32 of 32 people found the following review helpful
C. E. Stevens
- Published on Amazon.com
I have been re-reading "the classics" lately and so I set out to read The Analects again after a 5~10 year hiatus. The first time I read the Analects, I used Leys' translation and while it was a good "beginner's version" because it was easy to read and modern, this time I wanted to do a more thorough examination of the available translation options. After comparing different versions (including Lau and Legge, although I haven't had a chance to look at the version by Ames & Rosemont which gets good reviews on Amazon), Waley's proved to be the consistently better option. Don't get me wrong: I think some translators translated certain passages better than Waley, but from start to finish Waley's was the best. Waley requires a little more focus--his copious footnotes and endnotes, his writing style emphasizing accuracy over beauty, and the fact that this translation is now 70 years old will be turnoffs to some readers--but ultimately I felt this all allowed the closest contact to Confucius' original ideas and intent. This is not fortune cookie philosophy here: Confucius' teachings require the thought that Waley demands of the reader through his attention to detail. The introduction is extensive as well, and Waley clearly is an expert on the literary, cultural, and political history necessary to understand the context of these writings. Therefore, as translations of The Analects go, this one has earned my highest endorsement.
I did want to comment on the most prominent review here, which suggests a similarity between The Analects and Marxism: I simply could not disagree more. I do not disagree that Confucius' teachings have been used to varying purposes, often at odds with their original intent. Pretty much all major works of religion and philosophy suffer this fate (Marx himself is said to have remarked "I am not a Marxist!" in protest to some of the popular interpretations of his works).
The basic premise is different: Marx is interested in explaining social order and predicting the anticipated transition from capitalism to socialism and communism. Confucius takes his social order (feudalism) for granted and focuses on the development of the individual (through the "gentleman's" quest to follow the Way) and the proper conduct in social relationships. Both the subordinate and the superordinate in a relationship are held to high standards of goodness, loyalty, and wisdom. The beauty of the double-edged sword called the "Mandate of Heaven" is that even the supreme ruler of the land must act virtuously or be deposed: everyone is accountable to someone. Bureaucracy is taken as a given in Confucius' time, but note that he stresses a meritocracy based on virtue and ability: bureaucracy itself is not virtue, rather, virtue must be in the bureaucracy. His use of the word "gentleman" is ironic precisely because it is not conferred simply by higher status by birth and/or control of means of production, as Marx would have it. A gentleman is a higher state of mind and action, not a social class.
And so on.
The reason I bring this up is not simply to be ornery, but because to pigeonhole Confucius with Marxism would diminish the great relevance Confucius' ancient teachings have in today's modern age (the same could be said for pigeonholing Marx with Marxism, but that's a different debate!). Feudalism is dead and we live in an age that stresses individualism and egalitarianism, but dependencies and hierarchies are everywhere you look--in families, friendships, in countries, between countries--and the desire for self-improvement is a universal, timeless part of human nature. In many respects, the basic human condition is not so different from Confucius' time. It's a beautiful thing when you think about it, and the reason why the teachings of Confucius, Jesus, Buddha, Mohammad, and others speak to so many billions of people even today. As such, Confucius' lessons for self-development and social harmony touch on the basic foundations of humanity, making them as important today as they were when first expounded. I would recommend that when the reader reads The Analects he or she compares them not only to other philosophical traditions, but also to his or her everyday life. I believe there is still much to be learned from the ancient teachings of this wise old man.
110 of 124 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
THE ANALECTS OF CONFUCIUS. Translated and annotated by Arthur Waley. 257 pp. New York : Vintage Books, nd. Originally published by George, Allen, & Unwin, 1938.
Classical Chinese is an extremely concise and highly ambiguous language. Since any given line can have a wide range of possible and equally valid meanings, there can in fact be no such thing as a definitive interpretation, and hence, as Burton Watson has pointed out, no such thing as a definitive translation, although Arthur Waley's scholarly reading of this important Confucian classic is possibly as close to 'definitive' as we're ever likely to get.
What we may overlook when considering Confucianism, however, is that it represented an ideology very much like Marxism, one imposed by an all-powerful bureaucracy on a not-always willing population. As ideological documents of the highest importance, since they served to justify the existence of the Imperial system, works such as the 'Analects' were often engraved on stone.
And it's interesting to note that, in the many popular uprisings which have riven China, the stone tablets and drums on which the 'Analects' and other Classics were engraved often became the first target of the mob's fury. They were regularly smashed and pulverized, only to be re-engraved on new stones when the Mandarinate re-established its authority.
In addition, it goes without saying that the Communist Party, which is as it were China's modern 'Mandarinate,' also takes a very dim view of the Chinese Classics, seeing them as relics of a detested feudalistic past, a detestation not perhaps untinged with envy, since the Mandarinate was the most efficient, successful and long-lasting bureaucracy in human history.
None of this, perhaps, need bother the modern reader as opposed to the scholar, since we go to these old books to discover in them what relevance they may have for our lives today, and there is much real wisdom in Confucius that anyone can benefit from.
Arthur Waley's edition, while scholarly, is not so cluttered with scholarly impedimenta as to be unapproachable by the general reader, and is written in a style that remains relatively modern. After a brief Preface, he gives us an interesting and informative 66-page Introduction. Then follows his extensively annotated translation, and the book is rounded out with an Index.
Though Waley was undoubtedly a brilliant translator, I was weaned on Ezra Pound's more lively and idiosyncratic version, and although I've read and compared both translations, the lines that tend to stick in my mind are invariably those of Pound, lines such as:
"He said : A proper man is inclusive, not sectary; the small man is sectarian and not inclusive" (Book II, xiv).
For the same passage Waley gives:
"The Master said, A gentleman can see a question from all sides without bias. The small man is biased and can see a question only from one side" (p.91).
Both, so far as I can see, mean pretty much the same thing, although Waley is a bit more prosy and takes almost twice as many words to say it. Pound's edition, besides its greater punch, also has the merit of being relatively free of distracting footnotes, and of including two additional and very powerful texts, along with beautiful reproductions of them from the stone Classics.
Waley and Pound give us Confucius as filtered through two highly intelligent though different sensibilities, both of them valuable. My advice would be to read both. For those who may be interested, here are details of Pound's edition:
CONFUCIUS : THE GREAT DIGEST, THE UNWOBBLING PIVOT, THE ANALECTS. Translation and Commentary by Ezra Pound. Stone Text from rubbings supplied by William Hawley. 288 pp. New York: New Directions, 1951 and Reissued.
It is in Pound's translation of 'The Great Digest' that we find the striking line: "If the root be in confusion, nothing will be well governed" (p.33). And who would want to miss a line that has such a powerful relevance to the world that we see around us today ?