September 01, 2019

Tao Te Ching is having none of that bullshit

I also find this bit timely:

The more prohibitions and rules, 
The poorer people become. 

The sharper people’s weapons, 
The more they riot. 

The more skilled their techniques, 
The more grotesque their works. 

The more elaborate the laws, 
The more they commit crimes.

These are from the Stanley Lombardo translation, which came out in 1993.  The translators's preface explains his intentions:
After examining previous translations, we came to realize that there were four things we could attempt that were different and potentially useful. First, we wanted to translate rather than explain the text. The Tao Te Ching is always terse, and sometimes enigmatic. Previous translators have often offered explications rather than pure translations; they explained what they thought Lao-tzu meant rather than what he said. We have chosen to let the text speak for itself as much as possible.  
Second, we found that earlier translations, because they often paraphrase the text, tend to be verbose, extending the concise Chinese text into much longer sentence patterns. To some extent this is inevitable. Chinese consists of a single monosyllable for each word and often does not mark such grammatical features as tense and number. Any intelligible English translation must use more words and syllables than the original, but we believe that it is possible to recreate much of the terse diction and staccato rhythm of the ancient Chinese. Therefore we have kept as far as possible to the bare bones of the language, favoring Anglo-Saxon monosyllables over Latinate polysyllables. In this way we have tried to preserve some of the flavor of the original text.  
Third, we have completely avoided gender-specific pronouns. The original Chinese does not have the pronouns “he” or “she,” but previous translators have inserted “he” to refer to the Taoist Sage. It could be argued that most early Taoists may have been male, but the Tao Te Ching often praises the female spirit, and there is no reason why the text does not apply to women as well as to men. Therefore we have been gender neutral in our translation. 
Finally, we have provided an interactive element in our translation. Since no version can replace the original text as a document, not only will each generation retranslate and reinterpret the text, but each reader should have some direct contact with the original words. We have therefore provided a transliteration of one line in each section, together with the original Chinese characters, keyed to a glossary.



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