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

 

Welcome to Japan

Entry begun at Celestine Hotel, Tokyo, Sunday, June 28, 6:08 am

In Moby-Dick in 1851 Ishmael imagines that if “double-bolted Japan” ever opens up to the West, sailors on whale ships will have been largely responsible.  A few years later, the Open Door policy initiated by the visit of Commodore Matthew Perry’s war ships was negotiated with the help of John Manjiro, a castaway Japanese sailor who had been rescued by an American whale ship in 1841 and taken to Fairhaven, Massachusetts, across the river from New Bedford, where Manjiro learned English well enough to be a translator in the Open Door negotiations upon his return to Japan.

John Manjiro was very much present at the 10th International Society Conference that opened at Keio University in Tokyo on Thursday, July 25.  After Peter Martin, the paper-cut artist from New Bedford who was the featured artist at the conference, filled a room with works inspired by Moby-Dick, he unveiled a brand-new tribute to Manjiro that no one had ever seen.  Entitled Trust and inspired the chapter on “The Line” in Moby-Dick, Martin’s newest work imagines Manjiro’s sandals threading through the metaphorical whale lines that had threatened every step of his transpacific adventures.

peter talks of manjiro

Peter Martin presenting Trust, based on the life of John Manjiro

More than 130 presenters from twelve countries and four continents had registered for four days of paper-reading sessions that will formally conclude today, followed by a day trip to Kamakura and Yokosuka tomorrow.  I woke up a little early this morning, and this has been the first chance, once the conference began, to write a few words in my blog.  I am in my room on the 16th floor of the Celestine Hotel, only a few blocks from the Mita campus of Keio University.  We were warned in advance that late June was the rainy season in Japan, but this week we have had only one day with heavy rain.  Here is a view of the “rising sun horizon” from my hotel window on my first morning in Tokyo.

My first sunrise from 16th floor of Celestine Hotel

My first sunrise from 16th floor of Celestine Hotel

I had a good trip from northern Kentucky on Monday, flying direct to Seattle with a short layover before boarding my direct flight to Narita airport outside Tokyo.  The Boeing 777 was comfortable, even in the economy section, and the in-cabin service was excellent.  The video monitor and entertainment options on the seat back in front of me were much more advanced than on my last transpacific flight twenty one years ago, and I imagine the flying time was somewhat shorter, too (though I feel that the exact number of hours hardly matter when there are so many of them).  Since I will have to have to submit a well-edited version of my Dickinson and Moby-Dick blog to the Dickinson Electronic Archive by August 1, I brought a printout of half of the blog with me on the plane to proofread. With an aisle seat, my open binder fit comfortably on my food tray without bothering the person to my left.  I enjoyed the editing as we flew through the day and into the night, the bright cabin lights finally dimming after the dinner service was completely over.  I slept intermittently over the ocean, but I was awake for a very refreshing middle-of-the night ice-cream sandwich the attendants distributed at midnight Seattle time.

Size of open binder to proofread on food tray

Size of open binder to proofread on food tray

At some indeterminate time, Seattle midnight turned into Tokyo daylight.  By the time we landed at Narita it was 2:35 on Tuesday afternoon, Tokyo time.  A very convenient Limosine Airport Bus offered a direct connection to the Celestine Hotel.  The ticket-taker bowed deeply to the bus when it arrived at the curb and again as we departed for the 90-minute ride to the hotel.  Halfway into the city, the accumulated impact of the travel fully hit me, and I drifted in and out of consciousness after we left the highway and began threading the manmade canyons of the city.  The hotel itself was everything you could wish.  Gleaming, spacious, elegant lobby.  Very attentive staff to receive you.  A well-furnished room with a commanding view of the city and just enough room to feel comfortable.  And a fourteenth-floor inset roof-top tea-house with a lounge complete with wi-fi, business station, and coffee and tea served inside or out on the patio.

Celestine’s 14th floor tea-house patio seen from 16th floor elevator landing

Celestine’s 14th floor tea-house patio seen from 16th floor elevator landing

Wyn Kelly and her daughter Britt arrived at the hotel about an hour after I did.  We had planned to meet at the hotel, but when we did, we were all too tired to go out on the town.  (We would be doing that the next evening thanks to the generosity of Mikayo (Mika) Sakuma, with whom Wyn and I had driven to Logan Airport from the Moby-Dick Marathon in New Bedford back in January.)  For this first evening in town, I looked for somewhere comfortable to eat in the neighborhood and got advice from a college student I passed on the street.  He kindly reversed his direction and walked me several blocks to his favorite noodle house, where I had a wonderful combination of tempura and noodles for 520 yen, about 5 US dollars.

Zojoji ginko from 1634

Zojoji ginko tree from 1634

On Wednesday, June 24, I kept the sightseeing local so I could be fresh when Wyn and Britt and I had our evening with Mika.  I woke up early and visited the Zojoji Temple, only a few blocks from the hotel.  We are in the Shiba area very near Tokyo Bay and in the 1630s Zojoji was the temple of the Tokugawa Shogunate.  Its design is ornate and intricate, and specially twisted, think rope over the entrance (which I am told is the shiminawa, providing protection to holy places in Japan).  The trees near the temple and throughout the adjacent park were individually identified with labels, and one tree near the temple had an engraved plaque declaring it a national historical monument.  One of the oldest Ginko trees in Japan, it is thought to have been planted in 1634 and has survived all of the vicissitudes in the neighborhood since, including the American fire-bombing during World War II that incinerated much of this section of the city.

