A EULOGY FOR JACK Given on 29 July 2015, Cambridge.

Given on 29 July 2015, Cambridge.
Paul Sant Cassia
A Malian proverb says “When a great man dies, a whole library burns”. In this short
evlogia I should like to retrieve some pages of that immense library, a personal
appreciation of Jack, this complex and wonderful man, putting aside his
extraordinary, widely-acknowledged, intellectual gifts to scholarship. You will all
probably have more continuous and richer pages than I offer here.
It is a truism that we are here because of Jack’s extraordinary presence in our lives
that we now experience as a profound loss. Looking backwards, it seems to me that
all the different phases of Jack’s many lives were critical in shaping him: his time as
an escaped POW in the Abruzzi where he had to sharpen his powers of observation
and intuition through tricky situations, a proto-anthropologist before he became one,
and from where perhaps originated his cheerful disregard for oddly-matched clothing,
so long as he could pass for an Abruzzi peasant..., and most importantly where he had
to rely on the kindness of strangers – a gift that he repaid throughout his life in
spontaneous generosity to others. Or his time in Africa to which he went already
enriched with a devotion to his ‘ancestors’, his parents (particularly his Scottish
mother), but that also exposed him to the lateral and temporal extension of kin
obligations that he transposed not just naturally towards providing for his children
and in nurturing –together with Esther - an ideal care-free environment for them at
Caffoulens and Lacapelle, but also to his colleagues and students whom he regularly
hosted at his various open homes, and in his deep engagement in their research and
their lives with wise advice, decisive actions, and ferocious support ( and we all know
his occasional fierceness that tempered with age). In this way he redefined to many
of us what being an academic could really mean. It is a hard act to follow.
Interestingly and tellingly, all his experiences and observations in his widely-roaming
lives in France (where he was greatly honoured), the Mediterranean and the Middle
East, India and China , even the most minute, found their way into his prolific and
rich work. His memory was astounding – he could recall the location of Kykkos
Monastery in Cyprus that he had last seen in 1940 and that we visited together in
2002. And yet, he was not given to direct autobiography, nor necessarily much to
confidences – at least not to many, rendering him partly and mysteriously inscrutable.
Perhaps his experiences in 1943 ‘anomic Rome’ (his expression) had cautioned him.
Even his personal account of that period was presented through a third person,
Stephen, like Joyce’s character, and examples of literature found their way into his
works. This lack of self-indulgence and vanity alchemised into the patience, solicitous
concern, forbearance, and wise advice he freely gave to colleagues, students, and
family. He had no pretensions and was as happy hobnobbing with farmers in the Lot
or fishermen at Bouzigues, as with colleagues at High Table at John’s, to which he
was devoted. That drew people to him and he always had streams of visitors from all
over the world. He enjoyed parties tremendously, particularly his own birthdays when
he hosted friends, family and strangers wherever he might find himself. He loved
football, jazz, medieval music and architecture, spicy (often Cesare-concocted)
Mediterranean peasant food (though not African that he likened to the porridge that
he detested), roses, and twinkly women, all on which he wrote . Who could fail not to
be drawn to a man like that? But beneath that was always a sharp, creative, intellect
that revealed itself as much in his questions as in his silences, and that somehow
found itself reworked and reshaped like a true artist in his intellectually immense
works. He flourished even further when he retired, unintentionally humbling many of
us by his productivity and broadness. He was never spent, intellectually and in spirit.
He left trails of wondrous phosphorescence in our lives. And he charmed us by just
being his generous self. That was perhaps his greatest, incalculable, and mysterious
Commissioned by Paul Sant Cassia,1999, ,Cambridge.
I would like to end by recalling him in a scene many of us are familiar with: in an
armchair, clutching untidy sheaves of paper in his handwriting that required us to
become cryptographers to read - that, once deciphered, lit up our understanding of
the world through his lucid prose - sitting at the threshold of that fisherman’s cottage
in Bouziques that he loved - for he was always at thresholds – that was his intellectual
vantage point conjuring new horizons for us to see - just before 6.30 pm, and turning
to Juliet – or it could have been anyone of us - fortunate to be sitting next to him,
charmed by this courteous gentleman’s spontaneous charisma, declaring in his
booming voice that now was the time for his glass of red wine... to pursue his
anthropology by other means... .
A fisherman whose rich collection of pearls he warmly and spontaneously gave to all
of us.... We owe a great deal to you and we shall all miss you, dear Jack.
Paul Sant Cassia