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Taking time out for some “ma”
Kimihito Okuyama | 15-01-2008 | ENG
(Translated by Anamaría Crowe Serrano)
With the pertinence of a haiku, Kimihito Okuyama takes us directly to the heart of modern philosophy through just one syllable: from Kitarô Nishida to Merleau-Ponty, from Dogen to Heidegger, touching on Husserl and Bergson.

There is a very important concept in Japanese culture which relates as much to architecture as to interior and garden design, painting, calligraphy, music, Nô theatre, “buyo” dance, tea ceremonies, ikébana and martial arts. The concept maintains that, in our perception of the world, the space that exists between forms, objects, sounds and even humans (even if in French this might refer particularly to physical and visual space) should not be dissociated. It is a concept of relations which is expressed as “MA”.

Among the barriers to understanding which make western culture different from the Far East, especially Japan, there are those concepts which exist only in one or other culture, or exist in both but not with the same level of importance.

[…]

Sometimes, in Japanese, we use the expression “to measure MA”, or even “to take MA-AI”. When we use it in relation to a martial art, […] we mean everything involved in the act of facing your opponent, measuring the right distance, the appropriate moment to attack or defend.
There was a time, before it became a sport, when the art of combat would bring the individual to within inches of his life, even if it was inside the “MA” space, that space between the self and the opponent, where the duel between life and death is played out.

[…]

In our everyday use of the word “MA”, as a term referring to space-time, we find a similar tension to that in martial arts, or in the duel between life and death to which we are subjected. Without this extreme tension, which is based on the life or death of a human being, “MA” would be nothing more than a simple space between things, between humans, no more than a distance, an interstice, an interval between sounds. This “tension” could be defined as a “mental, spiritual” strength.

[…]

MA” is born out of things and time. But it isn’t a separate entity or presence. It could be a limitless expanse.
Now, place a stone in the expanse. This still doesn’t define “MA”.

Place another stone. Between each stone, a space is born…

[…]

This is the strength of “MA”. “MA” calls out to silence and, invisibly, the silence of “MA” leads to the Void. Along this linear “MA” trajectory, sound and the absence of sound, being and non being meet and create a tension.

[…]

Given the current tendency to increasingly sterilise culture, one has to wonder if “MA” (along with so much else) will be doomed in the end to survive merely as an aesthetic, decorative and visual problem.

(January 15, 2008)
Original text:
Okuyama K.
Notes sur le “ma”
(translated from Japanese by the author with Camille Dehaupres)
Atelier du Lierre
2004, pp. 38
(limited edition of 50 numbered copies)

Thanks for bringing this little gem to our attention goes to:
Librairie des Prés
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run by Jacques Mogenet
5, rue de l’Echaudé
75006 Paris
librairiedespres@wanadoo.fr