Friday, July 15, 2011

間 (spaces/pauses/intervals)。

Also at last tea class, お茶の先生 mentioned "ma" (間), "spaces" within a continuous temae in which you can take a moment to reflect, to center, or just to adjust anything that may have slipped out of alignment.* I wonder whether those spaces are thought of as they seem to be in shuuji—in a line of writing may be more or less continuous (連綿体), but even within the continuity there are "rest stops" where you can break the flow to adjust your brush positioning or to reconsider your character alignment, and then jump back in without any obvious break in the flow. I am very grateful for these spaces, because (as any writer can confirm) there are few things in this world more daunting than a blank sheet of paper.

I looked into 間 briefly yesterday, and it seems to be a particular kind of space (or way of thinking about space), a moving space—not just "negative space", an absence of things. There's a Wikipedia page on it (of course), but it's not super helpful if you don't already have an idea:
The spatial concept is experienced progressively through intervals of spatial designation. In Japanese, ma, the word for space, suggests interval. It is best described as a consciousness of place, not in the sense of an enclosed three-dimensional entity, but rather the simultaneous awareness of form and non-form deriving from an intensification of vision.

Ma is not something that is created by compositional elements; it is the thing that takes place in the imagination of the human who experiences these elements. Therefore ma can be defined as experiential place understood with emphasis on interval.

(I'm sure it can, but let's find some other ways to define it.)

A cursory google now yields some potentially useful sources. First, suspicion confirmed: the "ma" in "tokonoma" is indeed the same space (間), "toko" being either a floor or a bed. There seems to be a temporal component to it: "an empty place where various phenomena appear, pass by, and disappear. It teems with signs that exist in an infinite variety of freely ordered arrangements" (Isozaki, Ma: Space-Time in Japan). A butoh performer source target=_blank>expresses the same idea of hidden movement:

Movements become defined by the ma they involve. For example, if you are slapped in the face you will turn in one second and say “What was that for!” But there could also be a feeling that takes you four second to turn back from the slap and then say “What?” But it is never enough to just count out that ma (interval) one, two, three.... What we want is to find the emotion that occurs when you are slapped. It is not the interval count but what is nurtured in that time, what is hidden beneath it, what is moving.
Another source applies the concept to film (in the work of Yasujirou OZU):
Think of the Japanese art that you have seen, the extreme simplicity and economy, the empty spaces, the delicacy, the stylization (for example, of the woodblock prints that so contributed to the development of “modern art.”) Now how do you do that in cinema, a highly realistic art form in which the camera picks up everything in front of it?

... By refusing to use dissolves (after his early films), he forced himself to find ways to ease the viewer out of one scene and into another. Instead of a straightforward cut, he would put what are called “pillow shots” or “intermediate spaces” as transitions between scenes. These are “still life or neutral images in films that serve as visual and emotional resting points.” They tend to be subtle comments on the action. Sometimes they tell you a locale (Osaka castle or the famous Ryoan-ji garden in Kyoto). In these post-World War II films, these shots tended to be images of nature (suggesting these films’ recurring theme of nature’s cycling and human generations’ passing) or traditional Japanese objects (relating to the films’ general mistrust of modernization). Conversely, they can be smokestacks or industrial construction, again suggesting a questionable progress.

Interestingly, the Ozu writer also picks up the theme of appearances and disappearances within the space, things that are occurring, seen or unseen:
Ozu’s editing accounts for much of his “Japanese-ness.” These pillow shots that we don’t expect to appear, do appear. His films give us seemingly unimportant details (a stone step, a vase, a loaf of bread, a long train ride into Tokyo that we don’t expect). Conversely, shots that we expect to appear, don’t. In Late Spring, Noriko and a friend go to an art show, but we never see it Ozu sets up the possibility of a romance with her father’s research assistant, but cancels it. Most important, the whole film leads up to Noriko’s marriage, but we don’t see it or the man she marries (we are told just that he looks like Gary Cooper). In Early Summer, we never see the man Noriko’s family wants her to marry. We never see what goes on between Noriko and her chosen husband before she agrees to marry him. We don’t see that man’s being assigned to far-off Akita. In Tokyo Story, we do not see the parents visit their son in Osaka nor the mother fall ill.

