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87th Birthday Blog: A Big Up and Long Down.

87th Birthday Blog: A Big Up and Long Down.

On August 13th I celebrated by 87th birthday with a big celebration organized by my daughter Sarah and Julia White. Sarah made a cake with candles which her daughter Miranda and Abigail, one of Nick and Kay’s girls who is here visiting, blew out in my place-- I was in no shape for blowing. About thirty people came, from all over, near and far. Julia did the inviting, and was amazingly successful in persuading people to come to the event. There was Peihua Lee from Hong Kong-- she was one of my advanced grad students near the end of my teaching, but didn’t proceed to a doctorate and got married instead.  There was Hong Zaixin from up near Seattle. There was Dessa Goddard, who heads the Asian art section of Bonham’s Auction House in San Francisco. There was Judy Andrews, from Ohio State University, bringing a copy of the new book by herself and her husband about recent Chinese art. People brought flowers and a lot of cards with inscriptions. I mostly received the visitors by ones and twos beside my bed and talked to them, but I also got up and joined the group in the kitchen and gave a talk about how smart I had been in deciding to come back to Berkeley on several occasions when I could have made other choices.
The first of these was in 1965, when I had left the Freer Gallery-- I could have become the director-- to become a Berkeley professor. Another was in 1978, when I was Norton Lecturer at Harvard for a year, and then turned down a Harvard University Professorship, which is thought of as the loftiest position in academia, and not something one turns down. Again, I returned to Berkeley to be an ordinary professor, with no chair or student support money, or perks. The special seminar stocked with the books we use, which I had been promised when I came, never quite materialized, except for makeshift versions in basements-- the real thing became available, in the new East Asian Library building, only after I retired. But, as I explained in my talk, all of this didn’t matter. Having the students that I had, and doing the teaching I did, was the best choice I could have made. Most of my best students were women-- as I have explained several times already, male students tend to go where the money is, and that’s the East Coast Ivies, certainly not Berkeley. So my students came because they wanted to work with me, and because of the nature of our program (Richard Vinograd, who became professor at Stanford, is the single major male exception).

The morning after my birthday, I was taken by Sarah and one of my helpers in a wheelchair to the Berkeley Heart Center, where after long waits, I had a sample of my blood taken, as always, for analysis. Then after another long wait in a different room we were visited by Dr. Cecci (pronounced “Checky”) who is was my doctor for my recent illness. He is a formidable man, with a tall, bald head.  He certainly a very good doctor, to whom I probably owe my life, since he managed to get rid of the prostate cancer that had pervaded my bones, by a series of radiations.  He is also, however, known to be more activist and aggressive than most other doctors, with a tendency to prescribe treatments and hospitalizations more than most.  When he saw the analysis of my blood, which showed it to be low in calcium and other things, he immediately sent me off again to Alta Bates hospital, where I stayed for three days, returning only yesterday.  It was not a pleasant time-- although Alta Bates is a fine hospital, I have had more than enough of lying in beds there and watching their TV, which has only a limited number of channels, with no full-length movies or others of the ones I particularly enjoy.  (The only news and discussion channel is Fox News, which is far right politically, on which the participants all find reasons for criticizing Obama and suggesting his impeachment.)
Then I had a colonoscopy, the results of which were so positive, I was allowed to return home yesterday.  I’m now in my own bed, feeling much more comfortable, able to watch my large TV and movies on Turner Classic Movies, my favorite channel, and enjoy the attentions of my full-time helpers. This seems to be, for a while, the life I will have to put up with, since I don’t walk easily.

More on Salinger; and more Salinger?
A New York Times article, followed the next day by a review by Michiko Kakutani, announces a book titled simply Salinger that will be appearing next month. The authors apparently discovered new materials, and promise that there are no less than five books by Salinger still to be published, making available new materials, or old materials that were neglected before. They include a volume of stories about the Glass Family, who were the subject of most of Salinger’s late writings, Frannie and Zooey, etc.
I will of course be buying a copy, probably on Ebook, since I don’t read real books easily any more. And I will look first of all at the back, at the bibliography, to see if my name appears. As some of you know, I contributed an essay titled “Thoughts on the Death of Salinger”, which is on this website as Responses and Reminiscences 81. In it, I make an informed and (I believe) an important attempt to account for the big mystery of Salinger’s life: why he retired to become a recluse just as he was at his most successful. I would like to know whether the authors of the new book found my article, and used it. If not, I will hope that someone who has contacts with them can bring it to their attention. I would like to have it noticed, while I am still here to receive the credit.

As some of you already noticed, a number of new GIPs have been posted on my website. They were finished by my new collaborator Skip Sweeney and his helpers, and reviewed by myself to make sure they used the right pictures, etc. They include a long lecture on the great Japanese artist Sesshu in three parts, which I think is of real importance for the study of Japanese painting. In it I spend a lot of time-- the whole of the second part-- looking at what I take to be an extremely important but somehow neglected album of 22 landscapes with figures by Sesshu, in which he takes up motifs and compositional types etc., from Southern Song paintings that he saw during his two years in China (some of which he copied in extant copies that are shown and discussed in the other two lectures). And, I think, somehow makes more effective use of these materials and a more effective continuation of this great development than any artist that I know of in the Ming dynasty could do. In other words, if I am right, we have the curious phenomenon of a tradition of painting skipping over two centuries and across the water to a different culture to be continued there more than it was on its own home ground.

As with all such speculation, this one could be proved wrong if we find more Chinese material that has been neglected or unnoticed. Another of the lectures, the one on continuations of Song traditional landscape paintings, makes this point strongly-- that what we know about Chinese painting is based only on the survival, much of it chance survival, of a tiny fraction of what was really produced. And, as in so much of my late writing, I blame the Literati artists and critics for much of this neglect-- they have encouraged us to concentrate on a small fraction of Chinese painting as it was in fact produced, and neglect all the rest. As I have written elsewhere, the second half of my career has been attempts devoted to recover and reassess what we can pull together of this “lost” material.

Still another of the new GIPs deals with the question of whether, and how, Chan (Zen) painting continued in China after the Yuan dynasty, and if it did, where did it continue. My tentative conclusion, based on evidence and arguments made and presented in the lecture, is it probably survived in Chan monasteries, and was seen there by other artists such as Shen Zhou, Chen Shun, and Xu Wei, on their visits to the monasteries. And we can observe motifs from it and images from it appearing in their works-- I present several sequences of this kind. And the end product, for the purpose of this lecture, is the great individualist master Zhu Da, or Bada Shanren, who inherited this tradition in ways that I am able to show. His early handscrolls, for instance, can be closely paralleled in the handscrolls of images by Muqi that survive only in two early Ming copies, and in fragments preserved in Japan, where his paintings were properly appreciated in ways that they were not in China.
Since I am now largely confined to my bed and cannot spend long periods sitting at my computer, I am forced to continue working on this series by using a laptop computer. Sarah has provided me with one, with earphones, and I will gradually become accustomed to using it-- not so much for writing messages, since I find it difficult to type on a horizontal laptop on my bed, but rather to review drafts of the videos made by Skip Sweeney and dictate comments and corrections. I will also be viewing my emails on this laptop, and dictating responses to them.

Sincerely yours,
James Cahill

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