I have added a new entry to the static site: an “about” page, which explains a bit about how I went about mistranslating the Dao De Jing. However, it still doesn’t entirely explain why. So, here goes:

Years ago, when I first read the Dao De Jing, I picked a version more or less at random off the shelf. Since it is quite short, I finished the book proper quickly, and thought something like, “Huh, that’s interesting; I think I see what they’re getting at.”

It was clear from the beginning that the translator was being pretty liberal with his translation — the likes of the line in chapter 32, about the Dao being “smaller than an electron”, were a dead giveaway — and irritating though that might have been, on the whole I was OK with it.

Later, though, I was thumbing through the notes in back, and reviewing the chapters they referenced, and discovered that this liberality went far beyond simple translation. It was not just a matter of paraphrasing, nor even just dropping bits that didn’t agree with him — the translator (one Stephen Mitchell) had simply dropped entire chapters, and written something he liked better! I learned to fear the term he used in his notes to indicate this kind of behavior: “I have improvised here…”.

Frankly, I was pissed off. You just can’t *do* something like that, not without warning people ahead of time. Change the title, stamp “pastiche” on the cover, do something to keep unsuspecting folks like me from assuming they’ve got the genuine article.

Over the next several years, I collected a few other translations, which seemed to be much more literal, and eventually I did a close reading, of all the versions in parallel: each chapter in turn, from beginning to end. My goal was to try and gain an understanding of the gist of the original, as much as is possible for one not schooled in ancient Chinese, anyway. In the end, I was reasonably happy with what understanding I had achieved.

However happy I might have been, though, I was also still pissed off. So, I set about an exercise that had occurred to me during this reading… and, although the project took on a momentum of its own after that, I have to credit Mitchell with being the biggest single inspiration for The Way of the Consultant.