Thursday, August 12, 2010

A Late Addition

There is one more book I've added to my Summer reading list: "In Praise of Shadows" by Junichiro Tanizaki. I recently met up with my favorite art teacher from High School. Upon hearing my plans in Japan, she supplied me with a copy of this book. It's a quick 42 pages and a beautifully written essay on the loss of Japanese aesthetics and culture at the hand of westernization in the early twentieth century.

My favorite line: "We do not dislike everything that shines, but we do prefer a pensive luster to a shallow brilliance, a murky light that, whether in a stone or an artifact, bespeaks a sheen of antiquity."

Another interesting passage details the Japanese toilet versus its western counterpart. Tanizaki criticizes western toilets for exacerbating any hint of dirt or imperfection."The cleanliness of what can be seen only calls up the more clearly thoughts of what cannot be seen." He favors "wooden urinals" and fixtures of wood with black laquer because "In such places the distinction between the clean and the unclean is best left obscure, shrouded in a dusty haze." I have never experienced a wooden urinal, though I remember sharing a similar sentiment two years back when I was studying ceramics in Japan. There was a plain old western bathroom in the main studio building, and another one separated from the main building and studio, in the back next to the surrounding forest. In January the trek out back was usually not taken, except for a few times when I was already outside tending the kiln or getting clay. But this other bathroom was pretty amazing. It had a heated seat (which for some reason these have never really caught on in the US) and it was also technically outside, there wasn't a full door separating it from the frigid January air. This connection to the environment as well as the remote location, made it a surprisingly serene place, where no such peace or serenity had been expected. Restooms are often considered quite mundane, necessary and therefore disregarded. The bigger idea for me was that it was gratifying to find a typically overlooked experience made memorable.

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