Zojoji Temple  

Zojoji Temple

One of the hand-sewn silk Kabuki curtains

One of the hand-sewn silk Kabuki curtains

The planting of that ginko tree in 1634 tied in well with our night out on the town with Mika—because she took us to the Kabuki theater in the Ginza district where we saw Usuyuki-hime Tale, a one-hour play from 1632 involving a blacksmith, his daughter, and her suitor.  Beth Schultz, who had just arrived at the hotel after visiting dear friends in Okinawa, met us in the hotel lobby.  Before the play, Mika took the four of us to one of the amazing department stores in the Ginza neighborhood.  Then we arrived at the newly renovated theater, which was striking inside and out.  Many of the audience members were eating dinner in their seats, and Mika explained that many of the true Kabuki fans make a whole day of it.  The one-hour drama we saw was extraordinary for its physical, visual, auditory, and psychological drama, even for someone like me who did not understand a single word.  This performance of the story ended with a beautifully choreographed and acrobatic sword battle, which Mika suggested was a very modern riff on this very ancient play.

Exterior of Kabuki Theater at Night.

Exterior of Kabuki Theater at night.

After the play, Mika took us to a nearby sushi restaurant, one floor below street level.  On the street, thanks to the convenience of cell phones, were joined by five Melvillians whose planes had landed only a few hours earlier, yet had managed check in at the hotel in time to meet us here for dinner.  Chris and Jan Sten had flown over from Washington DC, John and Ginny Bryant from New York City, and Tony McGowan from West Point.  All nine of us fit comfortably around one table in a room of our own, with plenty of leg space under the table.  This was my first all-out sushi meal in Japan and it was extraordinary, buoyed along by excited conversation and the plum wine that Beth had recommended for us all.  I am glad I was sitting next to her, for she has resided in Japan often since her first visit in 1958, and was therefore able to guide me through the various options in a wonderful way.  The evening was the perfect introduction to Japan and appetizer for the conference, and we were all extremely grateful to Mika for having arranged it.

Melvillian crew at Ginza sushi table

Melvillian crew at Ginza sushi table

 

Rising Sun Horizon

Entry begun Thursday, June 18, 8:20 pm

Monday I fly to Tokyo via Seattle.  Every other year since 1997 our Japanese colleagues have been flying faithfully to our International Melville Society Conferences in Volos, Greece; Mystic, Connecticut; Hempstead, New York; Lahaina, Hawaii; New Bedford, Massachusetts; Szeczin, Poland; the city of Jerusalem; Rome, Italy; and Washington, D. C.  Now the Melville world has the pleasure of flying to Japan.

I first visited Japan in 1991 to attend the opening of a retrospective of artwork by Frank Stella in Kitakyushu on the island of Kyushu.  I had learned about Stella’s Moby-Dick series when I saw some of his Wave prints at the Carl Solway Gallery in Cincinnati in November 1989, but I had only been able to track down four of his proliferating Moby-Dick metallic reliefs in the United States during the next two years.  Nine Moby-Dick reliefs would be in Kitakyushu, so I decided to go.  I made a return trip to Japan in 1994 to see additional works in the series: one in Kochi, one in Osaka, one in Tokyo, two on the island of Naoshima, and four in Sakura.  These two trips made possible the book I published on Frank Stella’s Moby-Dick in 2000, and they made me eager to return to Japan the next chance I got, which is now.

Viewers look at Stella’s Sphynx at Kitakyushu Municipal Museum of Art, October 1991

Viewers look at Stella’s Sphynx at Kitakyushu Municipal Museum of Art, October 1991

I have attended each of the previous international conferences and have often presented papers relating Melville to the visual arts.  I am calling this year’s paper “Moby-Dick Art in Kitakyushu, New Bedford, and Northern Kentucky.”  I will begin with my trips to Japan 1991 and 1994, move on to the creation of the Melville Society Archive in New Bedford at the turn of the century, and conclude with the recent Moby-Dick Arts Fest in Northern Kentucky.  We have only fifteen minutes for each talk, so my Powerpoint presentation will go quickly.

Artwork in display case, Moby Comes to Covington, April – May 2015

Artwork in display case, Moby Comes to Covington, April – May 2015

Much has been happening on the Moby front since the exhibition came down in May.  Claire Illouz is now definitely scheduled to present her Moby-Dick artist book, The Whiteness, at Melville’s Arrowhead home on Monday, August 3.  Claire will be sending new Moby-Dick artwork to the exhibition at Marta Hewett Gallery in Cincinnati next spring.  Her new work will now be joining that of Aileen Callahan and that of local Moby-Dick artists in that show.  Aileen and I have now scheduled a July 11 at which she will meet local Moby-Dick artists who will then join us in visiting Marta Hewett and her gallery.  Since my last post, Caitlin Sparks and Danielle Wallace have each said they would like to create new work for that show.  And Mary Belperio, with her daughters, has allowed me to purchase Snuggles Beneath the Counterpane.  When I arrived at the Price Hill coffee shop to pick up the work, one of her daughters indicated that she was thirsty by drawing a picture of a girl lifting a glass to her mouth on a napkin.

