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Trying Not to Try: The Art and Science of Spontaneity

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 4, 2014

    Edward Slingerland, Trying Not To Try, Crown 2014, 295 pages, $2

    Edward Slingerland, Trying Not To Try, Crown 2014, 295 pages, $26, 9780770437619
    Kelsey Forkin, North Central College
    Edward Slingerland had a clear idea of what he wanted this book to do. He wanted this to be a book that everyone could read and I believe he succeeded in doing just that. When I first started reading this book I expected it to be some sort of self-help book that tried to tell be what they should and should not do. At first I was mad that the book was so vague about what was really right and wrong. I felt as if he should be telling me how I should go about living my life so that I can reach wu-wei, but as I read farther I realized that that was not an option. There was no way for him to come out and just tell me the way to live my life. Now that I have finished the book I realized that I enjoyed the approach he took in this book. 
    Throughout the book he explains each of the different philosophers that take a view point on the idea of wu-wei or de. I had already learned about wu-wei so I understood what he was talking about right away, but he did a very good job explaining what he was talking about so that anyone that wanted to read this book could pick it up without any prior knowledge of any of the topics he was bring up. He does a good job of finding stories or explains that explain what he is trying to say and making it into simpler form. When he is first explaining wu-wei he uses a story of a famous butcher who became so good at cutting up oxen because he has a form of wu-wei. “I no longer saw the whole ox as a whole. And now---- now I meet it with my spirit and don’t look with eyes……my spiritual desires take me away.” (Slingerland, 20).  I love the way he adds this types of examples into the paper. Without these types of examples the paper would be dry and would just be listing off facts. He does an excellent job of creating something that draws people into the things he is saying and gives real life examples of the topics he is talking about. Without these types of examples the book would not be as universal in its audience. The fact that any person that picks this book up would be able to understand complex ideas from ancient Chinese philosophy is astonishing. He has done a great job at making a book that could end up being a best seller in the future because of how universal it truly is.
    The one thing I did not enjoy about the book was the clear favoritism that the author shows for the one philosopher Zhuangzi. He says in the book “I’ll lay my cards on the table and admit that the Zhuangzi is, in my opinion, the most profound and beautiful book ever written. In terms of subtlety, insight into the human condition, and sheer genius, there is no match in world literature.” (Slingerland, 161). This aggravated me because it seems as if he is stating that I just wasted all my time reading about the other philosopher’s ideas because he makes it sound like he does not believe in any of the things that he had just written about in the first hundred and fifty pages. As a reader I do not believe that the author should give such a bias to a certain part of the book, making the other ideas of the book seem inferior. The way he wrote this made me feel that if I had believed more strongly in the ideas of another philosopher, that he would have thought I was wrong in my thinking. Although I know he is supposed to be telling how to try not to try I believe he could have supplied the knowledge in a different way by getting rid of this part and treating Zhuangzi the same way he had treated all the other philosophers. He should have saved his opinion till his last chapter that told the readers about what we should learn from the things had had taught us about wu-wei. 
    Despite Slingerland’s bias towards Zhuangzi, he does a great job incorporating different types of science into the ideas of wu-wei and making them connect. He uses things such as psychology and neuroscience to teach about the different ideas of wu-wei. As a psychology major I enjoyed the way that he included it to keep me interested. By adding the variety of studies into this book about philosophy it widens the scope of people that would be interested in reading what he has to say. He states “The psychologist Paul Ekman has become famous for his work on cataloguing….. most important finding is that sincere emotional expressions tend to be executed by muscle systems…that are nearly impossible to control.” He brings this fact up when he is discuss the fact that wu-wei is very hard to fact. That it is almost impossible for a person to pretend as if they are no longer trying in life if they really are. This simple part that he adds sparked my interest into what he was saying. I made me truly think and connect my prior knowledge of the topic of psychology. I am impressed with the way that he incorporates different topics into his book. Even though this information is not what spent his life studying he makes it understandable and connect to the topics he is already talking about.  The way that he puts these types of parts into the book it adds to the things he is saying. The information does not seem to be forced into the book or a stretch to connect to the ideas that Slingerland is trying to convey. I believe that he has a pretty substantial about of wu-wei when it comes to writing and sharing the ideas he has with the world. 
    To conclude, there were certain parts of this book that irritated me. I was slightly bored while reading the beginning of this book because of the repetitive nature of the book, but as the book continued the way that Slingerland explained the ideas became very interesting. He created a book that can be understood by all people and will be interesting to a wide variety of people and scholars. All in all I enjoyed this book and its message. 


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  • Posted March 24, 2014

    This book is a scholarly and helpful exploration of the meaning

    This book is a scholarly and helpful exploration of the meaning and history of the Chinese concepts or wu-wei and de.  If you are looking for an easy, step-by-step self-help book on how to achieve the effortless art of wu-wei, then this book is not for you.  Unlike a motivational self-help book that may make you feel good while you're reading it but fails to impart any real, lasting knowledge, this book is an intellectual feast.  

    Although the tone and structure are unmistakably scholarly (this man obviously gives thoroughly researched lectures for a living), the flow and content are far from boring.  You will be presented with a full history and background of the concepts of wu-wei and de,  all which come together in the final chapters to give the readers a useful understanding of wu-wei and how they might go about incorporating it into their lives.  

    Slinglerland condenses thousands of years of research and study into an interesting read.  At first, I expected this book to be a bit too dry for my taste, (my impatient mind water to answers, not information) but by the end, I was wishing I had taken notes.  There is a wealth of information in this book and it exposes the reader to a entirely new point of view.  I enjoyed the book and encourage anyone interested in Chinese philosophy to give it a read.

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