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Letter from Ronald Sokol to Daniel Meador, Friday, July 28, 1967

[handwritten letter]
Hashimoto Apt.
18, Kamiyacho, Shiba
Minato-Ku
Tokyo

28 July 1967

Dear Dan,

I was very glad to get your letter and learn
that you and Jan are well, that you have not
given way to despair after a year in the dean’s
chair at Alabama and to hear the general news of
what you have been doing and thinking this past
year. I had begun to think that you were
going to pass out of sight altogether, so long had
it been since I’d heard from you. If Lyn Mostyn
had not assured me, as recently as this past spring, that
you were well, I should certainly have thought so.

There are many things I should like to talk to
you about but they mostly must await ’till we can get
together again. Dave Parrish wrote me that your Preludes[underline]
should be out by the end of the summer. I look forward
to seeing it. I am glad that you liked Language & Litigation.[underline]
The Puzzle of Equality[underline] is also out now. You are on the list to
receive a copy so if you haven’t rec’d one let either me or
Dave Parrish know. It is considerably tighter and better written
than it was, as four years have elapsed since I wrote it
and periodically I went through it rigorously to sharpen it.
The substance is the same, though. Lately I have been
reading Wittgenstein. He says “Philosophy aims at the logical
clarification of thoughts. Philosophy is not a body of doctrine
but an activity. A philosophical work consists essentially of
elucidations.” In this sense The Puzzle of Equality[underline] is
a work of pure philosophy as it consists of an attempt
to elucidate. It is really just a rudimentary beginning
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though, and awaits someone with greater analytical
powers than I have to push its propositions hither
and thither to see what can be turned up that might
be amusing or of interest. My analytical ability and interest
are constantly being ambushed by my imagination.

I came to Japan for two reasons, perhaps three. First,
to see a Japanese girl I have known for some time. I
don’t want to bore you with what may be ephemeral
and at any rate I don’t know what to say about it, so
I shall omit this reason. Secondly, to learn to speak and
understand Japanese and to get a good foundation in the
written language so that I can continue it upon my return
to France. Thirdly, and more generally, Japan is economically
the 3rd most powerful country in the world now, and her
growth rate, the highest among advanced countries, is continuing.
Combined with this is the fact that she has her own
distinct culture and is an Asian country. All of this,
coupled with my own ignorance of this part of the world,
has led me here.

Since June 12th I have been in school 2 hrs. a day
5 days a week with private tutors and as of the 1st I
am increasing to 3 hrs. a day 4 days a week. What I
came to see that I wanted to do was learn a language
with a different structure from our Indo-European
languages. For reasons which aren’t worth going into I
decided upon Japanese. Wittgenstein says “The limits of my
language mean the limits of my world.” I came to this
view while still teaching at Virginia long before reading
Wittgenstein but first encountered it articulated by Whorf
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in Language, Thought, and Reality,[underline] a book I think you
might enjoy. Since then, without trying to become a specialist,
I plunged into the field of linguistics and read most
of the main works, achieved some fluency in French and
decided I needed to get outside the structure of English, French,
Spanish, etc. Consider, for example, in Japanese–no distinction
between singular and plural, nor between present and future,
no conjugation of verbs, no articles, no relative pronouns, etc.
If the study of history is looked upon as a “language” one
gets a better perspective of it, I think, if one also
knows the “language” of law. At least one notes things
that one might otherwise have overlooked. If one gets outside
of one’s mother tongue altogether, the same thing happens.
Whether what one sees will bear any fruit is another
question. I may be chasing down a lot of blind alleys but
they may all be blind. And even if not, how else is one to
find those that lead somewhere? Most of the time I am in
agreement with Keats: “…probably every mental pursuit takes
its reality and worth from the ardor of the pursuer–being
in itself a nothing….”

At the moment I am not doing any writing but
confine myself to learning to speak and understand, memorizing
Japanese characters (100 already learned, 1900 to go), and reading
about Japanese history, literature, culture, etc. As long as I
can afford to, I shall continue this life of independent scholarship
–though that may be too fancy a word–as I find it
rewarding. Next summer I shall return to America and then
in the autumn back to Paris.

I still have a thumb in the legal pie. I read U.S.
(over) -3-

Law Week and 4th Circuit habeas corpus opinions. I
noticed that the Sup. Ct. cited my Handbook[underline] a few
months ago.

Now that Preludes to Gideon[underline] has been hatched
what about Lamar? Or have you other things in mind?
Does your deanship permit you to do much teaching?
Asking this makes me think of Dillard. Dillard will have
been dean for 5 years I think. He has been a good dean,
I think, although almost anyone would have seemed good in
contrast to the last years of Ribble’s reign. Nor do I
blame Dillard for accepting the appointment. I would have
done the same thing and certainly in your case I would
have done the same thing as you did in going to Ala. Yet
in Dillard’s case I think in a broader sense it may have
been a misfortune. There are many men who could have handled
the Virginia deanship about as well as Dillard, maybe, a little
worse, perhaps a little better. The difference isn’t worth
getting wrought up about. But Dillard was, is, a great
teacher, and there are only a handful around. If a school has
one it is lucky, If it has two, it is rich. In those five years
he could have reached a lot more students than he has because
of administrative tasks which in the long run, in my view, are
of little consequence. Your case obviously isn’t the same because
Virginia and Alabama are not parallel. You are trying to chart a
new course. Yet I confess to being vaguely troubled even by it.
Why should’t a teacher teach? If teachers were a common
commodity it would be an easy matter. I don’t know what
your academic experience was like but I encountered very few
in a long and eclectic academic career. Herman Hesse has written
a moderately long but very good novel on what may be this
theme–Magister Ludi.[underline] In this sense I think Dillard
may not have recognized his own limitations which may be
a person’s most difficult and important task. And as
Dillard accepted the post at an age when he should have
been at a more intimate stage of acquaintance with
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himself. I find this somewhat sad. It is like a great
painter with a mediocre talent for music, or say the
accordion of which there are, I presume, many competent
players, switching to this instrument and painting in his
spare time. There is even a kind of phrase for this in
French based on an actual case, “un violon d’Ingres” which
means a hobby. The painter Ingres had an obsession with
the violin and whenever anyone came to look at his paintings
he only wanted to play the violin. From this developed the phrase,
“what is your violin d’Ingres–what is your hobby.”

I don’t know how I got on to this. I have
thoughts about Japan but as I shall be here for awhile
I prefer to wait and let them steep a bit before
giving vent to them.

I appreciate your good intentions about writing, but
good intentions make a thin diet. When you have a chance,
let me hear from you again.

You and Jan are both well I hope and enjoying
your summer.

As ever,

Ron [handwritten signature]

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