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Wabi Sabi

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Wabi Sabi is a Japanese concept of aesthetics that, unlike our standards, emphasizes not on achieving perfection but on recognizing the subtle beauty of things as they are being. The grammar is deliberate to imply a concept of wabi sabi and not to be related to Naturalism.

You may read a fine description here, but if you've ever walked a Japanese garden, clipped a bonsai or simply seen something beautiful in a flawed way (like the Liberty Bell?) you'll know what I'm talking about. It's not inspirational beauty like ours, but rather consolational beauty.

Further than whether you guys can see any vaue in that, I'd like to ask you your opinion on these simple truths and how they relate to aesthetics and even, Metaphysics. Source is on the above wiki link:

"[Wabi-sabi] nurtures all that is authentic by acknowledging three simple realities:

nothing lasts,

nothing is finished,

and nothing is perfect."

Isn't that true? part of an objective reality that we can confirm empirically?

I don't believe defeatism is implied anywhere here, so I'm going to translate those three points into positives:

Everyting has a limited life-span,

everything is in progress,

and finally,

in the same way that Objectivism denounces Utopias and their Platonic implications:

some things long towards excellence, none to perfection (for if they did, they wouldn't even be excellent)

thoughts?

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"[Wabi-sabi] nurtures all that is authentic by acknowledging three simple realities:

nothing lasts,

nothing is finished,

and nothing is perfect."

Isn't that true? part of an objective reality that we can confirm empirically?

I don't believe defeatism is implied anywhere here, ...

thoughts?

Here are three other simple realities:

Everyone eventually dies.

Pain exists.

Pleasure doesn't last.

And here are three others:

Life exists, and we are alive.

We have the capacity for pleasure.

Pain never lasts.

These are all true statements, but they represent totally different views of reality. I think the question to ask is, "What are the essential truths?" What should we be focusing on? What is important and what isn't?

Edited by itsjames
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What about, since perfection is unattainable, then we could find beauty in its attempts?

(Ayn Rand made many points out of this, such as "to the extend of his capacity", and her general respect for reality and disrespect for utopias)

I'm nod advocating this, nor have I just discovered the concept (goes back to the King of the Hill episode "The Son Also Roses"), but for the first time I believe I'm appreciating it.

I don't find this contradictory with Greek beauty. However it is not a coincidence that I begin to appreciate this "consolational" beauty at the same time that I'm worried about the inspirational one.

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What about, since perfection is unattainable, then we could find beauty in its attempts?

Perfection at times does mean a necessarily unattainable standard without regard to what is possible. The only sensible way to consider the concept perfection is based on what is possible. Perfection as in the best something can be, emphasis on "can". Wabi sabi is deliberately not making something the best it can be. Because clearly there is rejection of a Platonic perfection, there may be some nice traits of wabi sabi, but at the same time, I think there is an underlying view that everything is flawed.

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Perfection at times does mean a necessarily unattainable standard without regard to what is possible. The only sensible way to consider the concept perfection is based on what is possible. Perfection as in the best something can be, emphasis on "can". Wabi sabi is deliberately not making something the best it can be. Because clearly there is rejection of a Platonic perfection, there may be some nice traits of wabi sabi, but at the same time, I think there is an underlying view that everything is flawed.

Well put, you made the distinction I needed. Since we are mostly wholy free from all religious bias coming East of the Himalayas, we (people with traceable origins west of the Himalayas) are in a unique position to learn the positive aspects of those cultures. (Likewise, Chinese, Koreans and indeed Japanese are in a unique position to see good things in say, Judaism or Christianity since they have not been so tortured by either. That may account for the number of ethnic and straight Japanese intellectuals succesful in the West (Kazuo Ishiguro, Isamu Noguchi, Kenzaburo Oe, the current animated japanophilia some even among us in this forum, and our changed culinary tastes and options).

Back to the point: Wabi Sabi seems not so simle as to deliberately not making smething the best it can be: it seems that it's the art of deliberately stoping to produce an artifact before it's finished or perfect because nothing is ever finished or perfect anyway.

Japanese don't apply this concept to Robotics, it is clearly Poetic in nature, more appropriate for a tea ceremony or a garden (useless things) than a power plant (pwn NOT intended). Most painters I've met, all of them Westerners, say they just stop painting at one given point per work instead of considering it finish at the time they sign it.

The underlying view that you consider flawed and I consider defeatist, is that Eastern spirituality: Bhudism mixed with Shintoism I guess, but I don't care.

