Artist | Content Creator | Pantheist | Bohemian | Philosopher | Juggler | Anti-Authoritarian, Pro-Decentralization/Localism| http://www.instagram.com/kevinshau/
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My Studiolo —© Kevin Shau Photography (2021)

Interior design is a subject ripe for abuse, particularly when it comes to those with excess space. The ‘Keeping up with the Joneses’ mentality popular in American culture, indeed part of the mainstream since the 1950s, has exacerbated the worst elements of interior design while avant-garde minimalist design remained rather disconnected until recently. An artist and philosopher myself, I wanted to take inspiration from those who came before — those who not only wrote about interior design but lived it as well. Kamo no Chomei (c.1155–1216) was a Japanese monk, minimalist, and early tiny house enthusiast. Alberto Giacometti (1901–1966) was one of the most famous artists of the 20th century. Both inhabited small spaces and both found that this voluntary constraint enhanced their creativity and influenced, to some degree, their respective outlooks. …


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Watercolor and Ink picture (by George Munger) of the United States Capitol after the Burning of Washington in 1814

On 24 August 1814, the United States Capitol was overrun and burned. In the aftermath, President James Madison and Secretary of State and War James Monroe rallied the people in the face of this national emergency. On 6 January 2021, the United States Capitol was overrun for the second time in its history. Though the physical damage was far less severe, the political damage remains far worse. While the damage caused in 1814 was due to a foreign threat during a time of war, the 2021 Storming of the United States Capitol consisted of a mob of Trump supporters influenced by treasonous politicians, such as the outgoing president and Senators Josh Hawley and Ted Cruz. The events of 6 January 2021 have been labeled a coup and a storming. I think a better term would be to call it the Trump Putsch of 2021. A putsch is defined as ‘a violent attempt to overthrow a government’ and is probably most familiar to American audiences for the Hitlerian Beer Hall Putsch of 1923 — a dark chapter in Bavarian and German history. …


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depiction of Kamo no Chōmei by Kikuchi Yōsai (1781–1878)

“So briefly rests the dew upon the bush clover

Even now it scatters in the wind.”

-death poem of Lady Murasaki from the Tale of Genji (c.1010) reflecting on the brevity of her own life

A new year is upon us. The tumultuous year 2020 has begun to fade into the background, though the international pandemic and related crises remain. The past decade has seen the emergence of two phenomena that can be immensely impactful — allowing people to live meaningful lives with less : minimalist living and the tiny house movement. The Minimalists — Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan Nicodemus — just released a new documentary on Netflix called Less Is Now which focuses on the former. In it they detail their shift towards more meaningful lives. Living more intentionally, however, goes back way before the emergence of minimalism as a noticeable phenomenon over the past decade. Japanese monk and recluse Kamo no Chōmei (c.1155–1216) lived a minimalist lifestyle in a tiny house outside Kyoto in a time of war, famine, and natural disaster. His lifestyle developed as the result of his reflection on the calamities which befell Japan during his lifetime. He was one who reflected on living with less because people had less, and because of the anxiety so many experienced worrying about their possessions in a city doomed by warfare, fires, and earthquakes. …


The momentous election a few weeks ago constituted a high point of tension in the intellectual community which has become known as the Intellectual Dark Web. Coined by mathematician Eric Weinstein and popularized in a New York Times article by Bari Weiss in 2018, the Intellectual Dark Web (IDW) is a term applied to a group of heterodox thinkers who constitute an alternative sense-making apparatus. Though the term was created to be somewhat tongue-in-cheek, it stuck.

I have argued in other articles that what became known as the Intellectual Dark Web is a modern version of the Enlightenment Republic of Letters. I still stand by that assertion. However, any high point for the IDW has almost certainly passed. While several thinkers associated with the IDW are among the most important living intellectuals, others have descended into the realm of pseudo-scientific, pseudo-intellectual nonsense. While traditional media outlets (the commentariat) and institutions are vey much stultifying and may need to be demolished, the potential that the IDW has includes elements of both very high and very low quality. I have written about this diverse group of thinkers over the past two years and find myself increasingly struggling to view it from a clear vantage point. …


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Portrait of Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1766), painted by Allan Ramsay

The torch of Enlightenment shone, dimly at first, but firmly in the midst of the eighteenth century. The stultifying Old Regime authorities and decadent Parisian elites clashed to form an uneasy powder key of an environment in the French capital during the decades preceding the cataclysmic French Revolution. The Genevan philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778) was acutely aware of his outsider status among the largely French intellectuals who dominated the cafes and salons. He referred to himself as ‘Citizen of Geneva’ on the title page of his famous Social Contract (1762). Rousseau was anti-authoritarian, but crafted a political philosophy which could (and was) usurped by authoritarians. He was a libertarian (in the philosophical sense) who would have clashed with free market libertarians a great deal. His political philosophy, it seems, was an exploration in how to, if possible, craft a society so as to avoid the corrupting nature of cosmopolitan decadence and uphold and cultivate the great virtues. Additionally, the book explores the nature of political power as well as what constitutes legitimacy. …


