Zhuangzi the poet: Re-reading the Peng Bird image

The image of the Peng bird, which opens the Zhuangzi text, is not the product of metaphysical reasoning. An inspiring example of soaring up and going beyond, the image is used to broaden the outlook of the small mind; its function is thus more therapeutic than instructional. With its rich poetic and experiential content, the image of the Peng refuses to be reduced to an abstract concept, or a mere signifier of certain philosophical position. Misreading of the image results from any attempt to accurately “size up” its philosophical implication by measuring it quantitatively against a spectrum of positions and values. To see only the superficial “inconsistencies” in Zhuangzi’s argument and to read the wind under the Peng’s wings as a handicap that it needs to overcome in order to embark on its “free and easy wandering” is, in the name of logic and “consistency,” to ignore the big picture Zhuangzi presents.
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