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Unformatted text preview: ost extraordinary pieces of writing is the essay entitled In Praise of Shadows. Reminiscent of the fourteenth-century Essays
in Idleness by Yoshida Kenkò, it is a miscellany of comments about the
traditional tastes and ways of the Japanese as set against those of the
modern West. The essay is full of nostalgia for the passing of these older
tastes and ways; and so beautifully has Tanizaki pleaded for them that In
Praise of Shadows has powerfully inspired contemporary architects and
others not simply to preserve the past but to use it as a source for art in
the present. The meaning of the essay’s title is made clear in this passage
on the special qualities of the traditional Japanese house:
A Japanese room might be likened to an inkwash painting, the paper-paneled
shoji being the expanse where the ink is thinnest, and the alcove where it is
darkest. Whenever I see the alcove of a tastefully built Japanese room, I
marvel at our comprehension of the secrets of shadows, our sensitive use of
shadow and light. For the beauty of the alcove is not the work of some clever
device. An empty space is marked off with plain wood and plain walls, so that
the light drawn into it forms dim shadows within emptiness. There is nothing
more. And yet, when we gaze into the darkness that gathers behind the crossbeams, around the flower vase, beneath the shelves, though we know perfectly well it is mere shadow, we are overcome with the feeling that in this
corner of the atmosphere there reigns complete and utter silence; that here in
the darkness immutable tranquility holds sway. The “mysterious Orient” of
which Westerners speak probably refers to the uncanny silence of these dark
places. And even we as children would feel an inexpressible chill as we peered
into the depths of an alcove to which the sunlight had never penetrated.
Where lies the key to this mystery? Ultimately it is the magic of shadows.
Were the shadows to be banished from its corners, the alcove would in that
instant revert to mere void. Culture in the Presen...
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This note was uploaded on 02/08/2013 for the course ANTH 142 taught by Professor Hans during the Spring '13 term at The University of British Columbia.
- Spring '13