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Effortless Action: Wu-wei As Conceptual Metaphor and Spiritual Ideal in Early China 2nd ed. Edition

5.0 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0195138993
ISBN-10: 0195138996
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Editorial Reviews

Review


"This provocative work is the most ambitious general study of pre-Qin thought to appear in more than a decade. ...a rich, stimulating work, full of interpretive insights that shed light on conceptions of ethical perfection in early Chinese thought."--Philosophy East and West


"The scope of Slingerland's discussion and his mastery of the relevant scholarship make the book a useful and learned introduction to early Chinese thought."--Harvard Journal of Asiatic Studies


"Edward Slingerland is one of a group of exciting and creative young scholars revolutionizing the study of Chinese history, culture, and religion by applying the recently developed tools of cognitive analysis, especially conceptual metaphor analysis. Effortless Action is a remarkable work that explores the meaning of the crucial concept of wu-wei in a depth never before achievable, showing how Chinese metaphorical thought forms a nexus around this most central of ideas. If you care about China, about its culture, history, and religion, you will find this book extremely enlightening. And if you are a humanist seeking a deeper understanding of culture and history, this book will open up new worlds to you."--George Lakoff, Professor of Linguistics, University of California, Berkeley


"Slingerland shows that wu-wei is a much richer and more pervasive notion than anyone has ever imagined. His work will convince even the most entrenched skeptic that it is an important and often neglected concern of just about every major religious thinker in traditional China."--Philip Ivanhoe, author of Confucian Moral Self Cultivation and Ethics in the Confucian Tradition


About the Author


Edward Slingerland is Assistant Professor of East Asian Languages & Cultures and Religion at the University of Southern California (homepage: www-rcf.usc.edu/~slingerl).
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 368 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 2nd ed. edition (March 27, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0195138996
  • ISBN-13: 978-0195138993
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 1.3 x 6.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,022,621 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
[We've been trying for 4 months to get Amazon to update the book description (which is several years out of date), to no avail, so direct action (as opposed to effortless action) seemed called for. Below is the actual book jacket description and back cover blurbs. The automated system forced me to rate the book in order to post this, so please ignore the 5 stars....]
This book presents a systematic account of the role of the personal spiritual ideal of wu-wei-literally "no doing," but better rendered as "effortless action"-in early Chinese thought. Edward Slingerland's analysis shows that wu-wei represents the most general of a set of conceptual metaphors having to do with a state of effortless ease and unself-consciousness. This concept of effortlessness, he contends, serves as a common ideal for both Daoist and Confucian thinkers. He also argues that this concept contains within itself a conceptual tension that motivates the development of early Chinese thought: the so-called "paradox of wu-wei" or the question of how one can consciously "try not to try."
Methodologically, this book represents a preliminary attempt to apply the contemporary theory of conceptual metaphor to the study of early Chinese thought. Although the focus is upon early China, both the subject matter and methodology have wider implications. The subject of wu-wei is relevant to anyone interested in later East Asian religious thought or in the so-called "virtue-ethics" tradition in the West. Moreover, the technique of conceptual metaphor analysis-along with the principle of "embodied realism" upon which it is based-provides an exciting new theoretical framework and methodological tool for the study of comparative thought, comparative religion, intellectual history, and even the humanities in general.
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Format: Hardcover
As a non-specialist, I found this a very readable journey through ancient Chinese philosophy: from the Analects to Xunzi via the Daoists, following the thread of wu-wei or comparable metaphors of relaxed states. I found this book comparable in scope and quality to Chad Hansen's "Daoist Theory of Chinese Thought", although Edward Slingerland does not define himself as a Daoist. His use of the new field of "conceptual metaphor" is remarkable: it says that the basic metaphors in various cultures arise from the body and its movements; like walking, moving (effortlessly, on a Way...) or through simple actions of daily life, like filling a container with water, that triggers the metaphor of the true Self as a container, that is filled with an artificial social self of desires (ego) that to a Daoist must be emptied to allow the Dao to fill the true Self. Incidentally, this also could provide a solid basis for C.G. Jung's cross-cultural archetypes, that are in fact such metaphors; I'm thinking of his studies of metaphors in the I Ching for example (although E. Slingerland does not discuss Jung in his book.)
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Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Slingerland is one of several scholars (R. T. Ames, S. Cook, PJ Ivanhoe, E. Molgaard, J. Paper, V. Mair among others) reinvigorating Western scholarship on early Chinese thought. Readers of New Age interpretations steer aware from genuine scholarship, but perhaps they - and other general readers - should take a look at this book as a pathway to expertise on the field. The early texts in question, such as Kongzi's (Confucius') "Analects" and the Zhuangzi (Chuang Tzu) are hard to read and interepret. One reason that Slingerland manages to make them accessible is his focus on their central (spiritual) metaphors. As he argues, there is much that is universal in the structure of metaphors from any time or place. As an overview from a spiritual perspective, I strongly recommend this well-organized, thoughtful book.
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