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Big Projects Blog, 2013/1/5


Big Projects Blog, 2013/1/5

- Biggest News: I’m deeply and seriously involved in a project to help the China Academy of Art in Hangzhou--the oldest art academy in China, the one most open to foreign ideas (even when they differ from Chinese tradition), and my “home base” in China--they are also taking on the function of posting my video-lectures--a project to help them increase their library facilities by giving them most of mine, thousands of books. (I gave first choice to UCB’s East Asian Library, but they have most of them  already.) The Librarian at the Hangzhou Academy, Prof. Zhang Jian, and two assistants are coming here in March for 2-1/2 weeks to work on listing all the books for Chinese customs and arranging for their shipment.


And in the course of correspondence about how the books would be used, I argued that some of them--the ones that aren’t of the expensive reproduction-book type--should be available for borrowing, so that they can be read, not just looked at in a memorial library that’s a monument to me. They have agreed to this, in principle. That insistence of mine brought a message from Prof. Hong Zaixin, a major mover in this project and my main contact with the Academy, to which I responded with this paragraph--worth quoting, I think, as an expression of one of my deepest beliefs:


“Dear Zaixin, What you refer to as my democratic belief and anti-elitist mindset--I appreciate the thought, and take it as a compliment--is commonplace among people of my generation and status, especially here in Berkeley. If some people are choosing to forget the great legacy of F.D. Roosevelt and the New Deal, Johnson and the Great Society, and all that to pay attention to latter-day elitists, that’s a perversion of our national past. Those of you who grew up in China still preserve--however much your mind has opened over the years, and changed--some remnant of an older way of thinking. Whatever I can do to help convey the all-men-are-equal idea to elsewhere in the world, I want to do. And letting everybody (or lots of qualified people) read my books, not just gaze at them on library shelves and library cards, is an important move in that direction. So I’ll continue to press for that.”


Zaixin also commented on the quality of my writing, wondering where it came from. The right answer is: from extensive reading while young (see my Little Leather Library blog of July 9th, 2012, about reading these small-size classics while sitting in a tree). But in later years, it came from doing lots of both reading and writing, all the time, and choosing good models. To his question about where the best American non-fiction writing style came from, I answered: from, above all, articles in “The New Yorker”, especially those written during the early years by E. B. White, who had more to do than anyone else, I think, with establishing a great model for American prose writing. If you know him only from “Charlotte’s Web” and “Stuart Little,” do some more reading. I myself am now reading, and re-reading for some, his short pieces collected in “E. B. White: Writings From the New Yorker, 1927-1976” (ed. by Rebecca Dale, Harper, 1991; paperback reprint, 2006) and admiring his essays on Walden and “Visitors To the Pond,” on “Liberalism” and other political themes, on the death of James Thurber, and all the rest. He could serve as a model also for how to express strong views on moral issues without sounding preachy.


I wrote Zaixin about how every good American writer used to use, and teachers used to recommend to students, White’s reworking of a writing guide his teacher Strunk had written into what we called “Strunk and White,” (From the internet: “White's expansion and modernization of Strunk's 1935 revised edition yielded the writing style manual informally known as Strunk & White, the first edition of which sold approximately two million copies in 1959. In the ensuing four decades, more than ten million copies of three editions have been sold.”) Students and young writers heard so regularly and insistently about this that some of them rebelled, in the 1960s, and argued for a broader range of acceptable writing styles, seeing Strunk and White as “elitist.” But that’s another story: back to mine.


- Consoling Message To Friend who wrote that he/she had failed to get an applied-for grant:


Sorry to learn you didn’t get the grant for ----. And you are right to be optimistic about it and resolve to try again with an improved proposal. It’s a necessary part of the whole academic game, raising funds for one’s projects--I remember doing it in old days. And making fun of it--for several years I wrote or co-wrote the scripts for Faculty Club Christmas Party performances, and in 1983, when U.C. was badly in need of more funding, I wrote one based on the 18th century ‘Beggar’s Opera.” We persuaded our Chancellor Mike Heyman to join in as the leader of the outlaw band (expanding his name to Mike HighWAYman) and our band of robbers, who in the original sing “Let us take the road,/ Hark I hear the sound of coaches,/ The hour of attack approaches,/ To your arms, brave boys, and load!” etc., our group sang as foundation-grant-seekers:


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!


And it went on to elaborate, with songs based on those great originals, on how different UC departments turned their expertise to making illegal money--It was a bit too esoteric for the tipsy & rowdy holiday audience, and not one of our great successes, but I am still fond of it. (You can read it on my website, in the  “Ching Yuan Chai Treasury of Imperishable Ephemera,” a collection of my non-scholarly writings, under “Writings of JC”.)


So, to coin a phrase, Better Luck Next Time! Jim


- Words of 2012: A NY Times page on this matter includes the word “gladly”, as used by--I think it was Al Gore. Anyway, I can never see this word without thinking of a certain optically-challenged mammal. The old story goes: A line in the hymn, as sung in church, went “Gladly the cross I’d bear,” meaning: If I had been there when Jesus made the final march to Golgotha, I would gladly have taken up the cross and carried it for him. But children in the congregation misheard it and thought of it as a hymn addressed to an animal named “Gladly, the cross-eyed bear.”

- More to come: I’ll be writing about an expansion of the plan for supplementing the library at the China Academy of Art in Hangzhou (see above) into a grander plan: to establish some kind of center for the collection and distribution of digital images of works of art, especially (for my contribution) Chinese and Japanese paintings. I want to do whatever I can, while I can, to advance the practice of visual art history in China, where--as you know if you’ve been reading these blogs--the other kind, the “verbal” (based mainly in reading texts and using them to write more texts) has mostly been practiced. (I’ve called this “Cahill’s Dream” and compared it to the vision of the old man in Uday Shankar’s film “Kalpana”--see previous blog.) And I’ll be writing about the arrangements I’m making with assistants and collaborators to continue producing and posting the video-lectures in the “Gazing Into the Past” series (of which six are already posted here--see at left). It’s a busy and productive time late in the long life of

Yours truly, James Cahill . 1/27/2013.

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