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Blog: Two Deceased Colleagues

Blog: Two Deceased Colleagues

I interrupt my series of blogs on art and artists to do one inspired by two writings that came to my attention yesterday. One is the New York Times obituary for Michael Heyman, who died of emphysema in his Berkeley house on November 19th at the age of 81. The other is an offprint, which I happened upon in a disorderly pile of old offprints and other documents, of a talk called “Voyages” given in 1992 as a presidential address at the American Historical Association by Frederick Wakeman Jr. when he was president of that organization. Both were Berkeley colleagues and good friends, and memories of them brought back by reading these documents arouse feelings in me that are appropriate for this Thanksgiving season. I have a lot to be thankful for, but at the top my list is my mere survival, in pretty good health, at an advanced age. Both Mike and Fred were younger than I, and both were full of vital energy; both should have outlived me, but didn’t.


Michael Heyman was Chancellor of U.C. Berkeley for ten years, from 1980 to 1990; these were active years for me as a professor there, and I saw quite a lot of him. It was he, along with Provost Rod Park, who called me in just before my 1973 trip to China to inform me that they were retiring Peter Selz from the directorship of our University Art Museum, and that I was being appointed Acting Director for a year. It was a long talk, filled with information about the financing of the Museum (that Peter had consistently gone way over budget was part of the reason he was being retired), and their hopes that more of properly academic funding could be directed into it; and for that, they said, we had to demonstrate more clearly the value of the Museum and its exhibitions to campus programs. It was my trying to carry out that quite reasonable (I still believe) directive that got me branded as a stodgy academic who was trying to reduce the Museum’s commitment to contemporary art. I was not a success in this year-long position; I have avoided high administrative jobs throughout my career exactly because I am no good as an administrator.


I have, however, been a good writer, and at U.C. Berkeley I wrote materials for a number of the Faculty Club Christmas party performances. In 1983, when I set out to do a show that followed on our highly successful 1967 “Dan Destry’s Dilemma, or Publish or Perish, or Both,” this time using the music and song-patterns from the John Gay-Frederick Pepusch Beggar’s Opera instead of the Gilbert-and-Sullivan songs used for DDD, we invited Mike Heyman to play a part in it. It was entitled Dan Destry’s Return, or the Academic Beggar’s Opera (A Wry Entertainment for Academic Beggars. We were in the midst of our great budget crisis, and our theme for that year’s entertainment seemed appropriate: ways in which U.C. Berkeley might draw on the expertise of its faculty to earn outside income, if it were not so honest. Faculty members made up a band of outlaws; Mike Heyman agreed to appear briefly near the beginning as their leader and to sing one song, as Chancellor Mike Highwayman (“the name was later corrupted by shortening.”) Writing this was a great pleasure for me, because I love The Beggar’s Opera and its songs; it was not, however, such a success with the audience as DDD had been, perhaps because the music was less familiar, but also because it was too long. You can read most of it, the whole plot and most of the songs, in the CYCTIE on this website under Writings of JC, pages 32 ff. This is how it began:


Chancellor Mike Highwayman, outwardly an advocate of law and order but

secretly supportive of MacDestry and his robber band, is awaiting their

first annual report on the forceful fundraising activities in which they have

engaged during the past academic year. Musing on his secret role, he asks

rhetorically why he does it, and answers: “Because for the present my real

concern is—and must be—money!” (Mike sang well, but I recall telling him:

“You’re a great chancellor, but you need to learn how to come in on the


Solo, Mike H. (Tune: “Through All the Employments of Life”)

For all academia’s woes

‘Tis money supplies the solution

And, as every good chancellor knows

Brings health to a sick institution.

For the faculty comes and it goes,

The buildings can stand or can fall,

As for students, who cares about those?

It’s money that’s key to it all.

Yes, the faculty comes and it goes (etc., repeat)


Dan enters with his band, and explains that they have organized into

platoons, according to academic specialties, of which the first is the

Foundation Grant Proposal Writers. They sing their marching song:


Song, MacDestry and Chorus (Tune: “Let Us Take the Road”)

Let us seize the chance!

Hark, I hear the approach of deadlines

We’ll join the academic breadlines

And pursue foundation grants

See the pen I hold--

So prettily we write the jargon

Our project sounds like a bargain

And they send us pots of gold!


Mike Heyman, as noted above, enjoyed singing his song but had trouble coming in on the upbeat, i.e. on the fourth beat of a 4/4 measure. After Christmas he called us all to a dinner at his Chancellor’s Residence where we sang some of the songs again for other guests, including, if I remember right, Gordon Getty, who had written a kind of opera himself and was interested in the form.


