11 August 2019
Tanizaki, Jun'ichirō. In Praise of Shadows. New Haven, Conn: Leete's Island Books, 1977.
Originally published in 1933 in Japanese.
This book is a discussion of Japanese aesthetics as understood through the first-hand observations of the author. Its main theme is that Eastern culture possesses an innate appreciation for the subtleties of shadows and darkness - an appreciation that is lacking in the West. In the Eastern world, objects and surroundings are not presented starkly in bright light. Instead, they emerge elegantly from subtly darkened backgrounds. By presenting the world with less light - literally, by showing less - one reveals more. In contrast, Western aesthetics and culture are focused on attaining the brightest light possible and thereby creating a world that lacks mystery and depth.
To support these ideas, the author draws on observations of Japanese household objects, domestic and religious architecture, landscape design, art, personal memories and family anecdotes.
How is this text relevant to scenography?
This text is highly relevant to students of theatrical design in both explicit and implicit ways. Explicitly, it is an appreciation of light in general, and it discusses the lighting, makeup and costume design of Japanese theatrical forms (Noh, Kabuki, Bunraku). Implicitly, it deals with the major aesthetic question of Western theater which conventionally presumes a dark room from which narrative and subjects are revealed. Importantly, it gives voice to important concerns of theatrical designers, such as creating atmosphere, careful observation, color interaction and cultural styles.
I would like to add that I see a direct parallel here to the “direct observation” mode of design analysis presented by Josef Albers in Interaction of Color. This book is an important companion to that text.