Blog Archive

Like a Hyper-Active Spider

Blog, 4/11/11

Now the first six lectures in my video-recorded series on early Chinese painting, A Pure and Remote View, have been posted on the web, both by the Institute for East Asian Studies in Berkeley ( and on this website of mine. I trust that many of you have begun watching and listening to the lectures, and I’ve already received quite a few enthusiastic responses from people who have, some old friends and some strangers. All these responses are welcome, and nearly all encouraging. Later, I assume, more critical messages will begin to reach me, correcting points that (the viewer believes) I’ve got wrong, or arguing issues on which I take the wrong side. My collaborator Rand Chatterjee and I have decided that we will not under any circumstances go back and “correct” a lecture already posted. Instead, I will begin to post a file of “comments and corrections” on this website, made up of messages of this kind that I receive, along with my responses to them.

At the annual meeting of the Association for Asian Studies held last week in Honolulu—the first I’ve attended in some years—a special session was devoted to this project, and quite a few old friends were among the audience. Many more I met in the sessions during the days that followed—I managed to get to four or five of them. Now back in Vancouver, Rand and I are continuing with finishing the remaining lectures of the series, to get them online for viewing before too much more time passes. We will also go on to begin completing and posting lectures in two follow-up series: one devoted to selected later (post-Song) Chinese paintings and titled Gazing Into the Past, the other to lectures on themes that are not about particular paintings or periods in painting, but treat themes of other kinds; this is tentatively titled Pages From My Notebook: Issues, Arguments, and Memories. I have ideas for quite a few of these and am gathering images and materials for them; I mean to keep on producing these lectures as long as I am able to.

Meanwhile, four other old lectures that I gave for the Society for Asian Art in San Francisco have been put online by them; the website is:

The lectures were prepared and delivered to accompany an exhibition held in 2000 at the Asian Art Museum, made up of Chinese paintings of the 19th and 20th centuries from the private collection of Rick Fabian; my lectures were quick “coverages” of the major artists and developments of that late period. They are standard slide-lectures, with double-screen projection; I didn’t know that they were being recorded, and they don’t make for easy watching—a volunteer, a docent, filmed them from the back of the auditorium, moving the camera from me to the screen, sometimes showing the wrong picture. Still, if you want to hear me talk (very fast) about these late-period artists and see some of the paintings, go to this website and listen to them. There are also two lectures posted there by Jerome Silbergeld.

And if you want to hear what my voice sounded like much earlier—fifty years ago, in fact—and hear a comic opera for which I wrote the libretto and my composer friend Gordon Cyr the music, go to the “Other Minds” website run by Charles Amerkhanian, Music Director for Radio Station KPFA in Berkeley:

To read about this opera, go to the Responses and Reminiscences on this website and read no. 57, “A Night At the Opera in Berkeley: ‘A Day At Creed’s.’” Briefly: Gordon and I produced this opera in 1949 to be performed by ourselves and two others in the large living room of the house we were renting; later it was performed on KPFA and was recorded. A copy of the old recording—which I had more or less forgotten about, and dismissed as too dated to be of interest today—was presented to my daughter Sarah at a concert by a woman who had made it for her husband, an old Berkeley person who still remembered it fondly. Charles Amerkhanian eventually got a copy and heard it, found it “uproariously funny,” and posted it with my permission on his website. If you want to sample it, try listening to the patter song around the middle of the first section, in which the proprietor of Creed’s bookstore Earl J. Schilling (sung by myself) and his two clerks (all real people, who were in the audience at the first performance) list the books and records they have for sale. I was fond of unexpected rhymes, and wrote such couplets as “All the symphonies of Dvorak,/Psycholgical tests by Rorschach” and “Tchaikowsky’s Andante Cantabile,/Collected works of Francois Rabelais” . . . and many more of that kind. Be patient with the long sections devoted to real people and situations that were funny at the time for Berkeley audiences but may seem obscure now.

I want here to put in a recommendation for one of my writings that still seems funny to me when I reread it, and one that nobody else seems to have noticed. It is the dramatic fragment Hamlet At Wittenberg, written for a performance of the Drama Section at U.C. Berkeley, a club for faculty & spouses that met monthly to read plays. I meant it for insertion into a W. S. Gilbert playlet about Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern (anticipating Tom Stoppard), which actually isn’t all that funny. Mine, based on the idea (why hasn’t anyone thought of this before?) that Hamlet and Faust might have been at Wittenberg U. at the same time, was a big success as performed, filled as it is with bits lifted from Shakespeare & Marlowe and references to student-activist issues then current in Berkeley. You will find it in my collection of non-scholarly writings titled the Ching Yuan Chai Treasury of Imperishable Ephemera (CYCTIE), beginning on page 67. Take the trouble to seek it out and read it.

Still another recent discovery on the web: after completing and publishing An Index of Early Chinese Painters and Paintings (1980), I and several of my students did a lot of work toward a follow-up Index of Ming Painters and Paintings. We never completed it, and this was one of the large projects I relinquished around the time I retired; it was taken over by Eugene Wang and others at Harvard. Now I see that it has been put online:

I have no idea how much work has been done on it since it left my hands; I haven’t been in touch with Eugene or anyone else there for some years. But it’s good to know about its accessibility—it can send you to some works, at least, by a great many Ming artists.

So, like some hyper-active spider, I appear to be all over the web.

Finally: in an earlier blog I posed a problem and said I would credit the person who first solved it. It was: What rhymes with Ice-water? (Mary Ann Rogers, as I wrote then, got it right after pondering it for two days.) After getting several wrong answers (missing the trisyllabic rhyme, proposing “blotter” etc.), I received a right answer from—can you believe this?—another James Cahill. He wrote:

Name: James J Cahill

Phone: 630-369-0477

Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

what rhymes with ice-water

fly swatter?

here's one for you - why do you never see a square silo?

I responded:

Dear Other JC,

Congratulations—you are only the second in quite a few months to come up with the rhyme.

Why do you never see a square silo? I don’t know the answer to that one. If it were a real question I would try something like: because the grain sticks in the corners, but I assume it’s a riddle with a funny answer. I give up: tell me.

Best, JC

I never received a response from him, and still don’t know why one never sees a square silo.

So, that’s all for this one. My RA Barry Magrill and I will be posting more essays and other texts, some of them illustrated, on this website as time permits. So keep watching.

Best to everybody, James Cahill

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