Academic journal article Journal for the Study of Religions and Ideologies

Religious Art and Meditative Contemplation in Japanese Calligraphy and Byzantine Iconography

Academic journal article Journal for the Study of Religions and Ideologies

Religious Art and Meditative Contemplation in Japanese Calligraphy and Byzantine Iconography

Article excerpt

- MaÎtre, la lune claire et paisible brille tellement haut dans le ciel!

- Oui, elle est très loin!

- MaÎtre, aidez-moi à m'élever jusqu'à elle.

- Pourquoi? Ne vient-elle pas à toi?

Henri Brunel, Les plus beaux contes Zen

Situated midway between the concrete and the abstract, between the real and the imaginary, between the sensory and the intelligible, images have become, in recent times, a focal point of interest for a wide range of approaches, coming from both the area of socio-humanities and the scientific domain; this is so because images allow not only for a mere preservation of the real thanks to the material support they provide, but also for the revelation of a secret world, located in a horizon of mystery, which they may invest with meaning.

An image, defined as the concrete representation of a material or ideal object (a public image, a mental idea, a painting / what can be seen, a description, a similarity of form or content), which may be present or absent from a perceptual point of view, continues to maintain a relationship with its referent, thus allowing for the latter to be known.1 The specialised literature that addresses the image phenomenon from diverse perspectives suggests that its nature and the problematics it generates are rather complex.

As a dictionary entry, the word "image" presents a large number of occurrences and contextualisations; its etymology takes into account two etymons - one Latin and one Greek - in order to explain the meanings the word has today. The Greek term is eikon, denoting "an image, a representation offered to sight, which reproduces reality"; eikon derives from an Indo-European root, which would have signified the "idea of resemblance," and from this lexeme, the French icône, the English icon or the Romanian icoana developed later on, all of these signifying a "veridical representation of an existing thing."2 However, the Latin term imago, with a rather unclear etymology, entered the European languages under the form image (French), image (English) or imagine (Romanian) and has lost none of its original acceptations; moreover, its initial significance of "visual image" became enriched with that of "literary image," which was a key concept in the rhetorical vocabulary of Antiquity. The stylistic register of an image is therefore linked not only to a visible form but also to an unreal content,3 which is transmissible through words.

As regards the Japanese language, the Longman English-Japanese Dictionary offers four Japanese equivalents for the English image (the Romanian imagine), the first and the fourth being both invested with two acceptations: 1. imeji (an image, in a syntagm such as public image, but also a symbolic image), 2. gazo (portrait, but also televised image), 3. shinsho (mental image) and 4. zo (a reflected image (in a mirror, for example), but also figurative, figural image).4 It can easily be noticed that, apparently, the lexis of the Japanese language has enough terms to cover the wide connotative spectrum that images presuppose. The question that arises, however, is the extent to which, in the Japanese culture, these terms acquire a semantic charge that is similar to that of western terms. This is what this study attempts to answer, by hermeneutically investigating Japanese calligraphic art, by examining the nature and function of this type of image, and by highlighting the value and significance of this manner of representing the sacred5 in Japanese spirituality.

Far from being accepted merely as a cultural inheritance, calligraphy finds its own place today in contemporary Japanese society; it is an art that is continually rediscovered, without, however, having ever been forgotten. A traditional art, a "social grace"6 and an object of academic research in its own homeland, calligraphy is considered to be an integral part of the "Japanese spirit". Capable of adapting itself to the progress of the world, calligraphy may convey the sensibility of a new age, since besides having an ornamental role, the calligraphic scroll (kakejiku) also maintains a status and a meaning, translated into image and word, remaining, as always, the same spiritual testimony of a different type of metaphysics. …

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