Wabi is a Japanese word with no equivalents in other languages. It means identifying beauty with unpretentious, simple, unfinished, transient things [PS: The two 'e' in the title are missing on purpose :)]. Suffice to look at how rugged traditional Japanese tea cups are, or see a Japanese monk enjoy the falling snow to understand what Wabi is. Alain de Botton tells the story of a Japanese traveller walking in an English man's garden and seeing how the leaves have covered the alley. He turns to his host and congratulates him for his beautiful garden. As soon as he does that, the English man points out he's hiring a cleaner to get these leaves out of the way !
Despite the difference between these two men's perceptions, we generally enjoy and have a taste for imperfection, though not too often. We see beauty in old photo filters and worn-off vintage clothes, we are in wonder in front of old, broken toys, amaze in front of quirky things and are puzzled at how we're not really attracted to a flawless man or woman. "We begin to enjoy [things] when the glitter is worn off" writes De Botton. There is joy in seeing nature taking its toll and witnessing its power over man's work. However, on the opposite side, we also see beauty in that which surmounts nature's power: a large bridge that goes beyond a ravin for example or a ship fraying its way through the sea. Where then does our perception of beauty lie ?
Of course, there is no single conception of beauty. There is however a valid meta-definition in that "beauty is the promise of happiness". But don't go thinking that entails some kind of superior purety clothed with morality and deep values. Living together has led us our inner human taste to diverge from the values we prone. Even our most valorous emotions are not as immaculate as we think they are. Enter Kundera Milan:
Incident-ally, somebody's filmed the life of a foetus inside a pregnant woman. In an acrobatic contortion we could never imitate for ourselves, the foetus was fellating its own tiny organ. You see, sexuality is not the exclusive property of young, well-built bodies that arouse bitter envy. The foetus's self-fellation will move every grandmother. In the world, even the sourest ones, even the most prudish. Because the baby is the strongest, the broadest, the most reliable common denominator of all majorities. And a foetus, my dear friends, is more than a baby - it's an archbaby, a superbaby!'
'A foetus with a sex life, imagine! It has no con-sciousness yet, no individuality, no perception of anything, but it already feels a sexual impulse and maybe even pleasure. So our sexuality precedes our self-awareness. Our self doesn't yet exist,,but our lust is already there. And, imagine, all my colleagues found this idea touching! They had tears in their eyes over the masturbating foetus!'
Genius Kundera winks at existentialism's "existence precedes essence" and affirms that: "sex precedes existence" or at least consciousness. Inherently however, he is destroying the sanctity of a grandmother's love. He is staining of the purest human emotions: caring.
Flip this analysis however and whereas the emotions we thought beautiful about can be stained by some sick strangeness, we are able to perceive beauty in things we'd, at first, think of as repulsive.
Take Ego for example, in its common conception rather than its common one. There are quotes galore to describe how ugly ego is. It's nearly impossible to find a writer who elevates ego. Nietzsche famously (?) wrote "Whenever I climb, I am followed by a dog called Ego". Ego is ugly and repulsive. It is a darkness that shrouds and clouds your essential wits. It mislead your judgement and often leads you right into dissatisfaction and unhappiness. Yet, ego is attractive to a lot of people for reasons they probably can't control. Osho writes "for centuries, man had to struggle to survive and the idea has become a fixation, a deep unconscious conditioning, that only strong egos can survive in the struggle of life".
The beauty of imperfection, the imperfection of beauty, the strangeness of our perception ... Hard to see how it relates to physicality [I personally struggled :)] if it wasn't for Steffen Zweig and a small excerpt in the "Confusion of feelings":
England rose before our eyes; the island girdled by the stormy waters in which all the continents of the globe are laved. In that sea-girt isle, the ocean holds sway. The cold and clear gaze of the watery element is reflected in the eyes of the inhabitants. Every one of the dwellers in that land is one of the sea-folk, is himself an island. The storms and dangers of the sea have left their mark, and live on to-day in these English, whose ancestors for centuries were Vikings and sea-raiders. Now peace broods over the isle. But the dwellers therein, used to storms, crave for the lie of the sea with its daily perils.
Pure genius. An outer element so persistent it transmits its most edgy feature to the world within us. We are primarily physical beings and we interiorize the physical world around us. In its imperfection. We live in an era where our the ratio of mind to body function is, say, 4:1 whereas only some 1000 years ago, it was 1:4 ... This is bound to create some problems. But more on that in Volume 3 :)