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). His most recent sinological book, a liberal modern Dutch reading of Laozi's Daode jing, was published as Lau-tze's vele wegen by Synthese in September 2017. His newest book of poems in Dutch, Intocht (Introit) has been available as a POD from the American Book Center since June 2018.

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 newer poems are published (some republished) on this blog. His newest book of poetry in Dutch is Intocht (Introit), issued by the American Book Center in June 2018.

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 June 2019 he was named a Distinguished Alumnus of National Taiwan Normal University. In addition to writing and translating, his interests include Song-dynasty philosophy and taiji quan. For many years he sang in the choir of a Roman Catholic church of the Eastern Rite in The Hague.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Confucianism and Chinese Medicine

(Scraps from a Sinological Scrapbook 漢齋閒情異誌, fragment 22)

The Influence (?) of Confucian Philosophy on Chinese Medicine[1]

 Popular Western books on Chinese medicine, and on Chinese body-related disciplines like tai chi and qigong, often claim that traditional Chinese medicine takes a Daoistic view of human life and health, encouraging us to ‘follow nature’ and to abstain as far as possible from ‘unnatural’ medication or other ‘manipulative’ modes of treatment. These Western sources often contrast this supposedly ‘natural’ or ‘wu wei’ approach with mainstream Western medicine which, they suggest, views the human body as something to be controlled rather than trusted.
        At least two leading Western authors, however, have challenged this idea. They assert that traditional Chinese medicine is actually more Confucianist than Daoist in its concept of the human being and body. Paul Unschuld (author of several acclaimed books in both German and English, including Medicine in China: A History of Ideas) and Giovanni Maciocia (whose 2009 The Psyche in Chinese Medicine followed a series of earlier works)[2] both emphasize that in the textual tradition of Chinese medicine, there is little or no notion of the human body as a self-healing, self-organizing entity. On the contrary, the concept of (in politics ‘to govern,’ in medicine ‘to treat or cure’), in medicine as in politics, implies active control and regulation in order to prevent or suppress disorder which would naturally arise without it. Similarly, the contrasting concepts of zheng and xie can be used to mean either the ‘orthodox’ or ‘righteous’ as opposed to the ‘immoral’ in a political-social sense, or the ‘proper’ or ‘healthy’ state as opposed to the ‘unhealthy’ or ‘pathological’ in a medical sense.[3]
        Unschuld’s intriguing thesis is that starting with the unification of the Chinese Empire under Qinshi Huangdi and the subsequent Confucian-oriented Han dynasty, the political concept of the Empire as a unified state with a central government carried out by ‘officials’ was also applied to the human body in which the heart was the ‘emperor,’ other organs were the ‘officials’ (), and so on. As Maciocia explains it,

the first Qin emperor...initiated a huge program of road building and canal digging. Another important innovation of the Qin dynasty was the fostering of trade among the various regions of China on a huge scale...The Qin dynasty therefore provided the first model of a unified state with an emperor, a central government, local officials, a unified economy and a state-wide irrigation system.[4]

Macicia goes on to explain the parallel with medical theory, saying that in this model ‘...the body’s physiology is the unified economy and the acupuncture channels are the irrigation canals.’[5]

Again, in two key passages by Unschuld:

One may well conclude that all these structural changes that accompanied the unification of China were sufficiently innovative to supply intellectuals of that time with the concept of an integrated complex system, the individual parts of which can function only as long as their relations with the remaining parts are not disturbed...The structure of the human organism and the functions assigned to its individual elements reflect a complex social organism founded on the wide-scale movement of goods.[6]

During the course of the last three centuries BC, unknown authors began to develop a system of healing whose theoretical principles corresponded closely to the socio-political order advocated during the same period by Confucian political ideology. As a consequence, this system of healing was continuously dependent on the interests and fate of Confucianism itself. With the elevation of Confucianism to orthodox political doctrine by the Emperor Wu, the Han period theoretical foundations of this ideology remained fixed for a long span of time.[7]