Mary and her daughters with Snuggles

Mary and her daughters with Snuggles

Abby and John with her "wings" in progress

Abby and John with her “wings” in progress

The day after I met with Mary and her daughters, Abby Schlachter Langdon, from our Moby exhibition, and John Campbell, from our Dickinson exhibition, were both active at the Cincinnati Public Library at 8th Street and Vine. Abby was there as the library’s first “Master Maker.”  On this first Sunday she was in a newly developed “maker space” on the second floor of the library to enact her own art-making practice in public.  On the next Sunday she would be on hand as a resource to advise others who come in to make art of their own with an impressive repertoire of technological aids, including digital poster printers and 3-D sculpture makers,  While Abby was working on a beautiful fabric that will eventually suggest a deep blue waterfall, pooling onto the floor, crowned with ascending angel wings, John Campbell came up from the first floor where he was about to install his Emily Dickinson screen for the summer show of the Cincinnati Book Arts Society.  At the opening of the show a few days later it was wonderful to be able to discuss each panel in considerable detail with him, a luxury we had not had during the pressures of the Dickinson Arts Fest.

John Campbell pointing to Dickinson “Rascal” panel at Cincinnati Public Library

John Campbell pointing to Dickinson’s “Rascal” panel at Cincinnati Public Library

Emma Rose Thompson has had a welcome break from our two-year marathon running up to, and through, the two marathon arts fests.  But we had a good occasion to meet up again when two out-of-town Melville scholars and one out-of-town Dickinson scholar requested catalogs of the respective exhibitions.  We had so far jointly inscribed every catalog that we gave to students or sold, so we wanted to keep that tradition going.  As we were running out of catalogs, we also had to decide how many to recorder from CJK.  We met for lunch in the new café at the Contemporary Arts Center that will be hosting the Kish and Del Tredici exhibition next April, and my co-curator for that show, Steven Matijcio, stopped by to chat with us for a while and to give us a quick tour of two new shows on the second floor, one of them in the space in which Kish and Del Tredici will be installed.  Early this week Steven and I got an email from Kish outlining a whole new series of works he is planning to create for next year’s exhibition.  In addition to one drawing for each of fourteen whales in the “Cetology” chapter, he plans to make one drawing, on found paper, for each of the eighty “Extracts” that appear in  Moby-Dick before its famous first sentence “Call me Ishmael.”  He had already created the first three, and he gave me permission to post one of them here.

Matt Kish, And God Created Great Whales, the first of his Extracts drawings for April 201

Matt Kish, And God Created Great Whales, the first of his Extracts drawings for April 2016

We had one more important Moby development at the beginning of this week.  Jay Gray and Caitlin Sparks of Numediacy finished their 22-minute film of our four-day Moby-Dick Arts Fest.  I have now posted it as a separate entry at the end of Part 5 of this blog, where it can be easily viewed in its entirely.  When I sent it as a link to Bob Sandberg, the webmaster of the Melville Society, to see if he would like to post it, he immediately put it up at the top of the home page and I began to get appreciative comments from all the members of the Society’s Executive Committee, not only about wonderful work Jay and Caitlin had done in making the film, but also about the quality of the student art work and the range of the Arts Fest events. Such immediacy of response is one of the great pleasures of living in a digital age.  I had been only marginally aware of Jay and Caitlin as they gathered their footage and conducted their interviews during the entire course of the four-day fest.  It was absolutely miraculous to see how much they wove together, and how smoothly, from our varied events.  For them, too, it would appear, “Work might be electric Rest / To those that Magic make.”

Jay Gray zeroing in on Jessica Wimsatt’s Reliance while Caitlin Sparks is speaking with Beth Schultz

Jay Gray zeroing in on Jessica Wimsatt’s Reliance while Caitlin Sparks is speaking with Beth Schultz

Once the Moby-Dick Arts Fest and most of its immediate aftermath was over, I got in touch with Marta Werner and Martha Nell Smith about the possibility of posting this Dickinson and Moby-Dick blog somewhere on the Emily Dickinson Electronic Archive.  Their response, too, was immediate and positive.  They are very interested in the pedagogy that resulted in all of this student art work, and they had already been thinking about adding a platform for blogs on the DEA2 (as they call the current state of the Electronic Archive), so they plan to make this blog the first one that will go up on their expanded site.  If all goes as planned, I will be submitting an edited and updated link by August 1 and they will activate this new feature of their Archive on August 15.  I am very grateful for their interest in the way my students have responded to Dickinson through making art, and I am happy that they are also interested in cross-posting this blog on the Melville Electronic Library (MEL) should its editors develop a pedagogical platform for which it would be appropriate.

Screenshot of detain from DEA2 home page

Screenshot of detail from DEA2 home page

My primary activity since the Moby Fest ended has been revising chapter 4 of my manuscript on Frederick Douglass in Cincinnati, the one that addresses the lives of Douglass and Cincinnatians in 1853, a year that began with Douglass publishing only work for fiction (the novella entitled The Heroic Slave) and ended with extremely painful, and public, attacks on his personal and professional life by his former mentor William Lloyd Garrison (who had been the featured speaker in Sarah Ernst’s three-day Anti-Slavery Convention in April of that year).  It can be extremely painful to think about such bitter personal disputes even a century and a half after they happened, but it is even more so, of course, when underscored by such events of as this week’s murder of nine African-American congregants of the “Mother” AME church in Charleston by a young white man whose head is still full of gross stereotypes against black Americans against which Douglass was battling in 1853, sometimes from his fellow abolitioinists.  The most exciting element of my Douglass work in the last two weeks was a visit I made to Cheviot, the Cincinnati suburb in which William Brisbane lived, to meet with two local historians there, Liz and Greg Kissel.  It was wonderful to meet them and learn about their work, especially since, with their local knowledge augmented by my study of Brisbane’s personal journal, we were able to pretty much establish the location of the Chevioit farm on which Brisbane had lived in the 1840s and early 1850s, near the water tower that is today a prominent landmark for Cheviot’s border with Westwood.

