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Orientalism and Enlightenment Positivism: A Critique of Anglophone Sinology,

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by Shuchen Xiang

Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin and King's College London


On January 1, 1958, in the journal Democratic Critique, Zhang Junmai, Mou Zongsan, Tang Junyi, and Xu Fuguan published the “Manifesto on Chinese Culture for the World: Our Common Understanding of Chinese Scholar¬ship Research and of the Future of Chinese Culture and World Culture.”1 This manifesto is commonly seen as the founding statement of the New Confucianism movement. Section 2 of the manifesto, “Three Motives, Ap-proaches, and their Shortcomings in the Study of Chinese Culture in World Scholarship,” claimed that Chinese culture had not been understood by three kinds of people who had approached it, namely, Christian missionaries, sinologists, and students of present world history. For the New Confucians, the Jesuits did not understand Chinese culture because they overly stressed its religious aspects with a view towards the proselytization of Christianity. The sinologists didn't understand Chinese culture because they treated China as a living fossil or

extinct civilization on which to perform autopsies. Finally, the students of contemporary world history approached Chinese culture not out of genuine interest, but out of necessity. None of these three groups of people could appreciate the value of Chinese philosophy. The New Confucians' diagnosis of the state of the field is just as inci¬sive today as it was then. The reason why neither the Christian missionary, sinologist, or the student of world politics understood Chinese culture is because they all saw their own culture and methodologies as universal. Under this universalism, the tradition of the other is merely a particular or mere “accident” that must be understood through (European) universalism. The tradition of the other has no intrinsic objectivity or claim to validity. A true understanding of Chinese culture is incommensurable with Enlightenment

universalism. In this paper, I will add two more disciplines to the New Con-fucian's list of people who have not understood Chinese culture: Anglophone China-West comparative literature and mainstream Anglophone philosophy.

In Orientalism, Edward Said makes the point that the Western academe's desire to acquire knowledge about the Orient was based on a Baconian paradigm of knowledge and power (Said 32). Knowledge about the orient was necessary in order to subjugate it, not because its traditions were worth knowing for their own sake. In the postwar Anglophone academe, this orientalizing sentiment foundational to the discipline of sinology joins forces with the “hermeneutics of suspicion” (I will provide a definition of this in the following section) and further displaces the idea that there is any intrinsic merit to the traditions under study. Inasmuch as the “hermeneutics of suspicion” problematizes the overt

meaning of a text and seeks to find a social-scientific explanation for why the text has the perceived meaning that it does, it is a species of scientism. The application of the hermeneutics of suspicion onto the Chinese tradition dis¬covers a China that fits the usual, but mistaken (Hegelian) stereotypes about the Chinese: that they are unfree and passive servants in the face of political authority (Hegel 279). What contemporary sinology and China-West compara¬tive literature discover about traditional China, I will argue, reflects more the intellectual assumptions and philosophical frameworks that guided such work than the subject under study. These intellectual assumptions furthermore must be situated within the course of Western intellectual history. The methodolo¬gies themselves must be historicized to show that they are neither objective, ahistorical, a-cultural, nor neutral.

Ultimately, I argue that for the Western academe to truly overcome its orientalism, it needs to jettison the Enlightenment project of universalism and embrace instead the humanistic pluralism that Edward Said himself appealed to: the tradition of Goethe and Herder, and their twentieth-century incarna¬tions in the work of Ernst Cassirer (1874—1945) and Hans Georg-Gadamer (1900—2002). Both these philosophers argued that the humanities cannot be conceived through the same methodologies as the exact sciences, and it is to this German humanist tradition that I shall turn to as a point of contrast throughout this paper. Gadamer premised his magnum opus Truth and Method on the fact that objectivity

in the humanities does not rely on the same methods as in the exact sciences. The point of the humanities lies in the Herderian (a friend of Goethe's) idea of “rising up to humanity through culture” [Emporbildung zur Humanität] (Gadamer, Truth and Method 9). It is through humanistic learning that we overcome our provincialism and raise ourselves up to a certain univer¬salism and become free, to uphold our own human dignity. For Gadamer, we can never hope to obtain a bird's-eye view that would enable us to transcend our own limited perspectives. Unlike the sciences, which seek to discover verifi¬able laws, the humanities should teach us that there is no ultimate foundation for understanding the truth about human beings; what truth there is lies in embracing a pluralism of different perspectives with which we elevate ourselves to a relatively higher universalism.2 This universalism is thus a task, a terminus ad quem (as opposed to a terminus a quo) that we never reach, toward which our efforts must constantly be aimed.

Although Cassirer died in 1945, he was familiar with the reduction of cultural forms to the mere reflection of disguised expression of political, cul¬tural, or subconscious interests. For Cassirer, however, this is deeply mistaken because such thinking would be unable to see the “spontaneity” of spirit (Geist) that creates meaning for us. On April 3, 1944, Cassirer delivered a lecture entitled “Philosophy and Politics.” He concludes his lecture by quoting Albert Schweitzer: “‘Philosophy is to be blamed for our world in that it did not admit the fact,' Schweitzer writes. ‘But in the hour of peril, the watch¬man slept, who should have kept watch over us. So it happened that we did not struggle for our culture'”3 (qtd. in Cassirer, “Philosophy and Politics” 232). In Cassirer's eyes, the two main philosophical culprits responsible for enabling the German catastrophe of World War II were Lebensphilosophie and Logical Positivism. Lebensphilosophie, well-

embodied by Heidegger's “Letter on ‘Humanism,'”4 sees humanistic values as inherently hubristic and an¬thropocentric. Humanism for Heidegger is tantamount to Platonism and the intellectualisation of Being, and so synonymous with metaphysics itself (Heidegger 245). The Logical Positivism of the Vienna Circle viewed all that was not verifiable on the basis of protocol sentences5 to be nonsense. Although Lebensphilosophie is anti-scientistic and Logical Positivism is the hypertrophy of a scientistic culture, for Cassirer, they had the same effect. In both, Cassirer saw a return to a dogmatic metaphysics that posited one aspect of human experience6 as prior to all others. What

should have been a healthy ecosystem of the different ways people understand and experience the world is leveled to homogeneity. In Cassirer's view, there is a pluralism of logics in which we understand the world—a pluralism of “symbolic forms.” Each symbolic form has its own internal coherence and cannot be reduced to the logic of another symbolic form; each brings with it a meaning context that it itself instantiates. The internal coherence and logic governing litera¬ture, for example, will be different to that governing mathematics. It is an error when we try to reduce this pluralism to an ultimate logic. In An Essay on Man, one of Cassirer's last books and, in a way, his parting note to future generations after witnessing the inhumanity of World War II, he concludes: Philosophy cannot give up its search for a fundamental unity in this ideal world. But it does not confound this unity with simplicity. It does not overlook the tensions and frictions, the strong contrasts

and deep conflicts between the various powers of man [the different symbolic forms]. These cannot be reduced to a common denominator. They tend in different directions and obey different principles. But this multiplic¬ity and disparateness does not denote discord or disharmony. All these functions complete and complement one another. Each one opens a new horizon and shows us a new aspect of humanity. The dissonant is in harmony with itself; the contraries are not mutually exclusive, but interdependent: “harmony in contrariety, as in the case of the bow and the lyre.”7 (228)

For Cassirer, the different cultural forms—what he calls “symbolic formsexist in tension with each other, but we reduce this tension to our peril by positing an overarching principle or logic—as did Logical Positivism and Lebensphilosophie. The great danger with scientism is that because it is blind to the internal coherence of each of our cultural forms, it razes this plurality to the ground and imposes its own logic. Instead of a harmony in contrariety, scientism reduces everything to one logic and thereby destroys the ecosystem of our cultural life; and for Cassirer, this has proven to be catastrophic histori¬cally. For Cassirer, the consequences for not taking care of the (pluralistic) space of (intellectual) culture bear directly upon the world in which we live.

