Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews

My review of Karyn Lai’s Chinese Philosophy textbook is now available at NDPR, here. It’s not that much longer than the portion I posted on the blog. More interesting to me is one of the other new reviews, this one by Hui-chieh Loy of Bryan Van Norden‘s new translation of the Mencius. Interesting review–interesting criticisms. Comment if you see something interesting in it.

4 thoughts on “Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews

  1. I’m using Van Norden’s Mengzi book in one of my upper-level courses. The commentary is extremely valuable, though I have to agree with what the reviewer says about it being difficult to separate the original text from the interpolations. Having the commentary right in the middle tends to ruin the flow of the original: usually by the time I have finished the commentary I have to go back and read the text one more time just to remember what was being said; try doing this many times over in a longer passage, like 1A7, and any overall coherence is lost. Hopefully this will be corrected in the next edition.

    That said, I find the translation smoother than the Lau version on which I was raised. And how helpful are the commentaries? Maybe too helpful! One advantage I usually had as the instructor was access to the secondary literature and knowledge of the scholarly debates. These new Hackett editions with commentary (this one, Slingerland’s Analects, and now the Zhuangzi as well) really put everyone on the same footing though. Of course this is a good thing. But watch out! Now you’ll never know when a student will corner you with a question about, say, the competing interpretations of “extending.”

  2. I used Bryan’s Mengzi in a class earlier this semester, and have also looked through (but yet not read carefully or taught from) Brook Ziporyn’s Zhuangzi. These two, plus the Slingerland Analects, each make a different decision about how to incorporate commentary into the text. (In Brook’s Zhuangzi, the commentary is at the back, keyed to chapter and section numbers; the presence of commentary on a given section is indicated in the main text, though in each case one has to page to the back section to find it.) Each approach has strengths and weaknesses. Bryan’s approach most closely mirrors the experience of reading a text in the traditional Chinese fashion, in which the voice(s) of the commentator(s) are quite aggressively present in the reading experience.

    Overall, I was very happy with how Bryan’s Mengzi worked in class, for some of the same reasons that Tim has mentioned. Compared with Lau, it’s simply easier for students to get a grasp on what is going on in a given passage. This comes from the translation itself, as well as from the presence of the commentary. I agree that with particularly long passages (1a7 and 2a2 stand out) it can get a bit confusing. The typographic choices that Bryan and his editors made could, as has been noted, perhaps be improved upon; the commentary is certainly less distinct from the main text than in a traditionally printed Chinese edition, in which the commentary is printed two characters to a single line (i.e., in a very small size). Still, it is clear which is commentary and which is main text. They may have missed by a bit, but I don’t think they’ve missed by much.

  3. Hui-chieh Loy’s paragraph about the inclusion of running commentary caught my eye. I realize this is not really his point, but as a teacher, I am very torn over the question of including commentaries inside translations.

    For example, when I am working on scholarship or just reading on my own, I use Slingerland’s Analects almost exclusively. First, I like his translation the best. I also like the Ames/Rosemont one, but Slingerland’s translation seems to me to be cleaner and less clunky, though this is no doubt due to some of the philosophical baggage A&R take with them to the text (I’m not opposed to the baggage, it just makes some of the translation flow less easily).

    That said, I rarely ever use Slingerland in the classroom (I use A&R) as a way of introducing the text, particularly at the lower level. The reason is that I want my students to try to pull together the meaning of the text on their own and as a group. I want their textual engagement to be more creative and spontaneous. Personally, I’ve found that this is one of the things my own students love the most about reading the book. If students come to appreciate the book, they can move on to challenge their own readings my then engaging with commentary.

    In my early experiences, introducing the text through translations using commentary alters the way in which students engage with the text. In my experience, things quickly become less creative as students “feel the weight” of the commentary weighing down on them. In a lower level course, especially a core course (I teach the Analects in one of those too), using such a text might be the pedagogical kiss of death that turns the reader off from pursuing/reading any further Chinese philosophy. So one question for me to ask is: “who is the target reader of this translation?”

    Of course, I’m also not suggesting that there is nothing fruitful about approaching the Analects from within the context of the commentarial tradition. Clearly there are many rich benefits to such an approach. That said, it’s not the only approach, and it surely has some costs associated with it. Moreover, it doesn’t pedagogically serve the needs of every student/reader. Unfortunately, Loy doesn’t really address this larger issue in the review.

  4. Wow, Chris, we really think alike here! I also rely on Slingerland’s translation for research purposes, as I enjoy his translations and find the commentaries to be handy. But when I used the text for a class I really thought it killed a lot of the motivation for students to think through the text themselves, or engage it in an imaginative way; they would just read the commentaries and think ‘huh, I guess that’s what this passage means’. Or when I’d ask them for interpretations they’d be confused, since the traditional interpretations were right there in the book!

    For these reasons I think I’ll use the A&R translation next time around and see how it goes. (I’m using the Van Norden and Ivanhoe reader this term–with supplements–and have mixed feelings so far, e.g. the sections of the Mozi that were included and those left out.)

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