Vicinity of William Brisbane’s mid-nineteenth-century Cheviot farm land near today’s water tower

Vicinity of William Brisbane’s mid-nineteenth-century Cheviot farm land near today’s water tower

Japanese warrior and sword at Cincinnati Art Museum

Japanese warrior and sword at Cincinnati Art Museum

It feels good to be essentially caught up with this blog two days in advance of my flight to Japan on Monday (especially since I will need to carefully proofread the entire blog as soon as I return, to have it ready for posting on the Dickinson Electronic Archive in August).  Yesterday I had lunch with Carola Bell.  She one of several student artist-alums who had work in both the Dickinson exhibition in February and the Moby-Dick exhibition in April.  I was returning her Dickinson artist book and one of her Moby-Dick monotype prints to her, and she currently works as an assistant registrar at the Cincinnait Art Museum, so we had lunch at the museum café.  The museum had recently installed a show of Masterpieces of Japanese Art, so we visited the show after lunch to give me a visual appetizer for my upcoming trip.  Screens, scrolls, full-body armor, scholars’ gardens, animals reminding you of The Wind in the Willows, landscapes with rocks, clouds, cranes, and water—what more could the eye or the heart desire?

The exhibition of Japanese art was entirely satisfying, but so was the work of one of the artists in a group exhibition I attended after dinner the same day, yesterday, Friday, June 19.  By This Water, at the downtown Weston Gallery, is curated by Michael Solway, a Cincinnati native who has recently returned to his father Carl Solway’s gallery after running a gallery of his own for more than a decade in Los Angeles.  Jacci Den Hartog is a Los Angeles artist who has five works in the show that opened last night.  All five works are beautiful visually, strong conceptually, immaculate technically, vibrant coloristically, and alive with a tactile allure that makes you wish to touch them.  One of them, the her three-dimensional version of Coming Down, was created in 2008 with acrylic on paper-based polymerized modeling medium and steel.  Its sculptural descent from high on the wall in one continuous flow measures 79 x 105 x 61 inches.  This painted relief is the closest embodiment I ever expect to see of the spirit of one of my favorite Dickinson poems, “My River runs to thee” (J 162).  From the source of its flow in the mountains high up on the wall to the spread of welcoming delta at the just right height to wade in, Hartog’s river runs right from the first line of Dickinson’s poem, “My River runs to thee,” to its last: “Say—Sea—Take Me!”

Jacci Den Hartog, Coming Down, 2008. Author’s photo at Cincinnati’s downtown Weston Gallery, June 19, 2015.

Jacci Den Hartog, Coming Down, 2008. Author’s photo at Cincinnati’s downtown Weston Gallery, June 19, 2015

Now it is time to pack for the trip.  Put the Japan Rail Pass Coupon with the passport, order some yen from my local bank’s outlet at the airport, confirm my hotel reservations in Tokyo and Kyoto, trim my Tokyo talk to fifteen minutes and save its Powerpoint to a thumb drive, study the conference program carefully to locate the talk I will give and the session I will chair as well as all the talks I will not want to miss, and, at some point (probably as the television broadcast of the U. S. Open golf tournament along the shores of Puget Sound near where I was on my high school golf team is about to end tomorrow night) begin to relax and simply be ready for whatever comes.

I also hope before I leave to transfer this entry from the Microsoft Word file on which I am composing it to the wordpress blog where others can read it.  I will want to have a fresh start when I return on the evening of July 3 from ten non-stop days in Japan.  I will have a lot of catch-up to do in conveying whatever experiences in Japan speak most directly to the blog I am keeping here.

 

 

 

Looking Ahead to 2016

Blog entry begun on Thursday, June 4, 8:00 am

We had already sent Steven Matijcio the catalog for the Covington show, but I was eager for him to see this diverse array of local Moby-Dick artwork in person–especially since he had just now officially announced the Kish and Del Tredici exhibition for 2016.

Announcement CAC MD 2016

Because Steven is still relatively new to the Cincinnati area, I thought he would also be interested in seeing how the renovated Covington Public Library worked as a venue for an exhibition as wide-ranging and diverse as this one.  He had two new shows of his own opening at the CAC that Friday evening, but he still took the time for a very leisurely stroll through our entire show in which showed as much interest in some of the first-time artists as in those who had been professionally trained, noting that untutored work is sometimes “fresher and more direct,” unburdened by restraints or dogma.  It was very interesting for Emma Rose and me to see which works caught the eye and mind of someone like Steven, and we had many pleasant surprises.  I was also glad that he was able to see the show in the company of Emma Rose, who, in additon to her work on this show, has gotten to know both Kish and Del Tredici through their recent visits to NKU.

