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Bedridden Blog

Bedridden Blog
I am now pretty much confined to bed, and have to recognize this as my future.  It is difficult even to get me out of bed, as happened this morning when they needed to change the bed--unless supported by at least two people I’m going to collapse onto the floor, since I can’t stand any more, much less walk.  So I am only an inert being able to think and talk but not do much else. 
Julia White was here several days ago, and I proposed to her a Chang Ta-ch’ien exhibition, which I hope we can carry out.  It would include his forgeries as well as paintings acknowledged as by him.  Those of you who own works by him, either signed by him or attributable to him, are invited to send information about them.
The exhibition should be very interesting indeed, since he was a more versatile and attractive figure than van Meegeren.  Those of you who are interested can look at previous blogs, several of which were about him.
I am happy to receive visitors, who can sit by my bedside and talk.  Especially people who I’ve known in the past. If you find yourself in the Bay Area, email me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . My assistant will make an arrangement for you to come by some time during the day, not too early in the morning. 
-James Cahill, January 7, 2014


Timor Mortis Conturbat Me
A Latin phrase meaning: the fear of death troubles me, famously used in a poem by William Dunbar (I never learned Latin). What I want to say in this blog is not that I’m afraid of death itself, but that I’m afraid of losing the faculties that allow me to write blogs like this, to continue to talk and communicate with relatives and friends, and continue to work creatively, especially on my video lectures, which I see now as the main products of my late years.  Skip Sweeney, my collaborator on these lectures, is coming tomorrow and I will spend time turning over materials to him that are close to finished, and talking with him about how we are going to continue working on others in the future.  In part, it will be my adapting to my more and more bedridden state--using a laptop computer in bed, something I’ve never been able to manage up until now, but probably something I must learn.
Communications from viewers of the lectures continue to reach me in some number.  They tell of how these lectures open up big new areas of cultural participation in the minds of people who see them, and change their lives in highly beneficial ways.  To be able to do this--not myself as a person, but as someone able to convey cultural materials in a way that can do this--puts me in a position that raises for me the question of how long I can go on doing it.  It is already more difficult for me to read--I can’t read ordinary texts without not only wearing reading glasses but also holding a magnifying glass before the text.
Basically, it is a problem of how to convert what is in my mind, a great store of information and images and ideas that cannot be duplicated in the mind of anyone else alive into a communicable form so that it is preserved.  The video lectures, which can be made with the thousands of images already in my Iphoto and texts dictated for them in the way I’m dictating this, can continue to be produced through Skip Sweeney and his helpers.  And the posting and distribution of these, partially through my own website and partly through our parent organization the Institute of East Asian Studies, must continue.  As many of you know, the IEAS has been sending all my correspondents emails asking for monetary contributions to a fund that will support the continuation of this work on the series.  And let me again ask any of you willing to contribute to get in touch with Kate Chouta, whose email is:  This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .
Kate Chouta and her helper who understands the technical side of our project are coming to see me in a few days, and one of the large questions we will talk about is the project of turning the first lecture series, “a Pure and Remote View”, into discs that can be sold.
Timor Mortis Conturbat Me Continued.
It was not long ago that I announced with sadness the sudden deaths of Michael Sullivan, an old friend, and Roger Covey, my benefactor, both from a sudden illness.  Now another old friend, John Rosenfield at Harvard, is reportedly near death from a sudden stroke from which he is not expected to recover--I have the news from a younger colleague who works with him. This is very sad news indeed.  John, with whom I have been a close friend for decades, has been known as a “bodhisattva”, from his way of doing work for other people at a cost to his own scholarly career.  During one year in Japan, I was working on my Hyaksen study but also moving around seeing collections, and was accompanied part of the time by John who was only there for part of the year but who had taken on the job of producing a catalogue for the Fogg Museum of material that was not within his own scholarly interest. 
All these press home yet again my own extraordinary good fortune of living to the age of 87 without any really serious illness, and with having four children and six grandchildren all in good health and successful in their particular ways.  Somehow I’ve been blessed by providence.
 A Celebration of Life
This section should be headed by another Latin phrase meaning something like the above, but as I said before, I don’t know Latin.  It would celebrate my extraordinary good fortune in having four children and six granddaughters, all of them handsome people successful in whatever they are doing.  All but two of them were gathered here for Thanksgiving, and I will put below a photograph of them. They include my son and daughter Nicholas and Sarah, my twin sons Julian and Benedict, Sarah’s daughter Miranda, and three of Nick’s daughters: Maggie, Nora, and Phoebe.  I am really truly blessed. 
Caption for the Picture: Almost all the Cahills.  From left to right, Phoebe, Maggie, Nora, Nicholas, Miranda, Julian, Benedict, Sarah, and myself.
James Cahill 
December 11, 2013


