Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Chinese in the car

It took a trip to Ohio to remind me how much I love Chinese – what we call Zhongwen. The expansive miles of mega-churches and fields laced with high fructose corn syrup flew by as the brush in my friend Chad’s hand began to talk of the interweaving threads of silk which form a social system in the Chinese ideogramology, the complexity of the self or wo as the competing forces of the “I” and the “me” are combined into a single subject, and the simple potentiality of the radical for wood – a substance defined by its potential for being of use.

The practice of Chinese puts me in a mood of fascination with the twisting complexity of human thought over multiple millennia. The ultra-stability and inscrutability of the Asian mind is revealed as deeply patterned, a logic of tea ceremonies and compartmentalized bitter-sweet aesthetics. This language has so much to offer in terms of ethics, morality and beauty – a way of being in the world that is perhaps incommensurate with English but yet at the same time on a micro level, knowable, as an ocean of currents and plankton stretching toward an infinite inevitable horizon under the glassy eye of the zealous student. There is so much nuance, so much dynamism – this is the language of a settled, civil society bounded by the logic of poetics and nature.

Chinese seems like an enormous project. I strain to hear what the xiaojie(s) from Shanghai across the way are casually flipping back and forth. There is so much to learn and know – so many new and different ways of thinking in concepts and abstractions. But if I can remember to love the language, like my friend Chad, that is a start – a vocation worthy of a following, ha, or a journey without end – a Kierkegaardian leap perhaps. An overturning of the self, a constant unknowing and a passionate way of passing the time in a trance-like flipping of pages and stroking of ideas.
The character for the self, wo, is made of two hands clutching lances in opposition to each other, the dialectic of the I and the me.


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