A while ago, I received an email politely suggesting I stop referring to the Yi simply as ‘Yi’ without an article. The writer maintained that since the oracle is ‘not a person’, it would be better not to give it a ‘pet name’; this was not good English usage when talking about a book.
I welcomed the email as it made me aware of something that has become a habit. (I also welcomed it because it challenged my use of English, which is something I’m tremendously persnickety about. I mean, it’s something about which I’m tremendously persnickety.)
On the one hand, he was quite right to say that the Yi is not a person, but a book. And on the other hand, in the experience of people who have conversations with this oracle and get to know its very distinctive voice, it is a person. Stephen Karcher refers to it simply as ‘Change’; I’ve known people who talk about ‘Uncle Yi’ or ‘Grandmother Yi’ – and also people who hear it as a plural voice somehow and describe their readings with the words, ‘they said…’. The Dazhuan itself says that Yi is like your parents drawing near.
No one would refer to ‘Daode’ or ‘Shi’ as if they were using a personal name, because the Daodejing and Shijing are simply books. But the book that is the Yijing is also an oracle known as Yi – or perhaps the voice of an oracle known as Yi? Hard to know how to describe this… but people do have a different kind of relationship with oracles…