[KS] Korean Tea Ceremony and other wonders
hoffmann at koreaweb.ws
Sat Aug 11 18:20:54 EDT 2012
In response to Brother Anthony's note about "garden culture" (quoted
> (…) every government compound in Joseon (and there were an awful lot of
> was landscaped in a garden style with lotus-ponds, pavilions, rocks, plants
. . .
> so that we would have to assume that people knew what they were doing even
> they SAW NO NEED TO WRITE TREATISES ABOUT IT.
[The caps are mine. / FH]
That exactly is what I have doubts about.
"Garden" possibly yes, "garden culture" no. (But I like to limit my
note on the mid- to later Chosŏn period.)
For physical reasons, if you construct three-dimensional buildings, and
building are always three dimensional, on a two-dimensional surface, or
any topological plane for that matter, you will involuntarily create
open space between these objects. Now you have a choice to leave those
spaces as mud-covered soil, cover them with grass or stones, create
gardens, etc. Looking at photographs of Korean palaces from the 1880s
what we see is mud and stone, rarely some bushes (maybe partially
grass). Reading any sort of descriptions from that time you will not
find a single writer who would have been impressed with anything that
comes close to a "garden" or describe any anther sort of landscaping
attempt. You may now argue that Westerners did not "understand" what
they saw (the "Korean way" of whatever aesthetic concept). But that
again, is met by the absence of Korean treatises on garden and
landscaping. When we talk about "garden culture" we really do not and
should not simply refer to the space in between buildings that is in
one or another way being utilized. The emphasis here is on "culture."
There would be plenty of written records and treatises if gardening
would have been something Koreans were concerned about. I am not a
believer of comparative studies, yet, if we have a brief look at e.g.
France and Britain (in extension Italy and Prussia) with their famous
garden culture, we will find those kind of texts and and endless amount
of references, and you will find that this kind of aristocratic garden
culture was then (since the later 18th century) handed down to the new
growing urban population, the new economically and politically
developing citizenry. And that again was a cultural all-inclusive
'package' that delivered everything from gardening styles over proper
table manners to sexual techniques (reading 19th century French novels
will get you all the details). Then there is China and Japan, and as
many here on this list originally coming from these fields of study
know much better than me, China and its famous mountains and landscapes
had been the model for Japanese garden culture. Same as in Korea, so
far this matches one to one, it was usually the description of Chinese
places in Chinese poetry that was taken up as a model, e.g. in
painting, or again referencing it in (Japanese and Korean) poetry. This
is a truly complex topic, and there is no need to even try to summarize
this, and you are all aware of this anyway. Important for the topic
"garden culture" is that there are plenty of old Chinese records that
relate to garden, and there was, *together* and in union with "tea
ceremony" an early modern revival (well, maybe re-invention would
describe it much better) of garden culture in JAPAN. As professor Best
pointed out, there is a seemingly never-ending hype surrounding topics
like Japanese tea and garden culture, and it is therefore hard to get
oriented--seeing how important that actually was during the entire 19th
century. Yet, it sure is a culture that produced an amazing amount of
literature, that was highly influential in areas like philosophy, the
arts, any sort of aesthetics, life style, etc.
None of that in Korea!
Should we not trust our basic six senses a little more? A culture that
has or had a "garden culture"--well, I suppose people would do
something with the available spaces then, even if that culture went to
a prolonged period of decline, say one century and a half. Is that so
in Korea? I am well aware that this is now not a very "scientific"
argument, but in the early 80s I met nobody in Korea who would know
what to do with whatever spaces they had around their house, nothing at
least that would give any sort of hint at garden or garden culture. Are
we then saying that this was once entirely an aristocratic culture
limited to palaces? Okay. But again, in such a case there would be
plenty of written records, of treatises indeed, that would discuss the
importance of garden and gardening, e.g. as in Japan as a miniature of
an idealized landscape in idealized China. I have not seen that (but I
am more into the modern period anyway). Have you?
I think we need to think more about the CONTEXT of these questions, of
the entire theme. The way I am writing this and the way you may read it
involuntarily makes it sound as if Korea is "missing" something, some
culture it should have but does not. I'd really like to play this ball
back. WHO, in the first place, did bring such claims onto the table,
WHO claims that Korea has a tea and garden culture, and WHO tries so
hard, come hell or high water, to find archaeological "evidence" for a
garden culture in Chosŏn Korea? (Again, the theme is "garden culture"
here, not just spaces with plants and stones in between buildings.) We
all know that Korea has just so amazingly much to offer, even without
Hollywood, Japanese tea and gardens, Neuschwanstein, or gondolas.
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