Asian Heritage Month Lecture at Bata Shoe Museum 2007
People, Education, Asian Heritage, Events, Editorials & Essays
Jay Goulding presented the Bata Shoe Museum Asian Heritage Month Lecture in February 2007.
Jay Goulding is Professor at Department of Social Sciences, Faculty of Liberal Arts and Professional Studies, York University. His expertise is in classical and contemporary Chinese philosophy as well as hermeneutics and phenomenology. He is appointed to the Graduate Programmes in Social and Political Thought, Communication and Culture, Education and Sociology.
He has published widely in various scholarly journals including Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, Sociological Analysis: A Journal of Comparative Religion, Political Theory, Catalyst, Anhui Normal University Journal of Social Sciences and Humanities, Dao: A Journal of Comparative Philosophy, Journal of Chinese Philosophy, International Journal for Field-Being, Asian Cinema, and China Review International. He has written for the six-volume Scribner’s New Dictionary of the History of Ideas encyclopedia with entries on Chinese and East Asian philosophy, culture, language, history, politics and society in both ancient and modern perspectives. In 2001, he participated in the official return of philosophy to China with the International Society for Chinese Philosophy, and the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences. As well, he contributed an essay to Beijing’s University’s journal, Gate of Philosophy, celebrating the one hundredth anniversary of the university and the first English language edition of a premier journal of Chinese philosophy.
In the summer of 2005, he co-chaired the “Ontology and Hermeneutics” conference in Shanghai that celebrated the seventieth birthday of the prominent Chinese philosopher Cheng Chung-ying, founder of the International Society for Chinese Philosophy, whose work is instrumental in the rebirth of comparative philosophy between China and the West. In the fall of 2006, Goulding delivered guest lectures at Beijing Foreign Studies University’s Foreign Literature Institute, and at Beijing University’s Institute of Foreign Philosophy where he explained the relationships between Daoism and phenomenology, especially the Chinese classical Daoist philosophers Laozi and Zhuangzi as compared with the seminal European thinkers Martin Heidegger and Maurice Merleau-Ponty. In 2008, he finished editing a book, China-West Interculture: Toward the Philosophy of World Integration, Essays on Wu Kuang-ming’s Thinking for The Association of Chinese Philosophers in America series with Global Scholarly Publications in New York.
Since York University offers a diverse venue for teaching non-traditional topics to non-traditional students, Goulding develops non-traditional ways of disseminating knowledge regarding emerging areas of scholarship, namely a comparison of Eastern and Western societies. His theoretical and methodological bases of research and teaching are reciprocal. They revolve around an approach whereby Eastern and Western civilizations can be compared in terms of philosophy, religion, culture and society. Research is as crucial for teaching as teaching is for research. Hence, he calls his collective scholarly project “Global Comparative Thought.”
As Goulding suggests, China today is in-between the old and the new, and in-between Eastern and Western traditions. In recent years, many Daoist temples have reawakened in China, and many aspects of Confucian philosophy have re-emerged. The prominent works of the Chinese neo-Confucian philosopher Cheng Chung-ying and the Chinese Daoist philosopher Wu Kuang-ming are most useful for addressing these transformations as their writings are rich in cross-cultural comparisons. Their intriguing blending of hermeneutic phenomenology, and Chinese philosophy acts as a guide to addressing the various rifts within and between these categories. In the last twenty years, Goulding’s research has been inspired by both Cheng’s idea of ‘onto-cosmology’ and Wu’s idea of ‘body thinking.’ Both scholars examine the polar rotations of Chinese thought as it unfolds through hermeneutic (interpretive) analysis and phenomenology (changes in everyday life). Confucianism and Daoism take turns at prominent roles in Chinese history. Phenomenology reveals the intricate layerings of these philosophical crossings by awareness of societal contexts. Cheng’s work on both neo-Confucian thinkers (Zhu Xi, Wang Yangming), and on Heidegger is inspiring. It helps open up new horizons for Chinese understandings of hermeneutic phenomenology as a search for the truth, and is crucial for responding to the American tendency to pragmatic reductions. A close study of Cheng’s work allows Goulding to re-read Heidegger’s famous Chinese students (Xiong Wei, Hsiao Shiyi, and Chang Chungyuan) in a new fashion that introduces onto-ethics into an otherwise incomplete ontology. Cheng’s philosophy is a path breaking guide for exploring the in-between of East and West on philosophical, cultural, religious and cosmological levels.
