Notions of Incompleteness and Hope: Fragments for Future Appropriation

In his compact yet epic collection of short stories entitled Men Without Women, American writer Ernest Hemingway describes an Italian major who, bereft of a limb and then his wife, puts his broken faith in the new machines.  Hope, after all, has to be garnered in some fashion, even when the missing limbs continue to tingle, when one only wishes to stare out the window, blankly, anticipating an interruption that will never come, the return of a function completely lost.  The empty space thrums with the noise of the machine, and the idea of production rears up as solvent to the impasse, a leap over the yawning abyss of the lingering and unrecoverable past. And unlike his Italian figment, Hemingway was expert at transforming his own ennui into something tangible: typeface slammed with a loving anger upon paper sheaves.

This entry, then, seeks to acknowledge the minor sorrows of incompleteness (the absence, one might say, of the warmth of a newly-published journal fattened by one’s own Arbeit, comfortably resting in a tweed jacket pocket soon to fray) while harnessing the sharp edges of Hemingway’s typewriter, his machine, his instrument of production.

But to get there we start with absence, the things left undone, generated but not formed, the amorphous attractions of a topic which can never be fully realized, the shelves of books unread, the translations undone, the archives untapped. Is it a purge of the Bleak House of mind, the projects emerging skeletal, like tattered and malnourished urchins? How self-indulgent! 就是个眼高手低的事情吧!  (It’s just a matter of “eyes high, and empty hands.”)  But why not enumerate what has slipped through the fingers, that which may never be captured?

In other words, it’s a wish list of projects, tantalizing outliers, vague ambitions which interlocutors might be happy to pick up and adopt as their own, with all encouragement from this particular bunker of papers and scholarly fragments:

- A book of translations into English (and/or Chinese) from the German press of the period 1933-1945 about the Japanese occupation of China — economy, society, military affairs, and the bombing of Chongqing.  My own archive, thanks to too much coffee in the Bundesarchiv break room and the sense of invulnerability that one gets in the sun and techno-laced nights of Berlin in the summer, is overflowing with such documents.  E. Bruce Reynolds, have you any master’s students who wish to take it on? Does Andrea Nelson yet peruse these pages?

Sample citation: Wilhelm Plog, “Das China Wangtschingweis: Dreijähriges Bestehen: Neuer Mittelpunkt politischen und staatlichen Lebens [Wang Jingwei's China: Three Years Later, a New Political Center in the Life of the State],” Die Zeit (Reichenberg), 26 March 1943, in German Foreign Ministry Files, INVENTAR 64, Bundesarchiv, Berlin, p. 8.

Money quote from Wilhelm Plog in 1943 Nanking: “There can be no doubt about it: Japan will certainly take the lead in all of the East Asian region. In every great region, only one great power can truly rule. Japan’s military activity, and the Asian-language broadcasting that accompanies it, has begun its influence over the people in this region; in the future, Japan will not only use this technique to benefit strategically, but also economically. One must not forget that the races in this zone [of East Asia] so often respond much stronger to spiritual ideas than to military successes.”

- A translation of Brett Walker’s stunning new book, Toxic Archipelago, into Chinese.  Fortunately, according to a note I received from the author (he’s on leave for a year from Montana State and is doing great work in Minneapolis), this is already underway. Knowing this makes me want to burn some incense.

- The publication of a book review about Jewish musicians in Berlin in the 1930s which I wrote feverishly, sweating bullets over, and completed literally sixteen months ago.  This piece remains firmly stuck in an editor’s inbox, intractable. Let my people go!  At least since then, I’ve had a chance to perform Jewish classical music in Berlin for rabbis, presidents, foreign ministers, and ambassadors, thus bolstering the all-important question of credibility.  (Apart from the fact that he understands something specific about the composer Ernst Bloch, what is Adam Cathcart doing writing about Jewish conductors and violinists in Berlin, unless those same people end up in Tokyo or Shanghai?  What’s that?  Some of them did end up in Tokyo, until the German Embassy there forced the locals to shut down the new impresarios?  OK, then, fine, I suppose this is acceptable.)

- Transcriptions of North Korean song literature into arrangements for cello and piano.  This is such the tip of the iceberg, and I like the ice very much, even when it cuts me.

- An article reassessing Professor George Taylor’s exploits in Japanese-occupied North China from 1938-1940.  I’ve got a gangload of photocopies from the man’s archives in Seattle — he was a good friend of that other peripatetic scholar, Owen Lattimore, until Taylor called his friend a communist under all that terrible pressure put on people who knew viscerally where Yenan was in the year of our Lord 1951 — and have a lot of interest in understanding more about how the book Struggle for North China was compiled, and what was left out of the text.  A second intriguing theme is Taylor’s stage drama, The Phoenix and the Dwarves, which he published in 1944 and had performed around the U.S. in order to raise money for the Chinese war effort.  I was intrigued by a recent article about a Georgetown professor who conceived of a multi-year, student-driven, research project and massive database about the Chinese nuclear program, and think that, stripped of all the national security baggage and Sinophobia, such a model might be the way to go with this project, which has already received some critical attention from students.

- A piece on North Korean musical and cultural diplomacy toward Western Europe, China, and possibly the U.S./South Korea, in the past year or two — who else is going to do it?  Aidan Foster-Carter?  Sunny Lee?  Chris Green?  Certainly not Joshua Stanton.  Stephen Epstein?  Keith Howard?  E. Taylor Atkins? As Ibsen said in Enemy of the People, “He who stands strongest, stands alone.”  Why wait for someone else to write such a significant piece?  Besides the obvious fact that it ain’t time yet.  Don’t jump the queue! Get everything else important done first, but do keep reading and following bread crumbs.

- A bibliographical project on the Cultural Revolution in Tibet — and to read the breadth of a text in which two polemics on the subject face off: Wang Lixiong and Tsering Shakya, The Struggle for Tibet (Verso: 2009), reviewed in the Guardian.  Anyone who would like to collaborate on this, perhaps with but the goal of a loaded blog post, please do let me know (cathcaaj[@]plu.edu).