The Action of Non-Action: Walter Benjamin, Wu Wei and the Nature of Capitalism

Ng, Julia. 2023. The Action of Non-Action: Walter Benjamin, Wu Wei and the Nature of Capitalism. Theory, Culture & Society (Special Issue: Against Ontology: Chinese Thought and François Jullien), 40(4–5), pp. 219-238. ISSN 0263-2764 [Article]

Available under License Creative Commons Attribution.

Download (214kB) | Preview

Abstract or Description

Beginning with a discussion of adaptations of François Jullien’s understanding of ‘potential born of disposition’ and ‘silent transformation’ in two recent analyses of capitalist contemporaneity (by Bennett and Dufourmantelle), this essay argues that as a philosophical tool, ‘China’ bears within it a rich and underanalysed genealogy that reframes critical theory’s approach to nature and its objects in a new geopolitical context. The remainder of the essay then unpacks the intellectual history and textual philology of one earlier and pivotal moment of critical theory’s entanglement with ‘China’: Walter Benjamin’s transformation of ‘non-action’, or wu wei, into a complex for thinking through possibilities of what he might, with Jullien, call not-being in debt to Being.

Item Type:


Identification Number (DOI):


Walter Benjamin, Bertolt Brecht, capitalism, Daoism, Gu Hongming, François Jullien, nature, Max Weber, Richard Wilhelm, wu wei

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

English and Comparative Literature > Centre for Philosophy and Critical Thought


9 September 2021Accepted
10 June 2023Published Online

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

31 Mar 2021 13:41

Last Modified:

18 Dec 2023 13:48

Peer Reviewed:

Yes, this version has been peer-reviewed.


View statistics for this item...

Edit Record Edit Record (login required)