For both Cassirer and Gadamer, we cannot give up the idea that culture has an internal coherence and validity, because it is through a humanistic edu¬cation embodied in culture that we rise to our humanity. We must, as Cassirer said at the close of World War II, struggle for our culture. Edward Said, as we will see, also appeals to the nineteenth-century German humanist tradition for ameliorating the orientalizing tendencies in the Western academe. I fol¬low Gadamer, Cassirer, and Said in appealing to this vision of the humanities as an alternative paradigm for the humanities rather than the Enlightenment universalism that so easily defaults to scientism. In place of the hermeneutics of suspicion, I argue for the hermeneutics of trust, which presupposes a hu¬manistic trust in the internal coherence and validity of culture(s).

1. The Problem with Contemporary Anglophone Sinology

Much of contemporary Anglophone sinology as a discipline labors under a form of “sociology of knowledge,” which can only be described as the “hermeneutics of suspicion.” The “hermeneutics of suspicion” is a phrase coined by Paul Ri-coeur to capture a common spirit that pervades the writings of Marx, Freud, and Nietzsche. It is a distinctively modern style of interpretation that circum¬vents obvious or self-evident meanings in order to unmask less visible and less flattering truths hidden in a text (Ricoeur 356). What meaning there is in a text is inherently ideological, and so we must renege on the objectivity of the meaning that the text itself is trying to posit, for this meaning cannot escape ideology. Under this hermeneutics of suspicion, to study tradition is ipso facto to be critical of it, because one must be

vigilant against the ideology that has been sedimented throughout tradition. The only ethical position is skepticism about the text's overt meaning. For the Gadamer scholar Jean Grondin, this “hermeneutics of suspicion” is tantamount to an antihumanism, and although indebted to Marx, Darwin, Freud, Nietzsche, and Claude Lévi-Strauss, emerged as an intellectual force in the 1960s in the work of the French structuralists and post-structuralists (Michel Foucault and Jacques Derrida are especially representative) (Grondin, Sources of Hermeneutics 133). A natural corollary of the hermeneutics of suspicion is a turn toward the sociology of knowledge. Once we renege on the idea that a text was produced because the authors of the past were inherently interested in the ideas embodied therein, then we need to find another way of

accounting for the text's existence. Given that the postwar Western academe has embraced scientism, a social-scientific account is assumed to be most objective and thus legitimate. Much of contemporary Anglophone sinology has thus taken on the Foucauldian notion that the only irreducible is a repressive structure of power and domination. The meaning in a text is explained away through appeal to a reductive determinism/positivism of the social sciences.8 The hermeneutics of suspicion plays into the hands of the scientism model; indeed, one might say that it is perhaps nothing other than its by-product.

Michael Puett's To Become a God is a good example of the “hermeneutics of suspicion.” In this work, he argues that the two methodological models of his predecessors, that of the “contrastive” and “evolutionary model,” are not objective. We should therefore instead “work toward a more nuanced approach in which we make no a priori assumptions regarding single state¬ments made in single texts and the significance of individual claims” (Puett, To Become a God 24—25). From a hermeneutic perspective it is impossible for the researcher to make no a priori assumptions. The truth is, as Cassirer is so fond of quoting from Goethe, “everything in the realm of fact is already theory” (Goethe 307)—it is impossible to separate questions of fact from questions of value. There are no objective or neutral facts—this is an unten¬able illusion.

What often happens when people labor under a belief that they can jump over their own shadows, is that a theoretical framework is unknow¬ingly smuggled into their work. We see this clearly in Puett's case; instead of the contrastive and evolutionary models, Puett believes that “the analyst should seek to understand how such a textual tradition is being posited and what claims are being made through that positing” (To Become a God 25). A similar methodology can be found in The Ambivalence of Creation, where Puett writes that “[o]ne of the poorest means,” is to take a text at face value as saying something that reflects the assumptions of the period, and see it instead as a piece of “polemic” and “claim” with a hidden agenda (To Become a God 22—25). Evidently, Puett's reconstruction of the textual tradition is to assume something about texts. It assumes an egoistic-utilitarian interpretation of human behavior, that the writers of texts are self-interested agents whose actions are motivated by self-serving impulses. The a priori assumption is that the intellectual tradition is a space of competing discourses of

power, and it has the implication that all philosophical thought was produced with the aim of advancing the interest of either the individual or an institution. Puett's methodological assumption is that the political motivations of the writers have more validity, and more explanatory power, than the ideas contained in the texts themselves. This approach merely moves the set of assumptions beyond the texts themselves and furthermore, in so doing, removes much of the validity of the texts themselves. In trying to uncover the “true” signifi¬cance and meaning of these texts, it was the political situation that these texts reveal that is presumed to have had more explanatory power. Objectivity is seen to lie not in the words of the texts—for they are merely sophistic and rhetorical—but in the motivations of a text's author. This leads to the philo¬sophical ideas themselves losing their intrinsic validity: the ideas embodied in the text make no claims on the scholar. A similar

methodology is at play in The Ambivalence of Creation, in which Puett portrays philosophical dis¬course on the creation of human culture (artifice) as rooted in an agenda to account for the legitimacy or otherwise of kingship and the state. Chapter 2 in particular, “The Craft of Humanity: Debates over Nature and Culture in Warring States China,” presents the Confucian, Daoist, and Mohist, legalist, Xici, and Lushi chunqiu discourses on culture as centered around whether the Western Zhou model of claiming descent from Heaven was viable or not (Puett, Ambivalence of Creation 39—91).

The overwhelming trend of postwar studies in the European and An-glophone academe has followed this model of a sociology of knowledge, which is simultaneously the hermeneutics of suspicion. As another example, I shall focus on Mark Edward Lewis's Writing and Authority here. Mark Ed¬ward Lewis is evidently aware that the pervasiveness of wen (X')9 in Classical Chinese intellectual life is glaring for anyone familiar with Chinese culture. “Writing permeates our images of China.” He informs us, “An urban scene distinguished by columns and columns of graphs, visual arts defined by the brush and graphic line of the calligrapher-painter, a political order controlled by a mandarinate selected for

textual mastery, a religious practice relying on written documents to communicate with the spirits: at every level of life script holds sway” (Lewis 4). How is it that we explain this reverence for literacy throughout the span of Chinese history? In his (empirically magis¬terial) study, Lewis is guided by the conclusion that wen gave the theoretical support for the vision of an empire in which all future members of the upper echelons were educated/indoctrinated. Wen thus became a self-perpetuating prophecy that was upheld by those with power. Wen as this

“soft power,” or the software of the state, was more resilient than its hardware and, together with the economic dependence of its adherents, secured its longevity. The “intellectual commitment of the local elites” (Lewis 4) to wen is reduced to a purely utilitarian calculus. The explanation for the importance of writing in Lewis's Writing and Authority thus redounds to the link between writing and state propaganda. The extent of the Chinese empire was greater than the central state had the physical means to govern, thus, the centrality of writing lay in its ability to buttress “a vision of an empire” that could be spread across space (“between the imperial system and the localities”) and time (survive “the collapse of each of its incarnations”) (Lewis 4). “The implanting of the imperial vision in local society in the form of the written language and its texts” (Lewis 4) is thus the reason why writing came to define Chinese civili¬zation. The extent of the meaning of

writing in early China is thus ultimately exhausted by “the uses of writing to command assent and obedience,” and through examining “the types of writing employed in state and society to generate and exercise power” (Lewis 1). To stress so overwhelmingly that one of the defining elements of Chinese culture was a result of political-utilitarian motives is to deny that there is any objectivity to “spirit” (Geist). To stress furthermore that these crucial aspects of Chinese cultural life were the result of strings being pulled by the state is to repeat an old stereotype about China: that its people are passive marionettes oppressed by a “Weberian bureaucracy” running the errands of a bloodless central authority.

