CELEBRATING A LIFE WELL LIVED: IN MEMORIAM LOIS RUDNICK

The Fulbright Commission has been sending visiting scholars to Spain since the academic year 1958-59 (according to its directory, Howard Floan was the first visitor, to the University of Zaragoza). My Department received a steady flow of visitors, shared with the Department of English of the Universitat de Barcelona, between the mid-1980s (as far as I can tell) and 2013. The modest financial aid we could contribute towards our visitors’ expenses could never compete with potent private universities, like Deusto, and although we still welcome visitors, none has materialized in the last eight years. The last one was poet John Poch. I was recently approached by another possible visitor, so hope has not died out that we’ll get back in stride.

I met our Fulbright visitors first as a student (undergraduate and doctoral) and later as the person in charge of running the applications from our side, which included socializing with them, sometimes minimally, sometimes more regularly. I do not recall all our visitors but some made an important impression both among us as a Department and personally in my career and life. Thus, I learned to work in depth and at speed with the wonderful Bonnie Lyons who taught us, doctoral students, about Jewish American Literature. Russell Goodman, who specialized in philosophy and Literature, welcomed a quite crazy essay I perpetrated on Philip K. Dick’s The Man in the High Castle, my first academic writing on sf. Another very generous visitor, Connie L. Richards, persuaded me to send my paper for her course on turn-of-the century American Literature to a Texan journal she co-edited, which –to my immense surprise– accepted it. That was my first publication ever at a time, besides, when my teachers in the doctoral programme of my Department were telling us that no pre-doctor should dare publish anything. How things have changed!

On a personal front, visiting professor Tiffany Lopez (2004-5) and I shared great moments. She had a guide by a Californian publisher to the best patisseries in Barcelona, and we would visit a different one every week. Our sweet tour culminated in a most memorable dinner at Espai Sucre, a restaurant which serves an awesome set menu only composed of desserts. Academic life and its pleasures… Yet, the visitor that left the most indelible impression was Lois Rudnick, who jokingly called herself ‘the Queen’, and was indeed a marvellous woman, a real queen. For the few months in 1994 when I had the privilege of enjoying her friendship, my life was very much enriched. I have heard the same praise from the many persons celebrating her life a couple of days ago in the online memorial held to gather her friends together. Sadly, Lois passed away in June aged 76, too early, when she still had much to do and say, the victim of a devastating cancer.

I last met Lois, after too many years, in October 2018. I wrote next a post about her book The Suppressed Memoirs of Mabel Dodge Luhan: Sex, Syphilis, and Psychoanalysis in the Making of Modern American Culture (2012). What I never told Lois but can finally say now that she’s gone is that I find it unfair that Luhan got so much attention from her because I doubt that someone will one day write about Lois herself. Literary Studies and, in general, the Humanities disciplines devoted to studying artistic production are implicitly biographical since we put ourselves in the background to celebrate the work done by others. Some will say that we are parasites living off the achievements of persons whose monthly wages have been never guaranteed as ours are (if we have tenure, that is). There is a little bit of that, I grant it, but also much of selfless caring for what talented persons have done and we wish to preserve. This should be plain common sense, yet whenever I have read Lois’ outstanding work on Luhan, I have always resented the situation, thinking that extraordinary persons like Lois will never find their biographer because academics have a lower status than artists. Obituaries, memorials, and texts like this post will have to suffice and, of course, Lois’ academic publications – her ten books and dozens of articles.

We know, however, don’t we?, that academic lives are not limited to what we publish. In fact, now that I think about the matter, unless one is extra careful in giving instructions to perpetuate one’s work beyond retirement or death, my impression is that whole careers can be scattered to the winds and either totally disappear or persist just in the randomness of who cites whom. We scholars do not seem to care much what happens to our writings so that, thinking of the case at hand, I’ve had trouble finding online the complete list of what Lois published in book form, and had to check GoodReads and Amazon. On the other hand, the legacy of good teachers and researchers lives on for generations, sometimes anonymously and in ways no academic authorities can quantify. For instance, Lois coached me about how to deliver my first paper in an academic conference and I have coached my doctoral students applying what she taught me. Hearing her ex-students and colleagues a few days ago in the memorial I understood that we have no instruments (happily!) to measure true impact of this kind. This has nothing to do with publication metrics, performance assessment in teaching, awards or distinctions, but with that much bigger impact good scholars make through being kind and caring.

Perhaps because of this in the middle of the memorial, when so many persons had already described Lois’ academic achievements, a person complained in the chat: stop, she wrote, and give us your personal memories. For it is in the personal memories, either fully personal or professional, that a real imprint is left. So, here we go. I saw Schindler’s List with Lois when it was released in Spain and we both left the cinema in tears; Lois was Jewish and when some idiot tells me that Spielberg sentimentalized the Holocaust excessively, I recall her distress and her tears and let stupidity pass. Lois loved contemporary dance and we saw together all the performances of that already long gone Spring of 1994 in Barcelona. There was a small theatre, L’Espai (1992-2005) run by the Catalan Government, which kept us supplied with a constant stream of great dancing. We were lucky that public money was used then in that way. Incidentally, my funniest personal memory of Lois, ‘the Queen’, came when I told her that Queen Sofía in person would be at the ceremony to award the LaCaixa grants, of which I was a recipient. Her surprised expression that actual Queens could be met will always stay with me.

To sum up, I have not wanted to commemorate here Lois Rudnick as someone who is gone for good but as someone who will always remain in the memories of friends and colleagues. This is the same for everyone who passes away but it’s been my intention to highlight here how unexpected academic encounters lead to the greatest benefits and pleasures. An underside of academic life is that attachments that can be very intense for the three days a conference lasts or the few months a visitor remains cannot be integrated in one’s regular life easily. I do not mean that persons we meet in academic gatherings cannot remain friends for many years and stay regularly in touch; we all have important relationships of that kind. What I mean is that as a human collective we are used to long-distance friendships that we wished were much closer. I feel that way about Lois but also immensely happy that she was in my neighbourhood for a while.

On the other hand, I have also wanted to make the point that good scholars who, like Lois, are warm persons leave behind a powerful trace that fortunately the academic system cannot measure. I think that, on the whole, we are missing the chance to enliven and increase this other, much more personal, aspect of academic life. The pandemic has made much worse our tendency to work and live in academic isolation, or at least that’s how I feel. Of course we are in touch through the networks we work for, or through the personal relationships established within Departments, but I have the impression that we are not doing enough to truly talk to each other. I’m sorry, as you can see, that I did not speak more with Lois; somehow I assumed we would meet again, but that chance to enjoy friendship anew is gone. Don’t let other chances pass you by.

And Lois, my queen, just let me say this planet has been made much brighter by your walking on it. Thanks for that.

I publish a post once a week (follow @SaraMartinUAB). Comments are very welcome! Download the yearly volumes from https://ddd.uab.cat/record/116328. Visit my website https://gent.uab.cat/saramartinalegre/. The Spanish version of the posts is available from https://blogs.uab.cat/saramartinalegre/es/

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