Ozu’s style corresponds to the odd omissions and inclusions in Japanese painting. It leads to a kind of misdirection and disorientation and therefore a “making new” (a “defamiliarization” in the term of the Russian formalist critics). This newness focuses the attention of both Japanese and Western viewers.

And a very helpful summary that also differentiates 間 from 無, actual nothingness:
Mu means empty space, the space between things, and often Ozu’s camera seems pointed toward nothing (to the extent that is possible with a camera that picks up whatever is in front of it). Mu, that one character, is all that is inscribed on Ozu’s tomb. Ma refers to a space that gets filled. Ozu often shoots an empty room and then a character comes into it or he lingers on a room that a character has just left. Ma spaces are spaces for action, the quiet kind of conversational action that constitutes an Ozu masterpiece.
Again the idea of a space that may seem empty but in fact is active, vibrant with potential. Expectant: something just was there or soon will be. (But not necessarily what in English we'd call a "pregnant pause".) Very relevant for shuuji, I'd think, in which the choice of (or instinct around) what to show and not show is very important to successful work. Gyousho and sousho characters can sometimes be very free-form, but still there are parts you have to include if you want the characters to be readable (or, more likely, correct). Continuous renmentai writing shouldn't be too continuous; you should break the flow now and then, judiciously. I still have a lot of trouble spacing lines in chirashi, the spread-out style of writing poems; getting the characters, lines, spaces, and connections to harmonize is something I hope to achieve, to some degree, in the distant future.

I think we might also think of 間 in the aesthetic of shuuji, especially gyou and sou: part of the experience of viewing good shuuji is sensing the movements of the writer—the speed, pressure, and connectedness (shown or unshown) of the strokes, but also the state of mind of a person who was here, writing, but now is not.

(That "defamiliarization" is a particularly interesting point in all this. In college I studied postwar German and Japanese literature, and defamiliarization and alienation ["Verfremdungseffekt"] were major themes—stripping everyday objects, people, and places of their comforting familiarity. The effect can be pretty disturbing.)

Google Books also offers some useful stuff. Here's an explanation of ma with a broader historical perspective and an emphasis on martial arts:
Ma, a basic of strategy in the Japanese martial arts and Ways, seems to be one of those concepts rarely taught in any conscious manner to students anymore. It is found not only in the fighting arts of Japan, but in its art, and music, and architecture; even in the relationships people have with one another.

... [I]n Japan, the beat of early life was not determined by the strides of galloping horses.... In mountainside villages and rice fields, the tempo of daily life was set by the distinctly uneven rhythms of nature; the sudden clatter of a bamboo thicket in gusts of wind, the not-quite-steady plop of rain dripping off a thatched eave, the roar of an earth tremor followed by a seemingly endless, anticipatory pause. Within the silence of the bamboo grove before and after it has been stirred by a breeze, in the stillness following an earthquake, the moments between the dripping of raindrops, there are intervals. They are spaces in time that in Japanese are called ma.

That may be more poetic than we need, and it does seem to make some assumptions, but it's a helpful way to look at it as a more general aesthetic and philosophical principle. The chapter goes on to "karate dancing" and so on (and is worth a read). But this 間 seems particularly appropriate for physical pursuits like tea and martial arts, because between movements there is always some intention/anticipation. Particularly true for tea, as in most cases most people in the room will have a pretty clear idea of what the host will be doing next.

I'd like to read more specifically about ma and tea / (teahouse) architecture—such as this, on ma and "intimations" in architecturel this fascinating exploration of the structure and aesthetics of the Shoukintei teahouse in Kyouto; and anything I can find on 通天橋, the "pathway to heaven" bridges that span ma—but the space I'm currently in has become thick with expectancy that I'll get back to work. それでは。

There's also the question of why 間違う/える uses that 間—space + to be different = to be mistaken. And the related question of how 間違う and 間違える differ.

(*I asked what the protocol would be for a guest to, eg, align the lid of a natsume. 先生 said this can indeed be done, but it should be done after the guest manipulates the item, to avoid the overt implication that anyone in particular has misaligned it. Similarly, there are ways (involving math!) to ensure that the chawan and other dougu remain correctly oriented.)

(**I think I'll start referring to windows in South Philadelphia as tokonoma.)

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