Likewise, Goulding’s close study of Wu’s work activates both Eastern and Western metaphoric thinking as a two-way osmotic membrane. This meta-metaphor negates itself while re-inventing new vistas and new horizons. The words of the West and the experience of the East interpenetrate each other: the outside West in signs, the inside East in stories. The West navigates from inside to outside, from psychic states to daily expressions. The East navigates from outside to inside, from mundane familiarity to the three teachings. In this sense, both East and West are co-constitutive and mutually correcting. Drawing strength from Zhuangzi’s ‘hollow,’ and Heidegger’s ‘clearing,’ Wu argues that the West thinks too much with the mind while allowing the body to disappear. The East lets the body do the thinking while the mind descends down (trans-descends) into it. As Wu insists, Chinese body thinking relies on the heart/mind (xin). Eastern body thinking is ‘concrete’; Western rationalist thought is abstract.
Goulding maintains that although Laozi takes us immediately to the centre of stillness, Zhuangzi’s parables are the key entrances back into an understanding of the world of the everyday. In response to the rationality of the Greek world, Heidegger lives on the boundary slash between Being and Nothingness. Eastern philosophy helped him feel his way (through poetry) into a fulfilled nothingness of ‘the clearing,’ an opening that is free for brightness and darkness, and for resonance and echo.
There are many challenges with researching and teaching East Asian thought. Concepts of ‘time,’ the ‘person’ and the ‘self’ are ingrained and imbedded into Western modes of thought. In the West, ‘time’ is often seen as linear or related directly to the clock; the ‘person’ is the fulcrum for rights, values and property acquisition; ‘self’ is firmly tied to the idea of the individual. In the East, ‘time’ is often cyclic or eternal; ‘self’ (if existing at all) is firmly tied to family and groups; the ‘person’ is often in-between and responsive to combinations of Confucian virtues and Daoist cosmologies.
Historically, China has not shared many of the West’s assumptions. Eastern civilizations are built and sustained on different notions of all of the above. However, this does not preclude some overlaps or forms of reconciliation, especially if we are sensitive to the ancient past. For Goulding, the hermeneutic task is to understand what these assumptions are about, where they come from, and how do we get to them. This involves a phenomenological bracketing or suspending (even momentarily) of the preconceived notions that we share in the West. The life-world can be seen in terms of a series of concentric rings of perception: social, philosophical, economic, political, psychological, cultural, and cosmological. We can strip back each of these layers of perception and investigate them as to composition and texture. Altogether, they constitute a horizon. These rings generate a thick haze around us that inscribes and defines our sense of being, time, consciousness and morality. What a teacher wants to do is increase vision outside this thick haze of personal perception. In order to understand these new horizons, we might have to put our own out of action for a while. This does not mean giving up Western (or Eastern) values or assumptions. It only means placing them on the backburner for a while. This idea of ‘withholding’ or ‘suspension’ or ‘bracketing’ is not new. Rather, it is a generalized activity, more global in perspective than Cartesian radical doubt. Minimally, it helps the teacher of East Asian and comparative thought be more open to possibilities, and maximally, allows the embrace of a new way of thinking. This method of interpretive suspension that defines hermeneutic phenomenology can be attuned to the present and to the daily events at hand.
Making sense of the whirlwind of complex philosophical ideas from both Western and Eastern traditions, Goulding finds popular culture to be a simple venue to understanding everyday experiences. The process of searching for or unveiling or revealing is a herme-neutic task. Thus, we have the phenomenological method mapped into the hermeneutic search for truth. In a very basic way, Goulding utilizes these intricate ideas to unhinge assumptions and pre-judgments on both sides of the fence: your own world and the world that you are investigating. By engaging with the everyday, you are entering the philosophy of the in-between. You are neither East nor West, neither China nor Canada but somewhere in the middle. Goulding’s research, writings, and teachings try to gently navigate students into the middle where they can help themselves better understand Canada and the Middle Kingdom of China.