Elisabeth Rochat De La Vallée Translated from the French by Madelaine Moulder
Publishers: Monkey Press, 2012 Paperback: pp.80 ISBN 978-1-872-468-129 Price: £7.50
(Reviewed by Gretchen De Soriano, EJOM Vol. 7 No. 4)
The Double Aspect of the Heart is one in a series of titles offered by Monkey Press, including a translation and commentary on chapter 8 of the Ling Shu; it joins the existing works on The Heart, The Heart Master and The Triple Heater. These are nicely framed and attractive volumes, reasonably priced. The Double Aspect of the Heart is a small pocketsized book; it consists of an introduction by Alan Hext, four main chapters and a bibliography. This is not an authored text, but a transcription of a lecture in the French language.
The Double Aspect of the Heart has relatively few footnotes, and uses Chinese characters and Mandarin pronunciation after technical terms rendered into English. For example, Mr Hext speaks of the zang fu, without an explanation but the text supplies the Chinese characters and the Mandarin pronunciation e.g. the formless (wu xing 無形). Mr Hext tells us that the text is based upon the classic, the Ling Shu, and ‘complements the teaching of the five elements/phases’ and that it ‘reveals the relationship between the heart, the heart master and the sovereign fire (jun huo), and the ministerial fire (xiang huo).’ There are no illustrations, charts or graphs.
I imagine the intended readership of The Double Aspect of The Heart to be attendees of De La Vallée’s lectures (held at University of Westminster through Peter Firebrace’s Orientation) or devotees of this tradition. Hence the text lacks explanatory information which new readers require; there is simply not enough introductory information or enough background. There is too much Daoism for the practical acupuncturist, not enough ‘meat’ to satisfy a Daoist seeker of truth (Mr Hext speaks of ‘the dao and the de, the ways of manifesting virtue’), while charts of points and pathways would be needed for the non-practitioner or the neophyte. This book does not attract the novice to this lineage, or speak to the unconverted.
The practice of acupuncture within the clinical setting requires us to perform the roles of clinician, historian and anthropologist. My criticisms here are with the presentation of the text, rather than the commentaries by De La Vallée. From the standpoint of a historian, the introduction is misinformed: there is no extant, original copy of any of the classics referred to; these and all medical books were rewritten and reconfigured by government in the Song period (960–1279 AD). The new Song government required structure and textual information to conform to its agenda. The allusions to ‘one ruler, and obedient ministers’ suit that agenda precisely. These political ideals intended to bring order to the world by replacing the previous aristocratic order. Texts which could not be made to conform to Song policy had their wooden plates burned, and ceased to exist. Hence being a ‘classic’ is no reason in itself for a text to have merit, especially when what exists is a replacement text under the name of the original. A text must prove itself to be relevant to each generation of users by being relevant in place and time. Repeated references to ‘the classics’ coupled with a bibliographical reference as brief as the Ling Shu tend to imply reference to an unambiguous, solid authority. Thus keeping to the illusion of textual authority, the bibliography simply lists documents, and would be more correctly described as suggestions for further reading than as a tool for exploring and further understanding the comments from De La Vallée. It is not made clear who De La Vallée is, nor the sources and origins of her commentaries.
As a practitioner, and one who has not studied acupuncture or herbal medicine in Europe, but in Tokyo and in Beijing, this text is difficult to place clinically. Mr Hext describes the dao and the de, the ways of manifesting virtue. Daoism, and mysticism do not sit well with the attention to substance in the Japanese interpretations of medicine. In some traditions, illnesses described as resulting from problems with the flow of qi are to be treated as ‘internal’ problems. Does that apply to this text?
Rather than the virtue of being based on a classic, it is the practitioner aspects common to medical anthropology which commend this book and indeed I recommend it as essential reading for acupuncturists, shiatsu practitioners, reflexologists, kinesiologists, those interested in macrobiotics and all Western practitioners who wish to understand all medical traditions related to the ideas of pathways, meridians, channels, qi, five element theories, etc. Attending such lectures on medical classics and listening to commentaries from elder statesmen of acupuncture or medical history is an established and a treasured way of study. For how else is the novice student to reflect on why treatments come to produce successes or failures, or to move beyond the mechanical point prescriptions of the classroom? Without interpretative readings, we will find the students of Chinese medicine supplement their lack of reflective understanding with bits from other disciplines, homeopathy, or the transient truths of ‘science’. These commentaries give a framework and vocabulary useful for describing to European patients how Chinese medicine might be working for them. The commentaries provide a language and framework for debates such as the role of a revival of the sensory aspects of the four diagnostic procedures. For a practitioner to note appropriate that ‘in case of fullness there is pressure in the diaphragm, in the case of emptiness, one can no longer speak’, from chapter 10 of the Ling Shu, requires the development of a keen skill set in listening, touching, and the sensory aspects that come from patient/practitioner contact.
Following the advice from the conclusion on page 66: ‘through the heart the human being takes responsibility in life’, I would like to see Monkey Press take responsibility for these works by producing a heart-led introduction that places the teaching inside some known category; to clarify its translated sources and to offer a proper bibliography. It would also be helpful to provide a commentary/context to De La Vallée’s commentary. In summary, the kind of commentary De La Vallée presents is essential for those who wish to understand Chinese medicine in the English language, and there are many keen to do so. The potential is immense.
Gretchen De Soriano Gretchen De Soriano is an acupuncturist and medical anthropologist (Oxford University 2010). She was awarded Wellcome Trust funding to investigate medical illustration in early Japanese texts. She studied acupuncture and the Japanese herbal tradition, kampo, for eight years in Tokyo, and a year in Beijing. Her translation of the text, Kampo I Gaku,漢方医学 was published in 2010; from 2012 she is leading a team developing an app to reference kampo terminology.