Through this methodology of the “hermeneutics of suspicion,” even the idea of “China” as an entity must be deconstructed, as the editors of Remap-ping China: Fissures in Historical Terrain write in their introduction: In the early 1970s, students of Chinese history, in China as well as abroad, held the comfortable assumption that their subject, China, was an entity whose political, geographic, and cultural boundaries were obvious and certain. Historians coming of age in the last two decades . . . have worked to unsettle this certainty. It is not simply that studies of China writ large have given way to more detailed local investigations, but rather that the very categories of nation, state, and peoplehood have been interrogated. An emphasis on the imagination of communi¬ties and borders, as well as on the construction, layering, and shifting of identities—analytic frameworks formulated first in the context of intellectual and political traditions in the United States and Western Europe—has begun to transform the study of China as a historical subject. (Hershatter et al. 5)

The editors of this volume probably revealed more than they wished. What they are explicitly stating is that we must renounce China's stated self-con¬ception and use methodologies completely alien to the Chinese context so that they can reconstitute, on their terms, what “China” is. That it hasn't occurred to them that this is colonialist, or that it's problematic that the image of China they discover through their methodologies is so similar to postmodernist sensibilities (i.e., what they wished to find), is because they evidently believe their methodological frameworks are objective and value¬neutral. In postmodernism, there is a “total acceptance,” as David Harvey writes, “of the ephemerality, fragmentation, discontinuity, and the chaotic” (44). And, adventitiously enough, we find much of the postmodernist vo¬cabulary here of “construction, layering, and shifting of identities” (Hershat¬ter et al. 5). In summary, in both the case of Puett and Lewis, they

assume a structuralist paradigm (Foucauldian, in particular) about the inescapability of power-knowledge relations along with the Weberian “iron cage” of re¬pressive bureaucracies. In the case of the above citation, it's a variation on this theme, in terms of a discourse about the “center” and the “margin.” It is hard to convey how dominant this hermeneutics of suspicion has been in the sinological field as a whole. As a last example from sinological scholar¬ship on the Pre-Qin and early China field, let's look at David Schaberg's A Patterned Past: Form and Thought in Early Chinese Historiography. Schaberg focuses his book on the Zuo Zhuan10 and the Guoyu11 but seeks to show that their “appearance of a coherent historiological whole” (Schaberg 6) was actually the result of “a series of historical accidents and misunderstandings” (Schaberg 6) and, due to their historical origins, extrinsic to the texts them¬selves, as well as “the habits of reading they impose” (Schaberg 7). The actual texts of the Zuo Zhuan and Guoyu disappear amongst disguised expression of political, cultural, or subconscious interests, as well as the arbitrary ac¬cidents of history.

2. Sinology, Skepticism, and Positivism

At heart, so much of postwar Anglophone sinology is based on an Enlighten-ment ideal of universality. In embracing a sociology of knowledge, Puett and Lewis have assumed a particular (social-scientific) model of human behavior and have taken it to be universal across space and time. In embracing the intellectual climate of postmodernism, the editors of Remapping China have also assumed that their intellectual presuppositions are valid across space and time. But their intellectual assumptions are not universal, and this is the source of their orientalism. The methodological frameworks that sinologists like Puett and Lewis are using come from a modern and postwar malaise specific to Western intellectual history.

I don't think that any of the figures (or as we will go on to see, in com-parative literature) I have criticized were intentionally orientalizing. I think their orientalism is an unforeseen but necessary outcome of “The Crisis in Man's Knowledge of Himself ” discussed in the opening chapter of Cassirer's Essay on Man. Ernst Cassirer was one of the great humanists and polymaths of the nineteenth to twentieth century, and one Cassirer commentator has gone as far as to intimate that the analytic/continental divide may have been assuaged had Cassirer's Goethean presence lingered longer in the American academe (Luft 17). What Cassirer diagnoses as the crisis in man's knowledge of

himself is not dissimilar to Nietzsche's proclamation that “God is dead.” One of the outcomes of the Copernican overthrowing of the Aristotelian- Christian ontology was that there was no longer a meaningful way to ap¬proach the question of the nature of man. This crisis in man's knowledge of himself was not merely a theoretical problem needing the right solution, but an existential one that threatened the “whole extent of our ethical and cul¬tural life” (Cassirer, Essay on Man 21—22). It is thus no accident that postwar Anglophone sinology (and, as we will see, comparative literature) has taken two seemingly contradictory positions: one, premised on Enlightenment uni¬versalism, the other premised on the idea that we can no longer make global statements about meaning. The result of this crisis of knowledge is at once a loss of confidence and an inflated overconfidence bred by the absence of a global vision of humanity that can serve as the measure of human action.

Enlightenment universality becomes paradoxically a universalistic injunc¬tion on the impossibility of meaning. In the introduction to Contingency, Irony, and Solidarity, Rorty identifies a similar malaise. In revolting against metaphysical claims about supra-individual meaning and values, the modern age has turned towards skepticism (Rorty xiii). Just as Kant formulated his critical idealism against the skeptical consequences he saw in Hume's empiri¬cism, so Cassirer's philosophy of symbolic forms was formed in part against a positivistic reduction of spirit that he diagnosed as pervasive in the humani- ties.12 For Cassirer, there is a non-reducible spontaneity to spirit (Geist) that manifests itself in culture; and through which the world becomes meaningful to us. Culture is a demonstration of our freedom, both because it is a proof of the spontaneity of spirit, and because it is through culture that we have meaning—a meaningful understanding of the world and the self, as well as meaningful interaction (ethics).

For the Enlightenment rationalists, reason had “self-evident first prin¬ciples; it could criticize all our beliefs; it could justify morality, religion, and the state; it was universal and impartial; and it could, at least in theory, ex¬plain everything in nature” (Beiser 1). The autonomy of reason—that it was universal and impartial—was tantamount to the possibility of freedom. The possibility of freedom in the Enlightenment framework, however, as exempli¬fied by the Kantian system, lies on a fault line between nature and freedom. The phenomenal world of nature is the world of (causal) determinism while freedom and morality belong to the noumenal world. The success of the physical sciences

in explaining the physical world led to the rise of the social sciences, which threatened this enlightenment faith in human autonomy, be¬cause if reason was not self-governing, then it might turn out to be a disguised expression of political, cultural, or subconscious interests (Beiser 8). The rise of the sciences along with the humanitarian catastrophe of the two world wars further reinvigorated the intellectual crisis that Cassirer diagnosed. What good are the humanities when they led to the gas chambers? (I will explain this reference below.) The meaning found in the humanities is not objective like the sciences, and will only mislead us toward committing moral failings. In Puett's and Lewis's sociology of knowledge, therefore, we have given up the Enlightenment idea of the autonomy of the human subject and instead seek to explain human activity via the hermeneutics of suspicion: via appeal to disguised expression of political, cultural, or subconscious interests. What Puett and Lewis have not given up, however, is the Enlightenment idea that there can be a universally valid interpretive framework.

