Retirement Tribute for James Young
By Stephen Clingman | Friday, June 16, 2017
By Stephen Clingman
Friday, June 16, 2017
It is my pleasure as well as privilege to offer this tribute to James Young, one of the most accomplished colleagues we in the English Department have ever been fortunate enough to count as one of our own, and certainly one of the most recognized both nationally and internationally.
First, some little known facts. One is that James Young and I were hired at the same time—indeed we were hired for the same position, the English Department having been canny enough to bargain one post into a double appointment. From that perspective, I have been extremely well-placed to witness James’s contribution and achievements at first-hand. Not all of these have to do with scholarly work. Part of James’s background is that he was a baseball pitcher of some talent, to the extent that he had his own nickname—that of “Schoolboy,” I believe. Here in Amherst he coached youth baseball teams, and overall we might say that “pitching” has been one of his gifts. For instance, James has been mighty successful in pitching ideas, both by way of contributing to UMass as an institution, and also in the sheer quality and profusion of the scholarly ideas he has ‘pitched’ out into the world at large, regarding the forms, uses and histories of memory, particularly in relation to the Holocaust—a field in which he is one of the world’s major figures. He has done so with a rare energy and artistry, the aesthetic qualities and style of his intellectual impact as effective as its content.
Every year, we faculty have to produce an annual report setting out our achievements over the previous twelve months (the “Annual Faculty Report”). It was something of a standing joke from one year to the next that you could almost weigh James Young’s annual report by the pound. Here is the very briefest list of some of some of his successes. There are his books: Writing and Rewriting the Holocaust (1988); The Texture of Memory (1993); and At Memory's Edge: After-images of the Holocaust in Contemporary Art and Architecture (2000). Each of his books is regarded as indispensable reading in the field; The Texture of Memory won the National Jewish Book Award. Just this year, Professor Young published yet another book, The Stages of Memory: Reflections on Memorial Art, Loss, and the Spaces Between, which is sure to become equally essential.
For those who pay attention to these things, it is evident that James Young has published articles in the most exclusive and demanding of journals, including Critical Inquiry, Representations, New Literary History, Partisan Review, The Yale Journal of Criticism. Equally importantly, his work has been reviewed and cited by others in these journals—testimony to the respect in which his work is held. And James Young has had practical influence as well, not least in serving on juries for some of the most significant memorials in the world. He was on the selection committee for Berlin’s “Memorial to Europe’s Murdered Jews,” widely revered as one of the most moving and meaningful of memorial sites. He was invited to participate on the jury for the World Trade Center memorial competition—a story which he recounts and analyses among other topics in The Stages of Memory. He has advised the Argentinian government on its memorial to the desaparacidos, and the Norwegians in their quest to memorialize the victims of the terrorist attack by Anders Behring Breivik in 2011.
As if this weren’t enough, James Young has held major fellowships, including a Guggenheim Fellowship, and another from the American Council of Learned Societies. He is Editor-in-Chief of The Posen Library of Jewish Culture and Civilization; he was Guest Curator for the exhibition, “The Art of Memory: Holocaust Memorials in History” at the Jewish Museum in New York. On campus too, his impact has been substantial. Besides being a member of the English Department, Professor Young had a joint appointment in the Department of Judaic and Near-Eastern Studies, and served as its Chair for many years. He was a Distinguished Faculty Lecturer, and was honored with the Chancellor’s Medal. He was appointed a Distinguished University Professor. Most impressively, he was the founding Director of the Institute for Holocaust, Genocide and Memory Studies which, largely due to James’s efforts, now has its own building on the north side of campus, featuring standing exhibits and special events and lectures of multifarious kinds.
I would say, then, the record is clear. In my own mind, I have a picture of James as someone who will leave a baseball game where he has been coaching to take a midnight call from an eminent German parliamentarian, and also get up early to write an an op-ed for Die Zeit. And then I can see him heading off to teach his popular course on “Writing and Rewriting the Holocaust.” At the same time, James is someone who combines a canny sense of institutional politics with a genuine generosity of spirit. I have been in many a committee meeting where James provided a sane perspective that cut through otherwise intractable problems. James is someone who gets things done, and manages to do so with a seeming ease that the rest of us can only admire.
It has been a privilege to have James Young as our colleague and friend. He has set the bar high while keeping his feet firmly on the ground. While his work records the intractable losses of absence, his own effects on us will remain for many years to come.
--Stephen Clingman, Distinguished Professor of English