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Two men from differing cultures each penned classics

Two men from differing cultures each penned classics in response to the industrialization of their countries. Frederick Taylor, a proponent of progressivism and supporter of the revolution, sought to eradicate waste in all forms in his pivotal writing The Principles of Scientific Management, in which efficiency is key. Contrastingly, Junichiro Tanizaki regretfully accepted the rapid transformation of his homeland in In Praise of Shadows, understanding that gain does not come without loss. While Taylor's motives are driven by the ideas of progress, reason, and improvement, Tanizaki is fueled by his own culture's paradoxical paradigms of the preservation and appreciation of the past and the acceptance of the present. An analysis of the encompassing theme of In Praise of Shadows reveals the literal and subtextually metaphoric meaning behind Tanizaki's discourse on the play of light and shadow, which is the loss of a Japanese essence, and the deemphasis of a philosophical worldview, respectively, in light of the ideas supported by Taylor.

The overall theme of In Praise of Shadows deals with the play of light and shadow in a literal sense, and yet one may feel as if there is something more being insinuated, as in the example below:

"But what produces such differences in taste? In my opinion it is this: we Orientals tend to seek our satisfactions in whatever surroundings we happen to find ourselves, to content ourselves with things as they are; and so darkness causes us no discontent, we resign ourselves to it as inevitable. If light is scarce then light is scarce; we will immerse ourselves in the darkness and there discover its own particular beauty. But the progressive Westerner is determined always to better his lot. From candle to oil lamp, oil lamp to gaslight, gaslight to electric light - his quest for a brighter light never ceases, he spares no pains to eradicate even the minutest shadow."
As described above, this example uncovers the drives and motives of the Westerner, like Taylor, whose eye is ever towards the future, and the Oriental, who is content with the present which is hopefully in alignment with the past. These broad labels (Westerner and Oriental) chosen by Tanizaki may or may not be accurate; however, even more importantly they afford the reader insight into the perception of Tanizaki and the possible reality of the basis of two separate yet converging cultures.

In the example, Tanizaki appears indirectly opposed to the technological innovations of recent times. He does not condemn the quest for progress, and further in the essay reluctantly accepts the change. His resistance is not against the technology, but against the loss of a thing he feels is essentially Japanese: shadow. This dichotomy is not irreconcilable as he muses and imagines how certain technology, such as the ink pen, would have developed had it been the Japanese who invented it. And this is precisely his argument against the adoption of Western technologies by the Japanese: "An insignificant little piece of writing equipment, when one thinks of it, has had a vast, almost boundless, influence on our culture."

This influence on the culture could eventually result in a loss of the culture. Light does not simply displace shadow; it eradicates it. Japanese technology would have integrated "shadow" into it, preserving the subtle nuances of a culture. Alas, technology was not developed by the Japanese, but adopted. The pen represents one of countless archetypical memes appropriated by the Japanese which, like light, creeps into every crevice and corner, removing shadow without opposition. And this is why In Praise of Shadows may also be read as a commentary on shifting philosophical worldviews.

The Industrial Revolution arose out of Enlightenment principles based on progress, improvement, and reason. The idea of progress established a sense of temporal linearity in which improvement could occur and continue to occur, in the future. This could be accomplished by use of reason, which became the epistemological authority. This entire movement is the tenor, with "light" being the vehicle, of Tanizaki's metaphor of light and shadow. For simplicity, if light represents reason, then shadow symbolizes ignorance for the progressives. But for Tanizaki, contentment is being mistaken for ignorance; allowing the unknown to remain so is harmony, not incomprehension.
Within this metaphor lies the ultimate foundation for the arising of progress and reason; it is the urge to conquer and control the unknown, rendering it known. The Western reasoning is sufficient, but nearly incompatible with the lost Japanese essence and the more mystic Eastern worldview. For Taylor, modern technology, if used efficiently, is stepping stone towards the improved future. Tanizaki unenthusiastically follows the present towards the future, watching the treasured past become an overexposed, blurry memory under the bright lights of Western technology.

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