japonisme: 1/6/08 - 1/13/08

11 January 2008

the zen of montmartre

one thing that really appeals to me in this era's work is what i think of as a 'loose hand.' as i've said here before, i think the influences, japanese to the west, were many and varied, subtle and not. and it's impossible to say what was imitation, what inspiration, what conscious, what not. but to my eyes, we in the west were learning 'imperfection,' or rather perhaps the perfection that comes from a lack of conscious control. we in a culture in which all language was written in straight lines were experiencing one where it was not.

i want to excerpt a bit of an interesting article i found that looks at this in terms of martial arts:

A spontaneous creative gesture that has much in common with abstract expressionism, Shodo [Japanese calligraphy] is more than mere writing, and its skilled practitioners believe that the "visible rhythm" created by the brush is a "picture of the mind" which reveals the calligrapher's physical and mental condition.

Martial arts author Michel Random writes, "It is said that internal serenity drives the brush. The brush in effect interprets the deepest part of the subconscious. The 'wisdom of the eye' is what relates the characters to each other as though assembling the movable and the immutable, the ego to the 10,000 things in the universe, the present to the timeless...

"For is not the ability to make the stroke flow naturally, to let the brush move freely across a thin piece of paper, also a superior struggle of the most testing kind? The spontaneous stroke of the brush is reminiscent of the quick free thrust of the sword or the freedom of the arrow fired effortlessly. Wherever there is distress, worry or uneasiness, there can be no perfect freedom or swiftness of action."

In Japanese painting and calligraphy, a strongly concentrated mind must control the brush, and a relaxed body must allow the brush to act as an exact reflection of the mind's movement.

Just as Judo begins by gripping the opponent, and Iaido begins by gripping the sword, so too does Shodo start with the student's hold on the brush. Unless the proper method of holding is mastered, no real progress is possible. Some teachers in the past tried to suddenly pull the brush from the student's hand as a means of testing the grip. An ink-covered hand would reveal an improperly held brush. However, squeezing tightly is not the answer, because this does not produce flowing, dynamic characters. Limply gripping, on the other hand, results only in a loss of brush control. It was, and is, therefore essential to learn to hold the fude in a way that is neither tense nor limp, with a kind of "alive" grip in which one's Ki is projected from downward-pointing fingers through the brush, out of the tip, and into the paper. This same supple, yet firm grip, is vital in most forms of Budo, and it has been characterized as "Ki de toru," that is, holding with Ki.

Shodo has a "visible rhythm"; in other words, the kanji sit in repose on the paper, but they must look and feel as if they are moving. (This is the state of dochu no sei, or "stillness in motion," that is often alluded to in esoteric densho, or manuals containing a school's most profound teachings. Its converse is "motion in stillness." It is the unity of these two conditions that results in skilled Shodo and Budo.) To create this dynamic, yet balanced feeling, the brush must flow in a free and easy manner.

Both Budo and Shodo have been characterized as forms of "moving meditation." Michel Random eloquently describes this unique method of meditation with the brush: "The sign is repeated until total spontaneity is achieved, completely free from thought . . . spontaneity and not automatism of movement which is contrary to the object of the exercise. In calligraphy (as in the martial arts), the space between the lines is what matters. It is this space which gives the signs their beauty. In Zen painting, we find the same need for pressure and spontaneity.

"Here, we see the result of the movement of the brush and ink on the paper. The brush is dipped in encre de chine. The special quality paper is very fine and absorbent. The brush hardly needs to touch the paper to make a large blob. Therefore, the hand must skim or fly across the paper without stopping. Thought is free."

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09 January 2008

a chinese garden?

This trio of rocks occupies the "Middle Sea" of the trio of dry gardens located around the abbot's residence of Daisen-in. It is typical of such triads in having a high central stone flanked by two lower ones, not unlike the arrangement seen in sculptural groups of the enthroned Buddha flanked by bodhisattvas or other Buddhas, giving rise to the theory that such groups represent a Buddhist Trinity. There is literary evidence that this may have been the case in early gardens, but if the stones are seen as mountains (as many interpreters see them), they could also represent the standard Chinese formula for mountain landscape painting, where one mountain lords it over lesser mountains. Or when isolated in a gravel "sea" as they are here, they can be thought to evoke the Daoist Islands of the Immortals. But none of these interpretations is documented where this garden is concerned, nor where most gardens are concerned, and it is misleading to imply that such arrangements of stones must always be symbolic or even referential.

(the stones are from a japanese garden built in 1509.)

(i can't believe i never consciously noticed this correspondence before.)

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08 January 2008


SHARP-DRESSED MAN (Share otoko) 1924

(Adaptation of Gay Caballero)

In the village I am the one they call the
The number one mobo.
Vain, conceited, smug,
I came to Ginza in Tokyo.

To begin with, my style consists of
A blue shirt with crimson necktie,
A derby hat and horn-rimmed glasses (Lloyd-style)
And baggy sailor pants.

The woman that I have fallen in love with
Has jet black eyes and bobbed hair.
She's short and built,
And she is brazen down to her toes.

I first got to know her at the cafe',
Now it's your place, dear.
Shall we have cocktails
Or Whiskey, which should it be?
Politely hiding your feelings
You're being too reserved.

Doing as she said, I had two or three glasses
With a smile she said, have another.
The woman became slightly flushed (cherry color)
Hahaha, in all I had another drink

Do you know?
My father is the landlord, the head of the village.
The village head is a rich man and I,
his son,
Am single even now, a bachelor!

'Oh my, that's lovely'
If you've got the prestige and the money,
For example, even if a man has no looks'
[Women say,] 'I like you dear.'

Oh, my be- lov- ed one,
How my body trembles
If it's with you I'd go anywhere
I would leave you even if I die.

Is it a dream or is it a figment of my imagination?
Just then, the woman's husband comes rushing at me.
Without saying a word, I am engulfed by a flurry of fists.
Beaten to a pulp, I faint.

My wallet, my watch have been taken!
My precious woman is gone!

What a fearsome place Tokyo's Ginza is!
I am a mobo who cannot cry, even if I feel like it.

(popular song in 1924)

(click here to watch the video)

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06 January 2008

The Long and Winding Road


The long and winding road
that leads to your door
Will never disappear
I've seen that road before
it always leads me here
Leads me to your door

The wild and windy night
that the rain washed away
Has left a pool of tears
crying for the day
Why leave me standing here,
let me know the way

Many times I've been alone
and many times I've cried
Anyway you've always known
the many ways I've tried

And still they lead me back
to the long wind- ing road
You left me waiting here
a long, long time ago
Don't keep me standing here,
lead me to you door

But still they lead me back
to the long and winding road
You left me waiting here
a long, long time ago
Don't leave me standing here,
lead me to you door

John Lennon & Paul McCartney
© 1970

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