Gary Handwerk on Rick Gray

Submitted by Michael Neininger on
Gary Handwerk
Gary Handwerk, Professor, Department of English, UW
Inventions of the Imaginations
Inventions of the Imaginations
Rick and Sabine
Sabine Wilke and Rick Gray, 1984

I’ve known Rick since his arrival at UW and in varied ways—as colleague, collaborator and friend.  Over the thirty years that followed, he was one of the humanities faculty members who did the most to make UW for me a continually invigorating place to have an academic career. Rick is, as we all know, an imposing presence; he fills space with body and words alike.  A substantial presence, a voice worth listening to with the greatest care.  A brilliant reader, a synthetic thinker, a wonderfully clear and concise and stimulating writer.

I came to know Rick best through our joint work on the Stanford University Press translation of Nietzsche’s collected works—where Rick, unsurprisingly, was the only one of the original group to finish both of his volumes in a timely way.  Through conversations related to that work, I learned first-hand about Rick’s exquisite sensibility to language, which manifested itself in an unremitting commitment to finding just the right words for every specimen of language he touched.  His innovative title, Unfashionable Observation, signals the audacity and ingenuity of Rick’s cross-cultural mind—a brilliant solution to a linguistic puzzle that seems, once he found it, to have been inevitable. Rick’s two afterwords are masterful recountings of the historical context behind Nietzsche’s first philosophical essays, astutely aware of the central role that style and form played in Nietzsche’s thought.  I was deeply grateful to have these essays as models for my own.

Translation is, for Rick, as much an ethical as a linguistic process, a matter of treating an author with appropriate respect and caring enough about that writer’s intent to want to get every single word right (indeed, every single mark of punctuation, as he and I battled to get Stanford’s press to retain Nietzsche’s idiosyncratic usage).  Words don’t just sound in Rick’ mind; they resonate.  Resonate with a wealth of attendant implications that give incredible depth and color to the process of making meanings.  For him, we owe it to writers and readers, and just as much to ourselves, to capture as much as we can of their intent (never wholly a conscious one).  This trait makes Rick a splendid interlocutor as well, someone who listens to, weighs and honors the entire texture of every conversation.  We will miss him on campus…while hoping still to find him not too far away.