Comparison of Chinese and Western civilizations cannot proceed on the basis of influences but only of originary distinctions. Even the most general categories remain unassimilable and must be understood in terms of contrasts. An exterior, “utopic” or “atopic” perspective that takes nothing for granted mutually highlights Chinese and Western cultures. China, for instance, exhibits no disjuncture between sacred and profane, hence no canon in the Western sense. Even difference is too relative a term; cultures must be grasped in terms of separations, of how they stand apart from one another, making diversity an irreducible resource. “Being,” “truth,” and “time” are all Western categories whose aspects are presented altogether differently in Chinese. Displacement, in the sense of Michel Foucault or Gilles Deleuze, still premises a norm. So does any notion of a rooted cultural absolute. Everything is subject to understanding, via dialogue rather than intuition, and with continued alertness to the unthought within each culture.

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