This universally valid interpretive framework is the (positivist) ideol¬ogy that there is such a thing as bare facts. It is the realist myth of (Wilfrid Sellars's13) the “given.” The problem with the “realist fallacy” for Cassirer is that it presupposes what it seeks to explain—the fact that there is meaning (Cassirer, Language and Myth 12). Meaning cannot be reduced to mere facts, because facts are already meaningful: there are no uninterpreted facts. For Cassirer, once we give up on the (humanistic) idea that there is a creative spontaneity of spirit (i.e., concede to a hermeneutics of suspicion) that makes the world meaningful for us, then the facts of culture “necessarily amount to their history, which according to its object, would define itself as history of language, history of religion and myth, history of art, etc.”

(Cassirer, Phi¬losophy of Symbolic Forms 84). The facts of culture would amount to a merely empirical description (of disjecta membra) that makes no claims as to what these facts mean. Presciently, therefore, Cassirer has diagnosed the contem¬porary relationship among academic sinology, skepticism, and positivism. For Cassirer, a necessary logical result of a naïve realism (positivism) that regards the objects of

reality as something directly and unequivocally given, is an attitude of skepticism. If cultural forms (language, art, history, etc.) are not understood as organs of reality, as possessing their own spontaneous law of generation, but as mere imitators of an already complete reality, then skepticism toward culture is inevitable. If we succumb to the ideology that meaning is objectively present in bare facts, then the meaning that different aspects of culture posit is merely a secondary addendum; and the reasons why cultures posit these meanings will necessarily be understood as dogmatic and ideologically driven.

Adorno's 1949 essay, “Cultural Criticism and Society,” expresses this dis-illusionment with the legitimacy of the humanities. In this essay, Adorno fa-mously proclaimed that “to write poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric” (Adorno, “Cultural Criticism” 34). Grounded in the larger context of the essay, what Adorno means to say is that to persist in producing monuments of the very culture that gave rise to Auschwitz is to reconfirm that very culture. Adorno is thus not suggesting that art is impossible after human beings have led themselves along the path of self-destruction; rather, that a particular kind of art, as a continuation of the very culture that led us to self-destruction, must never be

the same again. In his late work, Negative Dialectics, Adorno offers this conditional revision: “[I]t may have been wrong to say that after Auschwitz you could no longer write poems. But it is not wrong to raise the less cultural question whether after Auschwitz you can go on living. . . . [M] ere survival calls for the coldness, the basic principle of bourgeois subjectivity, without which there could have been no Auschwitz; this is the drastic guilt of him who was spared” (Adorno, Negative Dialectics 362—63). The postwar sense that culture is “bourgeois,” and relatedly that humanism is ideological, is also well embodied in Heidegger's “Letter on ‘Humanism.'” Heidegger's “anti-humanism” came to have a tremendous influence on French philoso¬phy (Grondin, Sources of Hermeneutics 139). It came to have a formative influence on Foucault, who in turn influenced sociology, and on Derrida, who influenced literature and comparative literature. For the

defenders of humanism, Heidegger's student Gadamer, and Cassirer, this anti-humanism would leave our culture with no defenses against positivism. For Cassirer, Kant's critical idealism amounts to the possibility of humanism, in that it is the subject who creates meaning.14 Once we become skeptics about the pos¬sibility of meaning, then we simultaneously spell the death of the subject. Cassirer holds forth to the principle that there is an original spontaneity in cultural expressions that create meaning. This means furthermore that all cultural expressions create meaning in their own way. “For the mind, only that can be visible which has some definite form; but every form of existence has its source in some peculiar way of seeing, some intellectual formulation and intuition of meaning” (Cassirer, Language and Myth 8). Once one ac¬cepts that meaning is created, it is a natural corollary to accept that there is a pluralism of created meanings.

Cassirer, a German Jew, left Germany in exile in 1933, and the publica¬tions of his final years were full of reflections on the conditions of possibility of World War II. Under Cassirer's interpretation, it would be no accident that the French positivists, who, by believing that one can banish all that isn't “ob¬jective” from science and politics, allowed their physics to be incorporated into the naturalism of Herbert and Spencer. Mach's theory of elements, in trying to do away with metaphysical foundations, only smuggled it in, but in another form. Whilst Mach's central goal was the elimination of metaphysics from sci¬ence, the very detachment of science from any broader framework of meaning meant that Mach ended up incorporating science into the evolutionary frame¬work of Darwin and Spencer—seeing science as nothing but an instrument of evolutionary imperatives (Skidelsky 10). With regard to Comte, for Cassirer, “precisely those factors and motifs that Comte

thought he had surpassed at the very start remain alive and active in his doctrine. Comte's system, which began by banishing all mythology to the prescientific period or the earliest beginnings of science, itself culminates in a mythical-religious superstructure” (Cassirer, Philosophy of Symbolic Forms xvii). For Cassirer, there are no bare facts. “[W] e are condemned to meaning,” as Merleau-Ponty puts it (Merleau-Ponty 1962: xviii). Furthermore, the chimera that we can have bare facts is dangerous, for an interpretive framework will of necessity be smuggled in; but because we are still under the illusion that “facts” are objective and value-free, we take certain views about the world to be “objective.” When scientific knowledge, for ex-ample, devolves from a holistic socially beneficial metaphysical, ethical, and cultural framework of significance, when it is reduced to instrumentalism, it is hostage to utilitarianism. Utilitarianism then becomes accepted as a value-free, “objective” means of assessment.

3. Facts and Power

In Orientalism, Edward Said makes the point that the Western academe's desire to acquire knowledge about the Orient was based on a Baconian para¬digm of knowledge and power (32). The trajectory of the founding of area studies in the United States reinforces Said's point: In the United States it seemed obvious that to win the [[[Second World War]]] and the peace afterwards it was necessary to have the cooperation of the Oriental peoples, and the many wartime agencies began to recruit personnel acquainted with the Oriental world. . . . To many persons in the United States during the war years and the years following it was evident that there was a need for the national education system to expand so as to include study of the modern Orient. . . . The im¬mediate need . . . was to cultivate oriental studies in the social sciences fields—economics, politics and government, international relations, the behavioral sciences. (Brown 32)

This cold war mentality15 shaped the formation of “area studies” in the United States; but this is to repeat the familiar story of how The Chrysanthemum and The Sword came to be written,16 and I shall not dwell on it here. The effect of area studies, however, was to bring non-Western cultures into the domain of universalist social scientific theories, whose methods undermined the unity implicitly attributed to the social formations under study (Hung 100). This was science as Bacon had envisaged it. Unchained from religion (Grant 295—96), science became nothing but brute power and the manipula¬tion of nature, and in the case of colonialism, the domination and manipula¬tion of the other. As Oswald Spengler writes, “Western natural science stands by itself. No other culture possesses anything like it, and assuredly it must have been from its beginnings, not a ‘handmaid of theology,' but the servant of the technical Will-to-Power, oriented to that end both mathematically and experimentally—from its very foundations a practical mechanics” (340). The perfect storm of postwar Anglophone sinology is thus the related themes of power, utilitarianism, and scientism.

