Blog Archive

2012/1/28 Blog


My good intentions about writing frequent blogs for this site, so that those who drop by (in cyberspace) to see what’s new here will be rewarded, haven’t been fulfilled much lately--I’ve been hard at work on the video-lectures, finishing up the first series (A Pure and Remote View) with a Postlude and two Addenda. Still, we have ambitious plans for big additions to this website coming soon, and I want today to call attention to a few of those, to set up a sense of anticipation in some of you.

First: I promised when we first launched our Pure and Remote View lecture series that notes for it, the ones I prepare and speak from, would be made accessible on my website. The Institute of East Asian Studies at U.C. Berkeley, under the direction of their publications editor Kate Chouta, is preparing cleaned-up versions of these with all the Chinese names properly in pinyin spelling and with characters added, my abbreviations (LS for landscape, etc.) spelled out, and my incomplete sentences finished. I appreciate this effort, and the version of my notes that she is preparing will be the official one, to be used by serious students and others not satisfied with scholarly sloppiness. (I mean by that, of course, looseness in form and language, not sloppy scholarship.)

But I have also given my aide Barry Magrill a set of old printouts of lecture notes, messy as these are, and they will be put into some kind of order-- by lectures, basically, but also, within each, original sets of notes followed by c&c (changes and corrections) “talking heads” (my term for me-on-camera openings etc.) and AddAudios--inserts in which I need to talk to accompany newly-inserted images, usually. These should be posted here before too long. Even though I make no claims for completeness or neatness or total accuracy, they may be of interest to viewers and users of this series.

Second: I have decided to “publish” here, chapter by chapter, the shorter book on Chinese erotic painting that began as a long sixth chapter of my Pictures For Use and Pleasure book on vernacular painting, then was split off (mostly so that the book wouldn’t embarrass owners who would feel awkward about leaving it around the house where their children would find it, etc.)--separated into a shorter book, tentatively titled Scenes from the Spring Palace: Chinese Erotic Painting and Printing. It was taken on for publication by the U.C. Press--it has in fact gone through all the process of outside readers etc. and in principle I should be going ahead with publishing it through them. But most everyone I knew there has retired, no one seems eager to proceed with it, they have reduced drastically the number of color plates I was to have allowed, and I am simply too old to submit to all the editorial minutiae and endless correspondence that a book publication requires--I did my share of those earlier in my life. All and all, I feel it will be better to “publish” it here, where I can use as many color illustrations as I want to, and where it will be accessible to everybody free of charge, like my video-lectures. The first chapter should be posted soon; it will lay out a general introduction to the subject, survey the old Chinese literature on Chinese erotic painting, and do all I can to set right van Gulik’s mis-direction of the whole topic into his beloved areas of esoteric Buddhism and Daoism--a misdirection that has been accepted and followed by too many Western scholars, even though it has no basis that I can find in Chinese writings. I will also find a way to “publish” the image library of high-quality Chinese erotic albums that I have assembled over the decades.

Third: For those of you who have been following the Pure and Remote View lectures as they have been posted on the web (and you are quite a large company by now, with many in China): the final lectures in this series, which follow the 12A-D treatment of Jin and Chan painting, will soon be posted: they are three. A Postlude titled “Arguing the Aftermath” treats the big problem of how we understand Chinese painting after Song, and why the great Song tradition of ink-monochrome landscape as practiced by great masters of the Academy, Xia Gui and others and a few of the Chan masters, was not really continued significantly in China in the post-Song period, but had important followings in Japan and, I believe, probably Korea as well (although I am less clear on this.) How are we to understand this failure of the Chinese to build on that great beginning? Watch the Postlude to see/hear my arguments about that. Then there will be two Addenda: A, which is my Freer Medal acceptance address, and B, which is a lecture on problems of authenticity and dating in Chinese painting, how to tell the best and earliest version of a composition from the later copies, and all that. And each of these Addenda will have a Part 2; and about those I can only say that they will be revelatory, maybe even explosive. I hope writing that will induce more of you to watch them, if only out of idle curiosity: what is he revealing, that he hasn’t already?

And Fourth: Work on our second series of video-lectures, titled Gazing Into the Past: Scenes from Later Chinese Painting, is already very much underway. The opening and closing credits for these will be accompanied by appropriate music, the “Forlane” from Ravel’s Tombeau de Couperin--evocative of older music in much the same way our paintings evoke old styles--played divinely by my daughter Sarah. And I plan to incorporate somehow other music from this suite, in Sarah’s performances, into the lectures, when I want to present images without talking. (Yes, there will be such times, even for me.) We have several of this new series already finished in draft, and I have mapped out, collected images for, and even recorded the soundtracks for, another dozen or so already. It will be a while before my collaborator Rand Chatterjee can turn these into a form finished enough for posting; my intention, based on my own perception of my precarious state of health, is to get as many finished in draft as possible, so that they will live on, so to speak, after I can no longer continue working on them, and end up being posted even if it has to be posthumously.

So, those are the things you should expect to find posted on this website in the near future, things that some of you can anticipate, and be confident that your anticipation will be rewarded. And I wish a happy Year of the Water Dragon to you all. (I must do a lecture on dragon paintings, a subject I’ve neglected up to now, in my new series, to celebrate the year!) I will, by the way, be spending about two months in Berkeley from late February through March and most of April. I fly down on that day before the day on which, if children are both then, they will be like Frederick in The Pirates of Penzance. So there is a final puzzle, which G&S fans will know the answer to immediately; others can look it up.

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