Friday, May 30, 2014

"In Praise of Shadows" by Jun'ichiro Tanizaki

An essay on aesthetics by the Japanese novelist, this book explores architecture, jade, food, and even toilets, combining an acute sense of the use of space in buildings. The book also includes descriptions of laquerware under candlelight and women in the darkness of the house of pleasure.

I'm just starting to come to terms with my interest in Eastern culture, especially compared to the West. When I think about it, it's been a part of my life for a very long time: growing up, our closest family friends were Japanese, and we would often receive presents from Japan; fans, boxes, rice seasonings, paper.These objects had a certain air of mystery and ...."differentness" about them. The colors, the textures: I knew what the objects were, but at the same time they weren't quite the same as the ones I was used to. And with a brother eight years older, going through a socially tragic anime phase, I was exposed to Japanese media very early on as well. For a long time all I thought of it as was different, but in recent years I've started to dig deeper- what makes it different? What are the fundamentals of Eastern culture as opposed to those of Western that put them at odds? What are the contrasts in the philosophies, the storytelling? 

I think the answers can be found in media as basic as music videos and tv shows- if there are ideas at the core of a society, they'll manifest in whatever that society creates. So while visual kei band videos have made me question gender stereotypes, and animes have made me wonder about the roots of Eastern mythology as compared to Western, I've also started to branch into literature for answers to my questions. It was completely by coincidence that I found In Praise of Shadows just as my interest in these subjects was starting to blossom. I was organizing my bookshelves (they were just built and I was putting all my books on them) and I came to a bunch that were my brother's. They were mainly graphic novels from his college courses, so I assumed Tanizaki's book to be as well. But when I opened it up I didn't see pictures, so I read the back to find out what it was about. Turns out, an essay on Japanese aesthetic and sense of beauty and the effects of Westernization on the Japanese way of life. I almost cried. 

In Praise of Shadows is an essay in some regards: in others, the ramblings of a man disenchanted with the bright lights of the West. He begins by describing his struggles in building a traditional Japanese house for himself, trying to reconcile his desire for the traditional Japanese looks and fixtures with the necessities of the modern, westernized world. In a sense, trying to exclude Western presence from a house is trying to create an illusion; it will be there, but the struggle is in making it appear to not be. From this point he continues to talk about light through paper, toilets, jade, feminine beauty, the Noh theater, and other seemingly random aspects of Japanese culture. And for this reason many critics have said of the essay that it is disjointed, not structured well. But what Tanizaki wishes to do is to provide a range of examples of the way the modern world has changed aspects of the Japanese society, aspects that range from theatre to toilets, that even the most commonplace things are not as they once were. At the end of the book there is also a note about how Japanese writing style is much more train of consciousness, less structured and contrived than Western writing.

My interest in Westernization in the East is a bit masochistic, considering that whenever I think about it it makes me infinitely sad. I shared Tanizaki's lament while reading his book: Japan, untouched by the West, is a thing of the past. A nation must keep moving forward, must keep up with the rest of the world, and therefore must change. He concedes that the products of the West do make life easier, that at the end of the day living without the modern conveniences wouldn't necessarily be preferable. Yet he also argues that if Japan were left alone and given time, it would have created the same sort of modern inventions, yet tailored to the Eastern tastes, which I find to be a very interesting idea. It's not the innovation that's bad, it's that Japan has to adapt to the innovation of the West rather than their own. But this feeling of regret over the loss of culture is what intrigues me so much about Japan; I think that even today, the sadness Tanizaki speaks of is still very strongly felt, even as the bright lights of the Western world are celebrated. It is in the shadows that Japanese culture has grown and lives, and now all of those shadows are perishing in the illumination of the modern world.

This essay provided a good bit of insight into the feelings of nostalgia felt by so many Japanese people; I came away understanding so much more of the sentiments about Westernization felt in the East. But it really felt like a kick to the stomach when I looked the book up and realized it was written in the 1930s. Almost a century ago. I had been reading the whole book assuming it was written in the present, seeing as all of the author's comments are still entirely relevant. But almost a century ago. Think how much has changed since then, how further the country has become less of its past self. How sad Tanizaki would be if he were still alive today. 

The book is only forty pages, and if you're interested in Japanese culture it really explains so much, especially about the subtleties that wouldn't really come up otherwise. In his descriptions of Japanese aesthetics or customs, I thought of a lot of anime that I had seen and suddenly understood how it reflected what the author was talking about: the way light in rooms was depicted, the values that were subtly present. I would recommend it 110%- I feel that this text will become a touchstone for me in my future explorations on the subject.

