In Praise of

"In Praise of Shadows" by Tanizaki Junichiro


A friend of mine recently gave me the short book "In Praise of Shadows" by Tanizaki Junichiro and told me, I would like it. I liked it a lot.
The book was written 1933 in a time when apparently Japan was in the middle of the process of westernization.
Tanizaki is arguing against the new and overuse of electrical light and the full illumination of rooms, that is contradicting to the aesthetics of Japanese architecture, that is being based on the play of light and darkness, therefore the play of the shadows.
Tanizaki describes how the materials and colors in Japanese houses are chosen in harmony with the shades and how even the colors of food stand in relation to these aesthetics.
„Certainly your appetite is reduced by half when eating Japanese dishes in a bright room from white dinnerware.“
The idea of beauty as a bright light and full illumination clashes with an idea of beauty that is in love with a richness of facets. If there is only light or dark, what you get is sterility. The shadow allows us to put things into the lighting conditions they need to unfold their inherent beauty.
The overuse of light is not different from eating too much or other ailments of our civilization. Same as food, water or warmth we crave light. But similar to air-pollution and noise-pollution we now have light-pollution. Too much light is a problem.
Industrialization is in love with light and it’s gift of being able to work every hour of the day. And fooled by it the electrical light made us abandon natures rhythm and let us become a machine ourselves.
Electrical light is a relative of many things we’ve put in our houses these days, to make our life more pleasurable and efficient. Heating, air conditioning, power plugs as well as smooth surfaces and perpendicularity. We fell in with love the homogenous, Tanizaki’s shadows praise heterogeneity.

A recommended read.

Joseph Bartz