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« A Daoist Christmas | Main | Korean Confucian Thoughts »

January 08, 2014

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Sam- This is one of my favorite Zhuangzi passages but I'm afraid Legge's rather prissy translation just doesn't do justice to the almost sexual (well, probably not "almost") energy here. First of all, 丈夫 and 婦人 here are "men" and "women," not the guy's wife and father-in-law.

This passage: "His wife, when she saw him (ugly as he was), represented to her parents, saying, 'I had more than ten times rather be his concubine than the wife of any other man'" should be something more like "As for the women who when they saw him implored their parents, saying, ‘I would rather be the Master’s concubine than another man’s wife,’ one could count dozens and not be done."

As for "And yet his father-in-law and his wife were of one mind about him in his presence," if someone else knows the full commentarial tradition better than I, I welcome their input, but I've seen 且而雌雄合乎前 as actually referring to men and women (or wild animals) mating before him.

Remember, this is from a chapter entitled 德充符, and beasts being impelled to rut before you is a pretty sure 符 that your 德 is about as 充 as it can get!

I don't think the message here is so much that his marginality (here implied by both his physical abnormalities and his lack of any of the typical traits, rhetorical and intellectual, of those talented at persuasion) gives him a special perspective, so much as that the intense power of his 德 gives him astounding social power that has nothing to do with his appearance and speech. He's almost like a cult leader, but with a true disregard for the power that would entail (which disregard is indeed part of his why his 德 is so strong).

Ai Weiwei is an interesting and important guy, but I wouldn't say he lacks a desire for power and influence. Indeed, he seeks it out at every possible opportunity. This doesn't necessary make him a bad person (and I agree with many of ways he aims to use his power and influence), but he sure isn't a Zhuangzian sage in the mode described in 德充符.

(Also, note that Legge translation you give above ends about halfway through the Chinese text you give, at "是何人者也?" though the rest of that passage is great as well.)

A happy New Year Christopher, and thank you for this interesting comparison. Would you agree the comparison is complicated by the difference between Ai Wei-wei's confrontational engagement and the political disengagement (or a politics of non-confrontation) propagated by the Zhuangzi?

Oops, this comment was meant for Sam, not for Christopher's comment above. Apologies.

Christopher,
Thanks for the comment. Yes, Ai is far from a Zhuangzi sage, but his points about artistic marginality do nudge us toward that passage. And thanks, too, for the heads up about the text. Fixed now. That's what comes of cutting and pasting too hastily.

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