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In Praise of Shadows (Vintage Classics)

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A fully illustrated, beautifully produced edition of Junichiro Tanizaki's wise and evocative essay on Japanese culture. ‘We find beauty not in the thing itself but in the patterns of shadows, the light and the darkness, that one thing against another creates… Were it not for shadows, there would be no beauty.’ This book is in fact a portal. Reading it, you will be led A fully illustrated, beautifully produced edition of Junichiro Tanizaki's wise and evocative essay on Japanese culture. ‘We find beauty not in the thing itself but in the patterns of shadows, the light and the darkness, that one thing against another creates… Were it not for shadows, there would be no beauty.’ This book is in fact a portal. Reading it, you will be led by Junichiro Tanizaki’s light touch into a mysterious and tranquil world of darkness and shadows, where gold flashes in the gloom and a deep stillness reigns. If you are accustomed to equate light with clarity, the faded with the worthless and the dim with the dreary, prepare for a courteous but powerful realignment of your ideas. In Praise of Shadows is a poetic paean to traditional Japanese aesthetics – in a free-ranging style that moves from architecture to No theatre, and from cookery to lighting, Tanizaki teaches us to see the beauty in tarnished metal, the sombre dignity in unglazed pottery, the primacy of organic materials that bear witness to the regular touch of human hands. It is also astonishingly prescient, offering a gentle warning against the quest for airbrushed perfection, and reminding us that too much light can pollute and obscure our natural world. In this special edition, the text is accompanied by specially selected images to complement Tanizaki’s reflections and further illustrate the pattern and beauty of shadows.


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A fully illustrated, beautifully produced edition of Junichiro Tanizaki's wise and evocative essay on Japanese culture. ‘We find beauty not in the thing itself but in the patterns of shadows, the light and the darkness, that one thing against another creates… Were it not for shadows, there would be no beauty.’ This book is in fact a portal. Reading it, you will be led A fully illustrated, beautifully produced edition of Junichiro Tanizaki's wise and evocative essay on Japanese culture. ‘We find beauty not in the thing itself but in the patterns of shadows, the light and the darkness, that one thing against another creates… Were it not for shadows, there would be no beauty.’ This book is in fact a portal. Reading it, you will be led by Junichiro Tanizaki’s light touch into a mysterious and tranquil world of darkness and shadows, where gold flashes in the gloom and a deep stillness reigns. If you are accustomed to equate light with clarity, the faded with the worthless and the dim with the dreary, prepare for a courteous but powerful realignment of your ideas. In Praise of Shadows is a poetic paean to traditional Japanese aesthetics – in a free-ranging style that moves from architecture to No theatre, and from cookery to lighting, Tanizaki teaches us to see the beauty in tarnished metal, the sombre dignity in unglazed pottery, the primacy of organic materials that bear witness to the regular touch of human hands. It is also astonishingly prescient, offering a gentle warning against the quest for airbrushed perfection, and reminding us that too much light can pollute and obscure our natural world. In this special edition, the text is accompanied by specially selected images to complement Tanizaki’s reflections and further illustrate the pattern and beauty of shadows.

30 review for In Praise of Shadows (Vintage Classics)

  1. 5 out of 5

    Florencia

    The preference for a pensive luster to a shallow brilliance. My quiet, soothingly minimalist room seems of no consequence when juxtaposed with the unearthly beauty that Jun'ichirō Tanizaki described in this splendid essay on aesthetics. A shōji. Lightning. Electric fans. The right heating system. Architecture. Food. Every detail to avoid the disruption of harmony in a Japanese room. An almost imperceptible line between an extremely refine taste and the subtlety of irony. We delight in the mere The preference for a pensive luster to a shallow brilliance. My quiet, soothingly minimalist room seems of no consequence when juxtaposed with the unearthly beauty that Jun'ichirō Tanizaki described in this splendid essay on aesthetics. A shōji. Lightning. Electric fans. The right heating system. Architecture. Food. Every detail to avoid the disruption of harmony in a Japanese room. An almost imperceptible line between an extremely refine taste and the subtlety of irony. We delight in the mere sight of the delicate glow of fading rays clinging to the surface of a dusky wall, there to live out what little life remains to them. We never tire of the sight, for to us this pale glow and these dim shadows far surpass any ornament. (9) Inside this book, there is a room that seems enraptured by the sobriety of the different shades of black. So much space beholding the magnificence of a dim light on a particular spot, barely illuminating the serene twilight the walls seem to be made of. Could this book be applied to people? It shouldn't. But that is subject to one's personality. You could be the reserved, darkened room. Except when writing. And that would be fine. Nevertheless, a book on beauty has its share of ugliness; people's skin and supposed degrees of purity. Above all, this is an essay that exalts the enigmatic candlelight. The particular beauty of a candle emanating a delicate glow that embellish a silent room. A most idyllic view under its mystical light. Nothing superfluous. Nothing pretentious. Nothing loud but the silence. A universe in one's thoughts. The encounter with oneself under the tenuous radiance of a candle, evoking a somber night and the bright moon someone is gazing at. Tanizaki observes. Tanizaki fights. Tanizaki pouts! Tanizaki misses. Tanizaki regrets. The sound of the rain playing gently with the dusky light of a candle. The mind wanders. Nov 21, 2015 * Also on my blog. ** Photo credit: Japanese room / via bluebu.us Tatami room / via Kyoto Contemplation Candle / via Free images

