A Second Voyage Ended

Entry begun on US Airways Flight 5147 from Philadelphia to Cincinnati, Thursday, August 4, 4 pm

I got back to Terminal F in Philadelphia today and this time I am flying out of it to my intended destination.  It this flight goes well, the liquid ribbon of the Ohio River rather than the coastline of the Atlantic Ocean will be guiding our landing path.  I was happy to see the digital Delaware River mural again as I arrived in the food court today.  I sat under the panel in which the Schuylkill merges with the Delaware as I wrote much of the above entry.  In relative size, the Schuylkill resembles the Licking River as it merges with the Ohio as it runs between Cincinnati and northern Kentucky.

Schuylkill into the Delaware in Terminal F mural

Schuylkill into the Delaware in Terminal F mural

Today was warm and fresh in the Berkshires after overnight thunder and rain.  The Lenox Club took the softened morning light as I had my last breakfast on the porch, this time with four different crows cawing their five-note codes from widely spread trees and branches.  I was taking Claire to the Albany-Rensselaer Amtrak station on the way to the Albany airport, and by the time I boarded this plane to Philadelphia she was probably riding up the Hudson River on the way to Montreal, where she was to spend several days with friends before flying back to Paris on Sunday.

Albany Amtrak Station

Albany Amtrak Station

How nice to be on the open road with a bosom friend after seeing, hearing, feeling, and saying so much as our literary, musical, and artistic adventures continued to unfold.   Such time gives rise to thoughts and feelings of past, present, and future without pre-cognition or self-consciousness.  From a solitary tour through the forests of Burma and the mountains of Tibet in Claire’s mid-twenties, to huge Douglas Fir peeler logs floating loose down the Snohomish River on my first day as a teenage tugboat deckhand, the conversation flowed freely as the Massachusetts Turnpike became the New York Thruway before we passed through Greenbush, New York, and approached the Amtrak station on the banks of the Hudson.  Greenbush is where twenty-one-year old Herman Melville had taught some “60 Scholars” during the 1840-41 school year without being paid in full for his services (Leyda, Log, 1: 97-105).  This left him no other option (after an exploratory visit hoping for employment in Illinois) than the most desperate one of all, embarking on what might be a three-year whaling voyage from which he might not return.

Melville’s Lansingburgh home

Melville’s Lansingburgh home

Melville was only twelve when his bankrupt father died in Albany in 1832, leaving his widowed mother and her seven children so bereft of support they eventually had to escape to Lansingburgh on the opposite shore of the Hudson to elude creditors.  Young Herman had done what he could to help his family, teaching school in Pittsfield and sailing on a merchant ship to Liverpool before teaching in Greenbush.  But now, in 1840, there was nothing he could do for his family until he returned from the South Seas in 1844.  After writing two successful maritime novels, Typee and Omoo, in Lansingburgh in 1845 and 1846, Herman married Elizabeth Shaw in 1847 and moved to New York City, where he wrote Mardi, Redburn, and White-Jacket in the late 1840s before beginning Moby-Dick and moving to Arrowhead in 1850.  I wish I’d had time to take Claire a few miles upstream to Herman’s Lansingburgh home before leaving her at the Amtrak station.  Her train would soon be going right by his house as it headed up toward the distant source of the Hudson on the way to Canada.

View of the Hudson from Lansingburgh room in which Melville wrote Typee and Omoo

View of the Hudson from Lansingburgh room in which Melville wrote Typee and Omoo

My trusty Enterprise rental car got me smoothly form the Albany Amtrak station to the Albany airport.  I was at last ending my automotive adventure at the airport from which I had planned to begin it.  I had a little time to write after going through security, and the leisure to take a good look at the arresting artwork on the ramp out to Terminal B.  It was a great round ball immediately suggesting the globe on which we live, festooned with black rings.

dean snyder lubber bright With my mind on the ocean, I first thought of the nautical rings by which ships moor themselves to the shore.  Yet here I was in Albany, where Melville’s own Gansevoort ancestors had owned slaves, one of whom had stayed on with Herman’s mother as her personal servant when freed.  This was also the city in which Dinah, a young enslaved teenager, had been hanged on Pinsker Hill, near the Albany Academy later attended by Herman Melville as a teenager, when she was accused of starting a fire in the stable of Herman’s great uncle Leonard Gansevoort that had burnt down much of the city.

So, does this work of art represent the security of the nautical rings that help moor a ship to the shore?  Or are they more representative of the shackles of slavery that are as much a part of Albany and its history as its reputation for nautical innovation throughout the 19th century?

dean snyder lubber boy

The little boy who came up and grabbed the closest ring was not worried by questions like that as he pulled that ring up and down.  He only saw a unique, fascinating object on which to test his own grip and strength.  A decade after Melville went to sea as a sailor, Frederick Douglass had put the nautical ring-bolt at the very heart of the most famous speech he ever gave, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July?”  In that 1852 speech, a year after Melville published Moby-Dick, Douglass (who had spoken four times in Albany while Melville was writing Typee in 1845) told his mostly white audience that the Declaration of Independence is “the ring-bolt of the chain of your liberty . . . Cling to it, and to its principles, with the grasp of a storm-tossed mariner to a spar at midnight” (Andrews, The Oxford Frederick Douglass Reader, 112).

I would love to know what Dean Snyder, the creator of the Albany airport sculpture, may have intended.  If you had to time to look, you could find its object label over on the wall.  Snyder has called the work Lubber, a word that denotes “a person that is out of synch with his environs” (as in a “landlubber” who is uncomfortable, or not able to live, at sea).

Thinking of this sculpture as a nautical object reminded me of the digital poster my student Ben DeAngelis made during the 2014 Spring Semester featuring the stark question posed by Stubb during a furious midnight storm in chapter 121 of Moby-Dick: I wonder, Flask, whether the world is anchored anywhere.

MD-50

The tension between freedom and servitude in the sculpture also relates to the distinction in chapter 89 between a “loose-fish” (a whale that is free) and a “fast-fish” (one that has been killed or captured).  This tension prompts Ishmael to end the chapter with the sentence that inspired the title Emma Rose and I chose for our Moby-Dick catalog:  “And what are you, reader, but a Loose-Fish and a Fast-Fish, too?”

Moby cover with NKU logo

Snyder’s sculpture Lubber can also represent the psychological condition of being free (looking for connections), or in servitude (shackled to others), or utterly alone (unable to connect).  Much of the visual art my students have created in response to Dickinson’s poetry ranges along this psychological continuum, none more strikingly that Camilla Asplen’s I took my Power in my Hand (2001).  Camilla’s image of a self-possessed and well-armed young woman goes perfectly with the opening stanza of Dickinson’s poem (J 540):

I took my Power in my Hand—

And went against the World—

‘Twas not so much as David—had—

But I—was twice as bold—

ED-58

But Camilla, whose life-size drawing we chose for the front cover of our Dickinson catalog, had also hand-carved the second stanza of the same poem into what remained of the drawing’s white paper ground.  Here the heady self-assertion of the opening stanza is undercut by self-doubt and vulnerability.

I aimed my Pebble—but Myself

Was all the one that fell—

Was it Goliath—was too large—

Or was myself—too small?

The drawing we chose for the back cover of our Dickinson catalog, Brian Morris’s I cannot see my soul but know ‘tis there (2005, J 1262), takes the opposite approach.  Here the powerful female figure is absent from the words and colors of the drawing, but present in the shape of the untouched spaces of the unlettered white ground.  In conceiving and executing this work, like Claire in creating her Whiteness book, Brian had to “let the white paper play the leading part.”

Dickinson cover_white with spine

I had been writing out the above thoughts at 30,000 feet above the globe.  Our plane from Philadelphia is now landing at 5:07.  The fellow in the window seat to my left leaned back so I could take a photo of the curve of the Ohio River just before we hit the runway.

ohio river homecoming

Ohio River to left of plane as Flight 5147 is about to land at Cincinnati / Northern Kentucky airport

    Note 1 to the Reader.  For readers who would like to read this book-length blog from the first entry to the last rather than from the last entry back to the first, I have created an electronic table of contents in chronological order that you can access on the navigation bar at the top of the page. (Thanks, Ed Trujillo, for your help in creating this.)

    Note 2 to the Reader:  This title of this entry, “A Second Voyage Ended,” comes from the passage in the “Wheelbarrow” chapter of Moby-Dick in which Ishmael declares that “one most long voyage ended, only begins a second, and a second ended, only begins a third.”  My third will be starting soon at https://mobydickinCincinnatiin2016.wordpress.com/

Quick note in February 2016.  This blog “Dickinson and Moby-Dick in 2015″ has now been incorporated into the Dickinson Electronic Archives (see “The DEA Blog” at http://www.emily.org/).  Although the subsequent blog “Moby-Dick in Cincinnati in 2016″ relates primarily to artwork inspired by Melville’s novel, fans of Dickinson will be interested in its entry “Thanksgiving for Emily” at https://mobydickincincinnatiin2016.wordpress.com/2015/12/04/thanksgiving-for-emily/.

 

 

At Arrowhead with Claire

Entry begun on US Airways flight 4469 from Albany to Philadelphia, Tuesday, August 4, 11:55 am

Monday morning was another perfect day in the Berkshires.  Claire and I had made an appointment to spend the morning at the Berkshire Athenaeum in Pittsfield, examining the extraordinary collection of prints from Melville’s personal collection of art in their Melville Reading Room.

lower entrtance bea

Entrance to the Berkshire Athenaeum (directly under Melville Reading Room)

Kathy Reilly, head of the Local History department, was there to introduce Claire to the print collection.  After showing us the album books with reproductions of the 270-plus images, she brought out a selection of original prints for Claire to examine directly.  The first group of original prints included the French edition of John Flaxman’s drawings of Dante’s Purgatoire engraved by Étienne Achille Revéil in  Paris in 1833.  Kathy brought out two little metallic “fingers” for help in turning the pages which Claire handled expertly.  It was wonderful to see her keen admiration for Flaxman’s drawings, not only for the human expression of the figures themselves, but also for the pictorial power of the way he deployed them in space, opening up a sense of cosmic drama and abstract thought rarely seen in the work of Flaxman’s artistic contemporaries.

Claire Illouz and Betsy Jolas with Kathly Reilly at Berkshire Athenaeum

Claire Illouz and Betsy Jolas with Kathly Reilly at Berkshire Athenaeum

Claire was also very interested in Melville’ s full set of the twelve drawings that Clarkson Stanfield created for Frederick Marryat’s adventure novel The Pirate, published in 1836.  This pictorial narrative follows the wreck of The Circassian, a ship carrying cotton from New York City to Liverpool as part of the slave trade, whose survivors end up on the coast of Africa before being carried across the Atlantic to the plantations of South America.  Stanfield’s spirited drawings for this story were engraved by a number of English engravers celebrated today for their renderings of seascapes by J. M. W. Turner: R Brandard, J. Cousin, S. Fisher, J. B. Allen. J. C. Edwards, J. T. Willmore, and T, Jeavons.

Claire Illouz and Betsy Jolas examining an original print from Melville’s collection

Claire Illouz and Betsy Jolas examining an original print from Melville’s collection

Betsy, Claire’s mother, in addition to examining some of the prints with Claire, took a tour of various images and artifacts throughout the Melville Room.  Among the artifacts, she had been particularly struck by the appearance of Melville’s passport for his 1856-57 trip to the Mediterranean, which she said looked exactly like that of her own grandfather’s passport later in the same century.

Melville’s 1856-57 passport at the Berkshire Athenaeum

Melville’s 1856-57 passport at the Berkshire Athenaeum

Claire had to be out at Arrowhead in the early afternoon to make sure the images on her laptop could be connected to the projection equipment in Melville’s barn.  And I had to be back at the Athenaeum for a meeting at 1:10.  So Claire and Betsy and I left the Melville Room at 11:30 and walked over to Otto’s, a café on the other side of a very busy street.  This turned out to be perfect.  We all ordered tuna sandwiches, to keep it simple, and the service was excellent.  When the food arrived, Claire or her mother, I can’t remember which, said, “You Americans really know how to make sandwiches!”

Betsy and Claire were both impressed when a lady who had been at an adjacent table stopped by before leaving the restaurant to ask if they were from France and to welcome them to Pittsfield.  They both said this would not have happened in Paris.  Equally unlikely, they said, was what happened when I went to the men’s room before we left the restaurant.  A man, who from behind looked like a street person, was bending over and holding Betsy’s hand.  From a more distant table, he had come over to ask Betsy if Claire was her daughter.  When she said yes, he complimented her, without speaking to Claire, on her daughter’s beauty.  As we walked to the car, they were both taken aback by this spontaneous, unexpected tribute.

Melville’s Arrowhead House on Holmes Road in Pittsfield

Melville’s Arrowhead House on Holmes Road in Pittsfield

Melville’s Arrowhead is on Holmes Road, only a few minutes from the Athenaeum.   You see it soon after passing Miss Hall’s School, where many of the young musicians from Tanglewood were staying for the summer.  We were met at the barn by Peter Bergman and Will Garrison, who were coordinating Claire’s afternoon presentation.  Her talk was scheduled at 4, so she and her mother would have plenty of time to see the house after the projection connections were tested.  My meeting at the Athenaeum was with Kathy Reilly, Ron Latham, director of the Athenaeum, and John Bryant, director of the Melville Electronic Library.  John had driven up from Lake George to meet with Ron and Kathy to discuss an agreement by which the prints from Melville’s collection now at the Berskshire Athenaeum could be posted on the evolving MEL website and thus be made accessible for scholars worldwide.  Kathy and I were both delighted to be part of this discussion because we both recalled the days in the mid-1980s  when she, as a librarian, and I, as an outside scholar, were among the first to discover these treasures, then unexamined, in their collection.

