Category Archives for: Literature Reviews

Notes on Translations of Ancient Literature

19 May 2016

[related writings: What is Worth Reading?, Notes on Translations of Ancient Literature, Lessons in Research of a Past Time, The Kinds of Literature and the Extraction of Ideas]

Two recent posts have been about finding a good, if not the best translation and/or publication of ancient literature: Dao De Jing (道德經) and Zhuangzi (莊子) and Plutarch’s Lives. I took the notes and the lesson from those posts and placed them here.

notes on publishers

1. Penguin [Classics]
– good, simple book format (which is becomes more important when reading digitally): intro, then straight to content
– most often has (/ probably can afford and copyright) the best translation
– for prolific authors they to divide works by several books often with different translators, which would make word choices inconsistent, and reading a bit more cumbersome (again, doubly important for digital reading)
2. Oxford [World’s Classics]
– similar [to Penguin], but in the case of Plutarch’s Lives, failed by excluding content


1. none
– if one doesn’t like the Penguin edition, then some other random publisher may have a better publication (physical format, digital format, extra content) or translation (Hackett, Basic Books, Yale, Cambridge, etc.)
– if one wants complete works, again, some other random publisher may have it (ex. Modern Library for Aristotle and Plutarch’s Lives, Hackett for Plato, Landmark for Ancient Greece historians, etc.)
*. Delphi Classics eBook
– made for digital! Translator is probably limited to those that are available for free, which could be crusty.
x. Harvard [Loeb Classical Library]
– avoid, billingual Greek and very literally translated English, made for anal academicians. Perhaps for ease of secondary translators?


1. none – probably some random native translator who is capable of thinking like an ancient native person, such as Yutang Lin and Wing-tsit Chan for ancient Chinese philosophy
A Source Book in Indian Philosophy by Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, Charles A. Moore (Princeton)
A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy by Wing-tsit Chan (Rongjie Chen) (Princeton)
— published after helping Watson with Sources of Chinese Tradition (Columbia)
The Wisdom of China [and India] by Yutang Lin (Random House, Modern Libary, picked it up)
— he wrote a history of Chinese philosophy and even translates the Chinese sources, which I thought were the best translations of Laozi and Zhuangzi. For the India portion, I believe he writes the history, but selects translations of sources.
Readings in Classical Chinese Philosophy by Ivanhoe and Norden (Hackett)
0.5 Columbia (Watson, Mair)
– seems like a niche monopoly here. Better than Penguin and Oxford for Laozi, and maybe Zhuangzi too (doesn’t this show how insular and analytic (read: anal) Harvard and Oxford are? And on lesser level, how insular even Columbia is for not having more, smaller societies?)! Also has anthologies and “source books” for literature and everything else respectively, which basically cover the entirety of a civilization’s past:
Introduction to Asian Civilizations series: Titles beginning with “Sourcebook” are comprehensive, “Encompassing social, intellectual, religious, and literary traditions“; Titles with “Sources” is an “abridged introductory collection [that] offers students and general readers primary readings in the social, intellectual, and religious traditions“. So, it seems that they are composed of social, intellectual, and religious histories. That’s a huge feat. That makes this series, as far as the East goes, the most valuable source that I have found thus far.
Sourcebook of Korean Civilization: Volume One: From Early Times to the 16th Century by Peter H. Lee
Sources of Korean Tradition: Volume One: From Early Times Through the 16th Century by Peter H. Lee, Yôngho Ch’oe, Hugh H. W. Kang
– Victor A. Mair is the editor of The Columbia History of Chinese Literature, The Shorter Columbia Anthology of Traditional Chinese Literature , Columbia Anthology of Chinese Folk and Popular Literature, and a translator of at least Laozi, Zhuangzi, and Xunzi.
– Burton Watson is the translator of a ton of things all over East Asia (Hanfeizi, Xunzi, Mozi), and often a editor of the anthologies by Columbia, including one for Chinese poetry, The Columbia Book of Chinese Poetry: From Early Times to the Thirteenth Century, and one for Japanese poetry, From the Country of Eight Islands: An Anthology of Japanese Poetry.
*. Shambhala
– I ran into this publication for Laozi (3 good translations) and Zhuangzi, quite modern and good

a recent lesson

The Oxford and Harvard editions are “scholarly”, which for us mortals translates to less accessible, which opposes one of the tenets of art, making them detrimental to life. Leave those insular schools and their [publishing] presses to their insular selves. For the future: simply get the Penguin edition, if not, jump into a crusty old translation, more convenient if it’s within a reader or sourcebook, if not, do something else.
Rahil, Translations of Plutarch’s Lives


