Review of Rosemont, Reader’s Companion to the Analects

Guest poster Andrew Komasinski offers us a review of Henry Rosemont Jr., A Reader’s Companion to the Confucian Analects (Palgrave Macmillan, 2012). Please direct any comments to Andrew.

Henry Rosemont Jr.’s A Reader’s Companion to the Confucian Analects is a novel approach in the English-language world. Building on Rosemont’s forty years of professional knowledge and personal experience with the Analects, this text will be of great use for the right type of reader. Containing no footnotes and not structured as an argument, this is not a scholarly monograph and bypasses many issues primarily of interest to scholars. The text differs from the similarly titled Cambridge Companion series which provides a set of scholarly essays highlighting the contemporary debate or Routledge Philosophy Guidebooks that guide undergraduate students through complex arguments.

Who then is the intended audience? Rosemont explains in his preface that this book is to “to aid readers in coming to their own interpretations of the book, necessary if it is to enrich and possibly transform their philosophical and/or religious orientation” (ix). In the last chapter, which is one of the most valuable, Rosemont explains how to “to make the text one’s own” (54; Cf. x) by engaging in an “active reading” of the text. He wants the reader to engage the Analects not as an argument made in times past but as a method for evaluating their own selves here and now. Towards this end, Rosemont suggests finding the student (contra the usual translation as “disciple”) of Confucius in the text with whom one most closely identifies and trying to emulate the corrective advice Confucius gives to this type of student in the Analects. Consequently, this text is perhaps the first English-language devotional guidebook or spiritual exercises for the aspiring reader of the Analects and could be of great use to curious lay readers.

As a text for devotional readers who are interested in engaging in “active reading” of the Confucian Analects (24) for personal enrichment and spiritual or ethical improvement, there are several highly useful chapters. Chapter two provides a useful explanation of how the Analects we have today came to be. Chapter four provides useful explanation of how Classical Chinese differs in type from contemporary languages, and how this should impact the way we read the text. Chapter seven provides a helpful brief sketch of Confucius’s life for the casual reader. Probably the two most helpful chapters are chapter eleven which supplies a description of a Chinese funerary memorial ceremony linking the text to the practice and chapter twelve which makes the devotional method explicit. The text could also help to introduce undergraduate students to religious approaches to the Analects and fill in some of the background information without overwhelming them or requiring them to know Chinese.

Still, I have two reservations about this volume. First, some of the contrasts between Western and Confucian terms in this volume seem one-sided. On page 2, Rosemont groups “Protestant missionaries” with “imperialist adventurers” and later incursions from Russia and Japan as equally damaging incursions to China. Later, in explaining key translation choices, Rosemont rejects “heaven” for tian claiming heaven is the location of the faithfully departed in the Abrahamic tradition (19), but for many (but not all) branches of Christian and Jewish theology, it is instead where God dwells. He tells us “righteousness” is problematic as part of a morality term cluster and thus poor for yi (20) – even though it predates all morality language and has separate provenance. He replaces “disciple” with student, teacher, or associate telling us that the former relates to “creed” and “systematic philosophy” in Abrahamic traditions (24-25), but most Christians would not recognize this supposed association. Rosemont gives better arguments for these choices elsewhere, but the abbreviated versions here might confuse lay readers unfamiliar with the debates about translation but familiar with these faiths.

Second, while Rosemont set dual goals of avoiding making this a text on language and translation and avoiding prejudicing readers’ interpretations of the Analects(x; Cf. 6), there are features in the text that may still veer too far in this direction. While these goals would make one think you could pair this text with any contemporary translation of the Analects, Rosemont frequently refers the reader back to his translation with Roger Ames, The Analects: a Philosophical Translation, and the reasoning behind their translation choices (8-9, 14-15, 15-16, 18-19, 20, 21 37, 48). Moreover, many of the claims in the latter sections (e.g. chapter eight) and appendices are about how best to translate the key terms of the Analects – claims already made at greater length and with more argumentation in the Ames and Rosemont translation. This volume proves valuable for lay readers and instructors alike who want students to read the Analects as part of a living tradition.

About the Reviewer: Andrew Komasinski is a PhD Candidate in philosophy at Fordham University in New York City presently studying in Japan on a Monbukagakusho government scholarship. His interest in Asian philosophy started during his undergraduate career, and he was greatly encouraged by a course he took from Professor Robin Wang at Loyola Marymount University while earning a MA in Philosophy. He is currently writing a dissertation that includes a consideration of Confucius’s account of ethical selfhood.

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