A good crowd had already assembled for Claire’s lecture in the Arrowhead barn when I returned from the Athenaeum at 3:30.  Frank and Rhonda Gelbwasser were already here, and so were John and Cran Campbell, along with a number of Berkshire locals I had never seen.  After checking with Claire to confirm that the projection equipment was in order, I had time to make a quick trip to Melville’s study on the second floor of the house, directly above the piazza.  There was the desk on which he had written Moby-Dick, still looking directly out on an unobstructed vista of Mount Greylock, evoking the inspiration that vista had given him no matter what the season.

The desk on which Melville wrote Moby-Dick in 1850-51

The desk on which Melville wrote Moby-Dick in 1850-51

Melville had moved his family here from New York City in September 1850, soon after a literary excursion to nearby Monument Mountain on which he had met Nathaniel Hawthorne, then living in a cottage at Tanglewood in nearly Lenox.  From the fall of 1850 through the winter and on into the next spring, Melville had written out his manuscript of Moby-Dick as the seasons changed, still adding some “shanties of chapters and essays” in June before returning to the “brick-kiln” of New York City to “drive” the book through the press” for its London publication in October, and its New York publication, in November, 1851 (June 29 letter to Hawthorne).

After visiting the second floor study, I spent a few minutes on a bench outside on the piazza, jotting down a few notes with which to introduce Claire to her audience, having just learned that I would be following Peter Bergman and Arrowhead director Betsy Sherman in introducing the afternoon lecture.

All the seats were full when Peter gave a quick overview of the programming during a very busy Melville Birthday Weekend of which this was the concluding event.  Betsy introduced me as a Melville scholar who had made previous visits to Arrowhead.  And I, as a specialist in Melville and the Arts, emphasized what a pleasure it was to be able to work with living artists as well as those of Melville’s own day.  I also mentioned some of the universities that have copies of Claire’s Whiteness book, including Yale and Columbia on the East Coast, NKU and Northwestern in the Mid-West; and Stanford and Berkeley on the West Coast.  Two copies are in Massachusetts, both at the New Bedford Whaling Museum, one in the Elizabeth Schultz Collection, the other in the Melville Society Archive.

This was the third time I’d heard Claire speak about her Whiteness book, inspired by the chapter on “The Whiteness of the Whale.”  I first heard her at NKU in February 2011, then in Rome in June 2013, and now in Melville’s Arrowhead barn.  Her conceptual, technical, and aesthetic approach to the project is so rich that I again found myself taking three pages of notes as she spoke,  Here are a few of the random formulations that caught my attention this time.

An artist book “is a support for thought.”

For an artist working on paper, “a white background precedes any trace of existence.”

“Whiteness is an unknown zone, loaded with everything I do not know yet.”

For this project, “let the white paper play the leading part.”

From Melville: “Every attempt you make to draw the whale will be a failure.”

arrowhead barn claire 1

Claire giving her Whiteness lecture in Melville’s barn

Although some parts of this talk were similar to what I had heard before, this was the first one during which Claire had paused, looked back over her shoulder, and spoke as if she’d been startled by the ghost of Melville himself.  In the course of her talk, she made some mention of how difficult it can be to make an artist book from the writings of a living artist if the living artist is unhappy, even extremely unhappy, at some of the choices one has made.  One might think it would be easier with a writer long deceased, like Melville or Dickinson.  But that is not necessarily the case.  “You can hope you are doing some kind of justice” to their work.  “But you never knowFor they can never tell you.  Yet they are always present as we work, an inspiration and an invisible eye.”

This barn is very hot when the temperature is in the eighties.  But attention was keen throughout the talk and during a question and answer session that lasted at least half an hour. Since this was Claire’s first visit to Arrowhead, I asked what had most caught her attention apart from the ghost in the barn.  She had one quick, clear answer.  She had been moved by the desk at which Melville had written the novel, looking out at the distant vista of Mount Greylock.  And she greatly admired the way in which the room was arranged, the desk alone in the center of the uncluttered room so you could feel as soon as you walked into the room the inspiration beyond.

After the talk and the questions, Claire presented Peter Bergman, as a gift to Arrowhead, an engraving entitled On the Verge of Whiteness.  This artwork depicts random roadside vegetation such as Melville wrote about in the “Weeds and Wildings” he left unpublished at his death.  Peter announced that, by coincidence, Arrowhead and the Berkshire Country Historical Society are in the process of preparing an edition of Weeds and Wildings for which this engraving might be the perfect frontispiece.

Claire Illouz, On the Verge of Whiteness, engraving, 2014

Claire Illouz, On the Verge of Whiteness, engraving, 2014

Several of us have already been thinking of Claire as the ideal illustrator for Weeds and Wildings.  In fact, on the way to the Berkshire Athenaeum this morning I had stopped at the Lenox Post Office to mail to Sam Otter, who shares Herman Melville’s August 1 birth date, a print Claire had brought from Chérence as my present to Sam.  This was the best way I had to reciprocate for the edition of Vedder’s Rubáiyát that Sam had presented to me at the NKU Symposium in April.

Claire Illouz, Talus 33 (Roadside 33), etching, aquatint, drypoint

Claire Illouz, Talus 33 (Roadside 33), etching, aquatint, drypoint, 2009

After the lecture, the questions, and the presentation, many lingered in the barn to take a look at the copy of the Whiteness book that Claire had brought with her; this is the only copy in the edition of 25 that has not been sold.  Claire also brought a copy of Summer Boughs, her artist book inspired by the poems of Emily Dickinson she had premiered at NKU in February.  This is always my favorite time with an artist book, when the artist is speaking in the direct presence of the book itself.

arrowhead barn claire pointing to Whiteness book

Claire Illouz pointing over the Dickinson book to the Whiteness book

After the audience finally left the barn, we had a nice reception in the Welcome Room of the house.  After thanking our hosts for a wonderful afternoon, our contingent from northern Kentucky assembled on Melville’s piazza for a group photo.  This was same group from the dinner party last night: Frank and Rhonda Gelbwasser from Becket, Massachusetts; Betsy Jolas and Claire Illouz from Paris and Chérence in France; John and Cran Campbell from the Cincinnati side of the Ohio River.  With the exception of Betsy, we had all been at the Emily Dickinson Tea Party on Valentine’s Day earlier this year, to which Ronda and John had contributed signature dishes after Claire had premiered her artist book Summer Boughs.

Northern Kentucky contingent on Melville’s piazza, Arrowhead, August 3, 2015

Northern Kentucky contingent on Melville’s piazza, Arrowhead, August 3, 2015

Frank and Rhonda had to leave for Becket, so Betsy and Claire and John and Cran and I asked Peter Bergman if he could recommend somewhere not too far for dinner.  He immediately suggested Gateways in Lenox, a historic inn that offers excellent bar food as well as restaurant fare.  We did not realize until we arrived there that this Lenox landmark had been the summer home of the Proctor family, of Cincinnati’s Procter and Gamble.

Gateway Inn and Restaurant, the former Proctor House in Lenox

Gateways Inn and Restaurant, the former Proctor House in Lenox

Now Claire could relax too.  She and Betsy had brought to the Berkshires a most stimulating infusion of French culture—in each case her own take on a classic American author.  With nothing to lose, nothing to worry about, this last meal unfolded as it should, each surprising conversational departure as rich as the rest until we had moved from wild college days at Bennington College in the 1940s, to suffocating mustard cures and unneeded tonsillectomies, to new adventures from the Adirondacks, to Japanese puppets and chiropractic cures, to moments with Messiaen and Milhaud, to Emily’s laptop and Herman’s piazza, to the all-female Moby-Dick exhibition in Cincinnati to which Claire will be contributing new work next spring.

The preparation, the anticipation, the enacting, and the rehashing—in all these ways the Amherst, Tanglewood, and Arrowhead trifecta had been a winner for all concerned.

At Tanglewood with Claire and Betsy

Entry begun at the Lenox Club, Sunday, August 2, 4:45 pm

The Lenox Club, Lenox Massachusetts

The Lenox Club, Lenox Massachusetts

I am back on the porch where I had breakfast.  The morning daisies are now backlit by the afternoon sun.  As I look over to the field of sunbathing of yellow petals, a couple of black “floaters” from my left eye are floating among them, easily distinguished, however, from the busy bees still paying their respects.  A light, gusty breeze just now turned all their heads and cooled the porch on which I’m sitting.

Claire and I made a couple of passes last night at the little road that curves up to the Composer’s Cottage.  We did better after we took the right fork in the road.  Soon after we parked, Betsy walked over to meet us and lead us to the cottage, about a hundred yards away.   You wouldn’t know Betsy was 89 by the way she extended her outstretched arms long before she reached her daughter without a hitch in her stride.

Inside the cottage Betsy treated us to some white wine as she and I renewed our acquaintance from the summer of 2011.  Then I had visited Claire at her studio in Chérence on the way back from the Melville Conference in Rome at which Claire had presented a talk on her Whiteness book.  Tonight I had expected to have a drink with Betsy and Claire and then have dinner on my own, but Betsy asked me to join them for dinner, which I did with pleasure after our tête á tête over the wine and in anticipation of what we would be hearing tomorrow.  If Betsy was nervous about the next day’s performance, she did not show it.  She exudes a joyous fearlessness.  The Composer’s Cottage has a piano, on which was a tall, substantial score.  Betsy invited me to examine it, and, after that, even to take a photo or two for the blog.

I knew her new composition was inspired by Mark Twain’s 44 The Mysterious Stranger, but I did not know its length or the instrumental forces for which it was written.  This work is essentially a quintet for harp, flute, clarinet, violin, and cello enhanced by the human voice of the narrator, who makes it in performance a sextet.  The narrator is Betsy herself, who has rehearsed that element of the performance with Marzuma Diakun, the conductor, and the instrumentalists in the course of this week.

First page of score for Rambles by Betsy Jolas, 2015

First page of score for Rambles by Betsy Jolas, 2015

To adapt Mark Twain’s novelistic text for a chamber piece of reasonable length, Betsy had to write a libretto to which she set the instruments as well as her own voice.  The oversize pages of the score were hard for her to follow, and its pages cumbersome to turn, when rehearsing the piece.  So she crafted a separate narrator’s score in which she wrote her reading text in quite a small hand, which she said she had no difficulty reading.  That is what she would take to the stage the next day for the performance itself.  Here is one page of the narrator’s “score” from which she was to read.

Miniaturized instrumental score with narrator’s text in longhand

Miniaturized instrumental score with narrator’s text in longhand

Before we left for dinner—we found a nice little Vietnamese restaurant in nearby Lee—I took a photo of Betsy and Claire at the door of the Composer’s Cottage.

mother and daugher 3 +

Ozawa Hall from the outside

Ozawa Hall from the outside

I had never been to a concert at Tanglewood.  Sunday morning was again sunny and bright as I approached Ozawa Hall.  The interior of the hall is very high and deep, without a fourth wall in the back, opening the eye to a green expanse of lawn rising up a hill.

 

Back of Ozawa Hall opening out to the lawn

Back of Ozawa Hall opening out to the lawn

The high deep space of the wall behind the stage was the perfect place for the eleven musicians who opened the program with a brass Fanfare by Robin de Raeff, another commission by the Tanglewood Music Center in honor of its 75th Anniversary.  I could not believe the breadth and depth of the sound that burst, bellowed, and floated from those angelic heights.

Musicians in positoin for brass Fanfare by Robin de Raeff that opened the concert

Musicians in position for brass Fanfare by Robin de Raeff that opened the concert

The opening Fanfare was followed by spirited peformances of Beethoven’s String Quartet in G major (Op. 18, no. 2, 1799) and György Kartág’s Bagatelles for Flute, Double Bass, and Piano (Op. 14a, 1981).  For a hall so large and spacious, this one feels surprisingly intimate, with the sound as present and alive as it could possibly be.  This was especially the case during Betsy’s Rambles, the next work on the program.  She and conductor Marzema Diakun came out on stage after the five young musicians who would play the piece had taken their positions.  I did not want to take any photo that would disturb the performance, so the one I post here shows Betsy before she climbed up on the stool from which she would narrate the premiere performance of her homage to Mark Twain.

Conductor Marzema Diakun striding to podium as Betsy readies her “narration” score

Conductor Marzema Diakun striding to podium as Betsy readies her “narrator’s score”

I only read in the program notes after the concert that Betsy is well known for her use of the human voice as an instrument of its own throughout an instrumental composition.  You could easily see, hear, and feel that effect during her Rambles.  Sitting on the high stool, feet above the floor, this near-nonagenarian was in no danger of falling off her perch or of missing a single beat.  Some of her words had to coincide precisely with an instrumental sound, but others could be said at her ease within a certain stretch of sound.  This created the feeling of someone telling us a story in a very intimate setting with a set of musical friends amplifying and enhancing the story as it goes. Sometimes the ensemble mirrored or doubled an image, idea, or sound.  Each individual instrument entered into the flow with its own twang and timbre, yet always in a way that the words could be heard.

Betsy’s Rambles unfolds without a break for I would guess about 17 minutes.  As we were about five minutes into the performance, I was thinking that the instrumental narrative could stand on its own even without the narrated text—even though a whole world of meaning and pleasure would be lost.  I felt so grateful to know this remarkable woman in person as I heard her latest work unfold.  The program notes indicate that, among a lifetime of accolades, Betsy had been named “Personality of the Year” for France by SACEM for 1992.  That nation has some amazing personalities, but I am not surprised they chose her.

