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April 05, 2010


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I'm not sure specifically what Manyul is connecting here between the two. I suspect there are a few ways to connect them?

I think Beijing is right, at least, to say that de moves others. There's nothing objectionable in this. And here in the Zhuangzi passage, that seems to be going on at center stage. My take here is that the "ugly" man (of course, this very description is bizarre and suspect in Zhuangzi, right?) displays a de that is in alignment with Tao. As a result, he is deeply attracting to others. It could even be that his "ugliness" is attracting because it is transformed by his de ("virtue goggles" perhaps). Though again I don't like talk of "transformation" here because these descriptive items (ugly) are suspect in the work already. But you get the general point I'm sure.

However, 15.13 is, it seems, describing things from the other side of the story. There, it seems, it is being suggested that most people are motivated not by virtue, but by physical attraction only. The ugly man here is not attracted to anything; instead, he is the attracting force.

Of course -- maybe this is how Manyul is reading it -- it might be possible to read 15.13 as a "sigh" in this fashion: Confucius is bemoaning the fact that there are few people in the world with this sort of de/power. And, as a result, few people are attracted to virtue, and are instead motivated by physical appearance only (they fall into their "default" settings in virtue's absence, perhaps). So here it would not be a bemoaning of the lack of character of the person being attracted by the wrong things, but a bemoaning of the fact that the community lacks the right exemplars with the right de/force.


I think two different things are at work here.
For ZZ, the invocation of "ugliness" is meant, I believe, to demonstrate how "beauty" and "ugliness" don't matter. What matters is allowing de to be expressed in dao. There is no pre-mediation about this, no "knowledge," no "virtue." It's just de in dao. The "ugly" man, then, is a model for us to give up (wu wei) the pursuit of "beauty" and "knowledge" and "virtue" and just be...
Confucius bemoans the young men distracted by sexual desire because they are not doing the work necessary to move toward ren. For him, unlike ZZ, it is precisely because there must be conscious and committed action and practice and performance to cultivate our ren capacities that he is saddened by the young me running after the ladies. They'r not doing what they should to cultivate their ren capacity.
As for Voltaire - not sure where he fits in here. He would seem to be too self-centered for both ZZ and Confucius. But if he is simply expressing his de in dao, then I'd say he's closer to ZZ...

Hi Sam,

Regarding Voltaire, I tend to feel the same. Voltaire to me seems very self-centered and I feel pretty sure that his "rules are for other people" comment puts him outside Confucian understanding... however, if you see him as the embodiment of his own unique natural destiny maybe he could have been viewed as a daoist. I personally just think he found a nice balance in living arrangements! Not too close but not too far either.

Regarding analects 15.13 I just have to ask what you are basing your "should" on....I don't doubt you but I just wonder-- my translation of course had a different (and much less critical )implied should. Today's version might read:

"I have never seen a man who preferred the pursuit of virtue over the pursuit of romance"

Because, in fact, I am not sure he thinks sexual attraction is negative...especially considering this philosophy is very this-worldly

Finally, reading your comment, I realize that I am not quite sure what the ugly man's power was?? He drew people to him, but was it his virtue then?

Hi all,

I'm not really sure how the natural development view in my paper speaks to this issue, but I won't say too much about that.

I do want to emphasize (repeat?) that de 德 really is the power to influence (other people, situations, outcomes, etc) and that 'virtue' is as bad a translation as one could think of given the recent history of that term (the 19th century equation of virtue with sexual "purity," Bill Bennett, etc). As everyone likes to point out--and for good--the Latin term 'virtus' is much better, since it indicates the power to affect changes in the world, as in the English phrase "By virtue of..." 'Charisma' is a much better translation. Maybe I'm saying something everyone already knows; but I think continued use of 'virtue' for de invites more moralization of the term than is warranted.

All that just to repeat that de can operate along differing sorts of influence, e.g. moral influence as well as sexual influence. Note, for example, the use of 'charisma' to describe someone as having all of the following: moral charisma, sexual charisma, and spiritual charisma (Jim Morrison? Jesus Christ? Bono?) There is something strongly male-gendered about this, both in contemporary celebrity-text about charisma as well as in early Chinese discourse about de, though there may be exceptions (examples?).

