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Title: The Zen arts : an anthropological study of the culture of aesthetic form in Japan
Author: Cox, Rupert A.
Awarding Body: University of Edinburgh
Current Institution: University of Edinburgh
Date of Award: 1998
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This thesis is an ethnographic and historical exploration of the 'Traditional Arts' in contemporary Japan. It is concerned primarily with a distinct group of the arts, linked historically and thematically with Zen Buddhism. This group comprises activities like the Tea Ceremony (Chado) and Martial Arts (Budo). They are commonly described in the literature as 'religio-aesthetic' pursuits, which through bodily gesture and the creation of highly valued objects, express core spiritual values. Ideally the experience of practising the Zen arts culminates in 'Enlightenment' (Satori). I have studied these claims firstly as part of the literary and intellectual history of representing Japanese Culture through the arts. This historical approach is an acknowledgement both of the ways in which the Zen arts have changed over time and that the emergence and development of the Zen arts as an object of intellectual inquiry and political considerations coincides with the start of the so called 'Modern' period (from 1868). The Zen arts became and remain a key metaphor in representations of Japanese Culture, as an internal 'Myth of Japanese Uniqueness' (cultural nationalism) and as part of an 'Oriental' (foreign) discourse. A significant part of this historical inquiry has also involved an examination of the role visual images and modern technologies have played in shaping perceptions of the Zen arts. Fieldwork was carried out in Japan over a two year period with the practical support of two institutions: St Catherines College (Oxford University) in the city of Kobe and the National Museum of Ethnology in the city of Osaka. I was actively involved at various sites, in the area around these two cities, practising the tea ceremony and one of the martial arts - Shorinji Kempo. Based upon this experience, I argue that the Zen arts are best understood in terms of a dynamic relationship between an aesthetic discourse on art and culture and the social and embodied experiences of those who participate in them. Behind this relationship, and accounting both for the cultural representations and individual perceptions of the Zen arts is the mechanism of Mimesis, which I define as a theory of visible aesthetic forms. This research is a development of current anthropological interests in cultural representations as a visual genre (Banks & Morphy, 'Rethinking Anthropology' 1997) and contributes to the general study of visible cultural forms like art, material culture and the body.
Supervisor: Not available Sponsor: Not available
Qualification Name: Thesis (Ph.D.) Qualification Level: Doctoral
EThOS ID:  DOI: Not available