  2. 4 out of 5

    Cecily

    “We find beauty not in the thing itself but in the patterns of shadows, the light and the darkness, that one thing against another creates… Were it not for shadows, there would be no beauty.” This is a fascinating, surprising, occasionally amusing essay that lauds and explains traditional Japanese aesthetics relating to light and its absence. It’s applied to architecture, music, writing, the costumes of theatres and temples, women, and food. It contrasts Japanese principles with the western ones “We find beauty not in the thing itself but in the patterns of shadows, the light and the darkness, that one thing against another creates… Were it not for shadows, there would be no beauty.” This is a fascinating, surprising, occasionally amusing essay that lauds and explains traditional Japanese aesthetics relating to light and its absence. It’s applied to architecture, music, writing, the costumes of theatres and temples, women, and food. It contrasts Japanese principles with the western ones that were increasingly influential in 1933, and asks if progress is necessarily good, particularly when it’s imported from another culture. Image: “The beauty of a Japanese room depends on a variation of shadows, heavy shadows against light shadows” - that’s why there are so few ornaments. (Source.) Dark and Light, East and West “How different everything would be if we in the Orient had developed our own science.” It’s not just a matter of taste. Tanizaki sees the differences arising from the landscape and the people themselves, giving rise to different paths of development - a cultural butterfly effect. He explains how the fountain pen, "an insignificant little piece of writing equipment", was invented in the west, so there is no brush, no gentle seeping of black ink, and different paper is required. It makes writing a viscerally different experience, and its adoption in the east triggered suggestions to replace characters with Roman script, and will inevitably influence the type of literature Japanese writers write. Image: You can now buy hybrid cartridge-filled brush pens. (Source.) But I was challenged by the conclusions of this self-described Oriental that the fundamental reason for Japanese preference for dark and shadows was skin colour: how light plays on Japanese skin which, though pale, is "tainted by a slight cloudiness" akin to dirt in a clear pool. He even empathises with “pure-blooded whites” upset by the sight of those with other skin tones! Protect Difference or Accept Hegemony? In a broader sense, this is a topical question, nearly a century after it was written. How do we balance embracing the richness of other cultures with maintaining the essence of their distinct identities? Tanizaki observes fundamental differences between east and west, and he doesn’t want to erase them, though he accepts some of the conveniences that come from afar. I remember travelling in China in 2008, being struck by how different the fashion and cosmetic ads were compared with my previous trip in 1992. They all used the palest, least Chinese-looking models - apart from those that used western models. It’s one thing desiring western products, but wanting to look like a different race is tragic - except for the burgeoning cosmetic surgery sector, with specialisms in eye-surgery, skin whitening, and even leg lengthening. Darkness to Enhance Other Senses “Our cooking depends upon shadows and is inseparable from darkness.” I once went to a restaurant whose USP was eating in total darkness. It was an experience like no other, and flavours were surprisingly hard to identify. I relished the novelty, and the enhanced sensations of shape and texture. That’s not a viable option day to day, but eating in more normal low-light, and without the distractions of cluttered walls, and background music certainly engages one more in the food itself. Conversely, too many dinners in front of the TV, where you barely notice what you eat, let alone how much, surely contribute to the obesity problem. Tanizaki is at his most lyrical when writing about aged lacquerware in traditional low light (see quotes below): “Only in dim half-light is the true beauty of Japanese lacquerware revealed.” Image: Ōnishi Isao, a traditional lacquerware craftsman works by candlelight. (Source.) Quotes In places, this reads almost like poetry, but is by a novelist who was shortlisted for the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1964: Jun'ichirō Tanizaki. • “The Japanese toilet is truly a place of spiritual repose. It always stands apart from the main building, at the end of a corridor, in a grove fragrant with leaves and moss. No words can describe that sensation as one sits in the dim light, basking in the faint glow reflected from the shoji, lost in meditation or gazing out at the garden.” • “Japanese paper gives us a certain feeling of warmth, of calm and repose… 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 or folded, it is quiet and pliant to the touch as the leaf of a tree.” • “We find it hard to be really at home with things that shine and glitter. The Westerner uses silver and steel and nickel tableware, and polishes it to a fine brilliance… We begin to enjoy it only when the luster has worn off, when it has begun to take on a dark, smoky patina. • “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.” • “Darkness is an indispensable element of the beauty of lacquerware… [Traditional lacquerware] was finished in black, brown, or red, colors built up of countless layers of darkness, the inevitable product of the darkness in which life was lived.” • “In the Gothic cathedral of the West, the roof is thrust up and up so as to place its pinnacle as high in the heavens as possible… In the temples of Japan, on the other hand, a roof of heavy tiles is first laid out, and in the deep, spacious shadows created by the eaves the rest of the structure is built.” • “Japanese music is above all a music of reticence, of atmosphere… In conversation, too, we prefer the soft voice, the understatement. Most important of all are the pauses.” • “Light is used not for reading and writing or sewing but for dispelling the shadows in the farthest corners, and this runs against the basic idea of the Japanese room.” • “So dilute is the light there that no matter what the season, on fair days or cloudy, morning, midday, or evening, the pale, white glow scarcely varies. And the shadows at the interstices of the ribs seem strangely immobile, as if dust collected in the corners had become a part of the paper itself. I blink in uncertainty at this dreamlike luminescence, feeling as though some misty film were blunting my vision.” • “The color of that ‘darkness seen by candlelight.’ It was different in quality from darkness on the road at night. It was a repletion, a pregnancy of tiny particles like fine ashes, each particle luminous as a rainbow.” Themes After reading this, I discovered a different edition labels 16 sections. I couldn’t actually work out where all the section breaks would go, so I’m glad I read it as one continuous piece. All the themes are covered, but not solely in this sequence: 1. On construction 2. The toilet aesthetic 3. A different course 4. A novelist's daydreams 5. On paper, tin and dirt 6. Candlelight and lacquerware 7. Bowls of broth 8. The enigma of shadows 9. An uncanny silence 10. Reflections in darkness 11. Shadows on the stage 12. The woman of old 13. Beauty in the dark 14. A world of shadows 15. A cool breeze in total darkness 16. Final grumblings

  3. 5 out of 5

    Dolors

    A delightful essay on the ethos of Japanese aesthetics, its “frigid elegance” and its ancestral raison d’etre. Thanks to Tanizaki’s unadorned yet carefully layered prose I start to grasp the importance of natural materials like worn-out wood or paper lanterns, or the preference for dim lighted rooms and tarnished tableware that lack the aggressive glitter of metal or the aseptic whiteness of tiles of modern houses. It’s in the musky darkness that shrouds the bare room, devoid of artificial ornam A delightful essay on the ethos of Japanese aesthetics, its “frigid elegance” and its ancestral raison d’etre. Thanks to Tanizaki’s unadorned yet carefully layered prose I start to grasp the importance of natural materials like worn-out wood or paper lanterns, or the preference for dim lighted rooms and tarnished tableware that lack the aggressive glitter of metal or the aseptic whiteness of tiles of modern houses. It’s in the musky darkness that shrouds the bare room, devoid of artificial ornaments, that the mystery leads to peace and rest. Never had this annoyingly bright screen and the artificial bulb that lights up the sultry room where I am typing these words seemed more unappealing or devoid of grace to me. I yearn for the ink and the sturdy paper and the pattern of shadows playing on the Shoji and the warmth of “darkness seen by candlelight”.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Praj