The same model which described society as a well-governed whole was also used as a symbol of the human body. The parallel between the political and the medical model comes out well in a quote from the authoritative Chinese medical classic Huangdi Neijing 黃帝內經: ‘The sages do not treat those who have already fallen ill, but rather those who are not yet ill. They do not put their state in order only when revolt is under way...’[8]
        This notion of quasi-bureaucratic control and governance as a basic principle of the human organism comes out in much detail, for example, in Ted J. Kaptchuk’s The Web That Has No Weaver,[9] which since its first publication in 1983 has been a very widely read Western source on Chinese medicine. Discussing the internal organs in order, Kaptchuk quotes from traditional Chinese sources, mostly the Su Wen 素問 (the more theoretical section of the Huangdi Neijing), as to their traditional rulerships.[10]
        Traditionally, according to the Su Wen, ‘The Heart rules the Blood and Blood Vessels.’ Adding his own amplification, Kaptchuk says the heart ‘regulates’ the flow of blood.
        Again, according to the Su Wen, ‘The Lungs rule Qi.’ Kaptchuk’s explanation in this case says that the lungs ‘administer’ respiration and ‘regulate’ the ‘Qi of the entire body.’ The Su Wen also says the lungs ‘move and adjust the Water Channels.’ In Kaptchuk’s simpler amplification, the lungs ‘move water’ – shades of Unschuld’s ‘irrigation canals’!
        As for the Spleen, traditional sources say it ‘rules transformation and transportation.’ Again, ‘the Spleen governs the Blood’ – in the sense, according to Kaptchuk, ‘that it keeps the blood flowing in its proper paths.’[11] The Spleen also, in the Su Wen, ‘rules’ the muscles, flesh and limbs.
       The Liver, in Tang Zonghai’s 唐宗海formulation as quoted by Kaptchuk, ‘rules flowing and spreading.’ In the Su Wen, it is compared to ‘the general of an army.’
        In the Su Wen, the Kidneys ‘rule water.’ In the face of what might seem to be a contradiction in light of the Lungs’ ‘adjusting’ the Water Chanels, Kaptchuk explains that the Kidneys ‘are the foundation upon which this entire process of Water built.’ In addition to this, according to Su Wen, the Kidneys ‘rule the bones.’
        Another well-known Western work, Between Heaven and Earth by Harriet Beinfield and Efrem Korngold,[12] sets out the ‘governmental’ or ‘bureaucratic’ structure of the organism even more strikingly. In it, we read (on pp. 138-157) that the Liver is ‘like a general working out strategy and tactics...’; the Heart is ‘like an enlightened monarch, omniscient and ever-present, sharing his wisdom unconditionally for the benefit of the Whole’; the Spleen is ‘like a minister of agriculture, watching over production and distribution...’; the Lung is ‘like a minister of state, determining the territorial boundaries’; and the Kidney is ‘like a minister of the interior, conserving the natural resources...’

