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Bodies Real and Virtual: Joseph Rock and Enrico Caruso in the Sino-Tibetan Borderlands

  • Erik Mueggler (a1)

In 1934, during twenty-eight years of wandering west China, the American botanist Joseph Francis Charles Rock made a brief trip to England. He clipped the obituary of an old friend from the Times and pasted it in his diary. On the facing page, he pasted a photograph two decades old, and wrote this caption:

J. F. Rock (standing) with his older friend Fred Muir, Entomologist at the Haw[aii] Sugar Planter's Exp[eriment] Sta[tion], Honolulu. Photographed in our home in Liloa Rise (Breaside), Honolulu in the spring of 1913, while our phonograph played Spiritu Gentile, Caruso singing.

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1 Joseph Francis Charles Rock, Diary, 25 Mar. 1934, Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh (hereafter RBGE). While copies of parts of Rock's diaries exist in several locations, the complete, original notebooks are kept at the RBGE.

2 Rappaport, Roy A., Ritual and Religion in the Making of Humanity (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1999), 24.

3 Greenblatt Stephen, Marvelous Possessions: The Wonder of the New World (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991), cited in Sen Satadru, “Savage Bodies, Civilized Pleasures: M. V. Portman and the Andamanese,” American Ethnologist 36, 2 (May 2009): 366.

4 A selection of the literature on colonial photography that has influenced my approach here includes: Edwards Elizabeth, ed., Anthropology and Photography, 1860–1920 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1993); Landau Paul and Kaspin Deborah, eds., Images and Empires: Visuality in Colonial and Postcolonial Africa (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003); Pinney Christopher and Peterson Nicolas, eds., Photography's Other Histories (Durham: Duke University Press, 2003); Pinney Christopher and Thomas Nicholas, eds., Beyond Aesthetics: Art and The Technologies of Enchantment (Oxford: Berg, 2001); Poole Deborah, Vision, Race, and Modernity: A Visual Economy of the Andean Image World (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997); Kaplan Ann E., Looking for the Other: Feminism, Film, and the Imperial Gaze (New York: Routledge, 1997); Harris Clare and Shakya Tsering, Seeing Lhasa: British Depictions of the Tibetan Capital, 1936–1947 (Chicago: Serinda Publications, 2003); Ryan James R., Picturing Empire: Photography and the Visualization of the British Empire (London: Reaktion Books, 1997).

5 See, for instance, Taussig Michael, Mimesis and Alterity: A Particular History of the Senses (New York: Routledge, 1993); Miller Thomas R., “Mannequins and Spirits: Representation and Resistance of Siberian Shamans,” Anthropology of Consciousness 10, 4 (Dec. 1999): 6980; Gordon Robert, Picturing Bushmen: The Denver African Expedition of 1925 (Athens: Ohio University Press, 1997); Pickering Michael and Kneightly Emily, “Echoes and Reverberations: Photography and Phonography as Historical Forms,” Media History 13, 2–3 (2007): 273–88; Kreilkamp Ivan, “Speech on Paper: Charles Dickens, Victorian Phonography and the Reform of Writing,” in Price Leah and Thurschwell Pamela, eds., Literary Secretaries/Secretarial Culture (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2005), 1331; Jones Andrew F., Yellow Music: Media Culture and Colonial Modernity in the Chinese Jazz Age (Durham: Duke University Press, 2001).

6 Chatterjee Partha, The Nation and Its Fragments. (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993).

7 Potocki Jan, Manuscrit trouvé à Saragosse (Paris: Flammarion, 1805).

8 These two paragraphs of biographical information are drawn from Chock Alvin, “J. F. Rock, 1884–1962,” Newsletter of the Hawaiian Botanical Society 2, 1 (1963): 113; and Sutton Stephanie, In China's Border Provinces: The Turbulent Career of Joseph Rock, Botanist-Explorer (New York: Hastings House, 1974).

9 Rock Joseph, “A Herbarium,” Newsletter of the Hawaiian Botanical Society 2, 1 (1963 [1913]): 1415.

10 Bryan E. M., “An Anecdote Concerning Joseph Rock,” Newsletter of the Hawaiian Botanical Society 2, 1 (1963): 16.Though Bryan wrote his article forty-three years after his class with Rock, he worked from journal entries he had written at the time.

11 Gunning Todd, “Never Seen this Picture Before,” in Prodger Philip, ed., Time Stands Still: Muybridge and the Instantaneous Photography Movement (New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), 247.

12 Solnit Rebecca makes this argument forcefully in River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West (New York: Viking, 2003). See also the essays in Prodger, Time Stands Still; and Braun Marta and Marey Etienne-Jules, Picturing Time: The Work of Etienne-Jules Marey (1830–1904) (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992).

13 Rock Joseph, The Indigenous Trees of the Hawaiian Islands (Honolulu: privately published, 1913).

14 Rock describes this effort in his resume of the book, included with his 1913 report on the College of Hawaii herbarium to the Hawaiian legislature, reprinted as Rock Joseph, “A Herbarium,” Newsletter of the Hawaiian Botanical Society 2, 1 (1963): 1415.