    “We find beauty not in the thing itself but in the patterns of shadows, the light and the darkness, that one thing against another creates.” ** Kage-e illustrations - Japanese shadow art from the Edo period (woodblock print) Have you ever stomped on your shadow, trying to hold its torso with your feet? The subtle chase between you and the devious shadow; toughening with every stomp on the dried grey asphalt while queries of whether you have lost your marbles looming in the humid air. Deer pra “We find beauty not in the thing itself but in the patterns of shadows, the light and the darkness, that one thing against another creates.” ** Kage-e illustrations - Japanese shadow art from the Edo period (woodblock print) Have you ever stomped on your shadow, trying to hold its torso with your feet? The subtle chase between you and the devious shadow; toughening with every stomp on the dried grey asphalt while queries of whether you have lost your marbles looming in the humid air. Deer prancing, jumping rabbits, sluggish turtles and eagles soaring to the sky on a sunlit wall; an ecstatic scuffle of shadow -animals cheers up the dull wall. Emulate the avian hand creation in front of a mirror and observe the beauty of an eagle being dissected into shreds by an illuminated reality, the nimble fingers crumbling in a preposterous sway that had earlier been proudly celebrating the mystified flight of an eagle. The beauty of the shadow crumbles into the clarity of a luminous mirror, leaving the tangible fantasy of the hand-made animals to die away in sharpness of the vision. The softness of an object is highlighted through the shades of darkness; its beauty enhanced through an array of radiated nuances, the shadows cultivating a life of their own. For as long as my grandfather was alive, one of the bathrooms in our house had an Indian toilet installation that remained intact through several rounds of renovations. As much as I despised the functioning of an Indian toilet, my grandfather loathed its English counterpart. A man who strictly emphasized on my cursive calligraphy, my domestic and public etiquette, the immaculate English pronunciations and everything that spelled the norms of a Western cultural demeanor, was never able to let go his toilet preferences. That was the ultimate defining line that demarcated me and my grandfather standing apart in two different worlds. The novelist Natsume Soseki counted his morning trips to the toilet a great pleasure, “a physiological delight” he called it. And surely there could be no better place to savor this pleasure than a Japanese toilet where, surrounded by tranquil walls and finely grained wood, one looks out upon blue skies and green leaves. Through the words of Soseki, similar quandary when expressed by Tanizaki in his artistic essay brought a flurry of nostalgic shards piercing my psyche comprehending my grandfather’s quirks as the establishment of an Indian toilet was the only piece of Indian aesthetic remaining in the Western architectural jungle that adorned the house making it the sole rescue to his “old" world from the chaos of modernization. The solitude of a bathroom/toilet is where great literary ideas are born, culturally significant haikus are written, so says Tanizaki and I couldn't agree more. A toilet is indeed the most important element of an architectural mores. The shadows of the past intensify as we age, the dormant beauty exploding actively, flooding the superciliousness of time with melancholic meekness. “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 ends. And so it has come to be that the beauty of a Japanese room depends on a variation of shadows, heavy shadows against light shadows – it has nothing else..." It becomes evident from titular embellishments the thematic conception of this book revolving around the significance of ‘shadows’ and ‘shades of darkness’ in Japanese cultural aesthetics. For nearly 250 years, although not entirely secluded under the Sakoku policy, Japan still remained culturally aloof from the world until the late 1868. The entry of strange foreign world bringing in their aspect of cultural modernization further propelled the Japanese cultural to staunchly hold on to its ethnicity, culturally and philosophy. Even though honoured Japanese authors like Natsume Soseki , Junichiro Tanizaki, et.al were born decades later in a more liberated Japanese environment, their literature prospered through the teachings of Zen and conventional Japanese literary and spiritual philosophies. Moreover , with the burgeoning aspects of westernization in the early 20th century , Japanese literature orated the quandary of many the Japanese population that were stuck between the modern and orthodox civilization , searching a stable ground for co-habitation with the changing times and clutching on to the “allies of inhabitation” exhibiting a sense of belonging , however temporary. Tanizaki dilemma of surviving the bane of modernization while hanging onto the boons of the old Japanese edifying era is articulated through his annoyance of the necessitated usage of heavy electric lightings. The peculiarity of shadows through which the beauty of an object excels seems to be diminishing with the onset of modern times. Shadows form an integral part of Japanese traditional aesthetic and in the subsequent cyclic philosophy of concealment and revelation through a game of shadows the crucial beauty becomes highly seductive. Tanizaki applies this theoretical perception while arguing the essence of shadow through exemplary significance of electric heaters, architecture, theater, food, ceramics and lacquerware, literature, radio, music systems, the intricacies of Japanese way of life in accordance to its populace and even to the extent of comparing a fountain pen to the elegance of a Japanese calligraphy brush swaying gracefully on a boisterous, coarse paper. The minimalist architectural layout of a Japanese room prevailing in the mysterious game of shadows; competing with the delicately illuminated rooms and alcove with the sober patterned colours adorning the ashen walls; the curious sun peeking through the raw texture of the shōji filling the old floor lamps with reminiscent shadows. The Japanese architectural aesthetic is greatly based on the wabi-sabi philosophical foundation of impermanence and imperfection. The simultaneous cyclic ‘light and shadow’ spirituality of ‘wabi-sabi’ conveys the universal truth of the cyclical phenomenon of ‘day and night’, asserting the transient nature of the universe. The wooden pillar withered through the tantrums of changing seasons, ageing into oblivion equates to a wrinkled face, the shadows dwelling the wrinkly creases, augmenting the beauty of the face that has weathered the rambunctious life exemplifying that nothing is permanent, not even the tautness of a youthful skin and yet in those imperfect shadows of ugly deep wrinkles lay an unconventional beauty of perfection. The philosophical notion of the universe being created from nothingness and in due course all living organism will disintegrate into the darkness of oblivion, bestows the world of shadows with a spirituality of aesthetic ideals where the humility of imperfection and reticence of impermanence expunge the haughtiness of illuminated perfection. The impassive ceramic tiles that adorn the Western components of interior designs will never be able to contest with the mystifying magnificence of the withered wooden interiors Tanizaki reveals his predicament over the use glass doors instead of the traditional shōji while constructing a house, the eventual costs for the interior designing rising above the limits of monetary assumption because of Tanizaki’s stubbornness of installing both the shōji and the glass door for valid reasons of illumination and security. The need for modern element surged from the dire circumstances of an evolving world. Tanizaki makes a valid case when he asserts how in order to survive in this transforming cultural avenues, the conventional cultural norms could be well followed if one lived in solitude away from the nitty-gritty of the city life. This adherence was certainly not possible to those residing and working in the cities. Tanizaki elaborates an interesting debating subject dissecting the fundamentals of Japanese theater, distinguishing the reputable model and modus operandi of Noh and Kabuki revolving around the world of shadows depicting the mysterious aura that surrounds the theatrical performances. The silhouette of the Noh mask resting on the curious neck of the stage actor performing the play brings an outwardly mystery to the person behind the mask. It is as if you desire to remove the mask off the face exposing the vulnerabilities and apprehension of the actor contrasting that of its stage character. And, yet you fear that the rigid revelation would destroy the beauty that lingers for hours after the end of the final act. So you decide to sit back and take utter delight in the immaculate performance , the beauty of the Noh enhanced amid the shadows of the mask, its mystery deepening in the crimson flush swept across the underneath skin. Tanizaki’s affinity toward Noh, becomes evident with his exasperation for the heavily powered Kabuki faces which thrive in a world of sham shrouded with perverted beauty, an art which Tanizaki proclaims to have walked the path from subtle eroticism to overt vulgarity with its distinct charm misplaced in the array of gaudy floodlights. The apprehensions of the Noh theatre installing high voltage lightings for the viewing comfort in large auditorium , brings dismay to Tanizaki about the worrisome future of Noh losing its true beauty in such extravagant set up. The possibility of the diminishing aesthetical darkness that had once augmented the veiled beauty of Noh into a mystical world of realistic fantasy is feared with raging odds of the regal art being another commonplace theatrical facade. The spirit of nationalism takes centre stage as this promising composition connotes the significance of shadows deeply embedded in the Japanese cultural heritage. Tanizaki has his comical moments when he equates the affinity of the Japanese philosophies towards darkness to the inheritances of dark black hair of the populace. Another humorous anecdote comes up in the afterword penned by Thomas J. Harper. (view spoiler)[( Mrs. Tanizaki tells a story of when her late husband decided, as he frequently did, to build a new house. The architect arrived and announced with pride, “I’ve read your In Praise of Shadows, Mr. Tanizaki, and know exactly what you want.” To which Tanizaki replied, “But no, I could never live in a house like that.” There is perhaps as much resignation as humour in that answer) (hide spoiler)] Conversely, the detailed description of the fair skin-tone becomes ambiguous when looked through a two-sided mirror reflecting images of pure aesthetics and subtle racism, each muddling within the shadows of the reader’s sanity. Yet, analogous to the age-old Japanese beautification symbol of ‘blackening the teeth’, the dialogue of translucent skin-tone varying underneath the perfect amalgamation of shadows and illumination to achieve an unadulterated fairness could be perceived under the lens of a purist aesthetic. But, still this aspect goes through scrutiny of a civilized lens of judgments. Eloquently, Tanizaki elucidates the tantalizing aura of Japanese cuisine asserting the glorious food to be a form of meditation. He refers to Soseki’s literary marvel Kusamakura to elaborate on the splendour of Soseki’s favourite tea sweet – Yōkan . The sweetened jelly concocted from red bean paste is rather splendid with its semi-translucent structure; the opaque tinted shadows that hover on this confectionery bring a pleasurable aura to its velvety consistency. Similar to Soseki’s attraction to the gem-like Yōkan , Tanizaki dismisses the cream filled chocolates (Western product) preferring the shadowy weightiness of the yokan. The pondering Japanese palate finds luxuries in the delicate flavours of the regional cuisine. The perfectly moulded sake soaked vinegar laced rice with a subtle hint of salt beneath a thinly sliced salmon , its aromatic oil spreading in the shadows of a wrapped persimmon leaf. Once again, through the enticing bite-sized sushi embraced in the green blanket of the persimmon leaf, Tanizaki elaborates the quintessence of minimalism and simplicity rooted in Japanese traditions seeping through its culinary arts. Similar to the simplistic country life, the taste of the food is amplified by minimalist arrangement of ingredient deriving the maximum pleasure through its consumption and not being ruined by overcrowding of flavours, like the boisterous crowded city life. “Were it not for shadows, there would be no beauty.” The lost radiance of the moon in a heavily lit ambiance now shines fiercely through the dimness of the clouds on a silent night. The beauty of the moon is at its best at the darkest of the night. Darkness is an indispensable element of the beauty of lacquerware. The golden tint engraved into the creative depths of the lacquerware radiation its regal opulence through the maze of shadows. The calligraphy brush elegantly amusing in the black shadows of India Ink disciplines the noisy paper as the fountain pen eagerly look to the embryonic stroke of the character kage(shadows), its gray shades discovering the concealed beauty on the dim walls of Japanese literature , arts and legacy.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Steven Godin

