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DAO DE JING: A Philosophical Translation

Roger T. Ames, Author, Laozi, Author, David Hall, Author
Roger T. Ames, Author, Laozi, Author, David Hall, Author . Ballantine $23.95 (256p) ISBN 978-0-345-44415-8
Reviewed on: 12/23/2002
Release date: 01/01/2003
Analog Audio Cassette - 978-1-57270-308-7
Compact Disc - 978-1-57270-309-4
Compact Disc - 978-0-7927-2829-0
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MP3 CD - 978-0-7927-2792-7
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The authors offer two reasons for a new English version of the classic Chinese Daodejing, better known as the Tao te ching. First, the translators have the benefit of recent archeological finds of earlier versions of the text, particularly a portion discovered only in 1993, "The Great One Gives Birth to the Waters," included in an appendix. Second, as philosophers—Ames is a University of Hawai'i professor of Chinese philosophy and editor of the journal Philosophy East & West, and the late Hall was professor of philosophy at the University of Texas, El Paso—the translators wish to correct previous translations that, in their view, distorted the text by either "Christianizing" it or "locating it within a poetical-mystical-occult worldview." In contrast, Ames and Hall take a secular, pragmatist view indebted to Whitehead, Wittgenstein, James and Dewey. Their view is laid out through historical and philosophical introductions, a chatty glossary, an elegant and "self-consciously interpretive" translation and a chapter-by-chapter commentary. Any textual language that might seem to smack of God or a metaphysics of essences is reinterpreted to lose such trappings. Instead, Ames and Hall insist that the Daodejing aims to "prescribe a regimen of self-cultivation that will enable one to optimize one's experience in the world" and that its title should best be translated as Making This Life Significant. These claims are not completely persuasive: too often it seems that they are replacing one distorting set of Western spectacles with another. But their unconventional renderings—for example, translating dao not as the "way" but as "way-making"—provoke the reader to see the text with fresh eyes. This is a valuable find for anyone who wants to reengage a foundational work. (Jan.)

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