A bystander can only sigh in gratitude to see that this is still possible, heartened that the pulse of Zhuangzi finds its channel in the world yet: in his many years sailing the watery part of the world—the Daoiest part of the Dao, according to some—led only by the radiance of drift and doubt, Bradley has floated his craft safely past both the Scylla of know-nothing New Age enthusiasm and the Charybdis of scholarly forestblind literalism, past both theomorphic piety and complacent humanism, producing a highly accessible, spirited and subtle interpretative rendering and evocation of the Zhuangzi which at the same time communicates the living spirit and the lifeblood of its argument with a rigor and attention to crucial nuances and distinctions which is heartbreakingly lacking in most works on the subject. This frisky little book is so light and clear and lively; be careful, it will wriggle out of your hands. Though Scott is obviously a well learned and scholarly philosopher, you can sense that his observations on this ancient text have been wrought from a life of personal engagement. This book is a real treat and a must read for those that have an interest in Daoism.
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They talked about Daoist and Buddhist philosophy, buskering, and language immersion. Why do you find this so attractive? Why East Asian Languages? Ziporyn: I guess it began in high school, just randomly. I was just bored and avoiding doing homework, and began to pick up random books. I read the English translation of the Daodejing among many other things. This particular Daodejing translation had Chinese and English. It had photographs.
This was a big book and it was his translation, and her photography — arty photographs. That book really did speak to me, and I would say that was quite special. A lot of things interested me, but that one really resonated with me. It was perplexing to me but it was very welcome. I had never heard anything like that. The critique and the comments about value paradoxical stuff — what I would later call value paradox — is another thing that struck me. I suppose it was also my first encounter with sort of a non-theistic concept of an Absolute.
So those three: wu wei, value-paradox, and non-theistic mysticism. I would say those three aspects intrigued me. Excerpt from Tao Te Ching ed. It mattered that it had some cultural weight. I got really intrigued because they were so different — ridiculously different.
I mean they were absurd because they could have been translations of different books. So I started collecting Daodejing translations. I found them here and there in the usual book stores. I also had the Theosophical society one, for example, which was totally different — totally a whole other thing going on.
Now that was more than I could really take in, but I was extremely intrigued. I got interested in Daoism, mainly in Laozi, Zhuangzi, and the Chinese language problem. There were kind of proto-New Age things back in the 60s. Books of that kind [New Age] came into my hands and one that really had an impact on me was by Alan Watts, who was a notorious sort of hippie guru guy — British guy. Anyway, he was like a Christian minister at Northwestern in Chicago. But he left the church, and he became this sort of freelance lecturer, writer and expositor.
The last book he wrote was called Tao: The Watercourse Way, and that one had a whole long chapter about the Chinese language. That was really huge for me because that referred me to Joseph Needham. He was at Cambridge, I believe, and they are still adding volumes about the technological achievements, unrecognized achievements. So I got a hold of that [Joseph Needham]. Because he was trying to sort of give conceptual groundwork for a particular conception of nature, and he actually had a lot of [Alfred] Whitehead in his blood, he was very influenced by Process Philosophy.
He was interested in self-organizing systems, and he seemed to sort of interpret Daoism [that way]. So that was the beginning. That was stage one. I got really interested in the language. Then I had to go to college. It started to come back in my mind; these problems about language and its relation to thought. The thing is you are in college; our system is a little different from yours.
I felt and I always had a kind of resistance to doing the assigned readings. But I liked to read a lot. I spent a lot of time in the library just drawing out random books. But I did feel at a certain point that it was easier for me to learn on my own. I had interest in a lot of different things, but I felt like, what was the best way for me to spend the remaining years of college? With two more years of college or three more years of college, what was something I really need to be taught by someone else?
One of them was language. So I thought I can read Tolstoy. If I look at two translations of Tolstoy, they are recognizably the same book, right?
