More than one translation

Saying is not blowing breath, saying says something; the only trouble is that what it says is never fixed. Do we really say something? Or have we never said anything? If you think it different from the twitter of fledgelings, is there proof of the distinction? Or isn’t there any proof? By what is the Way hidden, that there should be a genuine or a false? By what is saying darkened, that sometimes “That’s it” and sometimes “That’s not”? Wherever we walk how can the Way be absent? Whatever the standpoint how can saying be unallowable? The Way is hidden by formation of the lesser, saying is darkened by its foliage and flowers. And so we have the “that’s it, that’s not” of Confucians and Mohists, by which what is it for one of them for the other is not, what is not for one of them for the other is. If you wish to affirm what they deny and deny what they affirm, the best means is Illumination.

Zhuangzi book 2

I wasn’t sure of the value of reading A.C. Graham’s translation of the first seven chapters of the Zhuangzi, but I’m starting to appreciate it in the way paraphrases of the Bible are invaluable to read alongside the more literal translations (a distinction I make only to distinguish how they’re marketed—all translation is paraphrase). He’s helping me see familiar passages, like this favorite of mine from book 2, in a new light.

For example, in Höchsmann and Guorong’s translation, which I love and use as my baseline, they have

Why is it that the dao cannot be found?

and

Dao is obscured by small understanding and speech by vain discourse.

Where Graham has

Wherever we walk how can the Way be absent?

and

The Way is hidden by formation of the lesser, saying is darkened by its foliage and flowers.

Now, to be fair, the second set would be lost on me were it not for Höchsmann and Guorong’s more wooden translation, but it’s Graham’s more affected style that makes the passages speak to me. I especially love the ridiculousness of asking how the way can be absent when walking anywhere. It only makes sense if we think of the way as one correct path, while we stumble along all the wrong ones.

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