While the Tao Te Ching has been translated and commented on countless times, interpretations are seldom based on systematic theoretical treatment of the problems of interpretive method posed by this enigmatic classic. Beginning with a critical discussion of modern hermeneutics including treatments of Hirsch, Gadamer, and Derrida, this book applies methods developed in biblical studies to the Tao Te Ching. The following chapters discuss systematically four areas necessary to recovering the Tao Te Ching 's original meaning: its social background; the semantic structure of the brief aphorisms contained in the book; the concrete background of the more cosmic sayings; and the origin and genre of the 81 chapters of the Tao Te Ching. These essays propose relatively new theories in each of these areas, leading to a new approach to the interpretation of the text. This approach is illustrated in the translation and the detailed commentary on each chapter.
Michael LaFargue is the author of Language and Gnosis and teaches at the University of Massachusetts in Boston.
"This translation and commentary takes a novel, even controversial approach to the Tao Te Ching, presenting the reader with a full-blown culturological understanding of this core Taoist Classic. " — Roger T. Ames, University of Hawaii
"More than any other classical Chinese work, perhaps, the Tao Te Ching has been ripped from its historical, cultural and concretely experiential context and employed (like a set of transcultural Rorschach images) to tickle the meditative fancies of Mystical Everyman. LaFargue's worry about the origin and evolution of the text, its intended audience, and the 'purpose' of its aphorisms, allows him to ask relevant hermeneutical questions, the responses to which open the text in a new way. " — David L. Hall, The University of Texas