The taste of water

In strategy, politics, aesthetics or cuisine, maximum potential and greatest prospect lies with a neutral position. This is the point where - with the least effort - one can shift position in response to opportunity or desire. It is the point 'in between' (zhong 中) or the 'base quality' (ben 本) against which others are measured. But this position is not a ‘zero’ on a scale; it is itself characterized by a quality of minimal presence. The taste of water is a metaphor for this presence – the taste of water is not an absence but rather a discrete, low sensation that is sensitive to slight changes. If one continues in this gustatory comparison, one may contrast this to moments when intense flavours weigh on the palate. It is then that subtle sensations are lost and it requires the force of other great flavours to shift perception.

The neutral position is also when, in the economy of effort and means, that the widest range of potential stimulations can yield a change of state. It may also be compared to a high degree of awareness. Thus in literati action, this position is the desired starting point for perception and creation. Artworks or objects that bring the perceiver towards a neutral position are used to 'tune' everyday life.


WEN Dian 文點 (1633-1704)
Landscape (dated 1682) (detail)
Handscroll. Ink and colour on paper
32.5 x 314 cm
Private collection


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