15 Joseph Rock, Diary, 14 Sept. 1913, RBGE.

16 Rock, Diary, Apr. 19, 1922.

17 Rock, Diary, 14 Feb. 14, 1922; 13 Feb. 1925.

18 Rock, Diary, 4 Oct. 1922.

19 Rock, Diary, 10 Jan. 1922.

20 Rock, Diary, 16 Mar. 1923.

21 Merleau-Ponty Maurice and Lefort Claude, The Visible and the Invisible: Followed by Working Notes (Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 1968 [1964]), 137.

22 Ibid., 143.

23 Sanjines Javier, “Visceral Cholos: Desublimation and the Critique of Mestizaje in the Bolivian Andes,” in Smith Terry, ed., Impossible Presence: Surface and Screen in the Photogenic Era (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001), 223.

24 Deleuze Gilles and Bacon Francis, Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation (London: Continuum, 2003), 38.

25 Rock, Diary, 18 Dec. 1924.

26 Rock, Diary, 13 Feb. 1931.

28 Joseph Rock to David Fairchild, 1 Nov. 1922, Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation, Pittsburg, Pa. (hereafter, Hunt Institute).

29 Ibid., Rock's emphasis.

30 Rock to Fairchild, 22 Sept. 1922, Hunt Institute.

31 See, for example, Liang Linxia, Delivering Justice in Qing China: Civil Trials in the Magistrate's Court (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007).

32 Rock to Fairchild, 1 Nov. 1922, Hunt Institute.

33 Rock, Diary, 9 May 1922.

34 Rock to Ralph E. Graves, 17 May 1925, Arnold Arboretum.

35 Rock, Diary, 17 Jan. 1930.

36 Rock to Fairchild, 22 Sept. 1922, Hunt Institute.

37 Joseph Rock, “Bandits—a Government Asset,” unpub. MS, Arnold Arboretum.

38 Rock, Diary, 14 Dec. 1924.

39 Rock, Diary, 4 and 5 Apr. 1925.

40 Rock, Diary, 11 Apr. 1925.

41 Rock, Diary, 9 May 1926.

42 For some of the many analyses of this evolution, see Christopher Pinney, “The Parallel Histories of Anthropology and Photography,” in Elizabeth Edwards, ed., Anthropology and Photography, 1860–1920, and the other essays in that volume; Griffiths Alison, “Knowledge and Visuality in Turn of the Century Anthropology: The Early Ethnographic Cinema of Alfred Cort Haddon and Walter Baldwin Spencer,” Visual Anthropology Review 12, 2 (1996): 1843; Poole Deborah, Vision, Race, and Modernity: A Visual Economy of the Andean Image World (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997).

43 Pinney, “Parallel Histories,” 80.

44 Barthes Roland, Camera Lucida: Reflections on Photography, Howard Richard, trans. (New York: Hill and Wang, 1981 [1980]), 96.

45 Pinney Christopher, “Notes from the Surface of the Image: Photography, Postcolonialism and Vernacular Modernism,” in Pinney Christopher and Peterson Nicholas, eds., Photography's Other Histories (Durham: Duke University Press, 2003).

46 Metz Christian, “Photography and Fetish,” October 34 (1986): 8283.

47 Ibid., 84.

48 Rock, Diary, 13 May 1926.

49 New York Times, “America's Advance Guard,” 5 May 1910: SM2.

50 New York Times, “Thrills in Motion Picture. ‘The Wild Heart of Africa’ Shows Game at Close Range,” 27 May 1929: 20, 3, quoted in Gordon Robert J., Picturing Bushmen: The Denver African Expedition of 1925 (Athens, Oh.: Ohio University Press, 1997).

51 Foucault Michel, “The Ethics of the Concern of the Self as a Practice of Freedom,” in Rabinow Paul, ed., Essential Works of Michel Foucault, Vol. 1: Ethics: Subjectivity and Truth (London: Allen Lane, 2000), 200, quoted in Laidlaw James, “For an Anthropology of Ethics and Freedom,” Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute 8, 2 (2002): 311–32.

Acknowledgments: All the photographs that accompany this article were taken by Joseph Francis Charles Rock. They are printed here courtesy of the Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh, and the Arnold Arboretum. Fellowships from the British Academy and the MacArthur Foundation funded the research for this article. I am grateful to participants at colloquia and conferences at Harvard University, New York University, the CUNY Graduate School, Syracuse University, Brown University, Yale University, and the London School of Economics for their indispensable aid in refining my arguments. The comments of Arthur Kleinman, Lucien Castaing-Taylor, Faye Ginsburg, Bruce Grant, Nancy Jacobs, Webb Keane, Michael Lambek, Stephan Feuchtwang, Charles Stafford, and two anonymous readers for CSSH were particularly helpful. All errors and stupidities, however, are my own.

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