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  • Taoism in Bits

    Paul Bowman

    Chapter from the book: Bowman, P. 2019. Deconstructing Martial Arts.

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    The previous chapter argued that embodiment is always supplemented by the semiotic. The emergence of martial arts discourses and practices in the West has to be assessed against the backdrop of a complex cultural history. Accordingly, this chapter explores the mid- to late twentieth century explosion in the circulation of ideas connected with Taoism and Zen (Chan) Buddhism in Western popular culture. It argues that the introduction of ostensibly Chinese (and Japanese) philosophical notions into Western contexts and consciousnesses was never a simple act of transparent cross-cultural communication, from East to West. Rather, it always involved huge imaginative leaps and complex processes of projection, translation and transformation. With reference to examples such as the hippy counterculture, the films and writings of Bruce Lee, the TV series Kung Fu, and others, the paper argues that Western popular cultural encounters with ideas, ideals and conceptual universes like those of Taoism were always ‘in bits’. However, it insists that this is not a negative or bad thing, and that, in fact, thinking about the ways in which ideas and practices travel and how they transform, over time and place, across cultures and within cultures, can teach us a great deal about how culture and communication always ‘work’ – or don’t – and what we might make of such fragmentation and complexity.

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    Bowman, P. 2019. Taoism in Bits. In: Bowman, P, Deconstructing Martial Arts. Cardiff: Cardiff University Press. DOI: https://doi.org/10.18573/book1.f

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    Published on June 24, 2019