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  • Arte e pensiero in Giappone: Corpo, immagine, gesto by Marcello Ghilardi
  • Raquel Bouso
Arte e pensiero in Giappone: Corpo, immagine, gesto (Art and thought in Japan: Body, image, gesture). By Marcello Ghilardi. Milan: Mimesis Edizioni, 2011. Pp. 305. Paper €18.00, isbn: 978-88-5750-840-5.

The traditional arts may possibly constitute that aspect of Japanese culture that has the most literature dedicated to it, and the new book by the Italian scholar Marcello Ghilardi, Arte e pensiero in Giappone: Corpo, immagine, gesto, should have a deservedly high place among the works in this genre.

The structure of Arte e pensiero in Giappone allows us to gain a better grasp of the scope of Ghilardi’s project. It consists of two parts, “Background” and “Gesture,” respectively. In the first part, the author offers us the theoretical framework necessary for an understanding of the terrain on which his study moves as well as prior considerations that the reader should bear in mind when following discussions of the arts, in order to give them adequate context for interpretation. The problem of Japanese identity, the relation between nature and corporeality, the aesthetic experience of tradition, and the break from the past that modernity entails are the topics that Ghilardi addresses in constructing his “background” for the subsequent discussion of artistic “gestures.” These gestures that he analyzes are architectural space, the art of the sword, the theater-dance (butō 舞踏), the martial arts, the art of writing (shodō 書道) in the twentieth century, and artistic creation as interpreted by the Japanese philosopher Nishida Kitarō. The book also includes an appendix titled “Nishida’s calligraphy,” a glossary including key Japanese terminology, with the Japanese characters and their romanization, and a bibliography classified by topic. The only things missing are a general index and an index of the many illustrations, as these play anything but a subsidiary role in this work.

It is important to point out, however, that the author does not simply offer theoretical assumptions that will later be applied to the artistic figures that have been selected for the book. On the contrary, it would appear that the figures, in their articulation and shaping, are what define the background. Furthermore this appears to be a hermeneutic paradigm that runs throughout the work and finds a firm anchor in the Buddhist tradition, in a good part of Japanese thought, and in Nishida’s philosophy. Regarding the well-known Buddhist simile of the sea and the waves that illustrates the relation between ultimate reality and the phenomenal world, Ghilardi writes: “This [the sea] is the be-coming [e-venire] itself of the phenomena, it is the image the language uses to name this emerging-and-submerging in which the bodies, the works, the gestures are always understood again, embraced, intertwined. It is the genesis, always new and incipient, of this inchoate dimension of phenomenon and sense” (p. 251).1 In the book this results in an approximation of the artistic event from the attention given to its process-evolving dimension and its relational aspects. [End Page 238]

Another of the book’s merits is that the author does not merely point out but also applies the theoretical basis of an intercultural philosophy. In this way Ghilardi places himself squarely in a line of thought started by, among others, such reputable European writers as Raimon Panikkar, Giangiorgio Pasqualotto, and François Jullien, who are cited in various places throughout the book. Trained in philosophy at the University of Padova, where he collaborates with the chair of Aesthetics and the M.A. program in Intercultural Studies and Social Mediation, the author’s knowledge of Chinese and Japanese permits him to handle both Western and Asian sources with ease. Thus, this book can be seen as an expression of the maturity that is gradually coming to characterize the philosophical dialogue, still in its early stages, between distinct cultural traditions. One can conclude from this book that Ghilardi understands and practices intercultural philosophy as

the possibility of reciprocal knowledge, the welcoming of the other and the logic of action as interaction. … It deals with showing how, on the one hand, [that cultural and rationality models] are never unambiguous...