Dazaifu: Oliver Statler's Unfinished Last Work
A prefatory note
Entering Oliver's study in the days after his death in 2002 with the sad task of packing his papers and books for delivery to the Library, I was overwhelmed. Every shelf, cabinet and surface convenient to his desk was filled with files, notebooks and ring binders, folders, photocopies, snapshots, piles of pamphlets and travel brochures, and books with their pages heavily marked with yellow Post-it a notes. This was where Oliver had been working on his last book, a story of Dazaifu, that ancient capital in Northern Kyushu with its dramatic setting and long stretch of history.
The disorder was dismaying. I couldn't help but compare it with the parts of his papers that he had given us in 1999. They had been meticulously arranged and labeled, reflecting the conscientious systematic documentation that was the hallmark of his research and the foundation of his earlier books.
Oliver's fascination with Dazaifu began many years ago. His early studies, his travels to Kyushu, and his steady collection of possibly useful sources were carried out when his body was still strong and his eyesight clear enough to continue as he always had, a little more determined perhaps, with voluminous correspondence and the support of loyal researchers and translators in Japan. Some of the Dazaifu materials?possibly the earliest compiled?showed the remnants of his usual organization. The remainder had been gathered and roughly sorted perhaps with the recognition that there was neither time nor room left for more filing
It is not immediately clear when Oliver began to write this story. His papers contain multiple revised versions of the early chapters, showing how he continually refined his elegant prose and added significant and surprising details freshly encountered in his research.
There was a maroon ring binder that was clearly his latest draft. Even that contained handwritten corrections and had new sources interleaved. There were tabs numbered 1 to 9, one tab for each chapter. There was no text at all behind the tab for Chapter 9, and nothing that would indicate whether he had decided on a title for the whole book
With the help of experts in Japanese history, culture and language, I sorted through the chaos of Oliver's office, gathering together everything that appeared to relate to Dazaifu, and pondering what best to do with it next.
Toward the end, Oliver's health and eyesight failed him. He continued to persevere but more slowly. In his last year or so he spoke with friends and colleagues about his unhappiness with his progress and his difficulties in telling his story as he wished it to be told. Chapter 8 became an unresolved burden and Chapter 9 apparently was never begun.
A small group of colleagues to whom Oliver was dear, who knew both him and the body of his life's work, read the last draft of the Dazaifu text and met to advise on the future of the manuscript. Was there enough material there to justify its publication in an incomplete state, perhaps with some judicious editing and a scholarly appraisal by a historian familiar with this period of Japanese history?
The group felt Oliver surely was satisfied with his first chapter "Introducing the Shrine and Dazaifu," with its evocative opening words:
Nevertheless, the group shared serious concerns. The chapters seemed progressively thinner. Overall the work had not yet reached the standard of Oliver's previous marvelous books. The group concluded that it would not be a proper tribute to Oliverfs long career of careful scholarship and high literary standards to formally publish this last, uncompleted work and subject it to the reviewers' scrutiny normally given popular English works about Japan. It would suffer by comparison to his earlier titles. And what of the expectations of his thousands of devoted readers?
This was a hard decision, given that Oliver's many friends, especially those who helped with research and translation, were anxious to see his latest work.
The Dazaifu materials received by the Library have now been inventoried. Together with his other papers they are available for study and scholarly research just as Oliver had wished when he made the gift. Others may now see the evidence on which the group decided not to proceed with publication.
The last typed draft of Oliver's incomplete Dazaifu manuscript, reproduced here in its entirety, must be understood as an archival document, a record of a work in progress. Reproduction is a compromise of course, made possible by the opportunities of the Internet. Yet it is perhaps the best solution to the dilemma posed by its very incompleteness. It enables us to share and appreciate the work so far, without pretending that it was ready for publication and without subjecting it to critical judgment it does not deserve. .
Chapter 1 : Introducing the Shrine and Dazaifu