– a forum thread about the best translations of Ancient Greece classics

– [todo:] worth reading, about the problems of translating Chinese

– random article Googled which contain some anthologies of Chinese philosophy

– CUNY Chinese Philosophy syllabus

– a crazy extensive list of writings that may be somewhat related to peace from ancient to now


– a cool text by an independent translator which compiles quotes from people about translating spanning two thousand years

Leave a comment | Categories: Art, Eastern Philosophy, Humanities, Literature, Literature Reviews, Philosophy

Translations of Laozi and Zhuangzi: A Translation Hell / 老子,莊子:翻譯的地獄

12 May 2016

I’ve recently had a stomach-based fever, which gave me some more down-time to continue reading light meditative material, and even watch a Ghibli film!

But before I could read, I had to get through translation decision hell for Laozi’s (老子) Dao De Jing (道德經) and Zhuangzi (莊子). For now, here are my notes:


Modern Chinese:
?. There are two versions on Project Gutenberg. One seems to be similar to the one on ctext; The other has more punctuation.
x. 陳鼓應,《老子今註今譯》
– The format makes this unreadable (digitally and physically!): original text in Classical Chinese -> massive amount of notes (500 pages) -> translation in Modern Chinese; No parallel text.

0. Yutang Lin
– best first verse, poetic yet literal, entirely comprehendable, no random words left as other translators do with Chinese, better choice of words: “absolute” over “eternal”, “from mystery to deep mystery” over merely “deep and profound” or “deep and deep” or “deep again”
– I initially got only the main text from terebess, which is what I based my decision on, but it seems his book, Wisdom of Laotse (maybe included in his Wisdom of China and Wisdom of China and India), is 300 pages with notes, probably having the best introduction, an imaginary discussion with Zhuangzi, then fits bits of Zhuangzi where it makes sense. He gets it. It must be a gem, a jade perhaps.
0. Tim Chilcott
– this fantastic find is a parallel text which includes simplified Chinese, hanyu pinyin, and his own translation, which itself seems quite good, probably borrowing a lot from past translations. It’s fantastic because the pdf file is modern, with links to notes on words and phrases. I’m starting to think this text is best translated by non-academics. Also, he created a cool text which compiles quotes from people about translating spanning two thousand years .
1. Wing-Tsit Chan
1. John Wu (Shambhala)
– Chan and Wu seem quite similar, both supposedly highly reputed translations. I started with Chan then changed to Yutang Lin.
1.2?. Waley
– also highly reputed
?. Ling-Feng Yen (both versions: Mawangdui Boshu Laozi)
?. Ivanhoe
?. Henricks (combines both versions [Wangbi and Mawangdui], also has other slip translations)
x. D.C. Lau (two versions)
– converts text to fit English grammar; Terrible.

1. Jane English (Vintage)
2. Ursula Guin (Shambhala)
– both look great, maybe English more attentive, with better intuition. Guin’s has nice informal contemporary dialog after every few verses.


Modern Chinese:
*. see Modern Chinese translation of Laozi, as the same applies here.

1. Hamill and Seaton (Shambhala)
– seems to combine the best traits of all translations, includes book names, certain Chinese words in brackets, and feels most logically flowing making it the most comparehendable, but less poetic and more wordy because it uses more accurate English words
– use this if one doesn’t understand something.
1. Brook Ziporyn (Hackett)
– flows almost as well as Yutang Lin, but more complete like Hamill and Seaton, without being as wordy

0. Yutang Lin
– little older, but my favorite translation [of all] (again!), poetic, detailed yet simple like Jane English’s Laozi, seems to have the best grasp of Chinese
– only translated the selected Inner (excludes one) and Outer chapters, eleven out of thirty-three, with reason in the intro
1. Victor A. Mair (normally Columbia, but Watson beat him)
– perhaps more accurate and still flows well, more wordy than Yutang, but on par with Watson, and even interprets into things less than Watson, original scholarly translation
– probably has a great intro, includes great concise history of China
– one of two complete translations
1. Burton Watson (Columbia)
– interprets a bit more than Mair and perhaps loses some of the Chinese poetics, but flows better than Mair with plain English, original scholarly translation
– probably has the a great intro
– one of two complete translations
?. Martin Palmer and Elizabeth Breuilly (Penguin), A. C. Graham, Jane English (Vintage, bilingual, inner chapters only), Feng Youlan (bilingual, parallel?), others
– I think Jane English’s version is probably the most valuable, and worth finding, it being poetic and bilingual [todo: find it!]. And of course anything Penguin is worth trying to get too.


