Struggle, Distortion, Surrender: Translating the Zhen'gao
The Zhen'gao 真誥 (“Declarations of the Perfected”) is as important to the history Daoism, indeed Chinese letters as a whole as it is difficult (impossible?) to access. The “Declarations” is a collection of revelations received by the talented Daoist medium, poet, and calligrapher Yang Xi 楊羲(330-?) from the deities and shared by him with the Jin official Xu Mi (303-73) and members of his family, among others. The fragments of writing relating to these revelations were collected and annotated by Tao Hongjing 陶弘景 (456-536). The collection had a demonstrable effect on both the history of Daoism and the development of Tang letters. In this presentation, Bokenkamp deals with three levels of complexity: 1) The fact that the “Declarations” are personal communications not meant for outsiders, so that often even Tao can only guess at their meanings. 2) The tendency of Yang Xi to invent words and concepts to overawe his readers, obscured by the fact that later Daoists furnished out meanings for these bits of arcana. 3) The difficulty of entering the world of Tao Hongjing, a difficulty exacerbated both by later editors and by the laconic nature of some of his notes. The talk includes analysis of a “come-hither” poem from a goddess, new bits of the Buddhist Sūtra in 42 Sections, and a reconsideration of the goddess’ allusion to the Zhuangzi.
Stephen R. Bokenkamp is the author of Early Daoist Scriptures, Ancestors and Anxiety, and a number of articles on Daoism and Literature. He is Regents’ Professor at Arizona State University.