Uninspired

I’m reading James Legge’s translation of the Zhuangzi (1891). I can’t find my copy of the Longman Librabry of Primary Sources in Philosophy version, and Legge’s was free on my Kindle.

It makes me wish I knew ancient Chinese more than ever. I’m finding Legge’s translation annoying, but I don’t have the knowledge to say why. Decades of working with Ancient Greek and Hebrew have given me a sense of what makes for better and worse translations, but for all I know Legge is useful and the edition I know is wide of the mark.

The only thing I can put my finger on with confidence is a lack of inspiration. In biblical studies this is often confused with inerrancy—a sad, if understandable, conservative impulse. An inspired text (unlike an inerrant one) can be translated and retain its inspiration. When I read the story of the large, useless tree at the end of book one I was left feeling unmoved. There was something too analytical about it (aggravated by Legge’s love of parenthetical comments).

(Yes, that was intentional.)

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