They are just different in tone or whatever. Or if I want to read Kant, or Nietzsche, however good or bad my German is, I can still sort of get what is going on. But these classical Chinese books — unless you can read the language, it seems like there is no way you can have any idea what is going on. I felt in terms of investment and time, it makes sense to do language — Chinese or maybe Sanskrit.
But I think even Sanskrit you can get through translations better than Chinese. So I transferred to University of Chicago in my third-year of college, and I basically just did Chinese. I had to do core requirements for the new school. I spent a lot of time just trying to learn classical Chinese. Then I went to Taiwan after I graduated to continue language study. Now that was at Taida, but it was a Stanford University run intensive language thing that we did, which was a lot on literary and classical Chinese.
It was one-on-one sessions with Taida professors, like four hours a day and it was amazing. It was a completely different picture and I was fascinated by those works. From there, there was no turning back. I was out of college, and then I got into that one-year programme quite by chance. Toward the end of that school year, I saw an ad in our school for a translator job at the National Palace Museum of Taiwan. It so happens that the guy who was doing this job, he was hired at a very low salary to do translations there.
That meant translating the cards that they put with exhibits, and the handouts, and then like once a year they would do these long scholarly essays, i. I knew nothing about that. But the guy who was doing that job was also a graduate of this school, so this is sort of a pure nepotism, really. I went for the interview, and my Chinese was sort of good enough. He tested me and I got through that, and got the job. So the next two years were spent at the museum.
Nation Palace Museum, Taiwan This is important to the story because I was living in Taiwan; I had a job which did not pay well, but it was first time I have ever been totally out of school in my life.
But that job in those days was a civil service job, which means it is a government job. There was a lot of sleeping on desk, reading the newspaper leisurely. I had a lot of time on my hands, but I had to be there, and I had an office. It was air-conditioned, so it was big deal in those days, and I had to look busy. I also felt like I should not just like be reading the newspaper, but also doing something better, like a book at least, to be a little more constructive.
So I read a lot of stuff in classical Chinese in those days, hours and hours every day, because I had a lot of time to kill, and then also because it was this weird institution. When I wanted to study Buddhist Sutras and also learn more Chinese classics, to learn to read them, I achieved both through basically connections of the museums, because basically those jobs were nepotism jobs that they had got through being students to teachers who were somehow interconnected to each other.
He is one of the great Confucian scholars of the 20th century. He was officially actually employed by the museum before, as some nominal honorary thing. Ninety years old and he lived down the road, literally.
A lot of his students were brought in just to have these civil service posts. I had one colleague who wanted to read Buddhist Sutras, and she found like this sort of independent scholar in town. So we would go like twice a week to read and study the Lankavatara Sutra, which we are doing in class now.
It made no sense at all. He taught at the arts college and was this brilliant, brilliant guy, and fortunately was willing to teach me. Much of the story of early Chinese philosophy was through there, and that really deepened my appreciation for it.
Haowei: Is the job still the same in the museum? Ziporyn: They still do it. I have subsequently met many people who were there doing one of those jobs. That was the happiest time. But also it was really a rich experience for me as a learning experience.
There were people around who were deeply classic-trained. My job was just to do this, and then I have all this time to kill. Zul: So is this around the same time where you started to pick up singing? You heard about that from the guy who interviewed me previously.
Conversation: Dr. Brook Ziporyn
They talked about Daoist and Buddhist philosophy, buskering, and language immersion. Why do you find this so attractive? Why East Asian Languages? Ziporyn: I guess it began in high school, just randomly. I was just bored and avoiding doing homework, and began to pick up random books. I read the English translation of the Daodejing among many other things. This particular Daodejing translation had Chinese and English.
Between Zhuang Zhou and the butterfly there must be some distinction! This is called the Transformation of Things. If [one] distinguishes them, how can [one] tell if [one] is now dreaming or awake? Lickety and Split often met each other in the land of Wonton, and Wonton treated them very well. Wonton alone lacks them.