Besides the joyful resourcefulness of the writing for the respective instruments, the most powerful element of the performance, I felt, is that you could hear and understand literally every spoken word of Betsy’s narration.  The program notes explain that she prefers the narration over the singing of the words for certain works for exactly that reason: the words can be heard and clearly understood.  This was a primary goal for this work and it worked beautifully.  Just as the words enriched the sound all the way through, so did the sound the words.  Betsy narrated beautifully, but this would have been a rather longish as a performance of the spoken word alone, whereas it flowed right along as instrumentally accompanied speech.

I savored the highly engaging story by Mark Twain.  I thought of Melville in a number of ways as it unfolded.  The first appearance of the mysterious stranger “44” as a wayfaring youth seemingly without prospects is reminiscent of Bartleby.  The way the print shop is organized and the evolving dynamic between 44 and his fellow workers recalls both “Bartleby” and the description of the paper mill in “The Tartarus of Maids.”  Perhaps the strongest parallel is the one that develops most slowly, between 44 in his increasingly bizarre and provocative shape-shifting ways and “the confidence man” in Melville’s novel of that name.  Like Melville’s confidence man, 44, a representative of Satan, questions and undermines a whole sequence of assumptions about not only life on earth but the afterlife.  Shortly before the story’s irregular trajectory ends with the mysterious stranger informing the narrator that life as we know it “is all there is,” I had been expecting that sentiment to somehow prevail.

How, one might ask, can such an ostensibly buoyant personality as Betsy Jolas create such a startlingly “dark” performance piece?  Exactly because it is so emphatically a story, a story to be enjoyed, a story whose performance genre is the melodrama of spoken text with instruments that inspired so many 19th-century composers, but not often with what today are considered major works.

claire and betsy in box 2Betsy and Claire were in a box before the performance.  I sat about five rows in from the stage with Frank and Rhonda Gelbwasser, who had arrived much earlier and claimed these excellent seats.  In the row just behind us was Marsha from the Dickinson house yesterday with local family and friends.  Betsy’s piece was right before intermission.  The whole hall had been extremely attentive during her Rambles, and she and the musicians had all been called back out on stage.

Betsy and performers taking bows 2

Claire and Betsy with Tanglewood hosts

Claire and Betsy with Tanglewood hosts

At intermission Frank and Rhonda and I met up with John and Cran Campbell, who had arrived just in time and were sitting halfway back in the hall.  We all shared our immediate perceptions of the performance while Betsy and her daughter were meeting with well wishers and those who had sponsored the music or orchestrated her residency.  We did get Claire away for one photo with our little party from NKU in February.

 

Claire with our northern Kentucky contingent

Claire with our northern Kentucky contingent

Claire and Betsy were invited to an impromptu luncheon followed by an afternoon concert, so we arranged that I would pick up Claire for dinner at a reception to be held at the “Koussevitzky house” up the hill from the Composer’s Cabin.  Betsy was planning to stay on at the reception, where she would reunite with two of the soloists in the afternoon concert, cellist Yo-Yo Ma and trumpeter Häkan Hardenberger, who was preparing to perform one of her compositions in a future concert.

I had not expected to see Betsy again until the next day, but when we sat down for the second half of the morning concert in Ozawa Hall she was out on stage again, this time with composer Robin de Raeff, as each was interviewed about previous experiences at Tanglewood and the commissioned pieces we had just heard.  Betsy was alert and articulate as always, and could have told stories for hours. The one she chose to share is one she had related to Claire and me last night, about the time Leonard Bernstein had picked her up as a hitchhiker on a nearby road.  He had said, somewhat nervously, “I don’t do this very often.”  To which she said, “Neither do I.”

Betsy being interviewed to begin second half of Saturday morning concert

Betsy being interviewed to begin second half of Saturday morning concert

After hearing the second half of the concert, which lasted until after 1 pm, I had lunch at at Electra’s Café, near the turn off to Melville’s house in Pittsfield.  Electra’s was closing at 2, so I found a café with good coffee in Pittsfield at which I could write some of this entry.  I am finishing this entry on the porch at the Lenox Club, where Claire called to let me know that she and her mother had left the reception and that Betsy was now free to join us for dinner at Chez Nous in Lee.

Continuing entry at Lenox Club, Monday, August 3, 8:20 am

Frank Gelbwasser had recommended Chez Nous for last night’s dinner and it was, as I expected, absolutely perfect.  Once we got there.  I had arranged to meet Claire and Betsy at the Composer’s Cottage at 6:10, which left ample time for the drive over to Lee.  Except when I got to West Street to turn right toward Tanglewood both lanes of traffic were surging against me into Lenox.  Some huge concert at Tanglewood had let out (it must have been the one with Yo-Yo Ma) and when that happens they apparently turn this two-way two-lane road into two lanes one way for as long as it takes.  It took forever—an absolutely steady stream of cars, vans, and buses streaming from my right to my left.  Fortunately, I had my cell phone and could call Frank, encouraging him and Rhonda, along with John and Cran Campbell, to go ahead with appetizers until the traffic cleared and I could arrive with Claire and Betsy.  Fortunately, too, Claire and I had coordinated our cell phone numbers, so I was able to call her and let her know I would be late for her and Betsy.  The traffic finally cleared, everything was fine, and were were only about twenty minutes late.  It was worth the wait.

Chez Nous in Lee, Massachusetts

Chez Nous in Lee, Massachusetts

Frank and Rhonda Gelbwasser at Chez Nous

Frank and Rhonda Gelbwasser at Chez Nous

The food, the drink, the appetizers, the desserts—all were exquisite and served with ease.  But it was the talk I treasured most, shared around and across the table with an ease and a tang matching those of the service and the food.  If Betsy’s Rambles was a music sextet for voice and five instruments, our table talk was a vocal septet with all voices making timely entrances while also contributing to the ensemble.  We were delighted to hear that Frank and Rhonda’s daughter, my friend Kimberly, will be teaching and singing next year at a Salzburg.

John and Cran Campbell at Chez Nous

John and Cran Campbell at Chez Nous

From the Campbells we had story after story about the family island in the Adirondacks where John and Cran had recently been camping.  During Calvin Coolidge’s presidency, the nearby White Pine Camp had been his summer White House, where he enjoyed hearing Enrico Caruso’s voice from out on the lake.

 

Betsy (with a little prompting from me) shared some details about the late-blooming burst of high-profile engagements she’s had recently—the Prom concerts in London a few weeks ago, the Tanglewood premiere today, a new commission from the Berlin Philharmonic now in hand.  Claire shared her impressions of our visit to Amherst, saying she particularly enjoyed the Evergreens because it preserved the feeling of a lived-in space from the 19th century, still filled with the “juice” of that era (as the French like to say).

Claire Illouz and Betsy Jolas at Chez Nous

Claire Illouz and Betsy Jolas at Chez Nous

me on birthdya at chez nouis When the desserts came, mine had a single candle and “Happy Birthday” written in chocolat.  This was a gift from Frank and Rhonda, orchestrators of this wonderful evening.  I made a wish and blew out the single candle, which I took as symbolizing the first year of my life after seventy.  As we left Chez Nous after this highly enjoyable evening, we all looked forward to seeing each other the next day, when Claire would be presenting her Whiteness book at Arrowhead.

Meeting Claire in Amherst

Entry begun at The Lenox Club, Lenox, MA, Saturday, August 1, 10:20 pm

When I left Cincinnati yesterday morning I did not expect to be sleeping so close to Dickinson’s Homestead last night.  Before leaving home I had written the draft of “A Blog for Emily (and Herman),” intended as an introduction to this blog when it is posted on the Dickinson Electronic Archive.  Noting that I am not a Dickinson scholar but only a teacher, I wrote that I am “entering the Amherst mansion, as it were, through the back door.”  And now, last night, I had entered the city itself from the back door, feeling my way up highways 118 and 9 in the dark until I saw my first sign for Amherst.

Today was Herman Melville’s birthday in the year 1819.  In 2019 we will be celebrating the 200th Anniversary of his birth with the Twelfth International Melville Society conference, probably in New York City.  Here in Lenox I am about seven miles from where he lived at Arrowhead in Pittsfield, occasionally riding a horse over here to Lenox to visit his friend Nathaniel Hawthorne, in a cottage near today’s Tanglewood Music Center.  Tomorrow I will be at Tanglewood to hear a newly commissioned piece by Betsy Jolas, mother of Claire Illouz, my traveling companion today from Emily Dickinson’s house in Amherst to the Tanglewood cottage at which her mother has been staying while rehearsing with the young musicians who will be premiering her new work tomorrow.  Her new work, entitled Rambles, is based on Mark Twain’s story about The Mysterious Stranger, which she will narrate while the young chamber performers play the music.

I will return to Betsy, whom I have this evening met for the met for the second time, after I describe my day with Claire at the Dickinson Homestead, the family house in Amherst in which Emily was born and died, living there for nearly all of her life in between.  This house is the first half of a tour that also includes the Evergreens, the ornate Italianate house of Emily’s brother Austin and his wife Susan Gilbert Dickinson, who had been Emily’s closest friend until Susan married her brother.

Claire and I had planned to meet at the Dickinson Homestead at 11 in the morning, she having stayed overnight in Boston after her flight from France before driving to Amherst with Marsha Pomerantz, an editor and poet.  I had gone back to sleep after writing my impromptu homage to Jay Leyda in the middle of the night, sleeping in until 7:30 before going down to have breakfast in the lobby of the motel.  I knew I was in Emily’s orbit when I saw her name on the motel’s first-floor conference room.

dickinson room at howard johnson

After breakfast I had time to read and take notes on two more excellent chapters of Sewall’s Ballots for Freedom, whose chronology now begins to link up very well with the events I have been writing about in Cincinnati.  Since getting this book last Thursday, I have been wondering what relation, if any, its author Richard H. Sewall might have to Richard B. Sewall, who published his pioneering two-volume Life of Emily Dickinson during the same decade in which his namesake published Ballots for Freedom.

I have just now got hit with exhaustion from a full and wonderful day.  I’ll finish this entry in the morning when I am fresh.

Entry continued in Lenox, Sunday, August 2, 8:25 am

Today is my birthday, number 71.  Last night when I left Claire and her mother at the Composer’s Cottage at Tanglewood, they were wondering if they would be able to see the full moon before going to bed.  I saw it when I got up, briefly, in the middle of the night.

Moon through the window of room in Lenox

Moon through the window of room in Lenox

The light this morning when I took an invigorating walk before breakfast was bright and clear.  I was struck again and again by the brightness of its shine on the half-shaded trunks of the trees I passed.  This may be a metaphor for my pleasure at being alive and ambulatory at my current age.  Betsy Jolas is perhaps an unattainable role model at age eighty-nine—still apparently as nimble in body as she is in mind and spirit.  Her chamber quintet Rambles will have its premiere in about ninety minutes only about a mile from where I am writing this entry.  Nowhere was this morning’s light brighter than on the parchment-like skin of the two elm trees across the lawn from the porch on which I am writing.

Morning light on elm trees

Morning light on elm trees

But now back to yesterday.  I came into downtown Amherst on South Pleasant Street, passing an outdoor farmer’s market before turning down Main Street to the Dickinson house.  The Homestead is not hard to find, fronting on Main only a few blocks after turning down from South Pleasant.  The Evergreens is even closer to downtown, slightly withdrawn under its namesake trees.

The Evergreens behind the tree to the left, the Homestead fronting Main to the right

The Evergreens behind the tree to the left, the Homestead fronting Main to the right

Claire had arrived quite a bit earlier with Marsha and her friend Susan from Boston.  They had already signed up for the 11 am tour of the two houses, which was my choice as well, so we soon set off with the group being led by Greg Mattingly, our guide.  Photographs were not allowed inside either house, leaving us free to register our impressions in the old-fashioned nineteenth-century way, with eyes and ears and mind.  I had been on this tour once before, but I learned much that was new, and one’s companions can enrich one’s experience too, as Emily Brontë once wrote of dreams, “like wine through water.”

I have to stop here to get ready for the Sunday morning concert.  The porch in Lenox is still slightly chilly in the morning air.  Immediately beyond the porch brilliant yellow flowers are glowing in the morning sun.  One bee has brought in his burnished carriage to savor the morning’s delights astride one flower’s field of light (J 1339).

Entry continued at Electra’s Café, Pittsfield, August 2, 1:30 pm

I have driven straight to this café from the three-hour morning concert at Ozawa Hall featuring Betsy Jolas’s Rambles and five other pieces, two of them world premieres, all of them beautifully performed.  I will return to that concert after completing this entry on our day in the Dickinson world in Amherst.

edis cover 2012 Greg, our tour guide, was perfect.  He wore his extensive knowledge lightly, but with passion, especially when citing the poetry.  He framed the tour in our first room in the Homestead, the one with the piano, with a quote from Harold Bloom comparing Dickinson with Shakespeare for cognitive strength among all English-language poets (which is exactly where I put her when teaching).  It is always great to be in the space where she lived and thought, always with a new group of people savoring her ostensibly strange and wonderful story.  This time I got to look more closely at the oil painting of Emily, Vinny, and Austin by a small-town itinerant painter.  Greg, after having turned our attention to a good reproduction of the well-known daguerreotype of Emily at age sixteen, showed us the reproduction of the new double daguerreotype on the cover of a recent Emily Dickinson International Society Bulletin, suggesting (as I believe too, though it has not yet been proven) that the figure on the left is Emily in her twenties (this being the issue of the Bulletin including the essay I co-authored with my student Nicci Mechler).

