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January 29, 2011


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"And if this be but a dream, never may I wake"
Tamasaburo's Yokihi Part 2

There's a lot here, as usual. Let me try to massage my own disparate thoughts about this Analects passage in a way so that they end up all in a similar trajectory at least.

First thought: 'love' is a bad translation for se 色, but so is 'sex.' Se seems like it's both "superficial" and "experiential" in the aesthetic way that your quote from Welsch suggests is problematic. I haven't read any Welsch, but I imagine one of the problematic things is that the kind of aestheticized experience to which he refers tends to diminish action, freedom, agency, or some other less passive exercise of existence. I wonder if Analects 15.13 expresses a similar worry--"I've yet to see someone who enjoys moving things more than being moved by them."

Second thought: de 德 and sexual attraction are certainly not exclusive. There's this wonderful bit of passage in the Dechongfu 德充符 (Completion of Virtue) section of Zhuangzi:

"There was an ugly man in Wei, called Ai-tai Tuo. His father-in-law, who lived with him, thought so much of him that he could not be away from him. His wife, when she saw him (ugly as he was), represented to her parents, saying, 'I had more than ten times rather be his concubine than the wife of any other man.'... he must have been different from other men. I called him, and saw him. Certainly he was ugly enough to scare the whole world. He had not lived with me, however, for many months, when I was drawn to the man..."

De is the power to move others, and you can do it sexually as well as morally.

Third thought: I could certainly see a social critic saying a similar thing today--"I have yet to see someone who enjoys being influential more than being influenced."

I think you and I are making the same points, but I'm not sure.


You know we don't see eye to eye on this passage. In any case, you might find these sayings of interest, at least worthy of being tossed into the overall interpretative hopper:

16.7: Confucius said: "The gentleman guards against three things; when he is young, and the blood a vital essence are still unstable, he guards against the temptation of female beauty; when he reaches his prime, and his blood and vital essence have become unyielding, he guards against being contentious; when he reaches old age, and his blood and vital essence are on the decline, he guards against being acquisitive."

(Note: Rosemont and Ames translate the first in terms of "licentiousness")

4.11: The Master said: "The gentleman cherishes virtue, whereas the petty person cherishes physical possessions. The gentleman thinks about punishments, whereas the petty person thinks about exemptions."

4.16: The Master said: "The gentleman understands rightness, whereas the petty person understands profit."

1) I think there's a shared theme here, no?

2) Now in your passage above 15.13, the xiao ren are not explicitly mentioned, but I think it's not a jump in interpretation to assume that this is who he is talking about (the contrasting typology, anyway).

Hi Chris,

No, I wasn't actually aware we disagreed on the passage. I thought we agreed on the passage but disagreed about something else. Regarding your examples, two brief comments:
1) I don't even need to see the Chinese to guess that "temptation" and "licentiousness" are 追加表現 added by the "enthusiastic" translators. And indeed, all translation is interpretation-- there is no way around it and as a translator I remain sympathetic to these translators. However, in this case, I would say the english says more about the translators than perhaps about the original text.... maybe?

A little victorian sensibility in pre-qin times?? hmmm.

2) The contrasting typology doesn't fit. The semantics are too different (in my opinion). 15.13 is about degree (I would argue) perhaps within all of us-- not typology. Even if this is a virtue versus beauty setup, it is not-- in my opinion-- a virtuous man versus aesthete setup (like in Kierkegaard). This point is not insignificant either I would argue.

I stand very close to Manyul on this one. And actually will upload a post on his example in a bit.

Maybe we did not disagree. Maybe we did? In any case, I'm sure after 6 or 7 rounds of posting, we'll figure it out!

In any case, I am with the other translators. Above I put out the Slingerland and Ames/Rosemont, and I'm guessing these three aren't shabby translators. Here is Lau, Brooks and Brooks, and Sturgeon, respectively, with respect to that key phrase:

(Lau): "...who is as fond of virtue as he is of beauty in women."

(B&B): "...who loves virtue has much as he loves beauty."

(Sturgeon): "...who loves virtue as he loves beauty."

That's 5 vs 1 (or 2, if Manyul is with you). I side with the interpretative majority, the crowd, the public, das Man, the Herd, the One, or whatever, on this one. :)

Whether it's a matter of degree or type can be a matter itself of degree. I mean we could all agree with in the LY there are no purely "virtuous" people. But that to the side, I think we're talking about typologies here, or degree differences great enough that they might as well be typologies.

