Tuesday, February 21, 2012

As we wash the rice our fingers might touch every grain

An 18th century screen depicting chapters from the Tale of Genji. I am especially drawn to the lower right hand passage, in which surface and clouds seem to join for a moment. Click on the screen to enlarge the view.

How does a single surface evoke a story containing many dimensions? In the case of the screen above, gold leaf has been inlaid into the construction in the form of a richly hued mist. The golden mist seemingly opens up to reveal six different scenes from a story. This golden array both references a transient natural form and provides indelibly crafted decorative splendor. The sense is given of a view down through golden clouds, and into openings teeming with significance for the narrative. The golden inlay, which has been laid flat against the panels of the screen, has created a sense of perspective: we assume a lively world under these clouds. And there is a feeling given that if we were to leave just for a moment and then return to this screen that we might see different views as the golden clouds shifted.

I don't know of a perfectly apt metaphor for the sense wine tannins give to the taster, but such cloud forms might come close. In young wines they provide a structure that throws the other elements into relief, while at the same time implying flavor sensations closed off for now. With time, we suspect, they might shift and reveal other chapters of the story. Or not. Sometimes I recall that the original Tale of Genji ends abruptly. Mid-sentence.

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