[KS] Jim Palais

Michael Robinson robime at indiana.edu
Mon Aug 14 20:47:41 EDT 2006

Dear List: 

Gari's remembrance of Jim Palais moves me to write as well.  I was fortunate to study with Jim for my eight years of graduate study (1971-79).  I suppose I was part of a third generation of Koreanists being trained in the 1970s.  I was at the beginnng of Jim's career of training graduate students so at the time I took for granted his methods and habits as a teacher.  Of course at the beginning I was completely intimidated by his inexhaustable knowledge about Korea, China, Japan, and seemingly everything else.  But as time went by intimidation turned to genuine admiration and appreciation for his generosity in sharing with us at such a high level of engagement.  Jim's commentary on seminar papers (and later article and book drafts) are legend among his students.  More than once I trembled at the sight of yet another 6 page single spaced commentary of one of my small papers.  I remember thinking my life was over when I opened his reactions to my first monograph running to 25 of his single spaced pages.  I could only wonder how I was going to respond and ever finish the project.  The time and care that he took with this sort of feedback to students was simply amazing.  And I truly understand today having had my own graduate students what a sacrifice this was in his own time.  THat he produced as well his enormous body of scholarship makes me wonder if he every slept?  I feel badly everytime I take a short-cut with a student, or begrudge my time in any way teaching.  I will never measure up to his level of generosity and commitment.  Intellectually there was no half measures for Jim, he was on, full bore, with every topic.  where this might have been a failing at times with his own interpersonal realtionships, as a mentor it was a quality that urged us on to really strive to do our best.  As Gari rightly pointed out, Jim did not suffer fools lightly.  Many an unsuspecting visitor to the China, Japan or Korea seminar at the University of Washington learned this the hard way.  One just didn't ride on reputation, it was what was being said at that moment that received the full measure of Jim's penetrating intellect and criticism.  Watching full professors in fields outside of Korean studies being taken apart was certainly not condusive to feeling confident as one approached an oral exam.  But in the end what many people (or at least those those who remained intimidated) did not recognize that this was simply the only way Jim could think and interact.  Beneath this exterior lay a very warm and caring person.  Too bad that some students didn't stick it out long enough to see this side.  We who were fortunate enough to study with him, receive his massive critiques, play basketball with him, enjoy his family and friends over wine and lasagna, or just have the sheer pleasure of laughing with him have lost an irreplaceable force and presence in our lives.  He was at times the most irritating and rigid moralist one could encounter and often clueless as to his effect on people (for those he sent crying from his office), but one will never find a better teacher, a more generous mentor, nor a more loyal friend.  I will miss him terribly, but he will live on among all the students, colleagues, lecture attendees, readers, and friends that the spirit and force of his intellect and personality touched. 

Mike Robinson 
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