In Praise of Shadows by Tanizaki Jun'ichiro
Tanizaki was one of the most influential Japanese novelists of the 20th century. His aesthetic credo, originally published in 1933 and translated into English in 1977, is required reading for anyone wishing to understand Japanese cultural aesthetics.
The Changing World of Tanizaki
This small (59 page) essay consists of 16 sections that discuss traditional Japanese aesthetics in changing times. Comparisons of light with darkness are used to contrast Western and Asian cultures. The West, in its striving for progress, is presented as continuously searching for light and clarity, while the subtle and subdued forms of oriental art and literature are seen by Tanizaki to represent an appreciation of shadow and subtlety, closely relating to the traditional Japanese concept of sabi.
In addition to contrasting light and dark, Tanizaki further considers the layered tones of various kinds of shadows and their power to reflect low sheen materials like gold embroidery and traditional lacquerware, distinguishing between the values of gleam and shine.
The text presents personal reflections on topics as diverse as architecture and its fittings, crafts, finishes, food, cosmetics, and mono no aware (the art of impermanence). The essay acts as "a classic description of the collision between the shadows of traditional Japanese interiors and the dazzling light of the modern age".