Crossing the entrance hall, Greg led us into the library, where he did an excellent job discussing Emily’s relationship with Samuel Bowles and Thomas Wentworth Higginson in relation to their interest in her poetry.  Next to a photo of Higginson on a table was the issue of the Atlantic Monthly to which Emily had responded when Higginson had invited queries and submissions by young poets.  One thing new for me in this room this time was the emphasis on the Homestead as a working farm during the decades in which the Dickinsons lived here.  The way the farm worked was suggested by a large painting or engraving on the wall and by a multitude of telling details from Greg.  He also mentioned a little about Lavinia’s and Martha Bianchi’s interest in publishing Emily’s poetry after she died, referring to other publications by Martha on one shelf of the bookcase to my left, an element of her life that was new to me.

Lindsey Alleys White Poem Dress, 2014

Lindsey Alley’s White Poem Dress, 2014

Up the staircase we saw, first, the replica of the famous white dress.  It is now surrounded by artifacts I had previously seen in Emily’s bedroom—the portraits of George Eliot and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Emily’s chair, her writing desk, and rocker.  These are out in the hallway because great progress is now being made in the renovation of the bedroom itself.  Wallpaper installed by subsequent residents has been fully removed, revealing enough remnants of the original wallpaper design to inspire new facsimile pattern soon to be installed.  The floor is similarly far along in the restoration process, evidenced by the matting that currently covers the floor of most of the room.  Although only the bed, over in the corner, currently remains of the room’s nearly holy artifacts, the absence of the others makes it possible to savor, more than ever before, the spatial dimensions of the room itself and the generosity of its light-giving windows.  Even empty of its artifacts, this room is the classic embodiment of Virginia Woolf’s “A Room of One’s Own.”  Since no photos are allowed inside the house, I will represent the famous white dress here with the White Poem Dress that Lindsey Alley created in my 2014 Spring Semester class.  In contrast to the now empty room, I am posting below the view that Hilda Weaver imagined on one page of her artist book during the 2012 Spring Semester.

a page from Hilda Weaver’s artist book Responses: Emily and I, 2012

A page from Hilda Weaver’s artist book Responses: Emily and I, 2012

Taking us across the hall way to the room on the other side of the dress, Grey said, “This room is always everyone’s favorite because you get to sit down.”  Sitting was a pleasure, but so was the imaginative way this room has been set up to demonstrate Emily’s concern for precision in diction and resonance of sound.  Mounted on the wall to the left of the doorway is the reproduction of a Dickinson poem punctuated by a sliding panel for any word in the poem for which Emily had written more than one option.  This poem was an excellent selection because the alternate meanings were consistently interesting and plausible choices, especially at the last of the sliding panels, which had five alternate words in play, some of them significantly shading both the sense and the sound of the poem itself.  This was public education at its best.

Looking back at the Homestead

Looking back at the Homestead

As soon as we left the Homestead itself, we walked out in the warm, bracing noonday air for the short walk to the Evergreens.  On this transit we walked along Main Street, giving us a good view both when looking back at the Homestead and ahead to the Evergreens.  It also offered a chance for a few photos of our little group of pilgrims.  Any reader of Part 3 of this blog is likely to recognize Claire Illouz among her companions.

Looking ahead to the Evergreens

Looking ahead to the Evergreens

The Evergreens is an amazing time capsule going back to the last of the 19th century and beyond.  I learned more about Martha Bianchi’s husband’s role in preserving the place in the hands of the family until quite recently.  It’s always great to enter the big sitting room filled with furniture and paintings and prints that Susan Gilbert Dickinson had collected, many of which would have been familiar to Emily in the early years of her brother and friend’s marriage.  A landscape by Kensett is currently in pride of place, directly in front of where we visitors were standing.  I was particularly interested in the highest of the two paintings on the far right wall, a landscape bisected by a river with a mountain centered in the backgrouind.  I would have liked to see it up close, and asked Greg’s assistant if she could identify it in the documentation she had in a binder.  She quickly identified it as Autumn Evening in the White Mountains, painted by Sanford Robinson Gifford in 1858, just when Emily Dickinson was beginning to find her voice as a poet.

Greg mentioned that all of the paintings and prints in the Evergreens can now be seen online.  I will post here its image for the Gifford, a ghost image just enough to make you want to see it up close in person, not at an angle from far across the room.  One of the first Dickinson poems that Johnson attributes to 1858 begins: “I never told the buried gold / Upon the hill—that lies— / I saw the sun—his plunder done / Crouch low to guard his prize” (J 11).

Gifford Autumn Evening in the White Mountains

In the sitting room across the entry hall, Greg rightly emphasized the fun that was had there, the revels even, in which Emily held her own in the earlier years.  Claire was very taken with a number of the artworks in the room, including the etching of a breaking wave on the wall directly behind us.  She recognized some of the orientalist images Susan had collected as reproductions.  Greg knows a lot about the art throughout both houses, which is one reason I learned a lot more this time through.

Our next stop was the amazing dining room, with the pristine wood beam ceiling Austin had commissioned a century and a half ago.  It’s always fun to hear about—and see—the wires that were activated to call the servants into the room.  On this visit the lavishness of the meals served at this table, on this china, was demonstrated by the printed menu for a dinner party given during Valentine’s week back in Susan’s day.  The woman in our group who volunteered to read the menu out loud did so with great enthusiasm—which caused me to say a few words about the Emily Dickinson Tea Party featuring the poet’s own recipes we held on Valentine’s Day in February of this year to conclude our Dickinson Arts Fest in northern Kentucky.

Tea Party feast from Emily’s recipes, Valentine’s Day 2015, Northern Kentucky University

Tea Party feast from Emily’s recipes, Valentine’s Day 2015, Northern Kentucky University

Claire was very interested in the beautiful cast-iron stove, the large upright rectangular ice box, and various implements in the scullery.  Greg did a nice job of giving us the architectural context of how this very sophisticated dining room had been an add-on to the original house, whereas the much more modest kitchen was the makeover of an adjacent cottage.

Upstairs quite a bit of renovation is under way to stabilize the ceiling in the hallway and the children’s room, each of which has small wooden pegs crossing various cracks.  Seeing this room in which young Gilbert had died was much more poignant for me this time—after my student Keianna Troxell had created Gib’s Room: Formal Feeling as her final project during the 2014 Spring Semester.  I was now looking at the very photographs on the back of a door in this room that Keianna had gotten permission to collage over a rare surviving photo of Gib himself.  She had then inscribed Emily’s poem “After great pain a formal feeling comes” on the black ground over which she imposed the collage.  I could not take a photo of the actual photos on the back of the actual door, but I can post Keianna’s artwork here, along with the wish that she could have been with me to look into this room together.

Keianna Troxell, Gib’s Room: Formal Feeling, Dickinson and the Arts, 2014 Spring Semester

Keianna Troxell, Gib’s Room: Formal Feeling, Dickinson and the Arts, 2014 Spring Semester

The tour ended in the former master bedroom after we had returned to the main floor.  As we sat on benches perfectly sized to hold us all, Greg held forth on as much as he had chosen to reveal of Mabel Loomis Todd, Austin, the War between the Houses, and the ongoing aftermath of that.  Considering the complexity and volatility of all he had to deal with, Greg did a great job with this, as with everything else, having planted subtle seeds for what he was now revealing along the way.

As we filed out of the Evergreens at the end of this home tour, Claire noticed something interesting through a window in a storage structure: the vertebrae of a whale.  We asked Greg about it and he said these were often used as garden decorations in the mid-nineteenth-century.  He did not know of any current plans to move this one into the garden here.  I was glad when he said, since we were now out of the house, that it would be ok to take a photo of it through the glass.  If we ever have a Dickinson and Melville conference here in Amherst, this piece of a whale would provide an unexpected link between the two artist’s lives.

Vertebrae of a whale in storage structure beyond the back door of the Evergreens

Vertebrae of a whale in storage structure beyond the back door of the Evergreens

The tour had not quite ended.  Greg, as we gathered for the last time back near the Homestead, told us of Emily’s death and of how precisely she had choreographed her funeral procession, passing by a number of beloved spots on the family property in such a way as to not lose sight of the Homestead until they passed over the hill to the gravesite.  So we can think of her in spirit honing in on her Homestead home even though, in the corporeal sense, she could no longer “see to see” (J 465, “I heard a Fly buzz—when I died—“).

Walking back to the Homestead

Walking back to the Homestead

Before leaving the Homestead our group of four took some photos in various combinations in front of a massive oak tree, near the garden, that probably dates from Emily’s own day.  I loved the fact that a young woman was reading as she sat against the base of the tree on the other side.  I hope the photos show her.

Susan, Claire, Marsha, and seated reader; with Claire in Emily’s back yard

Susan, Claire, Marsha, and seated reader in Emily’s back yard

 

With Claire in Emilys back yard

With Claire in Emilys back yard

Marsha’s car, parked at a meter on Main Street, had been in the sun all morning, so before we went to lunch Claire transferred her things from the trunk of Marsha’s car to the trunk of mine, as she had brought a couple of things she wanted to keep as cool as possible.  I moved my car forward a few spots on a side street so it would remain in the shade while the four of us had lunch at the first place we found inviting as we walked up Main toward South Pleasant.  That place was the Black Sheep, a phenomenal sandwich shop that did not mind our sitting at a table for two hours as we shared our impressions of the tour (we had all been deeply impressed) and other common interests (there were many).

At some point Claire remembered that her mother would be expecting her before too long at her cottage near Tanglewood, so we took highway 9 west, I-91 south, and I-90 west, arriving att the cottage shortly before 6 pm.  Our day at Tanglewood began last night at the cottage with Betsy, even though the concert itself was not until the next day, this morning.

Roundabout to Massachusetts

Entry begun at Philadelphia airport, Friday, July 31, 11:45 am

The day began beautifully.  I had to get up soon after 5 to make a flight at 7:25, but the early morning light on the Ohio River to the east as I crossed over the first bridge was a smooth silvery gray.  Crossing the second bridge to the south a full moon hung above the river to the west.  Traffic was clear all the way to the airport and even security was easy, with that PRECHK code on my boarding pass.  Everything, in short, was fine until my cell phone rang the moment I took my seat on the plane to Philadelphia.  A text message announced that my connecting flight to Albany was canceled.  Whatever arrangements could be made after my plane landed at the United Airways terminal in Philadelphia, this meant that my 11:30 lunch with my former student Angela Laflen near the Albany airport was cancelled, as would be the tour of Olana, the Frederick Church museum house an hour downstream on the Hudson River from Albany, for which we had a 1:30 pm reservation.

At the Philadelphia airport I got on the standby list for a 2:25 pm flight to Albany.  If I could get on that flight I could drive to Becket, Massachusetts, where I am expected for dinner, by 6:30.  This is not the way I’d planned my day.  But I had a book with me I’d been reading on the plane, Richard E. Sewall’s Ballots for Freedom: Antislavery Politics in the United States, 1837-1860.  The other night my friend John Stauffer suggested that I read it before revising the book I am writing on Frederick Douglass in Cincinnati in the 1850s.  I was glad he did.  The first three chapters were great, and I should be able to read two more chapters before I land in Albany, assuming I get on that 2:25 flight.

I just got a burrito bowl at Chipotle’s at the food court in Terminal F.   High above the food court is an absolutely beautiful digital mural of the Delaware River running through Philadelphia.  Its silvery blue gray resembles that of the Ohio River in today’s early morning light.  Its subject extends theme of my recent blog entry on Kyoto, “Our rivers run to thee.”

Digital mural of Delaware River in Terminal F of Philadelphia Airport

Digital mural of Delaware River in Terminal F of Philadelphia Airport

Entry continued at Howard Johnson motel, Hadley, MA, 10:10 pm

When United Airways put me on the standby list for the 2:25 flight to Albany, I was third on the list.  When I arrived an hour early at the gate to check my status, I was suddenly number 9.  I had been bumped down the list by six priority passengers who had signed up later than I.  The 2:25 flight was already overbooked by 3, so there was no way I would make either that flight or the two flights to Albany later in the day, each of them already overbooked too.  I did not want to stay in Philadelphia overnight, which would destroy my plans for meeting Claire Illouz in Amherst in the morning, so I asked if they could get me to Hartford (Conn.) today.  “No, it’s overbooked.”  How about Providence? “Yes, you could take the 4:20 flight to Providence.”

So that is what I did.  I landed in Providence, Rhode Island, at 5:40 after sitting next to a lovely guy in his late eighties whose wife died a year ago.  He was returning from a visit to western Pennsylvania to see his older sister, who had been unable to recognize him this time.  He was hoping for a warm greeting from his eight-year-old Beagle when he got him from the kennel on the way home from the airport.

Flying to Providence rather than Albany meant I could no longer have dinner with Frank and Rhonda Gelbwasser in western Massachusetts.  I had met them in northern Kentucky when their daughter Kimberly had sung our all-Dickinson song recital at in February, and they had invited me to have dinner at their home in Becket and to stay overnight before driving on to Amherst in the morning.  I was able to call Frank with my change of plans, as I had done earlier with Angela and Olana, and I could still look forward to seeing Frank and Rhonda at Tanglewood on Sunday and at Arrowhead on Monday.  My revised plan for this day was to drive about 2/3 of the way from Providence to Amherst and stop somewhere along the Massachusetts Turnpike for dinner and lodging before driving on to Amherst in the morning.  The Turnpike exits did not have the customary signs for restaurants and motels I had expected to see, and I was absolutely starving by the time I finally pulled off at a little town of Palmer, only a few stops short of Springfield. The young woman who took my ticket said there was only one nearby motel but that it always had room, giving me clear direction about how to get there.  When I got there, it had a No Vacancy sign and no one to answer the office door.  A young couple coming out to their truck said this was the week of a big auto race around here.

