First had the pleasure of seeing a Xu Bing installation at the Freer Gallery in Washington D.C. more than 10 years ago now… That visit to D.C. towards the end of when I was in high school, maybe the winter of 2002. Seeing this absurdly magnificent “Book from the Sky” on full display was a treat. Even though Xu Bing’s “Book” is printed with invented nonsense characters, they are each imbued with a literally unique effort. Each character is its own satire, its own criticism, its own act in defiance of (scriptographical, orthological?) authority.
Here’s another recent favorite Japanese word. It’s composed of two rather unusual Chinese characters. One meaning spear and the other meaning shield. And when they’re combined, you get ‘logical inconsistency.’
I wish I knew how to dig deeper into etymologies of Japanese words like this. I suppose I may need to just ask someone. I just imagine some Buddhist fighter/ philosophers sitting around shooting the breeze and trying to put a fine point on why their interlocutor’s argument is just plain wrong. Let’s see… how can I spell this out for you?
All of the below is copied and pasted from the WWWJDIC.
矛 [JIS] 4C37 [Uni] 77db [部首] 110 [教育] 8 [画数] 5 [音] ム ボウ [訓] ほこ [英] halberd; arms; festival float
[Uni] 76fe [部首] 4 [部古] 109 [教育] 8 [画数] 9 [音] ジュン [訓] たて [英] shield; escutcheon; pretext
[Uni] 7de8 [部首] 120 [教育] 5 [画数] 15 [音] ヘン [訓] あ.む -あ.み [英] compilation; knit; plait; braid; twist; editing; completed poem; part of a book
[Uni] 96c6 [部首] 172 [教育] 3 [画数] 12 [音] シュウ [訓] あつ.まる あつ.める つど.う [名] あつまり ず [英] gather; meet; congregate; swarm; flock
Not sure how this formatting will work out, but I wanted to share this entry from the World Wide Web Japanese Dictionary. This is a website I use most days– based out of Monash University in Australia. These two entries jumped out at me because of the lovely poetics of the syntax of their combination. Together 編 and 集 spell the Japanese word for ‘edit.’ But 編 can also mean the word for ‘braid’ or ‘knit’ and 集 can also mean ‘gathering.’ So, in a certain sense (not sure if it’s the “literal” sense exactly… but on the basis of these root ideas) an edit is a gathering of braids.
I wonder how much the average Japanese speaker is aware of these poetic resonances in their written language. How much bearing does this way of writing have on the signification of words in the language in general. For instance, would a Japanese speaker (other than me) look at the word ‘edit’ and think ‘a gathering of braids’ or something similar. I suppose I want this beautiful small thing to be more significant than my personal mnemonic device.
You can reload this page and scroll down quickly to see these brushstroke order animations if you want. http://www.csse.monash.edu.au/~jwb/cgi-bin/wwwjdic.cgi?1C