Monday, May 11, 2009

A Homily in the Memory of Frederick Darwin Leach

[This homily was written by Joseph Uemura, and read by Professor Uemura, July 7, 1986, at my father's funeral.]

Scriptural text:

Who has believed what we have heard?
And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? ...
Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows;
Yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten ..., and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions,
he was bruised for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that has made us whole,
and with his stripes, we are healed.

--Isaiah 53: 1,4,5. (RSV)

Artists, scholars, and teachers, such as Frederick Darwin Leach, are those among us of whom it might be said that God has chosen to be stricken, smitten, afflicted, wounded, bruised, and chastised, in order that we might be forgiven, made whole, and healed. Fred was superbly one of these: A passionately creative artist, meticulous scholar, consummate and caring teacher, fellow Hellenophile, and the only other authentic faculty curmudgeon.

I always knew Fred and I were ontologically and irretrievably connected: Fred passed away on July 3rd. And July 3rd is my birthday. Now, he and I knew, in advance, that he was audacious enough to have planned it that way! And I am audacious enough -- and humble enough -- to know that "upon him was the chastisement that made me whole."

From the very first time I met Fred -- at Paul Smith's home, when he interviewed for our position -- I knew that he was my kind of human being! Inasmuch as sarcasm is one of the ways I have of showing affection, I said, "Come on, my good man, no one has a Ph.D. in Art History from Iowa; so, how could you? There, they only torture them for ten years, and let them go!" Knowing Fred, you can appreciate that he was completely undaunted, and shot back, "And what about Ph.D.'s in Philosophy from Columbia?" Needless to say, I have loved him ever since! -- That quick wit, that great voice, that maker of fine distinctions, precise lines, and shibui colors; that deep, compassionate heart.

What I have always admired about Fred is that he always knew when we were suffering the slings and arrows of academic life. He did not, however, "suffer fools well," or, as my Irish brother-in-law puts it, "he disliked intensely conversing with diseased minds." When we were a "faculty-run" institution, the central cleaning house was the chairman's meeting. I can still hear Fred's baritone voice uttering outrageous things vociferously. At any rate, here, we detected and exposed so many anguis in herba before they became policy that, twelve years ago, such meetings were summarily abandoned in order that the University could operate "as it was clearly intended." We coeurs mechant should have known -- I think Fred knew -- that we had "sung our sweetest swan song." My point is only this: Fred was primus inter pares in recognizing "wormy ideas" when he saw them, and, now, "with his stripes, we are healed."

Betty Pat thought I ought to mention that Fred was no less sanguine about religion as about administrators. As any reasonable being would, Fred could not abide priestcraft, fanaticism, nor vacuous ritual. Rather, he'd love Voltaire's remark that "religion would never die because there would always be people who loved to sing and drink on Saturday night and wished to continue on Sunday morning," preferably in a beautiful place, because their friends were there, because music, dancing, bread and wine are delightful, and doubly so because all these might represent some precious things on which one's whole fate turns!

Another thing Fred knew was that if one really does philosophy well, hemlock is the logical result! So, on his trip to Greece in 1972, he brought back a gift with the following note: "To Joe: A potsherd from the floor of the house of Simon the Shoemaker in the Athenian Agora. Stolen by F. Leach ... expressly for J. Uemura." Fred knew that Socrates began his first irritating questions in the house of Simon, and wanted me to have a concrete reminder that if I kept it up, they'd get me, too, one day! Again, "upon him was the chastisement that made me whole."

Two years ago, Fred gave me another gift -- a framed 8 x 10 photo of a rose he had photographed at the very height of its bloom. Perhaps you have seen other copies he made of it as displayed in his showings a year ago. The latin inscription in Fred's own hand reads: "Stat rosa pristina nomine, nomina nuda tenemus." My halting translation would read: "The pristine and original rose thrives in its glorious authenticity, but we can only grasp its empty name." It is true about the creative artist, the scholar, and the teacher. It is true about Fred Leach, himself. The pristine, original experience is what is authentic. This experience is what the artist undergoes, this experience is what the teacher must experience, what the scholar must discover. We grasp what we can, we grasp the empty name of the rose, and try to understand the authentic essence of things, the rosa pristina itself! As a great teacher, artist, scholar, and friend, Fred experienced and suffered the wide sweep of artistic expression, he knew intimately many rosae pristinae, and gave us the names of them all for us to see, to grasp, and to understand. And, again, "upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, And with his stripes, we are healed." Stat rosa pristina nomine, nomina nuda tenemus. "The pristine and original rose thrives in its glorious authenticity, but we can only grasp its empty name," for now it is our task to create, as Fred himself has created, the abiding legacy to his memory.

