Shen Dao: Text and Translation

I am soliciting corrections, comments, and criticisms of my translation and study. I can send you a printed version: email emersonj at gmail dot com.




 My study of Shen Dao

In 1979 P. M. Thompson published The Shen Tzu Fragments (Oxford, 1979), a careful attempt to separate the actual words of Shen Dao from the legendary and pseudoepigraphical accretions. For reasons of his own, however, when Thompson published his textual reconstruction he chose not to publish the translation which was part of the PhD dissertation from which his book was taken (A Translation of the Shen Tzu Fragments, vol. 3 of unpublished dissertation, U. Washington, Seattle). As a result, the recovered Shen Dao text has so far been available only to those who can read classical Chinese.

In this translation I have used Thompson’s edited text (inserting some of his suggested emendations) and have generally followed Thompson’s interpretations, noting the cases where I have disagreed with Thompson. The greater part of the Shen Dao corpus is unproblematic and can be straightforwardly translated. There are also a number of passages which are difficult only because of a single obscure word or phrase, but Thompson has satisfactorily decided most of these cases. (more…)

Published in: on June 24, 2012 at 12:49 am  Leave a Comment  

Mystical bureaucrat: the Chinese philosopher Shen Dao

I am soliciting corrections, comments, and criticisms of my translation and study. I can send you a printed version: email emersonj at gmail dot com. 



(Shen Dao text and translation here.)


Shen Dao was a member of the Jixia Academy in Qi during the Hundred Schools era, sometime between 350 BC and 275 BC. Xunzi criticized him, Xunzi’s student Han Feizi acknowledged him as one of three masters of Legalism (along with Shang Yang and Shen Buhai), and the author of the Tianxia chapter of Zhuangzi discussed him at some length. Details about his life are scanty and uncertain, but at least we can be sure that he existed and was not purely legendary.

The Hundred Schools era was perhaps the most fertile period in the history of Chinese philosophy, but because of censorship and the destruction of war, few of its texts survive, usually in heavily-edited late versions, and many figures are known only as names attached to anecdotes. In the case of Shen Dao, the available material consists of a late text called the Shenzi, the three discussions mentioned above, and scattered quotations and anecdotes of widely differing value. Thompson has carefully edited the materials that remain and I have used his text.

Shen Dao is classified sometimes as a Daoist, sometimes as a Legalist, and sometimes as a follower of Huanglao, but these late retrospective classifications are not very helpful. There were no organized Daoist, Legalist, or Huanglao schools comparable to the Mohist and Confucian schools, and in effect, these classifications merely serve to lump tendencies. Insofar as these three labels mean anything, they are probably all applicable to Shen Dao.1 (more…)

Published in: on June 24, 2012 at 12:44 am  Leave a Comment  

The Most Overrated Work Of Fiction Of All Time

Stephen Crane’s “Maggie, a Girl of the Streets” is my nomination for The Most Overrated Work Of  Fiction Of All Time. Naturalism is usually lurid, melodramatic, moralizing crap, but Crane surpasses the bunch of them. The story is 50% The Girl Who Was Ruined, 50% Painted Woman Who Wear Skimpy Outfits And Drive Men Mad, 50% temperance tract, 50% anti-immigration pamphlet,  50% anti-Christian satire, and 50% local color (which may or may not be accurate). If you try to fit that much crap into one 60-page story the consequences will be dire.

Ma Johnson is drunk or passed out every minute of her life and spends her waking time beating her husband, beating her children, breaking furniture and crockery, and pawning anything she hasn’t broken yet. Pa Johnson is drunk all the time too, which must make it rough for him, considering he has to refurnish the house a couple of times a week.

These aren’t even the real dirty kind of immigrant — by their name they’re Swedes. The most innocuous immigrants of all horrified Crane. (Yes, he was the son of a Methodist minister. How’d you guess?)

Maggie dies two pages after the moment she hits the streets  and a month or two after being dumped by her seducer. No details are given. Based on what you read, she could have died of pure sexual frustration after failing to get any clients.

Crane didn’t like foreigners: Stanley Wertheim, “Unravelling the Humanist: Stephen Crane and Ethnic Minorities”, American Literary Realism, 30.3 (1998), 65-75.

Published in: on June 22, 2012 at 7:32 pm  Leave a Comment  

Vive les demoiselles!

So you want to write a demoiselle novel!

Fortunately, the fundamentals of the demoiselle novel are pretty simple. You need one demoiselle, one step-parent (usually an evil one), two evil conspirators, one evil seducer, and one hapless suitor. Theoretically this adds up to six characters, but there’s normally some overlap between the evil seducer, the two evil conspirators, and the stepparent.

Overlapping the villains makes things simpler, but sophisticated authors mix things up by doubling some roles, or by overlapping one of the villain roles with one of the non-villain roles. In Henry James’ novel there are two demoiselles (one of whom is also the stepmother), the evil conspirators are the birth parents rather than the stepparent, and Warburton is the hapless suitor, first of the stepmother-demoiselle, and then later, of the stepdaughter-demoiselle. Warburton is a farcical anti-Humbert: stepfather Humbert Humbert courted the mother to get next to the daughter (his stepdaughter), but Warburton courted the stepdaughter to get next to the stepmother (who would become his own stepmother-in-law).

