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Disappointed? Dumbstruck! Destined for the dustbin?
on 9 June 2016
On account of the reviews here, echoed on the book's cover, I had high expectations. Now, I find it impossible to square these with reality. After the Introduction'd brief history of China, is a Translator's Preface. The skillful use by poets of the almost three-dimensional nuancing of Chinese is well known, yet the cogitations of the linguists here end up offering us the opening line as:- "Tao called Tao is not Tao". They say they chose this translation as it has six words and there are six characters in the Chinese! The fact that the translation OMITS one of these Chinese "words" ... .... Well, did this escape people's notice, or was it just considered irrelevant, unnecessary, or actually an improvement? The omitted word, is "ch'ang", translated variously as enduring/constant/eternal/invariant/everlasting etc. It has apparently been omitted, as the translator states: "..in order to retain the simplicity, rhythm, and power of the Chinese", You're having a laugh right?! I was left feeling the translators saw the author as a primitive, whose expression is best understood by modern readers as merely a series of rhythmic grunts. This Translator's Preface should have left me craving the insights to follow, but I find it contains little more than the most obvious of those issues that face anyone when dealing with any foreign language at any level. No insights. I was dumbstruck and found I had to fight the urge to simply toss the tome in the bin. But I simply can't get past this crass beginning. I can be greatful I suppose for the confirmation provided that the translation I have remembered since high school: "The Tao that can be spoken is not the eternal Tao", is simply ... correct, and it is I admit quite wonderful to discover, after all the hullabalo, that that most elegant and glorious of axioms turns out to be such an astonishingly simple thng to translate, but is this really enough to give the book shelf room? Now it has explained its credentials in awful detail to me, I cannot imagine ever being able to look at the thing without a sense of revulsion. The Tao Te Ching is, at the very least, a work of great beauty, yet this intellectual pawing has rendered it as kitsch. As a footnote, I have very little familiarity with Chinese calligraphy, and the illustrations seem spirited and earnest, but for me they lack any deftness or subtlety. There is almost no variation in the brush strokes, no sense of depth, and often little or no evocation of space or time or relation. But these are inconsequential points in the context of the quality of the text. Heaven knows how these guys would have coped with ancient Finnish poetry!