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Neo-Romanticism:

Post-Daoist Philosophical Theory

 

When, as a teenager, I came across Daoism, it represented for me a philosophical and religious attitude toward life that seemed to promise the justification of lived, earthly experience as the content of the numinous. Dissonance, which I was beginning to experience as reality, had, it seemed in Daoism, a scaffolding of stabilization. That sense of Daoism as a philosophical structure more accurate to life, resistant to dogma, both material and airy, rooted in practice and mystery, still endures with me. Even more, the insistence throughout the Daodejing of paradox as essence, the criticism of technology in the Zhuangzi, as well as the privileging of the marginalized—the disabled and the differently-formed—as the sages of ultimate understanding, and in the Yijing the axiom that destiny is a co-creative act between finite human action and eternal cosmic law—these are truths, wisdoms, and perspectives of classical Daoism that have entered so deeply into my being that they seem inalienable from what I might call self, other, or world.

 

But like the transparency of a poem of longing laid gently over that immemorial architecture of what I now call "inherited Daoism," at some point in my thirties I began to feel existentially caged-in by the essential attributive nominations of classical Daoist Yin and Yang. Likewise, as I began to take more personal and perilous risks in my life in answer to profound callings in my soul, and to understand emotion and the irrational not in terms of pathology but in terms of belonging and profundity—as is the case in Romanticism—the behavioral caveats that form the basic ethos of the Daodejing began to feel, at times, as calculating as they were wise. The sages of the book—scholars generally agree that there are diverse many—seemed to be suggesting that wisdom consists in avoiding trouble, transcending disorientation, and anticipating all contention before it arrives, thus remaining in harmony with the universe. It is a deeply compelling and nearly inalienable perspective. But alongside this conservative wisdom there grew in me a need to articulate nearly the opposite: a philosophical structure for the embodiment of disorientation, the actual experience—the ecstasies, dismays, and terrors—of the soul, not only as personally meaningful, and therefore not to be transcended, but as a form of human ecological participation in cosmic harmony. The philosophical strain to anticipate, avoid, or outthink the terrible challenges and hardships of life seemed more convoluted than simple, more suspicious than trusting, less "Daoist" than Dao.

 

If we imagine nature in the human to be a complex religious sensation of insoluble intensity and organic tranquility, then experience would be indivisible from risk, suffering, joy, and dissolution—existential events that would, in classical Daoism, be warded off by means of anticipation and disinvolvement. Neo-Romanticism, on the other hand, might imagine this intense engagement with life to be a foundation for harmony. Wisdom would consist not in the avoidance of ensouled intensity but in wholly belonging to the soul's provinces. Rather than quietism, a supra-natural calm would characterize such an unimpeded existence—but "calm" would be reconfigured as what I might call "passionate sentience": the natural life of the body, the feelings of the heart, and the freedom of the imagination.

 

Neo-Romanticism: Post-Daoist Philosophical Theory, is a philosophical framework, a field of ongoing imagination and reflection, intending ultimately to validate instinct, emotion, and desire by complicating Daoism with the exigencies and eternities of the profound if inconsolable soul. The Negative Capabilities of Post-Daoist 5 Realms Theory, and the ontological inversions of the Post-Daoist concepts of Yin and Yang—as well as the introduction of the paradoxical Yun essence—represent a counter-narrative to both the quietest impulse of classical Daoism and the neoliberal agenda of spurious freedom based on the human being as a performer of achievement and production. Neo-Romanticism is my attempt to try and address the insoluble question, What was the human for?

The above is an excerpt from Zhenevere Sophia Dao's book on Post-Daoism, POST-DAOISM: TOWARD A NEO-ROMANTIC COSMOLOGY

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Drawing by William Blake

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