5/5 stars- going on my favorites shelf.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Provincetown for Mother's Day

The End of My Travels (For Now) Barcelona, Spain

After visiting Madrid, Seville, Cordoba, and Sitges, my travels in Spain finally ended in Barcelona. Having spent a good deal of time in the South, being in Barcelona made it clear to me that Spain was, in fact, not the homogeneous country I had thought it to be. Seeing all the Catalan flags hanging out windows was shocking; I didn't realize that the people in the North were so open about wanting to be independent. But Barcelona was, of course, beautiful, and now that I'm talking about it again I've remembered that I wanted to re-watch Vicki Christina Barcelona.  

I'm not sure I've hated an inanimate object in my whole life as much as I hate that street lamp. We will see what becomes of it once I've sharpened my photoshop skills....

The Gaudi cathedral. It's been under construction since the 1920s and is planned to be finished by the 2080s. Which seems like an incredibly long time on the 21st century clock, when in reality it would take generations to complete the huge structures of old. The idea of a cathedral being built today is fascinating; cathedrals are just old, yes, they were built sometime in the past but now they're there. There aren't new cathedrals. So I commend Gaudi for being like, "you know what, I'ma build a huge cathedral because why not", yet at the same time I'm not a fan of the design. The main section looks like a disintegrating sand castle and a beehive spawned a construction, and it totally doesn't match the smaller section. Maybe cathedrals should stay a thing of the past.

Giraffes chatting over coffee. No further explanation needed.

These pictures were all from the Gaudi park. I think his aesthetic worked much better in this context.

My trip to Spain was a great experience, but to be honest, I think it's too soon to fully understand the importance of the trip or what it will mean to me in the future. Every time I try to reflect on it, my mind goes blank. I guess the whole thing just came and went so fast- while I was there I was so completely in the present, and once I left it all became incredibly surreal. Like, I know I was in Spain and yet my brain doesn't really compute what that means.

This is the end of my Spain trip but not the end of my travels!! T-42 days until France! And then Italy in September! (fingers crossed on that one)

Monday, May 26, 2014

You're Living, And That's All Anyone Ever Did

New Writing


And here you are again, baby,
paralyzed with fear.
Scared you're not living enough,
scared of the coming years.
Well hush up baby,
hush up dear.
Throw open the windows,
smell the cool salt air.
Throw a jazz vinyl on,
and let it spin spin spin.
The years will soon be gone,
so just spin spin spin.
You're living, and that's all anyone ever did.
So just spin baby,


Not Enough of a Cynic

I Saw A Black Car Drive By.
I Did Not Know If It Was a Hearse or a Limousine.
I Began to Consider
How Perhaps They Were Not Really So Different At All
I Decided I Would Rather Leave It To The Cynics


Sunday Night

It's Sunday night,
And I feel suspended, for a second,
By the sea-salt blue breeze
That stirs the tallest tips of the trees.
Caught like the sky between yesterday and tomorrow.
I know that next morning
Time will once again pull me in it's current,
But tonight it lets me float.


Thursday, May 22, 2014

I Cover the Waterfront

New Youtube video!! 
For mother's day we went to the beach in Provincetown and hung out, and it was all around a very relaxing time. While I was there I took some little videos and then I edited them together into the above using Final Cut Pro 10, which I got a free trial of AND AM IN LOVE WITH. You can do so much and it's plain amazing. But it also costs three hundred dollars. *Wahhhh*

It was sort of serendipity that right as I was finishing editing this we got a project in music to make a one to two minute video using music to create a mood, so I guess I'm pretty much done with that. Or I might make another one; I've been on a mambo jag recently and I sort of want to make a video with some Perez Prado background music. We'll see.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Wandering Around: Sitges Spain

When I went to Spain for spring break we visited a number of cities, including Barcelona. Our hotel was actually in Sitges, though, which is about 45 minutes outside of Spain and sits right on the Mediterranean. It's an adorable little resort town and we got a whole day to hang out there before we went to Barcelona. The picture above is the view from my hotel room. Waking up and opening the window to hear the waves crash on the beach and smell the sea breeze was one of the best experiences of my life.

My friends the palm trees.

These were roasting right by the side of the road. Still not sure why I took a picture but they look delicious!

By the end of the trip I wanted to burn down every souvenir shop in Spain; they all carry the exact same overpriced items and I kept getting dragged in there by people. Honestly a rock off the beach is a better souvenir than anything in those shops. But we did find a cute little hippie knick knack shop in Sitges, and I didn't mind buying a little key ring from there. They had all these polished stones and buddhas and pretty scarves: I would love to go back.

We took a nighttime stroll around Sitges, and the way the lights of the waterfront stores reflected onto the water was otherworldly. I love that people stay out late in Spain: at eleven there were still people out walking and getting ice cream. The pace of life is so much more relaxed, I feel like.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Bookish (And Not So Bookish) Thoughts

1.) I went to Provincetown for Mother's Day and had so much fun; we had brunch at The Red Inn and then hung out on the beach for awhile. I got some great pictures and video that I'll work on editing when I have the time.