The setting sun had been a golden orange during my last half hour on the Turnpike, but by now dusk was turning to night.  With nowhere to stay here, my only option was to take local roads north in the direction of Amherst hoping I could find somewhere to stay.  Before doing so, I ate half of a six-inch sandwich at a Subway, getting contradictory advice from three different people about how to find the road in the direction of Amherst.  A young woman I asked sounded more secure than the others, so I took the lefts and the rights at the lights she suggested and was soon headed north on a road from Palmer to Belchertown which would link up with highway 9 toward Amherst.  The AAA triptik I’d ordered from Albany to Olana to Becket to Amherst was not helping me here, but hopefully by 11 am the next morning I’d arrive at the Dickinson Homestead in time to meet Claire.

It was so dark in one little town that I suddenly found myself passing a tavern lined with dozens of cars on a very narrow street that continued on a gravel road even narrower.  I had obviously missed an important turn.  A kind woman walking unsteadily through the dark pointed back to where I’d missed an unmarked right-angle left turn.

When I go the next town with lights I was hoping a rather large establishment I passed on the left might be a hotel, but the guy I asked in the parking lot of the tavern on the right said, “No, there’s nowhere to stay in this town, but if you go all the way to Amherst you will find a Howard Johnson right on Highway 9.”  This was music to my ears and I drove the rest of the way with a lighter heart.  After passing a sign for South Amherst, and then a big intersection at South Pleasant street, I continued north until I finally saw the Howard Johnson on the left, just across the line from Amherst in Hadley.  I have just finished the rest of the six-inch sandwich from Palmer and am looking forward to a good night’s sleep.

The one blessing during the second half of this long, marathon day, after the seven hours in the Philadelphia airport, was the view out the window on the way to Providence.  First we flew alongside the Delaware River I had seen the in mural.  Then, before I knew it, not expecting it at all, we were over the New Jersey shore, which I’d never seen from air or land.  It was a beautiful crystal-clear day and I could not take my eyes off that slanting, sandy coast line—except when I quickly pulled out my iPhone to take a photo.

New Jersey shore from the plane to Providence

New Jersey shore from the plane to Providence

After that lovely coast line faded in a haze off to the left, a new coast line emerged from the haze at an angle to the right.  This had to be Long Island, and it was long indeed, bisected by that one long road that eventually stretches all the way to Montauk.   I had driven out to Montauk during my graduate school years.  I still remember how the horizon line of the ocean, seen from the shore, curved with the shape of the globe.  But I had never seen the length of Long Island, protected by its long sandy reefs, from above.  This was the last thing I was expecting to see on a day on which I would have landed in Albany shortly after 11 in the morning, but it was well worth the wait.

Long Island shore emerging from the haze

Long Island shore emerging from the haze

Soon after the Long Island shore, we flew along the Connecticut shore.  Then, just as we were passing the long inlet to the town of Providence, the pilot took a smooth swing down and around into the glow of the afternoon sun for the landing at the airport.

Swinging around toward the Providence airport

Swinging around toward the Providence airport

Entry continued at Howard Johnson motel, Hadley, Saturday, August 1, 4:20 am

Homage to Jay Leyda.  I got up to pee in the middle of the night and began thinking of Jay Leyda.  I thought this entry had ended when I went to bed.  But driving unknown roads in the direction of Amherst in the dark made me think of all the years and hours Leyda had spent in the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s tracking down information about both Melville’s and Dickinson’s lives that no one had previously found.

In writing my little meta-commentary the other day about logs, blogs, and epilogues, I mentioned the nautical log for the whale ship Charles W. Morgan in 1841 but I did not mention The Melville Log that Jay Leyda published in 1951 and updated in 1969.  Leyda wrote two-volume proto-biography, subtitled A Documentary Life of Herman Melville, 1819-1891, in the form of a ship’s log, registering anything that was known to have happened to or about Melville from the day he was born to the day he died.  Leyda followed in 1960 with The Years and Hours of Emily Dickinson.

leyda log vertical

Leyda may have been the first scholar to bring Melville and Dickinson together, not by comparing or contrasting them, but by giving his imaginative, meticulous attention to the life each lived day by day and year by year.  We have a box of his papers at the Melville Society Archive in New Bedford.  We who run the Melville Society Cultural Project have not yet had a change to examine all of its contents in a meticulous way, but already scholars have come to look at its contents.  In the June 2015 issue of Leviathan, Bradley King mentions having consulted the Leyda papers during his residence as our Bezanson Archive Scholar in back in January.  More recently, Jen Bervin, co-author of Dickinson’s Gorgeous Nothings with Marta Werner, has visited our Leyda papers for information that might enrich a book she is planning to write on The Years and Hours of Jay Leyda,  Not only did she find extremely valuable information for that project.  She wrote in June that “your collection holds the key to Leyda’s work on Dickinson; when I sought it out at Amherst, Yale, Brown, and NYU I came up empty-handed.”  We are all very eager to see what that turns out to be!

How did Leyda get the original idea to research, record, compile, and publish his Melville Log and Dickinson Years as if they were nautical logs?  Maybe Jen will tell us.  In the meantime, I have to end this entry so I can be fresh in the morning when I meet Claire Illouz at the Dickinson Homestead.  Thinking of Jay made me think more pointedly about the photographs I had felt moved to take during this uncharted, marathon travel day.  After taking one photo of the Delaware River mural running through Philadelphia in Terminal F of the Philadelphia airport, I asked the woman at the information desk if she knew anything about the artist.  She did not.  But she did point out something I did not previously know or notice, that the section of the mural with the big red arrow pointing to the airport is where the Schuylkill River runs into the Delaware River.  And that, as I try to end this entry, makes me think yet again of Dickinson’s “My river runs to thee.” .

Schuylkill River entering the Delaware to the right of arrow pointing to the airport

Schuylkill River entering the Delaware to the right of arrow pointing to the airport

This in turn made me think of those long bars of sand protecting the land from the ocean into which the rivers are flowing along the New Jersey and Long Island shores. I had taken a photo of my favorite image along the Long Island shore where these dynamics seem to be reversed, the ocean running in through a gap in the sandy shore.

Ocean running through Long Island’s protective bank into the inner bay

Ocean running through Long Island’s protective bank into the inner bay

These thoughts in the early hours on August 1 made me think of the ways in which scholars such as Jay Leyda, Jen Bervin, or Marta Werner have answered the still running river of Dickinson’s artistry with the bold inrush of their own oceanic ponderings.  Below is my mash-up of two Dickinson poems (J 162 and 76) as another way of suggesting the relationship of Dickinson’s poetry (on the left) to leading scholars who interpret it (on the right):

My River         =          Exultation

runs                  =          is the going

to thee              =          of an inland soul to sea

Part 7. Logs, Blogs, and Epilogues

Entry begun on July 26, 8:05 pm

Race to the finish line

Race to the finish line

How and when do you end an open-ended blog?  A professional baseball game ends after nine innings.  A college basketball game ends after forty minutes.  A thoroughbred horse race ends at the finish line.  This blog ends when the time and place are right, which is now.

I’ve had to clarify my own thinking on this issue when consulting with Martha Nell Smith and Marta Werner, co-editors of the Dickinson Electronic Archive 2, and Aaron Dinin, its webmaster.  Since I expect to be completing this blog soon after returning from a trip to Amherst and Arrowhead in early August, I had asked about whether it would be possible—or desirable—to reverse the last-entry-first structure of the blog to a first-entry-first structure once it has been completed.  Doing so would make it easier for readers who would like to experience its narrative in chronological order, as I did when writing it from August of last year into August of this year.  Before addressing that question, Aaron posed a question of his own.   Noting that most blogs do not have an end—they are continuously open-ended—he asked if I might not be violating the ethos of a blog by ending it before I sent it to be posted.

The best answer I could give him is that each of my two blogs—the one I posted last year about my whale ship voyage in 2014 and this one about Dickinson and Moby-Dick I am now finishing in 2015—feels to me like a separate voyage by the same voyager.  I have created the current blog primarily to document the planning and execution of the Dickinson and Moby-Dick exhibitions and related Arts Fest events on which Emma Rose Thompson and I had worked continuously from late August of 2014, when I began this blog, through mid-May of this year.  After taking down the two exhibitions in the middle of May, we have still had quite a bit of follow-up work to do, though at a somewhat more relaxed pace.

Beyond my attempt to keep up with this blog, the follow-up has included returning artworks to student artists and alums, distributing catalogs to artists who had not yet received them, inscribing a few of our remaining catalogs to out-of-town Dickinson or Melville scholars, deciding how many additional copies of each catalog to order from the printer for future use, and working with Numediacy and NKU Media Services to select, edit, and post live videos of individual presentations at the two Moby-Dick symposia in such a way that I could insert them into my respective blog entries.

Emma Rose Thompson inscribing a copy of our Dickinson catalog to Martha Nell Smith

Emma Rose Thompson inscribing a copy of our Dickinson catalog to Martha Nell Smith on July 24

The above activities extended into June as I was still trying to write, revise, and post some of the entries for Moby Fest.  By then I was also preparing for the International Melville Conference in Tokyo at the end of June, which in so many ways was to be an extension of our events here in April.  These activities in June and then into July were still a direct extension of the Dickinson and Moby-Dick initiatives on which Emma Rose and I had been working throughout the course of this blog–and to which my upcoming visit to Amherst and Arrowhead is likely to provide the perfect Epilogue.  After returning from that trip, I expect to be shifting my primary focus to new initiatives whose purpose and destination differ sufficiently from those of my first two blogs to justify the creation of a third (as was the case with Melville in moving from one novel to the next)..

During our discussion of these issues in relation to the Dickinson Electronic Archive, Marta Werner wrote that she was interested “the intertextuality of the three blogs” and in the degree to which they are “both discrete and connected.”  She felt certain that there must be “ways–digitally–to register these connections and disconnections.”  Her suggestion has helped me to envision these blogs as a sequence of eVoyages, a term I may have coined this weekend while writing and posting the entry on eVoyage2 that now precedes Part 1 of this blog (https://dickinsonandmobydick.wordpress.com/2014/09/14/evoyage2-dickinson-and-moby-dick-in-2015/).

With regard to that original question I had put to Aaron, about reversing the order of the current blog, he argued effectively that to reverse the order of all the entries might betray the spirit, as well as the mechanics, of how blogs are supposed to work.  I have just begun a discussion about this with Ed Trujillo, the IT consultant to NKU’s English department, and we hope to figure out a way to have it both ways after we are both back on campus in early August.

 

Back on the Banks of the Ohio

Entry begun on Friday, July 24, 8 am

In his 1850 essay “Hawthorne and his Mosses,” Melville suggested that “Shakespeares are this day being born on the banks of Ohio.”  This rather brash assertion by the young American then writing the early chapters of Moby-Dick is also a pointed response to an assertion by Sir Joshua Reynolds, deceased leader of England’s London’s Royal Academic of Art.  In his Discourses on Art, Reynolds had ridiculed the “opinions of people” on “the banks of the Ohio” who are far removed from “the refined, civilized state in which he live” in London.  I will post here my photo of the banks of the Ohio, looking across to northern Kentucky from Cincinnati, on June 21, 2015, the day before I flew to Japan.

6-21-15 from overlook 2

summer 2015 DSQAfter having proofread much of this blog on the flight to Japan on June 22-23, I was drafting a new Introduction for my book on Frederick Douglass in Cincinnati as I flew home on July 3.  On the day before I flew to Japan, I had received two reader reports from the press that is considering the manuscript.  The readers had liked my subject, my research, and the potential of the book, but they and the press wanted the book to be shorter than the length to which it is heading.  And the press wanted fewer illustrations than I was hoping to use.  (One of the great things about a blog is that you can use as many images as you need.)  I was glad to get these reports before I flew to Tokyo because that gave me an opportunity to discuss the situation with two colleagues whose advice I greatly admire.  I spoke with Bob Levine between two sessions at the conference, and with Sam Otter on the bus to Kamakura.  I hope that the new draft that I began to write as I flew home will lead to a more streamlined, yet substantial, book.

I was happy, soon after returning home, to receive the new 2015 issue of the Daguerreian Society Quarterly that includes my newest spin-off from the Douglass and Cincinnati project, an esay about daguerreotypes of the anti-slavery lecturer Lucy Stone that I discovered in manuscript boxes among the Blackwell Family Papers at the Library of Congress.  Some of the written material in the manuscript boxes had enabled me to attribute two of the images to Cincinnati’s African-American photographer J. P. Ball—and to date them within a year of Stone’s joint appearance with Frederick Douglass at Sarah Ernst’s three-day Anti-Slavery Convention in April 1854.

two lucy in DSQ

In 2014 I had reproduced another newly attributed image by Ball in the Daguerreian Society Quarterly, this one a triple daguerreotype Ball had taken of Cincinnati abolitionists Edward Harwood, William Brisbane, and Levi Coffin in 1853.  I had been thinking of Brisbane a lot while I was in Japan because of the praying black parishioners who were murdered in Charleston’s “Mother” church earlier in June.  Brisbane was a former slaveholder and Baptist preacher from South Carolina who had freed his slaves and moved to Cincinnati in 1838, where he was a tireless anti-slavery advocate until moving to Wisconsin in 1853.  Throughout his time in Cincinnati Brisbane was very active in the city’s black as well as white Baptist churches–another reason I kept thinking of his interracial legacy as the news continued to come for South Carolina.  Last week I sent an opinion piece on Brisbane as “Cincinnati’s South Carolinian Abolitionist” to one national newspaper, one in South Carolina, and one in Ohio.  If any of them decide to publish it, I will mention that in this or a subsequent entry.

