A Companion to Angus C. Graham's Chuang Tzu

Submitted by James Miller on Thu, 02/12/2009 - 20:23
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A COMPANION TO ANGUS C. GRAHAM’S CHUANG TZU. Edited by Harold D. Roth. Society for Asian and Comparative Philosophy, Monograph No. 20. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press, 2003. Pp. x + 241. Paper, $18.00, ISBN 0-8248-2643-4.


Edited by Harold D. Roth, the present volume is a collection of articles by Angus C. Graham (1919-1991), which were published in academic journals or in now out-of-print books. A Companion to Angus C. Graham’s Chuang Tzu consists of the following articles: (1) Textual Notes to Chuang Tzu: The Inner Chapters; (2) How Much of Chuang Tzu Did Chuang Tzu Write?; (3) Chuang Tzu’s Essay on Seeing Things as Equal; (4) Two Notes on the Translation of Taoist Classics; (5) Taoist Spontaneity and the Dichotomy of “Is” and “Ought.” The book concludes with a colophon by Roth, which attempts to analyze and appraise Graham’s scholarship, and a bibliography of Graham’s publications. 


Those who knew Angus C. Graham (“A.C. Graham”) developed a deep respect and affection for the man, as Graham is said by Henry Rosemont, Jr. (who wrote the preface for this book) to have had for the Chuang Tzu (Zhuangzi). Like the editor of the volume under review, I met Graham when I studied at the School of Oriental and African Studies (University of London), immediately feeling a strong sense of affinity with him. And, like Graham, I not only have a profound love of the Chuang Tzu, but I also translated this unique work which has had such an enormous influence on Chinese culture for the past two millennia and more. The first book I published was Experimental Essays on Chuang Tzu (University of Hawaii Press, 1983), and Graham was kind enough to contribute a brilliant paper entitled “Taoist Spontaneity and the Dichotomy of ‘Is’ and ‘Ought,’” which now forms chapter five of the present volume. Thus, Angus Graham and I shared a lot in common when it comes to the Chuang Tzu, but we also had a very different approach to the text.


Graham took the Chuang Tzu very seriously, treating it as a seminal work of Chinese philosophy. In contrast, I consider the Chuang Tzu to be fundamentally anti-philosophical in its overall posture. The sharp contrast between our interpretations of the Chuang Tzu is starkly revealed in the papers that we wrote for Experimental Essays (mine was entitled “Chuang-tzu and Erasmus: Kindred Wits”). Furthermore, whereas Graham took chapter two (“Qiwu lun” [On Seeing Things as Equal]), with its categorical distinction between shi (“yes; is; right; affirm”) and fei (“no; is not; wrong; deny”) as the lynchpin for comprehending the whole of the Chuang Tzu, I focus on chapter one (“Xiaoyao you” [Carefree Wandering]) as embracing the essential spirit of play (youxi) that pervades the text.


Graham wrote about half a dozen papers on the Chuang Tzu (they are conveniently collected in the volume under review), but his magnum opus was the annotated translation entitled Chuang-tzu, the Seven Inner Chapters: and other writings from the book ‘Chuang-tzu’ (Allen and Unwin, 1981; reprint, Hackett Publishing Company, 2001), which, despite the title, actually includes over three-quarters of the entire text. I still recall the intense frustration that I experienced when I first attempted to read through Graham’s translation. I knew that it was considered to be an important work, and I did locate many precious insights in it, but I found Graham’s Inner Chapters to be a terrible jumble. I would spend hours frantically flipping pages, trying to find out how everything fit together. Even today, I cannot figure out what well over half the numerical notes (especially those of the type “cf. p. XXX above”) are driving at. Then there are the longer and shorter introductions that precede some passages and the longer and shorter commentarial notes that follow some passages. The more I grappled with Graham’s Inner Chapters, the more I came to feel that—in all of his writing about the Chuang Tzu—he was struggling to impose some sort of rational order upon what by its very nature is an unruly collection of disparate voices.


To come to the aid of floundering souls like myself, Harold Roth has kindly assembled all of Graham’s major early writings on the Chuang Tzu, as well as his extensive, detailed textual notes that were omitted from the Inner Chapters. Roth also has provided a “complete overview” of Graham’s work on this text and puts it in the context of new research. One very important study that Roth overlooks is Christopher C. Rand’s “Chuang Tzu: Text and Substance” (Journal of Chinese Religions 11 [Fall, 1983]: 5-58), which provides another valuable tool for looking at the multifarious strands that constitute the Chuang Tzu. It is markedly different from the way Graham divided up the True Classic of the Southern Cultural Florescence or the way Roth explained the various components of the text, but all three of these scholars agree in their assessment of the text as immensely stimulating, demanding and multi-vocal in nature.


Taken as a whole, A Companion to Angus C. Graham’s Chuang Tzu will prove useful for anyone interested in the Chuang Tzu or in A.C. Graham’s views on the Chuang Tzu.


Victor H. Mair

University of Pennsylvania

September 21, 2004