The below prose was offered by Christine Yano on November 19th as part of the annual SEAA business meeting online to honor the work and the life of our dear colleague.
It is with deep sadness and gratitude that I offer these few words in memory of David Plath who served as mentor, friend, and inspiration to many of us. David taught many of us through his scholarship, which often veered off the beaten path to the marginalia of culture, to the “after hours” of human life. In this, he wished to give the messy emotional, social, and aesthetic side of culture its due. Equally, David moved many of us through his warmth and integrity, as well as his generous spirit, which was as acerbic as it was empathetic. His contributions to the field of East Asia Anthropology are many, but for today when our wounds are still so raw, let me place his memory in the hands and words of his many friends.
Laura Miller, past president of SEAA: David was one of the smartest, wittiest, kindest Japan scholars I ever met. His undergraduate degree in journalism from Northwestern University is reflected in his wonderful writing. He served as an officer in the US Naval Reserve’s Pacific Fleet (1952-55) before earning a master’s degree (1959) and a PhD (1962) from Harvard in anthropology and Far Eastern languages. He often ruffled the feathers of theoryhead anthropology by being outspoken about his impatience with jargon (at a conference he once called it ‘intellectual masturbation’).
Instead of trendy “intellectual masturbation”, David preferred straight talking, from-the-heart-to-the-heart insight and expression, including poetry. He valued beauty and integrity that shed light on the human condition, both in words and images. And he produced both words and images in his rich body of work. Thus SEAA named the biennial award for the best multimedia work on East Asian anthropology. the David Plath Media Award. He loved that tribute.
Here is one of his favorite poems, bestowed upon friends, from the pen of a farmer-poet, Wendell Berry.
THE PEACE OF WILD THINGS
When despair for the world grows in me
And I wake in the night at the least sound
In fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
Rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
Of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
Waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
To David – now resting in the eternal grace of the world, and utterly free. Remembering the knowing twinkle in your eye of droll humor and sly wit, we thank you.