Mentor mythologies

Recently had dinner with a few American expat colleagues and the conversation turned to former professors and the mythology (or just gossip) that attends them. I didn’t comment on my own teachers because it was too much fun listening to their stories, but it reminded me of a few of my own– Dr Donougho, my dear old dissertation adviser, and never playing Go with him; Dr Cowart, my difficult Pynchon and contemporary American fiction professor who hated grad students; the poet James Dickey who drank heavily and tried to seduce my Taiwanese girlfriend…and many others.

As expat professors who’ve been in Taiwan 15 plus years you can imagine there was a heavy admixture of nostalgia in our talk, which got me to wondering if mythology could just be the result of fictionalized memories like these: “the great Prof L. made a potion that turned people into mushrooms and had a wife who hid in the cupboards,” the Gen X professor said, and this eventually became “Prof. L was a wizard whose wife was a smallish elf”? Or is this what is meant by the dharma, or religion…”His magic mushroom should be studied so that all will be able to cultivate it”? So it’s just a matter of the degree of generational misunderstanding…

To conclude, I just wrote an email to my old advisor in lieu of expanding on this any further.

Scholar-Officials of China | Essay | Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History | The Metropolitan Museum of Art


The unique position occupied by the scholar elite in Chinese society
has led historians to view social and political change in China in light
of the evolving status of the scholar. One theory holds that the virtues of the scholars were appreciated only in times of cultural upheaval, when their role was one of defending, however unsuccessfully, moral values rather than that of performing great tasks. Another theory, relating to art and political expression in Han-dynasty China, offers an analysis of the tastes and habits of the different social classes: “the imperial bureaucracy, not the marketplace, was [the scholar’s] main avenue to success, and he was of use to that bureaucracy only insofar as he placed the public good above his own. … [Thus] the art of the Confucian scholar was … inherently duplicitous and was encouraged to be so by the paradoxical demands [that Chinese] society made upon its middlemen.”

Scholar-Officials of China | Essay | Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History | The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Adam Shatz on Orientalism in NYRB

“Since the book’s first publication in 1978, “Orientalism” has become one of those words that shuts down conversation on liberal campuses, where no one wants to be accused of being “Orientalist” any more than they want to be called racist, sexist, homophobic, or transphobic. That “Orientalist” is now a commonly applied epithet is a tribute to the power of Said’s account, but also to its vulgarization. With Orientalism, Said wanted to open a discussion about the way the Arab-Islamic world had been imagined by the West—not to prevent a clear-eyed reckoning with the region’s problems, of which he was all too painfully aware.”
“Orientalism,” Then and Now – May 20, 2019

Kokoro 《心》

“She claimed that since Sensei disliked the world so much, it was inevitable that she should become a part of the object of Sensei’s dislike. But she could not convince herself that this was the correct explanation. The poor lady could not avoid thinking that perhaps the very opposite of this was true: namely, that Sensei had become weary of the world because of her. But again, she could find no way of confirming her suspicion. Sensei’s manner towards her was that of a loving husband. He was kind and thoughtful. Such, then, was her secret which she had kept in her heart all these years in gentle sorrow, and which she revealed to me that night.”

Kokoro, pt. 1 | Natsume Soseki / 夏目漱石