Despite its title and place in a series of short books introducing religious classics, this book is best suited for readers already familiar with theDespite its title and place in a series of short books introducing religious classics, this book is best suited for readers already familiar with the I Ching, or as he transcribes it in the text but not title Yijing. Smith provides lucid overviews of the difference between the most influential Chinese schools of interpretation (focusing on "images and numbers" on the one hand, "principles and meanings" on the other) and traces the book's spread from China through East Asia (Japan, Vietnam, Korea and to a lesser extent Tibet) and on to the West, mostly in forms which reflect the ulterior motives of missionaries and scholars. There's a brief overview of the best known English language translations, but there are much more thorough versions easily available (and noted in Smith's bibliography, which is a gem). Some cool illustrations spice up the serviceable but never exciting prose.
I found the illustrations of how the I Ching has been used a bit opaque. While my familiarity with consultation methods allowed me to follow them, I think they'd be murky to newcomers. This reflects my own bias, but I would have liked a much more detailed consideration of the Jungian/existential resonances of the Yijing for readers who first encountered it as part of a counterculture mix but have dug deeper over the years....more
Less a book about/out of Zen than a compilation of aphorisms and teaching stories for leaders, especially the abbots of Zen monasteries. The sayings dLess a book about/out of Zen than a compilation of aphorisms and teaching stories for leaders, especially the abbots of Zen monasteries. The sayings date to the Song dynasty (10th-13th centuries CE), which were perceived by those living then as a decline from Zen's classical period during the Tang dynasty. The Zen readings that speak to me are those located much closer to the paradoxes and silences of Huang Po; these pieces are a useful reminder that Zen existed in a real world of fallible human beings and institutions, but there are many better places to start or pursue Buddhism....more
The four stars are for the translation. Ranking the Tao Te Ching or Chuang Tzu is a fairly hilarious idea, equivalent to rating the New Testament. NoThe four stars are for the translation. Ranking the Tao Te Ching or Chuang Tzu is a fairly hilarious idea, equivalent to rating the New Testament. No book of any sort is more important to my way of thinking and, to the extent I can stay centered and uncentered, acting, in the world. Taoism is grounded in notions of flow, of the generative emptiness at the center of all things, and the Tao Te Ching particularly emphasizes the implications for political and social life.
For Americans, the main point is to embrace yin energy. We ain't good at it.
Anyway, I'm in the process of reading my way through Cleary's collected translations of the key texts of both the Taoist and (the closely related) Buddhist traditions. A Harvard professor who knows the traditions and the cloud of commentaries surrounding the key texts inside and out, Cleary has given us a set of gifts of inestimable value. If you follow my reviews, you'll be hearing about the specifics regularly over the next few years (provided I don't get hit by a bus and all).
In the case of these texts, his translation places a very heavy emphasis on what I'd call the Confucian dimension of the text: the readings and interpretations that foreground the implications for those in public life. This is a part of what they're about and anyone translating the Chinese characters is going to have to make choices. Cleary's are useful and defensible, but I prefer Stephen Mitchell's less scholarly, more poetic, and more inward translation of the Tao Te Ching. Cleary's not a poet and that's okay, but if you stick with his version, you'll have trouble understanding why I love and honor this book as deeply as I do....more
Not st all sure why it took me as long to read Murakami as it did, but I'm very glad I finally did. This is a great novel, one that ranks alongside GaNot st all sure why it took me as long to read Murakami as it did, but I'm very glad I finally did. This is a great novel, one that ranks alongside Garcia Marquez, Lessing's Golden Notebook, and the small handful of books that combine formal inventiveness and the proverbial "something to say." Coming at it from my post-Jungian perspective, I read it in part as a parable of the relationship between the different parts of the psyche--the dream world negotiating the incoherence and chaos of the social world, a meditation on the shadow figure and the search for what Jung called individuation. It works that way, but it would respond equally well to many different interpretive lenses and/or experiences. It's one of the smartest books about the role of information in the 20th and 21st centuries, raising the ante on the best cyberpunk (thinking of William Gibson and Neil Stephenson's Snow Crash); it's a political allegory of sorts. Wasn't sure how he'd pull the two major currents of the apparently split narrative together, but I was totally satisfied with the ending. I obviously don't read Japanese, but the translator convinced me of the voice so thoroughly I forgot I was reading at a certain distance. Highly highly recommended....more