That's how I see both the ZZ passage and Analects 15.13 working: the emphasis is on the power of a person to draw/attract/influence others as opposed to being the recipient of such influence--being like "the grass which must bend" to the de of the junzi or the sage.

Just some rare whiskey inspired ranting...


"Confucius bemoans the young men distracted by sexual desire because they are not doing the work necessary to move toward ren. For him, unlike ZZ, it is precisely because there must be conscious and committed action and practice and performance to cultivate our ren capacities that he is saddened by the young me running after the ladies. They're not doing what they should to cultivate their ren capacity"

This is what bothers me: ren is something one does with other people (including wives and/or lovers, I would imagine) If these guys do not indulge in a bit of 色 how will they have ever reproduce??? Even if the 1st wife is arranged, isn't it possible that they had 2nd wives or that society was not bothered by romance?

If we accept that 徳 is judged ("normatively valued") socially; then we really, I would think, would need to know more cultural context to say what exactly 15.13 means, don't you think?

And, I-- personally-- agree with Manyul that a virtuous man can be very, very sexy. (Amen).

Perhaps the exact translation of the word isn't so critical. After all, in a romance, who can draw the exact line between sexual and non-sexual aspects of romance? Doesn't it all run together? Isn't the sexual tension part of the experience of romance?

Whether the character/word is best translated as the aspects of us that move another or simply sex - both do move another - and affect a relationship.

Of course romance doesn't require an actual sexual act - but more the tension. Which is why infidelity also can be an act of betrayal without actual sex - again an argument for the idea of being moved.

I guess the thing is - when speaking to a group of teenage boys - does it really matter if it's romance or sex? They're interested in both - depending on how you define it...Have been and always will be....

Hey Eric!

Well, you know I will never agree with you that the translation doesn't matter!! But I do agree that it probably doesn't matter all that much whether the feeling is acted on or not if the Master is worried about "distractions..."

At Manyul's site, we have been talking about this same issue in terms of how to translate (ie understand) the word love: see here

Regarding this:
"Which is why infidelity also can be an act of betrayal without actual sex - again an argument for the idea of being moved."

I just read this article about a woman who divorced her husband for having "facebook sex"... I cannot even tell you how much the article discouraged me. It is a bit scary to me when people start talking about possessing another person's fantasies... I wonder if you agree? I guess it is more the fantasies if he was sending messages... but on the other hand- I don't know, it's very close to a fantasy in my opinion.

Doesn't it seem quick to toss the marriage in the trash over a few steamy facebook messages (or even a lot of VERY steamy facebook messages)... I wonder what you think?

I have a friend who was telling me about his VERY Catholic upbringing when one of his teachers gave the class for a 15 year olds a talk about pre-marital sex, and he said, "What did he think the average 15-year old male is going to say about pre-marital sex, for Christ's sake? I was naturally of the strong opinion that there was simply not enough of it for 15-year males in particular, and vigorous government efforts to promote it among my age group"


Is Confucius taking a similar path as my friend's teacher or is he talking about beauty in general? Is he urging balance or is he just sympathizing with his followers? Well much depends on the translation right? By the way, Beijing, in the link above gives a possible context for the passage, which would also make a difference in how to translate!

I like "integrity" for de...

As for the broader context for understanding 15.13, let's bring in 16.7:

Confucius said: “The noble-minded guard against three things: in youth, when ch’i and blood are unsettled, they guard against beautiful women; in their prime,when ch’i and blood are unbending, the guard against belligerence; and in old age, when ch’i and blood are withering, they guard against avarice.

That is Hinton's translation. Ames and Rosemont render the first line as:

Confucius said: "exemplary persons have three kinds of conduct that they guard against: when young and vigorous, they guard against licentiousness...

He seems to be warding young men (or anyone who seeks to become exemplary, who wants to cultivate their ren capacities) away from sex. At the very least this suggests a limitation of our sexual desires in the name of Duty. The person of integrity (who has developed his internal appetite for Duty [i.e. from Mencius's idea that "Duty is internal" and like an appetite]) may well be sexy but he or she cannot (if they want to do the right ren thing) let their appetite for sex interfere with their appetite for Duty. That's the Confucius-Mencius view, in my current reading, at least....

