In Praise of Shadows

I was prompted by Byoung Soo Cho’s ‘Earth House’ (as mentioned in my previous post) to re-read Junichiro Tanizaki’s In Praise of Shadows.  Throughout the essay, the desire of Western culture to reveal, to illuminate, is contrasted with Eastern traditions that celebrate darkness and subtlety.

Tanizaki’s remorse on the effect of Western progress on his own culture seemed of particular relevance:
‘…there can be no harm in considering how unlucky we have been, what losses we have suffered, in comparison with the Westerner.  The Westerner has been able to move forward in ordered steps, while we have met superior civilization and have had to surrender to it…’
A beautifully melancholy lament:
‘…And had we invented the phonograph, and the radio, how much more faithfuly they would reproduce the special character of our voices and our music.’
And briefly, though it doesn’t quite revel in Tanizaki’s understated darkness (‘I wonder if my readers know the colour of that ‘darkness seen by candlelight’’) there is, to me, something peculiarly Eastern about the rich geometric shadows and golden light in this striking image from Sympathy For Lady Vengeance.

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