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

3 comments: