Wednesday 19 June 2013

In Praise Of Shadows

I bought In Praise Of Shadows by Junichiro Tanizaki in a Dutch museum. It's an admirable corrective for anyone who feels that their taste has been overwhelmed by any particular aesthetic.

In praise of shadows

"a man who has a family and lives in the city cannot turn his back on the necessities of modern life" p3

"I always think how different everything would be if we in the Orient had developed our own science" p13

"how much better our own photographic technology might have suited our complexion, our facial features, our climate, our land" p16-17

"Of course this 'sheen of antiquity' of which we hear so much is in fact the glow of grime. In both Chinese and Japanese the words denoting this glow describe a polish that comes of being touched over and over again,  a sheen produced by long years of handling--which is to say grime." p20

"elegance is frigid" p20

"Sometimes a superb piece of black lacquerware, decorated perhaps with flecks of silver and gold -- a box or a desk or a set of shelves -- will seem to me unsettling garish and altogether vulgar. But render pitch the void in which they stand, and light them not with the rays of the sun or electricity but rather a single lantern or candler: suddenly those garish objects turn somber, refined, dignified. Artisans of old, when they finished their works in lacquer and decorated them in sparkling patterns, must surely have had in mind dark rooms and sought to turn to good effect what feeble light there was." p23

"The quality that we call beauty, however, must always grow from the realities of life, and our ancestors, forced to live in dark rooms, presently came to discover beauty in shadows, ultimately to guide shadows towards beauty's end." p29

"For the painting here is nothing more than another delicate surface upon which the faint, frail light can play; it performs precisely the same function as the sand-textured wall." p32

"This was the genius of our ancestors, that by cutting off the light from this empty space they imparted to the world of shadows that formed there a quality of mystery and depth superior to that of any wall painting or ornament. The technique seems simple, but was by no means simply achieved." p33

"And there may be some who argue that if beauty has to hide its weak points in the dark it is not beauty at all" p46

"we find beauty not in the thing itself but in the pattern of shadows, the light and the darkness, that one thing against another creates." p46

"A phosphorescent jewel gives off its glow and color in the dark and loses its beauty in the light of day. Were it not for shadows, there would be no beauty." p46

"It struck me that old people everywhere have much the same complaints. The older we get the more we seem to think that everything was better in the past. Old people a century ago wanted to go back two centuries, and two centuries ago they wished it were three centuries earlier. Never has there been an age that people have been satisfied with." p59

"I would call back at least for literature this world of shadows we are losing. In the mansion called literature I would have the eaves deep and the walls dark, I would push back into the shadows the things that come forward too clearly, I would strip away the useless decoration. I do not ask this be done everywhere, but perhaps we may be allowed at least one mansion where we can turn off the electric lights and see what it is like without them." p64