Existential Questions: Life, Love and Death
Chinese and Western Answers
Like many of his contemporaries, Chan-Fai went to Europe to study philosophy, drawn to Germany by the work of Heidegger. Heidegger’s influence is felt in many of these essays, especially the concept of Existenz, which contrasts with a concept of essence found in both Chinese and Western traditions. There is also an essay on boredom which owes a lot to Heidegger. But Chan-Fai’s overriding preoccupation in these essays is with a concept that does not figure importantly in Heidegger’s thought: love. He examines love from every angle, from the love of God and the love of truth through friendship and romantic love to the erotic and the sexual. He reflects on the ancient Western notions of eros, philia and agape, and notes that the Chinese tradition has no corresponding distinction. He concurs in the widespread view among experts that romantic love, so important in the literature and art of the West, has no counterpart in the Chinese tradition, at least until recently. At the same time he finds examples of erotic and even pornographic depictions in older Chinese pictures and texts. The collection closes with very personal meditations on death, on the representation and symbolism of hell, and on utopia.
David Carr, Emory University