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Usually, Zhuangzi’s parable of “the butterfly dream/dreaming butterfly” is read as an enigmatic version, from “the East”, of the Cartesian skeptical challenges to “objective reality” or else the Lacanian psycho-drama of the “pure gaze” in which “he”, Zhuangzi, “is a butterfly for nobody”, who stands for “the Real”. Retooling some of the critical insights from these standard dialectical or anxiogenic approaches to this allegorical puzzle of self-identity, both of which, however, tend to leave unquestioned or else structurally overrate the binarized inner-exclusivity of typical pairs such as in/out, subject/object, illusion/reality, and all/nothing, this article proposes a relatively novel, fluid model of unraveling the speculative knot, the dots of lepidopterological spacetime irreducible to a simpler “point” in space and time. As we follow the narrative sequence more micro- and macrologically at once, with holistic, philopoetic attention to its intricate conceptual cues and contextual clues, especially its streaks and energies of “oppositional poetics” envisaged by Anne Waldman, for instance, we come to see more clearly the trans-categorical auto-generativity of its modal openness, its oddly powerful, non-militarily propelled, avant-garde peripherality. As Zhuangzi’s butterfly gets freed this way from the discursive net where it is lost and found (often instantly dead), the vocalized figure of the “irritating” narrator, too, will change more freely, flying in and out and back in “daoistically” rather than agonistically.


This article originally appeared in Humanities, available at DOI: 10.3390/h4020198

© 2015 by the author. This article is an open access article distributed under the terms and conditions of the Creative Commons Attribution license (

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