R. Banka



Paradoxically, metaphysics, which is supposed to offer a discourse that is capable of embracing everything, sometimes encounters difficulties. What is problematic in some cases of this kind is the appearance of something which is situated outside the narration of metaphysics and thus, impossible to be discussed within it. However, what transgresses the realm of metaphysical thinking is certainly not neglected by philosophers, and numerous attempts are made to incorporate it into what is already discursive, which generates concepts concerning that sort of phenomena. One can encounter such state of affairs in both Western and Chinese philosophies, which, although offering different metaphysical modes of thinking, have developed considerably similar concepts of this type. It is possible to show the points of convergence of such concepts, which is the aim of the paper. My investigations will be confined to the comparison of khora and dao, the two concepts developed in respectively Western and Chinese philosophies. The analysis is going to be mainly based upon Laozi's Daodejing, together with the comments by Wang Bi, and Khora by Jacques Derrida. Special attention will be paid to dao and khora in metaphysical and linguistic aspects.

In order to indicate the converging points of khora and dao, I shall first subject the concepts to a concise analysis which is meant to reveal their specific features.

The notion of khora, which is worked upon in Derrida's text, comes from Plato's work, Timaeus. It is described there as «invisible and formless being which receives all things and in some mysterious way partakes of the intelligible, and is most incomprehensible». (Plato, 1178). It is further mentioned that it is «eternal, and admits not of destruction and provides a home for all created things» (Plato, 1178). As regards other features of the essence of khora, it is said that it can be apprehended under the circumstances in which «all sense is absent» because it is «hardly real» (Plato, 1179). Such intuition of something that is related to anything that exists and escapes cognition in normal circumstances has been taken over by Derrida to discuss the relation of khora to the metaphysical discourse.

It is difficult to say anything about khora as discussing khora is virtually impossible. It is also impossible to say that it is «neither something nor something» or «both something and something». Khora probably stems


from logic that is other than the logic of logos (by which non-contradictory logic is understood), and it is neither sensual nor intelligible, belonging to the third genre (Derrida, 9-10), and it cannot be viewed in a paradigmatic mode (10). As one can see, the discourse of khora is placed beyond categories and it is resembles a construct with the features of a hybrid rather than logic.

Khora is even impossible to be named (and Derrida concedes himself that the name «khora» is improper) (Derrida, 22) as khora is inexpressible by means of language (22). It is anachronic in relations to entity and thus asking about its essence belongs to the questions that are deprived of sense (22).

Khora cannot be given forms as it is not substance or basis underlying that would be able to underlie them (Derrida, 24). It accepts entity types exclusively by giving place to them but it remains outside the order of eidos and image, or any other type of entity in philosophy. In this sense one can say that khora does not exist as it is no type of entity within the framework of philosophical discourse. It is in some way but, concurrently, something which is in this way does not exist philosophically (Derrida, 26), from which one can infer that khora is situated beyond metaphysical discourse.

Khora also does not have properties and it cannot be labelled an abstract. An abstract concerns some general property of a thing but khora is not a thing. It cannot assume properties and it remains intact in this matter. However, although it cannot take properties for itself, it can borrow the properties of what it takes (Derrida, 29). In this sense, khora accepts descriptions but it does not have them on its own. From this one can infer that the descriptions cannot constitute any basis for the interpretation of khora. The interpretations are not ontologically rooted in khora, which remains impeccable (i.e. itself) for all the time. As a consequence, it is obviously impossible to ascribe any binary qualities to khora as they cannot be translated into its ontic features. What follows from this remark is the fact that khora does not belong to the realm of non-contradictory logic of philosophers. However, in spite of the fact that khora is situated beyond oppositions, it enables them.

To reflect the question of properties, one can say that khora is occupied by them but it is not occupying them at the same time.

As it has been mentioned, khora forms the third genre but taking into consideration its lack of general properties, it cannot be one as it is unique in the sense of the relation of asymmetry with everything. (Derrida, 89).

In order to be able to think khora, one has to draw back beyond the categorization imposed by the language of metaphysics.


According to Daodejing and Wang Bi's comments, dao is the very beginning of everything. In chapter 42, it is written that dao precedes even the oneness and differentiation, not to mention the reality of things (wanwu). This indicates also the fact that dao is situated beyond reality and therefore it is not a composite of it, i.e. a thing (wu). Dao's being outside the reality does not entail the fact that it is isolated from the things. Dao is eternal and it is penetrating into everywhere. It is inactive within the realm of things but thanks to it everything develops (Daodejing, 62)1. Dao is the most fundamental basis for everything, and in this sense one can state that it is present in all the time and everything that has come into existence (Daodejing, 82)2.

Because dao does not belong to the reality and for this reason it cannot be found as a particular, it also does not possess the properties of the objects that belong to the reality. Therefore, dao has no form (Daodejing, 58) and no attributes of it can be cognitively grasped. It is eternal and without name (76) and because of this fact nothing can describe it.

