Die Welt als Wendung

Submitted by LvKohn on Thu, 02/12/2009 - 20:34
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DIE WELT ALS WENDUNG. ZU EINER LITERARISCHEN LEKTÜRE DES WAHREN BUCHES VOM SÜDLICHEN BLÜTENLAND. By Hans Peter Hoffmann. Opera Sinologica 13. Wiesbaden: Harrassowitz, 2001. Pp. 410. Cloth, €64.00, ISBN 0940-7927.


This is a monumental study of the Zhuangzi as a literary work. Hoffmann's study divides into three parts. The first part discusses the various problems related to reading the Zhuangzi as a literary rather than a philosophical work. Here Hoffmann also discusses the challenges of using the methodology of literary analysis to examine and understand the text, a methodology which stands in contrast to a more philosophical and conventional interpretation. The author carefully presents the different modes, citing previous studies extensively and making a convincing argument for the applicability of literary methods. Part two is entitled "The World as Transformation," thus echoing the main title of the book and bringing out its key thesis.


According to Hoffmann, the Zhuangzi, with its various stories, fables, parables, and metaphors, is itself the verbalized expression of the fundamental idea of transformation. Seen both cosmologically and literally, transformation forms the backbone and the essential topic of the work and is played out in a variety of different formats. A key way that the theme of transformation is worked with is in the so-called "spillover sayings," literally "jug words," that have one level of meaning literally but, like water flowing from a jug, spill over into wider and more complex meanings. The great gourd, the story of the swimmer, and many more are such spillover sayings-indicating the depth of transformation both textually and in terms of meaning. Part three looks at "Transformation in the World" and examines more complex stories that relate events from different perspectives and thus open mind and language to a deeper level of being. Here the story of the joy of fish and the flight of the great Peng bird are emphasized and discussed; in each case Hoffmann examines what philosophical readings have identified as a form of relativism in a literary and language-based manner. The book represents solid scholarship and makes much use of previous studies. It has Chinese characters in the text, making identification of Chinese terms very easy. It also contains an ample bibliography and detailed index. Recommended for scholars of the Zhuangzi and those conducting research on classical Daoist texts and Chinese literature. Research libraries should also acquire Hoffmann's study.



Livia Kohn

Boston University

March 1, 2003