Friday, April 25, 2014

Fragment 2504

In a short story from his Berlin collection (1924 -1933) called Letter about a Mastiff Brecht has his narrator say: I have always been convinced that if one lets things take their course without interfering while at the same time snapping up any chances that may occur, things are bound to take care of themselves. This is an expression of the Daoist concept of effortless action: Wu wei 無為. In Stanza 10, for example, of the Dao Der Jing, Lao Tzu speaks of the best way to govern: to care for the people and rule the kingdom, must you not master underacting?  Brecht’s narrator here is heavily ironic, as he has just had his neighbors evicted so that he can steal their dog. He just casually mentioned to the concierge that his neighbors were sub-letting, and asked him innocently if it is legal. The concierge wrote to the management company of the building about the matter, and the result was that neighbors and lodger were all evicted. Is this underhand way of going about things what Lao Tze means?


Anonymous said...

I would think not at all the way, as it is precipitated by self interested action, aggressive. I hope things are well with you Mr Murr, TonyH

Tymeworpp said...

The charm of Laozi (or the sayings attributed to him) is that he can mean different things to different people. If you hear someone trot out the quote about the long journey always beginning with the first step (a statement of the obvious), the context will usually be a positive one, exhorting people to have the courage to make the first move towards a long-term goal. I have yet to come across someone using the same quote to make the equally valid point that some disastrous chain of events would not have been set in motion without an initial mistake being made, but that is probably because I haven't studied enough Kafka, Brecht et al thus far. It is the nature of each final outcome that defines the value of each first step. Translations of the Daodejing continue to proliferate as more and more people bring their own interpretations to it. And the more translations you read, the more likely you are to seek out the original Chinese texts. Literary wu wei is not making the effort to impose a fixed meaning on the text, in the knowledge that your shifting interpretations of it will keep telling you new things about yourself.

Murr said...

Excellent comment, thank you. I like your idea of literary wu wei very much.