|[a] Cyclical RF|
|[b] Life RF|
The Chinese term which signifies life and destiny (ming; 命) is scarcely
distinguished from that which serves to designate vocal (or graphic)
symbols (ming; 名). It is unimportant that the names of two beings or
concepts resemble each other to the point where there is a possibility of
confusing them: each of these names integrally expresses an individual
essence. Rather than saying it expresses it, it calls it up, brings it into reality.
Know the name, say the word: this is to possess the being or to create the
thing…The malediction that I exhale is a concrete force: it attacks my adversary,
that the magic of breaths and the virtue of etiquette is exalted and culminates.
Allotted to a sound, it takes on a rank, a kind—an emblem. When one speaks,
names, designates, one is not forced to describe or classify ideally. The
sound qualifies and contaminates, it provokes destiny, it stirs up reality.
Emblematic reality that they are, words command phenomena.
|[c] Imbued RF|
La pensée chinoise moves from words to classifications, and eventually to numbers, etiquette, and institutions. It is grounded, however, in the division of labor in Chinese society, in the very division of work among men and women in and beyond the fields. That work is “set into motion” in festival chants that celebrated this most basic opposition in social and natural life. Rival groups of young men and women would chant at spring festivals and bring the very universe into motion after a winter slumber. Their alternating songs would connect space and time, extension and duration, under the categories of yang and yin. The categories themselves were never static. Like human society itself, they are always in motion.
The fields where these gatherings were assembled represented all of space,
all duration held in the joust where the poetic centos recalled the successive
signs of the universe. This total spectacle was an animated spectacle. As
long as the combat of dance and poetry lasted, the two rival parties came to
alternate their chants. Whereas, furnished by the antagonistic choirs, the field
of the duel appeared to be composed of aligned extensions and contrary
genres, the time of the joust was occupied by an alternance of antithetical
chants and dances, seemingly constituted by the interaction of two
concurrent groupings and of opposed sex.
Thus is explained, with the diversity of extensions and those of durations,
the rhythmic connection of space and time under the domination of the
categories of yin and yang. Each being distributed in durations or extensions
that are opposed and alternating, neither Space nor Time was one, anymore
than they could be conceived separately—but they formed in the two of them
an indissoluble whole. This same whole embraces both the natural world and
the human world: it is, to put it more exactly, identical to the total society which
groups, in two opposing camps, all conceivable reality.
|[d] Division RF|
Far from seeking to make numbers into abstract signs of quantity, the Chinese
used them to represent the form or to estimate the value of certain groupings
that were presented as groupings of things, but which always tended to be
confused with human groupings. The numbers told the form or the value of
things, because they signaled the composition and the power of the human
group to which these things belonged. They expressed first of all the amount
of power that belonged to the leader responsible for a human and natural
grouping. The sages were therefore able to represent with the aid of numbers
the orders of protocol which ruled the life of the universe. It was the social
rules that permitted them to conceive of this order. The order of society was
feudal. A logical extension of the hierarchy would therefore inspire all the
systems of numerical classifications and even the idea that one was made
From the connections between “ideal” and “real” that we saw early in Granet’s work all the way through his final book, there is a concentrated focus on the way that people think and act in a complex intellectual and social universe. Granet presents a final anecdote to complete his chapter on numerical reference, and brings his social argument full circle, from individual voices to clusters of opinion and finally to totality.
The Zuozhuan records the debate of a council of war: should the enemy be
attacked? The leader is tempted by the idea of combat, but it is necessary for
him first to consult his subordinates and take count of their advice. There are
twelve generals at the council. The advice is divided. Three leaders refuse to
engage in combat; eight want to go to battle. The latter are the majority and
proclaim as much. The advice that unites eight voices however does not
override the advice that unites three of them. Three is almost unanimity,
which is a very different thing than the majority. The general-in-chief will not
fight. He changes his opinion. The advice to which he adheres by giving his
single voice is then imposed as a unanimous opinion.
|[e] Luck RF|
The purpose in my ongoing work on Marcel Granet is to analyze those very questions. The overriding of mere majority with unanimity in Granet’s anecdote from the Zuozhuan is a perfect illustration of the manner in which Granet worked with all of his texts, from the sociological studies of the Année sociologique tradition to the abstruse works of early Chinese philosophers. Combining two complex traditions—and never losing sight of either the complexities of social life or the rhetoric of his Chinese texts—Granet became the quintessential poet of social rhythm and cosmic cyclicality.
Granet, Marcel. La pensée chinoise. Paris: Albin Michel, 1934.
We'll take a break, but return this summer with a closer look at his biography and early research.