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November 17, 2010


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Suddenly my Brown Betty seems so déclassé.

The video is fascinating on every level. Not only seeing the "adorable" teapot being crafted by master hands, but all the very specialized tools he used. Some even performed dual tasks. And what a perfect teapot. He used his right eye, twice I think, when lining up the imaginary line between the spout and handle. And how quickly he moved with purpose, and felt with his hands what his eye might have missed. It was a joy watching this birth. But I'm still a coffee lover.

There is a ritual that exists still in Taiwan's central tea mecca of Nantou, whereby a teapot whose owner has left indefinitely, has a ribbon tied gently around it before being put up on a shelf. This 'marking' tells all that it is a pot that is off-bounds to other tea drinkers and practitioners...it awaits its owner and its owner's tea. It is a reminder of a bond between pot and owner, an instrument and the practitioner - a relationship that is often passed onto the owner's offspring or to one who appears as a true inheritor of this gift. In this same area of Taiwan, the adage of 'less is more' is accurate as the smaller the tea pot (often little more than a tangerine) the more precious - a single pot, a moment alone, a sumptuous tea - a nice little heaven, no?

fascinating post, as always. searching for that yixing holy grail...

You know when I left Japan, I did take the little water container.. I will
always adore it. Miss my teapots tho!

:) yes. one can get so attached. i have about 17 yixing pots, but maybe
only 2 or 3 i can say i love. top is a nice purplish-brown round, almost ufo
shaped one i got in taipei 10 years back. of course it just gets better with
almost like sunken treasure, found one at a yard sale here in New Jersey
for $3! it was a classic shape (saw same one on Bi No Tsubo) with a little
dragon head that pokes out of the top of the lid, and a tongue that pokes
even farther. was deeply stained and somewhat beaten up, well used but not
what you would call cultivated. anyway, like that one too, largely for its
story. became a puerh pot

Like you, G, I also love Chinese tea (especially white tea is
my favorite but I love puerh and oolong too)... when you have time, check
out the videos and the book at the bottom of the post. The yixing pots are
like raku teabowls in that they are modeled totally by hand and one artisan
(for the real ones) is in charge of the process from start to finish and so
they do seem to have personality--I love their lids!

The journeys you take your readers on, how can one ever
thank you for that? ;) Time to go searching through Vienna's markets for a
nice tea-brewing souvenir for the future. I recently saw one just like
described above, almost UFO shape with a dragon poking his heas out of the
lid and the tongue even further. Or maybe I saw it in a dream.
November 18 at 5:32pm ·


Perhaps you can (if you've not before) say something about how this might relate to the Japanese notion of “Shibusa,” about which I was introduced by Crispin Sartwell in his little book, The Six Names of Beauty (2004). He writes:

“The Japanese language possesses a vocabulary of aesthetic experience that is or ought to be the envy of the West. These words admit of no direct translation into European languages [which reminds of the Sanskrit term ‘rasa,’ about which the same could be said], but they make articulate varieties of beauty to which anyone can have access. ‘Shibusa,’ for example, is usually translated, with radical inadequacy, as ‘elegance.’ The word ‘elegance’ for us connotes a kind of upper-class aesthetic of designer clothes and designer utensils, though admittedly it picks out something ‘tasteful’ as opposed to loud or overly elaborate. Things that are shibui (the adjective form) are refined in the sense of not being gaudy. There is another use of elegance that gets somewhat nearer to shibusa, however: Proofs in mathematics and logic, as well as scientific theories, are sometimes called ‘elegant’ if they are conspicuously economical [in science at least, economy would be one of several desiderata, symmetry, for example, would be intrinsic to the notion of elegance as well: see A. Zee’s Fearful Symmetry: The Search for Beauty in Modern Physics (1999)]. And such proofs and theories...are beautiful in proportion to their scope and simplicity. Shibusa as an aesthetic is elegance in that sense, but also picks out a quality that is reflective, understated: things that are shibui are created or experienced with a kind of meditative restraint. Thus the term denotes both a quality of objects and a quality of experience. [....] It captures a quality that is at once aesthetic, ethical, and epistemological, that can be an aspect of what we make, what we are, and what we assert or express. It bespeaks an economy or directness and purity of means as well as a gentle achievement of ends. Shibusa is a way and a place to live.”

Sartwell proceeds to introduce other related aesthetic terms: yugen, wabi, and sabi.

It seems, as Ananda Coomaraswamy reminds us in his essay, “Is Art a Superstition, or Way of Life?”, that we have no use here of the distinction between “fine” and “applied” arts, between “the artist” and “the craftsman,” for “there can be no ‘good use’ without art.”

Oh, Patrick, this had to be one of the best comments ever received
here--thank you! And so happy to hear from you. Yes, to everything....and was interested to hear of Sartwell's book, as I had not heard of it. It looks very interesting.

There are two things, which could be perhaps interesting to think about in terms of your comment.

The first is that, I agree, that "The Japanese language possesses a
vocabulary of aesthetic experience that is or ought to be the envy of the West." And this rich vocabulary could only be a by-product of a culture that prioritizes aesthethic values (over efficiency or profit, for example). My own experience is that while my English
language conversations are almost completely devoid of this, in Japanese,beauty-- in particular, the shared appreciation of beauty--is something that is talked about quite a lot. This is one of the big transitions or differences I feel when switching back and forth between languages.

There was an interesting article in the Japan Times the other day, called Know them by their bliss, which included this (backing up my personal experience)

"Youthful peaks concerning aesthetics — artistry or music — were reported far more frequently by Japanese (16.1 percent) than by persons in any other country yet studied. For example, nearly three times more often than mainland Chinese and five times more often than Hong Kong denizens"

I think the other more interresting point that could be made is regarding your comment on the undermining of Kant's objective or detached aesthethic appreciation in favor of art as practice (and this directly relates to my point in the above blog post, such as it is...) that, when art becomes practice, it almost necessarily leads into the concept of the aesthethic as the ethical....(or maybe you could say that it tends to conflate these two concepts more readily than we find in Kantian aesthehtics/ethics) Fingarette, I thought, did a good job of illuminating this
in his book whereby "Confucian sensibility" is not discretely the ethical nor is it discretely the aesthethic but rather it is an ongoing path or never arriving project toward the beautiful as the Good. (and a good that is expressed as beauty)

This quite different from what you see in Scarry's book on Beauty, for example... which posits Beauty's ethical power (as
model-- Platonic smaller beauties leading to greater beauty in contemplation) since the stress is on the "practice of beauty" leading toward moral cultivation (not the objective or detached appreciation of it)....

Anyway, I am still south of you.... if you find yourself in the old
neighborhood, would love to sit down to tea.

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