Dear Friends and Colleagues in Cinema and Media Studies . . . and Richard,
How to be a thoughtful, caring, and resourceful pedagogue? And how to use what we learn from our teaching in our research? These questions are often raised in job interviews and applications for promotion. On a day-to-day basis, however, they put to the test our roles as scholars and mentors, who are supposed to talk the talk and walk the walk, or in Confucian terms, teach by means of our speech (yanjiao) and our bodies (actions, or shenjiao). As film scholars and teachers, through our speech and action we engage our friends, peers, and students in the way we see the world and the cinematographic image.
What I wish to convey in this letter may sound anecdotal, because I know Richard, having been his colleague at King's College London, and we interact on a personal level. However, what I learn from our personal interactions is what Tiantai Buddhism calls yuanrong: the process of integrating a set of interdependent philosophical ideas, practices, and modes of being into a well-rounded whole.1 What I have learned from Richard affects the ways I teach and how I approach the cinematographic image as a trace of reality.2
Richard was one of several brilliant scholars who sat on the hiring committee for my job interview at King's. Like many scholars in film and media studies, I first encountered Richard's stimulating, encouraging, and moving writings when I was an undergraduate in the early 1990s. By "moving," I mean intellectually persuasive, kind, and passionate. When I heard that Richard would be my interviewer, I was so excited that I told my friend Brian Bergstrom, "Well, if I do not manage to get the job, I will at least have had the honor and pleasure of speaking with Richard Dyer."
In my job interview, Richard opened the conversation by asking me, "Why would you like to come to King's?" I thought about his question before responding. "I want to go home," I replied. "I want to go home."
Ever since that interview, Richard has often recalled this memory of ours. We both found that the idea of going home, which I blurted [End Page 177] out probably as an expression of desperation or anxiety at the interview, resonates with something that lies deep inside our minds.
What does it mean to go home? When I said "go home," I had in mind returning to the United Kingdom—a place to which my parents and I immigrated in the early 1990s––and to which I often maintained an interdependent relationship that lies between being Heimlich and Unheimlich, the canny and the uncanny. I was also thinking about the idea of coming home to film studies, of being at a place where we could all shamelessly and unapologetically share our profound love of the cinema for what it is and what it can be. Nonetheless, in the past four and a half years, Richard has taught me something more about what it means to go home.
For most of us, being able to go home does not mean that from now on it will be smooth sailing. Being home often means that no matter what kinds of obstacles, difficulties, and turbulence we experience, we always are there for one another. I cannot tell you how many times, as I worked late into the evening, I would receive a phone call and hear Richard's voice or even hear a door knock and see his face. Richard would ask me how I was and if I would like to have a cup of tea with him some time. At those moments, I knew I was at home. When Richard heard about my surgery in 2015 and showed up at my doorstep, I knew I was at home. Richard not only showed me care and kindness in these repeated gestures; he showed me something more profound.
In Chan (Zen) Buddhism, going home means that one has found the sabhāva (or in Chinese, zixing), usually translated as "thusness" or "own-becoming": a pure potentiality from which an assemblage...