Hi Sam,

Beijing emails and seems to like "moral power." I am not crazy about that and actually, like you, prefer Integrity (though I still think there might be something even better). This particular passage gets a lot of attention (obviously!) and one of the Japanese sites I saw explained it like this:

Most people fall passionately in love to the point where they lose all reason. The virtuous person (有徳者=仁徳+礼節) who is able to love with "decorum" and reason from the depths of their heart is rare. "And in this way, the Master is lamenting the difficulty of striking a balance between romance (Jpse is beautiful woman 美人) and virtue 徳。

If you think of it in this way (and I don't dislike that reading I am sure you can guess)then integrity is quite nice, I think since it gets at this aim for balance. However what the word might not emphasize is the way this all happens in society (not just in the family but with all our duties) as a *force*

What do you think, Sam?


This is for our future conversation about Kierkegaard and Facebook. You've just gotta read it. I just re-read it and remained discouraged, annoyed, perplexed and gloomy:


"force" strikes me as, well, too forceful. How 'bout "appeal" or attractiveness" or something like that?

Hi Sam,

I think I may prefer "force" or "power" more than "attractiveness" or "appeal" for the following reasons (and this is the same reason, by the way, why I prefer "integrity" to anything with the word "moral" as an english translation for 徳):

徳: look at the kanji→ "straight" (直)+ "heart/mind"(心) + "go"(行)
Hence: move with straight heart; move from the natural 直 disposition of one's heart.

According to Japanese wiki, in the oracle bones,

According to Shirakawa, in the oracle bones script, the character was written as a large "eye" with a decorative head-gear signifying the magical power (mystical force) of the early shaman kings who had the power to control earth. In later times, the kanji came to signify the force that a ruler had to cultivate resources and nurture and draw out 自然万物.

Power/force seem implied in the etymology. I need to get the laundry out on the line so will confirm this later at the library.
Interestingly 徳 seems connected with integrity of heart and the power that has to influence. It is really interesting, isn't it?

Tao Te Ching is sometimes translated "The Way and its Power."

In response to your question, I don't know if they should trash a marriage over this Facebook conduct, but it's interesting. The line into betrayal - well, it's not a line, but a spectrum or a gradient...

Ever seen the movie, "Eyes Wide Shut"? The movie is all about this. Tom Cruise goes to an orgy, but doesn't participate. He's obsessed with another woman and stalks her - but makes no advance. His wife similarly develops another interest but doesn't actually have sex. And yet, in the end, they both feel that they both cheated on each other in some way.

At the same time, is a flirt a violation? Some sexual tension? A fantasy? People are human (and animal), and monogomy can be a tough road....

I think it's not about acts, but betrayal. Where is your heart? And you have loyalty?

After all, a lot of people cheat to create a clear, tangible manifestation of the fact that emotionally, they've already left their partners. In some ways, it's the coward's way of breaking up.

And for some people, an affair or an indiscretion is the scream that gets their relationship back on track...

I guess Facebook could be flirting, it could be fantasy, it could be betrayal. It really depends.

As far as translation - I think the hardest part is the cultural contexts which langauges reflect. Sometimes it's the concepts themselves that don't translate. In my limited experience I've found places where no one word, let alone ten, really conveys it. Sounds like that's what you've hit....

I think it's not about acts, but betrayal. Where is your I think it's not about acts, but betrayal. Where is your heart? And do you have loyalty?

When I hear words like "betrayal" and questions like, "do you have loyalty?" I cannot help but think of my own steamy facebook messages :)

You see, I sometimes like to pretend I am in the spy game (and my friend lovingly plays along)-- so yes, I too sometimes think in terms of codes, the mission and of course betrayal is always on my mind....

In marriage though? --really????

