between the speaker and audience. p. if necessary. Sunzi provides a hierarchy for military engagement designed to minimize losses. One maximizes advantage. 1963. isolate the opponent from the support of others (attack alliances). first to pressure the enemy into surrender without battle. and the worst to assault walled cities” (ch. focus on the harmony of relationships rather than winning a point. 1993. The principle of parsimony in warfare and rhetoric can be more clearly delineated by exploring some of the tactics recommended in Art of War. Huang. next. 111). Sawyer. Sunzi would say that one must minimize audience/speaker conflict. . if all else fails. Another example of how to act parsimoniously and avoid unnecessary losses is to focus on the enemy’s weakness. 3. Ames. with the principle of parsimony: when conflict is inevitable. When one decides to attack. This hierarchy of engagement advises the speaker-warrior in clearly confrontational situations to avoid attacking an opponent’s strongest arguments. one can offer proofs of one’s position. would offer similar recommendations to communicators as did Laozi and Zhuangzi: avoid contentious or argumentative rhetoric. 1993. communicate parsimoniously. challenge the opponent’s proofs (attack soldiers). when applied to rhetoric. and. 2. This view is consistent with Burke’s (1950) idea that rhetors overcome divisions with the audience through the rhetorical strategy of identification. however. For example. The use of such rhetoric is to be seen as a “loss” in the short term that is justified by promoting harmony overall. Rhetors can further strengthen alliances by aligning themselves with sources deemed credible by the audience. and second. one should avoid engaging an army that is strong and disciplined. 107). if that is an untenable option. Griffith. p. to make the use of force minimally sufficient to achieve harmony. Rhetors should begin by addressing the opponent’s strategy (attack strategies).

in spite of its disadvantaged position. Go first for something that he cannot afford to lose. 157). you must rush in on him. and is not moved by him. one should create advantages by moving the enemy and dividing the enemy. 123) In order to move the enemy about. When the attack comes. and do not let him know the timing of your attack” (p. it should be speedy and powerful: “war is such that the supreme consideration is speed” (p. let alone sustain the battle. Occupying the ground encompassing an audience’s norm is equivalent to holding the hill in a battle and forcing the opponent into the burden of fighting uphill. it prevents his allies from joining with him” (ch.” and if a speaker advocates what appears to be the norm for a given reference group it has a tremendous amount of argumentative power. 4. Ames. 7. One divides an enemy by obstructing the mustering of troops and the formation of alliances. . Thus the expert in battle moves the enemy. The speaker-warrior would be wise to follow these same principles. the speaker-warrior should move with speed and strike decisively when there is an opening. One must also be able to divide an assembled army so as to gain a numerical advantage with troops. 1993. when it brings its prestige and influence to bear on the enemy. 161). Presumptions are based on what is considered “normal. 131). Avoid moving by occupying the ground of the battle before the opponent. p. 11.Sunzi and the Rhetoric of Parsimony 61 Sunzi warns: “Do not intercept an enemy that is perfectly uniform in its array of banners. “when the enemy gives you the opening. Perelman and Olbrechts-Tyteca (1969) say that presumptions may be thought of as notions that enjoy the consensus of the audience. the sagacious warrior employs a combination of “making things easy for him” or “obstructing him” (ch. This forces the enemy to move to the battle zone and attack. 6. The tactic of moving the enemy is based on the idea that an army at rest has an advantage over an army that moves into the battle. p. p. p. 116). (ch. 162). do not launch the attack on an enemy that is full and disciplined in its formations” (ch. When armies are divided or lose the ability to communicate they are not able to form ranks. When attacking a large state. he who comes later and hastens into battle will be weary. In addition. Therefore. the king “does not allow the enemy to assemble his forces. Instead. Sunzi’s advice would be contextualized to rhetoric to say that one should develop ways of having a presumptively favorable position and forcing the opponent into the burden of proof. Generally he who first occupies the field of battle to await the enemy will be rested.

He who knows the enemy and himself Will never in a hundred battles be at risk. integrity. since “the business of waging war lies in carefully studying the designs of the enemy” (ch. The speaker-warrior can easily apply Sunzi’s advice on knowledge. according to Sunzi. and goodwill (Kennedy. This advice is not terribly different from Aristotle’s notion of ethos. 113) Hence. courage. and discipline” (ch. (ch. p. 1. 1991). and responsiveness. must look at these factors from the perspective of both armies. and a full appraisal of the conditions of battle. 3. virtue. To these tactics must be added the key concepts of knowledge. 169). Ames. 11. including the command and regulation of forces. 13. The assessment process. He who knows neither the enemy nor himself Will be at risk in every battle. p. and achieve successes far beyond the reach of the common crow. 161). “Thus the reason the farsighted ruler and his superior commander conquer the enemy at every move. One should look at the speaker’s “wisdom. of the . assessments of military capability. is foreknowledge” (ch. including terrain (Ames. saying that the speaker’s character presents a credible proof by virtue of her or his wisdom. KNOWLEDGE A central tenet of Art of War is that one must thoroughly assess the situation and possess vast knowledge before deciding to go to battle. one must assess all factors in light of the relative strengths of the two sides. Assessing the enemy involves knowing the opponent and the audience. Aristotle provides a detailed account. To know the enemy and oneself in war is no different from the process of assessing factors that figure prominently in a rhetorical interaction—the opposing viewpoints and the audience. Assessing one’s skill as a communicator is the same as examining the command of an army. p. p.62 THE DAO OF RHETORIC The principle of parsimony in warfare and rhetoric recommends tactics of movement. One must have knowledge of the Dao in order to have the authority to send people to their deaths. He who does not know the enemy but knows himself Will sometimes win and sometimes lose. strategy. for his era. humanity. 1993). 1993. in order to allow for full consideration of this principle. division. 103). depending on the setting. and speed so as to allow one to attack an army at its weakest point and create an overwhelming and quick victory.

Terrain. consistency in the rhetor’s use of evidence and reasoning. at other times. Ames. When one pulls an audience or rhetor into the foreground. a quotation.” “even. These types of terrain can be synthesized into ten types and then divided into two principle classes. the speaker-warrior would also be advised to seek the high ground. 147). however.” Terrain. and does not miss his chance to defeat the enemy. statistic. 4. (ch.Sunzi and the Rhetoric of Parsimony 63 nature of various audiences and urges speakers to adapt accordingly (Kennedy. or guidelines. the victorious army only enters battle after having first won the victory. governing their use. p.” otherwise. 116) In order to obtain this information one must employ local scouts to report on “the lay of the land—its mountains and forests. Sunzi identifies. would be the proof itself. and includes “scattered. and at another. while the defeated army only seeks victory after first having entered the fray. 1993. The first class sorts terrain on the basis of its effect on the advantage to the armies. p. Terrain is one of the most important considerations to be assessed and included in the overall array of knowledge that dictates strategy. as well as the Dao. as applied to the speaker-warrior. 10. and appropriateness of the proof. six different kinds of terrain. recognizes the dynamic. “freezing” it within a temporal/spatial context.” “marginal. its passes and natural hazards. its wetlands and swamps.” The second class of terrain is based on proximity to territories. nine kinds of terrain. Sunzi’s advice diverges considerably. p. Accessible terrain can be approached freely by both armies. Daoism.” “strategically vital. at one point. The expert in battle takes his stand on ground that is unassailable. Favoring the light side means to seek groundings . ongoing movement of these entities. For this reason. 130). on the other hand. fights with the advantage” (ch.” “entangling. Sunzi advises “on accessible terrain. Similarly. for example. can be thought of as the grounding of a rhetorical position.” and “distant. “you cannot turn the terrain to your advantage” (ch. with its presumptive advantages.” “critical. 1991). or metaphor.” “narrow.” and “precipitous. and includes terrain that is “accessible. one must be mindful of the dynamic interplay of the background. the army that enters the battle having been first to occupy high ground on the sunny side and to establish convenient supply lines. logical argument. in that Aristotle’s treatment of rhetor and audience assumes that they are fairly stable entities. 7. It is an important aspect of parsimony because it offers the opportunity for a decisive victory. It may entail the perceived credibility of sources cited.

you will be hard-pressed to get out. Narrow terrain. Terrain that “allows your advance but hampers your return is entangling” (ch. and. The difficulties in passage. wait until half of his or her army has crossed and then attack those troops who have landed. 149). one should choose groundings that are easily reinforced. can be very dangerous. p. if a position does not allow for retreat. 147). Sunzi is saying do not cross water to meet an enemy. otherwise “if you go out and engage him and fail to defeat him. but should quit the position and withdraw. The enemy force will be at half strength and is then ripe for a rout. Grounding an argument in a particular philosopher’s ideas. do not follow him” (p. but disadvantageous if the opposition is secure in that ground. Scattered terrain exists when one “does battle within his own territory. then that politician must be unassailable on ethical grounds. and do not follow him” (pp. the enemy chooses to cross. If an army can occupy and fortify the position first. however. 11. like a gorge. An excellent example of this occurs when armies meet near running water. one can “take the high ground on the sunny side and await the enemy.64 THE DAO OF RHETORIC that can be exposed to the light of day without fear. we must not take the bait. would be wise to wait for the opponent to irritate or offend the audience before making any substantial rhetorical moves. and will be in trouble” (p. Similarly. compounded by the enemy’s fortifications.” But if “the enemy has occupied it first. even if the enemy tempts us out. is only recommended if the rhetor is able to take and fortify the position before the opponent does. Where the enemy has occupied it first. the speaker-warrior. 10. quit the position and withdraw. 147. The speaker-warrior must remember that narrow ground is advantageous if occupied first. debating in front of an audience that is hostile to both debaters. Avoid debating with people who are easily drawn into an argument but are not willing to modify their position in light of proof contrary to their position. “This . obviously. 153). make it difficult to win in narrow terrain. Also. the soldier and speaker-warrior should only engage an unprepared enemy. 147). 147). If one can seize the ground first. In this situation. leading to a standoff. for the terrain is treacherous. if he garrisons it completely. The same is true of precipitous ground. we can then strike to our advantage” (p. If. the nature of that position forces retrenchment and protracted battle. p. 147). The remaining class of terrain relates to territorial positioning. “On this kind of terrain. if a politician wants to stake a campaign solely on the issue of character rather than a platform of substantive issues. then it is wise to “await the enemy. Even terrain creates disadvantages for both sides. or the loss of face. For example. Having lured the enemy halfway out. for example. it is a terrain that permits the scattering of his troops” (ch.

153). eat from them. Speaker-warriors must constantly assess distant enemies. “When the enemy is at some distance. The debater who is able to make only small inroads is wise to withdraw from the position. Critical terrain is encountered after an army penetrates deep into enemy territory. Sunzi advises that one “form alliances with the neighboring states at strategically vital intersections” (p. Critical groundings allow the speaker-warrior to be fortified by the enemy. distant terrain exists when the enemy is far away. 149). The speakerwarrior should not communicate defensively for it offers too much potential for disarray. but is useful to debaters. 155). In sum. 155). 153). One should “plunder the enemy’s resources on critical terrain” (p. Rather than burn the enemy’s fields. Finally. . The speaker-warrior encounters strategically vital terrain when enjoying a point of common ground with an audience. This advice is not clearly relevant to a single speaker addressing an audience. it is not easy to provoke him to fight. Distant battles lack parsimony. Direct engagement with those holding extreme ideas is likely to grant extremists more credibility than would normally be accorded them by presumption (audience conceptions of normalcy). Marginal terrain exists “where one has penetrated only barely into enemy territory” (p. 155). It is better to be on the offensive. and taking the battle to him is not to our advantage” (ch. 155). It is better to defeat such an enemy through strategic alliances than with a long-distance campaign. Sunzi says. do not fight on scattered terrain” (p. The speaker-warrior cannot remain parsimonious on marginal terrain. 10. if one must enter a conflict. A better choice is to probe a number of fronts and then assault the weakest spots. but parsimony suggests they not engage in contentious communication with others whose positions are extreme. gathering and assessing vital information on key interactants and conditions will yield knowledge that will allow for military and rhetorical victory.Sunzi and the Rhetoric of Parsimony 65 being the case. “do not stay on marginal terrain” (p. Strategically vital terrain lies at the borders of several states. if the strategic advantages of both sides are about the same. The inability to push further is an indication of a lack of potency and the potential for a standoff and protracted situation. so much so that walled cities are at its back. p. When speaking of distance from a rhetorical perspective one refers to the discrepancy between the ideas presented and not physical distances. This terrain offers the opportunity to secure and fortify alliances with the audience. rather than negate an opponent’s argument. the rhetor reinterprets it as supportive of his or her own position. It is important ground because “the first to reach it will gain the allegiance of the other states of the empire” (p.

latent energy. “The expert at battle seeks his victory from strategic advantage (shih) and does not demand it from his men” (ch. power. p. p. 1994. Strategy is discussed in the context of two important terms. Presumably. 1993). strength. shih and hsing. When one is certain to win. force. timing. energy. Ames. shape. or strategic positioning. he who fights without it is certain to lose” (p. the terms are not synonymous: Where hsing is limited to the tangible and determinate shape of physical strength. shih goes beyond one’s physical position to include elements such as courage and the enemy’s fatigue. 151). 120). Hsing. Strategic advantage (shih). refers to the positioning that allows for the use of force. know yourself. an enemy who is . is the full concentrated release of that latent energy inherent in one’s position. has been called “the key and defining idea” in Sunzi’s work (p. 1993. one can battle parsimoniously. “he who fights with full knowledge of these factors is certain to win. 1993. is an important aspect of parsimony because it can create victory without military engagement. Sawyer concludes. (Ames. and logistics. Shih has been translated in various ways. Shih. tactical power. by contrast. psychology. STRATEGY Another concept important to the principle of parsimony is strategy. 71). And the victory will not be at risk. “the concept of shih entails the idea of advantage resulting from superior position” (pp. (p. shih includes intangibles such as morale. . Know the ground. . 144–45). know the natural conditions. positional advantage. 150). 82) Thus. force of circumstances. p. combined energy. like knowledge. 5. authority. . often referred to as strategic advantage. Shih. While shih appears to overlap with hsing.66 THE DAO OF RHETORIC Know the other. influence. and purchase” (Sawyer. condition of power. the ability to bring one’s resources to bear on the attack (Ames. And the victory will be total. opportunity. physical or otherwise. 144). momentum. Sunzi maintains. including “circumstances.

In fact. like logs and boulders. is “that the velocity of cascading water can send boulders bobbing about is due to its strategic advantage (shih)” (p. First. drawn from nature. because they can produce the most effective results (Kennedy. of the two types. The commander who makes proper use of shih “sends his men into battle like rolling logs and boulders” (p. he clearly favors the use of artistic proofs. Second. Because the leader is able to understand the nature of round heavy objects. Thus the expert at delivering the surprise assault is as boundless as the heavens and earth and inexhaustible as the rivers and seas” (p. rhetorical power stems from the ability to see the connections and workings of all aspects of the world. Shih is also important to parsimony because it produces quick and decisive victory if one must go to war. Yet. such as logos. 120). Aristotle. Another example. factors that receive little or no attention from Aristotle. One uses “‘straightforward’ to engage the enemy and the ‘surprise’ to win the victory. 120). For Aristotle. they produce inexhaustible possibilities. energy. logos in particular. 120). Aristotle advises students to be especially versed in the use of enthymemes. moving an audience from one point to another. and the effect of gravity upon those objects. much like an archer sending an . In order to make use of shih. force can be brought to bear on the enemy that “can be likened to rolling round boulders down a steep ravine thousands of feet high” (p. 120). The expert at battle channels strategic advantage. Shih diverges from Aristotle’s concept of rhetoric in two ways. “like a drawn crossbow. “like releasing the trigger” (p. shih includes intangible properties such as momentum. For Sunzi. The commander is advised to attain knowledge of all factors in order to attain victory. 120). 1991). a form of probable argument. yet in combination.Sunzi and the Rhetoric of Parsimony 67 able to discern the strategic advantage of the opponent will be aware of the likelihood of defeat and will be less likely to engage in battle. ‘Surprise’ and ‘straightforward’ operations give rise to each other endlessly just as a ring is without beginning or an end” (p. the progenitor of Western rhetoric. “there are no more than ‘surprise’ and ‘straightforward’ operations. says that speakers may demonstrate a point through either artistic or inartistic proofs. rhetoric produces power primarily from logos and secondarily from ethos and pathos. and timing. as opposed to an emphasis on certain elements. 120). one employs two types of operations: surprise and straightforward. it suggests that the rhetor’s power stems from the combination of all strategic elements.” and times the attack precisely. Aristotle envisions rhetoric as a line of argument. Shih illustrates how rhetoric is culture bound.

If he cannot anticipate us. The speaker-warrior may. Sunzi. The web is spun in an ever-widening circle. p. (Sawyer. yet straightforward in its engagement of the enemy. act like an archer shooting an arrow on a straight line to a target. with a number of strands running throughout and connecting all the segments.68 THE DAO OF RHETORIC arrow to a target. being immediately apparent. unlike Aristotle. as its struggles are exhausting and entangling. the positions the enemy must prepare to defend will be many. 1994. its configuration. 6. 1993. The web is placed in a location that is likely to be trafficked by small insects. The true enemy becomes the fear and panic of the prey. The archer (rhetor) eyes the target (audience). then any unit we engage in battle will be few in number. is directly related to knowledge because the formation of the army provides an opportunity for the enemy’s assessment. And if the positions he must prepare to defend are many. p. would advise rhetoricians to be more like spiders than archers. Even when the army has been deployed it should make creative use of deception to disguise its true intentions. When the prey is nearly incapacitated. Whenever the army deploys onto the battlefield. preventing the hapless insect from maintaining its resistance. whereupon it is stored for later consumption. Whether the enemy will modify his original anticipations. 137) . and delivers it forcefully. Hsing. Ames. a second surprise is revealed—the spider! The spider swiftly and silently delivers its venom. The first surprise comes when the prey moves into the web and realizes that the web’s strands contain a powerful adhesive and the fibers are connected in such a way that they are capable of tremendous tensile strength. at times. While Sunzi uses the metaphor of a crossbow at one point to describe the power and timing involved in shih. The way the strands are connected gives the web strength. vary his tactics. selects an arrow (message). much like comprehensive knowledge gives the rhetor strength. This image represents the nature of knowledge and the relationships between various elements. will evoke a reaction in the enemy. The web is nearly invisible. (ch. 125). One must keep secret the place of the attack. paralyzing the prey. but more often should be like a spider and its web. or view the events as confirming a preconceived battle plan depends on his evaluation of the unfolding situation. strategic positioning. the metaphor is not appropriate for discussing the total nature of rhetorical communication.

p. a number of practices are considered appropriate for restoring harmony that may be considered unethical to those holding the classical Greek view of a fixed truth. One way to accomplish this is to avoid taking a firm stand on an issue for as long as possible in the communication encounter. and avoiding taking a firm stand until the opponent has committed to a position. one can reduce an opponent’s anticipation of one’s arguments by not following habitual lines of discourse. Yin is the ability to see all the possibilities in a constantly evolving environment: Yin means feeding your army from the enemy’s fields. Ames. the speaker-warrior should be able to take advantage of a number of tactics designed to induce formlessness. however. yin means taking advantage of inflammable materials in the vicinity of the enemy’s camp. Yet. Also. 6. 6. 126). Yin refers to the ability “to adapt oneself to a situation in such a manner as to take full advantage of the defining circumstances. In the classical Chinese view. requiring constant revision of strategy. issuing a multiplicity of proofs without indicating which ones are the most significant. p. If your position is formless (hsing). For example. and the wisest counselors will not be able to lay plans against it” (ch. developing minor arguments into major ones late in the rhetorical exchange. 84). 126). the “ultimate skill” in using hsing is “to have no form (hsing). must be employed cautiously. Sunzi says “one’s victories in battle cannot be repeated—they take their form (hsing) in response to inexhaustibly changing circumstances” (ch. yin means shifting your posture so . RESPONSIVENESS The final pivotal idea in Art of War is responsiveness to context. p. 1993. 1993. This quality is essential to military success because situations are in constant flux.Sunzi and the Rhetoric of Parsimony 69 Hence. the most carefully concealed spies will not be able to get a look at it. The speaker-warrior can use the concept of hsing by employing tactics designed to prevent an opponent from anticipating the nature of one’s strategy. the goal of the military commander is to appear formless so that the enemy cannot make a reasonable assessment of the situation and its changing conditions. even with audiences holding a traditional Western ethical perspective. one can avoid form by listening or asking questions rather than expressing an opinion on a particular matter. In fact. and to avail oneself of the possibilities of the situation in achieving one’s own purposes” (Ames. This tactic. or yin.

One can only turn prevailing circumstances to account if one maintains an attitude of readiness and flexibility.” Yin requires sensitivity and adaptability. and the analysis is conducted through rational processes of assessment (Kennedy. Adaptability refers to the conscious fluidity of one’s own disposition. This is because the classical Chinese and Greeks had vastly different worldviews. Sensitivity is necessary to register the full range of forces that define one’s situation. Laozi can guide us in petitioning leaders as agents of change. When Sunzi advises adaptation. If we want to address an issue of social justice. you are inscrutable (p. he assumes consideration of all factors that condition the environmental field. 84) Responsiveness requires a total receptivity of knowledge that comes from being with the Dao. (p. when Aristotle recommends that one adapt a message.70 THE DAO OF RHETORIC adroitly and imperceptibly that. Hence. on the basis of this awareness. and draws on both rational and intuitive sensitivities to information. and. from the enemy’s perspective. If such a state of awareness can be achieved. and augments. to anticipate the various possibilities that can ensue. Accordingly. 1991). the speaker-warrior has a difficult burden in accounting for the nature of context. and Sunzi can advise us in mobilizing a social movement geared toward direct assaults. Zhuangzi can show individuals how to transcend their misfortunes. he thinks of adaptation in terms of the audience and their needs and expectations based on culture. and must be “knowledgeable” in the classical Chinese sense of knowing. for example. because everything is connected. one is likely to be richly rewarded. but fundamentally different from. From the perspective of the speaker-warrior. the Daoist philosophical tradition and complements Daoist rhetoric. Further- . the Aristotelian notion of adapting to one’s audience. 84) In order to be responsive one must be open to all types of “information. the advice to be responsive to one’s context is superficially reminiscent of. Recall that the Greeks perceived a stable underlying order to the world while the Chinese perceived a dynamically interactive oneness. CONCLUSION Art of War illustrates how the principle of parsimony is derived from.

a tradition in Western rhetorical theory. theories of knowledge. Although Art of War reflects its culture. and responsiveness. and is thus a welcome addition to our understanding of the human experience. Thus. as a paradigm case for analysis. Art of War is teeming with tactical advice and advances keen insights on knowledge. It indicates that non-Western cultures can develop coherent and thoughtful approaches to fundamental social practices that challenge and enliven Western assumptions about persuasive communication. and assumptions regarding the ends of rhetoric. Sunzi’s rhetoric is also compatible at times with Western rhetorical concepts such as identification and presumption. reflecting fundamental differences in classical Chinese and Greek worldviews. parsimony suggests a powerful strategic perspective that can serve as the basis for a comprehensive rhetorical theory. it takes conflict. strategy. Sunzi shows that while the text cannot be homogenized or fully subsumed within the Western rhetorical tradition. . it can help bridge understandings of East/West rhetorical theory and practice. Sunzi’s rhetoric is distinctly Chinese.Sunzi and the Rhetoric of Parsimony 71 more. Art of War adds to our views of Daoist rhetoric and persuasion in general.