I guess the fundamental point in this thread (besides the useful feedback)is: Can there be multiple standards of beauty, and how do they come together now that most cultures are intertwined?

Isamu Noguchi was as much Japanese as he was Irish American - as far as I know.

There's a garden on the basement of Chase Manhattan Plaza that I consider beatufiul and extremely fitting for a skyscraper I love. I was fortunate enough to ask for permision to go to the lower level well before 2001 and got it, took some pictures from an angle that I can't find on the internet. Would have to scan them but it shows a good interaction of two opposite concepts, each complementing each other, like Roarks first house on the cliff (the house and the cliff, Rand describes it better). Only in this case, the cliff would be artificial in the form of this garden.

one_chase_manhattan_plaza_sunken_garden.jpg

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Back to the point: Wabi Sabi seems not so simle as to deliberately not making smething the best it can be: it seems that it's the art of deliberately stoping to produce an artifact before it's finished or perfect because nothing is ever finished or perfect anyway.

No, I don't think so. It is true, a lot of the time you can always do more with any piece of art and you simply have to pick a stopping point, otherwise you will literally spend forever on something. That is different than wabi-sabi, which is a philosophical world view.

Why don't you care that there is heavy Eastern spirituality involved with wabi-sabi? That's the whole point of the thread, is it not? A discussion of this aesthetic philosophy?

Of course there can be multiple standards of beauty, a painting is not the same as a sunset, but I'm not sure I understand you. Beauty has a lot to do with what some particular object is for, so you can't apply beauty the same way to all things. One thing I think that is not a very good approach to beauty generally, though, is that some ideal is unattainable, and just stoically accept things the way they are is the best course of action.

Edited by Eiuol
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  • 4 weeks later...

Why don't you care that there is heavy Eastern spirituality involved with wabi-sabi? That's the whole point of the thread, is it not? A discussion of this aesthetic philosophy?

sorry for the late reply,

It can't bother me because I haven't been abused by Eastern spirituality in any way, it's something new that, unlike Western spirituality, I have no bias upon. I don't claim to understand the value system of 1/3 of the world population, particularly the population corresponding to the only other culture that has alternatively surpassed ours throughout history.

There is a problem with the terms East / West for it applies to three or more cultures, not two. The term was originally the divide of the Roman Empire and it could apply to Athens vs Jerusalem and later more specifically to the Western and Eastern Church.

The culture of Cathay and Sipango, China and Japan, of East Asia, is not a naturally continuation of "eastern" (Byzantine/Mid-Eastern) culture as seen from European History - but a parallel one which deserves proper recognition. Ayn Rand has only recently been translated to Chinese and I consider that a breaking point in beginning to test the Worldwide applicability of Objectivism.

-

Back to my wabi sabi point: It is a deliberate way to confront Oism with things that deep down could be perfectly kosher, but superficially, fr the wording, are anything but.

A Capitalist Skyline with buildings and bridges in construction, is an excellent example of the beauty of the mess (of spontaneous org) in contrast to an ordered dull skyline like the ones of soviet cities or Pyongyang, although you can still see things in perennial construction there.

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reference to Ayn Rand:

In Capitalism she speaks of an Indian rajah collecting rice from millions as an example of how misery if collective enough can be the riches of a blessed one. - she used India.

In Red Pawn, while in a Russian island, the heroine listens to her favorite song broadcasted from a Japanese Radio, which is referred to as either "the West" or "Abroad".

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"[Wabi-sabi] nurtures all that is authentic by acknowledging three simple realities:

nothing lasts,

nothing is finished,

and nothing is perfect."

None of these are true statements. Everything lasts (for various lengths of time), and I just finished my lunch. I'm positive about that. It wasn't a perfect lunch though, because the shops and markets around here are very poorly stocked and I can never find the right stuff. But, if I had found the right stuff, and cooked it the way it's supposed to be cooked, it would've been perfect (perfect by the standard I formulated when I first set out to make that meal).

So the speaker is not really acknowledging reality, he's acknowledging a subjective perspective (things don't last long enough for his expectations, finished things aren't good enough for his expectations - so he calls them "unfinished", and his standard of perfection is intentionally formulated so that it would be physically impossible to attain). For instance the perfect speed for a car, for him, would probably be a million times the speed of light.

