Genius

“There are no rules. You can write a story, if you wish, with no conflict, no suspense, no beginning, middle or end. Of course, you have to be regarded as a genius to get away with it, and that’s the hardest part — convincing everybody you’re a genius.”
— Fredric Brown

Isamu Noguchi’s The Well (Variation on a Tskubal) (1982)

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Japanese art is very unque. It simple. Its complex. Its deeply philosophical without being burdened by all the artificial trappings of high-brow philosophy.

One of their various art-forms is called  suiseki (water stones) which essentially involved the mounting, on a carved wooden pedestal, of interesting rocks that had been found in the countryside. The Japanese incorporated rocks heavily into their garden designs. It was only natural for them to create art out of it.

The following analysis about famous American Sculptor Isamu Noguchi’s artwork The Well is from  Artstory.org

The Well (Variation on a Tskubal) (1982)

Artwork description & Analysis: Located within the garden at the Noguchi Museum in New York, The Well demonstrates Noguchi’s mastery of natural elements, and the strong presence of a Japanese aesthetic. Noguchi worked with stone his entire life, first learning how to carve while an assistant to Constantin Brancusi. Noguchi produced his final stone sculptures at his studio on Shikoku Island, Japan, where he worked with the local basalt stone. The Well perfectly balances modernism with traditional Japanese stonework, the man made with the natural. The piece unites natural contrasts: the fluidity and transparency of water against the still, solid black stone. Filtered up from below, the water gently skims the surface of The Well; there is a slight indentation on top that pools with water before cascading downwards. Noguchi sensually combines natural elements, creating a work that is both contemplative, but joyous.

Water, Basalt – The Isamu Noguchi Foundation

The installation video can be found here – it can be a bit boring for those who are not into such things.

Why this post? – This is an example of Wabi Sabi art. Ever since I was a kid, I was strongly attracted to natural scenarios and man-made designs found inside artful buildings which displayed stones and water in a visually appealing manner. So to have found an absolute archetype of this aesthetic and to read an analysis as to why such an artistic expression is admired –

“The piece unites natural contrasts: the fluidity and transparency of water against the still, solid black stone.” –

was to find and understand a part of myself. Internet amuses me in such cases. Here I am, in a corner, in India. And I can watch and read and know about Noguchi, something I might not have done if not for the net.

In his own words, Noguchi explains his work in the video. He says

“In its middle is a void, that.., that well, which I have made by drilling in to the stone that is very deep. By its depth the water is stilled – it does not shoot up, but is pressured down by the weight of the water above, you see. Therefore it flows out horizontally over that entire stone. The water flows above every which way you see.”

His words altered my perspective. Is he just talking about the stone? Or is it a metaphor? A void in the middle created by drilling into a stone. Water, perhaps an allegory for our emotions, is pressured down by the weight above and it flows out horizontally, in this case, almost serenely, peacefully, calmly over our selves. Perhaps a metaphor for the emotionally-repressed modern man. Or the man who has attained zen. Or may be I am just over-analysing – its just a beautiful imagery.

The stone reminds me of this observation by Andrew Juniper in his work Wabi Sabi – The Japanese Art of Impermanence. He seeks to make the reader realise that a Rock is not just a piece of rock, instead –

Melted deep within the earth, caught up in ice flows, pounded by rivers, eroded by rain, and ravished by extremes of heat and cold, rocks represent the most amazing resilience to the elements and yet even the hardest granite must eventually yield to the omni – potent forces at large. Maybe in part it is the clash of these two great forces and the work that has been done by nature over countless millennia that makes rocks so magnetic in their appeal. The extremes they have undergone are written both on their surfaces and through their cores and can be literally entrancing.

Scorching The Bamboo – Wabi Sabi

Scorching the bamboo with a flame darkens the bamboo and can add greatly to its
visual appeal.

In a purist and very Japanese view of wabi sabi, the whole ethos is based on humility toward one’s own life and the world at large.

It is nearly impossible to clearly define wabi and sabi. Maybe one could say that it is living unselfishly with our fellow men without desire for profit, resisting ideas of self-importance or status, and humbly accepting our position in life.”

there are no hard-and-fast rules on what is and what isn’t wabi sabi. If something evokes feelings of an intangible yearning, then that something has wabi sabi for the person concerned

materials that occur naturally – subdued colors, propensity to physically change with the passing of time. Nearly all wabi sabi expressions require an element of the organic, as without it there is no feel of time and no sense of impermanence.

The struggle of the tree to overcomethe relentless forces of the environment can be found in its every fiber. Its fight for life, staged over the centuries, is clear in the grains
and the knots, in the branches that have striven to catch the energy from the sun and the roots that have sought food and stability in the soil. There are trees with gnarly barks and unique shapes that represent some of nature’s most engaging sculptures, for they are the perfection of imperfection.

The iron kettle used in the tea ceremony is an example of the way in which the beauty of metal’s impermanence is highlighted and prized. With the passing of the years the slow corrosion on the metal’s surface will become more pronounced, as will the vast array of subtle hues within the surface. The range of colors this produces and the resultant pitting of the surface epitomize wabi sabi. It is the very slow unforced change of color that is sought, and this is a process that cannot be hurried.

Metal on its own can be a little harsh and lacks intimacy, but it has
a natural affinity with wood. Wood is far easier to work three dimensionally,
and the two textures offer a great many combinations

In the West there was, until more recently, the prevalence of the idea that paper was a medium for the recording of information or as a base for other types of artistic expression. In the East, however, there has been a long held reverence for the intrinsic beauty of handmade papers, made as they are from a huge variety of natural ingredients in a wide variety of styles. In 1928 there were no less than 28,532 Japanese families involved in the business of traditional paper making who supplied the huge demand for decorative and architectural purposes.