. P. Ball’s 1853 daguerreotype of Cincinnati Abolitionists Edward Harwood, William Brisbane, and Levi Coffin

. P. Ball’s 1853 daguerreotype of Cincinnati Abolitionists Edward Harwood, William Brisbane, and Levi Coffin

One week after returning home, I greatly enjoyed the lunch and gallery visit I had planned with Aileen Callahan and five local Moby-Dick artists.  Except that Aileen was unable to attend.  She had an accident at home from which she is recovering nicely now, but which prevented her from flying out to Cincinnati to help her sister Claire with this year’s guitar festival.  Kathleen Piercefield was also unable to come, laid low by a cold apparently much worse than the one I brought back from my trip to Japan.  The rest of us met as planned.  After sharing two large pizzas at Dewey’s near the University of Cincinnati, we caravanned to Marta Hewett’s gallery to learn more about the Moby-Dick show Marta will be hosting in April 2016.  Our lunch together was highly enjoyable.  Because I know each of these Moby artists so well, and because all of them made presentations at the NKU Symposium on April 27, I had assumed that they all knew each other.  But that was not the case, since some had spoken in different sessions of the Symposium.  Once Mary had introduced herself to Caitlin by accidentally spilling a full glass of ice water over Caitlin’s skirt, we had a great time sharing ideas about the upcoming exhibition.

Danielle Wallace, Mary Belperio, Caitlin Sparks, and Abby Langdon at Dewey’s

Danielle Wallace, Mary Belperio, Caitlin Sparks, and Abby Langdon at Dewey’s

Each of these artists had works from the recent Covington show she could potentially contribute to the Marta Hewett show in April show, but each was already planning to create new work to submit for that show.  Abby Langdon is projecting an aerial white whale and a tattooed self-portrait fabric piece.  Danielle Wallace would like to create the large painting of the wreck of the Pequod that she had envisioned during my class before making her Moby-Dick Tea Set instead.  Caitlin Sparks continues to think about a large 3-D sculpture of Moby-Dick that will somehow express her deep ecological concerns.  And Mary Belperio is still envisioning a fabric piece of Queequeg’s head, accompanied by an artwork that would connect her current work in the healing arts with Moby-Dick.  I would have loved for this lunch to go on and on, as Caitlin continued to dry, but I had told Marta we would try to be there soon after 1 pm.

four with Marta 2

From left: Langdon, Sparks, Belperio, Wallace, and Hewett at Marta Hewett Gallery

It was great to have some quality time with Marta and to see the gallery space some of our work will be helping to fill in April.  Marta has definitely decided to mount a Moby-Dick show concurrent with the two-man show scheduled for the Contemporary Arts Center.  And she likes my idea of her show being an all-female Moby show.  Abby, Danielle, Caitlin, and Mary will all be active candidates for such a show—as will be Claire Illouz from France, Aileen Callahan from Cambridge, Kathleen Piercefield from Dry Ridge, and others who may come along.  Marta was very interested what those present were currently thinking, and we began to get a pretty good idea of how much work, in what kind of media, might might fit in the available gallery space.  Marta invited those present to begin sending her ideas and images as soon as they took shape, so that she and I could begin making selections in January.

My next curatorial meeting was with Steven Matijcio of the Contemporary Arts Center to begin planning the two-man Moby-Dick show, featuring Matt Kish and Robert Del Tredici, that he had scheduled from April to August 2016.  He welcomed the idea of including Emma Rose Thompson in our planning, to the extent that her schedule allows, so the three of us met in the lobby café of the CAC on the afternoon of Monday, July 20.  This meeting, too, was a joy.  Steven brought a floor plan of the space designated for the show.  Kish and Del Tredici have both created massive bodies of Moby-Dick art to which to which each is still adding new work today, so our first job was to begin to identify available works from their past projects while allowing sufficient room for the new.  At this first meeting we identified at least four distinct stages in each artist’s Moby-Dick journey, each of which we would hope to represent well by works available locally, from collections at the New Bedford Whaling Museum, and from the artists themselves.

Floor plan of designated space for Kish and Del Tredici show at CAC

Floor plan of designated space for Kish and Del Tredici show at CAC

Our current count of available Kishes includes 46 of the original drawings he made for his 2011 book Moby-Dick in Pictures, 12 drawings of individual crew members of the Pequod commissioned by the Melville Society Archive in New Bedford, a projected series of drawings of individual whales in the “Cetology” chapter of the novel he has always envisioned as a major component of the CAC show, and a new series of drawings inspired by the “Extracts” section of the novel he had begun just before I left for Japan (one of which I will post here).

One of Matt Kish’s new drawings inspired by “Extracts,” 2015

One of Matt Kish’s new drawings inspired by “Extracts,” 2015

From Del Tredici’s half-century of engagement with Moby-Dick, we have access to about 40 of the pen and inks he drew for the Illustrations to Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick he created in the mid-1960s, about a dozen of the twenty large gestural screenprints he made a the turn of the century, and all 45 of the three sets of drawings on “metallic” paper he created between 2013 and 2015, with more still to come.  Shortly before our meeting, Del Tredici pulled a rabbit out of his hat by sending Steven images of a number of his photographs of the nuclear industry from the 1980s and 1990s that he now sees as addressing the essence of Moby-Dick.  All three of us love this idea and hope to incorporate a suite of these photos, too, in the show.  The three of us will meet again in August in NKU’s Steely Library Archive, which holds a rich array of original works by both artists, to begin the process of actually choosing from the images at hand.

Robert Del Tredici, The L-Reactor, Savannah River Plant, August 6, 1983 (nuclear equivalent of the try-works)

Robert Del Tredici, The L-Reactor, Savannah River Plant, August 6, 1983 (nuclear equivalent of the try-works)

Since coming home, I have also been busy proofing the second half of this blog (which I had not taken on the place) while writing and posting entries Japan.  Those entries kept getting richer as friends, colleagues, and the conference organizers sent additional images I was able to post.  During the last few days I have also made some welcome additions to the Arts Fest entries from earlier in the year.  Numediacy sent me links to live recordings individual talks in the April 24 Symposium at the Cincinnati Art Museum they have now edited and posted on Vimeo (which I have now added to the end of my entry for that event).  NKU Media services sent me links to the live recordings of the individual speakers in the April 27 Sumposium at NKU that they have edited and posted on YouTube (now inserted in entries for that event).  And Kimberly Gelbwasser has now posted two of the Copland songs she sang at the February 13 Dickinson recital on YouTube so that I could insert it in that entry (and post it here).  Again, how wonderful it to be able to make such insertions, and revisions, in an ongoing blog.

Nonica Namyar Moby Dick detail

Monica Namyar, Moby Dick, percelain, underglaze and clear glaze

One very nice surprise came as I was doing all of this catch-up work.  After meeting Veronica Mitchell’s daughter Monica at the Covington Marathon and Reception, I had been excited to know that she was about to finish some ceramic works inspired by Moby-Dick.  I had hoped to invite her to the July 11 gam with local Moby artists, but I had not been able to get in touch because I did not have an email address and did not know her last name.  This week I received an email from Monica Namyar to which she attached images of three new Moby-Dick works, two of which have already been accepted for an exhibition at Xavier University opening in late August.  We now have an eighth female artist to consider for the Marta Hewett show.  I look forward to seeing her Moby Dick cup and her Queequeg and Ishmael relief in person at the end of next month.  In the meantime, I have her permission to post images of them here.  The Moby Dick is 5 1/2 inches high.  The Queequeg and Ishmael relief is 23 inches wide.

Monica Namyar, Queequeg and Ishmael, porcelain, underglaze

Monica Namyar, Queequeg and Ishmael, porcelain, underglaze

During the first week of my return from Japan, Cincinnati got all the rain we had missed during the rainy season in Japan, often with brutal bursts of overnight thunder.  These last three days, however, have been ideal.  Low humidity.  Clear blue skies.  Highs in the low eighteeis.  Perfect weather for walking the nearby flood wall in Dayton (clearly visible on the far side of the river in the photo at the beginning of this entry).  On the first night I was more or less alone as I walked the wall with dusk coming on.  On the second night I had all kinds of company.  A coal barge heading upstream in front of Rose Church as the sun went down.  Two Latino girls walking with their grandmother, one seven years old, the other five, the elder sharing Shakespeare’s birthday, April 23.  And my first Canada geese of the year, first heard squawking in the hillside shadow over on the Ohio side of the river, but suddenly materializing right over my head, with just enough time for me to catch them with my iPhone before they lifted high away into the blue, “too silver for a seam” (J 328).

Canada geese over the banks of the Ohio as sun sets on July 23, 2015

Canada geese over the banks of the Ohio as sun sets on July 23, 2015

 

 

Our Rivers Run to Thee

Entry begun on bullet train from Kyoto to Tokyo, Friday, July 3, 8:40 am (July 2, 7:40 pm, Cincinnati time)

Our return from Kamakura to Tokyo marked the official end of the 10th International Melville Conference.  The next morning a group of eight American Melvillians took bullet trains to Kyoto for a three-night stay before returning to Tokyo, flying on to Korea, or flying home.  Seven of us were in one car of the Hikari Super Express to Kyoto, my six companions seated as compactly as whalers in a whale boat.

Wyn and Britt Kelly, John and Ginny Bryant, and Chris and Jan Sten on bullet train to Kyot

Wyn and Britt Kelly, John and Ginny Bryant, and Chris and Jan Sten on bullet train to Kyoto

We had been advised to reserve a seat on the “Fuji” side of of the car if possible, and this paid off in an unforgettable way.  I did not have any official business involving Melville or Dickinson in Kyoto, other than to think about how either author would have been fascinated by the city, its people, and its temples, so this leaves me free to structure this entry loosely after one of my favorite Dickinson poems, “My River runs to Thee” (J 162).

Mount Fuji seen from right side of car 16 on Hikari Super Express 505 on morning of June 30, 2015

Mount Fuji seen from right side of car 16 on Hikari Super Express 505 on morning of June 30, 2015

John Bryant outside entrance of Kinoe Ryokan

John Bryant outside entrance of Kinoe Ryokan

As the bullet train brought us into Kyoto, the Kamo river looked quite dry, its riverbed capable of holding much more water than what we saw.  We had been warned again and again that this was the rainy season along the Tokyo-Kyoto coast, but we had been blessed so far with sunny or overcast weather, only one of our days in Tokyo having heavy rain.  Our first afternoon in Kyoto was similarly dry, and we made the most of it after checking into the Kinoe Ryokan on Higishimagata Street in the Gion district.

gardiners silver pavilion

Gardeners trimming the faded azaleas

The 100 bus took us up and out of the city to Ginkakuji Temple and its Silver Pavilion.   These are tucked in against the surrounding hills much as is the Berkeley campus of the University of California against the hills of Claremont Canyon.  Every Kyoto temple has its distinctive features.  This one has a highly distinctive riff on the traditional rock garden—one part raked in alternating bands like a football field, another shaped into a conical flat-topped mountain.  What I liked most during our visit was the trail taking us up and across the surrounding hillside.  Near the temple were gardeners tending to the faded azaleas.  We then came to a green glade of shaded evergreen and moss, one stream of water dropping into the dark pond seeming like a gift from the gods.  Dickinson’s poetic river passes through “spotted nooks” on its way to the sea, and this is one spotted nook I am sure she would have savored.  As we got up into the rockier part of the hillside, I was amazed to see the beauty and scope of the drainage channels along the way, through which we occasionally heard the sound of water below or around us, one open channel sending a pretty strong gush down toward the network of ponds.  I loved the way the Silver Pavilion was nestled into the whole expansive valley when seen from the hillside path..

View of Silver Pavilion nestled into the valley

View of Silver Pavilion nestled into the valley

The next day we got all the rain we had been missing.  Mercifully, Ginny Bryant had already set up a day-long bus excursion for us.  Once we got to the pick-up up place at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, we were in the hands of Japanese tour guides and bus drivers who got us to the Nijo Castle, the Golden Pavilion, and the Imperial Palace in the morning.  After lunch in Kyoto, we rode up in the mountains to the ancient capital of Nara, more ancient than Kamakura.  Just as our Tokyo hotel had birdsong piped into the elevators, so did the Crowne Plaza Hotel have quite a sophisticated and elaborate waterfall installed right outside its picture window.

Waterfall outside picture window of Kyoto’s Crowne Plaza Hotel

Waterfall outside picture window of Kyoto’s Crowne Plaza Hotel

Of the morning tours, Nijo Castle was my favorite.  Because we were on a tour, we were able to see nearly the full length of the Ninomaru Palace in which the shogun and his retinue had held court in a parade of waiting rooms decorated with paintings on gold leaf over paper of exquisite breadth and power, many of them newly restored copies so as to preserve the fragile and faded originals.  Here I came to understand the dramatic, cultural, and political function of pictorial art I had considered only in aesthetic terms when reproduced in books or exhibited in museums (including those Masterworks from Japan I had recently seen in Cincinnati).  The masterworks in Japan have an entirely different meaning in their original spatial and social context.  Unfortunately, no photos were allowed inside this remarkable palace.