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Kangnido Map (1402) — one of the oldest surviving maps of East Asia, produced by by Yi Hoe and Kwon Kun in Korea

The tragic late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries has obscured one of the most last influences in the history of two great nations of East Asia : Japan and Korea. The relationship between Japan and Korea had been dramatically different in the centuries before 1870, with the exception of Hidyoshi’s invasions in the 1590s. Tokugawa Japan maintained a cordial relationship with Joseon Korea. The links between Korea and Japan become stronger the more one goes back into history. For, in the ancient period, Koreans and Japanese were allies. Specifically, the Korean Kingdom of Baekje was the closest ally of the ancient Yamato State in Japan. So much of early Japanese culture came, not from China, but from the Korea peninsula. It was from Korea that Buddhism spread to Japan. Indeed, Japan’s oldest surviving temples — most notably Horyu-ji — were almost certainly built by Korean laborers and show clear influences of architectural styles from Baekje. The Japanese and Baekje royal families intermarried. …


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Seated Man with a Cane (1918), painted by Amedeo Modigliani

If one studies the varied and rich artistic traditions of cultures around the world, one sees quite different developments than can be seen in many of the -isms of modern art movements. Art is the balance between craft and creative exploration and a manner of individual expression with the power to last through the centuries. Modernity has numerous duds — from the Dadaists (who were merely satirizing art) through careerists like Damien Hirst, whose installations are tacky and merely aimed at getting loads of money out of people. What is one to make of the modern art world, dominated by those looking at art and artists with the eyes of investors rather than aestheticians? Who are the artists who created real masterpieces of transcendental value? One can point to quite a few, one of the most notable being Italian-born avant-garde artists Amedeo Modigliani (1884–1920). Modigliani was among the most authentic of us moderns, having shed his superficial tastes and lifestyle within a year of arriving in Paris to embrace vision with a skill and open-mindedness rare, even among artists associated with the avant-garde. …


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Portrait of Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1753), by Maurice Quentin de La Tour

A restless genius in cosmopolitan Paris, Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778) contemplated the nature of authenticity and superficiality amidst the salon culture of Enlightenment Paris. Rousseau was an outsider looking in, in many ways. He was Geneva and proud of it. He signed his work ‘citizen of Geneva,’ though he spent very little of his adulthood in that city. Nevertheless, he preferred the simplicity of Calvinist Geneva to the decadent French capital of the Old Regime. In an age of social media, rampant cosmopolitanism, decadence, and superficiality, Rousseau’s critique is much needed in this world we moderns inhabit. …


On the Intellectual Declaration of Independence from Institutional Corruption and Against Constraints on Exploratory Dialogue

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The Salon of Madame Geoffrin — Networks of open-minded were a driving force in the Age of Enlightenment, far more than traditional institutions

This week marked an important time in the polarizing atmosphere of the media and political landscape, one in which a major figure on the inside of one of the most influential media outlets resigned with a powerful letter. This was a long overdue event which highlighted many of the major issues ruining old institutions for some time now. The year 2016 was a powder keg. Indeed, it was the biggest powder keg since 2001, in many ways and its ripple effects are being felt four years later. The divergence of media narratives and the lives of most people has greatly accentuated with narrative-driven, ideologically-motivated articles being churned out on an increasing basis as major media outlets seek to survive in an increasingly competitive environment where the access costs to breaking news have lowered to the extent that anyone who can afford a phone with a camera can film events in real time. New York Times journalist Bari Weiss resigned from her position this week, taking a principled stance in favor of the foundational value of free, open, and exploratory discourse with media outlets as aiding in the free exchange of ideas, not the propagators of dogma. …


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Hungry Ghost Scroll (late-12th century)

At the very end of the eighth century, Emperor Kammu and the Japanese Court moved to a new site — Heiankyo (‘Capital of Peace and Tranquility,’ present-day Kyoto). The power and influence of Emperor Kammu, one of the few powerful emperors in the entire history of Japan, did not last much beyond his reign. Just as the Soga Clan had dominated the ancient Japanese Court, so too the Fujiwara Clan came to dominate the Heian Court. The foresight and open-minded nature of Emperor Kammu’s leadership gave way to an effete, cosmopolitan culture which increasingly neglected the provinces. The era of Heian was the era of mono no aware — the aesthetic of the pathos of things, a delightful melancholy associated with those things that are transient and passing in life. Lady Murasaki’s book The Tale of Genji (c.1010) evokes this aesthetic on nearly every page. The book tells the story of the life of Prince Genji as well as the following generation — the emphasis here is that the age of Genji was a golden age and that those who come after, as great as they are, still do not reach to the exalted heights of the time of Prince Genji. The closest person in real life to the fictional Genji was Fujiwara no Michinaga (966–1028). Lady Murasaki, whether she knew it or not, seemed to channel the spirit of her time in her magnum opus — she was living at the cultural apex of Classical Japanese civilization. The world in which she lived, the world of the Heian Court, was one which was already in decline for decades by the turn of the second millennium. The twelfth century would see the decline and fall of the Heian period amidst warfare, natural disaster, court intrigue, the rise of the samurai, and an increase in the power of the voices in the provinces. …

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