No Other Charm than their Variety and Strangeness

‘As I was observing the way in which a painter in my employment goes about his work, I felt tempted to imitate him. He chooses the best spot, in the middle of each wall, as the place for a picture, which he elaborates with all his skill; and the empty space all round he fills with grotesques; which are fantastic paintings with no other charm than their variety and strangeness. And what are these things of mine, indeed, but grotesque and monstrous bodies, pierced together from sundry limbs, with no definite shape, and with no order, sequence, or proportion except by chance?’

Michel de Montaigne, ‘On Friendship’, Essays, translated by J. M. Cohen.

‘It is the sure mark of a shallow and ignorant person to be drawn to odd curiosities and delight in unusual explanations.’

‘One day, Count Suketomo took shelter from the rain under the eaves of the gate of Toji Temple, where cripples had gathered. Observing how strange and deformed they were with their warped and twisted limbs, some turned right back on themselves, it struck him that they were all quite unique and extraordinary, and should be more deeply appreciated. But as he continued to gaze at them his interest quickly waned, and he began to find them ugly and disgusting. There is actually nothing better than straightforward, unexceptional things, he decided. He had recently developed a pleasure in potted plants, and particularly enjoyed acquiring those that were twisted in unusual ways, but when he went home and saw them it struck him that this was no different from his interest in the cripples. They lost all charm for him, and he had every one dug up and thrown away. Precisely so.’

Yoshida Kenko, Essays in Idleness, translated by Meredith McKinney.


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