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The Daodejing of Laozi (Hackett Classics) by Philip J. Ivanhoe: What It Teaches Us About Chinese Philosophy and Culture


The Daodejing of Laozi (Hackett Classics) by Philip J. Ivanhoe: A Review




The Daodejing, also known as the Tao Te Ching, is one of the most influential and enigmatic texts in Chinese philosophy and culture. It is attributed to Laozi, a legendary figure who may or may not have existed in the sixth or fifth century BCE. The Daodejing consists of 81 short chapters that express a profound and paradoxical vision of reality, human nature, morality, and politics. The Daodejing advocates a way of life that is in harmony with the Dao, or the Way, which is the ultimate source and principle of all things. The Daodejing also teaches a mode of action that is based on wuwei, or nonaction, which means acting without force or attachment, following one's natural inclinations, and letting things take their own course.




The Daodejing Of Laozi (Hackett Classics) Philip J. Ivanhoe



The Daodejing has inspired countless interpretations and applications throughout history, from religious movements and martial arts to political revolutions and environmental ethics. It has also attracted many translators who have tried to capture its elusive meaning and poetic beauty in different languages and contexts. Among them, Philip J. Ivanhoe is a distinguished scholar who has devoted much of his career to studying and teaching Chinese philosophy. In his book, The Daodejing of Laozi (Hackett Classics), he offers a new translation and interpretation of this classic work, accompanied by a language appendix that compares eight classic translations of the opening passage of the text. In this review, I will examine how Ivanhoe translates, interprets, and comments on the Daodejing, highlighting its strengths and weaknesses, as well as its implications for readers who want to learn more about this fascinating text.


The Translation




Ivanhoe approaches the translation of the Daodejing with a clear aim and a humble attitude. He states that his aim is "to produce a translation that is both faithful to what I take to be Laozi's original meaning and intent and that also conveys something of his distinctive voice" (p. xiii). He also acknowledges that his translation is not definitive or authoritative, but rather one among many possible translations that reflect different perspectives and preferences. He invites readers to compare his translation with others and to form their own judgments.


Translating the Daodejing is not an easy task, as it involves many challenges and difficulties. The original text is written in classical Chinese, which is very different from modern Chinese in terms of grammar, vocabulary, syntax, and style. The text is also very concise, ambiguous, cryptic, and poetic, leaving much room for interpretation and speculation. Moreover, the text has multiple versions and variants, as it was transmitted and preserved in different manuscripts and commentaries over time. Ivanhoe explains these challenges and difficulties in his introduction and notes, and shows how he deals with them in his translation.


Ivanhoe compares his translation with other translators of the Daodejing, both in the language appendix and in the notes. He shows how different translators make different choices and decisions in rendering the text into English, such as word selection, sentence structure, punctuation, capitalization, and so on. He also explains why he agrees or disagrees with certain translations, and what are the reasons and implications of his own choices and decisions. For example, he prefers to use "Way" instead of "Tao" to translate the term Dao, because he thinks that "Way" better captures the dynamic and processual nature of the concept, as well as its connection to other terms such as "way-making" (dao) and "ways" (dao) (p. xiv). He also prefers to use "virtue" instead of "power" or "te" to translate the term De, because he thinks that "virtue" better reflects the moral and aesthetic dimension of the concept, as well as its relation to the Way (p. xv).


Ivanhoe's translation has many strengths and weaknesses. On the one hand, his translation is clear, accurate, consistent, and readable. He tries to convey the meaning and intent of the original text as faithfully as possible, without adding or omitting anything. He also tries to preserve the poetic and rhetorical features of the text, such as rhyme, parallelism, repetition, antithesis, metaphor, and so on. He uses simple and elegant language that is accessible and appealing to modern readers. On the other hand, his translation is sometimes too literal, rigid, or bland. He sometimes follows the word order and grammar of the original text too closely, resulting in awkward or unnatural expressions in English. He also sometimes fails to capture the nuance, tone, or flavor of the original text, resulting in dull or flat expressions in English. For example, he translates the famous opening line of the text as "The Way that can be spoken of is not the constant Way" (p. 1), which is accurate but boring. Other translators have rendered this line more creatively and vividly, such as "The tao that can be told is not the eternal Tao" (Feng and English), "The way you can go isn't the real way" (Lau), or "The Tao that can be trodden is not the enduring and unchanging Tao" (Legge).


