Original Analects Responses
Taking Confucius Away
At one dramatic moment, a Khruschev moment, in the first Working Group Conference in October 1993, a participant, his face all red and his voice all strained, screamed, "You're taking Confucius away from us."
We're not. We're doing nothing of the kind. We're taking away the fictive Confucius, the emblematic Confucius, the fortune cookie Confucius, the phony mythologized impossible Confucius, the Confucius in which, if you stop to think about it, you never really believed anyway, and we're giving you back the real Confucius. If that's not an occasion for gratitude, as between grownup persons, what is?
We are occasionally reminded of that 1993 moment by the emotional charactery of some more recent reviewer reactions to TOA.
History. Another early comment that lingers in the memory is the bemused and irritated question of a senior colleague who had been informed by a mutual acquaintance about our intention to restudy the chronology of all the classical texts. It was: "What do they want to do that for?" Perhaps now, some 20 years later, an answer to this question is in order. Here it is:
We feel it is needful to investigate the chronology question because (1) the validity of any statement made about the classical texts, or about the figures associated with them, ultimately depends on solving the chronology question; (2) serious doubts have been raised, over the centuries, about the adequacy of conventional solutions to the chronology question; and (3) those doubts have often been dismissed, but they have never been satisfactorily resolved.
And we feel it is relevant to add the comment of Yau Ji-hvng, writing about 1700, on the general question of forged or uncertainly known texts. He said,
"Many spurious books have been produced in both ancient and modern times. Can a scholar who does not take the time to make that distinction be called a scholar at all? To make that distinction is the first duty of scholarship."
We venture to remind our critics of this first duty of scholarship.
The Analects. As for the Analects part of this project, there is no one hypothesis about its chronology which we favored at the outset. There is a hypothesis to which the evidence we studied in the course of our search has increasingly disposed us. As it happens, we have been personally disappointed, or even disconcerted, by some of the results to which our work has led us. We have accepted those moments as part of the risk inherent in philology, an art which nobody has to practice unless they want to. In the course of practicing it, we have abandoned, over the years, not only many conventional ideas which (like everybody else) we began by holding, but also many cherished hypotheses which we had thought of ourselves, but which on further investigation proved to be untenable in the face of the evidence. We have always followed our best sense of the evidence. And we think it is fair to expect an equal detachment from previous notions, and an equal availability to what the evidence is saying, in all who claim to hold in honor the classical texts, and the classical tradition.
Our Finding. Our pursuit of the evidence might easily have led us to the conclusion that nothing in the Analects has a plausible claim to represent the historical Confucius. Other investigators before us, perhaps most of them in recent decades, have reached exactly that result. As it happens, we do not reach that result. We find that a certain part of the Analects not only seems to stand at the head of the accretional series of modules making up the text, but that this earliest module has qualities which suggest that it is made up out of remembered rather than invented or narratized sayings. Those sayings, in turn, have qualities which are not incompatible with utterance by the courtier and court mentor Confucius. We find in the Analects a large body of expansion and invention piled on top of the name of Confucius, but we also find, on our best judgement of the best evidence, that there is something real at the bottom of the pile. There is a historical Confucius in there somewhere. There need not have been, but it turns out that there is.
Recapitulation. So, to repeat once more, we are not taking Confucius away. We are not taking history away either. We are doing what we can to give you the real Confucius, in his true historical context. You are two for two in the benefit column. What exactly is the complaint?
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