The Chinese Notion of Wén

Wén in Chinese tradition means tracery,[1] explains François Jullien in an article about mimesis and creation. The ideogram possesses, as usual, several dimensions. Concretely, wén is the trace, a character that suggests an intertwining of lines, visible in human figurative artefacts. Symbolically, it refers to the truth of natural phenomena, which, when well understood, allow for a felicitous mastery of the world. A third connotation of wén means text, the literary text, and by extension, culture and civilisation as right balance between the artificial and the natural traceries, the folds of life.

Translating the Han Feizi, Jullien explains that there is a connection between Dao and Wén.[2] According to the Daoist philosophy of mutations, the internal configuration of any actualised reality is their wén. Dao is how these realities come to be. By analogy with crealectics, Dao is the Creal, the infra-deployment, and wén is the logos, the folding.

It seems to me that the notion of wén is related to what Merleau-Ponty called “entrelacs”,[3] interlacing, intertwining. According to Fernando Zalamea’s reading of L’Oeil et l’esprit,[4] “two of the major theses of Merleau-Ponty combine the necessity of both thinking the recto/verso dialectic and thinking in a continuous fashion: A. What is proper to the visible is to possess a fold of invisibility, in the strict sense. B. To unfold the world without separating thought is, precisely, modern ontology.”[5] Entrelacs is about “the concomitant fabric of interior and exterior horizons”, “the knot in the weft of the simultaneous and the successive”, “the double crossing between visible and tangible”, “the ramifications of body and world”, an “interlacing” which “renounces to think through planes and perspectives.”[6]

Wén is not (or should not be) a superficial ornamentation but a natural feature of accomplished forms of life, a metonymy of their folding and unfolding processes. To be a form of life is to constantly produce figurations that are the border-lines of such processes.



[1] François Jullien, “L’oeuvre et l’univers: imitation ou déploiement (limites à une conception mimétique de la creation littéraire dans la tradition chinoise),” Extrême-Orient, Extrême-Occident (1983), 3, p. 52.

[2] Ibid., p. 53.

[3] Maurice Merleau-Ponty, L’oeil et l’esprit (Paris: Gallimard, 1964a), and Le visible et l’invisible (Paris: Gallimard, 1964b).

[4] Fernando Zalamea, “Peirce’s cenopythagorean categories, Merleau-Ponty’s chiasmatic entrelacs and Grothendieck’s Résumé”, Progress in Biophysics and Molecular Biology (2015), 119, pp. 437–441.

[5] Ibib., p. 438.

[6] Merleau-Ponty, 1964b, pp. 171, 172, 175, 177, 180.


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