Also, I should note that I do *not* think this is a "virtue vs. aestheticism" setup; it's a "virtuous life vs aesthetic life" setup. The difference is clear even in Kierkegaard: he doesn't doubt that the ethical life, or the religious life, contains aesthetic aspects. So for K (and for Confucius, I'd argue), ethics is not opposed to the aesthetic. But that said, the ethical *life* is opposed to the aesthetic *life*. In the former, ethics is the meaning of "the good life" and in the latter it is the pursuit of the aesthetic. This, IMO, is a central point in both K and C. For C, virtue has the higher position, and the aesthetic is subordinated to it.

I'd be open to thinking that the ethico-aesthetic in C is more closely conjoined in C than it is in K. But I'd still argue that there's a difference -- pushed in 15.13 -- between being driven by virtue and being driven by beauty.

That's 5 english-speaking men-- who in all probability based their translations closely on the previous translator's work. That said, I am not against "a beautiful woman" (That being the Japanese translation and I do *not* disagree with it).

I dislike beauty as a translation however.

I also disagree with the virtuous life versus the aesthetic life as I do not see these two concepts in any way as standing in contrast to each other-- except in terms of degree (In this passage). I am reading a very interesting paper right now by a man who both "know and love" and in it he discusses two different models: the perfectibility model versus the natural development model in virtue ethics. He is only discussing this in terms of Mencius, however, he complains of commentators (I assume he means anglophone) "foisting" the perfectibility model (based on Aristotle) on to their readings of mencius. I suppose I feel similar here in that this is not a path for enlightenment (or a leap of faith) but rather a path for balanced and moderated moral engagement through lifestyle choices and ritualized habits.

In any event, I am not sold on equating 色 with beauty (or the aesthetic) Hence, for that reason I cannot really go on to your next point about which is given priority because I still am not reading it that way (exemplerary model is beauty and beauty is exemplerary for example).

As always, I remain open to persuasion-- and I love purple grapes :)

On the rightness of translations: I can only go with the overall holistic feel of the work, of course. And on that score, "beauty" seems to fit just fine to me, but I take this to be a reference to the beauty of women, not beauty in general. So if that's our disagreement, then on that level we don't really disagree.

But this is, after all, aesthetic. So still my main point holds: Confucius thinks some people are motivated primarily by aesthetic considerations, and some are motivated primarily by virtue. This doesn't require that these "types" be perfectible in either sense. You surely don't need to be perfectly virtuous to be primarily motivated by virtue. That's all I need, and I think that's all the passage implies. There are some who are motivated by virtue as an end, and there are some who are motivated by (female) beauty.

Again, though, there's nothing *wrong* with female beauty, or being motivated by it, according to C (as far as I can see). It's when it becomes one's *primary* motivation that it is bothersome. It's like riches -- C isn't against that either. But riches that come in a buyi sense should be like "passing clouds" to the person. If riches are your *primary* motivation, however, then "yi" considerations will not defeat a motivation for money. That's bad. Similarly when (female) beauty plays that role.

Hi Chris,

I am against the aesthetic reading of this for the following 2 reasons (which I admit are themselves based on nothing but a very bad mood!)

Here are my reasons for your perusal (and I know my chess-playing friend, that you knew that I was going to make this move but for the benefit of the debate, I lay my reasons out here):

1) I think that 色 has less in common with beauty/aesthetics 美 as a mode-- being more having to do with 遊 (play/romance)
2) We talked about this with Sam Crane at your place but it is my reading that Kongxi's virtuous life is an aesthetic/moral sensiblity so that exemplerary model is beautiful and vice versa.

It would be different if the passage anywhere used the term Beauty or better if the passage said, small people like x while sages like y. But it says really that the Master has never met a man who would pursue virtue over romance.
That is, men like romance. That is, let's keep things in the proper ritualized perspective with this fact in mind.

Does that make any sense whatsoever? Actually I think we totally agree on this all-- but it's the Other issue that is standing between us, no? :)

How about a grape? And shouldn't you be packing?? (Don't forget Master & Margarita, ok?)


I wonder sometimes whether we get lost in words and terms?

I completely agree with your (2). I think it's a pretty basic notion in Confucianism -- the ethico-aesthetic. The ethical model is beautiful (harmony is beautiful, isn't it?).

