Friday, February 24, 2012

Jun’ichirō Tanizaki: In Praise of Shadows

This amazing little book was published in 1933 in Japanese. The English translation was published in 1977. The book talks about the home and architecture from Tanizaki's own experiences (it seems that this famous writer was constantly redecorating or building a new house). As the title suggests Jun’ichirō Tanizaki makes the claim that traditional Japanese objects such as lacquerware and the Japanese home itself have been made specifically for low light, or to be specific, the light produced as the day closes.

"Why should this propensity to seek beauty in darkness be so strong only in Orientals? The West too has known a time when there was no electricity, gas, or petroleum, yest so far as I know the West has never been disposed to delight in shadows. Japanese ghosts have traditionally no feet; Western ghosts have feet, but are transparent. As even this trifle suggests, pitch darkness has always occupied our fantasies, while in the West even ghosts are clear as glass. This is true too of our household implements: we prefer colours compounded of darkness, they prefer the colours of sunlight. And of silverware and copperware: we love them for the burnish and patina, which they consider unclean, insanitary, and polish to a glittering brilliance. They paint their ceilings and walls in pale colours to drive out as many of the shadows as they can. We fill our gardens with dense plantings, they spread out a flat expanse of grass."

But the coolest and most memorable part of the book is when Tanizaki talks about toilets and how we important the aesthetics of this room is. But i let you discover that yourself.

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