To be sure, there are aspects of Chinese medical theory that seem to accord very well with the popular image of a Daoist lifestyle. But as Maciocia points out, many Daoist ideas were later incorporated into Chinese medical theory during the Song and Ming dynasties when the dominant philosophy of neo-Confucianism imposed its own interpretations. Maciocia cautions that in reading old Chinese medical texts like the Huangdi Neijing, we must never assume that the word Dao is always being used in an old Daoist meaning. In Confucianism or neo-Confucianism, it can often be equivalent to ren or li , both words having everything to do with the individual’s social adjustment and deportment.[13] I would add that more generally, in neo-Confucianism the word Dao is very often used to mean ‘the teachings,’ ‘the Tradition,’ or ‘the proper behavior’ – contrasting thoroughly with the Dao that according to Zhuangzi 莊子 ‘can be passed on but not taught’ 可傳而不可授, and with Laozi’s 老子 cautions against taking social discourse seriously. In this context, it is revealing that some of the best-known Chinese Bible translations have used Dao for ‘the Word’, rendering ‘In the beginning was the Word’ as tai chu you Dao 太初有道.[14] Perhaps the early translators, like the later scholar and sociologist Marcel Granet 葛蘭言whose La Pensée chinoise [Chinese Thought, 1934] became one of the classics of twentieth-century European sinology, wished to emphasize Dao’s quality as an ordering element which makes things be as they are.[15]
        Even aside from neo-Confucianism, we can raise the question of whether the Dao concept really implies that the surrounding social discourse, be it ever so restrictive, is irrelevant or secondary. Chad Hansen, in his A Daoist Theory of Chinese Thought, even says the archetypal Daoist writer Zhuangzi, ‘like the rest of the classical tradition, uses dao as a concept of guidance rather than a reality concept.’[16] In another context, he calls Dao ‘the sum of all discourse inputs.’[17]
        Be this as it may, the neo-Confucian stress on a discourse of social adjustment sometimes supplied contemporary Chinese authors with what must have seemed convincing arguments applying to the medical sphere. A frequently quoted example, cited also by Maciocia, is from the writings of the Song-dynasty neo-Confucianist philosopher Cheng Hao 程顥. It involves a pun on ren (often translated ‘benevolence’ or ‘humanity,’ but which I prefer to translate ‘responsiveness’) and bu ren 不仁 (seemingly ‘not benevolent or humane or responsive,’ but also in a physiological sense ‘numb’):

In medical writing the term ‘lack of humanity’ [bu ren] is used for numbness of the hands and feet...A man of ren regards Heaven, Earth and the myriad things as one substance, and there is nothing that is not himself. Recognizing all things in himself, will there be any boundary for him? If things are not parts of the self, naturally there will be no connection between them and himself, just as in the case of numbness of the four limbs...[18]

As Maciocia explains, ‘...a person of ren is someone who regards others as extensions of himself, like his limbs. Such a person is naturally sensitive to the needs and feelings of others...’[19]

Perhaps the Western ‘debate’ (if that is what it is) between the ‘Confucian’ and ‘Daoist’ views of Chinese medicine is mainly a quibble about terminology – or about what Western writers think ‘Dao’ means. This in turn may be related to what motivated these particular writers to study Chinese medicine in the first place. For a long time now, many Western students of medicine have been dissatisfied with what they perceive as Western medicine’s non-unitary, over-specialized character. Feeling that Western medicine encourages too much isolated attention to specific details rather than to the organism or the person as a whole, they have been attracted to what is often called ‘holistic’ medicine. In circles involved in these studies, the Chinese concept of Dao is often considered a positive alternative: because it is often interpreted to imply release from restriction, constriction, or static social definition of persons and their situations.
        Kaptchuk, for example, at the end of his first chapter stresses

...the very important evolution in the last few decades [in the West] toward interdisciplinary and integrative medicine, and the even more recent development of “holistic” medicine. A modern hospital’s medical team employs a wide variety of approaches that go far beyond the late nineteenth century biochemical models. For example, a pain unit may include rehabilitation, occupational, and physical therapists, a nurse, a psychiatrist, a social worker, art, movement, or music therapists, a relaxation counselor, and a nutritionist...The newer concepts of holistic health are an extension of the current Western concern to go beyond a reductionist model. Indeed, this book itself can be viewed as part of the growing holistic interest.[20]

But Kaptchuk takes a nuanced view of all this. Though he stresses and discusses Daoism in his book, in an interview in the magazine MD he cautioned against the ‘ overvalue Chinese medicine because it is holistic and spiritual,’ saying this attitude was a ‘barrier to a genuine understanding.’[21] He does not present Chinese thought as believing in an always-liberating, ever-free flow. On the contrary, he astutely states that

The Chinese world-view is circular and self-contained...The Chinese physician begins with a knowledge of the whole, made up of the countless details codified in traditional medical texts. The movement between...the macrocosm of all bodily phenomena to the microcosm of one unique human being, is mediated by the conceptual framework of the patterns of disharmony.[22]

