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The cellulose molecule is just a long string of glucose molecules, but paradoxically, cellulose is an indigestible fiber, whereas glucose is the most easily digestible of all foods. I don’t know how to calculate the number of Big Gulp units in a pair of cotton socks, but it should be easy to do.
There’s no paradox here for cows, however. Not only is the bovine mind blind to paradox, but even intelligent bovids wouldn’t see what the fuss was all about, since cellulose is their primary food. This alleged food / fiber paradox is merely an artifact of our inferior digestive system.
Because cellulose is hard to digest, cows must perform a complicated series of chemical procedures in their enormous gut system. If cows were genetically modified to live entirely on glucose, they would be more svelte, but I doubt that they’d be any smarter.
The romantics were the shock troops and sappers who softened up the honky world for the consumer society. With liberty and equality, anyone could presume to want anything they wanted, without being accused of encroaching on others’ prerogatives. The aggregate quantity of desire multiplied exponentially, as Malthus pointed out, whereas the quantity of possible satisfaction increased only slowly, if at all. And to be too easily satisfied was shameful; an attainable or attained object was by definition degraded and unworthy. Last year’s chic outfit is this year’s wipe rag. Kant, Lamartine, and Novalis taught us that only the Ideal is good enough, and marketing picked it up from there.
Equality and liberty did not preclude competition, and with improved means of transportation and communication the field of competition came to be the whole world. Every literate young man imprisoned in one of the modern European languages was drafted into a global contest — first to find the most unattainable ideal of them all, and then to immolate himself on that ideal. No wonder the motherfuckers were whiny.
And yes, “himself”. Bitches weren’t part of this, except as unattainable ideals. No hopeless striving for you, ladies!
Probably Plato was well-intended when he devised his celibate reform version of erotic obsession, but Jesus Christ! What a monster he unloosed upon the world!
In our last episode, I had established nice neat Early and Late layers and was trying to figure out what to do with the 33 still-unclassified chapters. But then I decided that I was far enough along that I should go back to the beginning, rewrite everything less tenuously, and produce a final version.
Many thanks to my two or more readers. More to follow.
It is generally agreed that the Daodejing, like many scriptures, is a composite text (not really “an anthology”) which includes material from many different sources and from more than one period. Beyond that there’s little agreement about the process by which the present state of the text was reached. The theory that it has been accidentally jumbled or disarranged is no longer widely held, and there’s probably a consensus that the text was put together by some kind of editing process. But the difficulty of finding a thread of argument, the scattering of certain themes throughout the text, and the many puzzling juxtapositions, even within a single chapter, lead some to suspect that the editing process was rather haphazard.
What I propose is that the various editors, above all the final editor, were quite aware of the variety of their materials, but rather than putting similar things together and sorting the text according to kind, the editor deliberately tried to distribute the various sorts of writing fairly evenly so that readers (or hearers) would, on the one hand, be forced to imagine the connections between seemingly-disparate strands of the text (“What does this have to do with that?”), and on the other, frequently be reminded of distant passages (“Haven’t I read something like that before?”). (more…)
Gone but not forgotten
Two and a half millenia ago sexuality was invented by the horrible Greeks and idealized by Plato. Once idealized, sexuality was as robust as anthrax and as insidious as herpes, and could nest dormant in your cells like trichinella or plasmodium . For most people during much of human history, sexuality merely wallowed in the murk like some enormous, slimy, barbeled catfish, and emerged only occasionally to engulf some hapless human victim. But from time to time sexual / anti-sexual idealists like Augustine and Dante encouraged and strengthened the monster, and finally in 1830 (with the July Revolution and the opening of Hugo’s play Hernani) the French romantics and liberals brought the undead creature from mud to land. For almost two centuries now it’s been flopping and wallowing among us, going where it will, wreaking havoc and devouring any who dare come its way.
Many have tried to tame or defeat sexuality, but each attempt has only made it stronger and more horrible. Repression, chastity, marriage, idealization, libertinism, liberation, naturalness, “relationships”, psychoanalysis, bisexuality, intersexuality, transgendering, queering – nothing has worked, and sexuality still claims countless new victims each day. This creature has no benign forms and cannot be resisted, and all we can do now is resign ourselves to our sexual fates, whatever those may be, and hope for some post-sexual Beowulf or Parsifal to come along to drive a stake into the beast’s gigantic, loathsome head.
(The part about the 1830 Revolution in France will be explained in a later post. The rest is all common knowledge, though few admit it. Nineteenth century Frenchmen were as fucked up as 19th century Americans, but in a very different manner.)
The free-standing sage (i.e., outside the “Therefore the sage” formula) appears six or seven* times in the Daodejing. Two of the Wang Pi text’s chapters which include the free-standing sage (chapters 5 and 19) are found in the Guodian text without the sage. Chapter 19 is hostile to the sage in any case and thus not a trustworthy source (exterminate the sage, discard the wise, and the people will benefit a hundredfold), and I will leave it out of this discussion for that reason. (more…)
(Transformed from a “page” to a “post”)
THE STRUCTURE OF THE TEXT OF THE DAODEJING
In my first two pieces I defined what amounts a late syncretic layer in the DDJ, consisting of the last 15 chapters of the book plus the 13 chapters which include the phrase “Therefore the Sage…” – in all, approximately a third of the DDJ. This late layer was defined by two simple and easily-described operations on the text, rather than by interpretation and a series of ad hoc decisions, and it fits a very plausible story of how the text was put together: the addition of “syncretic Taoist” political writing to an already-existing text produced within a mystical lineage dedicated to meditation and self-cultivation.
The two groups making up the “late” layer, even though defined rather mechanically by two simple cuts, were indeed of a syncretic political type, with a gratifying degree of stylistic and thematic unity. The method didn’t catch everything, and other chapters will end up being assigned to this syncretic layer later, but what we have is is enough to work with.*
I will now define what I think is the contrasting early pre-syncretist layer in the text – 27 chapters, or approximately another third of the text. (26 chapters remain unassigned, to be looked at later.). My definition of this layer was less mechanical and more subjective than the definition of the syncretic layer was, but I think that most will find the result at least plausible. Note that while this selection is based on judgements of themes and style, I worked with the undivided chapters just as they have come down to us, even though there’s plenty of evidence that many of the chapters are composites and not unities. (more…)
In his book Original Dao (Columbia, 1999) Harold Roth has argued that the “Nei Ye” chapter of the Guanzi is a guide to meditation produced within an organized teacher-student lineage devoted primarily to the arts of “cultivation of life” (meditation, diet, ritual, and physical practices), and that the Daodejing, a handbook of political wisdom, is the product of a late politicized stage of this same school, or of a branch of the school. Roth’s theory is a beginning toward giving a definite answer to the question “What kind of book is the Daodejing?”, a question which has divided Daodejing interpreters more or less from the beginning.
My answer to this question is very close to Roth’s. However, while Roth (following Graham) classifies Daoists as Individualists, Primitivists, or Syncretists, I am more inclined to classify the Primitivists as politicized Daoists and as just one kind of Syncretist — for all its utopianism and satirical edge, in the Daodejing Primitivism often seems to be advocated as kind of political device. I also don’t think that it’s terribly important to decide whether the “Nei Ye” is older than the Daodejing; the two texts may have been contemporary, both of them being used in different contexts by the same school, or they may have been used by two opposed schools which had split off from a united earlier school. (more…)