In the place of a positivistic reduction of the other to facts that can be used in a “know thy enemy” fashion, Said posited another vision of studying the other, based on Goethe's vision of Weltliteratur:

Positive knowledge of languages and history was necessary, but it was never enough, any more than the mechanical gathering of facts would constitute an adequate method of grasping what an author like Dante, for example, was all about. The main requirement for the kind of philo¬logical understanding Auerbach and his predecessors were talking about and tried to practice was one that sympathetically and subjectively en¬tered into the life of a written text as seen from the perspective of its time and its author (eingefühling [sic]).17 Rather than alienation and hostility to another time and different culture, philology as applied to Weltliteratur involved a profound humanistic spirit deployed with generosity and, if I may use the word, hospitality. Thus the interpreter's mind actively makes a place in it for a foreign Other. And this creative making of a place for works that are otherwise alien and distant is the most important facet of the interpreter's philological mission. (Said xix, preface to the 2003 edition)

Before Anglophone sinology became hostage to a scientific positivism, how-ever, it operated under a paradigm closer to the Goethean vision of world literature that Said appeals to. In the passage cited below, Norman Girardot compares the sinology ofJames Legge (1815—97) and Friedrich Max Müller (1823—1900) with contemporary sinology. As opposed to the “hermeneutics of suspicion” found in contemporary sinology, Girardot identifies a “herme¬neutics of trust” founded on humanism:

What really distinguishes Legge's scholarship from the later more fully professionalized, academically specialized, and intellectually rational¬ized T'oung Pao-style sinology of Schlegel, Chavannes, and Pelliot of the revived French tradition of Orientalism, as also was the difference between Müller's comparative science of religion and the later more area-specific and fully secularized academic approaches of anthropol¬ogy and the “history of religions,” is a matter of two antagonistic, but not always clearly separable, forms of critical faith and ritual practice concerning the origin and development of ancient literatures and civi¬lizational forms. Some of the crucial factors in this distinction have to do with the passage from a semiexegetical or commentarial mode of an idealistically inclined comparativism or “hermeneutics of trust” (exem¬plified by the innate religious, historical, and literary piety of Legge's sinology and Müller's humanistic science of religion) to a more fully historiographical, pluralistic, analytical, fragmented, academic, scientis¬tic, rationalistic, naturalistic, polygenetic, noncomparative, relativistic, and secularly irreverent “hermeneutics of suspicion” concerning ancient civilizations, texts, and authors. (Girardot 430)

Let's take each of Girardot's characterizations individually. The contemporary fully professionalized sinologist who publishes in intellectually “rationalized” journals such as T'oung Pao is “historiographical, pluralistic, analytical, frag-mented, academic, scientistic, rationalistic, naturalistic, polygenetic, noncom-parative, relativistic, and secularly irreverent.” In terms of “historiographical,” the historiographical nature of much contemporary sinology—for example Puett's—can be understood through Gadamer's description of the historian's raison d'etre. As Gadamer writes,

for the historian it is a basic principle that tradition is to be interpreted in a sense different from the texts, of themselves, call for. He will always go back behind them and the meaning they express to inquire into the reality they express involuntarily. Texts must be treated in the same way as other available historical material—i.e., as the so-called relics of the past. Like everything else, they need explication—i.e., to be understood in terms of not only what they say but what they exemplify. (Truth and Method 332)

I take Girardot's “pluralistic,” “polygenetic,” “relativistic,” and “fragmented” to mean a postmodernist fragmentation that sees no objective value in any traditional discourse. “Analytical” I interpret to mean that we can deconstruct the text in question without reference to the wider intellectual tradition. “Academic,” “scientistic,” “rationalistic,” “naturalistic,” “non-comparative” and “secularly irreverent” I take to refer to the scientific positivism that I problematize in this paper because it enables the reduction of other's cultures into “facts” that scientific positivism takes to be the universal denominator of all peoples across space and time. It is this reductive positivism that, as Spengler diagnosed, is the servant to the will-to-power.

It is thus no coincidence that Said calls on humanism as a means of overcoming the orientalism of the academe; and that Girardot has also made a distinction between the more positivistic contemporary sinology and the old-school humanistic endeavor as embodied by Legge and Müller. The hu¬manism that Said and Girardot appeal to is inherently opposed to positivistic reductionism. In “Orientalism and Area Studies,” Ho-fung Hung makes the point that “[t]he tension between European Sinology and U.S. China studies is in part an expression of the tension between the two cultures” (100)—the two cultures being the two cultures adumbrated by C. P. Snow.18 Whereas “[p]ostwar China studies was highly nomethetic” (Hung 99), based as it was on the methodology of Parsonian structural-functionalism, postwar European sinology was more humanistic19 (Hung 99). The embrace of the scientistic culture at the expense of the humanistic European one is the root of the contemporary orientalizing

tendencies in Anglophone sinology. What the social sciences study is only one half of the Kantian dualism between the noumenal (freedom) and phenomenal (determinism). The postwar Anglo¬phone pessimism about the possibility of human freedom necessitated the embrace of the social sciences that only investigated the deterministic aspects of human beings. Once one reneges on the very idea that there is a higher, non-reductive meaning to be gained in a cultural tradition, that tradition is then intrinsically reduced to the common denominators of the social sci¬ences: an amalgamation of self-interested agents whose actions can only be explained through their self-interest. The embrace of this social-scientism thus reconfirms the racist stereotypes about the Chinese as un-autonomous, for this racist stereotype turned the Kantian dualism into a geographical and racial fact. Divorced from a vision of subjective agency in which the subject (in concert with others) spontaneously creates its own meanings, the Chinese tradition is reduced to the vision of man found in the sociology of Weber and Foucault. This impoverished vision of human beings as self-serving robots will of necessity make the sinologist or interpreter hostile and alienated

from that tradition; as this is a vision of human beings that will have no possibility of allowing the humanistic Einfühlung that Said appeals to flourish. How can one possibly empathize with a tradition that is shorn of the defining aspect of human freedom—the ability to create meaning? Without this key mani¬festation of human freedom, we can no longer see any subjective agency; and there would be nothing left for us to understand, and thus empathize with. The methodologies of the social sciences in their reductiveness are thus natural bedfellows with the Baconian paradigm of knowledge as power. It paints a portrait of the Chinese tradition as un-autonomous, populated by mere animals who can be deterministically explained through the tools of the social sciences, and as such, fair game for domination, like the rest of nature.

More cynically, one could say that the Anglophone academy has feared that conferring legitimacy to the cultural tradition of the other would be tantamount to conceding that there is more than one “universal.” Given that this pluralism would be an ipso facto concession of the limits of Enlighten¬ment universalism, it has been amenable to the project of Enlightenment universalism to deny that (other) cultures are anything other than merely ideological. The only universal is positivism, which by definition denies that cultures are manifestations of the creative spontaneity of free subjects. It is in this sense that universalism becomes just another method of domination. If we conceded that there was a creative autonomy to spirit in creating mean¬ing, then we would have to confirm that all cultural productions of meaning have legitimacy. This pluralism would be antithetical to the Enlightenment project, which only wants to affirm that a certain set of values have validity. As such, it has been convenient for the Enlightenment project to embrace an empiricism whereby humans are reduced to an identical set of (positivistic) descriptors; and other kinds of meaning are assumed to be merely ideological. The West, as the high priest of empirical science, can explain away national cultures from its (a-cultural) Archimedean center.