The author with Shawn Buckenmeyer at Marta Hewett Gallery on April 17, 2014

The author with Shawn Buckenmeyer at Marta Hewett Gallery on April 17, 2014

I was eager for Marta Hewett to see the Covington show because of her interest in scheduling a show of local Moby-Dick artists as a companion to the Kish and Del Tredici show at the CAC.  She and I have been discussing such a show for several years now, and the two-man show at the CAC would provide the perfect occasion, especially since she and I had been discussing the possibility of an all-female Moby show.  I had shown Marta reproductions of work by local artists such as Kathleen Piercefield, Abby Schlachter Langdon, Carola Bell, and Danielle Wallace over the years, but the Covington show was a perfect chance to see their works in person.  It was also a chance to introduce Marta to the work of more recent artists such as Mary Belperio, Danielle Kleymeyer, and Caitlin Sparks,  Marta’s visit to the Covington show also gave me an opportunity let her know that some of these local artists–including Piercefield, Langdon, Belperio, and Sparks–were already in the process of generating new Moby-Dick art that could be considered for a show in 2016.  Marta, like Steven, enjoyed seeing the distribution of artworks throughout the building, and she was also very taken a number of the artworks by untrained artists.  I was glad that she, too, had a chance to meet Emma Rose, who is intimately familiar with the work of all the artists we might be considering for a 2016 show, including I & Q by Shawn Buckenmeyer, whom I had I last seen in Marta’s gallery a few weeks before her tragic death one year ago.

claire and class 3

Claire Illouz showing her Whiteness book to my NKU Moby students in February 2011

Emma Rose and I were both happy when Marta confirmed at the end of our walk through the Covington show that she would definitely like to have an exhibition of Moby-Dick artists concurrent with the one that will open at the CAC next April.  And much has already happened since our walk with Marta on May 15.  When I wrote Claire Illouz, the Moby-Dick book artist from France who had premiered her Emily Dickinson artist book here at NKU in February, that Marta Hewett will be definitely be having a Moby-Dick show here next spring, Claire immediately wrote back to say she would like to create new work to be considered for the show.  After coming to NKU for the premiere of her Dickinson book in February, Claire is returning to the United States in early August to make a presentation about her Moby-Dick artist book, The Whiteness, at Melville’s Arrowhead home in Pittsfield, Massachusetts.  This will be Claire’s first visit to Melville’s home, which will probably help to inspire whatever she submits for the Marta Hewett show next spring.  I plan to be at Arrowhead for Claire’s presentation on August 3, when I expect to learn more about what she has in mind for Cincinnati in 2016.

aileen and marta  2 2-14 002

Marta Hewett and Aileen Callahan at Marta Hewett Gallery,  July 12, 2014

Aileen Callahan in Cambridge, Massachusetts, is another artist who was happy to hear that Marha Hewett is definitely planning to hold a Moby-Dick show concurrent with the Kish and Del Tredici show next spring.  In Beth Shultz’s hour-long survey of new Moby-Dick art at the NKU Symposium on April 27, Aileen Callahan was one four artists that Beth singled out for sustained excellence in the creation of visual art in response to Moby-Dick over the last twenty yearsthe other three were Matt Kish, Robert Del Tredici, and Matt Milloff.  Aileen often comes to Cincinnati in the summer to help her sister Claire, a professor of guitar at the College Conservatory of Music, run a summer guitar festival.  Last year I had introduced her to Marta Hewett at her gallery in the hope that Aileen could someday exhibit there, and now we would appear to have the perfect opportunity.  As soon as I notified Aileen that the show for next year has now been confirmed, she immediately wrote back to say she has already been thinking of the kind of works she would like to submit for a show in Marta’s gallery.  She also sent the image of a new charcoal drawing in her ongoing series on the whale’s skin that has just gone on display in a juried show at Danforth Art in Framingham, Massachusetts.  It is called Carbuncles of Skin and shows this very prolific artist at the very top of her form.

Aileen Callahan, Carbuncles of Skin, 2015

Aileen Callahan, Carbuncles of the Skin, 2015

It’s amazing how exhibitions happen or don’t happen in ways that cannot be predicted.  Emma Rose and I had hoped for a Moby show in 2015 in the Main Gallery at NKU that was turned down by the Faculty Advisory Committee there, causing us to seek another venue that would have been the Covington Arts Gallery at its Seventh Street building had that venue not been sold to a microbrewery after making our show part of its 2015-16 season.  Then, when the new Covington Arts Gallery site on Pike Street proved to be much too small for our proposed Moby show and Marathon, we found the Covington Public Library, which turned out to be far superior to what any of the other venues would have been.

Cov Library Still005

Covington branch of Kenton County Public Library. Video still courtesy Numediacy

The CAC and Marta Hewett shows I am now helping to plan for 2016 have followed a similar errant trajectory.  My original impetus for contacting either of these galleries more than two years ago was the decision of the Cincinnati Opera to mount Jake Heggie and Gene Scheer’s Moby-Dick opera at Cincinnati’s Aronoff Center, literally half a block away from the CAC, in June 2016.  That decision by Cincinnati Opera had prompted me to seek out sites for four different Moby-Dick art shows that could run in nearby Cincinnati venues concurrent with the opera production—one at the CAC, one at the 21c hotel adjacent to the CAC, one at the Weston Gallery adjacent to the Aronoff performance space, and one at the Marta Hewett Gallery.  I had made considerable progress in proposing shows to each of these venues, but I was a afraid last fall, when Cincinnati Opera suddenly decided it would have to postpone Heggie and Scheer’s opera for several years, that the four art venues would postpone any plans of their own.  It was doubly gratifying when Steven Matijcio decided to propose the Kish and Del Tredici Moby show to his board for 2016 even in the absence of the opera—and when Marta Hewett said she would want to go ahead with her show if the CAC went ahead with its.  It was actually during the weekend of our recent Moby-Dick Arts Fest in late April 2015 that the CAC announced Kish and Del Tredici for April through August of 2016, opening the way for the visits to Steven Matijcio and Marta Hewett made to our Covington show before it closed on May 15.