When Honesty Is Not the Best Policy
I want to complain again about a recent practice that departs from the way it used to be done when I was younger.  I have probably written about this before, but the arrival of new publications, including auction catalogs, prompts me to bring up the subject again.
In the early part of my career, when we reproduced Chinese paintings that were old and on silk, and dark with age, we would photograph them with a red filter to lighten the ground tone, then print them in such a way that the ground was light and the image strong.  To be sure, this distorted the real image of the painting, but nobody objected to that.  I do remember that when I was working on my book for Albert Skira, he told me at one point not to change the appearance of the paintings, because he was against “restoration by reproduction.”  Nevertheless, with the help of the photographers Henry Beville, Ray Schwartz, and others, we managed to do the right thing and make the images clear and sharp and strong. 
In more recent times, however, the practice of “honesty” in reproducing old paintings on silk has led to plates in books and auction catalogs that are nothing more than rectangles of dark brown, with no image visible in them. This was true of several reproduction books that I ordered from China, and I have now given up ordering any more, and it’s true of some recent auction catalogs, in which, I assume, the purpose is to let potential buyers know what the painting really looks like. That, to be sure, is “honest”, and I suppose it is the right thing to do.  But it greatly reduces my pleasure in looking at the catalogues, since I can’t really see what the pictures are in many cases.
So I want to advise those publishing Chinese paintings: stop being honest, give us the picture, not the result of centuries of darkening of the silk. 
Big Event Yesterday, Bigger Event to Come
Yesterday at the Institute of East Asian Studies from three in the afternoon a symposium in my honor was held.  I put on my traveling clothes and was taken in my wheelchair by my helpers Katie and Gina, and was able to greet the guests, to speak briefly myself, and to stay through the first of the three papers, the one by Eugene Wang who teaches at Harvard.  Then, alas I was physically uncomfortable, and unable to stay longer, so I came home.  The paper by Nancy Berliner was reportedly very interesting, and elicited a lot of comment. And of course I would have liked to have heard the ones by Richard Vinegrad, once my student, who taught for all of his career at Stanford.  Patricia Berger, my successor here at UC Berkeley, responded to the papers.  I suppose I will be able to read the text of the papers, but that is not at all the same as seeing them with all the pictures.  I was told that Nancy Berliner’s evoked a lot of favorable commentary and discussion. 
The bigger event to come will be on Thanksgiving, when all of my four children will be here--Julian is coming from New York, Nicholas from Madison, Wisconsin bringing three of his daughters with him. So there will be also be four of my grandchildren with Miranda, Sarah and John’s daughter.  I myself will not be able to attend a proper Thanksgiving dinner, but they will all come here for greetings and photographs. 
I myself spoke briefly at the beginning of the symposium, before the papers started; I spoke of how honored I was that scholars of this caliber had done papers for me, and how I hoped I could stay to hear all of them. In fact, I was only able to hear the first, the one by Eugene Wang, before I became uncomfortable and had to leave.  I also spoke briefly about the Chih Garden by Chang Hung--how I had dealt with it in different ways over the decades.  After first seeing it in the 1940s.  And I showed some remarkable images that I had received from China, made by a garden architect in Hangzhou named Ch’en Tzu-yen.  He apparently means to recreate the garden in actuality, if he finds the right place and materials and support.  Meanwhile, he has recreated it remarkably in computer space, or perhaps cyberspace is the right term.  These images seem to show the garden as it might be viewed from a distance, and were completely made within the computer.  I will append two of them here, the one corresponding to Chang Hung’s initial bird’s-eye-view, and another, so you can see what he has done.
James Cahill

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