For the hell of it, I asked my partner in the spy game what he thought of the article, and he said, "well, we can only see one side so it's hard to say..." Yeah, and that side was highly un-appetizing, don't you think? When I see a woman "hacking into" her husband's computer (pleased when she knows his password)... I can only whisper to myself those words from the gulag which I now know by heart:

"what have you gained? the calculation dazzles..."

To me, there is the problem right there. I don't know, I guess I am forever on a Need to Know Basis **ONLY**

I do not want to know what I don't want to know and I always want to have better things to do with my time than hacking into another person's machine to see if he has "crossed the line"

And, this is precisely what I meant when I said, that today I think The Lady of Ren would probably have this to say to her followers: "It is a rare woman who would have the sense to turn off Reality TV and and get a meaningful occupation of the heart."

Hope against Hope?
"...for you cannot seize the movement of my lips, their silent sound"

Hi Sam,

I did make it to the library and found a book written by Shizuka Shirakawa (from the above wiki article) I will check it out to see if I can learn more about the original meaning of the charcater 徳.

In the meantime, I looked up

How about this:
Confucius says, The nobleman ought to be careful of the following during each of the three stages of his life: when he is young and has not achieved sufficient calm, he should be careful not to lose his head in love; when he is in middle age and his vitality is at its peak (and therefore so is his confidence), he should refrain from competition or fighting; and in old age when his vitality is on the decline, the nobleman should guard against greed

hence: everything has a time and a place. This is not bad advice either, is it?

There is a huge difference between crossing lines and policing one another. If you're policing, the relationship is all but dead anyway. In good relationships, we take the leap of faith and trust our other - putting our hearts, and often well-being in his/her hands.

Big difference between defining betrayal and policing it....


In the spirit of Valentine's Day, I bite my tongue and send you this:

Insomnia. Homer. Tautly swelling sails.
I've read the catalogue of ships half through:
This wedge of cranes, this outstretched brood
That once took wing across the Aegean isles.

A train of cranes outstretched toward alien frontiers,
The foam of gods crowns the leaders' kingly hair.
Where sail you to? If Helen were not there,
What would Troy mean to you, oh warriors of Greece?

Both Homer and the sea: all things are moved by love;
To whom shall I pay heed? Homer here is silent
And the dark sea thunders, eloquent,
And rumbling heavily, it breaks beneath my bed.
--Osip Mandelstam (1915)

And Sam responds here

德: Sorry, but it seems from all your attempts to translate this that the English language simply isn't up to the job. Too many of the words bandied about- 'virtue' and 'charisma' being prime examples- have been so thoroughly beaten about and abused that they're but pale shadows of their former selves. Charisma, for example, has been reduced to some middle-aged man in a middling suit with slicked back hair and a toothpaste-ad smile driving an SUV full of textbook wife and kids to a mega-church on Sunday morning, preaching a sermon broadcast round the world that somehow inspires people to empty their bank accounts and fill his, then going to his favourite rentboy on Monday morning. And force makes me think either Dick Cheney or Star Wars.

Sorry, but my New Zealand-centric solution is to turn to the Maori word mana. Mana encompasses all the internal issues of virtue and integrity, since it is not yours by right of birth and can easily be lost. It also encompasses the outward issues of the power to influence others, a force of good, an authority and leadership that inspires people to sit up and listen. Yep, sorry to inject another foreign term into the discussion, but I'm thinking mana (which is accepted in New Zealand English as a loan-word from Maori) is a better translation. Trouble being, of course, that there's no more than 5 million speakers of both New Zealand English and Maori combined worldwide..... Oh well.

Regards relationships and marriage and betrayal and Facebook sex (mind is boggling... I mean, I value the integrity and continued good functioning of my computer screen too much to even attempt such a thing).... Trust is often a matter of choice, and choosing to trust someone is more likely to end with them staying loyal than betrayal. And so ends my career writing relationship advice.

Hi Chris,

It's always great to hear from you! You know, I actually lost some sleep over your suggestion last night (no, no, not about FB sex...) the other suggestion (just kidding!) about mana as 徳。I just don't think it maps....

