11.Norton Lectures And Harvard

11. Norton Lectures and Harvard. Response to question from Hong Zaixin about how I came to deliver these lectures.

About the Norton Lectures that turned into Compelling Image: before I got the invitation I had been offered the Chinese art job at Harvard, to succeed Max Loehr (a University Professorship, no less, the biggest offer they can make) and had turned it down, preferring to stay at Berkeley. When Svetlana heard of the Norton Lectures invitation she said: it's their trick to get you there for a year, hoping you'll like it enough to change your mind and stay. Anyway, I had been teaching for about ten years and had formed a lot of ideas by then, and had begun the Later Chinese Painting series (one volume already out, another underway.) So the time to read and think--the lectures were delivered at the end of a year at Harvard--and use the Harvard Yenching Library etc. was a great inducement. I read wildly and thought wildly and wrote pages of rough notes and at last pulled all this together into the six lectures. When I was presented later with the Morey Prize by the College Art Assn. and had to respond briefly at the ceremony, I told the truth (turning it into a tribute to my Western-art colleagues): I had been reading writings by good Western art specialists in which they would start with one painting and, as I said, "look at it from all sides, go around it and over it and under it" (or something like that--can't remember exactly) and build around it a whole complex structure of meaning. And I thought: Why can't we do that? and then: Why shouldn't I try that? As you know, each of the lectures begins with one ptg or a pair of ptgs (the last one is a bit different) and tries to treat it exhaustively, following up all its aspects and implications to arrive at some new, richer understanding of it. (This is why the Shanghai edition of the Chinese version is so unsatisfactory: the illustrations are awful, and poorly integrated with the text, some not even there.) Anyway, you exaggerate my achievement, but I appreciate it.

Answer to question from Howard:

The Norton Lectures were given by T. S. Elliott, as you note; also by Stravinsky, Ben Shahn, Leonard Bernstein (who, it was remarked at the dinner for me after the next-to-last, was the only one in living memory to hold his crowd so well, so that the auditorium was as packed for the last as for the first). The only art historians before me were Panovsky (Early Netherlandish Art) and Meyer Schapiro, who never reworked his for publication. Mine have been praised by some in China (where a badly-illustrated translation is now available) as my best writing, a model example of how to use the visual approach, etc. I was indeed the first Asianist to give them.

Further, in letter to Howard:

John Rosenfield was indeed anxious to get me to Harvard. After Max Loehr retired I was offered the job--apparently the grad students there had voted for me--and declined. Then John flew all the way to Berkeley to deliver their bombshell: they were offering me a University Professorship, pinnacle of academia, perfect freedom in what one taught, lots of support for self and students, etc. (This was announced later at a dinner during my Norton Lectures by Sydney Freedberg, then chair of their dept., so it isn't a secret.) I thought about that one for a while, but still said no. I could list things I don't like about Harvard: their treatment of young faculty (who in principle have no better chance of being continued into a tenure job than people outside--they are supposed to teach for a while, then go off and prove themselves elsewhere, and when the time comes, if Harvard feels they are really the best, they pull an invisible string and their former junior faculty person comes trotting back... etc.) I don't like their policy on dissertations, which you have to read with a supervisor looking to see you don't copy anything (absolutely no interlibrary loans, Michigan reprints etc.); I didn't like the whole elitist cast of the department and the university as a whole. I'm a West Coast and Berkeley person, and we don't transplant easily. Others have been lured off--Stephen Greenblatt recently--others have gone and come back, e.g. Joe Kerman the musicologist, Bill Bowsma in History. I once suggested that we have an organization like Alcoholics Anonymous in which those who have already resisted can comfort and dissuade people thinking of making the move. Dorothy wanted to go--she's an East Coast person, never really adjusted to Berkeley (maybe that's too harsh); Svetlana thought I was crazy, but was happy about it, and insisted that I use the capital I gained that way to get something I wanted--it was the East Asian Art seminar. Anyway, it gave me great satisfaction. Have you seen a movie with Tom Courtenay called "The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner," in which at a crucial point he stops running so as not to win the race for the headmaster of his (reform) school (Michael Redgrave) who represents the Establishment, while Courtenay is from one of the northern industrial cities? I used that to suggest how I felt about turning down a Harvard University Professorship: much more satisfying than taking it would have been. Freedberg remarked at the dinner that I was, so far as he knew, the only person ever to turn one down. They gave it instead to a distinguished English lit person, can't remember name, who had just written a book titled "The Anxiety of Influence."

Too-long answer; won't be easy for you to summarize. But you remember the atmosphere in Berkeley, the community we had, 419A and trips to Marin County and all that. Would it have happened in Cambridge? I don't think so. Would I have had colleagues as congenial as at Berkeley? I doubt it, with all respect to those I know and like, Stephen Owen and Peter Bol etc. Would there have been anyone who did for me what Svetlana and Michael Baxandall did? Unlikely. It was a very conservative department at that time. Seymour Slive, who reportedly, partway through one of my Norton lectures (and after they had been trying to get me for months, with department meetings etc.) turns to Sydney Freedberg and says "He's good--why don't we get him for our Chinese position?" Their arrogance--anyone they want they can get. This time they couldn't. Max, by the way, was never really happy there, as you may know.

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