– contains the text (with simple html table of contents!) of like a hundred Laozi translations (including the greats), and two great Zhuangzi translations (Lin and Watson)

– 8 side by side translation comparison (including Chan, Wu, Waley, Lin), the person recommends Chan, and Henricks for using a recently found source

– another list, unsure of credibility of judgement

Leave a comment | Categories: Art, Communication, Eastern Philosophy, Humanities, Linguistics, Literature, Literature Reviews, Philosophy

Railroad Space and Railroad Time

15 March 2016

Hmm, perhaps similar to my film reviews, in which I transcribe the thoughts I wrote on my phone to here, then reflect on those thoughts, I could do the same for literature, in which I transcribe the thoughts I wrote in the notes of highlights of readings on Voice Dream, and again, reflect on those thoughts.

After writing this, maybe not. It seems to cost too much time. It feels like a chore. It’s better to just keep on consuming an doing. Perhaps if I were able to automatically get my highlights and notes from the phone application into this blog post, I could continue to think [todo: ask Voice Dream app maker to do this]. Otherwise, the chore of transcribing exists, which is effing boring. I mean, reading is already boring enough! Besides, it’s far closer to consumption than creativity. I’m in a really bad downer now, that’s got the be the only reason I’ve transcribed all of this crap!

Related posts:
The Ideal Neighborhood

Notes and longer thoughts from Chapter 3 from The Railway Journey: The Industrialization of Time and Space in the Nineteenth Century by Wolfgang Schivelbusch:

First some longer thoughts:
Railroad diminishes space at the speed of affordable transport.

Therefore, any person with a connection to affordable transport cannot complain of development of life, can they? If people are able to move to a place with a better quality of life, they can simply just move.

But what then about the social (and urban?) ties with the places they call home is strong? Then social progress will be difficult for them. They must rely on media as their primary source of education, as opposed to what exists in the society they live in.


The spaces in between are also not thought of.

In Banqiao, I met a family with three kids. One kid travels 50 minutes to get to his workplace by bus, one kid travels 40 minutes by subway to get to college, and one kid travels perhaps more than an hour to get home for the weekend from college.

In the suburbs this is more obvious, as everyone drives cars on highways, during which nothing can be seen or experienced.


The spaces in between are also not thought of.

Now people explore things that are available by affordable transportation. What is publicly accessible becomes public knowledge. Outside of the affordable transportation system — isolated prisons, aboriginals, ancient culturess, swaths of rural, suburban, and natural areas, and other isolated places where old cultural problems exist– slavery, gangsters, prostitution, etc. — but the media will never get to simply because it is inconvenient, and therefore ignored. So, in order to experience the spaces between, one needs personal transportation to travel outside the affordable transportation system, or else what is experienced is what is designed to be experienced by the transportation designers.

What is publicly accessible becomes public knowledge.

What can be accessed or experienced publicly, or at least affordably, also becomes the tools or space with and in which people create. “I recently visited an arts university, after being disappointed by their new media department’s graduate student and public rooms, which were simply bland offices and computer labs. I then strolled over to the building next door: the crafts and design department. On the first floor they had a two wood workshops, on the second, a metal workshop, a jewelry workshop, and some other little workshops. My mind blazed with ideas which involved using them, and bringing friends and hanging out within the spaces.” (to thoughts.txt)

So then, to make tools and spaces public, inclusive, results in more uses of those tools and spaces, and therefore more diversity in the people who use them, and therefore more creativity.

from thoughts.txt:
“I had an important thought: bad weather annihilates space in one’s perception. When it is raining, only what within line of sight is experienced. Indoor areas become highlighted. Also, if one feels cold, then one feels the air less. When it is clear and sunny, everything has an equal opportunity of being experienced. Combined with view of a long distance, then the everything within that view becomes a playground for one’s mind. The perception of space is altered greatly by weather.”