Lobby of the Contemporary Arts Center, newly renovated in 2015

Lobby of the Contemporary Arts Center, newly renovated in 2015

snuggles over our fireplace

Snuggles Beneath the Counterpane auditioning over my dining room fireplace

Things have continued to develop quickly since the May 15 walk-through with Marta Hewett.  I had taken Mary Belperio’s Snuggles Beneath the Counterpane home to Bellevue from the Covington show until I could find time to return it to her.  When I met her at a coffee shop near her Price Hill home the next weekend, I was happy to tell her that Marta Hewett was indeed having a Moby show next year to which Mary could submit the new fabric piece of Queequeg’s head she had been contemplating for some time now.  As we spoke about some of the other artists likely to be involved, and about the NKU Symposium in which she and Abby had both made presentations, she was very interested in hearing about the new work that Abby was herself contemplating for the Marta Hewett show.  She also realized that she had taught Abby’s daughter Kalli to swim at a pool on Price Hill several years ago.  As a result, Mary and Abby are now planning to meet periodically and maybe even to collaborate in some way as they each create new work for 2016.  Since I had Mary’s Snuggles piece at my house for a week before returning it to her at Price Hill, I gave it an audition on the brick wall over my dining room fireplace.  If Mary should ever agree to sell it (her two daughters would very much miss it), I would love to add it to my collection and take it out to school each time I teach the “Counterpane” chapter.

Nothing is more exciting to me as an English-teacher turned curator than to think of new works being created for new exhibitions.  In addition to Abby and Mary now sharing ideas in Cincinnati about what they might create for the Marta Hewett show, Kathleen Piercefield is generating new ideas of her own while taking an advanced printmaking class from Andrea Knarr over the summer.  And Veronica Mitchell’s daughter Monica is actually in the process of finishing new Moby-Dick works I have not yet seen.  When I first thought two years ago of helping to organize a Marta Hewett show as a companion to the opera production then scheduled for Cincinnati, I was thinking of a show consisting primarily of local works already then existing, many of which have now recently been shown in Moby Comes to Covington.  There are certainly many works from the Covington show that would do very at Marta Hewett show, where I expect a number of them would be sold.  But it now appears that that show is likely to have a very strong contingent of new works now gestating in the minds and hearts of local artists such as Mary, Abby, Kathleen, and Monica in addition to Aileen in Massachusetts and Claire in France.  If I had to float a title for the 2016 show now, it would be “Moby-Dick through Women’s Eyes, Minds, Hearts, and Hands.”

Poster for April 2015 exhibition of Robert Del Tredici's nuclear photographs Quebec City

Poster for April 2015 Del Tredici exhibition in Quebec City

While all of these new creative energies have begun to point to the newly confirmed Marta Hewett show, Matt Kish and Robert Del Tredici are of course thinking a lot about new Moby-Dick works they will be generating in advance of next year’s CAC show.  Seeing Matt four days in a row at the recent Moby Arts Fest, as well as well as at the farewell gam in my Bellevue home, gave me a good chance to hear more about what he is currently planning.  Robert Del Tredici has recently been very busy creating major photography exhibitions in Boulder, Colorado, as well as in Toronto and Quebec City in Canada.  Last week, after giving the keynote address at a conference on Critical Topography at Reyerson University in Toronto on May 22, Bob wrote to let me know that he currently has “Ten Moby Dicks on the assembly line in the cave.”

Anticipating the Moby-Dick art that might be filling the spaces of the Contemporary Arts Center and the Marta Hewett Gallery one year from now is quite a bit like wondering early in the semester what kind of projects might be be presented at the end of course in Moby-Dick and the Arts.  And in some ways following the process is as interesting as seeing the final result.  It is what happens in the classroom between the first week of class and the presentations during the last two weeks that shapes what gets created.  The same is somewhat true of the two exhibitions now being planned for next year.  Kish and Del Tredici may not be seeing each other in the meantime, but they met each other at NKU in November 2013, long before Steven had chosen them for the CAC in 2016.  They will be thinking of each other, and of each other’s work, as they prepare for Cincinnati, and they will both be in touch with Steven and me as co-curators.

Robert Del Tredici and Matt Kish inscribing books to each other in November 2013

Robert Del Tredici and Matt Kish inscribing books to each other in November 2013

Some of the artists who are creating works for the Marta Hewett Gallery will be getting together in advance of this show.  Aileen Callahan has just confirmed that she will again be visiting Cincinnati for her sister’s guitar festival.  When Aileen and I meet for lunch in mid-July, we will invite local Moby artists who are creating new work for the Marta Hewett show to join us for lunch as well as a visit to the gallery.  If these plans come to fruition, that afternoon of gestatoin might be as exciting, in its way, as the final delivery that will be celebrated on opening night next year.  By the end of that show, we might all end up as close to each other as my students often are after presenting their work to each other at the end of a semester.  During the final exam period I give the class an informal, handwritten examination in which they all answer a series of questions about each other’s final projects.  The way they articulate their admiration for what their classmates have created is always another of the highlights of the course.

