Brief bio sketch

Lloyd Haft (1946- ) was born in Sheboygan, Wisconsin USA and lived as a boy in Wisconsin, Louisiana and Kansas. In 1968 he graduated from Harvard College and went to Leiden, The Netherlands for graduate study in Chinese (M. A. 1973, Ph. D. 1981). From 1973 to 2004 he taught Chinese language and literature, mostly poetry, at Leiden. His sinological publications include Pien Chih-lin: A Study in Modern Chinese Poetry (1983/2011; published in Chinese translation as 发现卞之琳: 一位西方学者的探索之旅 in 2010) and Zhou Mengdie’s Poetry of Consciousness (2006).

He has translated extensively into English from the Dutch of Herman Gorter and Willem Hussem, and from the Chinese of various poets including Lo Fu, Yang Lingye, Bian Zhilin and Zhou Mengdie.

Since the 1980s he has also been active as a poet writing in Dutch and English. He was awarded the Jan Campert Prize for his 1993 bilingual volume Atlantis and the Ida Gerhardt Prize for his 2003 Dutch free-verse readings of the Psalms (republished by Uitgeverij Vesuvius in 2011). His most recent book of poems (in Dutch) is Deze poelen, deze geest (2008). His newer poems are published (some republished) on this blog.

After early retirement in 2004, for a number of years Lloyd Haft spent much of his time in Taiwan with his wife Katie Su. In addition to writing and translating, his interests include Song-dynasty philosophy and taiji quan. He sings in the choir of a Roman Catholic church of the Eastern Rite in The Hague.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

‘I am; therefore I co-think’ – Part Three

(Scraps from a Sinological Scrapbook 漢齋閒情異誌, fragment 15)

Admittedly, ren is not an easy term for the translator (or the reader, the thinker, the ‘aspirant’). According to Wing-tsit Chan 陳榮傑 , Confucius regarded ren as ‘the general virtue’ which is ‘the source of all specific virtues,’ yet ‘he never defined it.’[1] The translations one is likely to run across include benevolence, humanity, humaneness, human-heartedness, loving-kindness, love, Love, goodness, and Goodness.
        Ames and Hall reject all of these. On pages 74-75, they choose for ‘authoritative person’ or even ‘authoritative conduct,’ saying that ‘in the processual world of classical China, the distinction between persons and their conduct is moot,’ and that we must beware of ‘privileging physical persons over their changing behavioral patterns.’ To translate ren as ‘benevolence’ would be, they say, ‘to psychologize the notion of person in a tradition that does not define the human experience psychologically.’
On page 75, they say ren is ‘one’s “field of selves,” the sum of significant relationships that constitute one as a social person.’
        If I ran across that phrase entirely out of context and had to guess which classical Chinese term it was the definition of, I would certainly guess not ren, but...our old favorite from the previous Fragment, ti.
        And I can substantiate (another possible definition of ti!) this. An often-quoted, influential modern book on (neo-) Confucianism is Tu Wei-ming’s 杜維明 Centrality and Commonality: An Essay on Confucian Religiousness.[2] On page 113, Tu writes

The true self, as an open system, is not only a center of relationships but also a dynamic process of spiritual and physical growth. Selfhood in creative transformation is the broadening and deepening “embodiment” (t’i) of an ever-expanding web of human relationships...

[Note that Tu himself uses the term ti (in Wade-Giles spelling t’i) and the English ‘embodiment’ to make himself clear, and that he does not say the self is identical with the ‘body,’ but that it is an ‘embodiment’ of a ‘web of relationships.’]
        In his slightly earlier book Confucian Thought: Selfhood as Creative Transformation,[3] Tu had already said (p. 176) that ‘Confucians perceive the self as a center of relationships rather than as an isolable individuality.’
        In itself, this is not as purely non-Western as it might seem. In one of our own Classics on the subject of person- or selfhood, we read: ‘In its widest possible sense...a man’s Self is the sum total of all that he can call his, not only his body and his psychic powers, but his clothes and his house, his wife and children, his ancestors and friends, his reputation and works, his lands and horses, and yacht and bank-account. All these things give him the same emotions. If they wax and prosper, he feels triumphant...’[4]
        Now relating this to our discussion of Ames and Hall, I would say that if ti has to do with being or constituting a center of relationships, ren is a quality of those relationships; it is not just the relationships themselves. To say this is not at all to ‘psychologize.’ It might be actually to ‘physicalize’ all the was well known to the Song-dynasty neo-Confucianists.
        Besides ren’s meaning in a moral sense (whatever exactly it is!), it has a medical or physiological meaning going back at least to the ancient Huangdi Neijing 黃帝內經 or Yellow Emperor’s Canon of Internal Medicine. Cheng Hao 程顥 (1032-1085), one of the two famous Brothers Cheng and a key figure in the Song reconstruction of Confucian thought, often referred to the expression bu ren 不仁, literally ‘not ren,’ meaning ‘numbness’ or ‘paralysis’ in a medical sense. One of his Selected Sayings is translated by Wing-tsit Chan as

