Kendall Brown - Associate Professor, Art Department, California State University, Long Beach
The stone garden at the Zen temple Ryôanji is not only one of the most famous gardens in the world, it is an emblem of Japanese culture. However, in inverse ration to the garden’s renown, its history—including patronage, designer, original design, and date—is obscure. Although the garden is often said to stand for timeless purity and simplicity as well as for “nothingness” and “emptiness,” the countless interpretations and visual iterations suggest that it is largely a construct of our own age. This talk does not add to this impressive hermeneutic enterprise but rather it first sketches the contours of Ryôanji discourse in 20th c. art, literature, intellectual history, popular culture and garden design. It then analyzes the temple’s physical, cultural and economic presentation of the stone garden within the contemporary tourist experience. Even while suggesting that the presentation of the garden exhibits a kind of “staged authenticity,” this talk concludes by suggesting both scripted and improvisatory tourist responses—the latter demonstrating potential readings against the official writing of the garden’s significance.