A Treatise on Efficacy: Between Western and Chinese Thinking
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In this highly insightful analysis of Western and Chinese concepts of efficacy, Francois Jullien subtly delves into the metaphysical preconceptions of the two civilizations to account for diverging patterns of action in warfare, politics, and diplomacy. He shows how Western and Chinese stategies work in several domains (the battle-field, for example) and analyzes two resulting acts of war. The Chinese strategist manipulates his own troops and the enemy to win a battle without waging war and to bring about victory effortlessly. Efficacity in China is thus conceived of in terms of transformation (as opposed to action) and manipulation, making it closer to what is understood as efficacy in the West. Jullien's brilliant interpretations of an array of recondite texts are key to understanding our own conceptions of action, time, and reality in this foray into the world of Chinese thought. In its clear and penetrating characterization of two contrasting views of reality from a heretofore unexplored perspective, Treatise on Efficacy will be of central importance in the intellectual debate between East and West.
let us look more closely at the way in which the ancient literature on military strategy understands that moment (see 5Z, chap. 5, "5hi"). The potential of a situation is first illustrated by the image of a mountain stream that, in its rushing flow, even has the force to carry rocks along with it; next, that moment of activation is evoked by the image of a bird that, homing in on its prey, shatters the latter's bones in one fell swoop. It strikes at the moment that exactly cor relates with the
something that it is impossible to pin down and that cannot be generalized. As the rhetor Dionysius remarks, when all is said and done, no philosopher or rhetar has ever said anything of use about kairos. Confronted by opportunity, reasoning is at a loss, willed control is out of the question, even intelligence can play no more than a limited role. The irrational nature of opportunity has led people to conclude that success is equally irrational. The paths leading to efficacy become obscured. As
it is confirmed by any event. Again, it is "mediocre" to see victory only when it happens and when everyone else Can see it too. A real strategist possesses the skill to perceive the "seed" even before it has grown (SZ, chap. 4, "Xing"; d. Cao Cao). By detecting the conditions for various possibilities in advance, such a strategist can mastermind the evolution of a situation from a distance, steering it in the desired direction. There is thus a subtle distinction to be drawn between two ways of
away from its goal. In order to break away from this negative concept of efficacy, it is necessary to call into question the elements on which its very principle rests: not only the means-ends relationship, which is at once instrumental and selective (and resorts to individual measures), but likewise its chancy nature (will one succeed or not?: a crucial and tragic moment of uncertainty) and all the effort that this implies (in the performance of all the tasks that we set ourselves as means to
make it possible for the enemy to be defeated." Now, however, the treatise affirms precisely the contrary: victory is always "obtain able" (chap. 6, "Xu shi"). This is the strongest of claims and one that is almost scandalously defiant. The only explanation for such a switch must be that, as the writing of this treatise progressed, the very idea of an opportunity (offered by one's opponent) dissolved and was overtaken by the notion of manipulation (conducted by oneself). Between the first claim