Mike went on, as the obituary relates, to head the Smithsonian Institution. The Times calls his tenure there “largely successful” but also relates how he was booby-trapped by a controversy over the labeling of an exhibit; he accepted some of the blame for this, although it was not his doing. As Chancellor of the Berkeley campus, he had fought hard for affirmative action and other causes he believed in. He was a man of firm principle, but, perhaps even more importantly, he had the ability as a leader to pursue his ends effectively. He was one of the friends I have most admired.


Fred Wakeman was a brilliant historian of China, working on China’s middle period and intellectual history. He started teaching at UCB in 1965, the same year I did; and since he considered himself (and was) a disciple of Joseph Levenson, we had a lot in common. I and my students drew on his expertise frequently and heavily in our research--if we had been working primarily on early art we would have drawn more on David Keightley (who did, of course, help us also on occasion) or, if doing Confucianism, on Weiming Tu. In my first exhibition seminar, the one on late Ming painting that led to The Restless Landscape exhibition and publication, Fred was a principal advisor, and came sometimes to seminar sessions. Advice from him and his advanced students allowed us, in the seminar that produced the Shadows of Mount Huang exhibition of Anhui-school painting, to make the arguments we did about the implications of these artists’ patronage being heavily among the Anhui merchants. And so forth--Fred was writing his huge and important work. The Great Enterprise: The Manchu Reconstruction of Imperial Order in the 17th Century, published in 1985, just as I and my students were most engaged with late Ming and early Qing painting (my Compelling Image book, for instance, published in 1982, was about painting of just that period.)


Recently I found and watched a video made at my own 70th birthday celebration in the University Art Museum, and there is Fred giving a spirited talk, looking so full of life and energy that he should, as I say, have outlived me. But awful things were ahead for him. A lower-back operation was unsuccessful, and left him unable to walk; at the end he had to be pushed around in a wheelchair. And other afflictions hit him, ending with liver cancer, which brought about his death in 2006 at the age of only 68.


The offprint from him that I rediscovered is of his Presidential Address to the American Historical Association in 1992. (It was printed in The American Historical Review 98/2 for February 1993.) . He had also been president, for four years, of the Social Science Research Council. Since 1492 was the 500th anniversary of Columbus’s voyage, he needed to choose a theme that engaged with that event; and, as a Berkeley historian, he needed also to demonstrate his mastery of the New Historicism originated mainly by Stephen Greenblatt of our English Department, which laid out a pattern of concurrent events that seemed unrelated but then moved smoothly between them (a Shakespeare play being performed at the Globe Theater, a bear fight going on outside, both playing to enthusiastic audiences with a love of violence.) Fred came to me to ask what I could think of that had happened in Chinese art in 1492 that he might use in his talk. I thought immediately of Shen Zhou’s Night Vigil painting (see my Parting At the Shore figs. 37-38 and accompanying text) in which the artist sits up through the night and meditates; I had translated the long account of this experience in his inscription on the painting (pp. 90-91 of Parting.) It was just the kind of thing Fred needed, and he worked it into his talk, which began with reminiscences about his childhood. He was the son of the Frederick Wakeman who wrote The Hucksters and other popular novels. (I once, lecturing at the University of Maryland in Baltimore, stayed for a weekend with Fred’s sister and brother-in-law there, and discovered on their bookshelf a paperback novel by Evans Wakeman, Fred at an early age writing about college life. Back in Berkeley I confronted him as ‘Evans Wakeman” and he smiled and admitted his guilt.) His presidential address begins with an account of how his father, after making him read and report on a booklength account of Columbus’s second voyage in 1494, set off with the family to retrace that voyage in their ketch. From their running aground on the coast of Cuba Fred turns to the awful plight of Chinese laborers in Cuba, and so forth, coming at last to Zheng He’s voyages, their termination, and the decline of the Ming dynasty. Shen Zhou’s Night Vigil, of course, fits nicely into this.


His talk ends with these sentences: “I am now, by choice and inadvertent shaping, a Californian. And although it may sound strange to you after the Los Angeles riots of last April, my pride in that Californian complexion is in its capacity to encompass the resistance of all our individual cultures to the melting pot and for its commitment to the regeneration of a civil society that will allow each of us to share the journey ahead.” He was too polite to say that Los Angeles and Southern California really belong, for us, in a different state, or that by California he really meant Berkeley and its Bay Area extensions. For my own expression of a similar sentiment, see my earlier blog titled “Berkeley As the Cultural Capital of America.” Fred Wakeman and Mike Heyman both shared that belief, even if they didn’t express it so openly as I have, and they spent their happiest and most productive years at U.C. Berkeley, as I did. When I can no longer continue producing my video-lectures here in Vancouver, for reasons of health or whatever, I mean to return to Berkeley to spend the remainder of my days there, as comfortable as one can be in today’s world, surrounded by my family and friends in the city I have called “that bastion of ineffectual right-mindedness.”




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