2013 Moby & Arts class commenting on each other's creations in final exam period

2013 Moby & Arts class responding to each other’s creations in final exam period

Taking Down Exhibitions

Entry begun on Friday, May 29, 1:35 pm

taking down emily 1 The Dickinson exhibition ended on Saturday, May 8, one week before the Moby exhibition ended on Saturday, May 15, so Emma Rose and I took them down on two successive Mondays, May 11 and May 18.  It is so much easier to take an exhibition down than to install it.  We were fortunate in that there had been no damage to any of the works in either show.  So all we had to do was to take each work down carefully and return it to the owner or site we had borrowed it from.

taking down emily 3 I felt a twinge of sorrow taking down our four beautiful Dickinson fabric pieces from the Eva G. Farris Reading Room, but it was great to see Lindsay Alley’s white poem dress and Stacey Barnes’ dramatic garden quilt back in their permanent home in the Honors House.  Among the Portrait pieces, I will miss seeing Nicci Mechler’s larger-than-life image of Dickinson in my office (where I had been keeping it until the exhibition went up), but now I will have my newly framed copy of Sarah Dewald’s Modern Daguerreotype as a treasured replacement.  From our Landscape section, Zack Ghaderi’s abstract charcoal drawing will be returning to Emma Rose’s collection, and Jovana Vidojevic’s purple lilac painting is following Jovana back to Serbia in the hands of a friend who has agreed to be its courier.  Among the works in our Human Figure section, John Campbell has reclaimed his large Bandaged Soul drawing, and his ten-panel Emily Dickinson screen will soon be going on display at the Cincinnati Public Library.  Of the works in the cases on the Third Floor of the library, Carola Bell’s artist book Only Safe in Ashes will now be returning to the person from whom she had borrowed it before loaning it to me for safekeeping in advance of the show.

taking down email 2 gasry takes down QQThe Dickinson show had only taken about an hour deinstall, but the Moby take-down was a little more complicated.  We chose Monday as the primary day because we could both be there as long as we needed, beginning with the opening of the building at 9 am, and we did need most of the day to get it done.  One huge help was that Kathleen Piercefield arrived very early in the day to disassemble her larger-than-life Queequeg and to gather all of the other works she had loaned to show (which included Holly Doyle McAtee’s Queequeg as well as eight other Piercefields beyond the four I had loaned to the show from my office).  Gary Pilkington was exceedingly helpful, as always.  This time he was the one who crawled over the rock garden railing.  Gary freed Queequeg from the light standard that had supported him so nicely.  This rendered Queequeg a loose fish once more, but only briefly, because Kathleen had to break him into his eight component parts so he would fit in the back of her car.

QQ in  trunk 2

freeing shear 2Since we were starting by removing Queequeg and its four companions from the base of the rock garden, my next challenge was to free Danielle Kleymeyer’s Shear from its attachment to a bracket over the stairwell.  This painted metallic relief by a Political Science major now practicing law in Louisville had been one of the stars of the show, twisting slowly in the air currents and giving viewrers plenty of opportunity to see both the pristine white Moby side and the darker, fractured Ahab side.  I am very happy that Shear, too, will be returning to its permanent home in the Honors House, but I wish we had a place there, such as we did here, in which both sides could be easily visible.  This work is not very heavy, so it did not feel like having a marlin on the line once I got hold of it, but it was very sharp and quite delicate, so I did have to be quite careful when freeing it from our fishline and wrestling it in over the rail.

freeing shear 5

kathleen reaches for QQShear would be going out to NKU with the other larger sculptural pieces, so for this day I had again borrowed Joan’s Chevy Equinox.  As before, Shear would go down as the lowest layer of art behind the driver’s seat, followed by Abby’s two body casts and whatever else could be fit in the vehicle for this trip.  We had had to remove Abby’s Life-Buoy from its position suspended over the east edge of the rock garden in order for Gary to lower Kathleen’s Queequeg down to the floor below, so I had temporarily hung the Life-Buoy on the ledge near Abby’s Queequeg in her Coffin I.  In doing so, I realized that these two shapes had only had a chance to hang together once before, at Gallerie Zaum in 2009.  QQ I was now on her way back to my office at NKU, with her younger sister QQ II going back to her perch over the stairwell at the Honors House.  Life-Buoy would be returning to her creator/mother’s home in the Delhi area of west Cincinnati, where she hangs in a hallway and is apparently unfazed by accidental bumps from people in a hurry.  Abby reports that Kalli still seems to feel a particular attachment to this shell and container of her early life.

 

QQ1 and Life Buoy 2When I worked with longshoremen in Seattle during the summer of 1967 after completing my M. A. in English in New York, I was not as strong as most of my companions as we loaded heavy equipment into an LST for a voyage to Alaska.  I did, however, learn one principle from my fellow workers that has served me very well ever since: you can carry a lot more than you think, without hurting your back, if you have the same amount of weight in both hands.  One of the first healthy applications I made of that rule was to begin carrying multiple tote bags to and from school instead of the beautiful leather brief case my Dad have given me as a graduation present when I got my Ph. D.  That leather brief case was pretty heavy in itself, but when I was teaching four courses a semester in the 1970s and sometimes carrying a heavy anthology for each of the four, my back got sore in a hurry, and not just from being hunched over grading papers.  It was considered rather unmanly to ditch the professorial briefcase for a handful of tote bags, then considered womanly, but they were almost weightless in themselves and made it very easy to evenly distribute the load.  When we freed Abby’s first body cast from the fishline, there was really nowhere to place it, so I asked Emma Rose if she could hold it in the air until I freed the second–after which it was easier to walk up the stairs and out to the Equinox with one in either hand than it would have been to take them down and then out of the building in any other way.

with abby's casts

Once I had Danielle’s Shear sculpture and Abby’s two body casts flat in the back of the Equinox, I had room for Nancy Vagedes’s ceramic white whale to ride in the passenger seat next to me.  Remembering that Emma Rose had put Landon Jones’s wax sculpture of Ahab’s head in a seat belt when driving him around, I decided to the same with Nancy’s ceramic whale, for I certainly would not want it to go “forehead to forehead” with my glove compartment if I had to make a quick stop.  Nor would I have wanted to knock Captain Ahab and his whaleboat off of Nancy’s beautiful ceramic sea (especially after having now met Nancy’s son at the reception, he presumably having been in 1997 the ten-year old son who had helped her fashion Ahab’s little harpoon).  The drive up to the school with this precious cargo was uneventful.  Dave Kime at the Honors House helped me get Shear and Queequeeg in her Coffin II back in their customary spots.  I carried Queequeg in her Coffin I and Nancy’s ceramic depiction of Captain Ahab’s Worst Nightmare from the Equinox up to my office one at a time, for even a longshoreman might have had trouble balancing these two works in separate hands.

