From "Empire of Signs" by Roland Barthes

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“…but it is also necessary that, leaving aside vast regions of darkness (capitalist Japan, American acculturation, technological development), a slender thread of light search out not other symbols but the very fissure of the symbolic. This fissure cannot appear on the level of cultural products: what is presented here does not appertain (or so it is hoped) to art, to Japanese urbanism, to Japanese cooking. The author has never, in any sense, photographed Japan. Rather, he has done the opposite: Japan has starred him with any number of ‘flashes’; or, better still, Japan has afforded him a situation of writing. This situation is the very one in which a certain disturbance of the person occurs, a subversion of earlier readings, a shock of meaning lacerated, extenuated to the point of its irreplaceable voice, without the object’s ever ceasing to be significant, desirable. Writing is after all, in its way, a satori: satori (the Zen occurrence) is a more or less powerful (though in no way formal) seism which causes knowledge, or the subject, to vacillate: it creates an emptiness of language. And it is also an emptiness of language which constitutes a writing; it is from this emptiness that derive the features with which Zen, in the exemption from all meaning, writes gardens, gestures, houses, flower arrangements, faces, violence.”

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“If the bouquets, the objects, the trees, the faces, the gardens, and the texts — if the things and manners of Japan seem diminutive to us (our mythology exalts the big, the vast, the broad, the open), this is not by reason of their size, it is because every object, every gesture, even the most free, the most mobile, seems framed.

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“…according to an image proposed by the Hua-yen doctrine, one might say that the collective body of all haikus is a network of jewels in which each jewel reflects all the others and so on, infinitely, without there ever being a center to grasp, a primary core of irradiation (for us the clearest image of this ricochet effect without motor and without check, of this play of reflection without origin, would be that of the dictionary, in which a word can only be defined by other words). In the West, the mirror is an essentially narcissistic object: man conceives a mirror only in order to look at himself in it; but in the Orient, apparently, the mirror is empty; it is the symbol of the very emptiness of symbols (“The mind of the perfect man,” says on Tao master, “is like a mirror. It grasps nothing but repulses nothing. It receives but does not retain.”): the mirror intercepts only other mirrors, and this infinite reflection is emptiness itself (which, as we know, is form). Hence the haiku reminds us of what has never happened to us; in it we recognize a repetition without origin, an event without cause, a memory without person, a language without moorings.”

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-Roland Barthes on Japan; Empire of Signs