    In this delightful essay Junichiro Tanizaki looks at Japanese aesthetics, and selects praise for all things delicate and nuanced, everything softened by shadows, and the patina of age, anything understated and simply natural, for instance the patterns of grain in old wood, the sound of rain falling from leaves, or washing over the footing of a stone lantern in a garden, and refreshing the moss that grows around it, and by doing so he suggests an attitude of appreciation and mindfulness, especial In this delightful essay Junichiro Tanizaki looks at Japanese aesthetics, and selects praise for all things delicate and nuanced, everything softened by shadows, and the patina of age, anything understated and simply natural, for instance the patterns of grain in old wood, the sound of rain falling from leaves, or washing over the footing of a stone lantern in a garden, and refreshing the moss that grows around it, and by doing so he suggests an attitude of appreciation and mindfulness, especially a mindfulness of beauty, a natural beauty that is all around us, that one tends to forget or take for granted. Tanizaki appreciates the world and its ordinary pleasures, and offers a sharp contrast to the functional, plastic, disposable aesthetic of modern western culture. Although his aesthetic is associated with a cultural perspective markedly different from western varieties, there is nevertheless something essentially familiar about it. It addresses the felt quality of experience in any lived moment, not just as an end in itself but because each such moment belongs to a lifelong series in which beauty and richness of experience are important components of the good life. A tranquil, enchanting, and light read, Tanizaki really opens your eyes, where you just want to take a moment, sit back, relax, and think long and hard about what he is getting across. I guess you could look at this as an anti-modernist book, that floats with a poetic language over a range of things in a beautiful and evocative way. A fascinating insight into another culture, that illuminates the mind into thinking about things from a completely different angle.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Susan Budd

    In this little book, Junichiro Tanizaki helped me understand why I ~ a thorough Westerner, NYC born & bred ~ am so drawn to the Japanese aesthetic. He begins his essay with an example I can totally relate to. Many Japanese people take pains to hide electrical wires because they don’t want to spoil the beauty of the traditional decor. I so get this. I wish I could hide all my electrical wires too. There are so many of them, not to mention all the LED lights from appliances that once were luxuries In this little book, Junichiro Tanizaki helped me understand why I ~ a thorough Westerner, NYC born & bred ~ am so drawn to the Japanese aesthetic. He begins his essay with an example I can totally relate to. Many Japanese people take pains to hide electrical wires because they don’t want to spoil the beauty of the traditional decor. I so get this. I wish I could hide all my electrical wires too. There are so many of them, not to mention all the LED lights from appliances that once were luxuries and now are necessities. But don’t think for a moment that I could part with my computer or my coffee maker! I love them. I just wish they didn’t jar so much with the decor. Tanizaki doesn’t reject Western conveniences either. He just wishes they could have been designed with a Japanese sensibility in mind. He thinks that if these same conveniences had been developed by the Japanese, they would be more in harmony with Japanese taste. But instead of the Japanese making these innovations on their own in their own time, Japan’s contact with the West at the beginning of the Meiji era led to rapid modernization in the Western style. He thinks that if the Japanese had developed these things, they would be very different from the Western versions. “The Westerner has been able to move forward in ordered steps, while we have met superior civilization and have had to surrender to it, and we have had to leave a road we have followed for thousands of years. ... If we had been left alone ... we would have gone only in a direction that suited us” (8-9). In Praise of Shadows is his tribute to the Japanese aesthetic, to the beauty of darkness, to moonlight rather than sunshine, shadow rather than glare, softness rather than neon. His argument is that this aesthetic arose, not from some mysterious “national character,” but from people’s actual way of life. “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 ends” (18). In the course of the essay, Tanizaki writes of lamps, stoves, toilets (yes toilets), pens, paper, glass, lacquerware, ceramics, food, houses, picture alcoves, theater, women, clothing, skin color, and cosmetics. He fondly describes the austere beauty of darkness ~ the dreaminess, the softness, the silence, the mystery, the timelessness. But it is not only darkness and shadow that the Japanese find beautiful. In fact, it is only because of this appreciation of darkness and shadow that the beauty of light and gold can be experienced. Gold is garish under the glare of harsh lights, but in a dim room it beautifully reflects the little light that is there. “Were it not for shadows, there would be no beauty” (30). The simplicity of traditional Japanese decor appeals to me: the shoji doors, the tatami mats, the alcove housing an old scroll and a single flower in a humble vase. I like the minimalism, the subtlety, the naturalness. And I like the night. It’s slower, quieter, softer than the day. Would I like it as much if it were the only thing I knew? Maybe not. I might be as eager to experience the new, the bright, and the modern as the Japanese were when first introduced to the Western lifestyle. But the Japanese aesthetic isn’t the one I have always known. I am a child of the West, of the bright lights of Times Square and the clamor of Grand Central Station. Too much yang. Not enough yin. For me, the Japanese aesthetic restores the balance. In Praise of Shadows is a book about beauty, but there is also a sadness in Tanizaki’s praise of shadows. He despairs that the Japanese aesthetic is dying because the old way of life is passing away. He tells of a moon-viewing ruined by all the electric lights. And he hopes that something of the traditional beauty and richness of the Japanese aesthetic might be saved ~ in literature at least if no where else. His plea touches my heart. To lose this “world of shadows” is to lose something essential to the human spirit. Light is good, but too much of it is blinding. Sound is good, but too much of it is deafening. Activity is good, but too much of it is exhausting. There must be balance. Without the “world of shadows” the light soon will overwhelm us and leave us longing for the shadows we have unwisely banished.

