Thursday May 27, 2021

It is the discussion of aesthetics in Jun’ichirō Tanizaki’s In Praise of Shadows to which I am drawn as I contemplate objects that have “come into appearance” at the level of the trash stratum. The book is one I gleaned just this morning from a bin at Goodwill. It begins with an appreciation for traditional Japanese architecture. Tanizaki mourns this architecture’s defeat by the trappings of modernity: electricity, lightbulbs, flush toilets. “A man who has a family and lives in the city cannot turn his back,” he writes, on these “necessities of modern life” (1). Places of beauty and meaning undergo “improvement.” Homes of paper shoji give way to homes of glass. This change provides the occasion for Tanizaki to reflect on “how different everything would be if we in the Orient had developed our own science” (7). “The facts we are now taught concerning the nature and function of light, electricity, and atoms,” he writes, “might well have presented themselves in different form” (7). ‘Tis a delicious thought. Tanizaki’s thought experiment supplies the premise for an alternate history. Tweak the premise a bit and you get Sesshu Foster’s novel Atomik Aztex. Or better yet, Foster’s latest book, ELADATL: A History of the East Los Angeles Dirigible Air Transport Lines, co-written with Arturo Ernesto Romo.

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