Negative Space

There is a concept in Japanese called “ma” or “kun”, (there are 2 readings for Chinese characters in Japanese). The character is translated as “interval”, but there is much more cultural meaning behind it. It can be used to mean “a break”, such as working on so many things that one didn’t have a break between activities. It is supposed to be a period in time for a person to contemplate their existence for a while. The character above is actually a form of the character from the bronze age, (which I got from Wikipedia). It is a pictograph of a gate, with the sun, (and sometimes moon), shining through the gap in the gate. Modern forms of this character have moved the sun below the top of the gate. It is combined with other characters very commonly. The characters for “time” in Chinese would be literally translated “subject/matter interval”. Time is the interval between matters.

It is also used to describe the aesthetic of “negative space”. The idea is that, it is what is between things, but not seen, that carries the meaning. We know what is on the boundary, (a gate), but what is in between is filled with infinite possibilities and has a beauty without manifestation or form. It is said that music is not the notes, but the difference between the notes. Our ears are tuned toward comparing the relative pitch between notes and whether the tone is resolved. Perhaps it is why a song sung in a different key can still sound like the same song.

Japanese negative space is often called a form of “minimalism”, since it can describe more just by showing the boundaries. So I would like to relate it back to the subject of the wave. We have the symbol of the gate as the material world, and the infinite possibility in between, represented by the sun, as the subject without form. The wave being that the immaterial is invisible without the material, the “purpose” of the material is meaningless without the gap, (what good is a gate that you can get through) – and symbolic of the identity crisis we have when we look at the gate and ignore the opening to the outside world.

People say I’m a quiet person. I have mentally collected examples and quotes from experts that say that living in the quiet is a preferred way of life. I prefer to say things that imply things rather than talking about them explicitly. Bak when I first went to college, I was with some Koreans at a conference in Canada. Even though we were late to the next meeting, the man I was with stopped to watch some kids playing soccer on the grass. That left an impression on me. What was important in life is those deep events which you can take and contemplate later, rather than what would be explicitly told you in formal training.

Lately, I have been getting frustrated when I hear people talk, because I am starting to recognize that as long as we don’t know ourselves, and especially don’t know the possibility hidden in the negative spaces, then what is said is material and also a kind of dishonesty. I realize what they are really saying, which seems to be less about truth and more about justification for their material pursuits. When someone talks about working, (a common way to self-identify in America), are they telling me what they really desire and how it will enrich their greater life, or are they just trying to confirm that they are fulfilling their assumed role in society in an acceptable way. Would they be as proud talking about work if their work wasn’t as acceptable?