Pansy Osmond has two hapless suitors but no evil seducer. This is possible because 19th century novels from the United States, where sex had not yet been discovered, tended to avoid any hint of actual intercourse. At age 20 Pansy Osmond was too old to still be a demoiselle rather than an old maid —  but there she was in the convent, cute as a bug and utterly adorable. Gilbert Osmond was trying ever so hard to be a sophisticated, decadent European, but he was just an American working out of an idiot book and couldn’t get anything right. (Isabel Archer was far too old to be a demoiselle when he married her, too, but did he notice that?)

Novel Les Liaisons Dangereuses, Choderlos de Laclos Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov Portrait of a Lady, Henry James
Demoiselle Cécile Volanges (convent girl ™) Dolores Haze (American girl ™) Pansy Osmond, American convent girl / Isabel Archer (American girl ™)
Evil conspirators Mme. Merteuil and Vicomte de Valmont Humbert Humbert , Clare Quilty (competing) Gabriel Osmond, Mme. Merle
Evil seducer Vicomte de Valmont Clare Quilty, Humbert Humbert Gilbert Osmond (Isabel) / none (Pansy)
Stepparent(s) Mme. Merteuil and Vicomte de Valmont (friends of the real mother who both counsel Cécile) Humbert Humbert Isabel Archer / Lord Warburton (potential stepson-in-law, stepmother’s ex)
Hapless suitor Chevalier Dancey Richard Schiller (who gets Dolores in the end, but in seriously damaged condition), Clare Quilty, Humbert Humbert. Caspar Goodwood, Lord Warburton, Ralph Touchett (Isabel) / Edward Rosier, Lord Warburton (Pansy)
Published in: on June 14, 2012 at 5:39 pm  Leave a Comment  

Naturalism II

“Dark, narrow corridor”, “yellowish, worn stones”, “acrid dampness”, “black with grime”, “dirty panes”, “lurks miserably”, “foul winter days”, “slimy paving”, “mean, soiled shadows”, “dank air of cellars”, “grey with dust”, “strange greenish reflections”, “shops full of darkness”, “gloomy holes”, “weird figures”.

That’s more than 10% of the first half page.

Some say that Thérèse Raquin was doomed by heredity, some say it was environment, but I say that it was Zola’s prose that killed her.

Published in: on June 7, 2012 at 4:38 pm  Leave a Comment  

Bunbury in the Caucasus

Lawrence Kelly, Lermontov: Tragedy in the Caucasus, Robin Clark, 1983, pp. 73-4:

And there had been the unfortunate case of a would-be poet who visited him, and was invited to recite his verses, while Lermontov ate half his hamper of freshly salted cucumbers — always a treat — and then scampered away in mid-recitation with the other half stuffed in his pockets.

Oscar Wilde, The Importance of Being Earnest (Act I Scene 2):

Algernon. [Jack puts out his hand to take a sandwich. Algernon at once interferes.] Please don’t touch the cucumber sandwiches. They are ordered specially for Aunt Augusta. [Takes one and eats it.]

Jack. Well, you have been eating them all the time.

Algernon. That is quite a different matter. She is my aunt.

Published in: on June 5, 2012 at 6:04 pm  Leave a Comment  

“Germinie Lacerteux”, by the Goncourt brothers

(BREAKING: I finally found a copy, and there’s apparently some question as to how crappy Germinie Lacerteux really is…)

I was going to tell you about how crappy the Goncourts’  decadent / naturalist novel Germinie Lacerteux  is, with all the bogus medicine and bogus genetics and bogus race science, but Powell’s didn’t have it, or any other Goncourt Brothers novel either. Do you know what that means? It means that nobody is reading the classic crappy novels any more! We really have descended into barbarism, just as the Goncourts said — read the classic crappy novels, people!

Anyway, the backstory is the good part. The Goncourts were wealthy aristocrats. When their devoted family servant Rose Malingre died in 1865, they found that for many years she had been stealing from them, using the money to buy absinthe and cavort with her brutish gigolo. (Rose’s name literally means “sickly rose” — cf. William Blake — and would fit perfectly with the Goncourt’s theory of hereditary medical decay except that the name had been in the family for quite some time).

Theft, absinthe and a brutish gigolo — sounds like a cool, decadent, liberated thing to do, right? But it was their money, and only aristocrats are supposed to do that kind of crap. So they took their pitiful revenge by writing a novel (“Germinie Lacerteux”) in which Rose / Germinie dies a horrible death far worse than her actual death.

Flaubert’s later story “Un coeur simple”, was also about a saintly, devoted servant, but this one did not steal from her masters. It’s Flaubert’s only story portraying an admirable character, and we must assume that it was his little “neener neener” to the Goncourts.

Flaubert and the Goncourts loved the exotic, but to them their own servants,  who had lived in their homes since their childhoods, were exotic! Goncourt’s exotic here is lurid, whereas Flaubert’s is saintly and impossible, but clearly none of them had passed that threshold beyond which you end up thinking that the lower orders might be human beings.

Published in: on June 4, 2012 at 5:46 pm  Leave a Comment