In Stefano, I felt I was lucky to enjoy a rare combination of a warm friend, and an intellectual and scholarly hero. He had been my hero before we met in person, and I was flattered and even somewhat amazed that he also become my friend. Especially in light of this rare good fortune, I have already been thinking more or less constantly this week about how I might comprehend what Stefano meant to me — “comprehend”, in the dual sense of understanding, and also summing up. It is good to have a chance to put some of those inarticulate thoughts into words. There is no encapsulating any whole personality, of course, let alone one as rich and lively as Stefano. But it also seems important to try, if only to fail.
To his scholarship first: to my mind, there were many things that made Stefano’s mind and work remarkable. Here are a few. His knowledge was profound, and he reflected insightfully, on the processes by which the Chinese canon was formed, transmitted, maintained and contested, the forces behind those processes, and their effects. Another topic on which he dwelt very fruitfully was the formation, nature, strategies and stakes of early Chinese Buddhist commentaries. He was equally alive to the ways actors in Chinese Buddhist history were embedded and active in complex local contexts and the dynamics of their time; but he also saw far beyond the borders of “China”, to ways that Chinese developments were organically part of a much wider Buddhist world. He traced with great subtlety, and something approximating X-ray vision, the complex relations between Chinese Buddhist translations and their various “source” or “sister” texts in other transmission lineages and languages. He saw new dimensions of the sources, creative achievements, and significance of Chinese Buddhist historiographers and their works. He was tireless in working out ever more exactly and perceptively just what the words and sentences in texts meant, and more deeply, behind that, what they were saying; in such work, he often coupled flights of philological virtuosity and inventiveness with superb precision. He wielded a kaleidoscopic palette of perspectives from which he could scrutinize a word or phrase. He had an acute critical awareness of the ways stubborn modern scholarly narratives about Chinese Buddhist history are formed by tropes forged in the tradition itself, and an uncanny ability to see around corners, as it were, in imagining alternatives. He constantly betrayed a breadth of learning in both primary and secondary sources that often beggared belief (at least, my impoverished belief). There is more, surely, but suffice to say, he represented for me more scholarly virtues than should perhaps by rights be rolled into one person.
In addition, though, there is another dimension, which I find it even harder to put my finger on, and overlaps, in my mind, with the man who was my friend. Stefano’s work was also imprinted by a strong, distinctive aesthetic quality. In person, he was a remarkable bundle of broader enthusiasms that seemed of a piece, for things like Bach, pipe tobacco, wry humour, tweed, the living operatic tradition in the Italian provinces, Herman Melville, or Scarlatti as played by Maria Tipo. In his writing, he wielded an English that should be the envy of many a native speaker, typified for me by sentences like these:
“The apparatus of an edition may be likened to a garden, and the vegetation of its variant readings can be more or less luxuriant, depending on what history and the hands of scribes have sown. When I first happened to cast a glance at the apparatus of roll 9 of the GZJ [Guangzan jing] in the Taishō, I almost felt for a moment as if I had abruptly crossed the border into a different climatic region: from that point onwards, the textual flora of this apparatus – the number of witnesses quoted therein – sharply decreases.” In Praise of the Light, 117.
Even an email from Stefano often contained similarly carefully wrought, striking images and balanced periods. I always felt that something almost baroque ran through these facets of his persona, and I found it immensely delightful and attractive. Somehow, I think I can discern these qualities in his scholarship, too (some of those footnotes!). A certain strand of warm and authentic humanism, in the best and broadest sense, or a feel for life, animates even rigorous philological work that in other hands would be austere.
This all falls sorely short. But I hope it does a bit to suggest my intention to speak “in praise of the light” that Stefano shed while with us, and in sadness, of the dark now he is gone.
猶若壯士屈伸臂頃…從所在…國土忽然不見 (Dharmarakṣa, *Susthitamati-paripr̥cchā, T342 [XII] 135c9-10).
Michael Radich (University of Heidelberg)