Yesterday, the market teemed with people negotiating almost victoriously, "Hey, cake seller! What's the favourite today? Do you have anything with mocha and vanilla?" Grannies were especially delighted by the atmosphere, lingering for longer than they would at the stalls. Even the destitute spent cents on whatever they could afford, bringing it home with triumphant smile.
Celebrations were had, the night was long and noisy. Today, there was a new atmosphere outside as I and mostly elderly couples in their furs ventured out at noon for similar sociable lunches: the first of Gregorian January to be enjoyed with family and friends. TV broadcasts emitted all manner of local singing and dancing groups including those dressed in the garb of yore; not even the hardest heart could remain unmoved or at least in wonder. I have lived in many places, but never where this holiday was not observed. And this morning, it was as if the skies had been cleared by the thousand private fireworks that thousands of others could enjoy or shirk from, behind their singular windows. But I am biased. Every time I hear a firecracker, I think it is being set off to clear the negative 气, which is a character that trinitates.
To look carefully at the traditional character of Qi 氣 we see that underneath the trinitating steam 气 is the character for rice, 米, cooking, sending out its three lines of steam and hospitality.
In this context, we might even think of the hackneyed phrase, to let off steam, and the function of play, "Now play appears as a self-movement that does not pursue any particular end or purpose so much as movement as movement, exhibiting so to speak a phenomenon of excess, of living self-representation," Gadamer writes in The Relevance of the Beautiful. I think of this of the Qi of the million functions of the body that play themselves out to us, their thankless audience: the beating of the heart, the constant movement of the breath. One thinks of the movement that is natural to the soul (Aristotle, De Anima, 3).
"The end pursued is certainly a nonpurposive activity, but this activity is itself intended. It is what the play intends. In this fashion we actually intend something with effort, ambition, and profound commitment. This is one step on the road to human communication". To be alive is to communicate. What? "Human production encounters an enormous variety of ways of trying things out, rejecting them, succeeding, or failing. 'Art' begins precisely there", Gadamer continues.
And this art, to return to Aristotle, may come from leisure or disinterest. "As more and more arts were discovered, some relating to the necessities and some to the pastimes of life, the inventors of the latter were always considered wiser than those of the former, because their branches of knowledge did not aim at utility. Hence when all the discoveries of this kind were fully developed, the sciences which relate neither to pleasure nor yet to the necessities of life were invented, and first in those places where men had leisure." (Arist. Met. 1.981b) Truth comes to he who is not trying to manipulate nature to his own ends. Here I return to Qi in a passage from Mengzi (Gaozi I.8) to the effect that the natural power of the mind is injured by society or circumstance:
"The way in which a man loses his proper goodness of mind is like the way in which the trees are denuded by axes and bills. Hewn down day after day, can it - the mind - retain its beauty? But ... just between night and day, the mind feels in a degree those desires and aversions which are proper to humanity, but the feeling is not strong, and is fettered and destroyed by what takes place during the day. This fettering taking place again and again, the restorative influence of the night is not sufficient to preserve the proper goodness of the mind; and when this proves insufficient ... the nature becomes not much different from that of the irrational animals, and when people now see it, they think that it never had those powers which I assert. ... If it receive its proper nourishment, there is nothing which will not grow. If it lose its proper nourishment, there is nothing which will not decay. Confucius said, 'Hold it fast, and it remains with you. Let it go, and you lose it. Its outgoing and incoming cannot be defined as to time or place.' It is the mind of which this is said!"
One may feel that one is hewn at. A greater mind than mine instructs us to be as charioteers, to drive horses and make them do work. One is to face the ignorance of even a whole community, "Nothing magnifies a good or evil report so much as an undisciplined multitude; accustomed to hear and to speak without making inquiry, they give hasty utterance to whatever occurs to them without any effort to gain the truth". One is to attempt to extinguish false charges at once, without feeling fear or dread, and if unsuccessful, to despise the untruth. "He must be prepared to face these anomalies in noble spirit, to pardon those who assume this attitude through ignorance." To be released from the "bondage of popular opinion".
To nourish the mind and the soul. To keep the Qi pure, must work must be done. I wonder how many intuit this as they set off their crackers, hoping for better days. But liberation lay also in the hemming in of proper nourishment, how few of us might reach this.