The Interpretation




Ivanhoe does not only translate the Daodejing, but also interprets and comments on it. He provides an introduction that summarizes the main themes and concepts of the text, as well as its historical and cultural background. He also provides notes that explain and elaborate on each chapter of the text, drawing on various sources and influences. He also provides a conclusion that synthesizes his main points and contributions.


Ivanhoe's interpretation and commentary are based on his own understanding and perspective of the Daodejing, which are informed by his extensive knowledge and experience of Chinese philosophy. He states that his interpretation is "an attempt to make sense of Laozi's thought from within a broadly Neo-Confucian perspective" (p. xiii). Neo-Confucianism is a school of thought that emerged in China from the 11th century onward, which tried to revive and reform Confucianism by incorporating elements from Daoism and Buddhism. Ivanhoe is a leading expert on Neo-Confucianism, and he has written several books and articles on this topic.


Ivanhoe relates the Daodejing to other philosophical traditions and contemporary issues in his interpretation and commentary. He shows how the Daodejing engages with and responds to early Confucianism, especially its views on human nature, morality, ritual, government, and learning. He also shows how the Daodejing anticipates and influences later Daoism, Buddhism, Zen, and other schools of thought. He also shows how the Daodejing addresses some of the questions and challenges that we face today, such as environmental crisis, social justice, personal fulfillment, spiritual growth, and so on.


On the one hand, his interpretation is original, comprehensive, and coherent. He offers a fresh and holistic perspective on the Daodejing that integrates different aspects and dimensions of the text. He also provides a rich and detailed analysis of each chapter of the text, highlighting its key points and implications. He also connects the Daodejing to other sources of wisdom and relevance, both ancient and modern, Eastern and Western. On the other hand, his interpretation is subjective, selective, and controversial. He imposes his own framework and agenda on the Daodejing that may not reflect or respect its diversity and complexity. He also ignores or dismisses some of the alternative or competing interpretations of the text, especially those that challenge or contradict his own. He also assumes or asserts some of the claims and arguments of the Daodejing without sufficient evidence or justification.


The Language Appendix




Ivanhoe adds a language appendix to his book, which is a unique and interesting feature that distinguishes it from other books on the Daodejing. The language appendix has two parts: the first part compares eight classic translations of the opening passage of the Daodejing; and the second part provides a line-by-line romanization, translation, and explanation of each translation.


The purpose and content of the language appendix are to illustrate and demonstrate the challenges and difficulties of translating the Daodejing, as well as the principles and criteria that Ivanhoe uses to evaluate different translations. Ivanhoe states that he hopes that "the appendix will help readers appreciate both how difficult it is to translate classical Chinese texts in general and this text in particular and also how much translators' choices depend upon their own interpretive decisions" (p. xvi). He also states that he hopes that "the appendix will encourage readers to compare my translation with others" (p. xvi).


Ivanhoe compares eight classic translations of the opening passage of the Daodejing, which are: James Legge (1891), D. C. Lau (1963), Arthur Waley (1934), Wing-tsit Chan (1963), Gia-fu Feng and Jane English (1972), Burton Watson (1968), Stephen Mitchell (1988), and Robert G. Henricks (1989). He chooses these translations because they are widely read and influential, and they represent different approaches and styles of translation. He presents each translation in a table, along with its original publication date, publisher, and page number.


Ivanhoe uses four principles and criteria to evaluate different translations of the Daodejing, which are: fidelity, clarity, elegance, and voice. He defines fidelity as "the degree to which a translation accurately conveys what Laozi says" (p. 102); clarity as "the degree to which a translation makes what Laozi says intelligible to readers" (p. 102); elegance as "the degree to which a translation captures something of Laozi's literary style" (p. 103); and voice as "the degree to which a translation conveys something of Laozi's distinctive tone or attitude" (p. 103). He rates each translation on a scale of one to five stars for each criterion, and provides a brief comment on each rating.