  7. 4 out of 5

    howl of minerva

    Sort of a Japanese Grandpa Simpson. Kids these days, no respect. Art these days, total crap. Food these days, inedible. It's all go go go. It's all electric lights and gramophones. What happened to sitting in the dark, poking yourself in the eye with a stick? Kids are too good for that now. Things were so much better before refrigeration and antibiotics. People used to have time for things, people used to care, people used to have pride. Bla bla bla. Said every generation ever. Bonus star for br Sort of a Japanese Grandpa Simpson. Kids these days, no respect. Art these days, total crap. Food these days, inedible. It's all go go go. It's all electric lights and gramophones. What happened to sitting in the dark, poking yourself in the eye with a stick? Kids are too good for that now. Things were so much better before refrigeration and antibiotics. People used to have time for things, people used to care, people used to have pride. Bla bla bla. Said every generation ever. Bonus star for brevity.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Zanna

    The quality that we call beauty 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 ends (If you don't have time to read the whole of my review, go ahead and skip the next two paragraphs) There is a practice essay prompt in the US College Board's guide to the SAT book that goes something like "Do changes that make our lives easier always make them better?". This is o The quality that we call beauty 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 ends (If you don't have time to read the whole of my review, go ahead and skip the next two paragraphs) There is a practice essay prompt in the US College Board's guide to the SAT book that goes something like "Do changes that make our lives easier always make them better?". This is one of my favourite prompts, as it captures a real tension. It's easier to drive to the supermarket for a loaf, but wouldn't we be better off walking, saving petrol (and the money it costs), breathing some fresh air, enjoying the glorious Autumn day and (assuming they're in working order) stretching our legs? Might it not be even better if we used some of the organic whole spelt flour in the cupboard to make real honest-to-goodness home-baked bread? Take your frustrations out on an unfeeling lump of dough, save still more money, avoid additives and enjoy the fruit of your own labour! But we are time-poor, we are tempted, we drive to the supermarket after all. Another common experience is sadness as an enjoyable technology is superseded. For decades after my mother stopped using her Singer sewing machine it sat in the corner taking up space, its implacable beauty defying anyone to suggest throwing it out. This is Tanizaki's elegy for the aesthetic superiority of vanishing inconvenience and dirt. The Japanese house crouches in the deep shadow of its roof, lit by the mournful and meagre glow trickling through its paper walls. In this dimness, its simplicity and its natural materials, slowly gathering oily grime and wearing away (and thereby growing ever more beautiful), make sense; they provide the balance and poetry and mystery that make the quotidian details of life so pleasurable. Soup served in lacquer bowls so you can't see what's in it properly and chilly outdoor toilets are infinitely preferable, aesthetically speaking, to pale ceramic dishes and sparkling tiles. My point in making light here is that Tanizaki sells it, even if I am repelled by his remarks on skin colour and dubious about the idea of a stable 'national character'. A writer who can make me yearn, spine tinglingly, for a wooden outhouse instead of a cosy en suite can only be a genius. There is a rich thought here about the subjectivity of experience that is missed by Western aesthetics. We plan our lighting for mood, but only for the stage consider how it will create the scene. When Tanizaki describes 'darkness lit by candlelight' or the gold costumes of the Noh glowing in dimness, he makes us aware that every banal drama of the day takes its character from its illumination. But he makes an even stronger point, a superb, thrilling point: how different everything would be if we in the Orient had developed our own science. Suppose for instance that we had developed our own physics and chemistry: would not the techniques and industries based on them have taken a different form, would not our myriads of everyday gadgets, our medicines, the products of our industrial art - would they not have suited our national temper better than they do? To take a trivial example near at hand... if the [fountain pen] had been invented by the ancient Chinese or Japanese it would surely have had a tufted end like our writing brush... and since we would have found it inconvenient to write on Western paper, something near Japanese paper would have been more in demand. Foreign ink and pen would not be as popular as they are; the talk of discarding our system of writing for Roman letters would be less noisy.. But more than that: our thought and our literature might not be imitating the West as they are, but might have pushed forward into new regions quite on their own. This musing of the conservative, aging novelist is not mere nostalgia, letting the old machine linger and sighing uselessly for bygone days, but the wellspring of hope behind decolonisation: even the culture-shaping tools of science and technology can be remodelled and reshaped; the invader can be displaced by new growth surging up from the strong roots of indigenous knowings... This is something the Rationalist fails to imagine. Sometimes, Tanizaki's melancholic essay surprisingly shows us, radical change begins by going backwards.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Steve

    The quality that we call beauty ... must always grow from the realities of life. In Praise of Shadows, written by the well known Japanese novelist Tanizaki Jun'ichirō (1886-1965) in 1933, is a particularly charming and discursive rumination on the differences between Japanese (indeed, East Asian) and occidental aesthetics (among other matters). It is also an illustration of the differences between the Japanese tradition of zuihitsu ("to follow the brush"), of which In Praise of Shadows is a mo The quality that we call beauty ... must always grow from the realities of life. In Praise of Shadows, written by the well known Japanese novelist Tanizaki Jun'ichirō (1886-1965) in 1933, is a particularly charming and discursive rumination on the differences between Japanese (indeed, East Asian) and occidental aesthetics (among other matters). It is also an illustration of the differences between the Japanese tradition of zuihitsu ("to follow the brush"), of which In Praise of Shadows is a most worthy modern exemplar, and the occidental tradition of the essay. Ranging from toilets to hospitals, from architecture to paper, from writing and eating utensils to cuisine and sweets, from theater to feminine beauty, Tanizaki meditates on the differences, as he sees them, between East and West - subdued, tarnished, natural versus bright, polished, artificial; the cloudy translucence of jade versus the brilliant sparkle of diamond; the flickering half-light of the candle versus the steady glare of electric light. Tanizaki was a cultural conservative and much preferred old Japan to new Japan (you won't find many photos of him in western garb). He quite rightly points out that if East Asia had been left to its own devices instead of being forced into the "modern" age in the nineteenth century, it may have "advanced" much more slowly but would have invented technology, devices, fixtures much better suited to the aesthetics of its people than the objects it found itself obliged to receive from its "benefactors."(*) But let Tanizaki speak for himself - here is a passage where he draws some of the aesthetic consequences of the contrast between the low, heavy, wide roofs of East Asia and the relatively high, light, small roofs of the West (he likens the former to parasols and the latter to caps). And so it has come to be that the beauty of a Japanese room depends on the variation of shadows, heavy shadows against light shadows—it has nothing else. Westerners are amazed at the simplicity of Japanese rooms, perceiving in them no more than ashen walls bereft of ornament. Their reaction is understandable, but it betrays a failure to comprehend the mystery of shadows. Out beyond the sitting room, which the rays of the sun at best can but barely reach, we extend the eaves or build a veranda, putting the sunlight at still greater a remove. The light from the garden steals in but dimly through paper-paneled doors, and it is precisely this indirect light that makes for us the charm of the room. We do our walls in neutral colors so that the sad, fragile, dying rays can sink into absolute repose. The storehouse, kitchen, hallways, and such may have a glossy finish, but the walls of the sitting room will almost always be of clay textured with fine sand. A luster here would destroy the soft fragile beauty of the feeble light. We delight in the mere sight of the delicate glow of fading rays clinging to the surface of a dusky wall, there to live out what little life remains to them. We never tire of the sight, for to us this pale glow and these dim shadows far surpass any ornament. And so, as we must if we are not to disturb the glow, we finish the walls with sand in a single neutral color. The hue may differ from room to room, but the degree of difference will be ever so slight; not so much a difference in color as in shade, a difference that will seem to exist only in the mood of the viewer. And from these delicate differences in the hue of the walls, the shadows in each room take on a tinge peculiarly their own. Along with all the elements mentioned above, the free floating form of zuihitsu permits Tanizaki to comment on the complaints of the elderly, street lights, even throw in a recipe for a special kind of sushi. I must warn you that there is some remarkable rubbish in this zuihitsu,(**) but there is also eloquent insight into, in some respects, Japanese sensibilities in general and, throughout the text, the sensibilities of one of the most important novelists of the 20th century. (*) Oh how he abominates tile, particularly white tile! (**) Such as a startling disquisition on why the Asian's prediliction for shadows is a consequence of his not quite perfectly white skin! Rating http://leopard.booklikes.com/post/107...

