Ontology or Theology? François Jullien and Chinese Vitalism

Theory, Culture and Society 40 (4-5):41-56 (2023)
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Abstract

François Jullien intervenes into the ontology debates to understand Chinese thought as an anti-ontology, but instead in terms of ‘life’, that is as a sort of vitalism. Chinese anti-ontology features the juxtaposition of the wu (there-is-not) with the you (there-is). This, I argue, maps onto theology’s counterposition of otherworldly and this-worldly. Here Daoism features an ascetic and unstratified wu in contraposition to Confucianism’s you of moderation and stratification. We contrast ontology’s causation with ‘efficacy’ in Jullien’s Chinese thought. We read Zhuangzi’s ‘Equalization of Things’, where the inequalities of the you are equalized in the wu, as a sort of vitalist object energetics. We turn to Chinese ethics, and its driving virtue of yi. We understand the yi not as ‘righteousness’, which is a theological attribute of Christ, but instead as closer to political ‘right’, in China embedded in immanentist forms of life. Western Cartesian ontology is often contrasted with Chinese thought that works through a certain ‘analogism’. We read this, with Walter Benjamin’s Chinese ‘mimetic’ faculty, in terms of a vitalist energetics, a forcefield of the Ten Thousand Things.

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