I Ching: An Annotated Bibliography
Edward Hacker, Steve Moore, Lorraine Patsco. New York: Routledge, 2002. Hardback, xvii + 336pp. £50. ISBN 0 415 93969 0.
An annotated bibliography of books and articles on the ancient Chinese I Ching oracle may not sound a very interesting read, but in fact this is one of the most fascinating I Ching books I've read in a while. The book has grown out of the annotated bibliography that Ed Hacker, professor emeritus in philosophy at Northeastern University, included in The I Ching Handbook. Here he has teamed up with fellow I Ching aficionados Steve Moore and Lorraine Patsco to tackle the immense task of attempting to track down absolutely everything ever published in English on the I Ching (work they are continuing for a revised edition).
In the process of annotating work from scholarly PhD dissertations to the totally offbeat, Hacker, who wrote most of the entries, has developed a charming non-critical manner of annotation whereby he is able to signal the rubbish with no more than a slightly raised eyebrow after quoting the most delightful codswallop. After a while I began to suspect the phrase 'no bibliography or index' was code for complete absence of any merit whatsoever, and although the authors have in general maintained a neutral tone blatant praise of a work does occasionally creep in.
The harder-to-find and worthy works are accorded a lengthy annotation. Some of the most interesting entries deal with John Cage's I Ching chance operations to compose works of art and music, as well as random walks. And some of the references to the I Ching they have flushed out offer a glimpse into how people have related to it, such as the one where a female friend of Leonard Cohen's noticed the I Ching sitting on his coffee table, she asked about it, and Cohen attempted to explain the book to her. She was disappointed he should be interested in such things:
On the otherwise bare coffee table lay a book I'd never heard of – I Ching. At first I thought it might be Oriental poetry, like the books of haiku I used to pick up at Charles Tuttle's store in Rutland, Vermont. But Leonard explained to me that this was actually a way of life, or rather a way of determining life. Taking out of his pocket a couple of Canadian dimes, he began to demonstrate how, by flipping the coins and consulting them in tandem with the writings of the I Ching, we could alter the otherwise ego-driven nature of our behavior. It seemed such utter nonsense that I was sure it must be a game, perhaps an Asian form of Monopoly.
The more eloquently he described the subtleties of the method, the more ridiculous I thought he was being. When I realized that Leonard took all of this seriously, and when he realized that I did not, the conversation ended and I went home.
– from 'My Life Without Leonard Cohen'
by Ruth R Wisse
In another annotation the mountaineer Chris Bonington relates how on his fourth ascent of Everest in 1985 he got into difficult straits and recalled his father-in-law, who had consulted the I Ching on his behalf before they set off and had predicted the expedition would be a success. Bonington wrote that this gave him 'renewed confidence whenever I doubted my ability to make it'. These vignettes of the I Ching affecting individual destinies I found some of the most valuable annotations.
The book is divided into three sections. The first section covers 502 translations and books about the I Ching, the second section covers 486 articles, and the third section details 59 devices such as software and Stick Dice. An invaluable work of reference and also very readable from cover to cover. A lovely rummage sale of I Ching goods.
[First published in 'Fortean Times' 166 (Jan 2003), p 58.]
Translated by Koh Kok Kiang. Asiapac Comic Series, Singapore, 1993. (UK distribution: Millbank Books) 217 pages. £8.95.
Before anyone cries 'Oh surely not a comic-book version of the I Ching!', I should perhaps point out that (apart from having a vicious temper) I used to write comic-books for a living and so, while I may not be prejudiced in favour of the idea, I'm certainly not prejudiced against it, either. It's not a project I would have thought of undertaking myself, but Tan Xiaochun hasn't done at all a bad job here. Whether that's a tribute to Tan's talent, or to the flexibility of the comic-strip as a medium for getting over quite dense information in an easily digestible form, I'm really not sure. Probably a bit of both, I suspect.
Tan's drawing style is cartoony without being overly humorous, with his characters mostly portrayed in traditional costume, while Koh Kok Kiang's English translation is more than adequate. After a prose introduction, we move into a series of background chapters, on the origins and history of the I Ching, its logic, structure and numerology. These 70-odd pages are probably the most impressive part of the book, explaining an immense amount of information pictorially: yin & yang, the arrangements of the 8 trigrams, Shao Yung's charts for deriving the Fu Xi order, the He Tu & Luo Shu, Five Elements, so on. This is followed by a translation of the I Ching text, though unsurprisingly the Ten Wings aren't included.
Generally, two pages are devoted to each hexagram. The lines to each hexagram are translated as prose in a panel at the foot of the page, and these translations are fairly standard and close to the original – perhaps a little simplified, but at least the original symbolism is generally preserved. Above these panels are the comic-strip frames, one picture to each line, with a more practical interpretation. So, for instance, the translation of hexagram 2, line 1, reads: 'Walking on frost, icy conditions approaching.', while the comic-strip interpretation for the same is: 'Prepare for difficulties ahead.' Tan's illustrations often provide additional insights or humorous sidelights on the lines. Curiously, though, the overall judgments to each hexagram are not translated, and here we only have the interpretation. Sticking with the same example, the 'judgment' of hexagram 2 just reads: 'Kun. Yin, the receptive. Do not force matters but go with the flow.'
Alternative divination methods (three coins, eight coins, and so on) are given as an appendix, and there's also a bibliography. And I'd have to say, for a beginner, there's a great deal to recommend this book: it contains a great deal of background (far more than in some other beginner's books), it's easy to understand, and it generally remains true to the original text and tradition. This isn't to say it's entirely without fault. The lack of the judgment texts is obviously regrettable, and the explanation of the yarrow-stalk method of divination isn't all that easy to follow. Leibniz only noticed correspondences between his binary mathematics and the Fu Xi order of the trigrams and hexagrams of the I Ching after he'd worked out the maths, rather than being inspired to create the binary system by them, as it says here. And the trigram Gen (mountain) should have been attributed to the Element Earth, not Water.
Still, these are mostly minor errors. What is nice to see is some artistic and cultural expansion of the subject which, strange and surprising though it may be, still manages to stay very much within the grand tradition.
As you may have gathered, I'm actually a little bit fond of this one.
[First published in 'The Oracle: Journal of the I Ching Society' Vol. 1, No. 4 (Winter 1996/97), pp 26–27.]
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