What is noteworthy here is that the ‘knowledge of the whole’ is not a new knowledge which the current person has somehow attained thanks to his or her unique new place in the flux. The knowledge itself is made up of elements which have long since been ‘codified’ in ‘traditional texts.’ To me, that sounds like a very Confucian idea. True, there is said to be a movement between ‘macrocosm’ and ‘microcosm,’ but again: the movement is not unstructured: it is ‘mediated’ by a ‘conceptual framework of patterns’ – in other words, as I would phrase it, of socially recognized possibilities.
Between Heaven and Earth contains much autobiographical material on its authors’ personal history of attraction to Chinese medicine – too much to be easily summarized here. Again the concept of the Dao plays a prominent role. But it seems to me that the authors are eager to see it as a totality concept, in this sense downplaying its character as a specifically ordering agency. More than once, we read that the Dao is ‘undifferentiated’ or ‘unbroken.’[23] It ‘transcends the illusion of separation’[24] – yet the authors add that it does so ‘within a pattern of indissoluble connections in a circular network.’[25]
        Here once again, we encounter the notion of a ‘net-’ or ‘web-’ like closure lying at the heart of the Chinese health concept. I doubt whether all Western readers would agree as to whether this is a ‘benign’ or somehow an ‘ominous’ notion. Perhaps their choice as to whether it is ‘Daoist’ (i.e., in this context, benign) or ‘Confucianist’ (suggesting social pre-patterning, hence also control) depends on their personal concept of whether ultimate ‘circularity’ is a supportive or a limiting thing.
        Kaptchuk traces the term ‘the web that has no weaver,’ as in the title of his book, to Joseph Needham, and quotes Needham as saying ‘the key-word in Chinese thought is Order and above all, Pattern....’[26] Also from Needham is the explication ‘...The conception...[is] of a vast pattern. There is a web of relationships throughout the universe...Nobody wove it, but if you interfere with its texture, you do so at your peril...’[27]

Coming to this point, I am reminded of a remarkable poem, titled ‘Life’ 生活, by the eminent modern Chinese poet Bei Dao 北島.[28] The poem consists of a single word:

which I think could equally well be translated as ‘net’ or ‘web.’
        Is a ‘net’ a benign thing, as in a ‘social network’ or ‘support network’...or does it trap, capture as a ‘fishnet’ does?
        Is a ‘web’ usefully benign, as for many of us nowadays ‘the web’ is...or is it more in the nature of a ‘spider web’?
        But perhaps it would be too non-Daoistic, certainly too non-holistic, to expect a yes-or-no answer to these questions.

