Chinese Gardens VI (Ritual Landscapes).
Before the static world of the image or the slowly changing landscape, the ritual of the self in time.
The role of rituality, the presence of the ceremonial in the tradition bequeathed to us by Confucius (Kung) is almost a matter for some surprise in this most un-religious of ‘religions’. Until we remember the formative and cohesive value of rituality, a medicine to be taken daily, repeated regularly, a nourishing, directing practice of the self together with the guidance that will lead it into its seamless fit, its place reserved in the social whole. The pure rhetoricity of rituality is underlined by an eerie lack of emphasis on transcendent entities; the function alone is what is important. A tradition that values so highly the abstract forms of rituality would not exclude the gentle force of the image redolent with its own gifts regarding the rhetoric of persuasion. The tradition of reading the image runs side by side with that of the Confucian ritual, from the noise of periodic ceremonial to the quiet affirmation of the self before the image, a continuum of recognition and avowal. The recognition that constitutes the self before the image. The avowal that opens the portal to the gift of the future.
This rituality of self and time can also be found in the presence of absence on the page. Present as the void, the eternal (truth) behind appearance so emphasised in much in the writings and practice of both Buddhism and Daoism. Between planes and grounds, the white space, the absence of the image, the presence of the grain, the absence of a mark, the presence of the unmarked, the stainless, a presence at once part of and beyond the image. This imperfect union of the image and its support leads the viewer to the otherworldly perfect, the unimaginable, the unrepresentable (the sublime)… Yet present on the page; a deixis made of absence, drawing on another texture than that of the representation (the texture of the page) figuring the a-temporal, landscape of the ideal. Communing with Nature. A view with a difference. Communion with image as gateway (itself absent…).
Then there is the role of Nature as order. As a key to the Way, as symbol of appearance and its relation to reality, to the underlying essence as the way to the self in time and through (to) the outside of time. Order above (the quiet mountains) and social order below (in the court and affairs of state). And through disorder (as with the Chang/Zen slap on the cheek, the disordering effect of the oblique reference, the oblique point of view as key to the thought of what lies beyond Illusion). As in the image, at one extreme in the depiction of the cascades and landslides of a melting snow and at the other the cognitive surprise waiting in the slightest brushstroke. Disorder as a wake-up call to the self, signalling the overwhelming presence of the beyond…of the Law that lies beyond. (Disorder, the presence of the sublime).
Through absence, disorder and the destruction that is Nature unbridled, the transgression that evokes the golden lands of the West treads the path of ritual. Ritual as the path to the self: in East (detachment) and West (denial) alike to overcome the self (the avowed but futile end of monasticism). The Sublime as the law of the self before the Law. Made fragile, blasted like the empty trunks of trees in winter, only to be reborn. To return is the order of ritual in art as elsewhere: elsewhere as the art of ordering return.
Copyright 2005 Peter Nesteruk