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a critical Daoist perspective. The key to understanding Daoist prescriptions or admonitions about any particular behavior or stance is to consider their views as foregroundings of those behaviors or stances and not as background. I shall first discuss the sense in which the rhetorics of the Daoist sages constitute a genre and. One could maintain that Daoism is not amenable to a critical perspective. And arguing is both good and bad.” By articulating Daoist rhetoric as a distinct category of discourse. risks about taking positions that promote distinctions. this does not mean that Daoists oppose criticism and Daoism cannot be used critically. Before making these moves. The behavior. or universal. the warnings about noncontentiousness. Zhuangzi. Zhuangzi. While Daoism seems unsympathetic towards contentiousness. He recognizes its limitations and argues primarily as a form of satire against debaters. not the act of arguing itself. in fact. distinctions. second. pronouncements. and Sunzi. thus. and admonitions against meddling into the affairs of others seem to preclude acts of critique and. In fact. Thus a criticism of arguing is a statement regarding the motive underlying the arguing. I not only put forth a statement about the rhetorical principles of Daoists but also propose a view of rhetoric that can serve as a critical methodology. I advance the idea that these rhetorics can be fused into a coherent genre I term “Daoist rhetoric. and meddling. In this chapter. argues in order to demonstrate the uselessness of arguing. say arguing.CHAPTER 5 Daoist Rhetorical Criticism The preceding three chapters discuss the rhetorics of Laozi. arguing is part of the universal Dao. The 73 . however. Daoism is by nature a critique of human conventions and an urging for an alternative—the natural way. is not inherently good or bad. suggest a process by which Daoist rhetoric might be used by a critic. it is important to consider whether Daoism can be used as a basis for criticism without violating its basic principles.

substantive. distinguishable category of speech or literature” (Cali. once constituted. from those that they critique is not the activity of contending. hence different rhetorical acts respond to similar circumstances and will often exhibit similar characteristics. Finally. The spirit of Daoism is harmonious. The category. is said to exist when the elements constitute “a constellation of recognizable forms bound together by an internal dynamic” (Campbell & Jamieson. the attacks on meddling focus on intruding into the affairs of others. The appropriate motivation for a critical perspective is to attempt to restore the world to its natural way. it suggests a distinct. may then be used as a benchmark by which one may make critical assessments about rhetorical artifacts. but the rhetorical enactment of the critique and underlying motives behind these actions. That is exactly what Laozi does. Thus. however. p. and Zhuangzi maintains. p. 5). There is nothing inherently wrong with having an opinion. in his espousal of freedom from social conventions. What distinguishes Daoist critical interventions. arguably. the rhetorical dimension of the philosophy. 21). and stylistic. distinguishing. Daoists accept the need to take positions and themselves posit useful distinctions. 1996. strategic. Genres can illuminate a given act. The genre. by revealing the conventions and affinities a work shares with others as well as the unique elements of the rhetorical act. Daoists have no problem. with making distinctions to foreground something momentarily because they do so without losing sight of the underlying oneness of reality. typify a category of discourse. as long as one is not intrusive. or intervening. Note also that the manner in which the advice is given. Campbell and Jamieson (1978) maintain that elements of rhetoric. recur in different rhetorical acts and may. similarly. “when the term genre is assigned to a grouping of speech or writing. or genre.74 THE DAO OF RHETORIC attacks on contentiousness are critiques of those who believe that reason can uncover truth or who argue for the sake of being right. They take issue with those who believe that their distinctions are “real” or make distinctions based on human conventions. are not based on their use per se. in his advice for rulers. Genres also allow critics to generalize beyond the individual event by providing a framework for assessing how different rhetors in different . is natural and effortless. The complaints about distinctions. then. 1978. THE GENRE OF DAOIST RHETORIC The concept of rhetorical genre is not a new one. Black (1965) believes that there are a limited number of rhetorical situations and situational responses.

Of course. 1999a. Kennedy (1999a) divides the dominant rhetorical perspectives of the classical Western tradition into technical. in large part. In all three cases.” focuses on the message and “shows how to present a subject efficiently and effectively but makes no attempt to judge the morality of the speaker and pays little attention to the audience” (Kennedy. Platonic. Technical rhetoric. rhetoric is subsumed within the larger philosophy. stands in service of Daoism. and Daoist rhetoric share a concern that the substance of messages. this is an amoral perspective that offers precepts and principles for artful and effective presentation. “tended to deemphasize the speaker and to stress the validity of the message and the effect on an audience” (pp. and philosophical rhetoric. 14–15). promotes the worldview. While I will momentarily delineate what I believe are the generic features of Daoist rhetoric. Daoist rhetoric can be differentiated from other philosophical rhetorics and classified more specifically as a distinct category or genre of discourse. in particular. “the art of persuasion. from this perspective. and tests of rhetorical propriety are the extent to which the use of rhetoric promotes or espouses the Dao. Philosophical rhetoric. This genre judges rhetoric. on the other hand. Daoist rhetoric is a philosophical rhetoric. The focus of Daoist rhetoric is Daoism. Genres may thus provide standards for judging rhetorical acts in relation to the genre or in juxtaposition to one another. by the extent to which the content of the message is consistent with and conveys the philosophical perspective. p. Daoism presupposes a far different reality from Plato or Christianity. strategic. it must be noted that Daoist rhetoric recasts traditional notions about rhetorical genre. Yet. Hence. The contrast between technical and philosophical rhetoric. 14). Daoist rhetoric engages audiences in philosophical conversations that have tremendous moral implications and provides principles for communication in service of a philosophy. sophistic. it is useful to note that Daoist rhetoric itself can be seen in relation to an even larger classification of rhetorical approaches. more than anything else.Daoist Rhetorical Criticism 75 instances respond to similar rhetorical situations. Plato articulated a rhetoric in service of philosophy while Augustine propounded a rhetoric designed to promote Christianity. Daoist rhetoric is thus similar to Platonic or Christian rhetoric. thereby enriching Western rhetorical theory. the strategic and tactical enactment of the message is considered appropriate when it is consistent with the underlying principles of the system of thought. Based on Kennedy’s distinctions. Christian. helps clarify the nature of Daoist rhetoric. Rhetoric. and stylistic forms is problematic for Daoist . Campbell and Jamieson’s (1978) notion that rhetorical genres are constituted by the fusion of substantive. before delineating elements of Daoist rhetoric.

although they might not agree that the generic categories are arbitrary. to speak of Daoist rhetoric. In fact. When critics are interested in genre they are typically focusing on recurring and stable aspects of discourse that can be said to typify constituents of the category. and tactics are useful but arbitrary distinctions. a strategy. strategic. such as music and visual images. in reality. and recognizes that useful distinctions must always be considered as a move of foregrounding and not a statement about the background reality. its rhetorical principles and perceptual vantage points. whether the parable of the unusual man is a substantive move. and it thus employs a variety of nontraditional methods. In fact. apart from Daoism. to convey an idea. This distinction will be clearer when I later delineate Daoist rhetorical strategies. or stylistic is often arbitrary and masks the multiple ways in which a rhetorical form may function. Hence. It sees the connections in all things. I tend to use either “tactic” or “method” in place of style because tactics or methods are means to enact particular strategies. First. A second problem with distinguishing rhetorical substance.76 THE DAO OF RHETORIC rhetoric for two reasons. highlights the provisionality of distinctions. Daoist rhetoric. strategy. Because Daoists often rely on nonverbal elements. Thus. and style (or even tactics). whether we call something substantive. an important contribution of Daoist rhetorical criticism is its ability to further understanding of the dynamic aspects of both Daoism and rhetorical processes. This is not to suggest that Campbell and Jamieson are unaware of these issues. on the other hand. Daoist rhetoric posits a process of rebirth and renewal. inextricably bound with everything else. we must either think of style as something other than language or use a different term. It is strategic because it is designed to overcome the limitations of language and remain consistent with wu-wei. is that these categories make distinct what are in fact unified. I point out the arbitrariness of the three categories because Daoism. The parable is substantive because it expresses essential aspects of Daoism. the term “style. not just the rational mind. or a tactic.” which typically refers to the use of language. maintains that substance. is to put rhetoric into the foreground when it is. strategy. is inherently unstable because the world constantly changes. is too narrow. Daoist rhetoric speaks to the whole person. Like Daoism itself. One could ask. with it. A final aspect of Daoism that challenges conventional approaches to rhetoric is that the principles of Daoist rhetoric are generative—in a state of constantly becoming. Daoist rhetoric recasts notions of genre because it suggests replacing the term style with tactic or method. . or constantly becoming. It is a stylistic or tactical element because it is a particular language form. and posits a genre that is generative. which insists on the unity and oneness of reality. for example. and.

and parsimony (Sunzi). must be primarily concerned with expressing the Dao and affecting its audience. Daoist rhetoric. and internal dynamic that distinguishes Daoist rhetoric from other categories of discourse. however. others omitted. Of course. If we temporarily foreground substance as a constituent of rhetoric. It has a clear internal dynamic that fuses its elements together: the touchstone for appropriate communication. in the sense that it will constantly present itself in novel ways. strategic. . Furthermore. The substantive. and the tactics or methods associated with them. But whatever is discussed and omitted must be consonant with the overall philosophy. Some may be highlighted. It must be careful about particularizing and subscribe to the natural way. can be used exclusively or combined with one another. embodying the principle of wu-wei. which couple form and substance and facilitate appropriate communication. it should be noted that Daoist rhetoric provides guiding principles for creating messages and not just for critiquing the messages of other rhetors. Rhetors must not advocate striving to achieve external. one must uphold the values of balance and harmony. and tactical elements of Daoist rhetoric can be used critically in a number of ways.Daoist Rhetorical Criticism 77 While Daoist rhetoric is unstable. These strategies. Daoist rhetoric is notable for three particular communication strategies. When rhetorical strategies are pulled into the foreground. The substance of rhetoric should be unifying and nonjudgmental. evocation (Zhuangzi). is the Dao itself. Hence. then the substance of rhetoric. enhancing its accessibility to potential adherents by spurring deeper mental communion. human goals. It must show recognition for the underlying perfection of the natural world and the value of consonance with one’s fate or destiny. in terms of its underlying processes and principles. Daoist rhetoric makes the Dao the centerpiece of communication because the motive for language is to illuminate the Dao. must focus on the whole— making the Dao central to the message. a Daoist view is that they must flow effortlessly and seamlessly. depending on the particular situation. which result from the inherent order of the natural way. as a philosophical rhetoric. As a minor example of how Daoism can inform rhetorical practice. but move in accordance with nature. it is possible to say a few things about the genre as I conceive it as this juncture. I recently found a focal point for a presentation I was to give by utilizing a Daoist rhetorical tactic—a metaphor drawn from mundane elements of the natural world. the natural way (Laozi). not all of these substantive elements will be present in every rhetorical act. it is also stable. because acting within oneself is the most natural way for a self to act. for a Daoist. Before I speak to its use as a critical method.

Like crabgrass living off the nutrients in garden soil. The message was wrapped in a simple metaphor drawn from the natural world.78 THE DAO OF RHETORIC The metaphor occurred to me one day as I was pulling weeds in the garden. the qualities that nourish our lifestyle also breed resentment and anger in others. the plant will regrow. This sounded like the descriptions I was hearing of our government’s approach to confronting the Al Queda network. the need to address not only terrorism but also its causes. if the United States succeeds in rooting out terrorists. The more I played with the metaphor. wiping out Al Queda’s presence in a particular region. One must carefully dig out the roots. unless we can also promote a viable political and economic system that provides opportunities for expression and income realization for all human beings. environmental destruction. but the core ideas stemmed from my Daoist “roots.” One needs to follow their roots as well. the connectedness between our lifestyle and the ensuing economic and political entanglements. Pulling crabgrass is an exercise in patiently tracing out and digging up roots.” . and holism. a gardener stands a better chance of creating the desired garden than by leaving bare patches and seeing what pops up. By removing the crabgrass and then replacing it with something else. I thought about how the same elements and nutrients that nourish my grass and flowers also nourish the crabgrass. The best approach to inhibiting reseeding is to preclude it by planting something in the area that has been weeded. is enabled by capitalism. Crabgrass also reproduces by sending out “runners. Severing a runner without extracting the root will simply result in an independent but otherwise healthy plant. but that is insufficient in the long run because the ground can become reseeded. because if you tear out a plant but leave the root. Terror cells will be repopulated by disgruntled extremists. and somehow connected the activity with a sound bite from President Bush where he said he was committed to “rooting out the terrorists. this action will have little long-term impact. in this case. the more sense it made. Similarly. relative to the rest of the world. I bolstered my message with additional proofs. I likened this to how the high quality of life that citizens of the United States enjoy. It also occurred to me that to kill the crabgrass one must remove its root system. and commodification—which in turn makes our lifestyles conspicuous and leads us into foreign territories to protect our economic interests.” Anyone who has weeded crabgrass knows that “rooting out” is essential to success. The approach we take to terrorism must account for how our lifestyle and economic interests make us vulnerable. The message that I ultimately constructed was drawn out of Daoist principles of unity.

I let the text find me. The song may be annoying. The message I constructed also critiqued Bush’s expressed policy on terrorism by calling into question some of the regrettable ways that our nation sets itself apart from the rest of the world. or the popular song they can’t get out of their heads. I believe that critics do their best work when they are involved with texts professionally and intrapersonally. is not to seek a text to critique. The difficulty is making oneself available to the universe because it requires a state of openness and readiness to nontraditional forms of information. the crabgrass example shows that it can be difficult to separate the two. is speaking to them. although some are distinct from other critical approaches. It suggests unity between the critic and artifact. Critics must be open to the possibility that the unread book sitting on the nightstand for months. There are a number of potentially fruitful methods for Daoist rhetorical criticism. time? Perhaps opening the book will take the reader into an emotional confrontation he or she “knows” (at some level) is necessary for personal growth but is nonetheless unwilling to undertake. The process is seemingly effortless because the critic is not affirmatively seeking anything. In fact. The journey of discovering the rhetorical workings of the text also becomes a journey of self-examination and discovery. The practices I employ are not necessarily unique to Daoist rhetorical criticism. which seems to me to be particularly Daoistic. instead.Daoist Rhetorical Criticism PROCESSES OF DAOIST RHETORICAL CRITICISM 79 Daoist rhetoric is useful not only in creating messages but also in critiquing messages. It is difficult to stop looking for something that does not seem to be present and instead know that it is present but is presenting itself unconventionally. proclaiming for all to hear a message that the listener wants to make her own. The first part of my process. Letting the text find the critic is harmonious with Daoism. The issue in letting go of the struggle to acquire information is the same as the difficulty many people have with Daoism in general. This method is also consonant with wu-wei. Being with the Dao is effortless. . Or it may be an anthem. but they are designed to work holistically in the manner of the Dao. mindless babble. It also points out the inadequacy of our response to promote meaningful social justice. The book that sits on a nightstand is taking up space. The primary requirement of any such endeavor is consistency of methodological approach and Daoist principles. Why hasn’t it been shelved for another. more convenient. But getting to that point is a struggle where one must overcome the unnatural social conventions that pervade our daily lives. which enliven and inform one another.

I feel more comfortable defending my claims than when I am vulnerable to the argument that the text itself does not support my claims. selects or creates a critical approach (rhetorical methods). which is influenced by Edwin Black. was given to me by a former student who thought it might comfort me in the aftermath of a painful breakup of a relationship. I shy away from the notion that there is a “correct” reading of a text and its meaning. I realize that there is an assumption or tension in this method that should be clarified. come to me. Zhuangzi. I finally realized that I was watching these films not for Ryan. The purpose is to discover how the discourse works to achieve its ends as well as its defining characteristics. My more traditional use of methods of rhetorical criticism began in a graduate course taught by Karlyn Campbell. After letting the text find me. In fact.80 THE DAO OF RHETORIC I also believe in this method because it works time and again. 1997). I am not necessarily trying to “crack the code” or uncover a treasure chest. while we were both at the University of Kansas. My aim is to focus on the workings of the text and avoid using it as a springboard for my own agenda. as Campbell and Burkholder recommend in their first stage of criticism. I realized I had received yet another important gift from my son. all of my texts have. and evaluates the text based on criteria derived from the critical method (evaluation) (Campbell & Burkholder. My goal is to minimize interpretation and maximize description so that I can understand the nature of the text. an intrinsic analysis of the text. On the one hand. When I critique rhetoric from a Daoist perspective I generally follow Campbell’s method of conducting criticism in stages. because during Ryan’s “TV time. much to my dismay.” which I supervised. We watched those films over and over. My specific approach is identical in some respects and differs in others from Campbell and Burkholder’s. Once I saw the connections between the films and my life. The danger in “seeing” something in a . If I can point to examples from the text when I assert. attempts to understand the discourse in relation to its milieu or context (contextual or extrinsic analysis). that was all he wanted to watch. Texts have lives that are constantly reworked as they interact with other texts (including people). Her approach to criticism. but for myself. My son presented Antz and A Bug’s Life to me when he was three years old. who also directed my master’s thesis. She recommends a four-stage process where one analyzes discourse in order to identify distinctive characteristics (textual or intrinsic analysis). for example. By engaging in intrinsic analysis I strive for a close reading because my goal is to discover the nature of the text as I interact with it and note “evidence” for the arguments I will later make about the workings of the text. is imprinted in my work. I undertake. in one way or another.

He is showing. textual analysis of the Dao de jing indicates that Laozi shows a clear preference for the rural. where foolish lords were building walled cities to protect themselves from invasion. Laozi is saying that there are other possibilities. The farmer is also intimately connected to nature. I also follow Campbell and Burkholder’s second stage of criticism by next attempting to analyze context as a way to deepen and broaden my understanding of the text. low. women. The farmer irrigates. His favorite metaphor for appropriate conduct is water. Laozi does not want everyone to be farmers. in fact. let alone transporting and storing food. In the context of classical China. It seems much more reasonable to read Laozi as using “the farmer” as a metaphor. and potentially different insights. yet he promotes rural over city.Daoist Rhetorical Criticism 81 text that does not ring true for others. in the sense of advocating its absolute superiority. farming over crafts and professions. the land. or stand on its own as being reasonable. One might well wonder why Laozi says that the world is constituted by all things and that we should avoid discriminating. water. agrarian peasantry. The farmer is a corrective to the devaluing of manual labor and society’s exaltation of technology and excessive adornment. not the prototype for all human activity. Confucianism was pervading the royal houses. Someone needs to build houses and furniture. soft over hard. rural poor—were also valuable. and everything seemed highly competitive and chaotic. the interdependence of all creatures. sew clothing. This would create obvious problems since a division of labor seems necessary for social life in general. for the work than a purely intrinsic analysis. He also favors the soft. The answer that resonates with me is derived by an augmentation of the text with the historical context. For example. then why bother with texts? In these cases. low over high. within the context of his world. The farmer prepares for difficult seasons and lean years by storing food and saving the best seed to be resown in the next season. My view is that Laozi is not promoting anything. the most successful farmer is the . In fact. that the undervalued—soft. critics are more persuasive. If the critic is manufacturing meaning that does not seem to resonate with the text. and tend the sick and feeble. feminine over masculine. The farmer understands the changes in seasons. if they argue their ideas without resorting to a text as a showcase or straw man for argument. and feminine. greed and warfare were rampant. is that any conclusions about the text can be dismissed by others as being fabricated by the critic or incidental to textual interaction. and water. The farmer allows the soil to rest and replenishes what is taken out. and certainly more authentic. and water over fire. The extrinsic perspective provides a different vantage point. could in some senses be superior to their counterparts.

like the rhetor or agency. the issue of how to arrive at those answers is worth consideration. Extrinsic analysis helps us recognize that Laozi is advocating nothing absolutely. Although one can certainly argue with my choices. tells the story of a corporation in a fantasy world that employs the monsters that come out of closets at night and scare children. it is best thought of provisionally as foregrounding that represents the choices and perspectives of the critic. Inc. birth and death—the cycles of life. The monsters work in a factorylike setting producing power by collecting in canisters the energy emitted when a scared child screams. and a competitive system that tallies how much energy each scarer produces. For one. (Lasseter & Stanton. Inc. it is not without limitation or difficulty. The farmer. 2001)? Do I need to look outside the texts at all? While there are viable answers to these questions. is invested in survival. are complicated by the fact that films and songs are typically produced through a tremendous amount of collaboration. The task is more difficult when texts are artifacts of popular culture. and holistically. I recommend three particular methods for approaching challenging contexts: thinking intuitively. and social life during the Spring-Autumn and Warring States eras. while not entirely self-sufficient. as I outline in chapter 1. Another difficulty is that some texts do not lend themselves to traditional views of context. Thinking intuitively involves being open to a sudden insight regardless of its source or form.” an administrative bureaucracy. first hand. Who is the “rhetor” of a big-screen movie? The novelist or playwright? The screenwriter? The producer(s)? The director? Actors? Which extrinsic factors. which present highly ambiguous or even fantastic points of view. Deciding how to approach context with rhetorical artifacts that are highly ambiguous or removed from ordinary reality is less daunting if one uses methods drawn from a Daoist perspective. such as films and music. The farmer also experiences. philosophy. In addition. While contextual analysis can be extremely valuable. would be useful in understanding the film Monsters. his advocacy is a context-bound urging for correctives designed to restore the natural way. Monsters. Putting the works of the sages into a reasonable contextual scheme is not terribly difficult. We see a huge undertaking with a training program for “scarers. to read Laozi intrinsically is to miss key elements of Daoism. for example. Inc. Hence. Finally. technical teams that collect and store the canisters. I am comfortable grounding my contextual analysis in Chinese politics. The scarers are treated like heroes around the factory and each has an .82 THE DAO OF RHETORIC one who can “know” the minute changes in environmental circumstances and adapt accordingly. metaphorically. obvious and standard contextual factors. I experienced an intuitive insight the first time I watched Monsters. the farmer prospers when positively connected to a community.

The film was an urging to break through stereotypical roles for fathers and create sensitivity for these expanded roles in the workplace. animated films regularly employ metaphors because they simultaneously attempt to appeal to several audiences—children who are often most attracted to them. My intuitive moment came over me at the movie theater. my two-year-old daughter (nicknamed Boo-boo) sitting in my lap. and prevalent throughout mediated messages. If children knew that the monsters were actually more afraid of the children than the children were of the monsters. Sully and his assistant Mikey spend the rest of the movie trying to conceal Boo from their bosses and return her to her home. Of course. animated films are not the only rhetorical artifacts that use metaphor. “Sully. By seeing monsters as metaphors for fathers I was able to identify extrinsic factors for further analysis.” somehow follows the company’s top monster. where I sat with my two children. Through metaphor. approaches to child discipline. This insight pulled together everything in the film for me: fathers are actually more afraid of their small children than the reverse. and their parents. and gender bias toward fathers in the workplace. She doesn’t see him as a big hairy monster but a kitty cat. Sully comes to learn that a child’s laughter is ten times more powerful as an energy source than a scream. It occurred to me that the monsters were metaphors for fathers. tenderness. “Boo. thinking in terms of metaphors can spur the imagination and provide a useful way to distinguish contextual factors that merit further analysis. Monsters Inc. then the system would collapse because children would no longer scream out of fear of monsters. From a Daoist perspective. In so doing. Thus. The complication in this story is that a young girl. .” back through her closet door and into the factory. who often must transport them to the theater and pay for tickets and popcorn. works as an example of both intuition and metaphor.Daoist Rhetorical Criticism 83 assistant who handles administrative and logistical chores. We also learn that there is an elaborate security system to help ensure that the monsters are not contaminated by contact with any of the children or their belongings. fathers are assigned roles in society as disciplinarians (or scarers). animators are able to create multiple possibilities for meaning that makes Bugs Bunny or Spongebob Squarepants entertaining for diverse audiences. Metaphor is central in communication in general. the child and monsters are in regular contact. In fact. Boo also helps Sully shed his scary exterior. and love. The extrinsic factors that needed to be considered included parenting roles in contemporary society. metaphorical thinking is an appropriate method for working with the limitations of language and linear thinking. She shows him that being funny and soft is emotionally satisfying for both her and Sully. and humor are much better ways to parent than fear.

I have suggested three methods. There are two steps involved: first. metaphorically. A particular text might focus on the natural way.. if a critic decides that Daoism is an appropriate lens for a particular text. . when I analyze the film The Tao of Steve. apply the standards from the rhetorical method to the interpretation to evaluate or critically assess the text. Identifying myself with the text. While the focus of this book suggests a commitment to a Daoist rhetorical method. while another centers on de. in various ways. interpret the text. a Daoist rhetorical analysis will offer unique insight not only into the text but also about Daoism. The utility of a method is based on the insight it brings to the project. that were featured prominently in the film. and the consistency between the substance of the text and its rhetorical enactment. critics could evaluate Daoistically by considering in what ways and to what extent a text upholds core Daoist principles. Second. in chapters 2 through 4. about being able to make the choice of family over work. or reconfigured Daoist elements into the critique. this does not entail following a recipe for criticism.84 THE DAO OF RHETORIC My final suggestion for revealing and highlighting extrinsic factors is to work holistically by unifying the critic and text. I have no doubt that Daoist rhetoric can be valuable in the analysis of a wide range of acts and artifacts. helped me hone in on key extrinsic factors. In the case of Monsters. In particular. In summary. Nonetheless. but that it provides a unique vantage point for criticism of challenging texts. I insist that I am not devoted to a Daoist analysis for all texts. This is not to say that Daoism is limited to works of fantasy. If critics are able to let texts come to them then they can also locate appropriate extrinsic factors by considering what motivated their initial attraction to the text. and one should only utilize a Daoist perspective when it is justified by its revelatory power. Still others may require additional analysis of Daoist ideas to inject previously unexplored. and holistically. thinking intuitively. relying on the textual and contextual analyses. which are highlighted in chapters 7 and 8. also used Daoist principles in more traditional ways to examine the verbal elements of the philosophical works of the sages. and thus perhaps few choices to make at this stage. Ideally. I have. I have also argued that. The final phase of rhetorical criticism according to Campbell and Burkholder is the critical stage. I was able to identify personal issues. One must still discover what aspects of Daoism are most amenable to the analysis. unifying the artifact and critic. The third stage of analysis for Campbell and Burkholder is to select a rhetorical method for evaluating the text. by which one can distinguish key contextual elements in challenging texts. undeveloped. and my frequently being cast in the role of disciplinarian in my family. Inc. Laozi. I take this approach in chapter 6.

Daoist rhetorical criticism can also provide an avenue for further exploration of Daoist ideas and Chinese culture. where I propose a non-Western view on the individual’s meaning in mass society.Daoist Rhetorical Criticism 85 Zhuangzi. Finally. its evocativeness. . and chapter 8. there is no finally. I attempt this in chapter 7. thus considering audience effects. Daoism might also be useful in considering the consequences of adhering to the values presented in a message. Daoism can certainly be used by rhetorical critics in ways I have not yet imagined. something I attempt to do throughout this book. In addition. Zhuangzi’s rhetoric could be used to examine whether a text inspires audiences to engage the Dao on their own terms. when I suggest an alterative to the Western prototype of the hero. and Sunzi enact rhetorical strategies that are entirely harmonious with their philosophical views.

