Wabi Sabi

 Wabi Sabi  is the title of a book, the name of a fictional cat and, most importantly, the name of a concept widely said to be fundamental in Japanese culture.  It is related to Zen, and is often explained in terms of the idea of appreciating the beauty in imperfect things.  Wabi Sabi, in the last sense, may be found in the preservation of chipped plates, for example. 

I first found the term in a review of the book, and then became more interested in it, since perfectionist demands, which many of us carry within ourselves, are such a burden.

Today I started to wonder if it might also be a way to view some of what Obama has accomplished.  There are grave problems with the health care proposal and with the Copenhagen meeting’s supposed accord.  But, though they are imperfect, Obama has gotten the US more engaged and further engaged  in both endeavors than anyone else  has so far (at least as I understand it).

Let us know what you think.   And do enjoy the pictures, all of which are from the book.


7 thoughts on “Wabi Sabi

  1. Nice, Anon.

    I should have asked for health care haikus. It’s late, though.

    Health care breaks us.
    Young and old crash without it.
    Change brings hope, we hope.

  2. Is the book about the concept?

    This has been one of the foci of my research in psychology – the kind of energy that comes from pursuing ideals that are represented as pure or perfect forms, and the potential harm that comes from trying to realize the ideals themselves rather than seeing them as transcendent standards that we can move towards but never reach.

  3. The book is about an attempt to explain the cat’s name. In it there are a lot of haikus illustrating the concept.

    There are also a large number of books more about the concept. Since Wabi Sabi is about finding the pleasure of imperfection, it might fit as a nice contrast to what you are looking at. Google gives one a preview of a number of books under the search term “Wabi Sabi”.

    Your remark about energy is really interesting.

  4. Since it’s derived from Buddhism’s three marks of existence (impermanence, unsatisfactoriness/suffering, lack of essence), I’d suggest starting with those, if only for background. Edward Conze is very good, and of course Zen would be relevant for Wabi Sabi since it’s big in Japan. The idea in Buddhism is to come to grips with these three and what they mean for us rather than try to get away from or attenuate them.

  5. Anon, thanks so much for the illuminating remark. It makes it possible to start to find a fuller context for the concept.

  6. Thanks for the tips, jj. I think I would particularly like to read Crispin Sartwell’s Six Names of Beauty for a look at cross-cultural aesthetics.

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