Spontaneous Arising and an Ethics of Creativity in Early Daoism
Prof. Erica Brindley, Penn State University
Thursday October 25
12 PM to 1:30 PM
Gerard House (54 College St./EAS Dept.) 101
In the early part of the 20th century, Joseph Needham formulated a substantial claim concerning the Chinese predilection for self-generated creation rather than creator gods and myths. Half a century later, Western scholars like Frederick Mote, Derk Bodde, and Chang Kwang-chih picked up on Needham’s insight to discuss the so-called lack of a “creation myth” in early Chinese culture, basing their claims on what appear to be more defensible arguments about the “inner necessity” or “spontaneously self-generating” nature of the cosmos. While the claim that there are no creator gods or myths in early China is false and has since been convincingly refuted by scholars, there may indeed be a way in which Mote, Bodde, and the like were onto something. In this talk, I’ll show how the notions of “inner necessity” and “spontaneity” are close but not the best fit for understanding certain early Chinese accounts of creation. Through an analysis of claims about time, space, and boundaries in early Daoist cosmological texts, especially the recently excavated text, the “Heng xian” (“The Primordial Constancy”), I present an account of creativity – not “inner necessity” or “spontaneity” in the Western sense of the word – that presupposes a rich and complicated philosophy of the self and change in the world. I make brief comparisons with ancient Vedic and Buddhist thought and suggest that scholars of early Chinese thought engage in a more rigorous attempt to compare these various traditions.
Professor Brindley is an intellectual and cultural historian of early China and East/Southeast Asia (500 BCE to 200 CE). Her interests include issues related to human agency and the self, music and religion, ethnic identity, cosmology, and creativity in the pre-imperial and Qin-Han periods. She is currently organizing a series of interdisciplinary conferences on the greater South China Sea interaction zone in premodern (pre-1400 CE times), which aims to bring the work of linguists, archaeologists, and humanists together in fruitful collaboration. She is also writing a sourcebook on ancient eastern cosmological texts and working on the notion of disability in Daoist theory. She has authored three books (Cambridge 2015; SUNY 2012; Hawaii 2010), co-edited three volumes, and produced numerous articles in the fields of early Chinese culture, history, and philosophy.