New essay in draft:
Abstract: The mainstream tradition in recent Anglophone Zhuangzi interpretation treats spontaneous skillful responsiveness -- similar to the spontaneous responsiveness of a skilled artisan, athlete, or musician -- as a, or the, Zhuangzian ideal. However, this interpretation is poorly grounded in the Inner Chapters. On the contrary, in the Inner Chapters, this sort of skillfulness is at least as commonly criticized as celebrated. Even the famous passage about the ox-carving cook might be interpreted more as a celebration of the knife’s passivity than as a celebration of the cook’s skillfulness.
This is a short essay at only 3500 words (about 10 double-spaced pages excluding abstract and references) -- just in and out with the textual evidence. Skill-centered interpretations of Zhuangzi are so widely accepted (e.g., despite important differences, Graham, Hansen, and Ivanhoe), that people interested in Zhuangzi might find it interesting to see the contrarian case.
As always, comments welcome either by email or in the comments section of this post. (I'd be especially interested in references to other scholars with a similar anti-skill reading, whom I may have missed.)