--Lloyd Haft

[1] Based on a paper presented on October 25, 2012 at the International Scholarly Conference on Chinese Classics and Culture, Department of Chinese Literature, Central University, Taiwan.
[2] Paul Unschuld, Medicine in China: A History of Ideas, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1985. Giovanni Maciocia, The Psyche in Chinese Medicine, Edinburgh etc.: Churchill Livingstone Elsevier, 2009.
[3] On this opposition, see Unschuld, Das Heil der Mitte –, Theorie und Praxis, Ursprung und Gegenwart der Medizin in China, München/Linz: Cygnus Verlag, 2005, p. 70. Maciocia, in his Pinyin-English glossary, refers to xieqi 邪氣 as ‘pathogenic factor’; the ABC Chinese-English Dictionary (1996) gives as one of its definitions ‘shocking behavior.’
[4] Maciocia, The Psyche in Chinese Medicine, p. 314.
[5] [ibid.]
[6] From Unschuld, Medicine in China: A History of Ideas, quoted in Maciocia, The Psyche in Chinese Medicine, p. 314.
[7] From Unschuld, Medicine in China: A History of Ideas, quoted in Maciocia, The Psyche in Chinese Medicine, pp. 321-322.
[8] Translation in Unschuld, Medicine in China: A History of Ideas, quoted in Maciocia, The Psyche in Chinese Medicine, p. 322. The Huangdi Neijing is far and away the best-known (and still best-read) classical source on medicine. Scholarly opinions differ as to its dating and origins. Many place it, or parts of it, in the first few centuries before the Christian era.
[9] The Web That Has No Weaver:Understanding Chinese Medicine. Chicago: Congdon and Weed, 1983. The book has also been published in Dutch, Italian, German, Hungarian, French, Spanish, Bulgarian, Portuguese and Spanish.
[10] For the full discussion and source references, see Kaptchuk, pp. 54-65. The quotes from old Chinese sources are in Kaptchuk’s translation.
[11] For the particular verb ‘govern’ in this instance, see Kaptchuk, pp. 71-72, note 27.
[12] Original New York: Ballantine Books, 1991. As I do not have the original to hand, in what follows I quote and translate from the 2005 reprint of the German translation Traditionelle Chinesische Medizin, München: Deutscher Taschenbuchverlag.
[13] Maciocia, p. 324. On li in this sense, compare the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy’s article on Cheng Yi 程頤 [by Wai-ying Wong, consulted 8 september 2012]: ‘The concept of li is central to Cheng Yi’s ontology. Although not created by the Cheng brothers, it attained a core status in Neo-Confucianism through their advocacy. Thus, Neo-Confucianism is also called the study of li (li xue). The many facets of li are translatable in English as “principle,” “pattern,” “reason,” or “law.” Sometimes it was used by the Chengs as synonymous with dao, which means the path. When so used, it referred to the path one should follow from the moral point of view. Understood as such, li plays an action-guiding role similar to that of moral laws.’ For an excellent study of some of these concepts and their interrelations in neo-Confucianism, see Olaf Graf, Tao und Jen: Sein und Sollen im sungchinesischen Monismus, Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 1970. See also various works written or translated by Wing-tsit Chan 陳榮傑, including Neo-Confucian Terms Explained and Reflections on Things at Hand.
[14] On this, see also Lloyd Haft, ‘Perspectives on John C. H. Wu’s Translation of the New Testament,’ in Chloe Starr (ed.), Reading Christian Scripture in China, London: Continuum, 2008.
[15] See Granet’s book as a whole, and especially the chapter on ‘The Dao.’ To my knowledge, this very important book has never been published in an English translation.
[16] Chad Hansen, A Daoist Theory of Chinese Thought: A Philosophical Interpretation, Oxford University Press 2000 [originally published 1992], p. 268.
[17] Chad Hansen, ‘Language in the Heart-mind,’ in Robert E. Allinson (ed.), Understanding the Chinese Mind: The Philosophical Roots, Oxford University Press, 1989, p. 96.
[18] Maciocia, The Psyche in Chinese Medicine, p. 319, quoted from Huang Siu-chi, Essentials of neo-Confucianism. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press 1999, p. 93.
[19] Maciocia, p. 319.
[20] Kaptchuk 1983, p. 26.
[21] Quoted in the front matter to his book.
[22] Kaptchuk 1983, pp. 256-257.
[23] In the German edition quoted above, pp. 23, 74.
[24] P. 23.
[25] P. 23.
[26] Original from the second volume of Needham’s monumental Science and Civilization in China; quoted in Kaptchuk, p. 15.
[27] Original from Needham, vol 2; quoted in Kaptchuk, p. 265.
[28] Pseudonym of Zhao Zhenkai 趙振開 (1949- ). The poem, widely accessible on the internet, I believe appeared in Bei Dao’s collection 太陽城札記 (Notes from the City of the Sun – this is also the title of a bilingual edition with translations by Bonnie S. McDougall, Ithaca: Cornell University East Asia Papers: China-Japan Program, No. 34, 1983).

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Zwerftocht 2 (gedichten)


De weg ertússen –
die verbindt.

Bos links, rechts akker –
middenin is deze gang

die groeit, lengt,
nergens nog ligt.

Staande stam, liggende wortel,
geen van beide beide:

beide ben pas ik
die hier passeer,

zie, niet zeg:
want woord zal worden wet:

houdt in,
houdt tegen.

Zien is zaaien:

wat ik om mij weet zal wassen,

Waar oog op terug,
hart op terug

in overvloed zal keren:
dáár ten leste stijgt het licht

uit aarde op:
stam en stoppel samen,

alle aar in ere,
alle blad in beeld:

warm op het dampende veulen,
hier als grind in het gras.


