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“I Effaced Myself” and “The Disappearance of the Subject”: A Comparison between Zhuangzi and Jean Baudrillard’s Anti-Subjectivism

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In the chapter “The Adjustment of Controversies” in his eponymous work, Zhuangzi has the character Nanguo Ziqi declare “I effaced myself,” thereby holding that one can return to the state of naturalness only after breaking with the “self” that is in opposition to “objects,” abandoning his subject-object standpoint and entering a state of “effacement” wherein one fuses with the Dao. Coincidently, the French philosopher Jean Baudrillard also repeatedly stresses the “disappearance of the subject” in his later philosophy, trying to dissolve subject-centrism by means of a counterattack by the object wherein its logic would entrap the subject. Although they lived in different times, both Zhuangzi and Baudrillard note the same human predicament—the situation wherein the “I as subject” constantly obscures the “real I.” Their resolutions of the predicament are similar: both put their hopes in the dissolution of the “I” or self in subject-object relations, with Zhuangzi declaring “I effaced myself” and Baudrillard mooting the “disappearance of the subject.” They differ, however, on how to dissolve the “I” (myself). Briefly, Zhuangzi advocates “effacing myself through the Dao,” that is, quitting one’s “fixed mindset” and “egoism” and returning to the Dao by means of “forgetting” or “effacing”; Baudrillard, on the other hand, proposes to “efface oneself through the object,” i.e., replace the supremacy of the subject with that of the object. Baudrillard’s theory has often been criticized as pataphysics because of its nihilism without transcendence; in contrast, Zhuangzi’s view, which construes the whole world as the unfolding of the Dao, seems more thought-provoking.


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