College of Liberal Arts & Social Sciences Theses and Dissertations

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phenomenology, deconstruction, Daoism, Heidegger, Zhuangzi


The Chinese classic Zhuangzi 莊子 is known for its paradoxicality. Among its more difficult claims is that “the world emerges from emptiness,” such that something (or indeed everything) comes from nothing. Interpreters generally avoid this logical impasse by suggesting, for instance, that the emptiness or nothingness is not really nothing, but instead refers to a pre-individuated flow of something like pure experience. By contrast, I take a broadly Heideggerian approach to this notion of “world” (and “nature,” as ziran 自然), suggesting that it refers not to a simple aggregation of all existent things, but instead to the whole of possible meaning or sense. Even this approach does not fully accommodate the radical paradoxicality of the Zhuangzi, however, which I argue coincides with its sense of humor. Utilizing Derridean deconstructive strategies, I read the excessive and self-undermining moments in the text (e.g., “I who say you are deluded am also deluded”) as reestablishing the everyday exclusion of contradiction which allows for ordinary experience and logic.

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