4. The Problem with Contemporary China-West

Comparative Literature

There is a dominant trend in Anglophone China-West comparative literature, which, like the Anglophone sinology I have just criticized, is based on an Enlightenment ideal of universality. In one of the most representative works of what I have in mind, Haun Saussy's20 The Problem of a Chinese Aesthetic, Saussy applies Western aesthetic categories to read works in the Chinese canon. The rationale for this goes something like this: Given the distortion created by all reading, and the layers of commentarial history motivated by a whole swath of political agendas, the authorial intent of the Chinese works cannot be accessed. This means that the original meaning of the Chinese texts cannot be

accessed, and so construction of the Chinese tradition via European categories is all that we can do. Contra Stephen Owen, Pauline Yu, Andrew Plaks, and A. C. Graham—who all argue that qi (^) monism has had a profound impact on Chinese thought and literature, for example— Saussy will argue that one can no longer make substantive claims about the Chinese tradition. In Saussy's eyes, A. C. Graham, who argues that “the Be¬ing of Western ontology is culture-bound”21 (qtd. in Saussy 8), becomes an apologist for the ontological stability of cultures, and the incommensurabil¬ity of cultures (i.e., the need to study other cultures on their own terms). Graham “forgot” that all texts are merely asserting truth-claims, because “we are all anthropologists nowadays” (Saussy 6), or at least should be, and “[t]he researcher who forgets

that”—that is, A. C. Graham—“turns into an apologist, a purveyor of the mere inventory of the subject, for all religions, however eclectic and tolerant, are bound to have propositions they assert as true” (Saussy 5). Here, we see Saussy's ultimate agenda: to read cultures from the universal and Archimedean center of Enlightenment universalism. The net effect of this is a kind of homogenizing leveling. In Saussy's own words, “[t]he compilers of the Book of Odes, the authors of the Book of Documents, and so forth created . . . the nation they celebrated, and in that sense they are not at all unlike Hegel trying to derive the concept of China from a speculative world-historical logic or Leibniz hoping to estab¬lish, through a kind of pun, the mutual tolerance of Catholic theology and Chinese physics” (4). Given that the Chinese authors' works are representa¬tions, and all representations have the same epistemic value, Hegel's concept of “China” is as valid as the Chinese tradition's own concept of “China.” All interpretations are interpretations, and no one interpretation has a higher claim over the other. “The conclusion of this chapter is that the Leibniz- ian rules are the only ones adequate to the game in which we (along with

Longobardi, Yu, Plaks, and Owen, just to name a few) are already players. What are categories but sets of allowable moves with the verb ‘is'?” (Saussy 45). All interpretations have the same epistemic value for Saussy because the Chinese tradition's own consensus, passed down through history, is not given any ontological status. We can no longer appeal to the existence, or reality, of a “Chinese tradition” because this is to presuppose the “ontological stabil¬ity” of the Chinese tradition, as one of Saussy's collaborators, Eric Hayot,22 writes (Chinese Dreams xiv, 180—81). Without such stability however, true understanding of the Chinese tradition becomes impossible—which poses no epistemological crisis for Saussy—because understanding the Chinese tradition was never the telos of his scholarship. “The book's continuous argument,” as Saussy writes in his introduction, “pits the analytic methods of rhetoric against, first, the synoptic unity of a definite culture; second, set of historical narratives forming the basis of the synoptic view; and finally, a categorical, that is, a philosophical, formulation of historical problems” (2). History, philosophy, and the unity of a cultural tradition no longer have le¬gitimacy; only the “analytic” method of rhetoric does.

The analytic method of rhetoric that Saussy deploys against the unity of a definite culture, history, and philosophy seems to be comprised of “transla¬tion” and “close reading.” What Saussy's translation and close reading amount to, however, is an effacement of the Chinese tradition; and conveniently enough, once the Chinese tradition is effaced, there will be no outer tribu¬nal against which to measure the West's “translation” or “close reading” of it. On translation, Saussy holds the view that “[w]e began with a translation problem that could not be solved in either of the languages in which it was posed, and we came just now to a solution of a translation problem in which knowledge, or language's power of referring to objects, had to be sacrificed for the work of translation to be carried out” (43). Because there is no longer a secure referent—the Chinese tradition—the measure of a good translation is based on the translator's own judgment. “As a rule,” Saussy seeks

to “re¬solve problems of literary history and comparative literature by what is called . . . close reading.” Saussy gives “reading the last word, especially where the problems [he faces] would seem to lend themselves to other styles of inter¬pretation” (3). If “close-reading” is the ultimate foundation on which claim to the legitimacy of Saussy's scholarship rests, then from whence derives the legitimacy of “close reading?” “Close reading”23 is a technique—popularized by New Criticism—which is understood to be universal, value-neutral, and universally applicable. It is worth bearing in mind that New Criticism was developed as a reaction to the philological scholarship of nineteenth-century Germany, embodied by great twentieth-century Romance philologists such as Erich Auerbach (whom we have already encountered), Leo Spitzer, and Ernst Robert Curtius. It is in the humanistic spirit of this philology that Edward Said sees any possibility for the West of overcoming its orientalism (Said xviii, preface to the 2003 edition). New Criticism, against this tradition, tried to ground theory as a positivistic science, and was unsurprisingly— through the work of I. A. Richards—influenced by logical positivism. Under this paradigm, the literary

scholar wields the technique of “close reading” as does a scientist in a laboratory. Close reading's authority rests on it being as methodologically objective and as value-free as a scientific experiment. Saussy's own close reading of one of the Odes (Mao, no. 158, “Hewing an Ax Handle”) is, however, firmly embedded in a European aesthetic; and as one reviewer wrote, clearly driven by “[t]he Kantian version of the aesthetic” (Fuller 367) and thus redolent of “the language of complacent Orientalism” (Fuller 366). The fact is, as we have already said, it is impossible to separate facts from theory. Those who labor under such an illusion will unknowingly smuggle in a theoretical framework. Evidently, for Saussy, Kantian aesthetics was the theoretical framework he used to read Chinese poetry from circa the eleventh century BCE. In one of the most recent (2014) books to deal with Chinese writing, Beyond Sinology: Chinese Writing and the Scripts of Culture, Andrea Bachner, another acolyte of the Saussy-Hayot school of China-West comparatists, “uses the sinograph to analyse what binds language, scripts, and medial ex¬pression to cultural and national identity” (Bachner 14). Since the “‘value' of a script has always been determined by its

potential to fulfil specific social and ideological functions” (Bachner 3), the pride of Chinese culture—its writing—is reduced to a “script politics” (Bachner 1), to “national language politics” (Bachner 7). Any national pride in the sinograph is only a manifes¬tation of “Chinese nationalism” tapping “into an age-old cultural tradition, reconstructed as a cultural whole, as a basis for political unity” (Bachner 9). Despite her book title, therefore, Bachner has moved little beyond the or-thodoxy of contemporary sinology and its methodology of deconstructing Chinese culture by defaulting to a (Foucauldian) sociology of knowledge. By way of conclusion of my critique of these comparatists, let me cite Dan¬iel Vukovich who, in a sustained critique of Saussy and the acolytes of his school of thought, writes that “[i]t is as if all one can do is keep discovering the truth of poststructuralism, the quaintness of critique, the anachronism of engaged literature” (141). The eschewal of this ontological stability for the Chinese tradition allows these post-structuralist readings of China to “conceal their essentially Cold War political dimensions and interpretation” (Vukovich 140).

In the case of the comparatists, their methodology is symptomatic of a deep-seated theoretical conviction. Ultimately, there is nothing that compara-tive literature as a discipline needs to learn from the Chinese tradition: the Chinese tradition provides the empirical data that needs to be fed through the theoretical mill of our modern comparative methodologies. This malaise of the literature departments, as Richard Rorty wrote, led to “a great mass of barely readable, amazingly boring articles and books,” generated from the belief that could one study literature by “‘applying a theory to a text'” (Rorty and Saussy 65). This “theory” is whatever happened to be the currently most advanced stage of the immanent self-unfolding (a-cultural) dialectic on com¬parative methodology. This division of labor and stereotype about China, has, of course, been around for a while. Leibniz, for example, saw Europe as being superior in the development of deductive, a priori knowledge, while considering China to have excelled in empirical knowledge (Perkins 135—36).

