In Praise of Shadows

‘Modern man, in his well-lit house, knows nothing of the beauty of gold…’

From Junichirō Tanizaki’s In Praise of Shadows, an essay from 1933 discussing the importance of lighting in traditional Japanese aesthetics. The gold, the lacquer, Nō theatre, even Japanese make-up are all, he suggests, dependent for their effect on low, indirect lighting; bright light makes them look garish.

He contrasts this with a Western ideal of brightly-lit rooms, but I’m sure the same applies. We have an inherited reverence for gold and diamonds, but do they really look anything special under electric light? When I read Anglo-Saxon poetry, I imagine the gold glowing by fire and lamplight.

2 replies on “In Praise of Shadows”

That’s funny, I was just thinking about that work this very morning! I used to own a copy (I think Donald Keene translated?) but it disappeared. Maybe if I’d get some brigher lighting in here, I could find the damn thing…

It’s occasionally a bit odd – the bit where he says that Japanese people need low light to look good is weirdly self-lacerating – but it was an interesting read.

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