A book on medicine describes paralysis of the four limbs as absence of ren. This is an excellent description. The man of ren regards Heaven and Earth and all things as one body. To him there is nothing that is not himself. Since he has recognized all things as himself, can there be any limit to his humanity? If things are not parts of the self, naturally they have nothing to do with it. As in the case of paralysis of the four limbs, the vital force no longer penetrates them...[5]

In modern Chinese, too, according to the 1996 ABC Chinese-English Dictionary, bu ren can mean both ‘benumbed’ and ‘not benevolent; heartless.’
        In Thomas Selover’s book on the neo-Confucianist thinker Xie Liangzuo 謝良佐 , there is a good introduction to various senses of ren as they were discussed by the Song-dynasty writers.[6] Selover calls them varying realms of ‘sensitivity.’ (Note that in English, ‘sensitive’ or ‘insensitive,’ like ren or bu ren, can have either a moral-psychological or a physiological meaning. My own personal and private version of ren, again attempting to square the circle and keep both ‘objective’ and ‘subjective’ within view, is ‘responsiveness.’)
         But back to Ames and Hall. It seems to me there is something paradoxical and unworkable in the way they explain the concept of ren as a ‘field of selves’ (as we have seen), yet at the same time translate it as ‘authoritative conduct.’ I would say (if I were to use these terms at all, which I would not...) it is not that ren persons are those who ‘conduct’ themselves in an ‘authoritative’ way, but rather that if a person is sufficiently ren, then his or her ‘conduct’ will come to be credited with moral authority. The actual style of the conduct might not be exactly what one would call ‘authoritative’ (with perhaps just a hint of the bossy or assertive?). On the contrary, in the Sinitic context it would be more likely to be ‘deferential.’[7]
        There is another word in the Zhong Yong on which I thoroughly agree with Ames and Hall in rejecting the traditional definition, yet again find their own solution ‘unworkable.’ It is cheng . Dictionaries continue to try to din into us that this monosyllable, or its modern variant chengyi 誠意 , means ‘sincere’ or ‘sincerity.’ I don’t doubt it may occasionally mean that, perhaps in contexts I personally don’t happen to see much. But I think in many cases it actually means not that a person is ‘sincere’ in the sense of the outward talk or behavior being an accurate reflection of the inner motivation...but rather that the person’s behavior is ‘appropriate’ according to the other party’s expectations. In other words, you are cheng if you are doing what you are supposed to be doing.
        How different this sounds from Ames and Hall’s ‘creativity!’ And this is the thing: it is the sound of ‘creative’ or ‘creativity’ that bothers me, as a translation for . To me as a Westerner, ‘creative’ seems to imply that the truly cheng person is an individualist – if not actually deviating from society and its norms, at least certainly an ‘isolable individuality.’ In the Ames and Hall version, Zhong Yong 22 begins: ‘Only those of utmost creativity in the world are able to make the most of their natural tendencies...’ Just a bit further in the same passage, we read that only if one can ‘make the most of’ various things ‘can one assist in the transforming and nourishing activities of heaven and earth...’; only then ‘can human beings take their place as members of this triad.’
After an extensive discussion (on pp. 61-62) which indicates they did not take lightly the decision as to whether it should be ‘creativity’ or ‘co-creativity’, Ames and Hall say that ‘since all creativity occurs within a relational context, the qualifier “co-” is dropped, and cheng can be translated here simply as “creativity”.’
        I wish they had stayed with the ‘co-’. It seems to me that abruptly simplifying it to ‘creative’ smuggles the ‘isolable individuality’ notion back in, even while paying lip service to the ‘web’ or ‘sum’ of relationships concept of the self. As they themselves translate, what the ‘human being’ is to do is to ‘assist in’ the transforming and nourishing activities, not to positively initiate them in the ‘isolable’ way that I think a literally ‘creative’ source would.
        If I myself were to try to re-translate the Zhong Yong – and I ‘sincerely’ hope never to make the attempt – my version of cheng would be ‘fully attuned’ or ‘full attunement.’

[1] Wing-tsit Chan, ‘Chinese and Western Interpretations of Jen (Humanity),’ in Journal of Chinese Philosophy 2 (1975), 109. Quoted by Tu Wei-ming in Confucian Thought (see note 3 hereunder), p. 81.
[2] Albany: State University of New York Press, 1989. This is a revised and enlarged edition of Centrality and Commonality: An Essay on Chung-yung.
[3] Albany: State University of New York Press, 1985. I will quote from the Eighth Printing (1997).
[4] William James, The Principles of Psychology (Dover Publications 1950; orig. Henry Holt and Co. 1890), vol 1, p. 291.)
[5] A Source Book in Chinese Philosophy, translated and compiled by Wing-tsit Chan, Princeton University Press 1963, p. 530. Spelling jen adjusted to ren.
[6] Thomas Selover, Hsieh Liang-tso and the Analects of Confucius: Humane Learning as a Religious Quest, Oxford University Press 2005, especially pp. 48-56.
[7] Of course, I am now conveniently ignoring situations in which the unspoken message of the ‘conduct’ is something like: ‘After the lengths I have gone to to be impeccably deferential to can you still refuse to do exactly what I want?’