December 15, 2003

In Praise of Shadows

In Praise of Shadows
Junichiro Tanizaki


(December 15, 2003)

An odd, intriguing book that tries to reconstruct and explain a tradition of intrinsically Japanese aesthetic based on the perception of objects in shadow -- an aesthetic of interior life experienced in dimly-lit rooms sheltered by low, overhanging eaves. Western aesthetics, on the other hand, are considered to be heavily influenced by illumination. It's an intriguing argument, though perhaps it is pushed altogether too far when extended to speculation on a distinctively Japanese science of shadowy ambiguity. I have misgivings, too, about aesthetic valorization of skin color, or arguments that traditional beauties were (or might just as well have been) malnourished because what matters, in the dim light, is the composition of a light-colored and graceful face above beautiful cloth. Still, it's an argument that explains a lot about current Japanese graphic design as well as Japan's traditional art and architecture.