Thursday, July 23, 2015

Ch-ch-ch-changes

I've been reading the volume on the 易经 Yijing in the series which published my book on Job, Richard J. Smith's The "I Ching": A Biography (Princeton, 2012). Strange to say, the Book of Changes is something I've never studied, nor been directed to, even during my near-year in China. I'm starting to see why. This foundational text of Chinese civilization is profoundly strange, a divination manual become philosophy become almanac, in the process linking and cross-linking everything that every was or will ever be. Half way through Smith's book, and half way through the Changes' historical run, there seem to be no constraints on the interpretations people foisted on the eight trigrams (permutations of three broken or unbroken lines) and their sixty-four combinations. But it's not quite true that I've had no encounter with it before. In my office, which I've happily reclaimed after my absence, I found an illustrated translation picked up at some point (I don't remember where) during my first China trip in 2012. And preserved between its pages, some flowers I pressed outside Shangrila!

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