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A Tractate on Japanese Aesthetics by Donald…
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A Tractate on Japanese Aesthetics

by Donald Richie

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Six-word review: Deft, spare elucidation for Western audience.

Extended review:

For a Westerner, the aesthetic principles encountered in Japanese paintings, poetry, gardens, and other art forms can be elusive and mystifying. The late Donald Richie was an expert on Japanese culture (and movies in particular) and a gifted explainer. In this short work he conveys his understanding, through both form and content, about as well as I think it can be done for a reader who has not been an ardent lifelong student of the subject.

Without any facetiousness at all, I'll say that I think that after reading it three or four more times I may be able to tell you something about what it says.

Meanwhile, much as I've felt after hearing a dharma talk at the zendo, I can't tell you exactly what he said, but I think I understand something a little better.

My rating of this book means nothing at all. The book is a bound essay of 70 small pages plus glossary and bibliography. And I'm sure that, true to its subject matter, it uses as many strokes as it needs and no more. But the limitations of my scale prevent me from recognizing it on its merits alongside works ten times the length. Consider this a fault of my ratings or of ratings in general and not of the book. ( )
  Meredy | Jan 7, 2015 |
As Richie explains in his preface, he has deliberately chosen to write A Tractate on Japanese Aesthetics as a zuihitsu , the form in which many influential Japanese chose to address aesthetic matters. Such an essay is not logically organized, not linear, not deductive. The author is supposed to "follow the brush" (I suppose we must say follow the pen, though, now, are we to follow the keyboard?), follow his thoughts as they arise. To heighten this, for him necessary, nonlinearity, he juxtaposes alongside the main text further texts which enrich the reader's understanding but which he apparently felt that he could not work into the main text in a more organic manner.

I had no problem with this approach and regretted only that the book is so short. I wish Richie had further developed his sketch of how certain central aesthetic terms had evolved through time and had provided more of his aptly chosen examples to illustrate this evolution. I wish he had submitted the more secondary terms, whose existence he merely indicated, to the fuller treatment accorded to the primary terms. I further wish he had followed up the deliciously suggestive analogies between Japanese and Western aesthetics he so briefly drew. Please, sir, may I have more? ( )
  jonalb | Sep 22, 2013 |
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This provocative book is a tractate--a treatise--on beauty in Japanese art, written in the manner of a zuihitsu, a free-ranging assortment of ideas that "follow the brush" wherever it leads. Donald Richie looks at how perceptual values in Japan were drawn from raw nature and then modified by elegant expressions of class and taste. He explains aesthetic concepts like wabi, sabi, aware, and yugen, and ponders their relevance in art and cinema today.… (more)

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