Saturday, 1 June 2019

Genji, shodō (書道), life

Calligraphy by Taki Kodaira
I leave the radiant morning and plunge into a cavernous pub. Early birds or night-shift workers are sinking pints. I order toast and marmalade - carbohydrate-loading before Taki Kodaira's calligraphy class.

I'm reading The Tale of Genji, the sprawling eleventh-century Japanese classic of prose, poetry and romantic intrigue:

'Or let us look at calligraphy. A man without any great skill can stretch out this line and that in the cursive style and give an appearance of boldness and distinction. The man who has mastered the principles and writes with concentration may, on the other hand, have none of the eye-catching tricks; but when you take the trouble to compare the two the real thing is the real thing.'

This week's struggle for the real thing involves writing out '', i.e. 'your handwriting exposes your character'. Indeed. My better-natured left-handed Dr Jekyll has to be suppressed for this activity, thanks to ancient Japanese cultural norms. My evil right-(wrong)-handed inner Mr Hyde is exposed.

After class, you see calligraphy everywhere. These lines on Baker Street say: 'If your vehicle is involved in a contravention on the red route, you'll be sent a Penalty Charge Notice (PCN) for £130. You need to pay this within 28 days. If you pay this within 14 or 21 days (it will say on the PCN), the amount will be reduced to £65.' 


Yet the bureaucratic diktat - 'don't you dare appeal' - is subverted by uneven junctions and fluke absences. Such flaws are cherished by artistic calligraphers. Here they suggest silent rebellion.

This evening it's life class, where every mark you make displays your character; it's not the model who's exposed. To make tonight's flawless model more interesting to draw, I use my wrong hand.

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