Nancy Vagedes, Captain Ahab’s Worst Nightmare, in the passenger seat

Nancy Vagedes’ White Whale sculpture in the passenger seat

ERT tales dpmw CS AhabBack at the library, Emma Rose was very efficient at removing velcroed paintings from the wall on the Children’s level and harvesting other 2-D works from our small cabinet-top easels and from the metallic slats on the walls, pillars, and book stacks.  Gary had brought several long tables into the meeting room on which we could set the works as we took them down.  It was kind of fun to fish the seven quilts up from over the balcony.  The only significant delay we had in taking down the show was caused by the plastic loops we had used to lash some of the larger artworks to the tripods on which they were displayed.  These loops proved too tough to cut through with scissors, a situation Gary remedied by finding us some wire cutters.  Emma Rose had the honor of removing Caitlin’s Captain Ahab creations from the tripods near the north window on the Third Floor, since she had had the original inspiration to display them there.

First page of A Closer Reading by Tony de los Reyes

First page of A Closer Reading by Tony de los Reyes

We left the smaller works in the display case for last, and the last of those to be removed were the tea cups in Danielle’s tea set.   Sitting alone in the otherwise empty case, they reminded me of A Closer Reading, the found poem that artist Tony de los Reyes had composed from words he extracted from “Loomings,” the opening chapter of Moby-Dick.  Except that he had not actually extracted them.  He had instead left each chosen word where it was on the page of the novel on which he had found it, removing instead all other words that had surrounded it, resulting in a minimalist presentation similar to that of Danielle’s tea cups bereft of their neighbors in the display case.  Danielle’s ceramic cups are pretty durable, but I wrapped each one separately in a sheet of newspaper before gently putting it in a box for the trip back home to my Bellevue dining room, where they remain almost as close to Nancy Vagedes’ 2001 Moby-Dick Anniversary Dish as they were in the exhibition..

Danielle's tea set in nearly empty case

Danielle’s tea set in nearly empty case

Once we had all of the works off of the walls, tripods, balcony rails, and stack fronts, as well as out of the rock garden and display case—and in once case out of a closet—there wasn’t much to do but take all of the works now on the tables of the meeting room out to my office at the University or to my home in Bellevue.  Joan’s Equinox was well suited to this task, and the trunk of Emma Rose’s car was full, so I happily gave her the afternoon off while I transported works to one destination or another, in many cases hanging them, or placing them, where they had been hung or placed before.  At home, Joan is known as the thoroughbred and I am the Clydesdale.  This was my Clydesdale afternoon.

Some of the works that individual artists had loaned to the show I brought home to deliver to them later.  The one work that had been boxed up in a closet in the library after the Marathon weekend went onto a long suspended shelf in my basement because I had nowhere else to store it.  I needed every inch of Joan’s Equinox to get Christopher Roach’s life-size drawing of himself as Ahab wearing only his peg leg home to Bellevue.  The coffin-like box covered with a black plastic bag looks a little uncomfortable there in the basement, the way we 38th Voyagers first felt when we crawled into our below-deck bunks on the whaleship Charles W. Morgan last summer, but I am glad I have at least this place in which to store it as a “sleeping-partner” until the next opportunity comes to bring it up to be seen.  As for Ahab’s peg leg and leg harness from the base of the rock garden, there’s a nice spot for them in the corner of my study here at home.

Christophers Ahab drawing rolled up in a box on a shelf in my basement

Christopher’s Ahab drawing in a box and black hood in my basement

caitlin with captain ahab 2

Caitlin on the day we installed her Captain Ahab creations in early April

When I got back to the library from one of my trips home in the mid-afternoon, I took a break from the from the transport of artworks for a meeting in the office of branch manager Julia Allegrini. Like everyone else, my wife Joan, a sociologist, had been extremely impressed with how this particular library serves its wide range of patrons.  She and Julia and I were meeting with Jay and Caitlin of Numediacy to discuss the possibility of some kind of video documentation of what this library does.  After the meeting, Jay and Caitlin and I spoke a little about the YouTube video they were to be making of the four-day Moby Fest, and Caitlin reclaimed the three sets of Moby photos that had made such a strong impression in the Local History room.  I expect we will be seeing these on display again here in the Greater Cincinnati area before too long.

The last hours, days, and week of an exhibition are always bittersweet, especially if it has gone well.  You are happy you have been able to show the works you had selected and installed, but sad that they must come down.  One of the pleasures Emma Rose and I had during the last week of this particular exhibition was to walk through the show in the company of two of Cincinnati’s leading art professionals.  Steven Matijcio of the Contemporary Art Center came to see the show on Tuesday evening, and Marta Hewett of the Marta Hewitt Gallery came on Friday afternoon.  Seeing the show with each of them eased some of the dissonance of not having been granted this courtesy by the art faculty who critiqued Emma Rose’s BFA Senior Show.