Published on March 13th, 2013 | by msalt

Philosophy with heart

There’s a stereotype of philosophical people in general, and Daoists in particular, as cold, cerebral, aloof, heartless. It’s easy to understand why this is, but I think it’s wrong. It’s just that still waters run deep.

Sure, really immature people emote recklessly all over the place, and getting control of your self is an early step of personal growth. This is true for warriors as well as lovers, as with Zhaungzi’s “Fighting Rooster,” whose training is not done until he stops strutting and posturing, and stares flinty-eyed at opponents.

This rooster is not without emotions, though; he has just matured to the point where he is not controlled by them. Daoism is all about understanding the true nature of things, especially ourselves, and working with (not against) that nature. Humans are emotional, and denying or fighting that is completely wrong. The sage has not avoided love and anger; she has gone there so often that she understands them and handles them maturely, intuitively, honestly.

Marina Abramović is a performance artist who had a major retrospective in 2010 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, where other performers restaged her classic events. She herself did a new performance called “The Artist is Present,” where she sat in the museum’s atrium throughout the entire showing, while a succession of audience members sat across from her. After each, she closed her eyes until the next one sat down, then opened up and was present with them, wordlessly, as long as they liked.

This echoed a piece she had done decades earlier with one person — Uwe Laysiepen (Ulay), her collaborator and lover from 1976 until they split in 1988. Now, 22 years later, in the middle of this marathon performance (736 hours over 2 and a half months), Ulay — who was well known to the audience — made a surprise visit and sat down at her table. This is what happened.

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About the Author

Mark Saltveit is a writer, standup comedian, skimboarder and dad based in Middlebury, Vermont. His improv show "Palindrome Fight!" will be at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, Aug. 5-29th 2022 at the Kilderkin Pub, 67 Canongate, at 7:30pm each night except Tuesdays.

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