Now some highlights and all of the notes:

(The scene behind the carriage window-panes
Goes flitting past in furious flight; whole plains
With streams and harvest-fields and trees and blue
Are swalled by the whirlpool, whereinto
The telegraph’s slim pillars topple o’er.
Whose wires look strangely like a music-score.)

Probably where Michel Gondry got that idea for one of his music videos.

“Economically, the railways’ operation…causes distances to diminish…Lille suddenly finds itself transported to Louvres.”…

“‘Annihilation of space and time.’ was the early-nineteenth century characterization of the effect of railroad travel.

“every man’s field would be found not only where it always was, but as large as ever it was.”

The mind thinks in possible, accessible space. Inaccessible, exclusive spaces are not thought of.

“Louvres, or Pontiose, Chartres, Arpajon, etc., it is obvious that they will just get lost in some street of Paris or its suburbs.”

The spaces in between are also not thought of.
– [triggered larger thoughts written above.]

“on the map of the imagination”

“Transport technology is the material base of potentiality, and equally the material base of the traveler’s space-time perception.”

potential is limited by transport.

“If an essential elemenet of a given sociocultural space-time continuum undergoes change, this will affect the entire structure; our perception of space-time will also lose its accustomed orientaiton”.

orientation is shifted by change in socio-cultural perception of space-time

“Space is killed by railways, and we are left with time alone…”

time is measured, not space (distance)

“I feel as if the mountains and forests of all countries were advancing on Paris.”


“We have clearly stated two contradictory sides of the same process: on tone hand, the railroad opened up new spaces that were not easily accessible before; on the other, it did so by destroying space between points.”

Summary thus far.

“The railroad knows only points of departure and destination”…”They are of no use whatsoever for intervening spaces, which they traverse with disdain and provide only with a useless spectacle.”

Limit of railway transport compared with scooter. Scooter is also limited compared to walking.

“They lost their old sense of local identity, formerly determined by the spaces between them.”

– This is indeed how towns develop into clones, as opposed to unique societies. The more isolated a society is, the more unique it becomes.

“…This was a common enough notion in the nineteenth century: it is to be found in every one of Baedeker’s travel guides that recommends a certain railroad station as the point of departure for each excursion.

The identification of the railroad station with the traveler’s destination, and the relative insignificance of the journey itself were expressed by Mallarme…”

– the problem of travel

“the bringing of the product to the market…could more precisely be regarded as the transformation of the product into a commodity” – Marx, Grundisse

Whether or not it’s in a shop or digitally.

“With the spatial distance that the product covered on its way from its place of production to the market, it also lost its local identity, its spatial presence. Its concretely sensual properties, which were experienced at the place of production as a result of the labor process (…), appeared quite different in the distance market-place.”

– fits better with upcoming Benjamin reference

“Cherries offered for sale in the Paris market were seen as products of that market, just as Normandy seemed to be a product of the railroad that takes you there.”

Mmmm, great analogy.

“…Benjamin’s concept of the aura. He defined ‘aura of natural objects’ as ‘the unique phenomenon of distance, however close it may be’.”

Whoa, beautiful. Place matters because that is where it was produced, by local material forces.

“The aura of a work of art is ‘its unique existence at the place where it happens to be.”

“It is tempting to apply this statement to the outlying regions that were made accessible by the railroad: while being opened up to tourism, they remained, initially at least, untouched by their physical actuality, but their easy, comfortable, and inexpensive accessibility robbed them of their previous value as remote and out-of-the-way places.

The devaluation of outlying regions by their exploitation for mass tourism.”

[highlighted an example of England opening railways to seaside towns in which middle class took over, and the richer, airline travelers went to even further remote regions]

“‘The desire of contemporary masses to bring things closer spatially and humanly…is just as ardent as their bent toward overcoming the uniqueness of every reality by accepting its reproduction.'”

– 5 stars for Benjamin, holy shit

“When spatial distance is no longer experienced, the differences between original and reproduction diminish.”

– ooooh shit. Hello repeating development.

“When, after the establishment of the Railway Clearing House, the companies decided to cooperate and form a national railroad network, Greenwich Time was introduced as the standard time, valid on all lines…In 1880, it became the standard time for England…In 1884 an international conference on time standards divided the world into time zones.”


Leave a comment | Categories: Area, Environmental Psychology, Humanities, Literature Reviews, Philosophy, Social Philosophy, Time Perception, Urban Philosophy