(Translation) 蝴蝶夢

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Original Script

昔者莊周夢為胡蝶,栩栩然胡蝶也,自喻適志與!不知周也。俄然覺,則蘧蘧然周也。不知周之夢為胡蝶與,胡蝶之夢為周與?周與胡蝶,則必有分矣。此之謂物化。 《莊子.齊物論》


Student Translation : Jelena Gledić

Once Zhuang Zhou dreamed of being a butterfly. The butterfly was vivid and joyous, content and at ease. I did not know of Zhou. Suddenly I was awake, and apparently, I was Zhou. I did not know if Zhou dreamed of being a butterfly, or the butterfly was dreaming of being Zhou. Zhou and the butterfly, they must be differentiated. This is called becoming a thing. “Zhuangzi – On the uniformity of things”

  • Discussion Questions:

+ I found a brief but very good (and in line with my view :)) discussion on the sentence 不知周也 in Chong, Kim-chong. Zhuangzi's Critique of the Confucians: Blinded by the Human, SUNY Press, 2016, page 46. The author translated it even more vaguely in an attempt to keep the plurality of interpretations of the original: "No awareness of Zhou."
(YO) Right. If we say "I did not know I was Zhou", then it would presuppose that I be Zhou as a fact. (JG) Great! Thank you. Finally :) + (YO) 栩栩然胡蝶也 is an emphatic pattern, so: "Vivid and joyous was the butterfly, content and at ease, unaware of Zhou!"
(JG) I like it, thank you!

+ A usual translation of 物化 is 'transformation of things' but "becoming/transforming into a thing" is quite appropriate here.

(JG) I did think about which solution to use, so I am glad you approve. I also think it does suit this particular text better.

(Fran): The transition from talking about Zhuang Zhou in the third person to the first person voice in the third sentence might be confusing to some readers. I might render the first sentence into: "Once I, Zhuang Zhou, dreamed of being a butterfly." I'm curious about your line, "This is called becoming a thing," though I suspect this would take us down the rabbit hole of interpreting Zhuangzi's philosophy!
(JG) As for the first comment, I agree, it is a better solution - thank you! As for 物化, it is bit of a rabbit hole :) However, briefly (if that is possible), here is my reasoning. As Prof. Oh noted, the usual translation is "transformation of things", but this term is mostly used in post-hoc interpretations of Zhuangzi's entire philosophy, so I don't think it is necessary to blindly adhere to that solution. Furthermore, I think the usual translation misses the strength of the N+化 pattern, because 物化 literally means "thingization" :) I don't think my suggestion is perfect, but I believe it does bring us closer to the original focus - 物 as a generic term (when you say "things" for me it sounds there are different kinds, whereas 物 is all things), and 化 as a process not necessarily happening to the 物 (you become a thing, but it is not stated here that a thing becomes a thing, as the term "transformation of things" implies).