Er zijn meer woorden dan er dingen zijn.
Ziedaar, hoor
daarin onze pijn.

Wij met onze lippen –
enige die zeggen kunnen,
kussen –

die altijd minder moeten dan ze kunnen,
opengaand al bijna dicht,
eenmaal dicht ten enen male.

Maar na ons,
waar we uitgebrabbeld blijven –
waar zal de naam in wonen
van het huis dat niet bestond?

--Lloyd Haft

Saturday, November 17, 2012

‘Wisdom’s Fine, As Long As You Never Apply It’

 (Scraps from a Sinological Scrapbook 漢齋閒情異誌, fragment 21)

Let me start this Scrap from a Sinological Scrapbook, which I hope for a change will be quite short, with an apology. I hope a person of my age (66) may be excused for talking about Chinese and Japanese things as if they were, if not interchangeable, at any rate meaningfully related. That attitude was common when folks like me were young students of Chinese. In those days it was normal to say someone was ‘an Oriental,’ believed in ‘Oriental thought’ and so on.
Okay...what I want to talk about this time is one of my all-time favorite books of poetry: Afterimages: Zen Poems by Shinkichi Takahashi 高橋新吉, translated by Lucien Stryk and Takashi Ikemoto.[1] (That’s right, translated. As a retired sinologist, presumably I no longer need to apologize for not pretending to be able to read it in Japanese.) If I had to expand on why I continue to re-read these poems after decades, I could write a book at least as long as this 137-page volume. If I were to criticize the book at all, I would say I wish the Introductions (one by each translator), hammering very hard on the point that Takahashi is a Zen man, didn't take up so much space – almost a fourth of the whole book. But so be it – I suspect the publisher was afraid that if the book wouldn’t sell as poetry, maybe it could at least break even as Zen.
But what really jars, discomfits, somehow goes down wrong with me every time I see one short passage from the foreword by the poet himself. Takahashi writes:

In Japan, since the decline of Buddhism, morals and manners have ceased to exist, and simultaneously respect for life and a view of social life such as the right relationship between young and old, have disappeared. To regain these is as difficult as to have the mini-skirt made long again.

Clearly, even after attaining this or that level of Buddhist enlightenment (for this I refer to the 32-page Introductions), he regrets the demise of ‘the right’ relationship between young and old.
Why does this bother me? Because it seems to imply that whatever the enlightenment an individual may attain, be it ever so far-reaching in metaphysical or psychological dimensions, it is never to be taken as grounds for criticizing, revising, or repudiating the pre-existing social-conventional ethos. That ethos, you can be very sure, was not, is not, and never will be based on any such thing as a striving for enlightenment in individual consciousness. I would guess that whether in East or West, consciousness as such would not play much of a role in it – not anywhere near as much as, just to call it what it is, unreflective imitative behavior based on conditioning.
In other words, in the mentality I have just quoted, the side of yourself that has forged its way through to new and perhaps subjectively earth-shaking insights, is never going to be able to apply those insights in practical living. As soon as you walk out the front door, once again you’re just a dummy, a cog, a billiard ball like anybody else. Suddenly you are supposed again to consider it a big deal whether people are ‘young’ or ‘old.’ The assumption is that the worn-in Ben Franklin-like ground rules of middle-class or Confucianist society, though they be based on far lesser levels of reflection, discernment, or sophistication, remain not only valid but superior and unchallengeable. The same poet who writes[2] must go on, beyond time,
which in any case does not exist.
...I must live
beyond the smoke and clouds, as all else
without dimension, succession, relationship...

