C O U R S E L E C T U R E
The Primitivists in the Analects
Notes taken on March 11, 2016 by Edward Tanguay
the Analects is a composite text
has different layers to it
the last part of the book is late and has many anomalies
for the first time we see Confucius confronting critics
he confronts rulers who don't listen to him
he doesn't confront rivals in the sense of other philosophers who have different views of the world
Confucius is sitting in front of his residence in the state of Wei
playing the stone chimes
a man dressed strangely with a basket strapped to his back stops and listens
Confucius is frustrated because he has come back from on unsuccessful meeting with a ruler
man says, "Whoever is playing the chimes like that certainly has something on his mind"
then the man says, "How despicable is this petty stubbornness! If no one understands you, just tend to yourself"
then he quotes from the odes
"If the river ford is deep, use the stepping-stones, if it is shallow, simply raise your hem"
i.e. you need to change your behavior to accord with different situations
this was a standard way of critiquing someone: don't say anything directly, but quote a provokotive piece of poetry
the Master then says, "Such resoluteness! Who could take issue with that"
most commentators interpret this as Confucius being sarcastic
Confucius rather has a mission and will see it through
Confucius is on a trip from one state to another trying to find a job
"Confucius passed Change and Jie who were yoked together pulling a plow through a field"
their names mean something
"Standing tall in the Marsh"
"Prominent in the Muds"
using self-conscious primitive technology
people at this point used oxen to draw plows
it would be as if someone was cutting their lawn with an old fashioned manual lawn mower
you would be sending a message
Confucius sends one of his disciples to ask these two people where the ford is to get across the river
one of the men ask if that is Confucius, and the disciple says yes, and the man says, then he should know where the ford is
meaning: Confucius travels so much, he should know where the ford is
second man says, "instead of following a scholar who merely avoids the bad people, wouldn't it be better for you to follow scholars like us, who avoid the age itself?"
these people are uses old technology and lower than peasants
but they are intelligent, i.e. they know who Confucius is
these are people who have dropped out of the march of progress
they are saying that it is the world itself that is bad
Zilu the disciple goes back and reports to Confucius
Confucius thinks and says, "A person cannot flock together with the birds and the beasts. If I do not associate with the followers of men, then with whom would I associate? If the Way were realized in the world, then I would not need to change anything"
dropping out is not the answer
we are humans and we have to live in the human world
going to live in the countryside is quitting, it's not trying to change anything
motif in Analects: people who are educated but who have dropped out of society
rejecting urban culture
believe that Confucius' efforts to change the world are not going to work
the cultured, civilized world is the problem
being in the system doesn't allow you to change it
a movement that was consciously apposed to Confucius' mission
loosely connected movement
rejecting the Confucius way, the Confucius strategy
this was the beginning of waring states philosophical debate
these people sound quite a bit like the hippies of the of the 1960s counter culture in North America and Europe
educated elites: white kids who dropped out of college and wanted to become farmers
explicit rejection of technology, comfort, and urbanism
the natural world is a model
have a faith that there is something about the natural world that is inherently good
there is something about society that is messing up that goodness
we need to get back to a primal, natural goodness
there is something deeply wrong with culture
faith in the goodness of humans as a natural creature
today the equivalents would be back to local food movements
self-conscious appropriation of simplicity
the primitivists don't fare very well in the Analects because it's not their book
but Confucius always comes in at the end and says something like, "a person cannot flock together with birds and beasts"
these people are irresponsible and childish
the way the Eisenhower generation viewed the hippy movement, i.e. just a bunch of kids running around like savages
but they do get their own book