Confucius say…

Today’s topic of coffee-time: “The knowledge-man loves water.”  공자 said.

The captain corrals whomever eats lunch with me to be coffee-time mediator. Today’s victim: Mrs. Choi who self-studies English with success that surprises me. It’s not the fact of coffee time that puts me off so much as it’s the effort that must go into it, effort on the part of some innocent interlocutor who shouldn’t have to suffer because the captain likes to tell foreigners about Eastern philosophy.

“Why?” I ask, does the knowledge-man love water?

So we must consult the dictionary for the word “metaphor.”  What does the water represent? Knowledge, as the captain explains, is the water, and it is the teacher who brings the water down from the sky to the children who sit with eager faces upturned to recieve it. Or something like that. That is what I do, too, bring the waters of the English language to my students.

Mrs. Choi worries that I pretend to agree when we talk philosophy.  Back in the office she finds the full quotation: “A wise man loves water, a benevolent man loves mountain.”  So I go to The Analects.

The Master said, “The wise find pleasure in water; the virtuous find
pleasure in hills. The wise are active; the virtuous are tranquil.
The wise are joyful; the virtuous are long-lived.”

I don’t see the metaphor that was explained to me with elaborate hand gestures calling the water of knowledge down from the sky.  I see human beings being identified with nature.  Maybe this is why he brought up man’s control over the environment: people in America have conquered nature, do you agree?  I cited CS Lewis in The Abolition of Man saying that we can never conquer nature and that if we ever do, we will turn out to have, actually, conquered ourselves.

And this is the problem.

Not whether I agree or disagree with the captain or agree or disagree with Confucius.  The problem is that philosophy demands a greater command of language than even literature, a shared body of knowledge, and a shared understanding of concepts.  Which we lack.  And I feel so bad for my colleagues when they say in exasperation ‘I can’t explain that!  Gyojangsonsengnim, *you* tell her.’

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