Likely Stories: In Praise of Shadows
A pleasing exploration of the aesthetic of Japanese architecture and decoration.
I’m Jim McKeown, welcome to Likely Stories, a weekly review of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, and biographies.
One of my real joys about reading fiction involves works sprinkled with art, music, or literary allusions, which usually help round out a character. These novels tend to inhabit the category of intellectually challenging. One writer who constantly challenges, amuses, and intrigues me is Haruki Murakami. Of the three of his novels I have read, all have music and art as a background. His literary allusions – of Japanese and Western literature -- always intrigue. As I near the end of his latest novel, I have already ordered three works, which play an important role in the story. Most often, these obscure books come as a complete surprise, as did In Praise of Shadows by Jun’ichiro Tanizaki.
Tanizaki, born July 24, 1886, was a Japanese author, and one of the major writers of modern Japanese literature. He is considered the most popular Japanese novelist after Natsume Sōseki, who happens to be my favorite Japanese author. Some of Tanizaki’s works present a rather shocking world of destructive obsessions, while others, are less sensational and subtly portray the dynamics of family life in the context of the rapid changes in 20th-century Japanese society. His stories frequently describe a search for cultural identity in which "the West" and "Japanese tradition" are juxtaposed. (Wikipedia).
This essay on aesthetics was originally published in 1933 and the English translation in 1977. It contains a foreword by an architect and educator Charles Moore and an afterword by one of the translators, Thomas J. Harper. Much shorter than the author's novels, this monograph is a meditative work on the building of Tanizaki’s dream home, which he freely admits cost more than he could afford (Author’s Note).
Tanizaki writes, “What incredible pains the fancier of traditional architecture must take when he sets out to build a house in pure Japanese style, striving somehow to make electric wires, gas pipes, and water lines harmonize with the austerity of Japanese rooms – even someone who has never built a house for himself must sense this when he visits a teahouse, a restaurant, or an inn. For the solitary eccentric, it is another matter. He can ignore the blessings of scientific civilization and retreat to some forsaken corner of the countryside, but a man who has a family and lives in the city cannot turn his back on the necessities of modern life – heating, electric lights, and sanitary facilities – merely for the sake of doing things the Japanese way. The purist may wrack his brain over the placement of a single telephone, hiding it behind the staircase or in a corner of the hallway, wherever he thinks it will least offend the eye” (1). As a person who lives in a home decorated in the style of post-modern clutter – that is, everything in the place where it fits – I would have the opposite trouble: finding more wall space, more book shelves, and less empty spaces.
I now have a window on the main character, whose meticulous attention to order seemed odd to me. Look for this review soon. In the meantime, In Praise of Shadows by Jun’ichiro Tanizaki is a pleasant read with a cup of tea on a fine afternoon. 5 stars
Likely Stories is a production of KWBU. I’m Jim McKeown. You can read my book blog at RabbitReader.blogspot.com. Join me again next time for Likely Stories, and HAPPY READING!