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.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

How Many Minds Has a Me?

Some weeks ago, reading John Alton’s Living Qigong,[1] I came across a short passage that bothered me – ‘bothered’ in the sense that it opened an inner mental debate that I could not conclude. I still have not come to a conclusion, but I am a little closer to knowing why that particular phrase stuck in my mental throat.
It was: ‘Emotion is the subjective experience of qi...’ (pp. 62-3).
        Short as it is (seven words), this little quote contains two words that I can’t seem to be comfortable with: ‘the’ and ‘subjective.’ (As for ‘qi,’ the rest of a lifetime would not be enough time to sort out its possible translations if any, so please allow me for the moment just to mention Manfred Porkert’s memorable and insightful mirror-image designations as ‘configurational energy’ and ‘energetic configuration.’)
        I don’t like ‘the’ because it seems to imply that emotion is the only, the sole way to experience qi subjectively. (What about intuitions? dreams? thoughts?) But this is begging the question: the real problem is whether emotion really counts as a ‘subjective experience’ at all.
        Not every Western student of qigong thinks it does. One of the best-known writers, Daniel Reid, says that TCM (traditional Chinese medicine, the theoretical framework of much that goes on in this field) ‘...views the emotions as forms of errant energy moving uncontrolled through the system rather than as mental phenomena...In this view, emotion is nothing more than “e-motion”, or “energy-in-motion”.’ He goes on to urge ‘conscious recognition of extreme emotions for what they really are – runaway energies triggered by external stimuli – rather than confusing them with “feelings”, which are intuitive forms of thoughts that can be quite useful.’[2]
        This seems to tally with what Giovanni Maciocia, author of the recent The Psyche in Chinese Medicine,[3] has concluded on the subject after many years. In his preface (p. xviii), he summarizes: ‘...the “emotions” as considered in Chinese medicine are merely pathologies of Qi...that are disengaged from the self because the Confucian self is not the individualized, inward-looking, autonomous self of Western culture.’ In this perspective (p. xvii), ‘anger makes Qi rise, independently from a self: it is an objective force that disrupts the movement of Qi and the cognitive part of the Mind plays no role in it.’
        Let me emphasize that these quotes do not represent Maciocia’s personal views on the subject, which are obviously much more nuanced and in which ‘the cognitive part of the Mind’ certainly is important.
        My impression is that Reid endorses the Chinese view while Maciocia, though understanding it and formulating it with refreshingly undiplomatic clarity, is wary of it.
        And what do I think? Well, assuming for the moment that there really is some such valid concept as qi, though it be mostly in the nature of an enigmatically shifting x in the bewildering algebra of TCM statements about body and health...I don’t consider my emotions ‘mere’ pathologies of it. Maybe they are, at least many of them, not pathologies at all. Yet I hesitate to say they are as ‘subjective,’ as intimately part of my ‘self’ as, say, the ‘cognitive part of the Mind’ is.
        Perhaps you are now thinking: What is this, since when are there ‘parts’ of the Mind? Isn’t the mind single, at least in a healthy person?
        Not in TCM, it isn’t...and I think if we are honest with ourselves, it isn’t in ourselves either. We just don’t like to admit it.
        But to go into this further, we first need to look at (note that I’m not saying ‘solve’) some terminological problems. Avoiding the widespread misleading trap of always translating shen as ‘spirit,’ Maciocia uses ‘Mind’ for the mental functioning associated in TCM with the ‘heart,’ though the Chinese term for this is shen. The Chinese shen can also be used, don’t ask me how or why, for the whole collection of mental functions associated with the heart plus the other four main Organs. For this ‘collective’ aspect, Maciocia uses the English word ‘spirit.’
        This – here we go again – ‘bothers’ me. In the Western and specifically Christian tradition I was brought up in, whatever exactly ‘spirit’ meant, it was certainly not an integrative element co-ordinating the different parts of one’s consciousness into a well-oiled organic unity. Nothing of the kind. The spirit was a wayward, more or less ‘external’ element which like the wind, ‘bloweth where it listeth’ (John 3:8). One of its functions was to convince the other, more earthy and comfortable and laid-back parts of oneself that they were sinful. It was proverbially and literally at war with ‘the flesh,’ i.e., with our ordinary physiology including the ‘heart’ whose ‘thoughts,’ as we used to read in Genesis 6:5, were ‘only evil continually.’ In short, it was a divisive element. It was not the summation of your personal mind but a mysterious troublesome-yet-superior alternative or corrective to that mind.
        But now...not all writers share Maciocia’s terminology. Kaptchuk[4] uses ‘Spirit’ but admits it ‘can be confusing’ that shen refers to both ‘the generic Spirit and the Heart’s small Spirit’ (which latter, as we have seen, Maciocia calls Mind). Kendall, on the other hand,[5] calls the overall shen ‘spirit’ but refers to the separate shen of the organs as ‘vitalities.’[6] I personally think ‘vitality’ is a superb translation of shen in many (but not all) contexts of its actual use in Chinese life – but I think so exactly because to me ‘vitality’ sounds much more like a physiological than a ‘subjective’ notion. (I have already written about this in an earlier Scrap of this Scrapbook, in the context of the combination jingshen 精神. See

        This is getting out of hand. More on all this soon.

[1] Living Qigong: The . Boston and London: Shambhala, 1997.
Chinese Way
to Good Health and Long Life
[2] Daniel Reid, A Complete Guide to Chi-Gung. Boston: Shambhala 2000, pp. 91, 93.
[3] Edinburgh etc.: Churchill Livingstone (Elsevier), 2009. I quote from the preface as available on internet.
[4] Ted J. Kaptchuk, Chinese Medicine: The Web That Has No Weaver. London etc.: Rider, 2000, pp. 63-64.
[5] Donald E. Kendall, Dao of Chinese Medicine: Understanding an Ancient Healing Art. Oxford University Press, 2002, chapter 7.
[6] Note that in addition to the standard list of ‘five shen,’ referring to the five main organs which are the lungs, heart, kidneys, liver and spleen, there is another list of ‘six shen,’ occurring in several common colloquial phrases for a mentally or emotionally disturbed state, in which the gall bladder is added to the company. The definition of ‘six shen’ in the widely used 2003 ABC Chinese-English Comprehensive Dictionary (University of Hawaii Press) edited by John DeFrancis, does not actually refer to anything mental at all. It is ‘source of energy controlling the six organs.’ It is, let’s just say, ‘surely rather remarkable that’ this same definition was used verbatim in Lin Yutang’s Chinese-English Dictionary of Modern Usage, published by Hong Kong Chinese University in 1973.