First, remember how I told you about the romance novel about Hawaii that I was translating? Well, all my notions about Mana come directly from that novel. So, that is the first thing-- I am thinking of mana like the Hawaiians did at the time of King Kamehameha. Mana.... that power that comes from high birth (marriage between siblings)-- yes, it is charisma and being sexy and influencing people... there is an absolute sense of being in the right (I hesitate to use the word virtue or moral but let's say the Good or the Natural Way of Things..) Does that sound like an acurate description of mana? In any event... can we agree that it is a kind of spiritual inner--a Power that comes with birth?

So, with that in mind, I think the closest possible match is 気.

Even that is not perfect, though-- so I give you This from New Zealand to try and distract you!

徳 is a very old concept-- wasn't it already old by the time of Confucius? (For example see my translation above about its meaning at the time of the oracle bones script). When you think of it in terms of that older definition-- mana comes quite close, you are right.

In terms of the Analects, mana would not take into account the concept that this is something cultivated (you know, actually, even in the ancient sense that power was in all probabilty something cultivated as the kings were "Sage Kings." In Hawaii at least, I don't think mana has quite the same connotation in terms of kingship.)

Have you ever read this book, The Translator's Turn I have been thinking of ordering (as I've wanted to read it for years) but I want to learn more about his ideas concerning "a translator's "feel" for the "right" word choice by a felt comfort with a choice determined by personal and collective usage."

That is how I felt about mana and 徳 it didn't *feel* like a good translation but it took me quite a long time to come up with reasons for my feelings... isn't that always the case, though?

And FB sex-- is it even physically possible??? Yes, mind is boggling....I don't have a password on my machine (do you?)

Talk to you soon (on FB!!) :)

Wow, another reason to avoid Christchurch. Stick to Wellington, Dunedin and the countryside if you go to New Zealand.

Clearly Hawai'ian and Maori (and all other Polynesian) mana derive from the same original concept, but I'm not sure how they may have diverged. Hawai'i and New Zealand are at opposite ends of Polynesia, after all. And maybe I'm seeing things from too much of a Pakeha perspective. The high-born do tend to have mana, but it's not handed out by right of birth. It can be earned and it can be lost. And am I to take it that Hawai'i is the Alabama of Polynesia?! A former boss of mine is a high-born Taranaki (central West Coast of the North Island) Maori, but you wouldn't know from looking at him. The high-born had first dibs on European sailors who jumped ship- fresh blood being necessary to keep the population strong, of course, and the high-born wanting to keep the whanau's position at the top of the heap.

Anyways, I usually just lurk here reading and trying to absorb and learn. I don't often have much to contribute to the discussion, but suddenly this time I got that "translator's "feel" for the "right" word choice by a felt comfort with a choice determined by personal and collective usage." Or something approaching that.

Password? What for? I've got nothing to hide... well, not much...

Hi Chris,

I thought you might enjoy that!

Well, I am no expert on Polynesian culture and really my only exposure was that novel... and the small amount of english language background reading I also did. But it seemed like in Hawaii, the ali'i aristocrats had mana by virtue of their pure blood. Some would rise up like Kamehameha so there was a "plus alpha" element but I don't think, for example, a non-ali'i could ever be king or marry a king. And blood ties were important on both the maternal and paternal side so if you had 2 royal parents then you were even more powerful. For example, one of Kamehameha's wives had particularly impeccable bloodlines so she was known as his Sacred Wife, with any children she would bear becoming king.

I think that is why they would take part of the bones of those they killed or were so careful about their own burials since the mana was inside their bones. Kaahumanu kept her father's thigh bones with her after his death and so sacred was Kamehameha's secret burial site that I think (?) its place is still not known.

I just don't know much about Your side of Polynesia unfortunately so am so glad to learn about it from you! When I 1st started that writing project it was after an intense many-year long reading of Song dynasty histories and the sudden change to Hawaii was actually kind of a shock. Do the Maori wear those bird feather cloaks? Those and the helmets are pretty amazing really.

From what I understand, Maori society had a lot more social mobility.

They do still have bird feather cloaks and traditional-style grass skirts- or traditional-style clothing made out of modern material, perhaps- but they're only worn for ceremonial and performance purposes. And they tend to wear black shorts under the skirts, making them more modest than in the pre-European days.

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