From The Longing for Less: Living with Minimalism, a work of criticism that will be published next month by Bloomsbury.
In the midst of existence, most living things deny time. They grow and reproduce in order to fight the inevitable. Life strives to be permanent, though it cannot be. Even the slow natural decay of a flower in the ground is a consequence of this struggle to survive as long as possible. In 1953, the Kyoto School philosopher Keiji Nishitani wrote an essay on ikebana, the Japanese art of flower arranging. The arranger selects a very few seasonal blooms or branches, cuts them, and places them in a handmade ceramic vase or bowl so that the plants extend upward and outward like energetic strokes of calligraphy, framed within the blank space of the tokonoma, an alcove designed to display art objects in a traditional Japanese room. Intentionally austere and reticent, ikebana is the opposite of the effusive Western bouquet’s clump of contrasting colors.