When our impermanence highlights the absolute irrelevance of material gain and when we can see our lives with a sense of humility and equanimity, then we are ready to see the beauty that lies within the subtleties.

Obama and The Baobab Trees

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I just finished reading 44th US President Barack Hussein Obama II’s very poignant memoir Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance. It is a deep read. It is about a Man, his Bildungsroman, in his own words. As one of the world leaders who had caught my attention as early as 2008, I ended up admiring him and lately idolising him despite knowing that all men have feet of clay. But at the end of the day, a man has got to believe in something, right?

I do not wish to further put in words my thoughts on his very intense memoir. Just quoting a couple of words from his very readable final chapter.

“Truth is usually the best corrective,” Rukia said with a smile. “You know, sometimes I think the worst thing that colonialism did was cloud our view of our past. Without the white man, we might be able to make better use of our history. We might look at some of our former practices and decide they are worth preserving. Others, we might grow out of. Unfortunately, the white man has made us very defensive. We end up clinging to all sorts of things that have outlived their usefulness. Polygamy. Collective land ownership. These things worked well in their time, but now they most often become tools for abuse. By men. By governments. And yet, if you say these things, you have been infected by Western ideology.”

 

“The same is true of the rule of law, the notion of independent inquiry-these things may conflict with tribal loyalties. You cannot have rule of law and then exempt certain members of your clan. What to do? Again you choose. If you make the wrong choice, then you learn from your mistakes. You see what works.”

Of Empty Pleasures and Intellectual Acrobatics*

The title precisely, most accurately describes my current state of being. Right now, I wake up and read in succession a number of books – memoirs, abstract Japanese philosophies, some Kafka,  humour. I tell myself that my attention deficit disorder makes it impossible for me to stick to one book at a time. And hence I require more than a couple at a time to satisfy me completely. Ahem!

Though it is ironically funny to say that one is forever alone, I am never forever alone. I mean, for a man situated in a position where I find myself in, it is prudent to overtly and covertly imply one’s single-dom. On the other hand, if a man indeed finds himself in my position, he would not be able to simply handle the passion that I undergo every waking moment of my life. It will not allow him to remain single.

It is often in the most unexpected moment that turning points occur in your life. This part of the night; right now, when I am keying these words into my blog, signifies the beginning of what appears to be a turning point in mine. How? I do not know. My gut tells me. My work-friend Nirmala tells me that I shouldn’t often spell out my gut feelings. Because they are too boring. And they mostly never happen.

If you believed that Nirmala said anything like that, it means I successfully fooled you. Nirmala never talks such things. It is I who talk to me like that and then imagine who in the real world would have spoken to me like that. Just mere assumptions and subsequent assignment of dialogues to faces. But I do not have that odd feeling I used to experience when I write lies. I felt filthy when I wrote things that is not true. But somehow, in some deep part of me, I feel liberated from that constraint.

I wonder why it is so. Is it because I perceive my lies to have a truthful-core or have I gotten over the rigidity of absurd non-existent rules. Breaking Rules. I used to feel it was an empty phrase. Part of the Cliched Words Private Limited Company. There is even a song in the movie Boys composed by the Musical Storm himself. But it was so corny. I mean there was a bunch of skinny uninspiring guys and a girl singing break the rules. The lead guy in question runs naked through the city for what, a GIRL? Desperate. Desperation is not sexy. An irony that I should say this though. Coming back to the Boys. A guy with weird older woman fetish. Two other guys who are __ ? And a shrill sounding immature girl. These are the people who are singing about breaking rules.

Sit down, let us have a serious discussion. What rules could these bunch of people possibly break? Exceeding the late night curfew set by their parents – I cannot think beyond this. So when such mediocre piece of art works claim the role of popularising ideas as powerful as Breaking Rules, is it not a pardonable crime for a sensitive, curious, bookish, nerdy teenage boy to have a healthy dose of hesitation and disbelief in the very idea of breaking rules? If these are the kind of riff raffs who want to break rules, I think its pretty clear the rules are not to be broken.

It is this dumbing down of deep philosophy to cater to the masses and pop-cultures, that needs some kind of reprobation. It took nearly two and a half decades of my existence to truly understand that there are no rules to be broken in the first place. This realisation was slow. This realisation was more due to living the practical life. This realisation was due to reading books which has men literally talking to cats. (No I am not talking about cunnilingus. ) This idea should come from the inside. Like how a true mathematician believes that you truly learn calculus, when you discover calculus, accidentally – I am just fucking with you, I have no idea what a true mathematician thinks – I truly believe that one understands a deep philosophy, a life lesson, only when he thinks it up by himself.

So what was I talking about anyway? Of empty pleasures and intellectual acrobatics.

Epilogue – I have been told that a truly delightful read will start and end with the same idea.

* I found this phrase while I was reading the blurb of the English Translation of Julio Cortazar’s Hopscotch.

Missiles Are Much More Effective

Social and political philosophy examines issues of justice in society. Why do we need governments? How should goods be distributed? How can we establish a fair social system? These questions used to be settled by the stronger guy hitting the weaker guy over the head with a bone, but after centuries of social and political philosophy, society has come to see that missiles are much more effective.

– Plato and The Platypus Walk Into A Bar by Thomas Cathcart & Daniel Klein