  10. 5 out of 5

    Zadignose

    A backward, reactionary, nationalistic prose piece disguised as an essay on aesthetics, which engages in strange speculation and musing that is not at all well supported. But it gets better towards the end when its cantankerousness and hyperbole get amusing, and it does ultimately manage to express a mournful nostalgia for a dying aesthetic, even if that aesthetic is more of a personal aesthetic than the author admits, rather than being an expression of national character. P.S. The aesthetic can b A backward, reactionary, nationalistic prose piece disguised as an essay on aesthetics, which engages in strange speculation and musing that is not at all well supported. But it gets better towards the end when its cantankerousness and hyperbole get amusing, and it does ultimately manage to express a mournful nostalgia for a dying aesthetic, even if that aesthetic is more of a personal aesthetic than the author admits, rather than being an expression of national character. P.S. The aesthetic can be summarized thus: "Turn the lights down, it's too bright in here, especially for people with yellow skin."

  11. 5 out of 5

    Brian

    In the west people tend to emphasize light in their environment... big windows, skylights. Shiny, gleaming surfaces are important and appear clean and fresh. Tanizaki wrote this short book to explain the importance of shadow and darkness in oriental culture... shadows that have been chased away with the welcomed technology of the west. This is an essay on the aesthetics of shadows, on some of the differences between the west and the east. Tanizaki's text flows from one topic to another almost dre In the west people tend to emphasize light in their environment... big windows, skylights. Shiny, gleaming surfaces are important and appear clean and fresh. Tanizaki wrote this short book to explain the importance of shadow and darkness in oriental culture... shadows that have been chased away with the welcomed technology of the west. This is an essay on the aesthetics of shadows, on some of the differences between the west and the east. Tanizaki's text flows from one topic to another almost dreamlike and ranges over architecture, jade, food, skin tone, and toilets. Every time I am shown to an old, dimly lit, and, I would add, impeccably clean toilet in a Nara or Kyoto temple, I am impressed with the singular virtues of Japanese architecture. The parlor may have its charms, but the Japanese toilet truly is a place of spiritual repose. It always stands apart from the main building, at the end of a corridor, in a grove fragrant with leaves and moss. No words can describe that sensation as one sits in the dim light, basking in the faint glow reflected from the shoji, lost in meditation or gazing out at the garden. The novelist Natsume Soseki counted his morning trips to the toilet a great pleasure, 'a physiological delight' he called it. And surely there could be no better place to savor this pleasure than a Japanese toilet where, surrounded by tranquil walls and finely grained wood, one looks out upon blue skies and green leaves.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Vlad Kovsky

    Although this book is primarily about aesthetics, I cannot entirely avoid mentioning the historical context. This short essay was written in 1933 when the nationalist agenda permeated every aspect of life in Japan. It is also noticeable in the pages of this book and in the mind of the author. Written two years after the Manchurian Incident and the subsequent withdrawal of Japan form the League of Nations, one year after the assassination of a moderate prime minister Tsuyoshi Inukai, this essay pr Although this book is primarily about aesthetics, I cannot entirely avoid mentioning the historical context. This short essay was written in 1933 when the nationalist agenda permeated every aspect of life in Japan. It is also noticeable in the pages of this book and in the mind of the author. Written two years after the Manchurian Incident and the subsequent withdrawal of Japan form the League of Nations, one year after the assassination of a moderate prime minister Tsuyoshi Inukai, this essay praising traditional Japanese ways and criticizing shallow Western concepts of beauty must have fallen on fertile ground. Everything Japanese could be lauded, everything Western - dismissed. The author goes as far as suggesting that physics or chemistry could have been different and definitely more suitable had they been originally developed in Japan. There is another notion implanted in the author's head by the prevailing attitudes: Pan-Asian union. Everything originally Chinese and already accepted in Japan should be praised, acknowledging cultural similarities and forgetting about differences, thus covertly justifying the invasion of China as some sort of desirable unification. Keeping political context of the times aside, there are other issues that could raise objections from a reader. Grumbling about the new ways displacing the preferred traditional ones is one issue that has appeared over and over again and is treated much better elsewhere. One does not even have to leave Japan to find a more interesting discourse on the subject in 'The Master of Go' by Kawabata or in works of Mishima. Another issue is an attitude to women as objects, an echo of the past that even the contemporary Japan is still struggling with. Just one quote: "Our ancestors made of woman an object inseparable from darkness, like lacquerware decorated in gold or mother-of-pearl". Returning to aesthetics, and specifically shadows, the analysis is quite good. There are multiple observations that make the reading of this tiny book worthwhile. The importance of the interplay of light and shadow in architecture, painting, performing arts and even cooking is elegantly explained. Most importantly, finding the beauty in the everyday, the need for the beauty we all crave and the easy ways to satisfy this need, is something the author insists on: "The quality that we call beauty ... must always grow from the realities of life." Another quote, with which this reader wholeheartedly agrees, is found in the closing paragraph of the book: "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".

  13. 5 out of 5

    Tony

    If Tanizaki had written this book from a Westerner's perspective, the essay would be regarded as retrograde and pessimistically nostalgic. To be sure, only a highly-evolved culture is capable of a reciprocal relationship between production and appreciation. A wholesale dismissal of progress, however, is no way to get there. Tanizaki's rejectionist attitude is a perfect one to adopt if you're interested in sabotaging your potentially sensitive, agreeable, harmonic future. If Tanizaki had written this book from a Westerner's perspective, the essay would be regarded as retrograde and pessimistically nostalgic. To be sure, only a highly-evolved culture is capable of a reciprocal relationship between production and appreciation. A wholesale dismissal of progress, however, is no way to get there. Tanizaki's rejectionist attitude is a perfect one to adopt if you're interested in sabotaging your potentially sensitive, agreeable, harmonic future.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Janet

    I always like a book that changes the way I see the world. As a Westerner who likes LIGHT more LIGHT, this praise of shadows, the dusky atmosphere of the past and architecture which protects and conceals, where mystery is held, reborn, is a peripheral vision of existence I'd never imagined. It's been a year or so since I read it--but I still recall his image of enamelwork which is garish and awful in broad daylight, but has incredible beauty and charm in low light--which is not a defect, as we w I always like a book that changes the way I see the world. As a Westerner who likes LIGHT more LIGHT, this praise of shadows, the dusky atmosphere of the past and architecture which protects and conceals, where mystery is held, reborn, is a peripheral vision of existence I'd never imagined. It's been a year or so since I read it--but I still recall his image of enamelwork which is garish and awful in broad daylight, but has incredible beauty and charm in low light--which is not a defect, as we would see in Western culture, but simply that it's designed to be seen in that mysterious light of the traditional Japanese structure. LIght is taken into consideration. you don't light for the object, you create the object for that light. It reminded me of so many low=light rooms which have been particularly memorable, romantic--candlelit... theaters and nightclubs, romantic bedrooms, which yes, are horrors in daylight--but that makes us think further about the nature of pleasure and certainly, of love, in a less pejorative standpoint to the idea of 'illusion'--we Westerners live in horror of it... take all the charm out of so many things. Just a note--the small size of this book makes a charming gift.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Inderjit Sanghera