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Dex. and surprisingly successful. At the same time the female lead. Syd exemplifies the Eastern approach. The Western approach. 2000) tells the story of Dex. These observations underlie my central claim: The Tao of Steve succeeds as an example of Daoist rhetoric because it presents Daoism paradoxically. is to create dichotomies and distinctions that. I further advance my claim that Daoism provides a unique vantage point for rhetorical theory and criticism through an analysis of a recent. His success in employing this strategy allows him to become romantically involved with a number of beautiful and intelligent women who would otherwise seem unapproachable to a person of Dex’s modest means and average looks. appears to be a more authentic Daoist than Dex. at a meta-level. While the film appears to be a simple story of how a good girl saves a bad boy. Syd. 87 . uses tactics that can be derived from Daoist thought.” Accordingly. yet he violates the underlying rationale for those tactics. it is also a portrayal of contradiction that distinguishes important Eastern and Western worldviews and rhetorical principles. which is exemplified by Dex. The Tao of Steve (Goodman. independent film. seeing a unity that recognizes the unreality of distinctions and frames potential contradiction as paradox. stemming from a dualistic worldview. the film makes a statement about Eastern and Western approaches to contradiction. Furthermore. who lacks such scholarly training and awareness of Daoism. it seems reasonable to expect it to be useful in analyzing texts that identify themselves as “Daoist.CHAPTER 6 Is The Tao of Steve Really “The Way”? If Daoist rhetoric can be adapted for rhetorical criticism. an overweight and underemployed thirty-something guy who subscribes to a strategy known as the “Tao of Steve” in order to seduce women. a student of philosophy and claimed adherent of Daoism. attempt to resolve or minimize contradictions.

introduces the idea that Dex hasn’t changed much since college. The implications include an admonition regarding the misappropriation of Daoism. a ten-year college reunion.” her husband (Ed). but “he always gets the girl. The opposite .” comprised of three rules.” Steve. and will be discussed later. There is a priest. OVERVIEW OF THE FILM While the elements of Daoism in the film are significant.88 THE DAO OF RHETORIC This chapter demonstrates the levels of meaning in the film that contribute to its paradoxicality by overviewing Daoism and the film. who is “married with baggage. the businessman who is happy and has a perfect home for his business life. the basic story is about the transformation of Dex. from the perspective of a man who has “returned” to college (an American dream in itself) after a number of years. underachieving man who is unwilling or unable to make a commitment to a particular woman. a professional opera set designer who plays drums in her spare time (Syd). it is a state of mind. however. is revealed in the relationships between Dex and his roommates. and insight into culturally appropriate ways of engaging potential contradictions. then providing intrinsic and extrinsic analyses of The Tao of Steve. The reunion also gives us a sense of Western idealized notions of the possible self. especially noted for his unflappable bravery and motorcycle riding in The Great Escape. The “Tao of Steve” refers to having the state of mind of “Steveness” when approaching relationships with women. now content to be a “slacker” and perfect his considerable ability to “scam” on women. a bright. in order to consider the implications for rhetorical theory and practice. yet has no idea that his wife is miserable and unfaithful. McQueen never tries to impress women. Matt. and Dave) who play significant roles in his life. an unfulfilled woman (Beth).” The opening scene. Dex has three roommates (Chris. one who has a strong relationship with God. the brightest person in his class. James Bond and Spiderman are Steves. particularly Dave. Dex combines a Western fantasy of masculinity with bits of Daoist philosophy to create an ongoing strategy of womanizing: “The Tao of Steve. The scene is also notable because of who is not there. assessment of the potential for Western rhetoric to communicate the Dao. and Dex. his young disciple. The “Tao of Steve. There is also a happily married couple (Rick and Maggie). “Steve” is a metaphor for the ideal male—a blend of elements of Eastern wisdom with the on-screen persona of Steve McQueen. is not simply a name.

and (3) after you have done these two things. The Three Rules of Steve provide a mantra for relationships with women: (1) detach yourself from desire. retreat. Syd “out Daos” Dex by upholding the rules and conquering Dex. Dex cannot ever find love because women will either love him or leave him. but not in the case of Syd. the analysis will show that there is a contradiction between the way Dex treats women in general and the way he treats Syd in specific. who leads him to acknowledge that he is simply another underachieving “guy on the make” who brings pain to others through his drive for self-gratification. and its resolution. the analysis will consider the gist of Dex’s Dao. of Dex’s transformation from an emotionally immature womanizer to a man willing to commit to a monogamous relationship. These rules will be examined in order to better understand them and note the role the “Tao of Steve” plays in the transformation of Dex. while Dex abandons his rules. Thus. Furthermore. or baseline. (2) be excellent in her presence. Her willingness to accept his flaws indicates her undesirability. signifies Dex’s transformation and ultimate abandonment of the Tao of Steve. it must be because the woman is unworthy of his love. INTRINSIC ANALYSIS Intrinsic analysis of a text derives the standards of assessment from the text itself. The Rules are an appropriate source for critical analysis because they are suggested by the text itself. In fact. In so doing. Eventually. The rules are also significant because Dex uses them successfully in general. he has disavows the three rules of Steve.” He is transformed by Syd. The reunion establishes the starting point. If he is not rejected. The contradiction. Gomer Pyle. Dex finds a reason to “play the field. the Three Rules of Steve. A Stu is uncool.Is The Tao of Steve Really “The Way”? 89 of a Steve is a Stu. In this case. he reasons. . and Jugghead. either way. Dex is driven simultaneously by fear of rejection and of settling for an inadequate relationship. but they distort the underlying philosophical basis for those strategies. exemplified by Barney Fife. This analysis will reveal a contradiction between the substance of Daoist philosophy and the strategies Dex derives from that philosophy. He is unable to commit to a relationship with a woman because he may ultimately get rejected and hurt. Dex is transformed from a womanizer to a man who stands ready to risk rejection and commit to Syd. offering potential insight into the text’s internal workings. shamelessly pursuing Syd and realizing his underlying lack of fulfillment. Dex’s strategies often mimic Daoist thought.

who appears younger than the rest and fairly new to the group. Dex scores a hole in one. given his looks and low level of career success. He attributes his success with women. expresses a clear interest in Syd. who is still sleeping. because the next scene shows Dex waking up the following morning next to Julie. If a man’s agenda is sexual. “All the better to deduce the truth with. Chris. Dex. “What?” replies Julie. Dex’s bookcase in his bedroom. That night the men are playing poker and Dex smokes a cigarette. in a classic display of eliminating his desire for Julie. While playing golf with Rick.” Dave is violating the First Rule of Steve: eliminate your desire. “You’ve got so many great books. women will use their innate ability to discover the man’s motives. his ability to have sex with women. the next scene begins with a shot of a bookcase. Dex is obviously courting the woman.90 THE DAO OF RHETORIC The First Rule of Steve is explained in the course of Frisbee golf and poker games. expresses his excitement about a woman he is courting. she is having a better time than she did on her last date. and now is playing the guitar for her in the bedroom.” he replies. is browsing the shelf and admiring the collection. She then remarks that in certain ways. He goes into the kitchen to make some coffee and spots Syd from the kitchen window. then he is “already dead in the water.” As proof of the power of the first rule. which reveals his collection of philosophical treatises. leading them to be attracted to him because he appears not to be attracted to them in a sexual way: “Women want to have sex like fifteen minutes after us. fixed her dinner and drinks. “The better to seduce you with. It obviously works. She is jogging along the side of the road. and Dave. Yet he denies what is obvious in order to perplex Julie.” Dave. Dex and Rick explain that Dave will have a much better chance of having sex with his woman if he doesn’t want sex. Matt. He has pursued her since the reunion. Hence. So if you hold out for twenty. theoretically. who are used to being pursued and fighting off their pursuers. Dex thus uses avoidance and passive detachment to propel Julie’s desire for him. to his strategy of not pursuing them.” says Julie. looking very fit.” mutters Dex to himself. he should not be able to have sex with the attractive and interesting women he courts. she’ll be chasing you for five. This perplexes women. the bartending student he met at the reunion. and doesn’t want any romantic entanglements to spoil their friendship. That will cause the object of your desire to desire you as well. Dex says that if Dave is as excited as he sounds. Dex says that he doesn’t consider this a date. One of his friends says “very Steve. the best approach is to satisfy desire by having no desire. Dex is strumming a guitar in the background while Julie. He is only interested in being her friend. explaining that. The problem is that he is violating his own rule because he has desire for .

fixes her wreck of a motorbike. The notion of detachment from desire is consistent with Daoism. but merely feigns indifference in his goal-oriented and selfish pursuits. Figure out what you are excellent at. but also is unable to enact his notion of eliminating desire in the case of Syd. Dex not only misappropriates Daoism. and then do it in her presence. arousing her desire by waiting longer than she wants. He is correct in saying that people have innate talent that can distinguish them from others. thus ensuring there will be sexual contact that is motivated by strong desire. Dex asks her out the first time they ride together in a car. but he is wrong in advocating the display of excellence. Dex gives the appearance of nondesire in order to satisfy his true desire. Dex and Dave are hanging out at the house when Dex tells Dave the Second Rule of Steve: do something excellent. thus demonstrating your sexual worthiness. Rather than truly being detached. Furthermore. Once again. attempting to be formless. Zhuangzi’s story of the praying mantis warns of the danger of being conspicuous.Is The Tao of Steve Really “The Way”? 91 Syd. A man who wants to achieve his objective must adapt to the woman’s timetable. Hence. because it allows for practices that violate Daoist principles. A Steve will give the appearance of indifference. Dex justifies this by claiming that he is not being manipulative but adjusting to the timetable of the woman. Dex is not detached. the motivational state behind everything is impure. thereby making it impossible for an enemy to anticipate an attack (Sawyer. and finally. they just have different schedules. Much of his advice to peasants in the parable of the ugly man is to blend in with the crowd and stay out of the spotlight. follows her to New York. Yet these occasional analogs to Daoist philosophy are violated on the whole because Dex does not truly start from a standpoint where he is detached from the outcome. Both men and women want to have sex. The first rule is prompted by the desire to have sex. Dex is excellent at philosophy. 1994). Dex’s interpretation of Daoism is suspect. tells her he is falling in love with her at a pool party. He recommends quietness and inaction. Although the Second Rule of Steve is not grounded in Daoist thought. This interpretation of Daoism is inappropriate. and he constantly uses his charisma and intelligence to express his excellence. Sunzi also advocates being formless. but he appears to have met his match in the case of Syd. It becomes clear that Dex is generally successful in his romantic strategy. Dex still finds it difficult to maintain consistency with his rule . in order to force the woman to make the move the man desires. the strategy of subduing an enemy without fighting is a basic principle in Sunzi’s manual on warfare. Dex explains that everybody is excellent at something. shamelessly pursues her on a camping trip.

Dex answers the door in his pajamas. ‘Eat me when you’re ready. but the underlying philosophical substance is distorted. one must retreat. after eliminating desire and doing something excellent in her presence. But don’t we all wish he would have just stayed home and gotten stoned?” Syd challenges his overly simplistic dichotomy: “I see. constantly laboring on the trail. Like Hitler. Dex is also inept throughout a later scene. ‘The sage. Syd observes that Dex smokes pot for breakfast and works parttime.’” A couple of days later. The Third Rule of Steve is that. ‘Passionlessness is the best of virtues. Dex. he renders his tent unusable defending himself against a spider. At night. On the first morning they are to ride to work together. he was one of the most gifted and seemed to have tremendous potential. Once again. and leads Syd to his bedroom. The opera house is a magnificent place that foreshadows the quality of its performances. remaining detached and displaying excellence in Dex’s presence. Syd says that she needs to stop at the opera house. Syd arrives at Dex’s house as agreed—at 7:30 sharp. We meet many of the considerable number of women that Dex has slept with. an overnight camping trip with Maggie. where she works as the production designer.’ Buddha said. Not really. and pick up some work. At this point in the film. but none of his past relationships were meaningful and all were short lived. “Doing stuff is overrated. he did a lot. So the only options are to get stoned or commit genocide?” Dex remarks. “Lao Tzu said. Syd is extremely fit. She is treated with the courtesy and respect that a professional such as she would merit. Syd has been fairly spectacular in Dex’s company. Meanwhile. For . Meanwhile. says Dex. knocks over some props. Dex is not being excellent in her presence. Rick. Dex’s strategy may be found in Daoism. He is obviously out of shape. On the hike home he has to be rescued because he thinks he is having a heart attack. moving easily. and Syd. Syd arrives to pick up Dex after work. Dex has failed on two counts: he has repeatedly expressed his desire for Syd and has been largely unexcellent in her presence.’” Syd is unimpressed: “And the Pillsbury Doughboy said. and is very adept in the natural world. She also moves easily and freely throughout the place. meanwhile. Syd asks Dex if he ever wanted to do more with his life. where he pulls out a bong and takes several long hits of pot to prepare him for the morning. because he does nothing never ruins anything. The strategy of using retreat can be supported if it is an attempt to harmonize or balance the universe. Dex displays this principle throughout the film.92 THE DAO OF RHETORIC because of Syd’s intellect and beauty. yet of all the people she knew in college. In Syd’s opinion. displaying her general sense of comfort in a high-class establishment. She is a better Steve than is Dex.

The fact that the Tao of Steve is studied. Dex violates every rule with Syd. following Syd to New York in the final scene of the film. Unfortunately. sleeping with her a few days before she was scheduled to leave for New York. Dex’s circumstances and mindset are inconsistent with Daoism. When Dex is motivated to change. because of Syd. 30). not if it is a method to achieve self-gratification. Cleary. Syd more closely approximates a Steve than does Dex. Laozi taught that all straining. Hence. For instance. Dex’s “Dao” provides a grounding for his womanizing. showing that according to the standards prescribed by the Three Rules of Steve. Intrinsic analysis reveals that Dex avoids rejection or “settling” by sleeping with many women. it is clear that Dex’s Dao is not the Dao of Laozi and Zhuangzi. If anything. 43. and turned into generic rules of conquest suggests that it does not represent truth. all striving are not only vain but also counterproductive. by abandoning Daoism. Finally. would be perfect. . Dex violates his own rule. True insight is not “learned” by following rules but by contemplating. Dex is interested only in sexual gratification and not the harmony of the universe. Dex quotes elements of Daoism and uses the ideas strategically. By masking his approach to sexual conquest he engages through noninvolvement and attacks through retreat. In fact.Is The Tao of Steve Really “The Way”? 93 instance. cultivated. Instead. Dex fails to follow this rule with Syd. not a Steve. he abandons the strategy. because its deceptiveness is painful to the women he seduces. philosophy and strategy. Dex is a Stu. This scenario. Using retreat as a strategy can be justified only if it stems spontaneously from one’s nature. the phrase “We pursue that which retreats from us” is more likely to come from Heidegger than Laozi. It would undoubtedly be used eventually as an object lesson in Dave’s discipleship. enabling him to justify his existence and resist change. Laozi points out. he chooses instead to resolve the contradiction between substance and form. 1999. His philosophy shields him from the sequence of approach and rejection. using retreat to attack may be an example of using yin to balance yang. the resolution of the film is for Dex to reject his view of Daoism. While Dex could resolve the contradiction by becoming a true Daoist. Dex “conquered” Syd. Dex’s deployment of this strategy frequently is unharmonious. while yin energy may be appropriate when yang has disturbed the balance of the universe. His strategy works seamlessly to accomplish these objectives. and even challenging them. “what is softest in the world drives what is hardest in the world” (ch. adapting them to context. In fact. Furthermore. yet his use of these elements contradicts the nature of Daoism. In addition to the tension between Dex’s version of Daoist strategy and its underlying substance. for the Dex we see at the reunion. p.

instead. The fundamental elements of Daoism to be considered are the notion of unity. Syd. upholding certain tactics while negating their underlying rationale. Extrinsic elements are factors outside of the text that may illuminate the text by providing a unique vantage point for analysis. Several key scenes in the film show that Dex does not see the unity that is the world. He says he is a “fat fatist”—the worst kind because he holds others to standards that he does not feel obliged to maintain for himself. and the values of balance and harmony. may be premature. It has already been noted that Dex dichotomizes Daoism. it is appropriate to consider fundamental aspects of Daoism outside of those outlined by Dex. A Daoist would seem likely to appreciate and find comfort in the natural world. “I love camping. The following section will offer an answer to this question through an extrinsic analysis of the text. on the other hand. and although thin herself. he constantly makes distinctions and judgments.” she bases this on the fact that Dex does not live up to his potential. Dex. that he is not being true to his nature. By looking more broadly at Daoism it is possible to consider more fully the film’s Daoist implications. or simply the rejection of Dex’s version of the Dao? The answer is significant. the natural way. Rick and Maggie question his ability and desire to go on a rigorous hike.” that he is not attracted to fat women even though he has a large belly himself. Does the film recommend the abandonment of philosophical Daoism. at the end of the film she does.94 THE DAO OF RHETORIC EXTRINSIC ANALYSIS While the “Tao of Steve” is rejected in the film. But he . Dex struggles mightily to keep pace with the others on the hike.” Later. In one scene Dex admits that he is a “fatist. Although she labels Dex a “slacker. Given the focus in the film on Daoism. because the conclusion that Dex rejects Daoism. effortlessness. He distinguishes between good and bad marriages to justify his affair with a married woman. labeling some as excellent while others are not. Dex says with plenty of bluster. is far less likely to draw distinctions in the manner of Dex. derived from the intrinsic analysis. She does not distinguish between types of marriage. as espoused by Laozi and Zhuangzi. and his cigarette smoking doesn’t help. an important question remains. constantly demonstrates his alienation from nature. on the other hand. He is obviously in bad shape. The Second Rule of Steve—demonstrate excellence—distinguishes between certain types of behavior. While others pack the car for a hike and camping trip. says that she would have no problem dating a fat man. Finally. Dex smokes a cigarette. the dichotomy between Steve and Stu is a powerful statement of the distinctions Dex regularly makes. In fact.

His psychological assaults on the women he tries to seduce are perhaps as violative of others as one who uses overt physical means to overcome resistance. jogs. He is obsessive. hikes. and. where Syd uses an inhaler while Dex lights up a cigarette. but Dex always notices when she is around. or talking. Most significantly. The dichotomy in these shots. and her next one is lined up before she leaves.” When Syd and Dex arrive at the campsite. Dex regularly violates the principle of wu-wei. Instead. and heap on additional lies to cover his tracks. compulsive. Not surprisingly. Syd never directly calls attention to herself. indicate the extent to which she is true to her nature. Dex knows what he is doing. this claim is inaccurate. as he confessed to Syd. exemplifies the differences between Dex and Syd in regard to their consonance with nature. and harmful to his health because he is not living in harmony. His true nature is submerged beneath his complex rational view of the world. on the other hand. constantly smoking. While one may be tempted to argue that Dex is true to his nature. and is dominated by a goal-oriented. which is actually quite difficult for most people. overcoming the resistance of women to typical male advances. Syd. she is able to induce Dex to abandon his questionable ways. in contrast. The effort that Dex must ultimately exert to win over Syd indicates that he is not with the Dao. His life is dedicated to conquering. “I lied about being the outdoor type. It is clear that Dex is totally out of his element in the pristine natural world. The song playing in the sound track is. Dex is obviously uncomfortable with himself. self-serving mentality. She offers the inhaler to Dex who uses it between puffs on a cigarette.Is The Tao of Steve Really “The Way”? 95 denies to everyone that he is having a problem. is an accomplished professional who still does a credible job as a drummer in a rock band. Her quiet and stillness. they sit on a rock. If Dex were acting within his true nature his serenity and harmony would be obvious. noted by her sparse dialogue and a scene where she convinces Dex to stop talking and enjoy a quiet float in a water pond. deliberately seeks out women with low standards. between Syd using an inhaler to purify her lungs and Dex smoking a cigarette to return his lungs to their usual poisonous state. She is in Dex’s life because of her opera job. . and the self we see is constantly fighting itself. She is a valued professional who never appears to work hard or strive to get ahead. he takes the path of reducing the resistance of others. and maintains a trim and healthy physique. He does not find the gentle flow. is an indication that Dex rarely takes the path of least resistance. Instead. because he is contemplative and comfortable with his lack of ambition. something he has clung to since his college days. eating. The fact that he must regularly lie. accomplishes everything by doing nothing. Syd. drinking.

The whole point of the Tao of Steve is to avoid a balance between intimacy and rejection. If he doesn’t come around. Hence. Dex avoids rejection by women by refusing to be intimate with them. but he is imperiled because of his obesity and smoking. Dex begins to become quieter. The diets are extreme and unhealthy. finishes her professional work. She does not give speeches. If Dex is the man of her dreams he will come around. Dex’s transforma- . The preceding analysis indicates that Dex is alienated from the Dao while Syd exemplifies many Daoist traits. He is no longer seen with fire (yang-smoking) but accepts Syd’s offer to float quietly in the water. Hence. they fail: Dex is still overweight and has not achieved long-term weight management. In addition.” She teaches by doing. is as ridiculous as his pizza diet (where Dex points out he lost twenty-five pounds) or the sleeping diet (Dex lost thirty pounds but he also lost his job).” says the doctor. talking. Dex is seriously imbalanced. Syd simply alerts Dex to how he affects others.96 THE DAO OF RHETORIC with virtually no effort. creates opera sets. which is to be his new diet. rides a motorcycle. Dex responds to this life-changing news by making a pile of peanut butter sandwiches. constant need for sexual conquest. oral excesses. Dex’s transformation is a movement toward Syd’s balance. Syd. and conquering. She also has a lot of yang—she is physically strong. Dex is constantly smoking. and ability to “overcome through her stillness. on the other hand. the doctor tells Dex that he did not suffer a heart attack. and moves on. which apparently will consist solely of peanut butter sandwiches. Fortunately. Dex suffers what he thinks is a heart attack. Furthermore. gifts. expresses her yin in her receptiveness of nature. Ultimately. Dex’s restlessness. The whole point of the Third Rule of Steve is to leave when the relationship threatens to become more intimate. telling him the diet. then he is not the man of her dreams and she hasn’t lost a step in life’s journey. Dex does all of the work in the relationship. while Syd seems satisfied with whatever happens. Syd invites Dex to look at himself and see through the rationalizations and other defense mechanisms into a deeper level. and deceptions indicate a lack of harmony and balance. A critical element of intimate relationships is to balance the desire for a close connection with the other with the risk of being rejected. or threats. the film shows that Syd harmonizes Dex’s overabundance of yang. He is told that his excesses constitute serious problems that need to be changed: “your life does depend on it. not by talking. quietness. While hiking home from the campout. He blows out a candle in his bedroom. The final shots in the film abound in harmony. and is willing to confront Dex intellectually. Rick chides Dex.

The analysis also shows that there is a contradiction in the way Dex treats Syd compared to all other women. Dex’s self-serving and inaccurate version of Daoism is ultimately rejected in favor of a true representation of Daoism. while Syd exemplifies consonance with Daoism. but also is an excellent example of Daoist rhetoric. is natural. are paradoxical in that the film both affirms and rejects Daoism. Significantly. thus affirming philosophical Daoism and rejecting a sham Daoism. Interestingly. The contradictions are resolved when Dex abandons the Tao of Steve. Dex employs dualities and crucial distinctions. IMPLICATIONS Both of the analyses conducted thus far yield unique insights about the text. Dex’s transformation leads him to Syd. Although Syd spurred Dex’s growth. and engages in ardent conquests that disrupt harmony and hurt him and others. Syd’s character is also highly evocative. The film is also evocative because of its use of paradox. is alienated from his true nature and the natural world. These insights make it possible to answer a remaining question: Does the film communicate its ideas in a manner compatible with the Dao? The answer allows clear consideration of the extent to which the present study makes a significant contribution to an understanding of rhetorical theory and practice. Extrinsic analysis shows that Dex’s Dao is generally inconsistent with Daoist thought.Is The Tao of Steve Really “The Way”? 97 tion results from intuitively sensing the harmonious balance that inheres in Syd. The vehicle for Dex’s transformation is himself. The film is consonant with the substance of Daoist rhetoric since it uses Daoism as its internal dynamic. The intrinsic and extrinsic analyses leave us with the paradox that Dex has both . Syd. although he is propelled by the presence of Syd. Examining Dex and Syd as communicators reveals additional substantive Daoist elements. and extrinsic analysis. it ultimately resulted from his actively confronting his integrity. while Syd’s are. that Daoism is affirmed. Since Dex’s views are not truly Daoist. the film affirms philosophical Daoism when it brings Dex to Syd. contrarily. that Daoism is rejected. Intrinsic analysis reveals a contradiction between the substance of Daoist philosophy and the strategies Dex derives from that philosophy. The film tells the story of a person who jettisons a false and dichotomous Dao for a unified and authentic Dao. Rhetorical analysis of The Tao of Steve reveals that the film not only maintains philosophical Daoism. and moves effortlessly. the conclusions drawn from the intrinsic analysis. shuns dualities.

