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November 19, 2011 / mandyhyj

In Praise of Shadows

In Praise of Shadows by Tanizaki opens up my thoughts on the difference between the Eastern and the Western cultures, and directs the focus on the different perception and use of light/shadow, which I have not realized before. To me, being exposed to cultures from both sides, I always think that the main difference is between the directness of the westerners and subtlety of the easterners: the western or the westerners being more direct and bold; the easterners being more implicit and unexposed. This difference is reflected in arts, literatures, and even people’s mind-sets. However, I didn’t realize that light and shadow have played such an important role.

Tanizaki observed topics such as toilet, lacquerware, paper, pen/brush and temples etc. When he talks about toilet, he said that

“the cleanliness of what can be seen only calls up the more clearly thoughts of what cannot be seen. In such places the distinction between the clean and the unclean is best left obscure, shrouded in a dusky haze.”

I think what he was suggesting was the use of shadows in the Japanese or Asian style toilets. Light and shadow are always relative, the brighter it is exposed, the darker there could be unexposed, or at least leaves to one’s imagination.

He also talked about paper. “western paper is to us no more than something to e used, while the texture of Chinese paper and Japanese paper gives us a certain feeling of warmth, of calm and repose”. I definitely agree with this. It reminds me of the time when I was younger  that my parents forced me to go to Chinese calligraphy class hoping that I could be more patient by learning Chinese brush calligraphy. I’m not sure if it has achieved the effect that my parents have hope, but I do feel the “calm and repose” Tanizaki was refereeing to. “western paper turns away the light, while our paper seems to take it in, to envelop it gently, like the soft surface of a first snowfall. it gives off no sound when it is crumpled pr folded, it is quiet and pliant to the touch as the leaf of a tree.”  I think this specially “light absorbing quality” is due to the roughness of Chinese paper. you can see the layers on the Chinese paper, from which you might start imagine the different ingredients putting into the making of this sheet of paper in front of you, and the process that created this layering. The rough surface does not reflect light directly as sleek western writing paper. the light reflecting from Chinese paper becomes softer and more diffused. Softer and diffused light can create a calming and comforting feeling. This is similar to the museum lighting in the Kimbell Art Museum we talked about in class. Here is a comparison between western and Chinese paper.


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