    A treatise on Japanese aesthetics, by turns playful and profound, facetious and funereal, brimming with beauty, 'In Praise of Shadows' is the jewel in Tanizaki's oeuvre, a kind of paean to Japanese concepts of beauty, of darkness, shadows and reflection, of contemplation and calm, of the dazzling reflections of gold in a darkened room, whose low ceilings accentuated the shades of shadow, from sable to grey, which imbued Japanese houses with an elegance which was lacking in light-obsessed Western A treatise on Japanese aesthetics, by turns playful and profound, facetious and funereal, brimming with beauty, 'In Praise of Shadows' is the jewel in Tanizaki's oeuvre, a kind of paean to Japanese concepts of beauty, of darkness, shadows and reflection, of contemplation and calm, of the dazzling reflections of gold in a darkened room, whose low ceilings accentuated the shades of shadow, from sable to grey, which imbued Japanese houses with an elegance which was lacking in light-obsessed Western abodes. More than this, however, 'In Praise of Shadows' is a homage to the Japanese tendency to beautify things, to bring out the innate artistry of things; "The quality 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 to beauty's ends." To paraphrase-and misquote-Keats, "Life is beauty,  beauty is life".  However, like many Japanese novelists, Tanizaki was concerned with the slow Westernisation of Japanese culture, as Japan's uniqueness, it's customers, it's ideal and aesthetics were slowly being overcome by a kind of vapid, vulgar Westernisation, its identity slowly being eroded under a suffocating homogenisation. Nowhere was this more clearly reflected in the shift towards electrical lights, no longer would people be able to gaze upon their verdant gardens in silent contemplation whilst on the toilet, or the contemplate the pale, pallid beauty of lacquewear  or to submit to the magisterial authority of the a priest's robe; all of these things were designed to reflect and refract the innate beauty and depth of the shadows and their beauty was ultimately lost and engulfed in the over-whelming light-and heat-of electricity;   "And surely you have seen, in the darkness of the innermost rooms of these huge buildings, to which sunlight never penetrates, how the gold leaf of a sliding door or screen will pick up a distant glimmer from the garden, then suddenly send an ethereal glow, a faint golden light cast into the enveloping darkness, like the glow upon the horizon at sunset." For Tanizaki, the shadows inherent in Japanese architecture and and life, sable and seductive, were slowly being engulfed and overwhelmed in light, until their brightness masked the beauty and wonder inherent in the contemplation of shadows. 

  16. 5 out of 5

    Lauren

    "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 ends." . From IN PRAISE OF SHADOWS by Jun'ichirō Tanizaki, translated from the Japanese by Thomas J. Harper and Edward G. Seidensticker, 1933 Japanese, 1977 this English edition. My thanks to Karen @greenteareads for reviewing this essay a few months ago - she put it on my r "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 ends." . From IN PRAISE OF SHADOWS by Jun'ichirō Tanizaki, translated from the Japanese by Thomas J. Harper and Edward G. Seidensticker, 1933 Japanese, 1977 this English edition. My thanks to Karen @greenteareads for reviewing this essay a few months ago - she put it on my radar, and #JanuaryinJapan offered up the opportunity. Tanizaki's 60-page essay delves into Japanese aesthetics, and design of the domicile, of the daily. (He spends a whole passage praising traditional japanese toilets!) Household items, subtle shadows inside of a room, the patina of copper as it ages. It's an observational practice and appreciation of beauty. "We find beauty not in the thing itself but in the patterns of shadows, the light and the darkness, that one thing against another creates."

  17. 4 out of 5

    Anatoly

    After reading about the concept of Wabi-Sabi in Leonard Koren`s book Wabi-Sabi: for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers it was only natural to continue with this essay. Again this was very enriching, but this one was a lot more poetic and captivating. The descriptions are vivid and are beautifully written, which is not simple when writing about Japanese aesthetics (though the essence of this concept is actually the beauty that is in the simple and fleeting things). After reading about the concept of Wabi-Sabi in Leonard Koren`s book Wabi-Sabi: for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers it was only natural to continue with this essay. Again this was very enriching, but this one was a lot more poetic and captivating. The descriptions are vivid and are beautifully written, which is not simple when writing about Japanese aesthetics (though the essence of this concept is actually the beauty that is in the simple and fleeting things).

  18. 5 out of 5

    Aubrey

    3.5/5 Indeed the thin, impalpable, faltering light, picked up as though little rivers were running through the room, collecting little pools here and there, lacquers a pattern on the surface of the night itself. Unless I'm hellbent on some epic project à la Proust or Gibbons, I rarely swing around to the same author twice in one year. Technically I started Naomi in December of 2016, but the majority of mulling it over happened firmly in '17, so the fact that I was able to bounce back so quickl 3.5/5 Indeed the thin, impalpable, faltering light, picked up as though little rivers were running through the room, collecting little pools here and there, lacquers a pattern on the surface of the night itself. Unless I'm hellbent on some epic project à la Proust or Gibbons, I rarely swing around to the same author twice in one year. Technically I started Naomi in December of 2016, but the majority of mulling it over happened firmly in '17, so the fact that I was able to bounce back so quickly is worthy of note, even if the half-star rating in this case happened to tip backwards rather than forwards. True, this work is obscenely short and my still ongoing effort to destabilize my Most Read Authors tower biases my direction in a predictable fashion, but all I can think of is how I regret not having more Tanizaki on hand. Much as it is with Mishima (less, actually, what with Tanizaki's increased heteronormativity), I don't know what it is about this long dead Japanese man's writing that keeps me coming back, but I'm not one to criticize providence; leastwise, not much. Aesthetic: adjective - concerned with beauty or the appreciation of beauty; noun- a set of principles underlying and guiding the work of a particular artist or artistic movement. Aisthesthai: ancient Greek, to perceive goes to aisthēta: perceptible things goes to aisthētikos in combination with German coining the sense of "concerned with beauty" in the mid 18th century goes to aesthetic: English, in the early 19th century, controversial till much later on. Somewhere along the centuries it wasn't considered wise to have everything in the eye of the beholder, so beauty pushed all else out and has reigned supreme till this day. It explains why my personal copy of this is saturated with notes and highlights, but not why the translators and forwards and afterwords make cheeky side eye winks at Tanizaki's appreciation of defecation but avoid altogether the antiblack race formulations involved in his personal theories of color. This may have something to do with the artistic field's discomfort with the true renderings of their beloved ancient marble statues of Greek and Rome origin, or English's insistence on calling white people white when I, motherfucking pale that I am, at most can lay claim to a sort of pasty beige with spots of brown and red and hairs all over. Let's be honest, though: we all know why. Beyond the aesthetic, I enjoyed the amateur anthropology when it stuck to the speaker's own origins, as well as the preliminary glimpses of the awareness of light pollution and a wonderful outlook on various forms of Japanese theatre. I didn't enjoy the hatred of black people being chalked up to white sensitivities (the cart did not come before the horse), or the usual bemoaning of the youth, as if any country's youth had the means to control its respective form of capitalism. In any case, I am satisfied that Tanizaki concluded that change is change, and to forgo the accommodations of technology for the sake of warmly tinted toilet rooms and complete lack of utilities was beyond his standard of comfortable living. Leaving aside the afterword's obsession with Tanizaki's "lack of structure" (harping yet again on Proust, has no one in the business of translating Japanese philosophical works read him?!), I'd recommend this, on the grounds that the reader acknowledge the pandering to white supremacy lurking within a text resplendent with shadows. After all, academia does love its irony, does it not? Mrs. Tanizaki tells a story of when her late husband decided, as he frequently did, to build a new house. The architect arrived and announced with pride, "I've read your In Praise of Shadows, Mr. Tanizaki, and know exactly what you want." To which Tanizaki replied, "But no, I could never live in a house like that." There is perhaps as much resignation as humor in his answer. -Thomas J. Harper

