Thursday, October 16, 2014

Dao De Jing: A Philosophical Translation by Roger Ames and David Hall

"Making This Life Significant"

This book is one of the fundamental texts of civilization. It is distinctly Chinese, yet it now belongs to the world. Or at least it should belong to anyone interested in a unique and inviting perspective on the world. Of course, English language readers have a huge number of translations to choose from, but of the several that I’ve read, this is my favorite.
Ames is the China scholar, while the late David Hall comes out of the traditions of process philosophy and pragmatism. Together, they bring a sense of scholarly precision about the source and context of the original texts (and sources and completeness always becomes an issue with a text this old and revered) along with a perspective about how we can understand this work in the contemporary world. For instance, they identify the concept of the focus and field as a central metaphor in the work. Their commentaries on each chapter often refer to ideas familiar to current readers as consistent with process philosophy and pragmatism. (Daoism isn’t consistently with a static metaphysics, that’s for sure.) The commentary helps readers grasp the often allusive words and implicit references in the text that would otherwise leave readers baffled and confused. For contemporary readers from the West, the text communicates in terms of metaphor and allusion that are alien to our normal way of thinking. This is how they define their project: 

We will argue that the defining purpose of the Daodejing is bringing into focus and sustaining a productive disposition that allows for the fullest appreciation of those specific things and events that constitute one’s field of experience. The project, simply put, is to get the most out of what each of us is: a quantum of unique experience. It is making this life significant.

Ames, Roger; Hall, David (2010-05-12). Dao De Jing: A Philosophical Translation (Kindle Locations 285-288). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition. 
There are no doubt many fine translations available for this classic, and each one no doubt sheds insight and re-creates the intention of the text, but this one is my reigning favorite. I feel like I’m viewing a new field with two trusted guides who help me gain the proper focus.