2.) Speaking of video editing, I got the 30 day trial of Final Cut Pro. I swear to God man, this program. It's wondrous. It brings tears to my eyes. I mean I have no idea how to use it, but still. The only problem is that it costs $300, so I'm savoring my time with it right now.

3.) I watched the pilot for the new TV series Fargo and I actually really love it? I feel a little bad watching it because I haven't seen the movie, so I'll get on that stat. But like, I usually hate Martin Freeman yet here he's perfect, and Billy Bob Thornton's character is quickly becoming one of my favorite characters of all time. Moral ambiguity and philosophizing and sass and nice coats oh my oh my. Good artistic direction too. We'll see where this goes.

4.) Speaking of TV shows, should I watch Firefly? It seems to be one of those shows that has a cult following and it has Casey from Chuck soooooo. If you've watched it comment below!

5.) I actually finished my homework tonight. *Pause for gasps* So I set up a sister Tumblr for this blog called Salt Skin Vagabond. It's nice having my photos large format and I like how much easier it is to get content out there on Tumblr. Follow me if you wish ;)

6.) Now to books: I recently read Junichiro Tanizaki's short essay on Japanese aesthetic and beauty and the effects Westernization has had titled In Praise of Shadows, and it was amazing and really eye-opening about a lot of things. His writing style is very stream of consciousness; it's not a typically structured essay, but he writes elegantly and concisely. It's only forty pages so I would recommend picking it up and taking a quick read: it's worth it. I'll probably write a little thoughts/review piece later this week.

7.) It just so happens that I had another Tanizaki book on my bookshelf (I'm the youngest in the family so literature tends to get mysteriously handed down) titled Seven Japanese Tales. I'm not quite finished yet, but it's a collection of seven short stories of varying lengths that Tanizaki wrote throughout his career. They're a little bit...disorienting, a little bit obscene, and a little bit beautiful all at once. I'll write a review when I'm done but reading Japanese literature has really started to get me thinking about the differences between Eastern and Western writing, and more broadly culture and philosophy. It's definitely something I would take a class in at some point, and maybe even pursue on my own- I've always been interested in the topic.

8.) I've become a bit obsessed with reading Wikipedia bios of famous directors, and I've noticed a common thread: they all seem to live before they start getting into film. And what I mean by that is that they haven't necessarily been making films since a young age: most I've seen didn't even go to film school until an older age, if at all. As a group, they have the most interesting adventures and life stories of any other people I've heard about, and I find this extremely encouraging. I feel like there's this constant pressure to be the best and youngest, but in film it seems people don't rush it. They live a little first. I guess it's hard to make films from a very young age, like some people are ballerinas or singers, so it gives you time. It got me thinking about how I want to live and learn from my experiences, and develop, what kind of adventures I want to have. I think I'll probably take a gap year, and hopefully spend it abroad (I'm thinking England). I need to do more research, and I still have two years, so I'll check back with that.

9.) My new makeup obsession is copper eyeliner on the lower lash line, if anyone cares. It's subtle but makes you look a lot more awake (especially when you were up until one writing an essay) and if you have green eyes it really brings out the color.

10.) meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow meow 

Christine at Bookishly Boisterous hosts this meme, so go check her out and write your own 10 thoughts, then link up with her!

Untitled 5.14.14

I know the field ends.
But in the light of late spring
I see only green.


Monday, May 12, 2014

Saturday Music Haul

This Saturday was my school's art festival at a local art center. This meant I had to wake up at the ungodly hour of 7 A.M. on a Saturday morning after an exhausting week of school to get to the place by 9:30, and then wait to play until 11:15. I went on with both the jazz band and jazz combo, and I actually had a pretty great time. In jazz band we played "Pescados Frescos" by Armando Rivera and "Easin Along" by someone who's name I forget, and in jazz combo we played "Blues A La Mode", "Corcovado", and "Scrapple from the Apple". 

Sadly I had to cut out before the theatre performances to make it to my other jazz ensemble practice, but the result of a day of all-around jazziness was that I was left in a particularly jazzy mood. I made my way to the record shop and spent awhile browsing around before purchasing five albums:

 "April In Paris" by Count Basie and His Orchestra

 "The Complete Glenn Miller"

 "The Duke Ellington Carnegie Hall Concerts"

 "Sergio Mendes"
I got a little shock with this one; I expected it to be quiet latin piano music, and then the cheesy love songs from every eighties movie in existence started playing. I'm so incredibly okay with this.

"Toscanini; Debussy and Franck"

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