  19. 4 out of 5

    Gretchen Rubin

    A compelling meditation on the power of shadows.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Kazen

    In Praise of Shadows was recommended to me as a grumpy old man talking about Japanese aesthetics, and it's exactly that in a wonderful way. The book was first published in 1933 and Tanizaki is fondly looking back at the 1880s or 90s - a time before electricity, when Japanese harnessed darkness and shadow as an aesthetic element. He laments that people no longer know what it's like to sit in a room lit by candles, with darkness existing all around the edges. How that candlelight made the soup in a In Praise of Shadows was recommended to me as a grumpy old man talking about Japanese aesthetics, and it's exactly that in a wonderful way. The book was first published in 1933 and Tanizaki is fondly looking back at the 1880s or 90s - a time before electricity, when Japanese harnessed darkness and shadow as an aesthetic element. He laments that people no longer know what it's like to sit in a room lit by candles, with darkness existing all around the edges. How that candlelight made the soup in a dark lacquer bowl a mystery, no visual clues as to its taste. With lacquerware there is a beauty in that moment between removing removing the lid and lifting the bowl to the mouth when one gazes at the still, silent liquid in the dark depths of the bowl, its color hardly differing from that of the bowl itself. What lies within the darkness one cannot distinguish, but the palm sense the gentle movements of the liquid, vapor rises from within forming droplets on the rim, and the fragrance carried upon the vapor brings a delicate anticipation. As you can tell the writing and translation are beautiful. I highlighted passages not only for the insights but for how elegantly they're expressed. In addition to the text there's supporting text that does just what you want. The forward whets the appetite without giving anything away, and the afterward, written by Harper, places the book in the context of Tanizaki's life and Japanese literature and illuminates themes I missed the first time around. If you're interested in Japanese thought and aesthetics In Praise of Shadows is made for you. Even if you're not, the beautiful writing will still carry you away. I plan to revisit many times, making it a five star read.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Crito

    Starting to think this Tanizaki guy is a bit of a weeaboo.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Akemi G.

    The Japanese aesthetics of the bygone days -- the book was originally published in 1933. (Don't expect to see this by visiting Japan now.) Quite unique. Perhaps most interesting for the American/European readers is the way he appreciates women's beauty. Tanizaki was not just any Japanese writer. He was well versed with the Japanese classics. His modern Japanese translation of The Tale of Genji was a standard for a long time, and I think it still is one of the best. NOT coincidentally, Edward Sei The Japanese aesthetics of the bygone days -- the book was originally published in 1933. (Don't expect to see this by visiting Japan now.) Quite unique. Perhaps most interesting for the American/European readers is the way he appreciates women's beauty. Tanizaki was not just any Japanese writer. He was well versed with the Japanese classics. His modern Japanese translation of The Tale of Genji was a standard for a long time, and I think it still is one of the best. NOT coincidentally, Edward Seidensticker, who translated Genji to English, translated many of Tanizaki's works, including this. I'd recommend this to those who are super serious about Japanese literature.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Tosh

    Uber-fascinating book about a great author's aesthetic when it comes to rooms and lighting. He talks about the beauty of shadows in a room and how the light bulb sort of became the enemy of .... well everything! Tanizaki is one of Japan's great authors, and this book may seem like a reactionary work from an older man, but I think it's a passionate cry out for things that were left mysterious and due to technology (like light bulbs) exposes what is so beautiful about darkness and foods that look g Uber-fascinating book about a great author's aesthetic when it comes to rooms and lighting. He talks about the beauty of shadows in a room and how the light bulb sort of became the enemy of .... well everything! Tanizaki is one of Japan's great authors, and this book may seem like a reactionary work from an older man, but I think it's a passionate cry out for things that were left mysterious and due to technology (like light bulbs) exposes what is so beautiful about darkness and foods that look good in a romantic (dark) setting. Sounds slight, but it is really a heavy book. One of the best books I have read on aesthetics.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Shawn Mooney (Shawn The Book Maniac)

    Tanizaki wrote this aesthetic tract when he was around 47, in 1933. Chronological age aside, he was already a cranky old man, whining and grumbling about this, that and the other thing, and quite a sexist too. Yet I plugged on, enjoying his (translator's?) gorgeous prose and quirky, often seductive arguments about and examples of the centrality of darkness and shadows to all things aesthetic, cultural, gendered and even culinary in the Japan he felt was already nearly bygone. I think I'd like to Tanizaki wrote this aesthetic tract when he was around 47, in 1933. Chronological age aside, he was already a cranky old man, whining and grumbling about this, that and the other thing, and quite a sexist too. Yet I plugged on, enjoying his (translator's?) gorgeous prose and quirky, often seductive arguments about and examples of the centrality of darkness and shadows to all things aesthetic, cultural, gendered and even culinary in the Japan he felt was already nearly bygone. I think I'd like to try one of his novels some day. In the meantime, I see into shadows more deeply now. That's something.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Philippe

    A startling little book that taught me a lot about Japanese aesthetics. A real eye-opener. It's all so sensible and natural and yet it is so far removed from our Western preoccupation with clarity and light! I also enjoyed the resonances with Peter Zumthor's Atmospheres which I read on the same day. I've put it on the rereading shelf. A startling little book that taught me a lot about Japanese aesthetics. A real eye-opener. It's all so sensible and natural and yet it is so far removed from our Western preoccupation with clarity and light! I also enjoyed the resonances with Peter Zumthor's Atmospheres which I read on the same day. I've put it on the rereading shelf.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Paul Ataua

    Love Jun'ichirō Tanizaki’s novels but this short essay critiquing the coming of the electric light and championing the world of shadows was only mildly interesting. I feel no desire to cook in the dark, read by candlelight, or seek out dingy toilets. Maybe I am just one of the new enlightened ones. Love Jun'ichirō Tanizaki’s novels but this short essay critiquing the coming of the electric light and championing the world of shadows was only mildly interesting. I feel no desire to cook in the dark, read by candlelight, or seek out dingy toilets. Maybe I am just one of the new enlightened ones.

  27. 5 out of 5

    erika purrington

    interesting aesthetic observations of light and shadow that are completely crippled by the unjustified, reactionary-style ramblings of an old man. it's racist and sexist and an utter embarrassment interesting aesthetic observations of light and shadow that are completely crippled by the unjustified, reactionary-style ramblings of an old man. it's racist and sexist and an utter embarrassment

  28. 4 out of 5

    Peter

    really impassioned defense of Japanese toilets, I kid you not

  29. 4 out of 5

    Phee

    A fantastic essay. Though it's quite old it's something that still rings true, perhaps truer than when it was written. Also gets bonus points for being Japanese nonfiction. Because Japan is my life. A fantastic essay. Though it's quite old it's something that still rings true, perhaps truer than when it was written. Also gets bonus points for being Japanese nonfiction. Because Japan is my life.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Akylina

    Reading it for the second time around after 2.5 years, I can securely say that I found it much more interesting and indulging than the first time I read it.

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