It had been a very long time since I'd read Kawabata, probably sometime in the 70s. There's no way I could have understood this book then. The Sound oIt had been a very long time since I'd read Kawabata, probably sometime in the 70s. There's no way I could have understood this book then. The Sound of the Mountain is a beautifully realized portrait of an aging Japanese businessman, Ogata Shingo, grappling with mortality and the problems of his family. It's not just a cliche to say there's something deeply Japanese in Kawabata's sensibility. The sense of landscape echoes the Shinto belief that each place has its own presiding spirit, and the sense of honor that occupies the center of Shingo's moral life differs profoundly from the norms of American psychology (as does his acute sense of having failed to live up to his values). Kawabata does a masterful job with the psychology of aging and sadness. I may eventually give this one the fifth star; for now I'm letting it settle in before going on to another of his novels....more
A Japanese World War II veteran who witnessed the plane carrying the atomic bomb to Nagasaki, Nanao was a friend of Gary Synyder and Allen Ginsberg anA Japanese World War II veteran who witnessed the plane carrying the atomic bomb to Nagasaki, Nanao was a friend of Gary Synyder and Allen Ginsberg and it's useful to think of him as splitting the difference between the two. His best poems combine Snyder's crystalline eye for natural detail--the two spent time together in both Japan and the American Southwest--with Ginsberg's direct (and sometimes sort of obvious, at least for members of the choir like me) political commentary. Waht sets him apart is his unfailing sense of humor and encompassing generosity. Not all of the poems are five star, but the collection will stay on my shelf of necessary books....more
Great novel, comparable to Madame Bovary or Pride and Prejudice. Mishima weaves together a portrait of Japanese society in the process of the transitiGreat novel, comparable to Madame Bovary or Pride and Prejudice. Mishima weaves together a portrait of Japanese society in the process of the transition to the modern world with compelling psychological studies of the main characters with a convincing set of secondary characters who illuminate the foreground action while remaining absolutely individual. While Mishima's political positions (which led to his suicide) are well known, the novel's not ideological in any simple sense; it confronts moral quandaries with an understanding of the ways in which different sets of values and character types lead to irreconcilable differences. F.R. Leavis once wrote that the purpose of the novel is to present readers with moral, ethical and political dilemmas in a form that's roughly as complicated as the one we encounter them in in our lives. Spring Snow does that. It's the first of the Sea of Fertility quartet and I'm hooked....more
My favorite translation of an absolutely crucial book. Re-read this while I was staying at a Benedictine monastery (The Monastery of Christ in the DesMy favorite translation of an absolutely crucial book. Re-read this while I was staying at a Benedictine monastery (The Monastery of Christ in the Desert), immersed in silence and the northern New Mexico landscape, roughly thirteen miles from the nearest wi-fi or cell phone service. Perfect. Mitchell's probably at the top of my list of "translators" (though I think he really works closer to the tradition of the "imitation"--a version which draws on other translations and is deeply influenced by the writer's vision. Mitchell's worked with the Bible (concentrating on Jesus's words in The Gospel According to Jesus), the Bhagvad Gita, Gilgamesh and numerous others) but for me this is his masterpiece. The sense of quiet calm--the vibrant emptiness at the center of the turning wheels--permeates the 81 sections. Clearly, he orients his version to the contemporary world--the mention of warheads, for instance, probably wasn't there in the original Chinese, and the alternation between masculine and feminine pronouns--but it doesn't feel like a distortion. More introspective than Thomas Cleary's version, which I read a month or two ago--but very much aware of the connection with public life.
At this point in my life, if I could have only one book to take on a long journey, this might well be it. ...more