Wabi-Sabi, 'Wa-sabi, And Me
Perhaps wabi-sabi is best explained through the inner and outer meanings of the two words that make it up. Leonard Koren helpfully, or unhelpfully, explains how wabi denotes the kind of perfect beauty achieved by the right kind of imperfection. The usual example is a bowl with a mouth bent out of shape ever so slightly enough for you to know, every time you use it, that it is handmade. Sabi, on the other hand, tells of a kind of beauty that is achieved with age, or use, or neglect. For an example let us call on the delicate bloom of rust on emblematic objects such as keys or cemetery gates, and you get the idea.
At any rate, I am further informed that this concept is so difficult to explain in Western terms, meaning it might not after all be applicable to a pair of pants, even if they were made by human hands in China for The Gap a whole two weeks before you wore it.
Perhaps this is what makes wabi-sabi so appealing to me. As someone who belongs to a culture so comfortably and appallingly Western in its ways, I am one would like to remain, or thinks he would still like to remain, still quite Asian.
That is, I don’t think I am Western enough to want things explained to me, if not by instruction manuals or infomercials, then by very direct examples. I hope, for example, that I don’t always need stuff like handmade bowls and worn-down keys to suggest meanings for me so immediately or so urgently.That said, I think what attracts me to wabi-sabi might be its very lack of an available meaning, and by the fact that the experience of that meaning only comes through over time.
An Exercise In Youthful Blasphemy reacts to the essay here.