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PSi Shanghai

Update from Ioana Jucan, Brown University

Explorations of and encounters between performance and philosophy took place in different guises during PSi20 in Shanghai. Here are a few of the events at which I was present:
The PPWG “Performing Philosophies of Effort/Gongfu (功夫)” Session featured Mi You’s paper on “Gongfu Reconsidered: Energy at Work and in Life” and my paper on “Gongfu and the Philosophical Practice of Rigor.” You’s paper offered a reading of “gongfu” from within and without the concept as well as from the shifting perspectives of physics (with a focus on energy and work), epistemology, and ontology. Charting points of connection between the philosophy of Spinoza and that of the neo-Confucian philosopher Wang Yangming regarding the relation between knowledge and action, You put forth a demonstration of how gongfu could be understood as a form of vital force. At stake in this undertaking was an attempt to work towards the unison of knowledge and action, Idea and Gongfu, being and practicing, and to understand its implications.

My paper presented a proposal for performance philosophy inspired by the Chinese notion of gongfu and focused on a certain performance of thinking rigorously. Beginning from an understanding of gongfu in terms of endurance through effort in an attempt to make or become perfect, of a bringing to full development, to the wholeness of being of one’s self – which is also a bringing to humbleness – through different practices (such as the tea ceremony or martial arts), I proposed a reconceptualization of rigor and an account of the practice of rigor (reconceptualized) in the performance of thinking. This account emphasized humbleness towards the thing thought; sensing the thing thought in its complexity and in the surroundings in which it grows; and the achievement of greater embodied understanding (I discussed this aspect through an excursus on Wittgenstein on rule-following).

Both of these papers, thus, took seriously the idea that thinking itself is a kind of doing and focused on the staging of and work upon concepts, reflecting our specific research interests and academic background. There are, of course, other possible approaches to PPWG’s invitation to engage with Gongfu and with philosophies of effort, and some of them were touched on in the discussion following our presentation.
The keynote address of South Korean philosopher Doh-ol Kim Young-Oak focused on an “Interpretation of Body (mom) in Chinese Cosmology and Its Relation to Art.” Delivered in an engaging manner with the aid of a blackboard on which Doh-ol Kim Young-Oak energetically illustrated philosophical concepts throughout his presentation, the lecture provided a thought-provoking introduction to a Chinese cosmology rooted in Taoism and Confucianism and influenced by Buddhism. Towards the end of his lecture, Doh-ol Kim Young-Oak turned his attention to China today, China the world power, remarking provocatively:
China is no longer just a country. It is a new paradigm of civilization responsible for the future of mankind. If China were to become another empire and pursue the Way of Hegemon as the US did, mankind would face a long and disastrous 21st century. Don't worry about the "rise" of China. Worry about the kind of moral example China can provide to the rest of the world. At the height of the Warring States periods anticipating the emergence of a united kingdom, Mencius had the audacity to define human nature in terms of absolute and self-evident moral imperatives, namely human-heartedness, righteousness, propriety, and wisdom. He fought the cynical utilitarianism of the day and dreamt of the moralistic unfolding of human history. China must learn from him and strive to bring about the moral renewal of mankind - not by preaching to them, but by setting the right example. (quoted from the lecture hand-out, p.9; PSi20, July 2014)
A conversation with Shanghai-based painter, Zhou Jiahua, some of whose paintings I had the chance to see at the Yiyuan Tang Art gallery at the Shanghai Theatre Academy, opened for me new horizons for thinking about embodied philosophy in the Chinese context. This conversation was not connected with PSi20; rather, it was a lucky, unexpected opportunity that arose while I was looking to meet Shanghai-based performance philosophers.

Acutely aware that “there is a rupture in Chinese culture today” (as he put it), Zhou Jiahua makes art as a mode of access to the basis of old Chinese culture (and to a comprehensive worldview within which the body is itself a cosmos unfolding between and encapsulating both earth and heaven) and in an attempt to allow reality to manifest within himself. His more recent artworks feature trees with different shapes and in varying relations to buildings, including the striking image of trees growing out of houses (see image above). These works symbolize how the life of a culture is being consumed by those things (such as Western cultural influences, including the intellectual drive to define and categorize all there is in existence; the drive toward profit-making and industrialization) responsible for the forgetting of a cosmology that has given and can (still) give meaning to being in the world. During our conversation, it became apparent to me that Zhou Jiahua is the keeper of an entire life philosophy that he continues to cultivate with great care and that shapes his way of being in the world (of which I could catch a glimpse as manifested in his calming presence and his delicately chosen words as well as through his paintings). This life philosophy is not to be theorized; rather, it is to be shared, as a story, in a conversation while enjoying some tea. 


The next PSi, Fluid States, presents a decentralized model of participation. I'd like to create a map of Performance and Philosophy events, so please share your work! If you plan to participate in Fluid States, and if your work resonates with the PPWG mission, then send your info to so that I can compile it.
Reminder: Proposals for the 2015 Performance Philosophy Conference in Chicago are due Oct. 13. You can find the CFP here
Copyright © 2014 Performance Studies international/Performance and Philosophy Working Group, All rights reserved.

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