Gate to Nijo Castle in rain

Gate to Nijo Castle in rain

As we walked along from one room to another, our tour guide explained that the sound of the floor as we walked had been engineered to aproximate the sound of a nightingale.  Finally we got to the shogun’s personal reception room, where he met with acceptable petitioners much in the manner of the island prince Donjalolo in the chapter of Melville’s Mardi called “The Center of many Circumferences.”  Beyond that was the shogun’s personal inner sanctum, where only women were allowed in his presence.  Beyond the room for women, a further room was set off for the shogun himself.  This dynamic made me think, somehow, of Dickinson’s poem “Mine—by the Right of the White Election! / Mine by the Royal Seal! . . . Mine—long as Ages steal!” (J 528).

Gate to Nijo Castle in rain

Golden Pavilion in light rain

I had seen the Golden Pavilion in 1994 during my half-day in Kyoto, but that did not prepare me for the absolute beauty of is color and proportions this morning, seemingly gleaming even more beautifully in the rain.  Kyoto’s Imperial Palace, where the first emperor of modern Japan had been crowned within a decade of the arrival of Commodore Perry, juxtaposed a rather ornate style of mid-nineteenth-century temple architecture against the simpler, neo-classical Chinese style, painted bright orange, the contrast a foretaste of a wildly eclectic, yet disciplined, approach to architecture that was to blossom much more boldly in Japan in the twentieth century. As we were leaving the Imperial Palace, I was glad the tour guide recommended that we take a look at a wooden bridge that could be seen beautifully reflecting in the water.  I looked, and was not disappointed.  The Keyakibashi Bridge in the Oikeniwa Garden is another of those “spotted nooks” that Dickinson would have been sure to savor.

Keyakibashi Bridge in Oikeniwa Garden

Keyakibashi Bridge in Oikeniwa Garden

The grounds of the Todai-ji Temple in Nara are full of deer nipping at you as you get off the bus.  But it is the Nara Buddha, dwarfing its successor in Kamakura, which leaves an unforgettable impression even before you see it.  It is housed in what is said to be the largest wooden structure in the world, rebuilt several times over the centuries, an amazing example of elegant design uncompromised by gargantuan proportions.

Nara’s “largest wooden structure in the world,” built to house the Nara Buddha

Nara’s “largest wooden structure in the world,” built to house the Nara Buddha

I had read in some guidebook that the Kamakura Buddha is considered by many to be superior to this one in beauty, though smaller in size, but I believe its Nara ancestor concedes nothing in either beauty or power.  Comissioned by Emperor Shomu in 743 A.D, this Buddha was completed twenty years later.  The Nara Buddha holds one hand out to the viewer, fingers straight up from the palm, to get the viewer’s physical attention.  The other hand opens directly out the viewer as if in absolution, a combination that engages the viewer as Ishmael does the reader when he begins his story with the words, “Call me Ishmael.”  The Kamakura Buddha speaks to us too, but through his own self-contained spirit spreading throughout his whole domain, seemingly not so attentive to what, or who, is before his very eyes.

Hands of Nara Buddha engage the viewer in a two-part relationship

Hands of Nara Buddha engage the viewer in a two-part relationship

Our entranced communion with Japan’s rich spiritual history continued with our visit to Kyoto’s Sanjusangen-do Temple on Thursday morning, our last full day in town. We could not believe the profusion of the thousand and one statues of the Buddhist diety Kannun, sculpted in Japanese cypress and painted in gold.   Begun in the 12th century, the were completed, like the Kamakura Buddha, in the mid-13th century.  As we were walking along this endless procession of divine figures, one of our members compared the effect to walking through Chartes Cathedral in France, also created by successive generations of craftsmen in the 12th and 13th centuries.  Whereas the temple housing the Nara Buddha is reputed to be the largest wooden building in the world, the this one is reputed to be the longest, and certainly we did have that feeling as that thick wooded grove of queenly figures about ten deep just went on and on in their attentive, golden wholeness, protected by a series of powerful, mostly male, guardian figures.  No photos were allowed in this temple space, either.  The warning sign had the clear message about a camera: “We will seize it when using it.”  I was curious if anyone would test this warning, but saw no one try.

sanjusangen-do warning

Sign prohibiting photos in Sanjusangen-do Temple

We had heard that dinner down by the river in Kyoto was a fine way to end a visit to the city, so on our last night we walked from one crowded outdoor restaurant after another until we found Mon Ami.  This weekend was the first of the summer season, so the riverside restaurants were jam-packed even though this was a Thursday night.  The residents of Kyoto seem to be full of good energy and good humor; this evening there seemed to be a higher proportion of young couples in love than I had previously seen.  Tonight was apparently the first full moon of summer, and the river was much replenished by the rain.  We did not see the full moon by the time we left the restaurant, but we were entirely satisfied in every other way.

Our farewell dinner in Kyoto. Photo Dennis Berthold

Our farewell dinner in Kyoto. Photo Dennis Berthold

We had arrived at the restaurant at dusk, after attending a lovely medley of traditional Japanese song, dance, and drama at Gion Corner.  By the time our food came we could not see the river any more.  Instead we heard its rapids, slightly upstream from where we were sitting, sounding its own endless variation on “Say—Sea—Take Me!” (in the words of Dickinson’s “My River runs to thee”).  This sound was the perfect accompaniment to the thoughts that some of us were already bending toward the next day’s transpacific flight to loved ones at home.  After returning home, I read that Kabuki theatrical tradition originated on this stretch of the Kamo River, alongside Gion, during the Tokugawa Shogunate around 1607.

Kyoto’s Kamo River flowing south to the sea past Gion

Kyoto’s Kamo River flowing south to the sea past Gion

Melville, of course, was as strongly drawn to the sea as Dickinson.  Ishmael declares in the opening paragraph of Moby-Dick that “if they knew it, almost all men in their degree, some time or other, cherish very nearly the same feelings towards the ocean as me,” one reason for this being that “meditation and water are wedded for ever.”  On the morning of July 3, our bullet train crossed stream after stream as Wyn and Britt and I returned to Tokyo Station and then took the Narita Express to the airport.  It was so wonderful to have Britt with us on this trip; the only other time I had met her was when a similar party of Melvillians attended the Washington DC premiere of Heggie and Sheer’s Moby-Dick opera back in February.  We took a three-way selfie before we separated for our flights from separate terminals, but I prefer my photo of the two of them together.

Wyn and Britt Kelley at Narita airport

Wyn and Britt Kelley at Narita airport

The next water I saw was “a thousand leagues of blue” of the Pacific Ocean as Ishmael imagines it in “The Pacific” chapter.  This is the chapter in which he describes this ocean as the “tide-beating heart of earth” whose “same waves wash the moles of the new-built California towns . . . and lave the faded but still gorgeous skirts of Asian lands.”  My one transpacific glimpse of the Pacific came as we flew over the ocean in the middle of the night.  Seemingly in the blink of an eye, the night through which we were flying had turned into day.  The end of July 3 in Tokyo was becoming the beginning of July 3 in Cincinnati.  When I walked down the aisle and looked out through a little window by the wing, I saw my last “rising sun horizon” of the trip, over the seemingly endless expanse of the sea.

Sunrise over the Pacific from Delta 585 after crossing the international dateline back into July 3

Sunrise over the Pacific from Delta 585 after crossing the international dateline back into July 3

While I was at the Melville Conference in Tokyo I was happy to meet three scholars who are each thinking of Melville and Dickinson together.  One is planning to write a book that will link Melville’s Clarel with Dickinson.  Another is contemplating an essay that will juxtapose the “slanted cross” in Melville’s Clarel with Dickinson’s “Tell all the Truth but tell it slant” (J 1129).  A third had discussed Melvillle’s approach to the American landscape through insights borrowed from the Dickinson scholar Susan Howe.  It is admittedly difficult to know what either Melville or Dickinson would have thought of Tokyo or Kyoto today.  However, during my three days in Kyoto, coming up on a Zen or Buddhist temple wherever I turned in this very modern city, I kept thinking of Dickinson’s own Zen-like identification with nature and her Buddha-like awareness of the cycles of life in the immediate vicinity of her familial home in Amherst.  As for Melville, this sentence from the “Time and Temples” chapter of Mardi shows a more spatially expansive consciousness of our spiritual oneness:  “Thus deeper and deeper into Time’s endless tunnel, does the winged soul, like a night hawk, wend her wild way; and finds eternities before and behind; and her last limit is her everlasting beginning.”

I feel that the tourist map of central Kyoto, bisected by the Kamo River with temples and shrines rising up on either side, is an apt analogue for the spiritual journey of each of these American writers, each open to those shocks of recognition and tremors of resonance that can so suddenly visit the walking, waking body when alert to an onrush of the moment, a revelation from the past, or an intimation of a richer life to come.

Tourist map of Kyoto, rich in spiritual sites on both sides of the Kamo River

Tourist map of Kyoto, rich in spiritual sites on both sides of the Kamo River

Yokokusa and Kamakura

Entry continued at Celestine Hotel, June 29

Monument of Commodore Perry in Yokosuka

Monument of Commodore Perry in Yokosuka

On Monday, June 29, the academic business of the conference was followed by a day trip to Yokosuka, the site of a museum devoted to the landing of Commodore Perry’s “black ships” in 1853, and to Kamakura, home of the Daibutsu Buddha since 1252 AD.  Perry’s successful penetration into “double-bolted” Japan is ancient history to most Americans, but it must feel very recent to many Japanese since it caused such a severe deflection in the culture of this land as it had evolved over centuries and even millennia before.  The Japanese monument to Commodore Perry was erected in 1901 and is the site of an annual festival.  The adjacent Matthew Perry museum has a fine diorama of the arrival of the “black ships” in 1853 along with some beautifully drawn watercolors in which Japanese artists documented the event.

Diorama of "Black Ships" arriving at Uraga  Yokosuka) on July 8, 1853

Diorama of “Black Ships” arriving at Uraga (Yokosuka) on July 8, 1853

The bus ride from Yokosuka to Kamakura circled two beautiful bays on a very sunny day.  As I looked out  from Kamakura Bay it was exciting to think the the Pacific Coast of the Olympic Peninsula in my home state of Washington was over on the other side of the water.

Looking wast from Kamakura Bay

Looking east from Kamakura Bay

On my trip to the Olympic Peninsula with painter Kevin Muente and his wife Tammy in July 2008, we were all very conscious of Japan being on the other side of the water when we looked west.

Kevin Muente's painting of Pacific Ocean looking east from Beach 1, Kalaloch, Olympic Peninsula, July 2008

Looking west from First Beach, Kalaloch, Olympic Peninsula, 2008, painting by Kevin Muente

It was on that trip to the Olympic Peninsula that I learned about the “orphan tsunami” that had flooded towns along the Japanese coast in 1700 without any known source.  Only in the twenty-first century had Japanese historians and American seismologists jointly traced that mysterious tsunami to an underwater earthquake off the Olympic Peninsula coast that had simultaneously left soil samples of fractured coast line on the American side and archival records of coastal floods on the Japanese side.  Jointly published in Tokyo and Seattle in 2005, the book entitled The Orphan Tsunami of 1700 gives more literal support than I ever expected to find of the image in Moby-Dick of the Pacific Ocean as “the tide-beating heart of earth” (“The Pacific”).

The Orphan Tsunami of 1700, published in 2005

One wonders what the Kamakura Buddha would think of all that has transpired along these oceanic shores since his 30 separate bronze parts were fitted together around 1252 (as years are counted on western calendars).

Daibutsu Buddha in Kamakura

Daibutsu Buddha in Kamakura since 1252

Inside view of Kamakura Buddha

Inside view of Kamakura Buddha

You can’t begin to imagine when standing before this imposing figure how its separate parts had been molded in bronze and fused together more than 750 years ago.  I got some clarification on the latter question after stooping through a low door and up a narrow stairway into the hollow core of the sculpture.  Here you see not only the inner seams of this seamless structure but a plaque explaining how the various pieces were very intentionally designed to fit together, not through some pre-industrial welding process, but through a kind of jigsaw puzzle of interlocking pieces.

Bilingual explanation of construction process of Kamakura Buddha in 1252

Bilingual explanation of construction process of Kamakura Buddha in 1252

Of course we all wanted our photos taken before this imposing shape.

With Beth Schultz and Kamakura Buddha

With Beth Schultz and Kamakura Buddha

Hokoku-ji hydrangias

Hokoku-ji hydrangias

In contrast to the imposing majesty of the Kamakura Buddha is the magical plenitude of the bamboo forest in the Hokoku-ji Temple on the other side of the city.  Approached through a blaze  hydrangias along an ocean of raked sand with grass islands, you ascend into a world of tall, slender, smooth bamboo trunks as wide and as deep as you can see.  The barkless, polished wood catches the light with a kind of subdued, communal glow throughout compact, expansive forest.  A dark little circle here and there in the soil denotes the site of a tree no longer there, answered in the cycle of life by the slimmer, younger trees among the stand.  Walking slowly through this grove is the closest I have ever felt to the world of Miyazaki’s Spirited Away and Princess Mononoke.