Still, I agree with (2) but feel as if we are not seeing eye to eye somewhere here. It might be here: the virtuous is always aesthetic, but it is clearly not the case that the aesthetic is always virtuous. As a consequence, when you keep "your eye on virtue" there is always an aesthetic component to this.

Confucius and Kierkegaard would agree with this, I think.

That said, the aesthetic is most certainly *not* always virtuous -- it does not always have an ethical component. I think C and K agree here as well.

If this is sound, then it makes sense -- at least with respect to the holistic message of the text -- to interpret 15.13 as a contrast once again; specifically, a contrast between virtue and the aesthetic, because one is always in the right and the other not. As a matter of fact, if one is "dragged about by the nose" by beauty all the time, without this being constrained by virtue, you'll have problems. Not the same worry with virtue. Follow it, and you'll have no problems, and at the same time embody all of the aesthetic sensibilities, performative acts, etc., that you find important here.

Chris, I re-read the above comment several times. And there is nothing I can disagree with. As long as you are only talking about Confucius.... and NOTHING else (ie, it isn't your opinion but rather you are interpreting the passage) is that fair?

And then how would you translate the passage?
(And I will never agree to Beauty)

And also, do you think, then that this is the biggest danger to a man of virtue today? romance? sex? female beauty? (Again, not aesthetic beauty-- no way)

here is a bridge we can walk over:
play versus virtue
romance versus virtue
(as a gentle reminder)...


chris, if you are saying that 色 is one aspect of Kierkegaard's aestheic mode... I could be persuaded, but still as a translation I wouldn't like beauty-- just because, well because I would need to be persuaded that 色 was used in this way in those ancient times (since I don't think it is used that way in modern times.)

as a translation, I still like romance more than anything. as advice, I see it not as a stark contrast but as an encouragement toward keeping things in perspective-- not unlike my friend's boat analogy.

how does that sound to you?

How about "desire"? It's an essential aspect of sex, romance, and love.

色 also especially means visual attractions, which links with desire and beauty, but less so with love, romance, and sex (which however hover in the background).

The West since Plato's Symposium has been trapped in this weird dialectic between celibacy, idealization, and eros. Distinguishing China from that strikes me as necessary, though I have no real insight into what's different about China's eros / desire / love / sex complex.

excerpt from

The Way It Is
by Kunkyen Longchenpa Rabjam

By its not being, fools are deceived; like deer
Eagerly pursuing mirage water to quench their thirst
Hoping for deluded conventions, the meaning of words,
In all of their philosophies are tied up in objectifications

Especially me.... It's so hard to translate because every translation is simultaneously hermeneutical and anthropological and phenomenological and existential etc. etc. I ask myself, “how would I say what I have understood it to mean to a friend in a profound and poetic moment of real communication?” Not as philologist, but as if channelling the intentionality of the totality of all I know about both languages to let the words naturally leap out at me as if tapping into a current, a Vulcan mind meld with Longchenpa or whomever. Tuning in on the sense of it intuitively. The above is an illustration of my failure.

In my last psychedelic high school year I saw a therapist who was married to a professor of philosophy, Eugene Gendlin, (a famous therapist himself under Carl Rogers at the University of Chicago). Gendlin recalls Dryfus without the aesthetic juiciness. At any rate, his Experiencing and the Creation of Meaning helped elucidate the phenomenological relationship between word and felt meaning for me. When the felt dimension, the tacit, "the preverbally experienced meaning" is focused on, then when ones languaging comes into congruence with this, when they fit, when word and meaning meet, there’s an “ah ha”, “that's what I was trying to say” moment, Gendlin argues, and this is the moment of congruence between mind and preverble experience.

Classical Tibetan has been compared to Middle Chinese (by Beyers). When translating Longchenpa’s quantitative verse (like Li Po’s poetry only mystical without image, more philosophical and phenomenological)---I have to, on the one hand, struggle with the same kind of elliptically pregnant profundities that are found, I imagine from the little work I've done, in Chinese poetry with, on the other, the hermeneutic question of how to say “that” to the modern reader, to best convey the meaning I imagine it has to the original cognoscenti. At the same time, I try to forget how I have translated the term before, like a dancer whose language must move authentically to spring forth from that Rilkean beginning.

Wang Wei c. 700-761
Lù Zhaí

In the empty mountains
no one seen;
Yet echoed voices
were heard.
Receding beams entered
the wood;
Returned upon the blue-green

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