The Unproblematic Confucius (2)
A REJOINDER TO PROFESSOR BROOKS'S BOOK REVIEW ON THE ANALECTS
I am happy to have this opportunity to write a rejoinder to the review of my Analects in this issue by Professor Brooks (E Bruce and A Taeko Brooks, to be exact). I think I can point out two ways in which my approach to the Analects and that of Professor Brooks differ. These, I believe, will help clarify why he finds my translation of the Analects so unsatisfactory, and why his criticisms do not trouble me as much as perhaps they ought to.
When I was a freshman in Columbia College in 1946, I was required, like all freshmen, to take a one-year course called Humanities, in which we read, in translation of course, the so-called great books of the Western tradition: Homer, the major Greek philosophers, historians, and dramatists; Augustine, Dante, Rabelais, etc. There was only a two-hour discussion session for any given work, which clearly could not get us very deep into the text. But we came away with a general idea of how the works were put together, what their main ideas were, and what these may have contributed to the development of the intellectual tradition.
Experts in the various texts naturally voiced misgivings about such an approach. How can students understand Dante when they know nothing about the Guelphs and the Ghibellines? they objected, and Professor Brooks would no doubt have been among their ranks, since he speaks disapprovingly of the device of throwing an enigmatic and unexplained text at the reader.
Despite these objections, it was felt that the course at least insured that freshmen would become acquainted, if only in a superficial way, with the key works of Western literature, and would to some extent learn how to extract from such works their principal ideas and some sense of their literary appeal and importance. Later, a similar course dealing with the great books of the Asian tradition was set up at Columbia, covering the major works of the Middle East and India in the fall and those of China and Japan in the spring. After I had completed my doctorate in Chinese, I was asked by the Committee on Oriental Studies, which supervised the course, to prepare new translations of several works of Chinese thought not easily obtainable in English. This resulted in my translations of selections from the writings of Mozi, Zhuangzi, Xunzi, and Han Feizi. Waleys translation of the Analects was available in paperback, so there was no need for a new translation of that text.
When Columbia University Press a few years ago asked me to make a new translation of the Analects, that was the sort of readership I had in mind, though I should perhaps have stated that fact more clearly. I am not a specialist in early Chinese thought, and I had no intention of trying to produce the kind of detailed treatment of the text that Professor Brooks has. In my introduction I of course mentioned that some chapters of the Analects are now thought to date from a period considerably later than Confuciuss time, and referred readers to the Brookses for further information. But in my Analects I deliberately avoided going into such textual matters, or discussing later commentaries on or interpretations of the work. I did so because I felt that readers, particularly those encountering the work for the first time, should concentrate on forming an impression of just what sort of book the Analects is, what are its most important ideas, and if such ideas were put into application, as they were to some extent in China, what sort of society would be likely to result.
There is another fundamental way in which Professor Brooks and I differ in our approach to the Analects. I have read with great interest what he has to say about the manner in which he believes the text of the Analects was put together, which sections are of early date and which are later additions. But I believe that, given the present state of our knowledge of early Chinese literature, such assertions are still in the realm of speculation. I gather, however, that Professor Brooks regards them as established facts, and that he expects anyone writing about the Analects now to accept them as such. Likewise, with regard to those passages in the Analects that have long puzzled Chinese commentators and for which they have put forth conflicting interpretations, he believes there is now a right interpretation presumably that followed in his own translation and that other interpretations are to be labelled as wrong. I do not think we have reached that point yet, which is why I have at times in my translation given varying translations of such disputed passages. It seems to me important that readers of the Analects, in addition to learning about its particular contents, should also learn something about the difficulties and uncertainties involved in interpreting the exact meaning of a text of such antiquity.
To sum up, Professor Brooks and I clearly differ rather radically in our approach to the Analects. Commenting on my approach, he declares that Watson is out of his depth. I in turn would question whether Professor Brooks in his approach is not a little bit too confident.
As for the illustration on the jacket of my Analects, I must apologize to readers. Due to a mix-up in communication between Columbia University Press and myself, it was printed before I had seen the proposed design. Confucius as envisioned by the Jesuits in China, gigantic, kingly, and backed by an Italianate library, represents the exact opposite of the image of Confucius I was trying to convey in my translation. Columbia University Press has promised to replace it at some future date, but when that will be I do not know.
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