There are far too many questions that remain for the analysis of this film to end. making Dex a metaphor for westerners who sometimes misuse Asian thought in a dualistic world. The first is that the film serves as an admonition regarding the misappropriation of Daoism.98 THE DAO OF RHETORIC abandoned and embraced the Dao. the audience does not know what comes of the relationship between the two stars. If the audience is evoked to supply the missing contextual elements of Daoism. There are several conclusions to be drawn at this point from The Tao of Steve. We do not know if Dex is sincere. the film uses the sort of paradox seen in Zhuangzi to goad the audience to deeper levels of insight. Maybe they will have a great few weeks. Dave represents the shallow and selfish path that Dex has thus far traveled. This paradox is latent in the film. waiting to be evoked or called forth by the audience. When she does confront Dex’s dualities she exerts the minimum resources in order to refute him. Dex’s avoidance of the truth forces him to offer a string of lies to maintain the appearance of consistency. through Syd. in certain respects. Syd. but what happens the next time Syd undertakes an out-of-town job? Will Dex continue to follow her? We don’t even know how they feel about kids! An even more fundamental question. The conclusion of the film retains its evocativeness because it is ambiguous. In addition. that is unclear in the film. but is instead fulfilling a Machiavellian quest for a prize. without being grounded in the Dao. to the point where Syd and others ask him to be quiet. attracts Syd to Dex. Dex’s character is always talking. The film is also parsimonious on a meta-level because it relies less on dialogue and more on imagery to communicate its ideas. The film also uses personification. Furthermore. Dex’s strategies emanate from the Dao. Perhaps Dex has not embraced Daoism. or has merely adapted a new philosophical stance in order to conquer the otherwise unassailable Syd.” Something else. then they will see the paradox between the intrinsic and extrinsic views. The film also takes an economical approach to its point in the sense that Dex is given two clear alternatives from which to choose—Syd and Dave. says little and does much by her actions. In this sense. on the other hand. Analyzing Dex and Syd as communicators also reveals elements of parsimony in the film. As westerners continue to encounter Asian thought they might be inclined to ignore its . Syd allows Dex a glimpse of a true Dao and its potential for harmony. as a rhetorical device that promotes the audience’s identification with a “real” person walking the Earth much as the rest of us do or could. It should be pointed out that the extrinsic view of the film does not end the conversation. is what does Syd see in Dex? She never succumbs to his “Tao of Steve.

is the only proper approach. focusing on personal gain. They use martial arts as strategies and tactics for personal gain and fulfillment. One of Plato’s primary ways of dealing with potential contradictions is to dichotomize. exerts much effort. the film communicates an evocative message through its use of paradox. Dex exemplifies the Western approach popularized by Plato. is acceptable when a philosopher. The Tao of Steve warns against such misuses of Daoist thought by villainizing Dex’s bastardization of Daoism. and lacks balance and harmony. and a parsimonious one. A second conclusion is that the film illustrates appropriate ways of communicating a Daoist message. but as a vehicle for learning important Eastern values. using logic. He lives in a world of dichotomy and distinction rather than unity. yet claim that no contradiction exists because he dichotomizes an idea with a crucial distinction. sensei John Kreese. Syd. His adversary in the film. The third conclusion to be derived is that The Tao of Steve offers insight into culturally appropriate ways of engaging potential contradictions. Aristotle makes a similar move. saying that rhetoric is a neutral instrument. while generally bad. a dojo that values winning awards. Dex uses inappropriate communication practices. one who has studied and knows the truth about reality. natural. Mr. Hence. because of its reliance on visual images rather than dialogue and the clarity of the two choices confronting Dex. but speaks volumes by her demeanor and actions. and effortless. Plato argues that rhetoric. 1984). while Syd demonstrates an Eastern approach. Miyagi’s approach. In some ways. essentially saying that the contradiction does not exist because two different things are being considered. The film points out how the underlying purity of Asian thought is lost in the Cobra Kai dojo and how Mr.Is The Tao of Steve Really “The Way”? 99 cultural foundations and choose strategy and tactics over substance and holistic understanding. She says little. Dex is verbose. The Tao of Steve is a second coming of The Karate Kid (Avildsen. and information gleaned from books rather than intuitive insights expressed nonverbally or silently. The dojo analogy is not a fiction. an integration of substance and strategy. uses it. At a meta-level. not illumination of the Dao. who communicates appropriately. citation of expert testimony. Many people in the United States have learned Eastern martial arts techniques without studying its philosophical undercurrent. is unified. there is a good rhetoric and a bad rhetoric. Miyagi teaches martial arts not for the sake of conquering opponents. Thus. In that film. Plato can contradict himself by using rhetoric to say that rhetoric is immoral. runs the Cobra Kai. He is alienated from nature. while it is the user who is either . distinguished by the nature of the user.

Dualities simplify the complexity of life by dividing things into separate. neither good nor bad. There can be no distinctions in a natural state because of the oneness that is all. many of his rationalizations attempt to avoid contradiction by posing “crucial distinctions. duality and paradox differ significantly because dualities are based on the ability to correctly distinguish and categorize. Paradoxes speak to complexity.100 THE DAO OF RHETORIC ethical or unethical. by cultural assumptions regarding the nature of things. his dichotomy makes rhetoric amoral.” and one guided by philosophy can discern the greater good. on the other hand. Paradoxes. the instrument. There are nuanced differences here that are significant. A duality seeks to split something in two—the person into body and soul. . By placing ethical responsibility on the speaker. Thus.” the key defining quality that sets them apart. These two strategies are therefore bounded. the contradiction is avoided because “the ends justify the means. They are interpretations based upon viewing a facet of something. Syd challenges these distinctions as being artificial and self-serving. research methods into subjective and objective. It is clear that duality is an appropriate strategy when one operates from a dualistic worldview. While a Daoist might employ a duality. communication ethics into rhetor and rhetoric. Rhetoric is both good and bad—at the same time. They demonstrate how many things may be true of one thing without a contradiction or negation. Aristotle. More importantly. Paradoxes do not suggest right and wrong. The film reveals itself to be a Daoist tale because it uses paradox to critique duality. do not claim to be exclusive or correct. It is important to note the difference between duality and paradox. but add layers of meaning and richness to our understanding. component parts. but most likely to demonstrate the accuracy of one interpretation over another. rather than distinguish good and bad rhetorics. inducing the audience to interact with the film in order to render the insight. a dualist might use paradox. the universe into heaven and earth. yet it does so evocatively. divides rhetoric. Similarly. A paradox says that two opposites are true of the same thing—depending on how one looks at it. from the speaker. Dualities always run the risk of being contradictions because they may pose a false duality that does not truly exist. They invite justification and defense of their interpretation because they are either right or wrong. while paradox is appropriate for monism. dualities invite defensiveness and justification of the distinction one makes. the user. it would most likely be to show the folly of adopting a single perspective and claiming that something belongs in one category or another. For Plato. to some extent. In Dex’s case.

1998. and Zhuangzi is 101 . 1998) and Antz (Darnell & Johnson. 1998) and would likely go unnoticed in other methods of criticism. and they may reflect values from non-Western cultures that may be difficult for westerners to appreciate. making them appropriate subjects for this analysis. 1998). 1998. Stone. While these films have no obvious Daoist claims in them or influence surrounding them. Metaphor is a central strategy in Daoist rhetoric. Ryerson. their “logic” is often a function of their narrativity rather than systems of formal and informal reasoning. 1998. does Daoist rhetoric offer a critical perspective that allows one to assess more generally the phenomenon of human communication? I further answer this question and articulate my claim that Daoist rhetoric offers a unique and useful vantage point for communication criticism by using principles of Daoist rhetoric to analyze the films A Bug’s Life (Lasseter & Stanton. It remains to be considered. whether Daoist rhetoric is limited to testing the internal consistency of communication acts that claim to be Daoist. Major. these animated films use insects to metaphorically address issues of humans and society. I have not selected them randomly.CHAPTER 7 Values East and West in Antz and A Bug’s Life The previous chapter points to the viability of using Daoist rhetoric to assess a film that claims to be Daoistic. The Daoist lens will illuminate key differences and offer unique insights in the films that have escaped the analysis of cinema critics (Corliss. or whether it has more general utility in the analysis of non-Daoist communication acts. 1998. however. Lehmkuhl. Furthermore. 1998. These films are particularly interesting because animated films typically communicate significant messages through visual images rather than verbal texts. 1999. Stack. McDonagh. That is. 1998. Ebert.

on the other hand. which to many of us are the most mundane of all life forms. who will someday be the Queen. they attract attention as individuals. sees the most significant social threats to be internal. and the negative. and the opinions of others to accomplish great things. Antz. ants are an excellent metaphor for framing issues of individuality in mass society. wants “to make a difference. are revealed by first analyzing the onset. Flik. 1998. opens a space for Daoist analysis. Despite these similarities. from Antz. (Lu. the films consider an individual’s proper place in a collective society. But nothing ants do makes sense except in the context of the colony” (p. A Bug’s Life views the most significant threats to society to be external. These differences in the films. and resolution of the central conflicts of the films. Following this. development. and celebrates Western values of individual cunning and bravery. resolves problems through consciousness raising and teamwork. but also empowered them by glorifying their inner strengths and inner completeness. I apply the Daoist themes of nature. Finally. 256) The personification of ants. For him. The answer in Antz is consistent with Daoist values: an individual is significant when that person is able to discover and enact his or her own destiny. the neglected. fear. effortlessness (wu-wei). viii).” while Z. in a larger sense. wants to feel “significant. the ability to see and not forget the unobvious rather than paying attention to the obvious was an indication of having attained the Dao. A Bug’s Life is consistent with Western cultural values: one makes a difference when one overcomes tradition. praises the use of technology. and balance and harmony to further evaluate the films. I conclude by dis- . Furthermore. The films are appropriate for juxtaposition because they share similar subject matter. “because ants are separate beings that move around freely. and promotes Eastern values of community and cooperation. which focus on the tension between the individual and the social. The stories center on an ant that is searching for meaning. the hero in A Bug’s Life. Zhuangzi not only directed the reader to observe the insignificant. p.” The central figures also must seek the outside world in order to resolve their conflict. they both want to win the heart of the Princess. the Daoist perspective will reveal that the films are markedly different in their key themes. As Gordon (1999) notes.102 THE DAO OF RHETORIC notable for his use of seemingly insignificant creatures to make significant observations. The films also suggest different answers to the question of how an individual’s life can be meaningful in a mass society.

Flik begins to stand out in a disastrous way. The machine goes out of control and knocks out a key rock that supports the offering leaf. a “misfit with big ideas” and. is using a threshing machine that he has invented. Flik is described as having a problem with self-esteem (Stone. Flik lags behind everyone else. D1). tries to explain what happened to . The opening scene of A Bug’s Life shows the worker ants in the colony on Ant Island carrying grain to a large leaf that is braced by rocks. He is scolded after the accident and told to just pick the grain like everyone else. p. They leave. poring needlessly over details and fretting about minor setbacks like gaps in the line of ants carrying grain. 1998. but it’s our life. “They come. Encumbered by his machine. Flik is “a young freethinker in a closed society” (Stack. is supervising the operation. It’s not a lot. respectively. Instead of flying into the offering pile. a stalk of grain hits an ant. Atta is very concerned about the process of gathering the grain. The stalk is dropped into a holding bay and then catapulted into the offering pile. a “courageous visionary” (Major.” Flik is. One ant. p. to others. 1998. separating each kernel of grain. Flik. The process is highly labor intensive. The Queen tells the Princess not to fear the impending arrival of the fearsome grasshoppers. It’s our lot in life. ANALYSIS OF THE FILMS The portrayal of conflict is an important starting point in understanding how the films differ in their treatment of the individual’s search for meaning in the midst of a collectivist society. to some. toting the grain to the offering leaf. “Deeply individualistic. which includes several kernels at once. submerging the entire offering. Flik goes into the anthill to join the others. The machine cuts the entire grain stalk. Princess Atta. He desperately wants “to make a difference. The rocks form a giant altar on which the grain is placed as an offering for a gang of grasshoppers. Everyone throws their last kernel onto the pile and then heads into the anthill. The onset and framing of these conflicts occurs in the opening scenes of the films. differences that reflect. inventive and clever. Western and Eastern cultural values.” Flik has an accident with his machine. 1). 1998. They eat. who is training to take over when the Queen retires. The leaf is dislodged and the grain slips into a pool of water below. 3).” Unfortunately. A horn sounds signaling the arrival of the grasshoppers.Values East and West in Antz and A Bug’s Life 103 cussing the central differences in the films’ orientations toward the individual and the social. involving climbing up the stalk. and placing the grain on the leaf.

It’s about us. but “what about my needs? What about me?” Z complains.” “I have?” “Yes Z. “You’ve made a real breakthrough. he rejects this role. Z is assigned to be a part of the wrecking-ball crew. who is assigned to the chain. demands that the ants double their offering and have it ready at the end of the harvest season. and fly down into the anthill. Furthermore. The grasshoppers arrive at Ant Island and seeing that there is no food for them. you are insignificant. an incredible metropolis of sophisticated structures and passageways. The team.” The ants protest that there isn’t enough time to meet the grasshoppers’ demands. . Hopper. where the camera pans back to reveal a fantastic underground city. “it’s not about you. talking to his therapist about his feelings of alienation. become enraged.” “Excellent. feeling insignificant and complaining that he is physically inadequate because he is unable to lift more than ten times his own body weight. 1998. a seemingly neurotic ant. We also see aspects of the organization of hordes of ants that are building a “Mega Tunnel. believing “there’s got to be something better out there” than his assigned role as a worker. They confront the frightened ants. The wrecking ball is a giant mass of ants that cling together and. The ants would not be able to gather food for themselves and would starve if they met Hopper’s demands. is unsympathetic because she thinks. “when the last leaf falls.” Z is working on the tunnel. but Azteca. There is a scene where maggots are born and instantly assigned to be either a worker or soldier. loses his grip and “drops the ball” causing it to careen wildly below. but is rebuked and told to keep quiet so that Atta can hear what is going on with the grasshoppers above. digging next to his friend Azteca. The head of the gang. Psychologically. Antz opens with Z. “this whole thing makes me feel so insignificant. a piece of heavy construction equipment. It’s about this” (the mega tunnel). form the mass and chain of the ball. He has trouble getting behind “this whole gung ho super organism thing. smash through the ground. Z laments his unappealing lot in life. and no one will stand up to him.” The next scene reinforces Z’s insignificance. The grasshoppers fly off leaving the frightened ants. p. 2). Z is concerned about finding his true nature. he finds handling dirt to be unrewarding. In this way “millions of individuals can become one collective tool” (Ebert. Hopper menaces and threatens the ants.104 THE DAO OF RHETORIC Princess Atta. who do not understand why the grasshoppers didn’t just eat and leave. The ball is swung from the ceiling of their dwelling like a pendulum and then smashed into rock in order to help excavate the tunnel.” says the therapist. with their bodies. who loves her work. The problem is that Z.” It might work well for the colony.

maintain an identity. which winds up to a lake on the surface. Once the tunnelers break through to the surface they will unwittingly unleash a torrent of water that will fill the lower chamber of the colony. What is most interesting about the depiction of conflict is that. the leader of the ant’s army. Unfortunately. His plan is to eliminate the loyal troops. the greatest threat to the group is an external threat posed by the grasshoppers. in A Bug’s Life. the most important conflicts take place within the individual and the group with which one is affiliated. The issues developed in the rest of the film concern the extent and ways both the individual and society must transform. He decides to send military troops who are loyal to the Queen. There is a saying in psychotherapy that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. Flik believes he has found a band of ferocious warrior bugs when. thus they can’t help it that they are inferior to the soldiers. When the water fills. the most significant threat is internal—a military coup by General Mandible. the ruler of the colony. The fact that both heroes are portrayed initially as disaffected or counterproductive to themselves and others foreshadows the need for change in order for Flik and Z to feel good about themselves. marry the Queen’s daughter.” . In Antz. where Mandible takes over the colony and destroys the workers. He opines that this is the nature of workers. Mandible will assemble all the workers in the chamber for a ceremony and then seal the exits. on a suicide mission. the films portray a conflict that will threaten the well-being of the entire colony. Mandible outlines a plan to his top officer. laments that workers are weak and lack commitment and discipline. in fact. the individual’s quest for meaning in mass society entails responding to conflict caused by agents outside of the individual and that individual’s affiliated group. the ants will drown in the tomb they dug for themselves. Flik responds to the conflict with the grasshoppers by bravely venturing into the outside world to find some bigger bugs that can help the ants by fighting the grasshoppers on their behalf. an attack on a termite colony. In A Bug’s Life. kill the workers and the Queen. He will kill the workers by having them build the Mega Tunnel. The circus bugs think that Flik is organizing a party for the grasshoppers and the bugs are being hired to be the entertainment. These contrasting views clearly distinguish the way the films address their common theme. Princess Bala. and start a new colony of his own without the inferior workers. In addition to the personal conflict of Flik and Z regarding the meaning in their lives. In Antz.Values East and West in Antz and A Bug’s Life 105 General Mandible. They all fly back to the colony where the bugs promise the colony a performance that will “knock the grasshoppers dead. they are merely unemployed circus performers. Colonel Cutter. and make a contribution to society.

. Bala wants to dance with a worker and ends up with Z.” The bar scene also hints at the process of resolving this conflict. which Bala did by coming to a bar of commoners. the external conflict is given primary consideration in the story while Flik’s inner struggle for meaning is given little direct attention. This illustrates that one can be happy by rejecting one’s assigned lot in life. They will place it in a tree. Princess Bala. The personal conflict stems from the fact that everyone in the colony has a role assigned for him or her. Mandible reinforces the conflict regarding individuality. must marry General Mandible because it is “her place” to take over for the Queen. ant musicians play a somber version of Pete Seeger’s “Guantanamera” while thousands of ants assemble themselves into several long lines and begin to dance in the same robotic way. Princess Bala. dance-ending brawl. and release it when the grasshoppers come for their offering. a bar. Weaver is a kindhearted and simple soldier who would rather be a worker so he can meet “those beautiful worker girls. He asks them to conceal their true identities so that he can maintain his credibility and implement a new plan. tired of the pampered and boring life of the royalty. and Bala and Z did by rejecting the dance line and dancing on their own. There. Z and Weaver are both happy about choosing their roles. The theme is echoed in the next scene. The scene ends when Z accidentally touches off a gigantic.106 THE DAO OF RHETORIC Flik eventually realizes that the circus bugs are not going to be able to save the colony. but soon Z pulls Bala out of the line to dance a different way. for example. Flik proposes to build a mechanical bird that the ants can operate from the inside. Z is there with his gigantic ant friend Weaver. They follow the monotonous horde. In order to meet Bala again. where ants relax after a busy day. telling his soldiers that “the life of an individual ant does not matter” because the colony is all that matters. The bird will “fly” about and scare off the grasshoppers. Weaver loves digging and hauling away the dirt. The royal review takes a tragic turn. The next day Weaver reports to the tunnel for work and Z masquerades as a soldier. They use their creativity to conjure up new steps that are obviously much more fun than the old style of dancing. sneaks down to the bar incognito with two of her escorts. if only for a day. Z convinces Weaver to trade places with him for one day so that he can march in a royal military review. Z learns that Bala is a princess as she is leaving. however. As Z marches to battle against the fearsome termites Weaver is working in the tunnel. In A Bug’s Life. Antz looks more carefully at the personal conflict plaguing its hero as well as the military threat. attached to a tether. when Z learns that the ceremony is actually a pep rally for the suicide strike against the termites.

“Orders. In fact. Mandible is desperate to find the Princess.” Z returns to the colony and is hailed as a hero by virtue of his being the sole survivor of the battle. Don’t follow orders your whole life. Inside the colony the workers are spreading tales of Z. Bala reveals to everyone that Z is only a worker. a mythical place where food is plentiful and life is easy. thinking for herself. who missed the battle by hiding in a crevice. The General publicly praises Z and brings him before the Queen and Princess to receive their congratulations. to bring back the Princess and kill Z: “Individualism makes us vulnerable. a giant magnifying glass appears and incinerates the guards one by one. Z realizes that he cannot return to the colony and face Mandible’s goons. running off with the Princess.” she says. because she is a crucial element to his building a new colony. lies and says Z is dead. He decides to try to find Insectopia. “can’t you think for yourself?” Cutter asks about Z. As Z emerges later and surveys the horrible massacre he finds the still-animated head of Barbados. which is actually a garbage pile. Z never meant to be a soldier. Z looks up . Mandible realizes that lionizing a worker who successfully violated the assigned social order threatens the foundations of his fascist plans. Z and Bala hide under a plant and the menace leaves the scene. Mandible orders his men to arrest Z. a soldier who saved Z’s life and died fighting an absurd battle that was nominally for the sake of the colony. Bala decides to accompany Z. He is characterized as a hero for killing scores of termites. The heroic Z and titanic Weaver dispel the myth that workers can’t do anything but work. Barbardos gives Z the lesson of a lifetime: “Don’t make my mistake kid. Mandible’s guards chase them. Cutter remarks that Z is dangerous because “he is an ant with ideas. accidentally survived the massacre. but before they can capture Z. saying he is under orders to bring her back to the colony. this causes the workers to question their social order.Values East and West in Antz and A Bug’s Life 107 The ants vanquish the ferocious termites but lose their entire army.” Nearby. except for Z. and was fortuitously assisted by a child and his magnifying glass. and causing the guards who chase him to burst into flames. Z goes off on an errand at the exact moment Cutter arrives. Z grabs the Princess as a hostage and they inadvertently fall down the trash chute before being catapulted outside. Think for yourself. Z and Bala are falling in love. tripped and fell to escape with Bala. Cutter grabs Bala. who can fly. and Bala.” The irony is that Mandible individually decided to reshape the colony. not a soldier. receiving medals. He learns Z may have set out for Insectopia and orders Colonel Cutter. They exemplify the value of ants thinking for themselves. Back at Insectopia. When Weaver tells the workers that Z was a worker who wanted to be a soldier and that Weaver was a soldier who wanted to be a worker.



to see Cutter flying Bala back to the colony. Z decides to save her and hitches a ride to the colony with a drunk and melancholy wasp. Issues surrounding the appropriate nature and relationship of the individual and society are developed in the stories through the conflicts that threaten Flik and Z as well as their entire colonies. The conflicts foreshadow the key values that are embedded in the films and set the stage for the resolution of the conflict, which, ultimately, transforms Flik, Z, and their respective colonies. In A Bug’s Life, the grasshoppers return to Ant Island and are ready to squash the Queen when, suddenly, the bird is launched from its perch in the tree. It swoops down out of the near darkness screeching loudly, panicking the grasshoppers. The circus bugs pretend to be victims, covering themselves with berries and juice to make it appear that they have sustained wounds as the bird makes several terrifying passes at the insects. The plan takes a disastrous turn when the bird is accidentally set on fire and the ants inside are forced to crash land and abandon the bird, revealing their deception. Hopper is enraged, corners Flik, and begins to pound his tiny body into submission. But Flik stands up to the ferocious Hopper and tells everyone about Hopper’s plan to kill the Queen. He stresses the independence of the ants from the grasshoppers, arguing that the grasshoppers depend on the ants for food but the ants receive nothing from the grasshoppers. Hence, the two species are independent of one another; in fact, the ants are superior because they fulfill an important role while the grasshoppers are useless criminals. The ants, which badly outnumber the grasshoppers, are stirred by Flik’s martyrdom and rousing words and attack the grasshoppers. The grasshoppers fly off in a panic, except for Hopper who wants revenge on Flik before he leaves. Princess Atta grabs Flik and flies off with him, with Hopper in hot pursuit. It is clear that Hopper is faster and stronger and will eventually catch Atta and Flik. Flik directs Atta to fly toward the nest of a bird that nearly ate several of Flik’s friends on an earlier occasion. Hopper catches up to Atta and corners Flik below the bird’s nest. Just as Hopper is about to do in Flik, the bird pops up and looks down on the bugs. Hopper thinks this is another one of Flik’s trick birds, and refuses to be intimidated, until the bird opens its enormous and obviously real beak. In no time the bird corners Hopper and grabs him. The bird returns to the nest to feed a screaming Hopper to its hungry babies. Hopper is gone, and there is hope for a better life. A Bug’s Life ends with shots of a much-improved colony. Atta has become Queen, and she is a confident and capable leader. Scores of ants are using Flik’s threshing machine, and they are able to harvest plenty of food without toiling laboriously for hours on end. The heroism of individ-

Values East and West in Antz and A Bug’s Life


ual ants and the perfection of technology bode well for the future of Ant Island. In Antz, Z returns to the colony and finds his way to the Princess. Reunited, they spot a copy of the plans for the tunnel and figure out Mandible’s evil scheme. They run down to the lower chamber, where the workers are assembled for the ceremony opening the Mega Tunnel, in order to warn everyone of the impending disaster. Z explains the danger to the tunnelers and asks them to stop. The ant foreman asks, “on whose authority?” Z replies, “on your own authority. Can’t you think for yourselves?” The workers stop, except the foreman, who replies, “My orders say ‘dig.’” The foreman throws a pick into the rock saying, “Get back to work.” The pick strikes a fatal blow, creating just enough of a crack to allow some water to seep through. The workers realize that Z was right and run for their lives. The tunnelers run to the rest of the workers in the lower chamber only to learn that they have been locked inside. The water rushes in, forcing the ants to gather on higher ground in the middle of the chamber. Z gets an idea when he notices some ants climbing up to a ledge. He and Weaver begin organizing everyone to create a gigantic ant ladder. The ants form a foundation with their bodies and lock their arms and legs together to create a structure that begins to tower up toward the ground above. Finally, Z begins to climb to the top of the heap. Above all of this, on the outside, the General has assembled the soldiers and has launched into a speech about his grand vision and the superiority of the soldiers: “The weak elements” below are about to be “washed away,” ridding the colony of filth and inferiority. “Our glorious future is at hand. It is time for a new beginning.” Suddenly, a fist breaks through the ground from below. It is Z! “What the hell is that?” asks the General. Cutter replies, “I think it is the weak element sir.” Z asks someone to pull him out. Mandible refuses, “for the good of the colony.” Z replies, “we are the colony.” Colonel Cutter fully realizes that the General’s idea that the workers are inferior is nonsensical given the splendid tunnel the workers built. He turns against the General and offers Z a hand saying, “This is for the good of the colony.” He then orders his men to help pull up the ant ladder. The General is enraged and says, “I am the colony.” He tackles Z, pushing them both into a hole that has been created above the chamber. Mandible falls onto solid ground and is killed. Z falls into the water, but Cutter quickly flies down and rescues Z. When Z is revived by a breath of air from Bala she exclaims “You did it!” He modestly replies, “We did it.” In Antz, Z saves the colony, marries Princess Bala, and discovers how to feel significant in a mass society. As Z puts it, it’s a simple story: “Boy meets girl. Boy likes girl. Boy changes underlying social order.” The movie



ends with Z describing how the colony has been rebuilt better than before “because now there’s an indoor pool.” Z is going to start a family with Bala, and he is “working with a new therapist” who is “putting me in touch with my inner maggot.” Most importantly, says Z, “I found my place” and “it’s right back where I started.” The key to his new life is that “this time I chose it.” Analysis of the resolution of the central conflicts in the films indicates the transformation that has taken place over the course of the films. In A Bug’s Life Flik responds to the threat posed by the grasshoppers by attempting to find stronger weapons to intervene on behalf of his colony, using technology to build a mechanical bird to save the ants, and heroically and ingeniously facing the threat. The inner struggle for a meaningful existence is also resolved in the process of resolving the external conflict. Flik makes a difference because he advocates independence and unbridled individualism. His ingenuity and bravery convince the royalty to adopt military escalation and technological innovation. Antz centers on internal conflicts, balancing the personal conflict of an individual’s meaning with the social threat to the colony. Z finds meaning in a mass society by thinking and deciding for himself within his natural limitations. He resolves the social threat by raising the consciousness of the group about the dangers of having others decide our place and organizing group efforts to solve problems. At the same time, individualism is not absolute. While the personal conflict exists because of a denial of individual freedom, the social conflict exists because of Mandible’s selfish individualism. Thus, Z advocates interdependence, balancing the needs of the individual and the group.

CRITICAL ASSESSMENT AND IMPLICATIONS Applying Daoist rhetorical principles to the analysis of the conflict in A Bug’s Life and Antz allows for a critical assessment from a Daoist perspective. Specifically, in this case, the analysis reveals that A Bug’s Life offers a typically Western orientation to issues of self and society while Antz upholds Daoist views. This claim is justified, first, by considering the extent to which the films express consonance with the natural way of the universe and the concept of effortless action (wu-wei). A Bug’s Life presents the view that one should attempt to overcome nature through the use of technology. The opening scenes of the film show Flik using his threshing machine with great zeal. The machine has problems only because the rest of the colony refuses to acknowledge Flik’s ingenious idea and offers no support. In the closing scenes of the movie

with overzealous admonishments that serve to annoy more than inspire” (Major. The failure of technology stems from the inability of some individuals to use it properly or grasp its significance and advantages. . Mandible wants to enforce unnatural distinctions between equals. 1999. Flik. The clear message is that the labor-intensive way that ants traditionally gather food is inferior to a technological solution.Values East and West in Antz and A Bug’s Life 111 scores of ants are successfully using the machine to improve the quantity of food harvested and reduce the amount of time and labor expended in the enterprise. and the ultimate transformation he makes in the closing scene is that he is happy being what he was all along because he got to choose for himself. He plots to exterminate the workers and honor the soldiers because of his mistaken beliefs regarding their respective abilities. but the result of the particular way he expresses his individuality. it is a story about restoring the harmony of nature. p. the mechanical bird is highly successful at scaring away the grasshoppers until a naïve individual unwittingly sets the bird on fire. Similarly. A more natural approach is to allow individuals to discover and enact their nature for themselves. for example. for instance. in fact. These approaches are unnatural because they attempt to plug individuals into predesigned categories that have been established by other individuals in an attempt to make discriminations. His various schemes require a tremendous amount of effort and usually fail because they are so antagonistic to the natural flow around him. Ants are assigned at birth to be either soldiers or workers based solely on random sequencing. the film values the large-scale use of technology to overcome the natural limitations of the creatures of the universe. 1998. The major conflicts in the film occur because particular individuals attempt to decide the role or fate of others without considering the individual’s inner self. Tremendous energy is expended attempting to mold his “ragtag band of misfits” to “outwit the grasshopper gang” (Lehmkuhl. Antz advocates the natural way. struggles every step of the way. D1). 1998. on the other hand. In contrast.” where “Flik plucks a dandelion spore and floats into the great unknown” (Stack. Flik. in accordance with the concept of wu-wei. “is forever urging the rest of the ants to think progressively. Furthermore. Similarly. The use of technology per se is validated. Zhuangzi advises us to accept what we cannot control and focus on ourselves. begins with “a spectacular aerial sequence. This is precisely Z’s goal. His journey in search of vigilantes. Given the dichotomy regarding adherence to nature. Bala is forced to replace her mother because of a notion established within the colony regarding her rightful place. Flik’s efforts are not simply the result of individuality. it is not surprising that the films differ greatly in the extent to which the heroes act effortlessly. 1). p. This process miscategorized Weaver and Z. p. Hence.

despite the size of one’s . A second area for analysis is the extent to which the films uphold the values of balance and harmony. Note how he does nothing but accomplishes everything in virtually every significant incident. a wise individual is unassuming. Even when he saves the day. you are one of many” (p.112 THE DAO OF RHETORIC 1). . but while “individualism is its hallmark. as Nagel (1994) points out: “The pursuit of gain and fame is not a proper human course. Flik invents machines. p. and develops sophisticated plans involving numerous allies in his quest for respect and redemption. Flik risks his life. bullies who will stop at nothing to get their way. The bugs engage in daring rescues and complicated deceptions. . According to Daoism. and the opinions of others to accomplish great things. makes heroic journeys. Daoism appreciates individuality. 1). . fear. A Bug’s Life makes the statement that an individual’s meaning derives from the ability to be ingenious and brave. In these respects. he modestly says that he did nothing. More wacky happenstance later. This is consistent with Daoism. and lies to his group for the sake of his plans. simple. according to the Way” (p. but is the sole survivor because he fell into a crevice. actions that are valorized in A Bug’s Life go against the Daoist values of nature and effortlessness while Antz demonstrates consonance with nature and the virtue of nonaction. At the same time. 8). A Bug’s Life fails to promote balance and harmony because the desires of the individual are held to be superior to those of the group. Technology is used successfully to overcome the need for collective efforts. Upon his return. 1998. the lives of the circus bugs. Z never raises a weapon in the battle. noisy. Thus. The grasshoppers are loud. the group did everything. When Bala tries to thank Z for what he has done. 71). p. He inspires a revolution that is based solely on a mischaracterization of his reputed acts “and stumbles onto an evil plot by General Mandible to betray the Queen” (p. 1994. by raising the consciousness of the group and inspiring them to work together. 1). 1). certainly not egotistical” (Nagel. Nagel admonishes us to “remember. “he’s suddenly hailed as a war hero. Z accidentally “finds himself shipped off to battle against a termite colony” (McDonagh. Obviously. In Antz. Insects are rewarded for their independence by overcoming mindless traditions. and artless. A Bug’s Life creates a vision of how an individual can be significant. Z is virtually the opposite in his actions. Z accidentally kidnaps Bala” (p. the characters in A Bug’s Life are striving with great effort to achieve their objectives. consideration should be given to the overall well-being of all entities in the universe and the ease with which everyone lives together. he does so spontaneously and effortlessly. 7). The threshing machine allows individuals to gather enormous amounts of food by themselves. and the well-being of the colony.

but a terminal value of favoring a particular class in society. Mindless conformity allows for exploitation while unbridled individualism. and so on—and these needs must be met by working. or means to achieve an end. not the reverse. He uses the workers to build a tunnel that will eventually flood the lower level of the colony where the worker’s have been trapped and will soon drown. can lead to genocide or slavery. the needs of the individual must be balanced by allowing individuals to determine their roles within society. They are obstacles that individuals must overcome in order to discover their significance. In this sense. the ultimate answer is that society must accommodate the individual. The film reinforces the notion that no individual is capable of prospering alone.Values East and West in Antz and A Bug’s Life 113 enemies or the assumptions of society. shelter. and escape ladder are built through collective action. There is no doubt that teamwork can provide tremendous benefits to everyone. although not necessarily a collectivity. The metropolis. Mass society is necessary because it allows for the efficient production and delivery of goods and services. Individuals rely on the collective for their well-being. At the same time. There are also other moments when ants are shown to need others. enemies and society have the same role. First. Mandible uses the ability to organize the efforts of the workers to try to enact his evil plan of genocide. Hence. Organizability is the paramount instrumental value. but it provides a very different answer. . When Cutter rescues Z from the water it illustrates the importance of a social world. He represents the flaw of a society that has an instrumental value of efficacy. Antz also focuses on the question of the appropriate relationship between the individual and society. Balance and harmony between the individual and the group stem from the appropriate mix of certain instrumental and terminal values. an individual’s attempt to live a meaningful life must be mediated by or undertaken in light of one’s connection and responsibility to the group. Hence. The good society must also be guided by appropriate terminal values. In this film that value is the wellbeing of all individuals. By considering the well-being of some individuals at the expense of the rest. Organizability has the potential to do great good or evil. Mandible’s value allows for hatred and prejudice. All creatures have material needs that must be met—food water. as exemplified by Mandible. organizability. Because a collective can produce and deliver the materials we need. We are told this in several ways. tunnel. it provides a potentially optimal method of increasing the quality of goods and services and/or minimizing the time and effort required to acquire them. or visions of appropriate ends. There is no attempt at balance and harmony as Daoism contextualizes them.

At the same time. Antz also admonishes us that the greatest threats to society can come from within. and the transformation of Z from an alienated. but important statements about the appropriate role of the individual in a mass society. The films reflect clear values of Western and Eastern cultures. One is free to discover his or her nature and attempt to enact what the universe destines. means allowing for individual choice. Daoist analysis demonstrates that A Bug’s Life and Antz are not merely animated films. . operationally. One is not free to choose any solution or path.114 THE DAO OF RHETORIC depending on the terminal vision. a treasured hallmark of Western societies. Stalwart independence. to justify and bolster dangerous military power. The same is seen in the various snipes about the royalty and their privileges and the classism that elevates the soldiers above the workers. Freedom of choice is also celebrated throughout the film: the negative image of babies being born and immediately assigned a pickaxe. While external threats to peace and security cannot be ignored. unhappy soul who begins the film in therapy. for workers. the wrecking ball that allows much work to be done. the ladder that saves everyone. as in the case of the termites. where Z innovates and has much more fun. creativity and freedom are not entirely unbounded. one balances the needs of the one and the many and harmonizes the universe. Choice is fulfilling and fosters creativity. the fact that Weaver is so happy being a worker once he switches places with Z. may need to be rethought with a greater sensitivity toward the fact that our world is increasingly interdependent. In so doing. or a combat helmet. They thereby offer two clear alternatives in the orientation of self and society. The value of creativity is seen in the dance scene. to one who has chosen a destiny he looks forward to. respectively. Perhaps the view of society offered in Antz represents a long-overdue and necessary shift in consciousness. They are regulated by adherence to one’s nature or fate. Considering the well-being of all individuals. they are sometimes manufactured and manipulated. for soldiers. and the use of the water to rebuild a better colony—one that includes a lake. providing very different answers to key questions.

seeing ourselves in the hero’s trials and triumphs. In his monumental work. representing basic patterns of human existence found in every culture: And whether it was Finnegan’s Wake or the Navaho material. and the solutions of successful heroes to their challenges. but it’s one mythology. the rhetorical form and function of hero stories is to illustrate how heroes look and act. Joseph Campbell (1949) first puts forth the idea that the story of the hero is universal. (Campbell in Cousinesau. dragons. suggest the traits that individuals should aspire to in order to be positive influences on the community. Hero stories use princesses. It has been inflected in various cultures in terms of their historical and social circumstances and needs and particular local ethic systems. it was all the same material. These “heroes” are notable not only for their reputed feats of conquest but also for their symbolic function.CHAPTER 8 Shrek as the Daoist Hero For as long as humans have told stories. The stories of heroes are thus symbolic inducements that suggest possibilities for action in a world of conflict and choice. The hero functions symbolically as a role model or possible self that embodies particular social values. That was when I realized—and nobody can tell me any differently—that there’s one mythology in the world. The Hero with a Thousand Faces. We are induced to identify with the hero. or Heinrich Zimmer’s. and magic as metaphors for the problems that beset us and the pathways for our triumphs. or the Hindu material. we have talked about great individuals who have performed with remarkable skill and valor. 126) 115 . 1999. p. Hence. The attributes of heroes themselves.

Since the hero story is a monomyth. in contrast. I then note and apply the form of the hero story to Shrek in order to test the applicability of Campbell’s archetypal hero to the Daoist hero. that the hero is a culture-bound construct used to reify particular values held important in the community. In fact. and the appropriate responses. an ogre.” Campbell maintained that there is one basic hero story or monomyth. one that is grounded in Asian philosophy and not universal human psychology. for whom the film is titled. and that the ogre. Furthermore. Next. to promote identification with the hero. I acquaint the reader with the basic form of Campbell’s hero journey and the general plot of Shrek in order to situate Shrek as a hero story. The challenges the hero faces. are thus keys to the basic human condition. I conclude by discussing the findings and implications of this study.116 THE DAO OF RHETORIC Campbell believes that hero stories are universal because the hero is an archetype of the human psyche. by moving from universal to cultural explanations for approaching conflict we allow for new conceptions of what is important and valuable in our lives. fails in significant ways to follow the pattern of Campbell’s monomyth. while there can be many variations of the hero myth. Shrek offers a competing version of the hero. and their solutions. is an appropriate model of the hero from a Daoist perspective. as suggested by titular reference to “a thousand faces. Campbell suggests that the monomyth allows individuals to see possibilities in their own lives for navigating the universal problems of human existence. Campbell presents the solutions to our problems as universal. Given the symbolic function of hero stories. Hero stories represent basic psychological issues that face us all. Therefore. 2001). . Daoism is but one example for my view that there are unique cultural differences in the definitions and uses of heroes. and applying them to the film Shrek (Adamson & Jenson. This examination reveals that the hero in Shrek. can be framed as universal. I examine fundamental elements of Daoism and apply them to the film in order to situate the central character in the film. Following this. the path the hero travels to successfully resolve the various issues of the human psyche is also invariant. I take issue with Campbell’s notion that the hero is an archetype of the subconscious mind and the implication that the key conflicts in our lives. thus celebrating certain paths of transcendence as correct for all of us. I justify these claims by examining key elements of a particular cultural value system. as a Daoist figure. Daoism. I begin with an overview of the relevance of Shrek and the choice of Daoism as an analytical perspective. I argue. Shrek.

fables. is a study in Daoist communication forms. Shrek. and imagery. Daoists recognize the limitations of words in expressing ideas and consequently attempt to go beyond their limitations with imaginative strategies such as metaphor. and central character. paradox. . 4). paradox. Shrek is the paradoxical fable of an ugly. and glorification of the ugly and handicapped have already been identified as central characteristics of the rhetoric of Zhuangzi. Hence. the germ power of its sources” (Campbell. Shrek is also an apt case study in Daoist rhetoric because of several aspects of the story. they cannot be ordered. conscious mind. following C.” and animation can stretch the imagination without violating the genre. or permanently suppressed. Hence. Furthermore. p.Shrek as the Daoist Hero SHREK AND DAOISM 117 Shrek is a particularly appropriate choice for this analysis because animated films have the potential to communicate their messages in a manner that is consistent with Daoist precepts for communication. Shrek is an unassuming soul who lives in a swamp and is integral with his natural world. They are spontaneous productions of the psyche. As we shall see. hideous creature who manages to find true love and happiness. films allow rhetors to move beyond language and speak to the whole person. Paradox. 1949. invented. For one. undamaged. and each bears within it. SHREK AS A HERO STORY Campbell views the hero as an archetype of the psyche. fable. “the symbols of mythology are not manufactured. the Jungian archetype theory explains why the pattern of the hero myth recurs in the stories found in many cultures: The whole sense of the ubiquitous myth of the hero’s passage is that it shall serve as a general pattern for men and women. not simply the verbal. through animation. Jung’s notion that an archetype is an image or idea that is part of the collective unconscious. According to Campbell. An animated film seems especially helpful in this regard because it communicates its message not only with words but also with sounds and visual images. G. audiences do not necessarily expect animated films to be “realistic. Its content is an alternative vision of the hero with which audiences are invited to identify. Archetypes thus transcend culture because they are situated in the unconscious minds of all individuals.

An individual’s journey or quest can thus be expected to approximate “the general human formula” that develops in response to the need for personal development. the individual’s need to find meaning and purpose in life. as opposed to those that are manifest. (p. “to return then to us. as a transcendence of the universal tragedy of man [sic]” (p. and let it then assist him past his restricting walls. The individual has only to discover his own position with reference to this general human formula. Separation or Departure The Call to Adventure Refusal of the Call . The second task is to give the insight derived to others. Campbell refers to these stages as “the nuclear unit of the monomyth” (p. 28). and the divine comedy of the soul. “the happy ending of the fairy tale. The process of enlightenment requires the hero to attend to two primary tasks. is to be read . The nuclear unit is broken down into further elements: 1. Campbell makes the distinction that “typically. . macrocosmic triumph” (pp. and teach the lesson he has learned of life renewed” (p. The motivation for this struggle is the search for identity. The one single myth that is the core of the hero quest is referred to as “the monomyth. and the hero of the myth a world-historical. Therefore it is formulated in the broadest terms. 30) The hero’s victory or transformation is only complete if it benefits the community.118 THE DAO OF RHETORIC wherever they may stand along the scale. the hero of the fairy tale achieves a domestic. 121) The hero represents every individual embarking on a quest or journey of self-discovery. A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man [sic]. The archetype of the hero’s journey can be manifest in different types of narratives. battles the demons attendant to these core issues. the myth. microcosmic triumph. transfigured. The quest is found in both myths and fairy tales. . and makes a breakthrough that engenders transformation. 20). (p. such as Shrek. The first is a process where one identifies core underlying issues of the psyche. Thus. 37–38).” The monomyth has a standard path or formula that breaks the rite of passage into three stages: separation-initiation-return. 30).

who is . “like that’s ever going to happen. his realm.” and we hear the sound of the toilet flushing. The film situates itself as a fairy tale. Return Refusal of the Return Magic Flight Rescue from Without Crossing the Return Threshold Master of Two Worlds Freedom to Live 119 These subsections will be examined in more depth later in this chapter when I apply them to the film. “will finally have the perfect king!” He chooses to wed Princess Fiona. in the highest room of the tallest tower for her true love and true love’s first kiss. although an irreverent one. the page opens to a classic fairy tale about a lovely princess who had a spell on her that “could only be broken by love’s first kiss. The Initiation Road of Trials Meeting with the Goddess Woman as the Temptress Atonement with the Father Apotheosis The Ultimate Boon 3.” and tears out the page of the book to wipe himself after using the outhouse.Shrek as the Daoist Hero Supernatural Aid Crossing the First Threshold Into the Belly of the Whale 2. . Farquaad believes that DuLoc. By marrying a Princess and making her his queen. in the opening scene. The film begins with a shot of a book. The basic plot line in Shrek is that Lord Farquaad wants to marry a Princess in order to raise his social standing. . Many brave knights had attempted to free her from this dreadful prison but none prevailed. guarded by a terrible firebreathing dragon. “What a load of . as evidenced by its Best Animated Film award for 2001 from the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. She waited in the dragon’s keep. Shrek then laughs.” The pages continue to turn as Shrek reads the story aloud: She was locked away in a castle. Shrek is an enormously successful film.

including The Three Little Pigs.” Shrek returns to Farquaad with the Princess and is granted the title to his swamp. On the trip home Shrek and Fiona realize that they are attracted to each other. Shrek is clearly positioned by its producers as a hero story. This shall be the norm until you find true love’s first kiss and then take love’s true form. Pinocchio. Shrek gets his swamp back if he rescues Princess Fiona for Lord Farquaad. Princess. The dragon eats the evil Lord Farquaad. a talking donkey who has “glommed on” to Shrek in order to be protected from Farquaad’s goons when they were rounding up the fairy-tale creatures. Shrek and Farquaad make a deal. A crucial misunderstanding leaves them unrequited and unable to tolerate each other. complete with a dragon. We also learn the secret of Princess Fiona. and a happy ending. A witch cast an enchanted spell on her as a little girl: “By night one way. He returns to his now quiet home but is very sad that he will no longer be with Fiona. Donkey clarifies Shrek’s misunderstanding with Fiona and tells him that she loves him. The Three Blind Mice. Shrek decides to go to DuLoc and tell Fiona how he feels about her. Farquaad puts together a tournament so that the finest men in DuLoc can compete to determine the knight most capable of rescuing the Princess on Farquaad’s behalf. With a ride from the flying dragon. clamorous creatures destroys Shrek’s peaceful solitude. it is thus ripe for analysis of the extent to which it upholds the hero archetype. Shrek enters the picture by virtue of a decree made earlier by Farquaad designed to promote perfection in his realm. Donkey. and The Big Bad Wolf.120 THE DAO OF RHETORIC imprisoned in a castle guarded by a ferocious dragon. but beginning each sunset she turns into an ogre. and rescue the Princess. accompanies Shrek in his journey to DuLoc. He has decided to have the creatures physically relocated—to the swamp that is Shrek’s home. Once in DuLoc. who previously guarded Fiona’s castle and has returned to the scene. . Shrek and Fiona confess their love for each other and kiss. The invasion of the numerous. battle a ferocious dragon. and the Princess turns into her true form—that of an ogre! Everyone lives happily ever after. Farquaad’s forest is populated by a number of fairy-tale creatures. Shrek and Donkey make their way to the castle. She is a beautiful woman by day. Farquaad believes that the “fairy-tale trash” are poisoning his beautiful world. Shrek and Donkey arrive just in time to stop the wedding. and this forces him to seek out Farquaad to demand his swamp be returned to its previous state. By day another. Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

banner flying. could enter the water and not get wet. could enter the fire and not get burned” (ch. and freedom from strife follow naturally from the Dao. “It’s on my to-do list. just as the dragon is about to eat Donkey. “above all. where there are piles of the bones of knights who have tried to slay the dragon. The castle interior is dark and dripping with water. 1964. yet he manages to acquit himself quite well in whatever he does. Watson.” Ultimately. Donkey is left alone with the dragon. Master Chuang [Zhuangzi] emphasized spontaneity” (pp. 6.” Shrek assures the donkey that he will be right beside him to provide emotional support. Suddenly. but Shrek continues with the business at hand and hurries Fiona out. Shrek exhibits his spontaneity and adherence to wu-wei as the rescue scene continues. Shrek is swung back and forth wildly. sword drawn. Suddenly. Donkey is very unsettled about crossing “a boiling lake of lava. although he displays prudence in all of his deeds.” Fiona cries out in disbelief. That’s what all the other . Shrek helps Donkey overcome his fear and enables him to cross safely. Shrek’s spontaneity is evident throughout the film. Shrek says “we’ll just tackle this thing together one little baby step at a time.” replies Shrek. Shrek and Donkey must cross over a rickety wood and rope bridge suspended over the lava below. Shrek is also fearless. He discovers that the enormous beast is female and very susceptible to flattery. “You didn’t slay the dragon. Shrek grabs the dragon by the tail. He lets go of the tail at the precise moment and the momentum sends him flying high in the air. Shrek and Donkey make their way inside. “You were meant to charge in. xliii). Mair (1994) observes. His planning does not seem to go beyond the moment. across the castle and through the roof of the Princess’s chamber. He even manages to quell the fear in others. p. I must establish that Shrek is a Daoist. desirelessness.Shrek as the Daoist Hero SHREK AS DAOIST 121 In order to pose Shrek as a test of the Daoist hero. Donkey has made a friend. As Shrek flies off to rescue Fiona and spirit her out of the castle. By being spontaneous the sage “could climb the high places and not be frightened. the dragon appears. effortlessness. “Now come on!” “But this isn’t right!” protests Fiona. the dragon roars and appears down the hall. In order to rescue the Princess. The sage recognizes that the purpose of life is to find what is inside oneself and be open to the unfolding elements of reality that have been conditioned by the universe. I have noted that spontaneity. 73).

without desire.” “Yeah.” Shrek replies.122 THE DAO OF RHETORIC knights did. acts only when necessary. Lay siege to his fortress. apart from society. “Maybe I could have decapitated an entire village and put their heads on a pike. the whole ogre trip. Shrek realizes that he must not draw attention to himself or it will lead to further trouble. In every way imaginable. despite being alone and situated in a swamp. SHREK’S HEROIC QUEST Stories of the hero’s quest can be expected to follow a narrative formula that corresponds to the “general pattern” of the monomyth noted earlier. He is quite adept at living in the natural world. in order to get his swamp back. Why don’t you just pull some of that ogre stuff on him? You know. maintaining a balance that stems from his effortless and parsimonious approach to life. Living spontaneously. He is aware that the goal is not to display bravery but to rescue the Princess. Shrek is a Daoist. These expectations of form can then be used to ana- . Shrek lives a dignified life. Shrek lives simply and comfortably.” notes Shrek wryly. Shrek keeps intact a vital savior who will reappear later in the film. and now Shrek must do an additional duty.” “What kind of knight are you?” asks Fiona. Shrek replies. and wonders why Shrek doesn’t just stand up to Farquaad: “I don’t get it. by not killing the dragon. He avoids planning. Furthermore. He satisfies his appetites. By not battling the dragon he avoids the fate of other knights who failed to rescue Fiona. effortlessly. Grind his bones to make your bread. Does that sound good to you?” The donkey doesn’t think so. Throttle him. and focusing on the self and not the control of others enables one to minimize conflict and strife. Donkey maintains that Shrek shouldn’t have to perform the rescue. cut open their spleen and drink their fluids. and when he does act it is with the minimum effort needed to accomplish his objectives. but does so in modest ways. Donkey confronts Shrek with the irony that Farquaad had no right to relocate the fairy-tale creatures in his swamp in the first place. “right before they burst into flame.” Shrek takes the path of least resistance. By indicating in more detail the nature and functions of the subsections of the monomyth we can develop expectations regarding the form of hero stories such as Shrek. You know. rescue of the Princess. mockingly. Consequently. gotten a knife. An example of how Shrek attempts to avoid unnecessary strife is found in a scene where Shrek and Donkey have embarked on their quest to save the Princess. “One of a kind.

The form of the call includes typical circumstances such as “the dark forest. The hero does not always answer the call. Despite Donkey’s flattery. He is somewhat surprised that his outburst is greeted with wild and joyful cheers from the displaced creatures. It is clearly in his perceived self-interest to answer. 1949. Shrek’s challenge is foreshadowed. Pinocchio and one of The Three Pigs tell Shrek that Lord Farquaad has forced them to go to the swamp. and may instead enact the second stage. “Refusal of the Call. is soon overridden. but there are too many of them and they protest that they have nowhere to go. 1949. who provides the adventurer with amulets against the dragon forces he is about to pass” (Campbell.” and he is seen cowering behind Shrek as the guards confront him. who are trying to remove him from the forest along with the other fairy-tale creatures.” It is an indication that “the familiar life horizon has been outgrown. The guards run off. however. 58). Shrek realizes that he will not be left alone until he responds to the call. The herald is Donkey. Shrek finally answers the call by announcing that he will demand that Farquaad rid the swamp of the creatures. Donkey is “easily underestimated. When the hero answers the call. who crashes into Shrek as he attempts to escape Farquaad’s guards. The call may be seen psychologically as “the awakening of the self. who then turns and walks away. It seems that all the fairy-tale creatures that have been rounded up were relocated to Shrek’s swamp. The hero’s journey begins with “the call to adventure.” whose appearance marks the “call to adventure” (p. the babbling spring. the old concepts. the great tree. Shrek insists that Donkey “go away.” The call is frequently announced by a “herald. p. and the loathly. where they eventually found his house and warm fire. charm. underestimated appearance of the carrier of the power of destiny” (p. p. 60). he or she has an encounter with someone or something that provides assistance. . 69). and emotional patterns no longer fit.Shrek as the Daoist Hero 123 lyze the extent to which Shrek follows the form and whether its variations are significant. These sequences are evident in Shrek. This “Supernatural Aid” is given by “a protective figure . the time for the passing of a threshold is at hand. Shrek tries to shoo away the creatures. . and humor. ideals. He makes it clear that he wants to be left alone. scared of Shrek.” This stage “signifies that destiny has summoned the hero and transferred his spiritual center of gravity from within the pale of his society to a zone unknown” (Campbell. In .” Shrek thereby refuses the call by not accepting the challenge of interaction. 52). Shrek allows him to sleep outside on the porch. 51).” This amounts to “a refusal to give up what one takes to be ones’ own interest” (p. Shrek’s initial refusal. Since Donkey has nowhere to go.

and narcisstic. Then he finds that he and his opposite are not of differing species. though. The opening shot of the scene where Farquaad is introduced shows him walking proudly. provide amiable companionship. Donkey is the key to Shrek’s challenge—overcoming his fear of being hurt by people who don’t understand and appreciate him.” This is where the hero. and menacingly down a long hallway while a hooded torturer pours milk into the empty glass. Throughout the scene. stridently. the gift is not a magical ability or an amulet but a personal relationship. Second. the supernatural aid is a gift from Donkey. petty. where the torturer and the glass of milk are waiting. in two respects. Farquaad is portrayed as cruel. beauty.124 THE DAO OF RHETORIC the case of Shrek. his virtue. but one flesh. The passage is “a magical threshold” or “transit into a sphere of rebirth” that “is symbolized in the worldwide womb image of the belly of the whale” (p. it becomes clear that Farquaad is only half the size of the two guards waiting outside the doorway. and confront him with honesty and compassion. Inside. When Farquaad arrives at the doorway to the dungeon. and life and bow or submit to the absolutely intolerable. The hero dies (is annihilated) and emerges a new person. 77–78). One by one the resistances are broken. The final stage in The Separation or Departure is to enter “The Belly of the Whale. the supernatural aid comes from the herald and not the usual crone or old man. The castle DuLoc is the first threshold in Shrek’s journey. Donkey has the ability to penetrate Shrek’s tough exterior.” Here the hero is prepared for transformation by killing the former self. It is not prototypical. the “Gingerbread Man” is whimpering. There. He must put aside his pride.” custodian of the new territory (pp. The next stage of a hero’s journey is “Crossing the First Threshold. 108) The ordeal forces a confrontation of the self where the hero “discovers and assimilates his opposite [his own unsuspected self] either by swallowing it or by being swallowed” (p. as the torturer abuses him by dunking him head first into the glass of milk. and Farquaad is its guardian.” encounters the “threshold guardian. The threshold represents the foray outside the protection of the old way of life. First. (p. 108). accompanied with “the personifications of his destiny to guide and aid him. The two sets of teeth at the entrance (whale’s mouth) and the ordeal of the belly force the self to break through the ego barriers that protect the former self. Shrek defeats Far- . 90). Shrek must venture out of his swamp (safety zone) and into the excessively stylized and heavily populated castle.

Shrek and the others climb to safety while the dragon looks on. than at having let Fiona escape. Having mastered the tests or issues attendant to these three forms. goddesses).Shrek as the Daoist Hero 125 quaad’s best knights and confronts the tiny tyrant. unable to give pursuit. and cunning. One of the important encounters in this stage of the journey is “Meeting with the Goddess. “the Queen Goddess of the World” (p. Before Shrek encounters the feminine. The hero now enters the “Initiation” phase. which looks like a storybook castle one might find at Disneyland. which involves a series of further trials (Road of Trials) that represent “a deepening of the problem of the first threshold. Once inside the dragon’s lair Shrek rescues the Princess. thereby positioning himself for a fortuitous meeting with Fiona. and crossing the threshold takes Shrek into “The Belly of the Whale. Entering DuLoc. But “the original departure into the land of trials represented only the beginning of the long and really perilous path of initiatory conquests and moments of illumination. except that it is incredibly phallic. 109). temptress). who then decides that the champion will be the knight who kills the ogre. with Donkey’s able assistance. and must venture out further still. defeats all the knights and displays his tremendous strength. Shrek and Donkey set out for the dragon’s castle and arrive two days later. again. the masculine form (father). and again” (p. Shrek’s bargain with Farquaad to rescue the Princess represents the annihilation of his former self because Shrek has engaged the world outside his swamp. and the deity (gods. The hero is the one who comes . agility. which in this case is Princess Fiona.” The hero encounters the feminine. The relationship between the two establishes the distance the hero must go in the quest for transformation. they walk toward some noise. Shrek interrupts Farquaad. The dragon seems far more upset at losing her new found love. and received the gifts of insight derived from these confrontations. he must rescue her from the dragon’s lair. Shrek has spontaneously and effortlessly acquitted himself as a champion.” As Shrek and Donkey enter the castle. Shrek. In the second phase. Donkey. and escapes across the bridge as the dragon incinerates it right behind them.” The question remains: “Can the ego puts itself to death?” (p. 109). the hero will confront the feminine form (goddess. The self-annihilation of the hero is an important part of the preparation for personal growth. outwits the dragon. and end up in the arena where the knights are about to begin the tournament. Dragons have now to be slain and surprising barriers passed—again. Woman. in the picture language of mythology. represents the totality of what can be known. 109). the hero is prepared for the final phase of the quest—the return.

she guides. for the woman is life. The seeker becomes the master: “The seeker of life beyond life must press beyond her. It is obvious from Fiona’s face that she is disappointed. As he progresses in the slow initiation which is life. The woman confronts the hero with contradiction—the mother’s love and the seducer’s lust. (p. Instead of the handsome prince she expected.” says Shrek. If the hero can see the woman as she is in roles such as mother. She knows the sundown . Fiona is visibly agitated and demands that they make camp for the night and she be provided with shelter. will be released from every limitation. seducer. indicates a superior/subordinate relationship. then he has mastered the gift of love and understands the “total mystery of life. good Sir Knight. But she is redeemed by the eyes of understanding” (p. “The battle is won. the two. Fiona insists on knowing the identity of her rescuer. It is the further meeting of “Woman as the Temptress” that is crucial. As nightfall approaches. She lures. They then set out on their journey back to DuLoc. the form of the goddess undergoes for him a series of transfigurations: she can never be greater than himself.” The hero is now equated with the father figure: “He is in the father’s place” (p. 122). though she can always be more than he is yet capable of comprehending. but Fiona persists and he finally relents. by the evil of ignorance she is spellbound to banality and ugliness. By deficient eyes she is reduced to inferior states.” Shrek is reluctant to reveal himself. and wife.” “I was talking about the dragon Shrek. did not care enough about her to rescue her himself.” Once rescued. she bids him burst his fetters. “waiting for us to rescue her. And if he can match her import. the Madonna. and soar to the immaculate ether beyond” (p. As he and Donkey first approach the castle gate Donkey asks “So where is this fire-breathing pain in the neck anyway?” “Inside. The hero’s task is to become an equal and then a master. She is “the guide to the sublime acme of sensuous adventure. but also as a sinner. the hero its knower and master. What enables the hero to learn what she or he needs to know is that the woman presents herself not only as a goddess. hero as the one who comes to know. 116) The woman as knower. grandmother. Fiona is upset that her true love.126 THE DAO OF RHETORIC to know. she sees a huge green head with large ears that stick out like fat antennae. surpass the temptations of her call. You may remove your helmet. 121). Shrek’s meeting with the goddess and temptress are pivotal and welldetailed elements of the film. the knower and the known. 116). who she thinks is Farquaad.

Shrek is annoyed by hordes of flies. Fiona grabs a snake. .” Just as Hood makes a threatening advance to stab Shrek with his blade. Fiona comes swinging out of the trees on a vine screaming a karate yell. They are laughing. nesting in a tree. They continue singing back and forth in turn until Fiona emits an incredibly highpitched note that the bird tries to imitate. As they continue walking back to DuLoc. She ends up with a wrapped-up ball of web and flies on a stick. Fiona incapacitates the rest of the Merry Men. For example. and gives it to Shrek. is well beyond the bird’s range. and falling in love. Later. Shrek and Fiona flirt and play constantly. Donkey scolds Shrek for acting that way in front of a Princess.” Shrek says. giggling. The next shot shows the eggs frying sunny-side-up on a rock. strings it. while Shrek and Donkey lay asleep on the ground the Princess comes upon a beautiful blue songbird. which he says is a compliment to the breakfast. which she deftly dodges. Fiona polishes off the last of the Merry Men and asks Shrek and Donkey if they would please continue on their way. blows it up. you’re not exactly what I expected. There are three eggs in the nest. as they continue the journey and are walking in the woods. and its chest swells from the effort until the bird pops and explodes. “You know. With powerful and agile karate moves. twists it like a balloon poodle. The next morning Princess Fiona is up and in a very good mood. Robin assumes this to be the case because she is a beautiful woman in the company of a big. Fiona breaks off two sticks holding a big spider web. She knocks Hood senseless. Shrek grabs a frog and blows into it until it pops up and floats like a living balloon. Fiona then burps herself and says that she appreciates the compliment. Shrek and Donkey stand in stunned silence at this display of physical prowess.Shrek as the Daoist Hero 127 will mark her transformation to an ogre and she does not want anyone to know her secret. who eats it like cotton candy. however. He ties a string to it and presents it to Fiona. a man swinging by on a rope suddenly sweeps her off the ground. green “beast. As they cross a meadow. One of the Merry Men shoots an arrow. She begins singing to the bird. leaving them sprawled out on the ground. which answers back with its song. It’s “Monsieur” Hood (aka Robin)! He is making a gallant attempt to rescue the Princess. The note. which she then gives to Shrek. who has given no indication that she needs to be rescued.” As the Princess continues walking. Shrek belches. and uses the web to snare the flies. “She’s as nasty as you are. She then does forward handsprings at the archer and ends up punching him out. This day is remarkable because we see some of her unique talents. Donkey observes. Fiona is cooking the eggs for Shrek and Donkey.

however. a yin for his yang. beginning each sunset. She explains that she has always been an ogre. “Will you be the perfect bride for the perfect groom?” Fiona accepts the proposal and they make plans to marry that day. They are obviously in love and nearly kiss before being interrupted by Donkey. Shrek finally tells Donkey to go away. thinking that Fiona is referring to his looks when.” Shrek shuffles back to his swamp.” Shrek decides to crash the wedding and confront Fiona. proclaiming the nasty rodents to be delicious. Shrek ultimately reconciles his anger for Fiona through Donkey. he overhears the conversation going on inside. Unfortunate circumstances. maybe even love you. “It’s the only way to break the spell. I heard the two of you talking.128 THE DAO OF RHETORIC Later. Shrek thus meets the goddess. He seems to have found a soul mate. That’s why I can’t stay here with Shrek.” says Donkey. saying.” “Love me? She said I was ugly. Donkey follows Shrek back to his house in the swamp and tries to be supportive of the sad and angry ogre. All she ever did was like you. carrying a sunflower and practicing a conversation with Fiona where he professes his love for her. uh. she is bemoaning hers. Donkey. “Just like you did to Fiona. Take a good look at me. not hearing Fiona continue. a hideous creature. somebody else. But Shrek is too hurt and angry to listen. In fact. “No! You can’t breath a word. Donkey whistles for his girl- . That night Donkey enters the windmill in which Fiona is staying for the night and inadvertently discovers Fiona’s secret. “She was talkin’ about. Who could ever love a beast so hideous and ugly? ‘Princess’ and ‘ugly’ don’t go together. The next morning Fiona tries to tell Shrek her secret and feelings for him. throughout the movie Donkey confronts Shrek’s inability to express his feelings and connect with others. and is taken aback by his anger and stern words. “There you are.” Fiona makes Donkey promise never to tell. crestfallen and angry. as they prepare to camp for the night. but her heart tells her to tell Shrek her secret and hope that he still loves her. really. Shrek barbecues some “weed rats” cooked whole. Just then Farquaad and a contingent of soldiers arrive. Fiona is in a bind because of her circumstances. in fact. Fiona is very complimentary. “before the sun sets. I mean. Meanwhile. Farquaad gives Shrek the deed to his swamp and then proposes. Fiona doesn’t know that Shrek is caught in a misunderstanding. further test Shrek as the goddess becomes a witch. He throws down the flower and walks away. and both Shrek and Fiona have seen enough of each other for the moment. Just as he steels himself to knock on the door. “I can’t just marry whoever I want.” Shrek confides. Shrek makes his way back to the windmill.” Shrek is crestfallen. No one must ever know.” “You at least gotta tell Shrek the truth. “She wasn’t talkin’ about you.” says Donkey. doing it again.” urges Donkey.

Shrek implores Fiona not to go through with the marriage. is also her true love. Although there is no explicit “Atonement with the Father” or “Apotheosis. Shrek and Donkey break into the chapel just before the couple’s first kiss. He begins to confess his feelings for her. Fiona is a bit dazed.” and the book closes to conclude the film. the communion with the gods and the gift of their transcendence (The Ultimate Boon).” says Shrek. We hear Fiona’s voice: “Until you find true love’s first kiss and then take love’s true form. the dragon.” “But you are beautiful.” The next page proclaims “The End. Shrek tells Fiona he loves her and she tells Shrek she loves him. the dozens of guards are able to overpower him and begin to cart him off. perched atop the dragon’s back. I’m supposed to be beautiful. .” remarks Shrek. and there is more fog and magic dust sparkling about. . The trio land outside the castle. framing the scene in the book of fairy tales that opened the movie. It turns out that “love’s true form.Shrek as the Daoist Hero 129 friend.” As a coach carrying Shrek and Fiona drives off down the road. the dragon bursts through the large window overhead and reaches down and eats Farquaad.” Fiona’s body emits giant beams of light. who has returned to the scene. and Fiona reveals her ogre form to Shrek.” the form Fiona takes.” Just then.” it is possible to give a sympathetic reading of Shrek to tease out what may be implied. is that of an ogre. . “But I don’t understand. but is more importantly a source of evil power. the transcendence of the masculine/feminine duality (Apotheosis). . Farquaad is appalled. “Ugh! It’s disgusting!” He calls for his guards to take Fiona and Shrek away. A basic issue in the atonement with the male is resolving the father figure’s godlike and sinful nature. and the entire return stage. Donkey. “I will have order! I will have perfection! I will have. the remaining elements of the hero pattern are not evident in the film. The father sins with the temptress. tearfully says. as her true form is manifest. As large and powerful as Shrek is. What is left undone is the confrontation with the masculine figure (Atonement with the Father). Interestingly. “That explains a lot. Shrek frees his arm and whistles for the dragon. They kiss. the camera pulls back. and they all fly to DuLoc. Shrek. Farquaad rants amid the chaos. It is also unclear if the confrontation leads to a reconciliation of the duality of the feminine. and Donkey tells the dragon he will whistle for him if needed. . . . The sun has now set. The last full line in the story is “And they lived ugly ever after. “I was hoping this was going to be a happy ending. It occurs toward the end of the film during the wedding scene. Further. her rescuer. Shrek’s final confrontation with the feminine is out of sequence with Campbell’s hero pattern.

” Apotheosis is the elevation of oneself to the status of a god. and therewith of the world” (p. Campbell refers to this as “Apotheosis.130 THE DAO OF RHETORIC Campbell (1949) often refers to the father as an “ogre” (see p. 109. It is important to understand what Campbell thinks happens in The Return in order to assess Shrek’s failure to complete this stage. irrespective of form. to complete his adventure.” The idolization of the father seals off “the potentially adult spirit from a better balanced. is the justification of the long retreat” (p. The hero masters the dualities among and between the feminine-masculine through love (p. . Because the film ends at this point Shrek neither receives “The Ultimate Boon” nor engages in the third and final stage—“The Return. Campbell also refers to ogres as barriers of the hero or things that must be overcome (see pp. 130). He thus achieves apotheosis. more realistic view of the father. acceptance of himself and another. The task is to see that he is not all-powerful and that he can be emotionally needy. They emerge always with a certain mystery. one could read Shrek in this way: the father figure is the ogre—Shrek himself. for “the returning hero. The return is a difficult task. 226).” that is. for they comduct the mind beyond objective experience into a symbolic realm where duality is left behind” (p. “is indispensable to the continuous circulation of spiritual energy into the world. The conflict with the feminine and masculine is with those elements within ourselves. “Atonement (at-one-ment)” “requires an abandonment of the attachment to the ego itself. The father then is two dragons to be slain: “the dragon thought to be God (superego) and the dragon thought to be Sin (repressed id). When the hero successfully confronts the dualities of the feminine (goddess/temptress) and masculine (god/ogre) then another aspect of transcendence occurs.” In Campbell’s view. and which. 130). His transcendent love. Furthermore. The hero becomes the androgynous god: “Male-female gods are not uncommon in the world of myth. The return entails a “reintegration with society. is the final result of the film. 121). While not explicit in the film. the hero must reconcile the false image of the father as all-powerful and interact with the father as a peer rather than subordinate. Love is the corrective for ignorance and fear. Hence. this mastery leads to the realization of our androgyny. 130). Shrek becomes at one with himself when he accepts the desirability of a relationship with Fiona. this is a crucial stage. from the standpoint of the community.” which leads to “the abandonment of the selfgenerated double monster—the dragon thought to be God (superego) and the dragon thought to be Sin (repressed id)” (p. This occurs because the hero has mastered the feminine and masculine. 152). must survive the impact of the world” (p. 158). 36).

Sometimes there is a need for intervention in order to escape the guardians of the return threshold. The journey home is termed the “Magic Flight. 190) The grasp of the universal gives the hero a sense of immortality. “The Return” is an essential element of the monomyth: The full round.” Had Shrek accomplished his tasks and returned with the gift from the gods and goddesses. The hero is able to see the boundless and realize that there is a place there for all of us. the mind breaks the bounding sphere of the cosmos to a realization transcending all experiences of form—all symbolizations. requires that the hero shall now begin the labor of bringing the runes of wisdom. the planet. the hero begins to return. conquering dragon after dragon.” Assuming the hero does not get caught up in some element of narcissism or self-focus. Finally. “Immortality is then experienced as a present fact: ‘It is here! It is here!’” (p. and the hero receives “Rescue from Without. . then the dragon’s assistance in killing Farquaad would exemplify “Rescue from Without. the nation. this stage of the quest also has its risks and challenges.Shrek as the Daoist Hero 131 The final trial of the hero is to reconcile her or his mortality. all divinities. or the ten thousand worlds. The first issue is whether the hero will return at all. The annihilation of the former self is now complete and the enlightened. a realization of the ineluctable void.” But Shrek’s was not a return and the dragon’s act could not be termed as assistance in the return. (p. and so the hero’s journey remains perilous. (p. where the boon may redound to the renewing of the community. “The Ultimate Boon” is a gift from the gods. 193) Not surprisingly. or his sleeping princess. until it subsumes the cosmos. the norm of the monomyth. Sometimes there is a “Refusal of the Return. back into the kingdom of humanity. transcendent self is ready to engage in the third stage of the process. The hero ascends to the heavens and interacts with the gods and goddesses in order to obtain the gift of immortality. The hero is released from the ego-driven focus of the mortal body. the Golden Fleece.” because supernatural forces often aid it. As he crosses threshold after threshold. the stature of the divinity that he summons to his highest wish increases. 189).

thus. or whether. The values and distinctions that in normal life seem important disappear with the terrifying assimilation of the self into what formerly was only otherness. and amounting to a glimpse of the essential nature of the cosmos” (p. The hero “has been blessed with a vision transcending the scope of normal human destiny. either willingly or unwillingly. Yet the mystery that is discovered is that the divine and human worlds are not distinct: Here is a great key to the understanding of myth and symbol— the two kingdoms are actually one. making the loss of self a discovery of something far more important. 217).” The hero is able to pass freely between the divine and human. That is why this is the domain of heroes: “The hero-soul goes boldly in—and discovers the hags converted into goddesses and the dragons into the watchdogs of the gods” (p. The hero’s actions are released from worry because of “a realization of the passing phenomena of time to the imperishable life that lives and dies in all” (p. The hero is released from annihilation and. 234). The realm of the gods is a forgotten dimension of the world we know.” Dwelling in the mortal and immortal makes it possible to live without fear of death. The individual becomes one with the universe. 229). Shrek’s failure to work through the process of the return is significant. Crossing the final threshold enables the hero to be “Master of Two Worlds. . (p. is the whole sense of the deed of the hero. the fear of death. The burden of the quest is now clear: overcoming the fear of losing the self. What must be considered is whether the analysis suggests that Shrek is a flawed hero. 234). But in its place is the sense of the ultimate and boundless. The hero’s mastery is the ability to move back and forth without “contaminating the principles of the one with those of the other. This perspective gives one the “Freedom to Live. 217) The individual is left behind at this crossing point. It is a crossing from one world to another. DISCUSSION AND IMPLICATIONS Obviously. And the exploration of that dimension.” This can be seen as a return from the spirit world or heavens.132 THE DAO OF RHETORIC The hero’s return is marked by “Crossing the Return Threshold. yet permitting the mind to know the one by virtue of the other” (p. because he fails to complete his initiation and does not return to society with the gifts of his transcendence.

androgyny. Closer examination of the form of the monomyth reveals that the hero’s trials revolve around one essential idea: overcoming the ego or self in order to transcend dualities through divine love or grace. Of course. one who would not be expected to follow Campbell’s pattern. and mortality/immortality. if the story of the ogre is the story of a different kind of hero with a unique purpose and narrative form. then it mitigates Campbell’s claim of universality. then Campbell’s claim of universality remains intact. Shrek exemplifies a different kind of hero altogether. The individual. because what happens in the film is more omission than failure. Ultimately. The purpose of the call is to awaken the hero to the sense that things must change. the test for the significance of the variations is whether the story makes more sense as a flawed-hero story or a Daoist tale. I claim that the story is complete. I am disinclined toward the first view. There is no deity in Daoism and immortality does not come from mastering a two-world dichotomy . and this fairy tale supports the pattern. the issue here is the significance of the variation. hence they do not need to be overcome. This prepares the hero to resolve several important dualities: the female. Daoist views of mortality/immortality and divine/human are also similar but crucially different. and the overlay of Daoism. The annihilation of the former self and communion with the divine signifies immortality. There are no dualities. The hero must then return and. The end point for Campbell’s hero. the male/female. For a Daoist. must cross the threshold and annihilate the ego. is the starting point for a Daoist. again with supernatural rescue. a flawed story. Campbell admits that different cultures have variations in their hero stories. Daoists are monists. The Dao knows of no distinctions. transcend the human and divine worlds and the individual and the universal. it is always dangerous to interpret what is “not there. Seeing the female as either goddess or temptress. the male. The result of all of this is freedom. All things are created by the dynamic interaction of yin and yang. If Shrek is flawed. with supernatural help. and the feminine and masculine exist in varying degrees in all things. which is seen in yin and yang. On the other hand. is only marginally compatible with Daoist thought.” Yet the nature of the omissions. The mingling of the two is the essence of creation and the nature of all things. Shrek succeeds as a Daoist tale. Even the male/female dichotomy. One’s unique identity is discovered. Heaven and Earth. this process and its functions are nonsensical.Shrek as the Daoist Hero 133 instead. make a better accounting of what is and is not present in the story than simply to say that it fails because it is incomplete. Campbell clearly maintains a two-world focus. seeing male as god or ogre. is incongruent with Daoism.

he does not do so by transcending the duality of the goddess/temptress. on a universe that is naturally balanced. Shrek is the story of someone who lives as a Daoist. Freedom is the goal. He is clearly thrown off by his misunderstanding. Farquaad is a metaphor for meddlers such as Confucians. It is understandable that Daoists feel the need to retreat from society to be themselves. Finally. do not be so successful in your detachment from others that you miss out on the rare individual who might be compatible with you. not by slaying dragons. until his solitary and natural life is shattered. What makes the story a Daoist tale is that there is a message for Daoists. His lack of confidence is not in himself but in her sagacity. He returns to his prior . Nonetheless. Fiona and Donkey prove their alignment with the Dao because they refuse to let Shrek’s form. such as beauty and perfection. but he is hurt because Fiona had seemed to like him. His views are situated in the here and now. his unusual appearance and habits. there may be occasional individuals that the universe puts in your path who should be embraced. Shrek does suspect that a beautiful Princess will not be attracted to him. His response when she reveals her ogre self is matter of fact. Shrek never had a problem with either of the forms Fiona takes in the film. The message for Daoists is: Do not shut out everyone. freedom does not come from mastery of the dualities of the universe. a Daoist hero. Shrek learns a valuable lesson. Shrek begins the film as a Daoist. By overcoming his inclination to live as a hermit. By resisting the tendency of some humans to dichotomize we avoid the need to transcend a false perception of distinctions. Namely. He does not transcend or bring back boons for the good of society. Remain open to whatever the universe presents. not because he needs to work on himself. but it is achieved by release from effort. it makes sense that Shrek does not complete the work of Campbell’s hero. Shrek is a sage. and his only reason for leaving his hermitage is to restore it to its natural state. While Shrek must come to terms with his pain from thinking he had been scorned by his love.134 THE DAO OF RHETORIC but from recognition of the one that is all. it does not need to be overcome. He was content with not liking her until she showed interest in him. Shrek stops short when he doesn’t resolve dichotomies because he has no need for growth. It should never be postulated in the first place. It comes from submission to the natural way. Shrek has no desire. and he has no duality to overcome. For these reasons. Dichotomy is an illusion. who attempt to impose human values. surrendering to the flow that is the undivided universe. but that is because of the likelihood that she is not with the Dao. detract from his overall wholeness. which he interprets as a betrayal by Fiona. He simply acquires more information: the truth about Fiona’s feelings.

outcomes. A more reasonable conclusion is that concepts of the hero are more products of culture than the unconscious mind. The difference in Shrek is not a transformation. Rather than maintain that we are all the same. The film thus illuminates non-Western perspectives on society and vividly demonstrates the possibilities for alternative visions not only of the hero but also the individual in the world at large. and avoiding conflict. cultural approaches validate the different answers humans have found for vital questions regarding how one should live. The analysis also indicates that Campbell’s claim that the hero is an archetype is an overstatement. living simply. Modernists and Confucians might not see Shrek as a hero. Moving from universal to cultural explanations of heroes enlivens the possibilities for finding meaning and value in our lives. . He meets a counterpart who is just like he is. He is no longer alone. but a revision of circumstance. It challenges the traditional Western notion of hero by valorizing the individual who focuses on being content. and an outcome where the hero improves the community by sharing the insights of rational “enlightenment. such as Campbell’s monomyth. This chapter demonstrates that Daoist rhetoric can be used in conjunction with other analytical schemes.Shrek as the Daoist Hero 135 state. may appreciate the actions. but he is otherwise the same. based on Campbell’s Western modernist values. His quest or restoration gives him the opportunity to connect with another being like himself. It celebrates living harmoniously with nature and using the natural flow of the universe to accomplish one’s objectives. Shrek induces audiences to identify with a new vision of the hero’s form and function. including those who do not consider themselves to be Daoists. preferring more scrupulous planning. in its application to rhetorical criticism. and values that are celebrated in the film. and he has learned a valuable lesson about trusting his feelings to select others. the elevation of the hero above the natural world.” Yet others.

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literary critic. Daoism suggests that we do the opposite: avoid closure and perpetuate a flow of creativity. While this approach highlights and centers Daoism. arguably the most central figure in contemporary Western rhetoric. While that approach makes a great deal of sense. Daoism. like postmodernism. an exciting possibility for further deployment of Daoist rhetoric. consensus. Yet. to bring closure to a project. acclaimed as a poet. in true Daoist paradoxicality. It fosters critiques of power and hegemony and empowers marginalized discourse. Daoism is positioned as a counterpoint and complement to contemporary Western rhetoric. lies in using it as a lens for pointing out limitations of current Western theorizing. The analysis thus far has focused on developing Daoist perspectives on rhetorical theory and criticism with minimal comparison to Western rhetoric. In so doing. The analysis begins by focusing on ideas of Kenneth Burke. it retains a basis for normativity. This chapter attempts to honor Daoist wisdom by widening the field of inquiry rather than put a bow on its boundaries. and another indication of its scope and depth. In this chapter. it is distinct from other critical perspectives because. It then considers Daoist rhetoric as a potent critical perspective in the contemporary. it may prompt others to investigate the implications of Daoism in their own work.CHAPTER 9 The Future of the Past Traditional Western wisdom and conventions suggest that the final chapter of a book is a place to attempt. postmodern world. and 137 . political theorist. and then responding to those views from a Daoist perspective. rejects foundationalism and energizes social critiques of universalizing theories and metanarratives. KENNETH BURKE Burke is one of the most important and respected thinkers of the twentieth century. in some way. and unity.

in consonance . Instead. and his term for this organizational framework is hierarchy. I have noted that Laozi and Zhuangzi believed that language is crucial in separating us from the state of nature. I will note variances between Burke and Daoism with the hope that the analysis will suggest opportunities to refashion Burkean concepts with Daoist insights. if the definition of the human is meant to be descriptive of the human condition. In fact. Humans do intrude on the natural state by imposing artificial distinctions. and not a pronouncement of our essential qualities. and then elaborates on this distinction. the view Burke holds of humans is similar to the state of humanity that Laozi and Zhuangzi not only witnessed but also spoke against. should) and they can consider what is not present (fantasy) or reject what is (“No”).” I agree with much of what Burke maintains. As a compact way of analyzing Burke. impose values on the world and create distinctions that uphold certain values at the expense of others. and process of division/identification. I note crucial thematic underpinnings of his work: the definition of the human. Saying we are inventors of the negative is to claim that there are no negatives in nature. In fact. separate us from the natural world. such as language. 16). Humans are also dissatisfied with their present condition. Humans. Burke’s originality and scope reconfigured rhetorical studies.” Humans add the “is not” because they can attach values to the natural world (ought. Hierarchy is engrained in language. Burke (1966) defines the human as “the symbol-using (symbolmaking. suggesting that these activities are inevitable. If Burke is articulating his view of the essential nature of humans. He distinguishes the symbolic nature of the human generally.138 THE DAO OF RHETORIC philosopher. according to Burke. I offer responses based on my perspective on Daoist rhetoric. which separates the symbol (signifier) from the referent (signified). symbol mis-using) animal inventor of the negative (or moralized by the negative) separated from his natural condition by instruments of his own making goaded by the spirit of hierarchy (or moved by the sense of order) and rotten with perfection” (p. Instruments of our making. I believe that the characteristics Burke outlines are the result of choices people make about how they wish to live and not inevitable or necessary qualities. although it is impossible to attain. Daoists believe that the Confucian way. The negative is enabled by language. They have a need for perfection. His influence is felt throughout the social sciences and humanities. action/motion distinction. then I disagree. through language. Nature simply “is. our “perfect rottenness. and hierarchies and acting upon rather than within the world. Ultimately. values. Following an examination of these topics in turn. Humans are also moved to organize relationships. Hence. and his legacy continues to challenge and delight rhetorical theorists.

The Future of the Past 139 with Burke. but unnecessary and counterproductive. more generically. Humans can also choose to live perfectly by being one with the Dao. is to make the choice of humanism and hierarchy that allows us to rise above other animals. and expresses. intentional movement that . Because humans are free to make choices. The Daoists observed the creation of unnatural hierarchy in the rigid structure of Confucian society. that people err when they organize around human conventions rather than the natural order. presupposes the ongoing estrangement of humans from the natural world and each other. I would wish for humans to choose not to “act” but simply “do as they do. 186). Finally. and waterfalls. dictated by base instincts or the laws of physics. a ‘sense of yes and no. A major thrust of Daoism is the urging to restore the natural way and resist the tendency to set humans apart from the rest of the world. we can be rotten with perfection. an underlying motive. The action/motion distinction is problematic for Daoists in two ways. Burke (1961) explains further that nonhumans “do not have a ‘sense of right and wrong.” Action implies the purposeful. As for Burke’s observation regarding hierarchy. they are able to act upon the world. First. humans are able to go beyond their sheer motion and enact motivational states through the choices they make.’ or. Burke’s tone suggests that he is interested in separating humans from others as an essentializing move. Humans are not relegated to moving within the world. Motive distinguishes action from motion. A decisive aspect of Burke’s work is the action/motion distinction: humans act while things move. I would not dispute the concept itself because there are natural hierarchies. while it may be true that human behavior is motivated and entails choice. According to Burke (1945/1969). Human activities can spoil the universe’s perfection. which I will discuss momentarily in the analysis of division/identification. The striving for perfection is evident. His view on rhetoric. The core is that humans are both motivated and animated when they behave. unlike animals. Daoists abandon this striving because humans cannot improve upon the universe’s balance and harmony. while humans have the capacity to be rotten with perfection. human from nonhuman. pool balls. whose locomotion is determined for them. It does not describe the Daoist. I would add.’ They simply do as they do—and that’s that” (p. I maintain that this stems from their unwillingness to accept their roles in the natural world. Burke’s definition of the human describes one vision of the human—the counterpart in the West of the Confucian who is invested in human conventions. however. any action stems from. To say that humans are “goaded by the spirit” of hierarchy is to suggest that they create hierarchy where it would not otherwise exist naturally.

worldly things are not objects but processual events whose boundaries. Daoists do not want humans to set themselves apart from the natural world. are formed by the relationships and orientations of one thing to another. Burke asserts that humans are alienated or estranged from one another biologically. Identity is entirely relational. perhaps uniquely. effortless or noncoercive action. Hence. Simpkins and Simpkins (1999) note. Daoism posits the interdependence. in a state of becoming. once one reaches a state of wu-wei the self is lost. 1997. The imposition of time and place allows us to foreground or freeze process. p. 64). While one may be initially motivated to simply move. Its trajectory is to move away from the base or natural impulses of the animal world. It claims as a norm behavior that acts upon nature rather than within nature. People. and hence motive. the action/motion distinction imposes categories of human and nonhuman. A second disagreement over the action/motion distinction is that. preferring that they move without acting. and thus equal status. not the motivated individual mind. 16). when they try to disrupt the natural cycles. enables the emergence of an identity. The integrity of something lies in reaching its unique potential within the environmental field. giving it a momentary historical identity. If action. and orderliness and fulfillment of destiny comes of itself” (p. and historical identity is the foregrounding of the process person within his or her relationships to everything else at a particular time and place. of everything in the world. but from the existence of and connection to all other things. p. is what constitutes historical identity. by virtue of their relationships with everything else. Things are. Furthermore. When we learn to let things be. while Burke sees motive as “the structural differential that is the condition of possibility for the historical emergence of the human being in a world” (Biesecker. then nonhumans are simply objects of the world whose status is clearly subordinate to humans. 2003. is the spontaneous movement that arises when one loses oneself in the natural rhythms of the universe. But they should simply move. Burke’s discussion of the process of division and identification provides an important foundation for his rhetorical perspective.140 THE DAO OF RHETORIC expresses the individual’s desires. The unique constellation or configuration of relationships at a given historical moment. “integrity is consummatory relatedness” (Ames & Hall. we live as nature intended. 29). can act. We . “life becomes a struggle when people try to impose their personal will on inner nature. Recall that wu-wei. and motive is replaced by the same attunement to the natural world as a nonhuman animal. Humans should lose themselves in the natural flow. Daoists see historical identity as emerging not from the workings of the individual human mind. It locates identity within the individual mind rather than a configured set of relationships. In short. while constantly shifting.

Furthermore. not division. our substance existed. they are both created from the same substance as everything else in our environmental system. It not only allows for the emergence of the individual. Burke’s initial assumption. Hence. The . To begin. air. We have all inhaled the same molecules as Jesus. the division that motivates rhetoric. but also enables the social. I can only partially agree with Burke’s division/identification process. If men were not apart from one another. in different forms. there can be courtship only insofar as there is division” (p. p. and animals. before our bodies were assembled and will continue to exist after our bodies are disassembled. To think of a human as biologically distinct is to pose the corpus as a container of substance with a beginning point (birth) and end point (death). motive is a crucial element for Burke. organic divisions call rhetoric into being. Bodies are substantially distinct only when momentarily foregrounded. water. Of course Burke admits our “consubstantiality” with others. Our substance is not “ours” in the sense of being removed from the substances of others. Identification is compensatory to division. To postulate the birth of a body as the starting point of the individual is to ignore everything that existed before that assemblage. To assert that the body is distinct in substance is to ignore that bodies are open systems that constantly exchange their substance. 271). can never be overcome. is contrary to the notion that we exist as part of a unity—as one of the many who constitute the one. Burke (1950/1969) points out “if union is complete. While the information in our DNA and the configuration of our bodies seems unique. The motive for communication is to overcome division. there would be no need for the rhetorician to proclaim their unity” (Burke. 1950/1969. because it is based on the biological differences between individuals. Our substantial. “identification is affirmed with earnestness precisely because there is division. We do this through rhetoric—the symbolic process of identifying ourselves with others. For Burke. Our division from one another motivates us to compensate by seeking to unify ourselves with others. I note in chapter 2 that our bodies are open systems that constantly exchange elements with the rest of the environment. Yet he concludes that the paradox of shared and distinct substance creates substantial overlap but not unity. 22).The Future of the Past 141 enter the world as distinct beings. Furthermore. rhetoric will always be called into the service of vainly muting the discomfort of being alone in the world. and Laozi. what incentive can there be for appeal? Rhetorically. Our differences from one another sustain interaction. is the default position of the universe. Hence unity. Our bodies are in a constant state of recycling the earth. Plato. plants. Once again. that we are born into difference because of our unique biology.

rhetoric will always need to be called into existence. This is true. to distinguish one thing from another. but also the only way to truly impart meaning: Indeed. It will be possible. In fact. spatial and temporal assemblage of substance is relevant. Rhetoric is polar and its aspects of unity and division stand in opposition to each other. and the quest for division (identity) when we perceive unity. If unity is the starting point. in order to function on a daily basis. The particular. Rhetoric in this way can divide us from nature and from one another by enabling us to temporarily foreground facets of the ultimate background unity. the ability to know another’s mind beyond words is considered an essential element of truly artful communication. Daoists believe that total unity is theoretically possible. to identify. their rich. Ultimately. but not because unity is impossible.” Yang rhetoric divides the unity to create identity for “the many. But like the cycles of day and night. Unity also occasions rhetoric because humans can make unnatural distinctions to promote a particular identity. I believe that rhetoric is motivated not only by division but also by unity. Interestingly. If rhetoric’s paradoxicality moves us from unity to division then. meaning and ideas can only be transmitted directly from mind to mind. and profound meaning is lost. for once things are put into words. subtle. then Burke’s claim that rhetoric arises out of division would imply that there is no condition for the emergence of rhetoric.142 THE DAO OF RHETORIC substantial configuration of a given body changes in each moment. 245) . it is unsustainable. (Lu.” Like light and dark. Rhetoric allows us to momentarily foreground aspects of reality. value. The prior. p. places rhetoric in a potentially endless symbolic spiral1 not unlike the basic workings of yin and yang. 1998. the universal. words cannot fully represent the mind. in Chinese culture. momentarily. Yin rhetoric unites division to make us consonant with “the one. Daoists have long held that direct communication is not only possible. absolute communication would be of man’s [sic] very essence” (p. 22). like the total ascendancy of daylight. This would be true if rhetoric arose only from division. when we decide whether eating a particular plant will nourish or poison us. the background. language can never completely express ideas. the search for unity (identification) when we perceive division. is the oneness that is all. as Burke suggests. Unlike Burke. yin rhetoric and yang rhetoric exist in opposition to each other. There will always be a motive for rhetoric because rhetoric works not only to unite but also to divide. for example. Burke (1950/1969) points out that “if men were wholly and truly capable of one substance. This paradox of rhetoric. or hierarchy.

and the various projects of modernity. This early separation means that the Daoist sages did not experience the further development of the classical Greek philosophical tradition. Daoists denounce foundationalism and rationalism. contrarily. and it is created by the dynamic. It upholds the natural way over human conventions and being with nature rather than attempting to rise above it. His rhetoric moves linearly from division to identification and denies the possibility of unity. productive interaction of . p. and locates identity and the possibility for the social in the individual mind. While Daoism was unaffected by the Western intellectual tradition. to its dependence on technology. the European Enlightenment. Reality is inherently changing. suggesting new possibilities for thought and action because of its position relative to Western scholarly trajectories.The Future of the Past 143 Admittedly. Daoist rhetoric. to a certain philosophical over-simplification which leads to either/ or-ness. the trajectory of the West is moving forward to the past. and to a kind of monotheism of the imagination which ties thought to a single methodological viewpoint or a single model of historical evolution. (Clarke. and are neither amenable to essential distinctions nor comprised of fixed or stable features. It makes relationality prior to identity. It values action over motion. The elements of the universe are fluid. and even those who do are unlikely to remain unified permanently because of the need to attend to matters in the local environmental field. while sweeping and creative. Rhetoric has two polar aspects that spiral in ongoing engagement with one another. holds all creatures to be equally vital contributors to the world. Daoism assumes ongoing. some of us never reach a state of absolute communication. BEYOND POST The introductory chapter explains that Daoism was formulated in a distinct culture. is nonetheless Western. 2000. views the body as a container of substance. Burke’s rhetorical perspective. thus offering a novel sense of integrity and possibilities for the social. dynamic processes of change. His approach is grounded in humanism and human conventions. 206) Daoism is relevant as a path not taken. unity is achieved. When yin rhetoric is in total ascent. Like many “post” thinkers. as postmodernity struggles with issues that Daoists contemplated long ago: Daoism is a challenge to the West’s over-valuation of Enlightenment-style rationalism.

I argued earlier that the Western philosophical tradition. In contrast to the Greeks and in anticipation of poststructuralism. which does not reveal reality. Words were deemed inadequate as a means of thought and expression. Tang (1999) describes the sense that “words do not exhaust meaning” as “a central notion of Chinese philosophy” (p. the true nature of reality is distorted” (p. and then poststructuralists. thus they never relied on language to express meaning. This is because reality is not “what man [sic] conceives it to be. of that reality” (p. there is an uprooting of foundations for meaning that did not exist for Daoists. 16). Laozi and Zhuangzi do not confer any power to words themselves: Naming as power undermines the importantly creative aspect in the effective use of names.” but is “a vast organism. Knowing does have a rationality. they are violating the essence of the Dao and imposing their will on the natural way. but knowledge is available in all aspects of the universe. early Chinese philosophers and poets rejected the notion that language could fully represent reality. 17). Opposites are not negated. By recognizing that symbols are limited and incomplete. in the sense of tracing out connections and interacting processes. In a processual world—a world ever under construction—to be able to name something is to be able to trace out its concrete relation to you and the world. Knowing is derived from intuition and empathy emanating from acting in the world. First structuralists. Furthermore. respond to it productively. but merge in endless combinations that produce the many from the one. While naming can . 2). When humans attempt to extract universal standpoints or criteria from the flux of reality. self-generating and self-transforming regardless of man’s [sic] views and actions. Truth lies not in utterance “but rather in the living. arguing that the signifier is meaningful not because it represents reality but because of its difference from other signifiers. challenged the correspondence view of signs. “when man [sic] imposes his views on the world through language or other conceptual means.144 THE DAO OF RHETORIC opposites. Because Western thought moves increasingly from a representational to a poststructural view of language. beginning most particularly with Plato. It was a logical system that attempted to achieve one-to-one correspondence between the word and the thing. was invested in a correspondence theory of truth: language was thought to be able to correspond to thought or reality. and on that basis.” Thus. reason is viewed with suspicion because it is grounded in discourse. Daoists never believed that language represented reality. and one can only know through direct experience and intuition. in the most existential terms.

the “less than what is there” and “more than what is there” are the spaces for strategic communication—rhetoric. “Chinese philosophers recognized the imperfection of language but did not give in to the hegemony of words” (p. Derrida’s deconstruction departs from Daoism in significant ways. 58). Derrida’s antifoundationalism commits him to a stance that there is nothing besides the perceivable world. For the Daoists. They use fantastic characters. Their approach to signs. “the meaning of meaning is infinite implication. Zhuangzi’s views on language are compatible in many ways with those of poststructuralists such as Derrida. have no basis in the external world but are only distinguishable internally—as different from one another. they agree that distinctions. pp. perlocutionary rather than just locutionary. There is. Daoism provides alternative possibilities for the issues Derrida ponders. as evidenced in the texts of Laozi and Zhuangzi. There is no stable reference point for the correspondence between signifier and signified. instead understands the name as a shared ground of growing intimacy. metaphors. p. the indefinite referral of signifier to signified” (Derrida. .The Future of the Past be understood as an abstractive and isolating gesture. 6). Both would agree that signifiers are completely arbitrary. stories. abjuring any temptation to fix what is referenced. normative rather than just descriptive. 45–46) 145 Language is a tool of humans. a constant interplay of signifiers with no end to the iterations of meaning. Daoist naming personalizes a relationship and. Rather than distrust the paradox of language—that it always communicates less than what is “there” (the signifier cannot fully express the signified) and more than what is “there” (the “surplus meaning” of the signifier over the signified). a doing and a knowing rather than just a saying. Despite these similarities. 6). and humor to “stretch language and force it to say more than it does” (p. is playful and intentional. Instead. Daoists focus on the potential of language to manifest human creativity. Also. Such naming is presentational rather than just representational. including binaries such as true/false and good/evil. As Tang (1999) notes. 1973. (Ames & Hall. While Derrida and Zhuangzi reject the notion of a permanent reality that stands behind the perceivable world. simply. Language enables humans to draw distinctions that for Zhuangzi are not part of the natural way of things. 2003. The biggest difference between Derrida—indeed all antifoundational approaches—and Daoism is the underlying cosmology2 of Daoism and the implications of that cosmological view. humans are not victims of language.



