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Posted April 24, 2012
The historical information in this volume is relatively interesting, if dry. My greatest quibble is with the translation of the Laozi (_Daodejing_). I am not as familiar with the other books in this volume but the shallowness and glibness of the translation of the Laozi makes me doubt the quality of the other books in this anthology.
A good example of the befuddled interpretation in this translation of the _Daodejing_ is the beginning of the first chapter. The writing is vague to the point of meaninglessness:
"The Way that can be experienced is not true;
The world that can be constructed is not true.
The Way manifests all that happens and may happen;
The world represents all that exists and may exist.
To experience without intention is to sense the world;
To experience with intention is to anticipate the world."
To compare, the translation by Tam Gibbs of Professor Cheng Man-Ching's interpretation of the first chapter is much more straightforward, trenchant and inspiring (This translation is found in a wonderful book titled _My Words Are Very Easy to Understand_ by Tam Gibbs and Cheng Man-Ching):
"The tao that can be talked about is not the Absolute Tao.
If it can be named, it is not an Absolute name.
That which has no name is the origin of heaven and earth;
That which has a name is the Mother of all things.
Thus, if always without desire, one can observe indescribable marvels;
If always desirous, one sees merest traces."
A translation in wider circulation is Robert Henricks' version of the pre-Christian silk Laozi found in Mawangdui: (_Lao-tzu: Te-Tao Ching_)
"As for the Way, the Way that can be spoken of is not the constant Way;
As for names, the name that can be named is not the constant name.
The nameless is the beginning of the ten thousand things;
The named is the mother of the ten thousand things.
Therefore, those constantly without desires, by this means will perceive its subtlety.
Those constantly with desires, by this means will see only that which they yearn for and seek."
These latter two are much closer to the original chinese, which I understand to be relatively cryptic, the first lines reading something like
"Way is way not Way:
Name is name not Name."
because the characters each have multiple meanings. Hence, even a straightforward translation involves a great deal of interpretation and scholarship. When English-speakers try to make it "more sensible" by adding their own layers of interpretation into the text, it becomes vague and meaningless. The contradictions implicit in the more-straightforward translations are lost is the fuzziness of this translation.
Because of the poor quality of the translation of the _Tao Te Ching_,
I find it impossible to trust the translations of the other ancient texts.
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