Monday, August 25, 2008

Wabi-Sabi and Silver Linings

Wabi-Sabi is a general philosophy associated with an aesthetic which, according to Wikipedia, "is sometimes described as one of beauty that is 'imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete' (according to Leonard Koren in his book Wabi-Sabi: for Artists, Designers, Poets and Philosophers)."

As a writer and philosopher, I cannot help but look at this aesthetic except as an extension of a more general philosophy (partly because the relationship between the Modernist aesthetic and philosophical positions--which are, after all, reflections of a general way of looking at the world--was an issue I considered at length in my dissertation)--please excuse the long digression--as I was saying Wabi-Sabi, as a philosophy, suits much of what I am see in the world
around and in the discourse of philosophy. In particular, notions of imperfection and incompleteness are of particular interest with respect to matters of logic, such as the ideas brought up by, among other things, Goedel's proof of the incompleteness of arithmetic (which has been interestingly and approachably covered in Hofstadter's "Goedel, Escher, Bach").

But I digress--What seems important to me, with respect to the problems facing the academic writer, is that our logic, our reasoning, and our work seem--from a logical perspective--to be fraught with imperfections completely independent of how hard we work on the problem. This is a very important logical issue for writers to recognize--especially if they're hung up on perfectionism: if it can't be perfect, then does that change how you react to it?

Beyond that, though, we see in Wabi-Sabi an aesthetic that valorizes the imperfection. And this aesthetic principle is also translatable to the idea of building an academic argument: academic arguments cannot be logically perfect. Wabi-Sabi allows us to see the beauty of these imperfections--which may help with our writing a limitations section in the results, or a representation of opposing views in the literature review. There is beauty (and strength) in an argument that recognizes its own weaknesses.

Seeing imperfection as something beautiful, or at least as part of a beautiful thing, is a matter of perspective and focus. It is something that we have some control over. And this is what brings me to silver linings: every cloud has a silver lining, so the saying goes, and Wabi-Sabi says that everything beautiful has an imperfection. We can see the beauty if we look for it--the "sri vision" that I wrote about a few days ago--or we can focus our attention on the things that are ugly and imperfect, and on how that ugliness and imperfection are problems.

Writer's block, and dissatisfaction with one's own work, often rely on our ability to focus on the dark cloud, or our ability to see the imperfection as detracting from our work.

No comments: