Now Tao has been defined as a philosophy which remains always in sharp contradistinction to the Confucian (more generally the ‘Socratic’) dialect of the ethic; but it is more than that. (The word ‘Philosophy’ still carries with it the taint of method given it by the Greeks, from which it has been impossible to free it.) It is an attempt to localize an experience, which itself is too comprehensive to be included in the mere confines of language. Throughout the book one can feel the language probing, like a pair of giant callipers, attempting to circumscribe a realm, for the expression of which we have nothing between the madman’s idiom and the A minor Quartet. The searchlight of the ratiocinative principle is too weak to light up this territory: words themselves are used as a kind of sculpture, to symbolize what cannot be directly expressed: the heraldry of language is called into play to accentuate, to attest to, to pierce through the rind of the merely cognative impulse and delineate once and for all the mystery, the resting place of the Tao.
‘The true Tao is not the subject of discussion.’ In your opening statement you are faced with an attitude which, more exactly expressed as the text proceeds, ends in a complete and final denial of principle; a denial, in fact, of polarity, of schism. The affirmation here is that of a total personality, speaking from its totality. In the symbol of the Simple Way, expressed once and for all, you will find no trace of that abruption of the personality from its cosmos which has hallucinated European thought ever since pre-Socratic times. There is, to write nicely, no human entity; it is merged in the All. Here there is no trace of the rupture between the individual and his scenery. Fused, there remains only the gigantic landscape of the spirit, in which our Aryan problem (‘To be, or not to be’) is swallowed up, exhausted, sucked dry by the eternal factor – the Tao. The house admits its resident: the tenant is absorbed, like a piece of tissue, into the very walls of his spiritual house. The world of the definition is exploded. All this is so exhaustively written out in the book that it seems a little difficult at first to locate those areas in which the conflicting ideas enter. But with this profound clue (the denial, the absolution of principle) it would seem possible to retrace one’s steps; and against this rule, measure the various phases of the text.
Lawrence Durrell, Tao and its Glozes.
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