Tuesday, November 1, 2011


what is the universe like?

things are either devolving toward, or evolving from, nothingness.  as dusk approaches in the hinterlands, a traveler ponders shelter for the night.  he notices tall rushes growing everywhere, so he bundles an armful together as they stand in the field, and knots them at the top.  presto, a living grass hut.  the next morning, before embarking on another day's journey, he unknots the rushes and presto, the hut de-constructs, disappears, and becomes a virtually indistinguishable part of the larger field of rushes once more.   the original wilderness seems to be restored, but minute traces of the shelter remain.  a slight twist or bend in a reed here and there.  there is also the memory of the hut in the mind of the traveler- and in the mind of the reader reading this description.  wabi-sabi, in it's purest, most idealized form, is precisely about these delicate traces, this faint evidence, at the borders of nothingness.

while the universe destructs it also constructs.  new things emerge out of nothingness.  but we can't really determine by cursory observation whether something is in the evolving or devolving mode.  if we didn't know differently we might mistake the newborn baby boy- small, wrinkled, bent, a little grotesque looking- for the very old man on the brink of death.  in representations of wabi-sabi, arbitrarily perhaps, the devolving dynamic generally tends to manifest itself in things a little darker, more obscure, and quiet. things evolving tend to be a little lighter and brighter, a bit clearer, and slightly more eye-arresting.  and nothingess itself- instead of being empty space, as in the west- is alive with possibility.  in metaphysical terms, wabi-sabi suggests that the universe is in constant motion toward or away from potential.
wabi-sabi-for artists, designers, poets & philosophy
by leonard koren


kimberly said...

Oh my gosh this is wonderful! I don't know this book, but I'm buying it, and also checking it out from the library if I can in the mean time. In my academic life I work on unconventional representations of domesticity and how domestic spaces on the geographic and social margins create space out of those things that the dominant culture casts off and deems unworthy. Sometimes this is about "recycling" trash and detritus and sometimes it is about merging domestic space with the natural spaces around it. I am presenting a paper on these ideas (specifically the representation of white trash domesticity and female subject positions) at a conference this weekend and was feeling somewhat stymied in my thinking. This little bit that you posted here has opened my thinking right back up. THANK YOU!

Liane said...

hi kimberly- nice to hear from you. your studies sound interesting to me. this may be something of interest to you too: http://www.davecarrsmith.co.uk/. improvised homes and squats. i've emailed with carr smith a little and i am utterly fascinated by the squat photos.

kimberly said...

Oooh, that is interesting! My field is literature so I've been working with literary texts and some films, but now that my dissertation is written and I have my Ph.D., I might be able to expand a bit and work on more interdisciplinary consideration of these ideas. I've always thought it would be great to consider these ideas in a less strictly academic way that would allow me to include personal narrative and photography (mine and others) as well as interpretation of literary, filmic, artistic, and theoretical texts, along with popular culture studies. Compartmentalizing these areas of study in order to artificially draw lines around and between them is so silly.

Olivia Jeffries said...

this is fascinating...off to investigate more!