Five Tables of Reading
In a wonderful thirteenth-century Chinese hanging scroll in the BAMPFA collection, the illiterate (!) poet Hanshan looks intently at a scroll. He mimes reading, but we cannot see what he reads; in a Zen context, it would be apt for there to be no writing on the scroll at all. When we see people read in other works from BAMPFA’s collection, however, the fact of communication—from intimate to public—is very clear: beautiful women reading love letters and romances abound in Japanese woodblock prints by Kikukawa Eizan, Isoda Koryusai, Utagawa Kunisada, and Kitagawa Utamaro; a Civil War carte de visite shows freed slaves reading and opines “Lerning [sic] is Wealth”; hieroglyphics on tomb walls state their case for immortality in nineteenth-century photographs of Egypt by Antonio Beato; and more.
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