Hidden clue

MARCH 23 03 – 2:20am. After losing my way a little, drawing back to re-group myself, I leant across and slipped out of the envelope Arthur Cooper's unpublished notes on the Tao Te Ching that Lionel loaned me on Wednesday. I had planned to read it in the garden. Perhaps because I was talking with John this evening about Cooper too, who has his unpublished potential magnum opus. I wasn't expecting anything spectacular, with so many translations around of the Laozi most of them follow a well-worn groove, except perhaps Waley's.

But now I have a fire in my eyes! Cooper's translation of wei zhi xuan xuan zhi you xuan from chapter 1 has grasped hold of me and won't let go:

This is called the hidden clue, that is a hidden clue always again to a hidden clue…'

Marvellous! Addiss and Lombardo have: 'Call them both deep – deep and again deep…' D C Lau: 'Being the same they are called mysteries, mystery upon mystery…'

Suddenly I see a scope that even Addiss and Lombardo have not captured, for all I love their translation. The character xuan, three times in that phrase, is 'the dark' (it's the 'black' of 'black and yellow' in Yijing 2/6, I have argued about the meaning of this with Richard Rutt), later to be 'the mystery', written about most mysteriously. Something occult, in other words. But… a hidden clue to a hidden clue… is alive with possibility. It means something. I know what it means. From the hidden to the hidden, reaching the hidden via the hidden. It is never that the hidden reveals something obvious in retrospect, the hidden is an imperative, a driving force, an intangible motivation, an all-consuming passion that resists definition.

John tells me Cooper worked at GCHQ, he was a code-breaker. Seems relevant, strangely relevant. Makes me wonder what might be found in his other unpublished papers. And I have to ask, why has Arthur Cooper suddenly cropped up around me like this, I feel I am being led on another trail. John suggested I have a look at this unpublished Cooper material he has, which is too daunting a task to prepare for publication, my immediate thought: I don't want to take on such a big project either. But now I wonder, glancing through these aged foolscap papers, is this the way unfinished business ended by death calls to those who might be interested? If it is to be by magic, at the behest of the ancestors, I know what the answer will have to be. We'll see. One sentence, fire in the eyes.

And the best translation I have seen of the military strategist's advice in chapter 69:

When I dare not advance an inch, then I must retreat a foot.

Sounds like something Taigong might have said. This translation makes it into an instruction, indeed, when I cannot do this, I must do that. Addiss and Lombardo have: 'I dare not advance an inch, but retreat a foot.' That's simply not instructional (when this, then that), it applies to what could be a single instance, it's not a generalism and guide to action in battle, i.e., to see inability to advance as the necessity to fall back. The timing of retreat is lost in the hands of the impetuous or arrogant, for instance, hence chapter 69 stresses that those who have contempt for the enemy will lose, while those who know grief will be victorious.

Funny I should regain my lost sense of direction by falling back on what I know and love, for all I wonder why I do.

3:33am – still I think of Choronzon.

There's a screeching heron flying over low outside.