Fake Lao Tzu Quotes
Fake Interview with the Author of Fake Lao Tzu Quotes, Stefan Stenudd
I call this a fake interview because I interviewed myself. My excuse is a background in journalism, and I thought it might be fun to ask myself about my experience writing a book about fake Lao Tzu quotes. So, here it is.
Stefan Stenudd has recently released the book Fake Lao Tzu Quotes, examining 90 quotes falsely ascribed to the legendary Taoist, explaining why they are not the words of Lao Tzu and tracing their true origins.
So, Stefan, why did you write this book?
Ė I got tired of all the nonsense quotes on the web, claiming to be from Lao Tzu, mainly in memes. A lot of them were pathetic, far from the brilliant mind of the writer of Tao Te Ching. They had to be exposed.
Why 90 quotes? There must be more than that?
Ė Oh yes! And more keep coming. There are websites producing and spreading such memes continuously. And social media are willing targets. But I think I got the most widely spread ones, and the worst of them. That happened to be 90. Still, surely more are coming.
Then, whatís the point?
Ė I hope that my book can help making people question the authenticity of those quotes. Thatís why I also put my texts about them on my Taoistic website. Hopefully, when people google those quotes they will also find my web pages debunking them.
Ė Itís what I do. I write books. Thatís how I get to the bottom of things and go the extra mile, so to speak. When I worked as a journalist for newspapers, I usually wrote my text one day, and it was published the next. With a book I work for several months or even years.
So how long did Fake Lao Tzu Quotes take to write?
Ė Letís see. I started thinking about it early this year, and the writing began in April. It was finished in the beginning of September. So, five months of writing. Thatís unusually quick to be me. Itís probably because I had great fun with it.
Who made you a judge of what Lao Tzu quote is fake or not?
Ė Of course I can only speak for myself. I presented my arguments in every case, so that people should be able to make their own judgments. Itís really a question of becoming familiar with the thoughts presented in Tao Te Ching. Once you do, the judgment is not that difficult.
What made you hesitate about your English version?
Ė Well, in publishing the general rule is that a translator should primarily be excellent with the language to which a book is translated, not necessarily to the same extent the language from which it is translated. That might seem counter-intuitive, but it is what works the best. Otherwise the translated text might get awkward and hard for the readers to comprehend and appreciate.
But then you still went ahead with it. Why?
Ė I tried it and felt comfortable about it. Also, reading all these prominent and some not so prominent translations, I felt that there was something I could bring to the table.
What was that?
Ė The simple and direct language of Lao Tzu might even be easier to portray for someone not that equilibristic in English. I think the major thing with that text is not to complicate it, or decorate it with elaborate linguistic finesse, and I would not accidentally fall into that trap. I just wouldnít be able to.
How different is your version from the others?
Ė Not much at all. Well, not from the ones staying as close as they can to the original Chinese text in its context. In my comments, though, I took the liberty of explaining the chapters both from the historical Chinese mindset to which it spoke, as far as I was able, and from a modern application of Lao Tzuís thoughts relevant to the world we live in now.
So, are you a Taoist?
Ė Well, after living for almost half a century with Tao Te Ching, I might have become indoctrinated into one...
That might be Taoistic, too, donít you think?
Ė It might. I like to think that Lao Tzu would have enjoyed such an attitude. In any case, there it is.
Letís get back to Fake Lao Tzu Quotes. Have you found some patterns in those quotes? Is there a common ground in them?
Ė A lot of them come from writers with their own agenda, deforming Tao Te Ching to fit their values and beliefs. In particular, there are many interpretations made by people in the fields of self-realization, mindfulness, motivational speech, affirmations, New Age, and all that. They tend not to shun at all from bending Lao Tzuís words to fit them. And they are not that big on being true to the sources, or even checking with them.
Whatís the tendency in the versions from self-realization and such?
Ė The main one is that they make Tao Te Ching ego centered, which it is not. They make Lao Tzuís advice about how to get ahead in the world, while he spoke about how to adapt to it. Lao Tzuís perspective was always what would benefit the whole world, and not just single individuals.
Doesnít that sounds like something Jesus might have said?
Ė Yes. Iíve found lots of similarities between the words of Jesus and those of Lao Tzu. If you strip away the religion and miracles from the former, you end up very near Lao Tzuís message.
Are all fake Lao Tzu quotes from self-realization or Zen people?
Ė Oh no. I found many other origins to quotes, later claimed to be from Lao Tzu. Some came from centuries old collections of proverbs, some from dialogues in fiction, and so on. One was 1960ís graffiti on a wall in Texas, another from the 1982 movie Blade Runner. Several sure sounded like they could be from Tao Te Ching, containing similar messages. Others were so way off I marveled at the mistaken accreditation.
So itís not only an Internet meme thing?
Ė Far from it. That was a surprise to me. Most of the fake quotes were from books older than the Internet. We canít blame social media for anything other than spreading those fake quotes more effectively than books did before.
Was that what you did, writing this book?
Ė Yes. Iíd even say that the research I did on the web would have been impossible to do without it. I canít even imagine how enormous my work would have been without it, and still not reaching even halfway in most cases. Itís a tremendous resource. By time it must lead to more trustworthy information. Fakes will be revealed so much easier.
Are there many more fake than authentic Lao Tzu quotes around?
Ė Iím not sure of that. There are many, certainly, but during my work I also came across a lot of quotes and memes that are indeed from Tao Te Ching Ė or close enough. On the other hand, many of the most popular Lao Tzu quotes are fake. I would say most of them.
What advice can you give on revealing fake Lao Tzu quotes?
Ė Lao Tzuís perspective was not religious. He did not care about gods or an afterlife. Nor did he discuss love or any other emotion as such. He was quite matter-of-factly. Thatís a give-away, since many fake quotes venture into those fields and become kind of sentimental.
Which ones are trustworthy?
Ė There are many. I put a commented bibliography at the end of my book, so that the reader will be able to pick. Itís on my Taoistic website, too.
You donít include your own version?
Ė Oh, I forgot. Well, I regard it as trustworthy. But itís for the readers to decide.
(September 30, 2020)
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About meI'm a Swedish author and aikido instructor. In addition to fiction, I've written books about Taoism and other East Asian traditions. I'm also an historian of ideas, researching ancient thought and mythology. Click the image to get to my personal website.