Thursday, March 12, 2015

Patrick Riley, RIP

I just learned that Patrick Riley has passed away. Patrick was a political philosopher, historian of political thought, and the closest thing to Leibniz I think I've ever met. I was never officially his student - he was on the faculty at Wisconsin Madison (and managed somehow at the same time to live and work in Cambridge, Mass) - but he was my main Leibniz adviser on a dissertation - on Leibniz! Patrick Riley wasn't even on my committee, but he was all over my dissertation, and all over the career I made for a decade as a Leibnizian and dixhuitièmiste

Patrick's edition of Leibniz' Political Writings and later his Leibniz' Universal Jurisprudence: Justice as the Charity of the Wise (1996) shaped my whole view of the philosopher, and of myself as an emerging citizen of the république des lettres. I first wrote to him in January of 1992, and first met him in October 1993 - I still have the letters on my computer, though in a format only TextEdit will open. The pretext was a connection I thought I saw between Leibniz' writings on China (!) and something Patrick had written. What a graduate student I sounded:

I am writing about the last of the three previously unpublished pieces you present in the 1988 edition [of Leibniz, Political Writings], "On the Greeks as Founders of Rational Theology." If I am not mistaken, there is a reference to China in this lecture which it would perhaps be appropriate to point out in a future edition, and, arising from this, I have a question about the translation at one point. (Obviously, having no access to the original, my query is purely presumptive. Further, you are probably familiar with E. J. Aiton's biography, in which Leibniz' abiding interest in things Chinese is discussed, so what follows will come as no surprise to you. Nevertheless, ...)

Unfortunately, this being before the days of email (which Patrick never embraced), I don't have his response... I'm sure it was not just forbearing (though he wasn't interested in Leibniz sinologue) but effusive and welcoming. I was driving up to visit friends in Cambridge regularly in those days so started meeting him every time I went up there. At a place called Cafe Pamplona he became a kind of Geheimrat adviser to me. A remarkable scholar he was also remarkably self-effacing. I remember being very touched by how attached he was to his own teachers, getting teary whenever Judith Shklar's name came up - which it always did, since it was Cafe Pamplona where he used to come with her, too. He seemed to me - and this fit the Leibnizian view he opened up to me of a commitment to justice and scholarship anchored in love - to be someone driven by a tender and almost childlike love of human goodness. He was a citizen of no place and every place. No time and every time, too - he looked more like an eighteenth century character (even caricature) than anyone I knew; the photo above is all I could find and doesn't really capture it. Our friendship wasn't framed by any institution or place - it felt based on serendipity through and through - and I saw him lots of places, as often as not without knowing he'd be there. With someone who made caritas sapientis believable, one wasn't surprised at moments of harmonie préétablie.

It has, I am sorry to realize, been a very long time since I last saw Patrick, though not as long as I remembered. I'll mention that last time in a moment, but first let me tell you about the time I remember most clearly - it involves Leibniz, and those inspired by Leibnizian loves - and one I'd forgotten I'd forgotten about.

The time I remember most vividly was in Fall 1999. I was taking my Japanese friend Sasaki Yoshiaki around Germany - his first trip abroad - and since he was a great Leibniz fan, we went places important in the great polymath's biography: Hannover, Wolfenbüttel, Goslar, and, eventually, his hometown Leipzig. Sasaki is the Japanese translator of Leibniz' Theodicy and his view of Leibniz as shaped by Patrick Riley as mine. I was only sorry I couldn't introduce him to Patrick back in the US, the living spirit of our hero. The day we showed up in Leipzig turned out to be an important anniversary - 10 years since the Monday meetings started at the Nikolaikirche which had helped bring the Wende - with a concert in the Nikolaikirche with some musicians we knew. (Part of it's on YouTube, though not the cliché-transcending performance of Beethoven's Fifth.) But first we nipped into the restaurant in what used, in DDR days, to be a police station, and long before that was the schoolhouse where young Leibniz went! We'd read that it had been lovingly restored to its schoolhouse appearance - as much at least as was compatible with serving beer and sausages. You picked up your food first, then entered the main hall to sit, but when we came into the room every table was full. What to do? Maybe there were seats behind the door, I said, and there were. Right next to ... yes, Patrick Riley!

A staggering coincidence, and the highlight of Sasaki's Leibnizian pilgrimage (meeting the great Patrick Riley! in Leibniz' childhood classroom! by harmonie préétablie!) ... but the wonder of it was that I wasn't even all that surprised to find him there! I had no idea Patrick was in Europe, let alone in Leipzig - and even being there together we might easily have missed each other, too (he was going to the concert, too). But I had by this time already come to expect to find Patrick in all sorts of unexpected places, the way one did Leibniz in the late 17th and early 18th century world of letters. And so the last time I saw him I described him in my diary as a little like Alfred Hitchcock when he inevitably appeared for a moment in each of his movies.

But I was going to describe one other time first, the one I'm surprised I'd forgotten. We were in Berlin, walking to Café Zwiebelfisch on Savignyplatz for dinner after the first day of the International Leibniz Congress (to which Patrick had helped me get an invitation). It was 2001. It was September 11th. In his hotel room he'd just heard that two planes had crashed into the World Trade Center. We were united in horrified disbelief, though we leapt to grab a special issue of some paper a newspaper boy was selling table to table (the time I saw the picture of the "jumpers"); only when we got back to the congress and met another philosopher trying in every way he could to resist the meaning of the words he'd just heard, that the towers had "pancaked," did we really start to understand. I'm surprised I'd forgotten that it was with Patrick that I experienced that, though I remember that one of the planes was a flight he'd regularly taken to visit his parents in California. Maybe that's why. That day wounded serendipity.

The last time I saw Patrick Riley was in London, March 22, 2003 - can it really be a dozen years ago? I was at the National Gallery, and had got a timed ticket for a big Titian exhibit (though I wasn't much of a Titian fan then). Here's how I described it in my diary:

Decided to go out and get some coffee before Titian, and as I left the building, my Albert Hitchcock cameo man was there — Patrick Riley, this time with his wife. I wasn’t even surprised, since I see him everywhere—Leipzig, but even San Diego! They came for a talk at Aberdeen and have made their way south, and I’m invited up to Cambridge to stay with them if I have a chance. 

I never had that chance. I didn't make plans to see him, since he seemed like someone who always turned up when he had to. Patrick continued and continues to shape my thinking on many things, though it seems (to me as well) to have moved far beyond the Leibnizian contexts in which it was first articulated. (I am in China, though...) If I thought of his appearances as a little like Hitchcock's cameos in his movies it's a sign that Patrick Riley felt like one of the directors of the movie of my life.

May you rest in peace, Patrick.


David said...

Patrick was a dear friend. The loss is great, but such tributes are certainly heart-warming. If you wouldn't mind, could you send me a message? Thanks so much.

mark said...

Hi David,
How can I contact you? I'm at