While Derrida sees the play of signifiers as infinite, with no underlying stability, Zhuangzi never loses faith in the immutable Dao. Zhuangzi would agree that signifiers are arbitrary, and there is no basis for upholding distinctions, but this does not lead him to moral relativism. Meanings are never singular and fixed in Daoism because language cannot capture the inexpressible and ever-changing Dao. Zhuangzi sees the infinite regress of signifiers as a consequence of language, not as an ontological statement. For Zhuangzi there is a single, universal, transcendent reality that is the background, and words and perceptions are perspectival (true/false) foregroundings. The Dao, the one that is all in this world, provides, through the natural way, a basis for “true” (or natural) distinctions and transcendent values. It is reasonable to call Zhuangzi a deconstructionist “of sorts” because of his attempt to emancipate individuals from rigidly held social ideas and practices through his critique of language and meaning (Lu, 1998). Ultimately, holding the Dao as a univocal norm that can be followed by all disallows a view of Zhuangzi as deconstructionist, as the term is frequently used. While change is inherent, and how one follows the natural way is arguable, Daoism is not susceptible to infinite regress. Daoists would agree with the poststructural view that there is no essential justification for distinctions. Judgments about right/wrong and good/bad, binary opposites, are simply expressions of a particular perspective devoid of objective meaning or validity (Derrida, 1976). Derrida is grounded in the view that there are no underlying foundations for truth and thus no necessary correspondence between language and truth. Daoists, contrarily, arrive at these conclusions not because of the lack of universal reality but because of the inability of language to express reality. Distinctions, for Zhuangzi, are perspectival intonations because the Dao is inexpressible, not because it does not exist. Derrida also maintains that binary opposites function to position those terms so as to create a superior/subordinate relationship (i.e., male/female, reason/emotion, text/performance). Overturning this hierarchy is a critical move: The first move in deconstruction is to reveal and overturn this hierarchical positioning: In a classical philosophical opposition we are not dealing with the peaceful coexistence of a vis-à-vis, but rather with a violent hierarchy. One of the two terms governs the other (axiologically, logically, etc.), or has the upper hand. To deconstruct the opposition, first of all, is to overturn the hierarchy at a given moment. To overlook this phase of overturning is to forget the conflictual and subordinating structure of opposition. (Derrida, 1981, p. 41)

The Future of the Past


Because the unity of the universe comes from the blending of opposites, Daoists also differ from Derrida in his idea that binary opposites form hierarchies. Daoists believe in the concept of oppositional forces—after all, the universe is created through the mingling of yin and yang—yet they do not pose these elements in contradiction to one another. Yin and yang are interdependent and co-equal: “one element could not exist without the existence of its opposite. The union of the two formed the continuous and dynamic process of the dao” (Lu, 1998, p. 236). Derrida sees binaries as hierarchical arrangements, while Daoists see them as complementary or blended. The male/female distinction does not privilege male but posits the terms as irreducibly interdependent and valuable. Bifurcation can even be useful, as when we are following directions and need to turn left instead of right. None of this denies that people can choose to frame opposites as contradicting or repelling one another or as ways to create unnatural hierarchies. Laozi precedes Derrida by observing that social elites dominate discourse by controlling the classification of binaries. Unlike Derrida, who sees opposites in a typically Western fashion, logical counterparts constructed by the mind, Daoists see opposing forces as basic aspects of the natural world. They would claim that binaries are often natural and useful, but that any hierarchy stemming from the juxtaposition of the two elements is human-made and thus unnatural. Unlike postmodernism and poststructuralism, Daoism posits an underlying reality, but it differs from Western foundational views because it is neither fixed nor apprehended through reason. Daoism productively confronts modernity because it rejects perspectival metanarratives, retaining the Dao, provides a moral standpoint, the natural way, and expresses clear values, harmony and balance. Daoism “answers” some issues that currently plague the West because it never supposed notions that are now being overturned. It stands as “a counterpoint and source of resistance to prevailing orthodoxies, an antidote to the one-sidedness and singleness of vision associated with the still dominant role of Eurocentric attitudes” (Clarke, 2000, p. 206). Daoism can support much of the work of the “posts” without resorting to fragmentation, dissensus, or nihilism. Daoism is unlike “post” critiques because it proposes an absolute reality that provides a standpoint for action. The natural way encourages recognition of unity and interdependence and the values of balance and harmony. Daoism thus contains a foundation or metanarrative, but it is a story of unity through diversity, balance and harmony through the unique contributions of all things—including seemingly opposing forces. Nothing, except the story of the many making the one, is privileged.



We can argue about what is natural for humans—for example, how much technology is appropriate—but Daoism does not collapse into existentialism: it must be natural for humans to do X because they do X. Not everything humans do is natural to a Daoist or Laozi would never have critiqued society in the first place. Again, we can debate about our perspectives, which might be a huge terrain, but boundaries will emerge because “natural” is conditioned by interdependence and diversity and manifest as harmony and balance. We can argue about policies, but Daoism places stewardship of the planet at the top of the values hierarchy. While humans can debate among themselves about right and wrong, the environment gives feedback about healthy and unhealthy practices. We just need to pay attention. Daoist rhetoric allows critics to consider all texts from all vantage points. It acknowledges the multiplicity of interpretations that are available, the incommensurability of certain systems of interpretation, and the folly of privileging vantage points based on dominant power structures in society. Multiple interpretations are available because the nature of reality is to constantly change. The nature of interpretation is to express a situated perspective, and no vantage points can be identical because of the flux of reality. One cannot privilege a particular interpretation because it is erroneous to suggest that there is only one way to look at something, including a text. All interpretations are discriminations that are simultaneously correct and incorrect. They have some truth because they are elements of the whole, expressing an aspect of the Dao. Interpretations also fail to account for the totality of truth, and are thus false, because they are perspectives on reality. Daoism acknowledges the contributions of the particular, but recognizes that aspects do not equal the one. Furthermore, there is space for social interaction in articulating and contesting the ways in which claims are correct at times and incorrect at others. The only privileged position is one that posits the universal Dao. Daoist criticism can remind us of the unity that underlies all things while pointing to the differences that contribute to the whole. By considering new texts and vantage points, criticism can value all of the entities that constitute the one. The critic can also give voice to alternatives without denouncing the mainstream. Daoist rhetorical criticism can be used to advocate social issues such as environmental responsibility and equality. From the Dao, one can argue the injustices of the past, where not just individuals but entire groups of people and species of plants and animals were dominated and victimized by the shortsightedness of dominant groups. It can make a statement against commodification, violence, and unbridled technology. Daoist rhetorical criticism can help us to see the connectedness and value of all life, as well as the inevitability and harmony

Daoist rhetoric enables critics to examine discourse from new vantage points with novel processes and concepts that honor the creativity and complexity of human . It offers a way to argue for social justice and environmental responsibility by virtue of the nature of the universe. It places responsibility on me to cherish the natural world. It may prove to be our best hope for the dialogue that is necessary for global peace and prosperity. and positions rhetoric in service of philosophy. This journey is particularly intriguing because the trail is constantly evolving. stand apart from the worldview. ontology. anything is possible. It comforts me because change is inevitable and necessary. While I “map out” features of Daoist rhetoric and suggest possibilities for its further deployment. a comprehensive worldview that posits a cosmology. enlivens Western politics with a vantage point for contesting oppression and devaluation of elements of our complex and diverse world. It reminds me that nothing is destined. criticism. 125). Laozi says “a journey of a thousand miles starts from beneath one’s feet” (ch. Lau. body. My hope is that. and epistemology that is quite distinct from classical Western worldviews. depending on the critic. Rhetoric is an integral part of the social dimension of this metaphysical system. 64. These underpinnings promote an axiological position. with its understanding of unity and interdependence.The Future of the Past 149 of death. and social action. “Daoist rhetoric” is a critical perspective on rhetoric that can. It “essentializes” unity and diversity. and spirit. that is well received in Western liberal politics: the values of harmony and balance. I recognize the provisional nature of both the map and the territory. . in articulating an outline of Daoist rhetoric and its applicability to rhetorical criticism. p. It reminds me that I am vitally connected to everything else and my smallest act affects the entire universe. Daoism. . It predisposes me to empathy. The term “rhetorical Daoism” centers Daoism. however. Daoism teaches me to look to myself first when I want to make the world a better place. Yet it must be remembered that Daoism is truly energized when it is put into practice and it can be valuable at the most mundane levels of existence. IN CONTINUATION . and everything I do is an act of creation. It helps me avoid extremes and work with the flow of everything else. It encourages me to seek balance and unity in my mind. 1963. I have set out at least a few steps on a long expedition. Daoist rhetoric opens exciting avenues for theory. The “Dao of Rhetoric” is both a rhetoric of philosophy and a philosophy of rhetoric.

150 THE DAO OF RHETORIC communication. Daoist rhetoric also suggests ways to examine all forms of discourse and move beyond rhetoric as public address. In fact. and tactical elements of discourse. Daoist rhetoric also suggests the need for further investigation of my assumptions and issues that have not been addressed. and specific substantive. strategic. . It implies that rhetorical action can be intrapersonal and interpersonal. For example. is de a counterpart to ethos? Is the natural way (or wu-wei) a useful concept for thinking about agency? Daoist rhetoric also challenges current theories of symbolic interactionism as the precursor to meaning and rhetoric as a way of knowing. as well as public or mediated. Daoist rhetoric can energize the world one person at a time or all at once. the intrapersonal interaction with a rhetor in tune with the world can be a critical encounter leading to personal enlightenment and harmony. Its ubiquitousness speaks to the vast and undeveloped potential of rhetoric for personal and social action. It posits a communication theory. the yin and yang of rhetoric.

including individuals. Taoist (Wade-Giles) respectively. and ideas. 3. Also Taoism. Garrett (1991) provides a useful review of Western studies of Asian rhetoric and Lu (1998) offers an excellent account of classical Chinese rhetoric. When I refer to postmodern as a condition (postmodernism) I mean the sense that reality. Lao Tse (Wade-Giles). or underlying order. and Sun-zi (pinyin) and Sun-tzu. Nothing is prior to perception and symbolization. and all meanings and symbols are perspectival and subjective. When I refer to postmodern ideas or writings (postmodernist) I refer primarily to my interpretations of Baudrillard. but have not converted the terms of scholars who use Wade-Giles and/or alternate spellings.Notes INTRODUCTION 1. I also include under “postmodern” the views of Derrida and other “poststructuralists. Lyotard. Some of the various spellings in English include Laozi. Lao Tsu. 4. The term “postmodern” can be problematic because it defies set meanings and lacks clear boundaries. Zhuangzi. scholars use Dao. 5. 151 . There are two primary systems for romanizing Chinese characters—Wade-Giles and pinyin—that result in different English spellings of Chinese names and terms. Zhuang-zi (pinyin) and Chuang Tzu. stability. Sun Tzu (Wade-Giles).” whose ideas are often appropriated and extended by postmodernists. and Foucault. is without foundation. 2. Lao-zi (pinyin) and Lao Tzu. Similarly. See Kennedy (1998) for an overview of non-Western approaches to rhetorical theory. Chuang Tse (Wade-Giles). Chuang Tsu. Daoist (pinyin) and Tao. objects. I use the pinyin system.

I tend to use the word “spiritual” when discussing Daoist views on concepts such as creation and immortaltiy. and political implications in the contemporary world. 2. 2. While these practices have been trivialized by those influenced by the Christian missionaries. differs greatly from the use of the word in the Judeo-Christain heritage. This is generally translated in English as ‘The Art of War. but Sun-tzu is the broadly accepted English rendering” (p. 1990. Robinet (1997) argues effectively for the recasting of elements of Daoism as religious. and these issues are beyond the scope of this book. Huang (1993). Clarke (2000) offers an excellent review of Daoist scholarship.152 THE DAO OF RHETORIC CHAPTER 1. 3.’ which actually is an emulation of the titles of books written by Machiavelli and Baron de Jomini. . 25). H. TEXT AND CONTEXT 1. social. According to J. Also Art of Warfare. Early scholarship did not recognize the religiosity of Daoism and Confucianism. 3. SUNZI AND THE RHETORIC OF PARSIMONY 1. Scholars seem more comfortable treating Confucisnism and Daoism as philosophy because neither Confucianism nor Daoism assumes a transcendent deity and their religious practices and rituals include worship of cultural heroes and dead ancestors. CHAPTER 4. I begin each citation of the Dao De Jing. In order to situate the various translations that I use and those with which the reader may be familiar. Zhuangzi. CULTURE. LAOZI AND THE NATURAL WAY OF RHETORICS 1. and it was renamed Sunzi bingfas (bingfa means ‘the principles for using forces’) at a much later date. CHAPTER 2. Sun-tzu in the pinyin system is spelled Sunzi. Because the religiosity of Daoism differs from the Judeo-Christian traditions. “Religion” from a Chinese perspective. Kong Fuzi (pinyin). 54.” I will use the Wade-Giles spellings since they are used almost exclusively in English. who first wrote about China. particularly its potential ethical. In the case of “Confucius” and “Confucianism. Several excellent articles by rhetorical scholars on issues of text and context appear in a special issue of the Western Journal of Speech Communication. “Sun-tzu is the original title of the book. and Art of War with its chapter number.

in effect. The Daoists are. ‘acosmotic’ thinkers” (p. the Daoists have no concept of cosmos at all insofar as that notion entails a coherent. Ames & Hall (2003) conclude that Daoism is actually acosmotic: “The Daoist understanding of ‘cosmos’ as the ‘ten thousand things’ means that. having “no concept” is a conception. therefore. The “spiral” is chosen rather than the “cycle” because cycles are repetitive while spirals are not. 14). so I maintain that Daoism has a “unique” cosmology. primarily.Notes CHAPTER 9. . THE FUTURE OF THE PAST 153 1. Daoism views life as an ongoing act of creativity and novelty generated by the movement of opposites. single-ordered world which is in any sense enclosed or defined. While the point is interesting. 2.

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6. 71. 62–63. 89. See also distinction 163 . 130. See also under conflict. A. 133–134. 13. 97. 16. Zhuangzi. 5. See Zhuangzi Chou. 110. 80. 101–103. 105. 135 See also Sunzi. 70. 2. 105–106. 60. 80–81. 19–20 contentiousness. 71 audience. 51 commodification. 140–143 Campbell. 115–119. 45. 139–140. 89. harmony Burke. 87. 101–102. 137–138 action/motion distinction. See also Sunzi Asian culture. See text Art of War. 143 Chuang Tzu. 58. See also rhetoric. 138–139 process of division/identification. A. 106.. See harmony Black. 12. 9. Warring States Period) philosophical context. 114. See Zhou classical China historical/political context. 15–17 balance. 80. 19–21. 74. 40 (see also Confucianism) rhetorical context. 16. Joseph. 71. 62. 6. 83. 33–34 contextual analysis. Edwin. 84–85 categorization. 5. 7. 116. 73–74 Laozi. 11. Karlyn K. 70. 99–100. 94. 19–21. 93. 51. Laozi. collaboration. 108–112. harmony argumentation. 1. 43–51. argument artifact. conflict Confucianism. 138–139 Confucius. 61. 78. 80 Bug’s Life. Aristotelian. 6. 102–103. 143 definition of the human. 111. 53–55. Kenneth. 51. 81–82 (see also Spring-Autumn period. 111 avoidance and minimization. See also under conflict. 30. 6. 38. 129–135 Campbell. 104–114. contentiousness. 80–82. 148 conflict Antz/Bug’s Life. 11. 12. 14–15. See contentiousness. 108. 17–19. 123–126. 122. 69. 57 Shrek. audience adaptation authorship of texts. 115. 6. See also text/context distinction contradiction. See distinction cause/effect linearity vs.Index Antz. 17. 53–54 deterrence. 94–95.

genre goal orientation. 37. 75. 114 Shrek. 3. See also contentiousness deconstruction. 82. 94. 149 equality. 69. See harmony essence. 29. 74. See also contradiction. 99 See also values. 147 extrinsic analysis. 77. 2 first use of the term. 73–74. problems caused by. 6. Jacques destiny/fate. essentialism. 134. 6. 77. 110. See also Laozi Daoism. 20. 111. 19. oneworld vs. 24. 114. A. 112–113. 73–74. 112–113 harmony. 82–83. 3. 148 equilibrium. 10. 20. See also values: terminal. two-world view crabgrass. 26–29. 133 definitions. 145 critical methods. 135 Tao of Steve. 15. 30. 77. 50–51. 24. 26. 57. Zhuangzi. 102. The. 87. 137. 42. 146. 24. 129–130. 59. 81. 143 environmental field. See contradiction. 148. 92. 145. 33–36. 114. 67–68. criticism Dao. The European. 30–31. 102. 147–148. 143 environmental responsibility. 77. 35–36 as process. 110. 96–97. 84 debate. See contextual analysis fables. 30. 143–144. 117 foregrounding/backgrounding. distinction distinction. 45. 4. 5. 24–25 ineffability. 4. 78–79 creativity. 20 self. 118.164 THE DAO OF RHETORIC cosmology. 13. 145 deconstruction. 70. 90–91. language. 91. 30–31. 69. 101. 20 tian. 55. 97. 82 animated. 32. 60. 50. See rhetorical. 44. 94. 56. See rhetorical. 121. 94. See also text/context distinction foundationalism. 122. 139. Western Greek philosophy. 64. 28. 117 films. 16. twoworld view duality. 1–2. 32. 132. 140. 9. classical. 143 Eurocentrism. 41. one-world vs. 40–42. 20. language detachment from desire. 134 dichotomy. 143 . 21. 56. 73. 77. 55. See under Derrida. 92–93. 32. 11. 11. Jacques. 133–134 genre. 143 group consciousness. 26. 19. 23. 114. 137. 76. 23. 137. See reality. 97–99 alternative to Confucianism. 14. 5. 145. 3. 20 effortless action. 143. text/context distinction dualism. 147–148 freedom. 9. 19 challenge to the West. 149 Antz/Bug’s Life. transcendence education. 28. 150 Enlightenment. 48. 63. 140 Derrida. 27–28 Dao de jing (Daodejing). 50. Daoist hegemony. 122. See also reality. 10. 145–147 See also poststructuralism. 50 ren. 146 cultural significance. 12–13. See also foregrounding/backgrounding. 65. 56 de. See wu-wei/effortless action enlightenment Confucian.

rhetorical. 118. 23. 146. See Laozi Laozi. 134. 14–15. 112–113. definition of human individualism. 50 See also rhetorical. 129–135 Daoist conceptions of.Index hero(es) archetype. 94–95. polarity parable. 13 Ma. 105 classical Greek views. 16. See reality. 29. 6. 92.. 142 Western views. 115–116 Western conceptions of. 26–27. 34. See rhetoric. 117 Karate Kid. 133–135 journey. 10 Daoist views. 147–149 interpretation. knowledge language. 46. 6. 20–21. 116. 110. 54. 11. C. 148. 142. See also Dao De Jing. 80. 144–145. 4. 81–82. 17. 81–82. See under rhetorical. See yin/yang. 93. 108–109. strategies and tactics. See under Sunzi “Hundred Schools” of philosophy. 34. 6. strategies and tactics paradox of rhetoric. 46. See also Unusual Man. 135 stories. 140. The paradox. 84. 99 knowledge. 118. 37. 6 hierarchy. 148 as corrective. 34. knowing classical Greek views. The. 143–144. 144–145 Laozi. 55–57 metanarrative. 32. 3. 49–50 military strategy and tactics. 117–119 monomyth. 146. 3. 137. See under rhetorical strategies and tactics metaphorical function. 133. 14. See rhetorical. 110–111. 135. metaphoricity. 12. 138–139. 92 Zhuangzi. 23. 39–40. complementation. 14. 10–11. 81–82. 133 See also Burke. 82–83 natural way. 146–147 hsing. Kenneth. 122–124. 133. strategies and tactics. twoworld view Monsters. 138–139. 10 Daoist views. 92 See also under contentiousness. natural style Laozi. G. 3. 21. wu-wei/effortless action opposites. 131. 151n3. one-world vs. 135. language. See under rhetorical. 24–25. 117. 3. 14–15 linearity. Ringo. 144 See also Sunzi. 147–149 Laozi. Inc. 37. 31. criticism Jung. 144 165 Lao-Tzu. 36. 122. 114 interdependence. 76 Chinese. 140. 3. 4. 100. natural style. 110. paradox of . 19 identity. 42. See also terrain modernist values. 147 monism.. 57–58. 149 persona. 148 metaphor. 32. 148 intrinsic analysis. 142. 5. 151n5 classical Chinese views. 138. 27–30. strategies and tactics. 147 Western views. 6. 55.

70. 69–91 natural style. 47–48. two-world view. 61. 99–100. 58–62. 21. 144 postmodernism. 101 evocation. 5. Chaim and Lucie OlbrechtsTyteca. 102 vague expressions. 2. 4. 53. 10 Daoist views. 77. 3. rhetorical. Jacques. 56. 149–150 as philosophical rhetoric. 75 Western. 137. 53–55. 75. 3. 60. 49. 71 rationality/reason classical Greek views. 56. 148 presumption. 70. 51. 151n4 poststructuralism. 3. 75 generativity. 99. 11. 53. 121–122 as a hero story. 6 wu-wei/effortless action. strategies and tactics.166 THE DAO OF RHETORIC perception as perspectival. 19 shih (strategic advantage). Zhuangzi power. 146 one-world vs. 65. 142–143. 1. 2. 68. 133. language. See also rhetorical. 54 classical Greek. 143–144. 55. 84. 18–19. 11. 74 negation. 11. 3. 64. 48. 11. 12. See under Sunzi retreat. 2. 83. 87–88. See also Derrida. 10. 39–43. 47. 146. 35–38. 60–70 Spring-Autumn period. 4. 148 Perelman. 4–7. 79–85. 94 criticism. 7. 6. 13. 35 style. 36. 21. 148–149 canons. 73. 149 speaker-warrior. 77 self-persuasion. evocativeness shih (scholar class). 70 enthymeme. 32. 50. 117. 2. 67–68. 73. 2. 5. Daoist. 55. 51. 73. 98. 11. 147 instability. 70–71. 4. See rhetorical. 51. 71. 67 classical Chinese. 13. 67 audience adaptation. 61 personae. 75 rhetorical criticism. 116 and Daoism. 4. 150 philosophical. 98 personification. 117–135 Shrek as Daoist hero. 28. 62–63. 5. 79. See under Sunzi Shrek. 1 Daoist. 144. 62. 16. 53. 33. 149 (see also rhetoric. 51 formlessness. 92–93. 99–100 artistic proofs. harmony social justice. 121–122 See also under conflict. Daoist) genre. 32–36. 35. 134 rhetoric Aristotelian. 77 analogy/metaphor. 26–27. 74–78 personae. 147 religion. 50–51. 82 . 57. 4. 3. 89. 48–51 paradox. 15–17 strategies and tactics. 67. 75 Roman. 97–100. 1 technical. 2. 5. 77–79. 56. 143–144 reality classical Greek views. See also self-persuasion Plato. 10. 11 Daoist views. 54. 4. 3. 76 paradox of. 56. 51. 145 parsimony. 4. 89. 51. 76 substance. personae persuasion. 70. 152n3 responsiveness (yin). 24–25. 35 parable. 9. 80–82. 40. 75. 11–12. 3. 4 Daoism. 4. 3. 4. 71. 4. 37–39. 145. 54. 67–68.

76. 96. 35. 68–69 justification for warfare. 43. See also classical China. 62–65 See also Art of War. 17. 6. strategies and tactics: formlessness. 59 knowledge. 57–58 and criticism. 58. the. 73 See also under contentiousness. 21 unity. 30. 54–55. See also Dao words. 80 defined. 147–149 (see also harmony. parsimony Tao. 110. See also Zhuangzi Zhou (Chou) dynasty. 16. See Sunzi Sun Tzu. unity instrumental. See rhetorical. 140 and rhetoric/language. Warring States period . See Dao Tao of Steve. See language wu-wei/effortless action. parable. 27. shih Sun-tzu. 48. hsing strategic advantage.142. persona Zhuangzi argument. 144. 79–80. 16–17. 37–38. 56. 3. 79. 102. 56. strategies and tactics: evocation. 24. personification Zhuangzi. 102. 133. 45. 112–113. 148. 51. 18–19. 138. 150 See also rhetoric. 42. 73 rhetoric as warfare. 132–134 translation process. 69–70 rhetoric. 112. 95–96 See also under harmony technology. 87–100 wu-wei/effortless action. 52. The. 26. 14–17. 62–63. 65 hsing. See also rhetorical. 73–74 language. 42. 112. 60 shih. 141. 77. 110–111. Shrek. 40. See Sunzi. 25–26. See also Sunzi Sunzi classification as Daoist. 5. See Sunzi. 53. 30. 58–60. 58. 110. 81–82 textual analysis. 5. 41 See under Tao of Steve. 39 values Daoist. 81 Way. 111. 51. 16. 47. 16. 149 Unusual Man. 40. 47. 147. 56. 5. See also Spring-Autumn period. 101. 5. 93. 6.Index Star Wars. 80. 11. 44 rhetoric. 149 (see also individualism) Warring States Period. 66. 47. 4. 16. 66 persona. 10. 145–146 persona. historical/political context water. 45–9. 64. 142–143. 16. 84 text/context distinction. 111. 24 strategic positioning. 33. 77 and warfare/force. 50. The. 60. rhetorical. 110. paradox of Zhuang Zhou. 113–114 167 Western. 82. 3. 66–68 speaker/warrior strategy. 5. 148 text. 77. criticism transcendence. See Sunzi Sun Wu. 16. 51. 29. 29. 43–45. The. 66–69 terrain. 37. language. 52. 12. 38. 74. 5. 49–50. 147 rhetoric. 60. 111. 55–58 conflict. 81. responsiveness (yin) yin/yang polarity. 84. See also Zhuangzi. 40. 53. 17 responsiveness (yin). natural way. 11–12. 113 terminal. 27. See also natural way yin (responsiveness). 112. 9–13. 102. 44–47. See Sunzi.

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