Wednesday, January 23, 2008
Happiness, beauty, consumerism
If you can make it through the first 150-200 pages of this book, your presistence may finally start to pay off. Or at least a few ideas began to emerge in my mind. If I tried to sit down and write it all out I'd never finish this post. But here are a few of the concepts that struck me:
Talking about why our tastes change, and how our concepts of beauty swing between "the restrained and the exuberant; the rustic and the urban": "we are drawn to call something beautiful whenever we detect that it contains in a concentrated form those qualities in which we personally, or our societies more generally, are deficient. We respect a style wich can move us away from what we fear and towards what we crave: a style which carries the correct dosage of our missing virtues."
Then on page 260, just pages from the end of the book: "the Japanese sense of beauty has long sharply differed from it's Western counterpart: it has been dominated by a love of irregularity rather than symmetry, the impermanent rather than the eternal and the simple rather than the ornate. The reason owes nothing to climate or genetics...but is the result of the actions of writers, painters and theorists, who have actively shaped the sense of beauty of their nation." And later on that same page: "In medieval Japan, poets and Zen priests directed the Japanese towards aspects of the world to which Westerners have seldom publicly accorded more than negligible or casual attention: cherry blossoms, deformed pieces of pottery, raked gravel, moss, rain falling on leaves, autumn skies, roof tiles and unvarnished wood. A word emerged, wabi, of which no Western language, tellingly, has a direct equivalent, which identified beauty with unpretentious, simple, unfinished, transient things."
So all of this got me thinking about where I find beauty right now. Am I attracted to the simple, the unrefined, and the irregular merely because as a culture we're surrounded by an abundance of the opposite? Is it because I'm surrounded by the mass-produced, the over-processed, and by sheer quantities of inexpensive stuff? I suspect that's precisily the reason.
In any case, I find my self increasing drawn to the simple, as do many of us today. I want to pare everything down to the bare minimum. Maybe that's why so many of us are also knitting and sewing today: to simplify our lives and separate ourselves from the mass of stuff that is our society right now.
Anway, that's too big a topic for one day. But I can tell you that I love the sheer simplicy of these hand-made wooden tools from Live Wire Farm as well as the products of Muji. Which is all a bit ironic, since it's more stuff and more consumerism, isn't it? But wow, REALLY beautiful.