The concept of toy---at play with the Zhuangzi

by Levinovitz, Alan Jay, Ph.D., THE UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO, 2012, 237 pages; 3548246


"Play" is a central theme in recent critical treatments of the Zhuangzi, a foundational text in the Daoist tradition. This dissertation begins by identifying two contradictions endemic to typical readings of the Zhuangzi as a playful defense of playful living. The first contradiction is logical: if playfulness is defined as non-teleological activity, then the Zhuangzi cannot consistently recommend playfulness without making play into something else, namely an ethical imperative. The second contradiction is performative: scholarly arguments for the nature and value of play engage in precisely the sort of activity purportedly condemned by the Zhuangzi.

A resolution to these problems first requires identifying two distinct objects of play, toys and games, which entail two distinct modes of play, toy-play and game-play. I argue that the Zhuangzi can be profitably understood as facilitating toy-play, and I use speech-act theory to develop an account of the language necessary for such facilitation. Insofar as the Zhuangzi facilitates toy-play it is a toymaker; but I also claim it can serve as the object it works to create. This dual existence as toy and toymaker is difficult to establish. Toys are objects whose identities are meant to be played with; toymakers produce those objects. In order to reconcile these two roles, I re-read the Zhuangzi according to its own hermeneutic principles, which requires appropriating some of the toymaker's techniques.

I conclude by observing the relevance of this analysis to scholarship on the Zhuangzi, and suggest that the nature of academic enquiry might render any professional commentary on toy-making texts counter-productive, a cautionary note that applies to the dissertation itself.

AdviserRichard Rosengarten
Source TypeDissertation
SubjectsReligion; Asian studies; Philosophy
Publication Number3548246

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