In Grazia Marchianò (ed.), Aesthetics & Chaos: Investigating a Creative Complicity (2002)

Brian Bruya
Eastern Michigan University
Can we conceive of disorder in a positive sense? We organize our desks, we discipline our children, we govern our polities--all with the aim of reducing disorder, of temporarily reversing the entropy that inevitably asserts itself in our lives. Going all the way back to Hesiod, we see chaos as a cosmogonic state of utter confusion inevitably reigned in by laws of regularity, in a transition from fearful unpredictability to calm stability. In contrast to a similar early Chinese notion of chaotic disorder (luan), early Daoists posit a type of chaos that is to be cultivated rather than feared. This chaos is a primal disorder, akin to Hesiod's, but rather than threatening disruption, it is replete with creative potential and through spontaneous action yields orderly processes that proceed from the concretion of things to their dissolution and back, in a complex web of relations. This processional activity, although taken in one sense as cosmogonic, in a more important sense is immanent at every moment of activity. This article identifies terms of chaos, such as dun dun 沌 沌, hundun 渾 沌, and xingming 涬 溟 in Laozi and Zhuangzi and examines the passages in which they occur. Analyzing these passages brings us to a better understanding of "chaos" in a Chinese sense and to a familiarity with related terms in its semantic field, such as xuan 玄 (dark, mysterious), miao 妙 (subtle/profound), wei 微 (minute/inchoate), xiao 小 (small/minute), and pu 樸 (uncarved block). We see that the Daoist ideal is to return to a chaotic inchoateness by melding with the cosmos and there finding a repository of creative potential. This notion of chaos as the inchoate is used a springboard into understanding the origins of Daoist spontaneity.
Keywords Chaos  Aesthetics  Spontaneity  Laozi  Zhuangzi  Daoism  Xuan  Pu  Hundun  Inchoate
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