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Wandering on the Way Paperback – April 1, 2000
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Mair includes the complete text of Chuang Tzu, not limiting himself to the 'Inner Chapters' (which are regarded as being actually written by Chuang Tzu). He includes the 'Outer' and 'Miscellaneous Chapters', many of which Mair claims are the equal or superior of the Inner Chapters. Each chapter is prefaced by a note giving context to the authorship of the chapter. For instance, Mair regards some of the chapters as being written by Confucianists who have somehow wormed their way into Chuang Tzu over the centuries.
This book compares favourably to other translations of Chuang Tzu I have read. My first exposure to Chuang came in Burton Watson's translation of the Inner Chapters, and while I have not read this book for many years, it was Watson who convinced me of the necessity to study this quasi-historical figure. 'The Essential Chuang Tzu' (Hammill & Seaton) was disappointing in comparison to this book. Thomas Merton's 'The Way of Chuang Tzu' is a nice little book, but not of the same calibre of this volume. In short, Mair's volume seems to me to be the definitive translation.
Chuang Tzu can change your life--quite literally--if you are willing and able to pursue a life of carefree wandering. It's a book not to be missed.
I recently finished reading Mair's translation of the Chuang Tzu--it was the third complete translation I've read, and while I found that it accurately conveys the spirit and ideas of the Chuang Tzu, it doesn't get my vote for best translation. As a side note, I chose Mair's Chuang Tzu translation after being very impressed by his excellent and illuminating rendering of the Tao Te Ching. As he states in his introduction, Mair's mission in translating the Chuang Tzu is to convey the fact that it is primarily a literary classic (as opposed to a philosophical classic), and rather than expose it to philosophical scrutiny, his desire is to provide the most philologically-accurate translation possible, attempting to translate both the exact words of the Chinese, but also the exact style of the writing (poetry vs. prose, etc.) in a way he feels hasn't been done by other translators. I think he succeeded in his mission, but that his success is not one that benefits readers of his translation in an extremely meaningful way.
The problem, I think, is that ancient Chinese is just so different from English that attempts to transfer the poetic and structural beauty of the Chinese to English are doomed to come up short. Although Mair sets off poetic passages in the text's formatting, this effect doesn't really enhance the writing or ideas, and it's tough to get a feeling for why the Chinese is so linguistically beautiful. Likewise, his goal of omitting ornamentation (e.g. a modern translator subbing "exclaimed" for the more boring and repetative [but accurate] "said") is noble, but really doesn't impact the force of the text. In my opinion, as long as the ideas and beauty of Chuang Tzu's thought is clearly expressed, the exact wording and accuracy of translation is not necessarily of paramount importance (it seems Chuang Tzu would agree, given his attitude toward the ultimate unreliability of language). Finally, Mair tends to translate the names of people and places into English (for example, he translates Lao Tan--Lao Tzu's given name--as "Old Longears"). These translations can be illuminating from an ideological perspective, but they tend to read very awkwardly and don't look like names on paper--I can't imagine a person named "Gorge Worker" or "Sir Square."
Nevertheless, Mair's translation is mostly very readable. Since modern understanding of ancient Chinese is so distant, the more translations you read of a book like the Chuang Tzu, the more likely you are to better understand all of its sections--there were numerous passages that I thought Mair rendered the most powerfully and insightfully out of all the translations I've read, and it was a worthwhile read for that reason alone. I do wish, though, that he had included footnotes or more in-depth introductions to each chapter. Especially with the Outer and Miscellaneous chapters, where the ideas and philosophy gets progressively more diluted with other traditions, some scholarly guidance really helps with understanding the text and enjoying it as much as the more readable Inner chapters.
If you haven't read the Chuang Tzu before, I'd recommend that you start with Burton Watson's Chuang Tzu: Basic Writings, which includes all the Inner chapters and most of the highlights from the rest of the book. If you're looking for your first complete translation, I'd go for Watson's The Complete Works of Chuang Tzu, which is the same translation as his Basic Writings, but it includes the rest of the text as well. I find Watson's translation is the most accurate representation of the spirit imbued in the Chuang Tzu, the most flowing and beautifully-worded translation, and the perfect balance of commentary and uncluttered translation. If you're well familiar with the text and want to dive deeper into understanding it, A.C. Graham's difficult-to-read but very insightfully structured The Inner Chapters is the most academic translation I've read.