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Book Chapter

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Department 1

Religious Studies


In this essay Sommer explores how the Zhuangzi, a Chinese philosophical text that dates to the third or fourth centuries BCE, uses different terms for the human body. She explores each term's different fields of meaning: the body might appear as gong 躬, a sanctimonious ritualized body; shen 身, a site of familial and social personhood; xing 形, an elemental form that experiences mutations and mutilations; or ti 體, a complex, multilayered corpus whose center can be anywhere but whose boundaries are nowhere. The Zhuangzi is one of the richest early Chinese sources for exploring conceptualizations of the visceral human form. Zhuangzi presents the human frame as a corpus of flesh, organs, limbs, and bone; he dissects it before the reader's eyes, turning it inside out and joyfully displaying its fragmented joints, sundered limbs, and beautifully monstrous mutations. This body is a site of immolation and fragmentation that ultimately evokes a larger wholeness and completeness. Drawing and quartering the body, Zhuangzi paradoxically frees it from ordinary mortality; boundaries between form and formlessness shift so subtly, spontaneously, and seamlessly that the physical frame becomes incorporated into a larger common body that includes both life and death.

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