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Stones as Social Media

As an inveterate stone collector, I appreciated this piece from Killing the Buddha.


One of the oldest surviving garden manuals in the history of the world begins by telling us that gardening is “The art of setting stones.” This is the first line of the eleventh-century treatiseSakuteiki (“Records of Garden Making”) attributed to a minor court official during Japan’s Heian period (794-1185). During the Muromachi era three hundred years later, another manual, Senzui narabi ni yagyo no zu (“Illustrations for Designing Mountain, Water, and Hillside Field Landscapes”) appeared.

From the first line of the Sakuteiki through the end of the Senzui, the manuals offer training in stone use and arrangement, instruction on how to complement certain stones with other materials and elements of the natural world, as well as strategies for connecting stones to the humans who participate in the garden. The Sakuteiki explains the cornerstone-like importance of beginning with a “particularly splendid stone and set it as the Main Stone. Then, following the request of the first stone, set others accordingly.” Note how the first stone “requests” other stones...

...From one religion to the next, in secular and sacred settings, over centuries of rituals and rain, piles of stones remain. Living in an age of technologically planned obsolescence, cancer patients, airline passengers, evolutionary biologists, and stone-setting priests alike evidence a desire for that which lasts, something that makes a mark on the future, communicates not in the ephemerality of texts and tweets and talks, but in the hard, lasting language of stone. They mark our presence in a physical place, for people and ages to come. Facebook and Twitter accounts are filled up with updates on people in transition. And yet, in a real sense, humans have been checking in and sending status updates for millennia. Stones never become obsolete as social media.

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