It is worth bearing in mind that Goethe's concept of Weltliteratur—of “world literature,” “world culture,” and “world communication”—taken up as the self-identity of Anglophone comparative literature departments, is predicated on the view that difference enriches cultures. Comparative litera¬ture likes to see itself as the bastion of cosmopolitanism in the Anglophone academe; but how can one be truly cosmopolitan when one cannot even conceive that there is humanistic meaning to be had in the other's tradition? If the Confucian canon is inherently ideological, then there is no intrinsic legitimacy to studying it. I do not think that China-West comparatists have taken on board the Herderian and Goethean ideas about pluralism. In the conversation with Eckermann in which Goethe is understood to have coined the term Weltliteratur and that the field of comparative literature has since appropriated as their call to arms, Goethe rejects Enlightenment universalism. Although Goethe grants that everything that the Chinese do in their novels “is more clear, pure, and decorous, than with us” (Goethe and Eckermann 21) and “while we thus value what is foreign,” we must not, however,

bind ourselves to anything in particular, and regard it as a model. We must not give this value to the Chinese, or the Serbian, or Calderon, or the Nibelungen; but if we really want a pattern, we must always re¬turn to the ancient Greeks, in whose works the beauty of mankind is constantly represented. All the rest we must look at only historically, appropriating to ourselves what is good, so far as it goes. (Goethe and Eckermann 23) Each culture, like the monad, has its own center within itself.24 The West has its center within the Greek tradition, and it is an illusion to think that we can achieve a universalism that is at once a kind of rootlessness. We should, like Goethe, be able to recognize difference, but also respect difference. We should have no fear that cultures may be ultimately incommensurable, for it is only when we recognize difference that we can aim for tolerance, for respect of that difference, and ultimately, therefore, pluralism. I do not think that Goethe's vision of Weltliteratur, one of the founding tenets of comparative literature, has been fulfilled by the dominant trend of China-West comparison in Anglophone comparative literature departments. China-West comparat- ists have embraced Enlightenment universalism. But even if comparative literature has failed at pluralism, at least it has tried, which is more than can be said for the last bastion of the European Enlightenment—philosophy.

5. Mainstream Anglophone Philosophy

One of the greatest ethical problems of our own time is the question of cul¬tural pluralism. We're currently facing the worst humanitarian crisis since World War II, and yet, by and large, professional philosophers are complacent to deny that pluralism is even an issue. This is the equivalent of an architect refusing to design for the modern world with anything other than the flying buttresses of the medieval gothic period. In a canonical essay about cultural relativism, James Rachels (ch. 2) exemplifies mainstream philosophy's atti¬tude to cultural pluralism. Rachels discusses a few cases of cultural difference, but these cases serve to illustrate two philosophical points that mainstream philosophers take to be sufficient for dismissing cultural difference as a seri¬ous philosophical problem worthy of further investigation.

Firstly, the mere fact of cultural difference does not mean that those on one side of the divide are mistaken about their ethical view; secondly, accepting that moral truth is wholly relative to cultures means that we cannot make objections against horrific practices such as slavery and genocide. The pervading opinion is that we cannot give up the idea of a universal principle or universalizable principle. Again, the Enlightenment project is sacrosanct. Suffice it to say that I think mainstream Anglophone philosophy embodies to an extreme the problems that lie at the foundation of the orientalizing tendencies of sinology and com¬parative literature. Contemporary Anglophone analytic philosophy models itself on the logical positivism of its founders and sees itself as a science. The refusal to countenance that its own tradition is anything other than historical, culturally (spatiotemporally) contingent, limited by its own methodological assumptions, is the reason for its famous chauvinism.

When contemporary mainstream Anglophone philosophers do foray into Chinese philosophy, the result is barely more sophisticated than the Je¬suits' interpretation of Chinese philosophy from the sixteenth century. In a recent publication by Princeton University Press, Classical Confucian Political Thought: A New Interpretation, Loubna El Amine argues that “the approach to politics offered in the Classical Confucian texts does not follow from Confucian ethics in any straightforward manner” (El Amine 9). This thesis contradicts what is usually taken to be the governing telos of Confucianism: moral cultivation. By suggesting that “political order is an end in itself, not a means toward virtue” (El Amine 15), El Amine dismisses the fact that politi¬cal order was traditionally understood as merely a means toward the end of a meaningful life.25 This, as should now be familiar, is a positivistic reduction. Operative again is a hermeneutics of suspicion that is summarily dismissive of the idealistic aims of a tradition, and takes it for granted that the practical mechanics of a tradition can be representative of that tradition.

More worryingly, that El Amine is able to take a line that flies in the face of what the Chinese tradition thinks about the Confucian tradition is attributable to the fact that El Amine, as one reviewer of her book puts it, does not appear to acknowledge that these texts have been intensively studied in China for at least two thousand years, in many cases with par¬ticular reference to political thought. Only one Neo-Confucian scholar is mentioned in passing, and that is Zhu Xi (1130—1200). Furthermore, Professor El Amine's virtually exclusive reliance on English-language material means that not a single scholar from Mainland China has their work referenced, with the exception of those who write in Eng¬lish. (Milburn 537)

From whence comes this intellectual hubris where can one can make claims about another culture's intellectual tradition, and have the assurance that these claims are valid without needing to bother with what this living tradition itself thinks about its own tradition? Let's just reverse the scenario for a moment to highlight its absurdity. Could a Chinese scholar working on, let's say, Kant, make no reference to the German commentarial tradition on Kant, nor cite any of their work, have a questionable command of German, and then proceed to give an interpretation of Kant that is diametrically opposed to the orthodox German interpretation, and then claim that this is the correct interpretation? No, of course not; it would be laughed at, and would definitely never be pub¬lished by one of the most prestigious publishers in North America. The reason why this situation does exist is because those associated in the production of this book have taken it for granted that one can, as in the sciences, escape our human predicament, wherein our understanding is intrinsically limited, value¬laden, and contingent.


The critique of orientalism inevitably involves naming names. The calling out of names in this paper is not however intended to be a personal attack. What this paper pointed to instead was the intellectual situation of the post¬war academe and philosophy that enabled an ongoing orientalism. By using a hermeneutics of suspicion to question the validity of the Chinese tradition itself, postwar sinology defaulted to the methodology of the social sciences, and like the scientist, believed itself to reside in an empty center from which to objectively assess the Chinese tradition. As we have seen, however, the social sciences can only represent the phenomenal-deterministic part of the Kantian dualism between autonomy and determinism. What the methodologies of the social sciences reaffirm is the racist stereotype about Chinese peoples as unfree agents. The fact that this stereotype now has the prestige and author¬ity of “scholarship” further legitimizes this stereotype, and in turn, whatever foreign policy decisions it is convenient for the West to take.

China-West comparatists have not challenged this paradigm. Their works are overwhelming pervaded by a similar hermeneutics of suspicion that sees no inherent legitimacy in the Chinese tradition. Again, the default position is to explain away the existence of the Chinese tradition through post-struc¬turalism. Furthermore, by following the methodology of New Criticism, they have reneged on the humanist vision Goethe espoused when he coined the term “world literature.”