Entering the bamboo forest

Entering the bamboo forest

martina and caitlin

Martina Pheiler from Germany and Caitlin Smith from Notre Dame Univesity at lunch in Kamakura

In the bus and at our various stops, this excursion was an excellent way to make new friends or spend quality time with those we had seen only briefly during the rush of the conference.  When the bus left us back at the Celestine, it was time for farewells, as most of us on the two busses would be going our separate ways early in the morning.  I was very happy that I was able to get a parting photo with Beth and three of our Japanese hosts, giving new meaning, for me, to the closing lines of one of my favorite Dickinson poems: “Parting is all we know of heaven, / And all we need of hell” (J 1712).  For those of us of a certain age, this parting was particularly poignant because we cannot be certain we will ever be able to visit this wonderful country again.

Farewell photo in Celestine lobby with Tomoyuko Zettsu, Beth Schultz, Mikayo Sakuma, and Arimichi Makino

Farewell photo in Celestine lobby with Tomoyuko Zettsu, Beth Schultz, Yukiko Oshima, and Arimichi Makino

It is impossible to write about the pleasures of this year’s Tokyo Conference without thinking of several who could not make it.  All of us who had been at the original International Melville Conference in Volos, Greece, in 1997, were thinking often of its two co-directors, Sandy Marovitz, who has retired from Kent State University in Ohio, and Thanasis Christodoulou, who remains active in Volos.  And we were all very sorry to hear that Leyli Jamali from Islamic Azad University in Iran, was unable to be in Tokyo to read her paper on “Melville’s White Whale in the Persian Gulf.”

yagi print 2

Toshio Yagi, artist proof of engraving Dead Things, 1992.

I was especially sorry that the late Toshio Yagi, a translator of Moby-Dick who was also a brilliant literary critic, could only be with us in spirit.  I had always hoped to meet him  in person when the international Melville conference finally made its way to Japan.  His essay “Moby-Dick as a Mosaic” in the 1993 collection Melville and Melville Studies in Japan had given me the key to structuring my book on Stella’s Moby-Dick series.  He and I had enjoyed a wonderful correspondence but I had always looked forward to meeting him in person.  He was for me the first among our “sleeping-partner” shipmates for this particular conference.  I had not known that he was a printmaker in addition to being a translator and a literary critic, so it had been an entire surprise when he had sent the artist’s proof of one of his prints as a gift, an act of pure generosity I was never able to repay.

 

Melville Society of Japan hosts International Conference

Entry begun at Celestine Hotel, Monday, June 29, 8:10 am

How best to summarize an intense, four-day conference itself in the context of this blog? I think the best was to begin is with one photo of six faces.

Clockwise from top left: Takayuki Tatsumi, Sam Otter, Wyn Kelley, John Bryant, Mika Samuma.  Photo by Nao Takeo

Clockwise from top left: Takayuki Tatsumi, Sam Otter, Wyn Kelley, John Bryant, Mika Sakuma, Mary K. Bercaw Edwards. Photo by Nao Takeo

cover of Tokyo conference programI have a moment in which to being this entry before we head out on our post-conference day trip to the Kamakura Buddha and to Yokosuka (formerly Uraga), where Commodore Perry landed in 1853.  No one will be able to think about this conference without marveling at the generosity and skill of the Japanese colleagues who hosted us.  Every detail was thought out in advance, every contingency was handled with ease, every participant was made to feel welcome and appreciated.  We had one hundred and thirty scholars from four continents presenting papers at Keio University for four days, and we were all made to feel like one extended family from the beginning.  The sessions and papers ran on time, and there was a good rhythm among the paper-reading sessions, the plenary sessions, and various special events, with each day full of fresh insights and new friendships.  The fresh insights began with the conference program booklet, which included Yukiko Oshima’sver substantial “Introduction to the Critical History of Melville Studies in Japan.”

Melville’s writings had brought us together from “all the isles of the sea.”  Our Japanese hosts made us “federated along one keel” (Moby-Dick, “Knights and Squires”).

Scholars from around the world, gathering for opening ceremony

Scholars from around the world, gathering for opening ceremony

Entry continued at Kinoe Riokan, Kyoto, Thursday, July 2, 5:40 am

keio entrance

Entrance to East Research Building Hall, Keio University, Tokyo

Melville in his 1850 essay “Hawthorne and his Mosses” celebrates the power of literature to send a “shock of recognition .  . . the whole [world] round.”  We felt a a variety of such shocks in the East Research Building at Keio University.  One of the first for us Americans came during the welcoming remarks by Professor Ken Sekine, Dean of the Faculty of Letters.  He explained that literary studies and the humanities in Japan are under severe threat from a government that wants to sharply reduce their funding to invest in more industrialized economic priorities.  His diagnosis was confirmed the next morning in The Japan Times under the headline “Abe puts squeeze on Humanities courses.”   Dean Sekine’s remarks made us feel we were all in one boat.

The other welcoming remarks were by three exceptional scholars.   Takayuki Tatsumi, professor of English at Keio Universtiy, and Arimichi Makino, president of the newly formed Melville Society of Japan, were the co-chairs of the Organizing Committee of the conference.  Professor Makino is the founder of modern Melville studies in Japan and has edited the journal Sky-Hawk for twenty-six years.  Professor Tatsumi is the author of a brilliant book on Moby-Dick and American popular culture.  In graduate school at Cornell University, he had been a classmate of Sam Otter, the primary representative of Melville Society of America in planning this conference.  Sam’s opening remarks here were as welcome as his closing remarks had been at the NKU Symposium in April.  In addition to being the author of Melville’s Anatomies and other books of criticism, Sam has recently succeeded John Bryant is editor of Leviathan, the American journal of Melville studies.

 Professors TakayuchiTatsumi and Arimichi Makino; Dean Ken Sekine; and Professor Sam Otter

Professors Takayuchi Tatsumi and Arimichi Makino; Dean Ken Sekine; Professor Sam Otter

In addition to the thirty paper-reading sessions, this conference had four plenary sessions, three of which I will mention here.  Those of us who had been at the NKU symposium on April 27 were delighted to hear Beth Schultz’s expanded version of the lecture she had presented to us on “The New Art of Moby-Dick.”  Beth began the Tokyo version with a brief analysis of the logo for the conference itself by the artist YOUCHAN (Yuko Ito), juxtaposing Moby Dick with a Godzilla-like creature.  This worldwide audience was as impressed as we had been in Kentucky with the amazing range of Moby-Dick art that has been created since Beth published Unpainted to the Last in 1995.

Beth Schultz discussing conference logo in her plenary address

Beth Schultz discussing conference logo in her plenary address

Another exceptional presentation was by Yoji Sakate, a filmmaker and dramatist who presented a dramatic reading from his Bartlebies.  Sakate has made a special study of hikikomori in Japan, a category of “withdrawn” people who, like Melville’s Bartleby, cannot deal with everyday society.  As his plenary presentation, Sakate read a new text entitled “The Account of the Director of the T Hospital.”  As read the text in Japanese, an English translation appeared on screen, so we could follow the story while also savoring the cadence of his voice.  The hospital in this story is just outside the twenty-mile contamination zone from a nuclear accident.  Even before the accident, it is a already a refuge for those who, like Bartleby, are unable to live in civilization.  The director wants to keep it open even though the trauma of its inmates will now be even more severe.  As a parable, it alludes overtly to Melville’s 1853 “Bartleby” story and Japan’s 2011 Fukushima nuclear disaster while also being applicable to other intervening events, among which are the nuclear bombs the United States dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki during World War II.

Yoji Sakate reading from his chilling new parable

Yoji Sakate reading from his chilling new parable

From reading the program in advance I had been intrigued by the title of Karen Tei Yamashita’s plenary presentation, “Call Me Ishimaru.”  Ishimaru, it turns out, is the protagonist of Through the Arc of the Rainforest, her first work of fiction.  After a query from Professor Tatsumi, Yamashita has only just now realized the degree to which her protagonist had been influenced by Melville’s Ishmael.  The bulk of her presentation focused on her most recent project, entitled Scintillation: Letters to Memory.  In this forthcoming book she traces the arc of her Japanese American family from the emigration of her maternal grandparents from Japan to California in the early 20th century, where they established successful businesses  before their entire family was banished to a internment camp in Topaz, Utah, for the duration of the World War II.  Those who survived the camp had three choices after being released: emigrating to Japan for fresh start; assimilating as fully as possible into mainstream American ways; or finding a way keep all options open in some kind of creative tension, as Yamashita is trying to do through her own work.

Karen Tei Yamashita presenting “Call Me Ishimaru”

Karen Tei Yamashita presenting “Call Me Ishimaru”

Schultz, Sakate, and Yamashita each presented unforgettable embodiments of the overriding theme of the conference, “Melville in a Global Context.”  So did many of the scholars who presented papers.  The location and theme of the conference inspired new insights about many works we had thought we had known well.  This conference had a surprising number of papers on The Encantadas, Melville’s 1854 series of ten sketches about the Galapagos Islands, and Pierre, his 1852 coming-of-age novel about a young writer whose ancestry resembles Melville’s own.  These two works probably received more sustained attention in Tokyo than at any previous international conference.  Clarel, Melville’s epic poem about the Holy Land, continued to ride the wave of interest that had arisen at the conference in Jerusalem in 2009.    Such well-known works as Moby-Dick, Typee, Billy Budd, and Benito Cereno got considerable attention as well, but this conference, perhaps more than any previous one, was remarkable for the breadth as well as diversity of the texts and subjects covered.  It was also remarkable for the consistently high attendance at the paper-reading sessions.  Often the attendance tails off toward the end of a four-day conference as attendees peel off to enjoy attractions of the host city.  Attendance at the earliest morning session on the final day can be notoriously light, but not here.  In the first session on the last morning at 9:15, Room A was nearly full.

Audience for “The Global Turn in Melville’s Later Poetry” at 9:15 am on Sunday, June 28

Audience for “The Global Turn in Melville’s Later Poetry” at 9:15 am on Sunday, June 28

Room A with Martin's Ahab

Novelist Natsuki Ikezawa (seated, center) with Peter Martin’s Ahab’s Dream behind him

Among the presenters, we had of course a higher percentage of Japanese scholars than at previous conferences, although their numbers have always been high.  Ten or so Japanese veterans of previous conferences were integral to the planning of this one, including Professors Arimichi Makino, Takayuki Tatsumi, Yukiko Oshima, Maki Sadihiro, Ikuno Saiki, Mikayo Sakuma, and Tomoyuki Zettsu, here augmented by a very impressive cohort of younger Japanese scholars.  Our contingent from the US was also greatly enhanced by young scholars attending for the first time, several of them first-year graduate students who read excellent papers and were a delight to spend time with.  The fact that such a range of people from so many countries came so far, at great expense, to present at the first international Melville conference in Asia bodes well for the future of Melville studies in spite of the threats to the humanities and literary studies in many parts of the world.  It sometimes seems that whatever deep stresses or threats the world is facing, Melville is there a century and a half earlier to address them.

Don Dingledine enjoying the banquet after presenting his paper.  Photo by Nao Takeo

Don Dingledine enjoying the banquet after presenting his paper. Photo by Nao Takeo

The central days of the conference were non-stop with plenary or paper-reading sessions from 9 am until 7 or 8 pm.  The session I chaired on “Adaptations of Melville” on the Friday morning was typical in the diversity of presentations.  Stacey Margolis presented a paper on Pola X, the French film of Pierre.  Daniel Clinton discussed Orson Welles’ play Moby-Dick—Rehearsed.  Dorsey Kleist read a paper on Gorija and Moby Dick as “globalized monsters” for Wendy Flory, who was unable to attend.  And Don Dingledine, who had presented at the NKU Symposium in April, initiated us into the “gender-bending” rock musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch.  

opera booik in exhibition

My opera book among the books on sale

My presentation on “Moby-Dick Art in Kitakyushu, New Bedford, and Northern Kentucky” came in the panel on “Melville and Visuality” on the Saturday morning.  I was glad to share the session with Ryan McWilliams’ paper on revolutionary landscapes in Pierre, The Encantadas, and Benito Cereno, and Elisa Tamarkin’s paper on Elihu Vedder’s Rubáiyát and Melville’s Timoleon.  I had been thinking primarily of my Japanese audience when I began my presentation with highlights from my visits to Japan in 1991 and again in 1994 to study works in Frank Stella’s Moby-Dick series, but these proved interesting to my American friends, too, most of whom did not know I had made those earlier trips to Japan.  Many in the audience were interested in the Moby-Dick artwork by my students in the recent exhibition in Covington, and I was very happy that the three copies of the catalogs I had packed in my suitcase found new homes, one of them with our Japanese hosts.  I was also very happily surprised to see my book on Heggie and Scheer’s Moby-Dick opera among the books being displayed by the Japanese bookseller at the conference, another example of how small our world is becoming, at least in veins of common interest.

Detail of Asakusa Gate

Detail of Asakusa Gate

The final session of the Conference on the Sunday afternoon concluded with John Bryant reading from his projected two-volume biography of Melville.  This promises to be an exceptional work—from John’s archival research, psychological and editorial insight, and narrative fluency.  On this occasion he read from the chapter in which young Melville crosses the Atlantic for the first time as a sailor on a merchant ship—a perfect transition to our 2017 conference, which will be held in London and Liverpool.  After the end of the session, the excellent graduate students of Keio University led us on a choice of three different excursions out and around the city.  Many of us from Melville Society Cultural Project team in New Bedford chose the river ferry excursion from Asakusa to Odaiba, and it is hard to say which was more enjoyable, the rich mixture of merchandise and spirituality near the Asakusa Temple or the fluid expanse of the Sumida River as it enters the bay.

Sumida River entering the Tokyo Bay

Sumida River entering Tokyo Bay