It was translated into English by the academic students of Japanese literature, Thomas Harper and Edward Seidensticker. A new translation by Gregory Starr was published in December Already sketched out in a series of comments that appear in Some Prefer Nettles , Tanizaki's aesthetic credo, in the more finished form of this essay, was originally published in in Japanese. The English translation was published in by Leete's Island Books. The translation contains a foreword by architect and educator Charles Moore and an afterword by one of the translators, Thomas J.
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There it sits on my shelf, as it has for years, ever since it was part of a reading list for an art history course I once took as an undergrad. Ever so slight, it easily gets lost amongst more substantial books. It took a long time for In Praise of Shadows to make it into the western imagination. For being a book about aesthetics it can at once be enlightening, problematic, complicated, evocative, romantic, and critical.
But it is more than this. It is much more subtle than progressive and critical interpretations projected upon it. For one, Tanizaki has a cutting sense of humor. He launches into a discussion of the virtues of Japanese architecture by starting with the toilet. It is also a scathing critique of Japan itself finding it difficult to adapt its culture to modernity.
I write this by firelight and the dimmed, headache-inducing glow of my laptop—all of this ultimately to have negative repercussions on my eyesight, I am sure. I seem to spend a great deal of time in subtle lighting. I blame In Praise of Shadows. It is theoretical for sure, but also grounded in the subjective experience of an extremely sensitive and articulate author. It posits a world that could have been in which technology is perhaps more muted, more in the background. The shiny, reflective, well-lit world of western power and efficiency would have been more nuanced by depth, patina, wear.
Hygienic tile bathrooms—to return to bathrooms for a moment—would have been rendered out of wood, stone, even paper. Of course, so much of this is now part of the subconscious.
Why bother pulling it apart or theorizing about it? In Praise of Shadows reminds us of other realms, other feelings that architectural space can evoke, ways of designing for repose, reflection, and solitude in a world that places emphasis on striving, action, and noise. It would take a subtle hand and a high measure of restraint in an era when it is possible to design and build just about anything out of anything. Can we turn off some of the lights? A few, at least? Can we have just a little less of the shiny and bright?
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ISBN 13: 9789873797279
The Indicator: In Praise of Shadows