The bottom line is, some things are perfect. They last for as long as they've been designed to last, they look the way they were meant to look, they perform the functionality they were expected to perform, etc. As long as one's idea of perfection is not meant to sabotage his own life by ignoring reality, but is instead formulated with reality taken as a primary, perfection is attainable.

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It can't bother me because I haven't been abused by Eastern spirituality in any way, it's something new that, unlike Western spirituality, I have no bias upon. I don't claim to understand the value system of 1/3 of the world population, particularly the population corresponding to the only other culture that has alternatively surpassed ours throughout history.

You seem to think that the only reason that one might oppose spirituality is "bias" stemming out of negative life experiences from encountering that spirituality. This is simply ridiculous. Objectivists do not oppose these forms of spirituality out of "bias" but rather due to the fact that they claim, in various different forms, that faith is a means to knowledge. This claim is simply false, and any reality-oriented individual will oppose philosophies that make that claim. It's not about how 'impacted' one's life has been by Western vs. Eastern spirituality, it's about the actual claims made by each and whether they are right or wrong.

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It's too late to edit my previous post, but I'd like to qualify that I'm not arguing against Japanese culture (I love Japanese culture), just the statements I was quoting. The book they're from looks like one of those trite Eastern philosophy self help books. I wouldn't put too much stock into them being an informed description of anything except the author's own philosophy.

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  • 6 months later...

You seem to think that the only reason that one might oppose spirituality is "bias" stemming out of negative life experiences from encountering that spirituality. This is simply ridiculous. Objectivists do not oppose these forms of spirituality out of "bias" but rather due to the fact that they claim, in various different forms, that faith is a means to knowledge. This claim is simply false, and any reality-oriented individual will oppose philosophies that make that claim. It's not about how 'impacted' one's life has been by Western vs. Eastern spirituality, it's about the actual claims made by each and whether they are right or wrong.

No, I'm simply extending the same courtesy to an interesting and foreign culture that they extend to us while admiring St Peter's Basilica or if able, la Divina Commedia. Religion was pervasive during most of the genesis of our culture (industrialization is only a couple centuries old) and thus all the good of those times are always under the aegis of organized spirituality, whether in Italy or in Japan.

btw Ayn Rand admired Thomas Aquinas as it was plainly obvious to her (because of some historical understanding) that if an intellectual was to write in those days HE had to be a member of the church.

I was talking about Japanese culture, and specifically aesthetics, not all encompassing philosophy. Furthermore the point of this thread was to find the appropriate place in Objectivist influenced Western* Culture, for other culture's achievements or contributions. At the time I started the thread I was preoccupied with the posibility of East Asians reading and applying Objectivism on a scale as big as in America or at least Europe.

Japanese culture is older than 70 or if you count the Meiji era, 160 years, and therefore the concept and resulting beauty of wabi sabi is older as well and affected or explained through spiritual lingo. I find myself stupid having to actually type the above.

I find wabi sabi genius simply because it adds value (by rendering more beautiful something rustic, that is requiring little resources).

Pretty much like I find it genius the way great Cathedrals were provided with huge windows during the transition from Romanic to Gothic. My liking has to do more with the technical part of it and how it affects the soul (via more light in the case of the cathedral, via being the epitome of subtlein the case of wabi sabi)

*I use Western instead of European only not to superficially offend Americans and New Worlders but they'd be more offended if the origins of the term "Western" (Christianity) were more freshly remembered.

1) It's too late to edit my previous post, but I'd like to qualify that I'm not arguing against Japanese culture (I love Japanese culture), just the statements I was quoting. 2) The book they're from looks like one of those trite Eastern philosophy self help books. I wouldn't put too much stock into them being an informed description of anything except the author's own philosophy.

1) that was always clear from your nickname and avatar, how could you think it wasn't

2) I actually am very ignorant of Eastern culture and I used an "at hand" decent definition of wabi sabi; yes I also noticed it came from a self help book but I wanted something other than / corroborating wikipedia and king the hill. thanks for your input, more is welcome.

Edited by volco
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"btw Ayn Rand admired Thomas Aquinas as it was plainly obvious to her (because of some historical understanding) that if an intellectual was to write in those days HE had to be a member of the church."

I'd say that shows a lack of knowledge regarding the life of Aquinas -- his religion was central to his existence.

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and Ayn Rand knew that (she stated how much he did try to prove the existence of God)

my point however was that for something extraordinary to take place in pre industrial society, it had to be under the aegis of either war or god.

I'm starting to think it's not much different now - which is of course an entirely different subject

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