The same malaise exists in the paradigmatic field of Enlightenment uni-versalism: philosophy. Despite all calls to do so, philosophy won't diversify until it gives up its self-conception as investigating trans-spatiotemporal truths that are universally valid. Until philosophy embraces the intellectual humil¬ity that no human being can transcend her own finitude, it will continue its intellectual chauvinism. Finally, this paper has heeded Cassirer's insight and has shown that great injustices are done when we try to reduce the plurality of our cultural lives to a single logic. The attempt to read the Chinese tradition through a reduc¬tive sociology of knowledge has resulted in a great impoverishment of the Chinese tradition.


I would like to thank the anonymous reviewer whose helpful suggestions enabled the improvements on an earlier draft of this paper. I would like thank Jacob Bender for the many conversations that shaped this paper and for his patience in reading the earlier drafts.

2. Sebastian Luft makes a similar point about Cassirer's concept of universalism in “A Priori of Culture.” Luft argues that Cassirer's idea of a universal basis among all cultures is always a work in progress, dependent upon empathy (Luft 398) and mutual understand¬ing (399). This empathetic understanding can only be a result of a first-person, and never third-person perspective, and is furthermore always historical, fallible, and can make no claims to finality.

3. This quotation can be found Schweitzer's “The Decay and the Reconstruction of Civilization,” Part I of The Philosophy of Civilization, translated by C. T. Campion, Macmillan, 1953, p. 8.

4. “Letter on ‘Humanism'” was written in the Fall of 1946 and first published in France in 1947. It was initially a response to questions put to Heidegger in a letter written by Jean Beaufret. “As the first and most cogent statement of Heidegger's post-war thinking, it has had far more influence than any other expression of his thought, including perhaps even his masterpiece, Being and Time” (Rabinbach 97).

5. A protocol sentence in Logical Positivism is a statement that describes immediate experience or perception (i.e., the ultimate ground of knowledge).

6. For Lebensphilosophie, this was a mystical vision of the primal oneness of “life” prior to its fragmentation through intellectualization. For Logical Positivism, this was a strictly propositional, truth-conditional conception of meaning.

7. The harmony in the bow and the lyre is a reference to a Heraclitus fragment: “Men do not understand, how that which is torn in different directions comes into accord with itself—harmony in contrariety, as in the case of the bow and the lyre” (Heraclitus 31).

8. By “positivism,” I refer to the way that the term was deployed by Auguste Comte, in which only positive facts and observable phenomena, and the objective relations of these and the laws that determine them, are recognized. Comtean positivism formatively influenced sociology. Emile Durkheim, for example, wrote in The Rules of Sociological Method that the main goal for sociologists is “to extend the scope of scientific rational¬ism to cover human behaviour by demonstrating that . . . it is capable of being reduced to relationships of cause and effect. . . . What has been called our positivism is but a consequence of this rationalism” (33).

9. Wen is a concept whose sophistication and significance for the Chinese tradition parallels that of Dao (Ж) and Qi (^). It is a term that spans the spectrum encompassing everything from natural patterns, to the individual units that make up Chinese writing, to literature, to the refining vocations of the human being that define us as human beings— that is to say—culture itself. I personally believe that wen became such an important term to Chinese civilization because it embodied the ideal of Confucianism: attaining humanity through culture while recognizing that we are part of a natural continuum. It embodies the Confucian vision of harmony between humans, human culture, and the natural world. Embedded in the concept of wen is the Chinese justification for culture. Whereas the phi-losophy of culture originated in the eighteenth century with thinkers such as Vico, Herder, Voltaire, and Rousseau, Chinese philosophy (notably the Confucian tradition), since the beginning of writing, oriented itself around the question of culture. Wen is a defining idea and ideal of Chinese culture.

10. The Zuo Zhuan (^W) is China's first great work of history and covered the period 722—481 BC. Modern scholarship dates its composition to fourth to third century BCE (Yao 80).

11. Guo Yu (3®) means “Dialogues or Speeches of the States.” According to modern scholarship, the dates of compilation range from mid-fifth century BCE, but the material itself refers to high antiquity, as early as 918 BCE (Yao 238).

12. As one Cassirer commentator puts it, “[t]he philosophy of Symbolic Forms is the philosophy which one needs when one has recognised that the physical naturalisation of Geist is doomed to failure” (Kreis 11). “The simple basic idea [Grundgedanke] of the philosophy of objective spirit [[[Symbolic]] Form] is that our nature is the world in which we live and not the world of which the natural sciences speak (Kreis 14).

13. Sellars was a student of Cassirer.

14. Cassirer overcomes the Kantian dualism between the noumenal (freedom) and phenomenal (determinism) by positing that it is the creation of meaning through sym¬bolic forms that demonstrates our freedom.

15. John McCumber's work, Time in the Ditch: American Philosophy and the McCarthy Era, about how the Cold War affected the shape of academic philosophy, is relevant in this respect. McCumber notes that the rise of analytic philosophy in the United States coincided with the McCarthy Era, and thus suggests the impact that politics had on academia.

16. The anthropologist Ruth Benedict (1887—1948) was commissioned by the US Office of War Information to investigate Japanese culture in order to understand and predict the behavior of the Japanese in World War II . 17. Said possibly meant “Einfühlung.”

18. “The Two Cultures” is the first part of an influential 1959 Rede Lecture by British scientist and novelist C. P. Snow, in which he posited that “the intellectual life of the whole of western society” (3) was split into the titular two cultures—namely, the sciences and the humanities—and that this was a major hindrance to solving the world's problems.

19. The distinction between US China studies and its more humanistic European counterpart is well characterized by the president of the European Sinological Association, who spoke of “the new emerging forces [experts in US China studies] (often trained in political science and economics rather than brought up with the Four Books), accusing traditional Sinologists of being petrified and antiquarian, and Sinologists branding the contemporary China experts as superficial and politicized” (Idema 9).

20. Haun Saussy held the influential position of the President of the American Com-parative Literature Association between 2009—11.

21. A. C. Graham, Disputers of the Tao, Open Court Publishing, 1989. p. 428.

22. Eric Hayot held the influential position of the 2013—14 President of the American Comparative Literature Association. For someone who has made his career being an expert on China-West comparison, his books are strikingly skewed toward the Western end of the comparison. His first book, Chinese Dreams: Pound Brecht, Tel Quel, focused on the influence of “china” on the twentieth-century avant-garde. The Hypothetical Mandarin focused on the Western reception of “China.”

23. This is related to the French formalist method of Explication de Texte. The tech-nique of close reading posits that the meaning of the text is embedded within the text. As such, anything external to the text, be that the historical and cultural background, the reader's response, or authorial intent, and so on, should be bracketed out. Cf. Wil¬liam K. Wimsatt and Monroe Beardsley's “The Intentional Fallacy” and “The Affective Fallacy.”

24. I am not using the analogy to Leibniz's Monadology arbitrarily. In Cassirer's view, Goethe—in his poetry and natural science—creatively extended Leibniz's concept of form via the intermediary of Kant. Even though Goethe did not explicitly espouse Leibniz- ian doctrine, Cassirer claims that Leibniz's monadology was the basis from which “his world picture was built,” just as it was for all others in the age of German humanism, the age of Lessing and Herder (Cassirer, Freiheit and Form 30). Massimo Ferrari, com¬ments that “Cassirer saw a most intimate relationship [innigste Verwandtschaft] between Goethe and Leibniz due to the great diversity of Goethe's living forms, its continuity, its inexhaustible interweaving, and their inner dynamic could not be possible without the Leibnizian background” (181). Cassirer's view of this connection is preceded by the work of Wilhelm Windelband, Rudolf Eucken, Georg Simmel, Karl Vorländer, Dietrich Mahnke, and Bruno Bauch.

25. I don't think it's too controversial to say that for Confucianism, a moral life is a meaningful life.


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