In Praise of Shadows by Tosh Berman

Saturday, July 24, 2021

Hopefully, by the end of December 31, I will write myself out.  By January 1, I’ll be empty.   The question is can I fill this emptiness with something?   Or better yet, just stay empty?  Being empty can’t be that bad right?  On my first trip to Japan, I found this fantastic book by Junichirō Tanizaki called “In Praise of Shadows” which is about Japanese aesthetic in how one looks at food, architecture and even a woman in a house of prostitution.  The underlining theme of the book is change, and also the influence of the West on Japanese traditional aesthetic.  Here I’m not talking about the tea ceremony, but more about the lighting of the rooms, and how food looks in such light.  Tanizaki writes about the luring beauty of a woman in darkness or by candlelight. The reader gets the impression that one is losing an aesthetic over time. Which I consider being very much true even here in the West.  One thing I noticed in Tokyo and other places is that people have a tendency to eat in bright lights now. It is like darkness is not permitted in a modern home or restaurant.  Personally, I like to eat with a woman almost In darkness. I love the lighting at dusk and just seeing the traces of my dinner companion and food… just barely.

The world is ugly.  It is not surprising that I’m attracted to characters like Sherlock Holmes, who lives in a world of their making, but often goes into the brighter world due to financial reasons, or perhaps a curiosity in seeing just how bad things are.  If I can live in Holmes flat on Baker Street, that would be the perfect environment for me.  I imagine his apartment is on the dark side, with minimal lighting, maybe just a tiny area to use for reading.  Not surprising, my house is dark in the nighttime because I don’t have reading lamps or even lighting to see one room to the other.  In the daytime, it is quite bright, but I let the night take over the house’s lighting system, where the brightness turns into darkness.  I rarely read in the evening owing to the natural cycle of the sun going down, and the moon arising.

To embrace oneself in a womb of darkness, and not using one’s sight, but to depend on sounds that echo through room to room, is quite a beautiful aesthetic, where I occasionally play a recording by Mick Karn, whose fretless bass playing conveys a sense of one slipping into the blackness that is precisely my soul.   Over time, I realize that my writing is in a manner, the ability to edit out things in my life, then adding more than just becomes inventory after a while.  Is it enough, just to focus on the blankness of an empty page, and perhaps leaving that space vacant.  To disappear between the shadows, and noticing the various shades of blackness or darkness that one confronts on a regular basis, is not depressing, but more of enlightenment.

Zelda Fitzgerald has always been fascinating to me because she seems to be not a noun, but a verb.  I think of her as pure light, that is avoiding the darkness.  If she stands still, then the night takes over.  The 8-hour ballet lessons, her manic need for attention, but in a sense, she had a genius for living.  The natural instinct which is always at war with the logic is a human trait to admire.  Often I feel my back is to the wall, but due to my natural ability to see the many shades of blackness that is in front of me, I move.  And I move reasonably well.