Master Incapable: A Medieval Daoist on the Liberation of the Mind

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The Hsu-Tang Library presents authoritative and eminently readable translations of classical Chinese literature, in bilingual editions, ranging across three millennia and the entire Sinitic world.

Master Incapable (Wunengzi) is an important but relatively little-known Daoist work written in 887, as the Tang dynasty (618-907) was breathing its last. The unknown author, a former government official now living as a recluse, witnesses internecine warfare, widespread poverty, and rampant social injustice, and attempts to explain why humanity seems to be plunging into a state of utter chaos. The nucleus of Master Incapable's analysis is his view of the separation of humanity from the natural world, caused by an abnormal growth of the intellect. His critique is as radical as that in the so-called "primitivist" chapters of the Daoist classic Zhuangzi, in which civilization is considered a disease spread by an intellectual and societal elite, "those who are called sages." The way out of mankind's predicament, he argues, consists in deconstructing conventional wisdom, and in ridding oneself of desire and intentionality, thereby finding one's way back to naturalness and effortless action.

Fiercely egalitarian in tone, Master Incapable also criticizes superstition, offers a coherent philosophy of reclusion, and holds highly original views on life and death, and language and intellect in the animal world. As a work of literature, it combines forcefully argued discussions and alternative interpretations on well-known historical episodes with glimpses into the private life of the philosopher, his family members and entourage. This fully annotated translation, the first in English, also includes an introduction to help explain the unique position the work occupies in the history of Daoism.

  • 240 pages
  • hardcover
  • by Jan De Meyer (Translator)
Item Number: 23332