I have been interested in Taoist stuff for years. First there was the Tao Te Ching. More recently I have done some on-and-off reading of the other major work from the Taoist canon, that Chuang Tzu book.
Compiled from dozens of parables into a single tome, it was edited out of its wits by legions of scholars. It finally assumed a form where, on one hand, I can understand it as an English speaker; and on the other, where I look at this book and see in it something Chuang Tzu would never spend more than a moment reading before he wiped his ass with it.
The translation is competent, the editing is good–I can assume–Victor H. Mair’s version is professional all the way. It’s great. It’s just not very Chuang Tzu.
It goes against the Tao itself to be spending hours on end reading the Chuang Tzu. The thing belongs with oral storytelling. I would have been priceless to sit around lazily and listen to them from the man himself. Or from the men themselves, the collective Chuang Tzu of the the folk of old. The text does not carry over the flavor of the original, as I feel the original to have been. Which is too bad, because bits of it are hilarious. I have to assume either the rest was shit or it was lost in translation.
Chuang Tzu-the-narrator of the parables invites you to read them carelessly. That’s the kid of guy he is. Go ahead, show me another one like him.
But Mair-the-editor is as pedantic as they come. He has to be that way to make things legible, since supposedly even Chinese folks cannot understand a thing of the original anymore.
But I have the sense that as he makes the text a reality in my hands, he ruins it. And every time I put the book down with a resounding “fuck it”, I hear the spirit of Chuang Tzu giggle in approval.