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the Complete Review
the complete review - philosophy


The Book of Beginnings

François Jullien

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To purchase The Book of Beginnings

Title: The Book of Beginnings
Author: François Jullien
Genre: Non-fiction
Written: 2012 (Eng. 2015)
Length: 135 pages
Original in: French
Availability: The Book of Beginnings - US
The Book of Beginnings - UK
The Book of Beginnings - Canada
Entrer dans une pensée - Canada
The Book of Beginnings - India
Entrer dans une pensée - France
Denkzugänge: Mögliche Wege des Geistes - Deutschland
  • French title: Entrer dans une pensée, ou Des possibles de l'esprit
  • Translated by Jody Gladding

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Our Assessment:

B+ : interesting idea(s); quite well done

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Le Monde . 22/3/2012 Roger-Pol Droit

  From the Reviews:
  • "Il est si rare qu'un philosophe donne lui-même, sous une forme concise et inattendue, la clé de son travail, qu'il convient de s'y arrêter. (...) N'allez surtout pas croire que nous soyons partis, dans cette excursion savante avec guide de haute culture, très loin des préoccupations les plus quotidiennes de notre époque." - Roger-Pol Droit, Le Monde

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       The Book of Beginnings is both a culmination of philosopher and sinologist François Jullien's work, and the starting point -- "the question with which I should have begun in my work", he admits, but of course couldn't because it required all the accumulated study for him to be able to tackle this starting-point. The question he addresses is: "What is it to enter a thought ?" ('entrer dans une pensée', as the French title has it).
       To do so, Jullien gets back to basics, and beginnings -- the very basics and beginnings: he focuses on just the opening, four-character sentence of the foundational Yijing (I Ching; 易經):

       He contrasts this -- and readings of it -- with two other foundational opening sentences -- and 'beginning'-accounts --, from Genesis (representing the theological) and Hesiod's Theogony (representing the mythological). He suggests that just as the theological and mythological make for (very familiar, in 'Western' culture and thought) entryways to dominant Western culture and philosophy, so too the Yijing-opening offers insight into the Chinese. Jullien suggests that entry to Chinese thought must be sought and found not via the traditional Western paths, but rather from the Chinese perspective, and he tries to show how even just these four characters/words are an entryway that allow for a completely different world-view and perspective -- most significantly, in how it considers (or doesn't) the concept of 'beginning' itself.
       Jullien emphasizes:
     The fact remains that we cannot enter into Chinese thought without first approaching it through and in its language. Because "Chinese thought" -- I am responding here to the objections of those who are afraid of confining cultures within worlds -- is, first of all and essentially, thought that is expressed in Chinese.
       Thus, his text is also an attempt at translation -- at least to the extent of making readers aware of how very differently the Chinese language functions, and how translations -- of even just the single sentence/four terms he focuses on -- can also be, misleadingly, interpretations, a foreign perspective imposed on the Chinese original that distorts it far from its original meaning. So, for example, he notes of one translation/approach:
But once it has fallen under Aristotle's categories, once they have been allowed to colonize it, what remains to us of Chinese thought ?
       One of the things he tries to do is suggest a proper (i.e. like the Chinese original) reading of the sentence -- which he finds not so much in any specific translation ('literal' or otherwise) but in the very act of exploring difference and meaning. As he nicely puts it:
Which is to say that translating is not deceptive but effective, and thus is not falsifying but fascinating: it is a matter of maintaining oneself at the breach as long as possible, perilously but patiently, being open equally to both sides and maintaining the encounter between them until the possibility of one is equally recognized by the other and progressively finds there what, as a reflected condition, can also make its way in it.
       Jullien admits in a Reference Note-postscript that: "This essay, it will be clear by now, is a sinology Manifesto", and indeed it serves as a good introductory volume in raising awareness how different Chinese is, fundamentally, as a language (especially as a written language), and the consequences of this. As such, it is also a useful reminder of the necessity of considering differences in language -- and thought -- more generally, too.
       Familiarity with some of the prolific Jullien's work is, presumably, helpful here, but it is a book of beginnings and would seem to serve as a good starting point too. Quite short, The Book of Beginnings is compact and dense; in his Reference Note Jullien notes that he did not add any foot/end-notes to the text: "because if I did, it would be necessary to add one to almost every line". So there's a lot more to this, the text itself surface-summary, built on a huge (but unseen) foundation.
       The Book of Beginnings is a welcome reminder that it is very easy for us (individually as well as culturally) to get set in our (thinking) ways, even as there are entirely different ways of ... 'entering a thought', as Jullien suggests here. The focus on language, and translation as a connecting path, is helpful in making the point -- as is Jullien's exposition, and focus, on concepts of 'beginning', using the three foundational texts here.
       An interesting, thought-provoking meditation and exploration.

- M.A.Orthofer, 5 May 2015

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The Book of Beginnings: Reviews: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       French philosopher and sinologist François Jullien was born in 1951.

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© 2015 the complete review

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