What follows from the fact that dao is outside the reality and present in it at the same time, as well as it has no form, is that it is referred to as hidden and useful. It is remote and misty as it cannot be discerned, yet everything stems from and is sustained by it (Daodejing, 58), and developed thanks to it, which testifies to the useful aspect of dao.

The situation and formlessness of dao result in some problems of linguistic nature. Being not a thing and having no features of the things, dao cannot be worked upon by language which describes the reality. If one applies linguistic means to express/describe it, the result of such a description is not the eternal dao (changdao), which leads to contradiction (Daodejing, 26). It is also important to remark that language operates by means of differentiations, and dao is prior to them. Hence, if dao is viewed by means of differentiation, the outcome will also result in failure. Linguistic medium is incapable of translating the nature of dao.

Dao is designated by the character «dao». The choice of this particular character is justified that it is, according to Wang Bi, the most capacious me (Daodejing, 64)3. However, it should be borne in mind that the character "dao" does not denote dao, and it is merely used as a designation.


Upon the basis of the above brief outline of the two concepts, I shall try to compare them with each other and show some possible convergences of them.

As regards the aspect of forming the basis for entities, dao is more likely to fall into this category as it participates in the entities by enabling their development and sustaining their existence. Khora is also absent from the realm of entities but, unlike dao, it does not seem to participate in them. Khora is deprived of any feature including that of participating in reality.

A similar statement can be formed in the question of differentiation. Dao gives rise to differentiation as to any other of the evolutes, and it penetrates through it, by which it participates in differentiation without being differentiated itself. Khora is extradifferential and it cannot be grasped within this framework.

An interesting conclusion can be drawn from viewing the concepts in terms of their assuming forms. Dao is situated beyond the reality in which forms apply, so it remains impeccable in this matter. As regards khora, it is also not subject to the assuming of forms. However, it can be in-formed in the sense that forms can be recognized thanks to it. Khora just enables the forms, but the forms do not correspond with it and it would be false to take them as khora's properties.

The question of manifestation of dao in reality can lead to the assumption that dao can be treated as a universal common to all the things within the reality. However, dao cannot be such a universal as it does not exist in the reality. As regards khora, it cannot be a universal either as it has not got any general features.

In a sense a highly close convergence of the concepts can be observed in at the point of their being without properties and of utility at the same time. Dao sustains and develops the existence of the things, whereas khora enables properties to emerge in the way as it has been mentioned before.

The question of discussing the concepts appears to be a very difficult task to be fulfilled without the risk of incorrect interpretation. Khora is virtually impossible to be handled by any metaphysical discourse as it does not correspond with the linguistic logic in any way, which makes it impossible to convert its nature into the linguistic medium. The situation of dao is slightly different. Although it cannot be completely described because of its being both inexhaustive and eternal, some aspects of it can be interpreted completely. Such a statement is advocated for by Моu, who claims that some dimensions of dao can be finitely explored by descriptively as capturing by language does not necessarily solely consist in providing a definition or imposing fixed formats (252). However, descriptions will never be iden-


tical with the constant name «dao» that names the infiniteness of dao (changdao) (Моu, 257).

To sum up, it seems that dao can be linguistically worked upon to some extent, which legitimizes language as the tool of the investigation of dao. From such a statement one can draw the conclusion that some dimensions of dao intersperse with the metaphysical discourse, thanks to which metaphysics of dao can be successfully conducted.

Such a statement seems not to apply to khora, which does not overlap with the metaphysical language, and which will always remain in asymmetrical elation with it.

As it has been presented, both western and Chinese philosophy can boast the occurrence of the same type of problem in metaphysical thinking. Although from an overall perspective the two metaphysical narrations are considerably different from each other, they base upon similar intuitions concerning the extra-metaphysical/discourse area. The Chinese solution appears to be more compromising in comparison with Derrida's statements. Nevertheless, there is still something that remains uncovered and cannot be exhausted by any of the two metaphysical modes of investigation.

Works cited:

Derrida J. Chora. Warszawa: Wydawnictwo KR, 1999.

Laozi. Ksiega dao i de z komentarzami Wang Bi (The Book of Dao and De with Wang Bi's comments), [the text of Daodejing in the original and translation as well as the translation of Wang Bi's comments]. Krakow: Wydawnictwo Uniwersytetu Jagiellonskiego, 2006.

Моu В. Eternal Dao, Constant Name, and Language Engagement: On the Opening Message of Dao-De-Jing / Моu В., ed. Comparative Approaches to Chinese Philosophy. Aldershot: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2003.

Plato. Timaeus. // Plato. Collected Dialogues. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1989.

1 Wang Bi's commentary.

2 Ibid.

3 Ibid.