The Logos and the Tao • 27 July 2008

I dreamed that I was doing a comparative analysis of The Logos and The Tao.

My subconscious, apparently, has its own sense of humor.

The dream is funny because the Tao and the Logos are both concepts that purport to be the one thing. Reality’s underlying substratum. The logical principle. That which has no equal, no opposite, no split-apart twin. The Most Meta.

The two concepts are also different in very many subtle ways. That was the point of the dream: I was comparing the concepts to see where they lined up and where they mapped different territories. Where one conception of “the way” falls short of capturing the totality of experience, at least vis-à-vis its own distant reflection in a split-apart concept of “what’s really real.”

So comparing the two reveals that neither is natural or complete—each has a social history, has edges, has the ability to express some stuff and the inability to express other stuff. If you research enough of the world, you find there is no one way dammit. It's contingency all the way down.

Comparing is interesting because you come up against harsh evidence that everything has a history. I like that kind of spelunking, but lately I’ve been just annoyed with comparison as a mode of analysis. “Compare and contrast” is a jayvee operation—a frosh exam. Simplistic. Pre-statistical. Non-causal. Abfuckingstract. When you strain to see what is similar between two cases, don’t you lose all the interesting, highly specific aspects? Is it not more useful to focus on JUST ONE THING? Like, one-pointed style?

The tao and the logos are two things and one thing. But not one thing in the way I want it. My unconscious is having fun with that.

I googled the collective unconscious, an activity almost as automatic as dreaming. Turns out a lot of people have done compare-and-contrast projects on this.

There’s even a book, The Tao and the Logos. Has the words “literary hermeneutics” in the title (kneejerk eyeroll… hermeneutics is too circular even for me). But… the authors are quoting Rilke (p. 86 & seq.). It’s all ok. Better than jayvee. Check it out:

Though we exist but once and never again, says Rilke, to have lived once fully is in itself worthwhile:

even if only once: to have been at one with the earth, seems beyond undoing.

…Here we have one of the most powerful pleas in modern poetry for the power of language. Saying is conceived as more intensely ontological than things themselves could have ever dreamed of being: it is language, the naming of simple things—house, bridge, fountain, gate, pitcher—that brigs things into existence and defines what is uniquely human. Rilke proclaims:

Here is the time for the sayable, here is its homeland. Speak and bear witness.

One thing, two things. Red things, blue things. I don’t know.

Comparison is about creating abstractions, and also about ignoring case-specific qualities that don’t generalize. Maybe I can do that, but still find specificity in it. My two research cases are “one” thing, insofar as I can find what’s sayable. The tao of social science is that banal. Tonight, I will read Herakleitos.