continues to agree, apparently, with the non-reflective bulk of his generation who thought girls should not show their legs. The revelatory openness that the poem proclaims ceases to exist as soon as a social fashion is in question.
        Or, to consider an example from the Sinitic world: what to think of a Taiwanese businessman who in recent years has taken up many New Age health and diet habits, claims to live by ‘listening to his body’ and the qigong philosophy of avoiding harmful overexertion – yet almost immediately after a major heart attack, went ahead with a planned business trip to the Western hemisphere because he ‘didn’t want to disappoint his colleagues’ with whom he had already arranged meetings before his heart went bad? I would say that in this case, too, a Confucianist mental rut took precedence over a recently won insight which had actually been dramatically confirmed in experience.
        On the other hand – it suddenly occurs to me that if (in the terminology of my own ancestors) ‘the spirit moved him’ to let the planned trip go through, then to cancel it in the name of anything so individualistic as ‘listening to his body’ would have been ‘quenching the spirit’[3] and perhaps worse for his well-being in the long run.
        Maybe it is actually a very high and esoteric form of enlightenment just to accept that there are many mental ruts in our lives that we simply cannot help honoring, and that many of those ruts were indeed installed or imprinted in us by the kind of people who care nothing for this whole concept of ‘enlightenment’ – the smotheringly populous type of whom Proust says with chilling concision that they ‘do not try to get light upon it.’[4]
        But then – if we are to give up the attempt to bring mental ‘enlightenment’ usefully to bear on our social and behavioral ruts – is the striving to ‘get light upon it’ just superfluous nonsense that adds nothing to life and could just as well never have existed? Was the anti-miniskirt crowd actually, unbeknown to themselves, in possession of the only wisdom there is?
        My answer to that is, I think, very un-New Age. But it is also one that the conventionally adjusted crowd, whether in East or West, never likes to hear.
It is: ‘I don’t know.’
And in support of my answer, I will do something I would never have done in my youth, and that I think Takahashi would have approved of. (He left this world in 1987.) I will quote Confucius –

‘When you know a thing, to hold that you know it; and when you do not know a thing, to allow that you do not know it; – this is knowledge.’[5]

--Lloyd Haft

[1] New York: Doubleday Anchor, 1972. The poetry is all included, but with different front matter, in Takahashi’s more recent expanded volume Triumph of the Sparrow (Grove Press, 2000).
[2] From the poem ‘Autumn Flowers’ on page 73 (capitalization adjusted).
[3] See 1 Thessalonians 5: 19.
[4] From The Past Recaptured, translated by Frederick A. Blossom: New York: Albert and Charles Boni, 1932, p. 225.
[5] Analects, Book II, Chapter 17, translated by James Legge.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Waterfall at Taroko (poem)

Emerging where the rivers were
I leave the valley under me,

clouds and lungs together now,
filling alike in freedom,

fingers and twigs alike
touching wind.

Where I am the mountain is:
one standing.

Left and right the dark rocks:
one stone.

Water falling clear between:
one light,

one ray open above,
through to beneath.

Where are the trees?
here where I am,

standing with me in one,
one in the wideness of wind.

--Lloyd Haft

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Zwerftocht 1 (gedichten)


Waar rivieren waren
kom ik uit,

laat ik het dal
onder mij liggen:

wolken en longen één
ruim, één opnemen:

vingers en takken
één aan de wind raken:

waar ik ben de berg:
één staan.

Donkere rotsen links en rechts
één steen,

water dat er tussen valt
één lopend licht,

één straal open naar boven,
door naar beneden.

Waar zijn de bomen?
hier bij mij,

mee in het staan,
mee in de berg geborgen.


Hou wind niet tegen:
wind voert adem aan
en gloedomrande dageraad.

Hou die raad niet weg:
rood, van alle dingen moeder
binnen in de wind.

Woord dat warrend tussenwaait
is anders:
killer dan wind,

guurder is woord,

dringt, wrikt uiteen,
laat scheuren achter:
aan de wand geen beeld.

Luister niet naar woord.
Hoor de wind, die luistert niet
naar mag, niet naar moeten,

dringt niet van buiten,
voert warm van binnen:
gloed, van alle dingen moeder

binnen in wind. Ook aan woord,
ook aan het niets zal een einde komen,
niet aan hoe de dag begint.

--Lloyd Haft