"Who has believed what we have heard?
And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? ...
Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows;
Yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.
But he was wounded for our transgressions,
he was bruised for our iniquities;
upon him was the chastisement that made us whole,
and with his stripes, we are healed."

"Good night, Sweet Prince,
And may flights of angels sing thee to thy rest." (Hamlet, V)

Joseph N. Uemura
July 7, 1986

Monday, May 4, 2009

Literary Geek quiz

From FaceBook, just because.

1) You own the most books written by what author?
Hassler probably. Decided to read them all after Staggerford. McMurtrey may be close, although I started checking those out of the library.

2) You own the most copies of what book?
No more than two copies of any that I can think of. Why more? Trying to think if there might be three of something, besides the dictionary or Roget's What'sanotherwordforit?

3) Did it bother you that [the original form of] both those questions ended with prepositions?
Ooh. It would have, my response to question 2 notwithstanding.

4) What fictional character are you secretly in love with?
Jane Eyre or Agnes (Copperfield). Tess.

5) What book have you read the most times in your life?
The Lord of the Rings, although I still haven't read most of the poetry and the last reading was disappointing.

6) What was your favorite book when you were ten years old?
The Chip Hilton series. Or Bronc Burnett. Sports.

7) What is the worst book you've read in the past year?
I would say, but it might get back to the author. Let's go with Clifford, The Big Red Dog.

8) What is the best book you've read in the past year?
Love in the Time of Cholera.

9) If you could force everyone you tagged to read one book, what would it be?
Any PG Wodehouse.

10) Who deserves to win the next Nobel Prize for literature?
No clue. Beyond my pay grade.

11) What book would you most like to see made into a movie?
Somebody needs to give War and Peace the Masterpiece treatment. Or have they already?

12) What book would you least like to see made into a movie?
Clifford, The Big Red Dog

13) Describe your weirdest dream involving a writer, book, or literary character.
I dreamt Fred MacMurray was God. Does that count? He was wearing a polo shirt. I forget what he told me, which is a serious hole in this story. I'm sure there are better examples, but I'm drawing a blank.

14) What is the most lowbrow book you've read as an adult?
The Harry Potter series, although, imho, it's not lowbrow. I haven't read too much trash. The book I didn't mention for question 7 would definitely qualify. I did read Bridges of Madison County, come to think of it.

15) What is the most difficult book you've ever read?
Bleak House. Took me ten years. I'm not sure I finished it. The Unconsoled was not an easy read, but it's probably the most difficult book that I've read without too much trouble. It just fit my mood, I guess.

16) What is the most obscure Shakespeare play you've seen?
Nothing too obscure. Maybe Bob, the Dentist from Padua?

17) Do you prefer the French or the Russians?
For what? To read? Russians. Painting? French. Pastries? French.

18) Roth or Updike?
Roth, I guess. I read Portnoy's Complaint for the first time this year. Haven't read any Updike for years. This question is a little vague, no?

19) David Sedaris or Dave Eggers?
David Sedaris. Who is Dave Eggers? I should find out, I bet. I like Amy Sedaris, too.

20) Shakespeare, Milton, or Chaucer?
Shakespeare. Doesn't he beat them all?

21) Austen or Eliot?
Austen. For me, no one has a more pleasant tune. George Eliot, I assume? I liked the PBS Middlemarch production a lot.

22) What is the biggest or most embarrassing gap in your reading?
I don't really retain anything I read. Too many bonks to the head. Haven't read lots of highbrow stuff. Proust, et al. Why bother if it's not going to stick?

23) What is your favorite novel?
Any Austen, maybe. David Copperfield, once upon a time. Lonesome Dove. I dunno. The question is much too hard to answer.

24) Play?
Waiting for Godot. Stoppard. Hamlet? Midsummer Night's Dream?

25) Poem?
Poetry is beyond me. I always liked Hollis Summers' poem about the guy in other peoples' photographs. I'm sure there's one by Frost or Whitman I could cough up if pounded hard enough. Mike wrote one about silos in Midwest towns I always liked.

26) Essay?
My favorite essay?? You're kidding, right? I sure like what Lewis Lapham's writing these days in Harper's.

27) Short story?
Goodbye to All Cats, by PG.

28) Work of non-fiction?
The Last Place on Earth. I dunno. I've read a lot of great books lately and in my life.

29) Who is your favorite writer?
Jane Austen, PG Wodehouse. I really like Richard Russo, for someone still kicking.

30) Who is the most overrated writer alive today?
Ann Coulter.

31) What is your desert island book?
Firestarting for Dummies.

32) And ... what are you reading right now?
House of Cards, William Cohan (also finishing Love in the Time of Cholera).