The benefits and drawbacks of the language appendix are that it is informative, instructive, and provocative. It is informative because it provides useful information about different translations of the Daodejing, such as their sources, methods, strengths, and weaknesses. It is instructive because it teaches readers how to read and compare different translations of the Daodejing, as well as how to appreciate its linguistic and literary features. It is provocative because it invites readers to question and challenge Ivanhoe's ratings and comments on different translations, as well as his own translation.


Conclusion




The Daodejing of Laozi (Hackett Classics) by Philip J. Ivanhoe is a valuable and stimulating book that offers a new translation and interpretation of this classic work. It is suitable for students, scholars, and general readers who want to learn more about the Daodejing and its significance for Chinese philosophy and culture. It is also suitable for those who want to explore different perspectives and approaches to translating and interpreting the Daodejing.


The main points and contributions of Ivanhoe's book are that it provides a clear, accurate, consistent, and readable translation of the Daodejing; that it provides an original, comprehensive, coherent, but subjective, selective, and controversial interpretation of the Daodejing; and that it provides a unique and interesting language appendix that compares and evaluates eight classic translations of the opening passage of the Daodejing.


The intended audience and the implications of Ivanhoe's book for them are that it is aimed at those who are interested in Chinese philosophy and culture, especially the Daodejing and its related topics. It implies that they should read the Daodejing with an open mind and a critical eye, and that they should compare and contrast different translations and interpretations of the text, including Ivanhoe's own.


Some questions and challenges that remain for further study of the Daodejing are: How can we determine the original meaning and intent of Laozi, if he existed at all? How can we account for the diversity and complexity of the text and its versions and variants? How can we balance the fidelity, clarity, elegance, and voice of a translation? How can we relate the Daodejing to other philosophical traditions and contemporary issues in a respectful and relevant way? How can we apply the teachings of the Daodejing to our own lives and situations?


Ivanhoe's book inspires and enriches our understanding of the Daodejing by presenting it as a living and dynamic text that speaks to us across time and space, and by inviting us to engage with it in a dialogical and reflective way. It also challenges us to think deeply and creatively about the nature and purpose of translation and interpretation, and about the value and significance of the Daodejing for ourselves and others.


FAQs




Q: Who is Laozi?


  • A: Laozi is the legendary author of the Daodejing, a classic text of Chinese philosophy and culture. He may or may not have existed in the sixth or fifth century BCE. His name means "Old Master" or "Old Child".



Q: What is the Daodejing?


  • A: The Daodejing, also known as the Tao Te Ching, is a short text that consists of 81 chapters that express a profound and paradoxical vision of reality, human nature, morality, and politics. It advocates a way of life that is in harmony with the Dao, or the Way, which is the ultimate source and principle of all things. It also teaches a mode of action that is based on wuwei, or nonaction, which means acting without force or attachment, following one's natural inclinations, and letting things take their own course.



Q: What is Philip J. Ivanhoe's book about?


  • A: Philip J. Ivanhoe's book is a new translation and interpretation of the Daodejing, accompanied by a language appendix that compares eight classic translations of the opening passage of the text. It is part of the Hackett Classics series, which offers accessible and affordable editions of important works of world literature.



Q: How does Ivanhoe translate the Daodejing?


  • A: Ivanhoe translates the Daodejing with a clear aim and a humble attitude. He tries to produce a translation that is faithful to what he takes to be Laozi's original meaning and intent, and that also conveys something of his distinctive voice. He also acknowledges that his translation is not definitive or authoritative, but rather one among many possible translations that reflect different perspectives and preferences.



Q: How does Ivanhoe interpret the Daodejing?


  • A: Ivanhoe interprets the Daodejing from within a broadly Neo-Confucian perspective, which is a school of thought that emerged in China from the 11th century onward, which tried to revive and reform Confucianism by incorporating elements from Daoism and Buddhism. He explains and comments on each chapter of the text, drawing on various sources and influences. He also relates the Daodejing to other philosophical traditions and contemporary issues.



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