Kintsugi by kurt zhuang

Kintsukuroi (n.) (v. phr.) – “to repair with gold”; the art of repairing pottery with gold or silver lacquer and understanding that the piece is more beautiful for having been broken.

The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places. But those that will not break it kills. It kills the very good and the very gentle and the very brave impartially. If you are none of these you can be sure it will kill you too but there will be no special hurry.

 - Ernest Hemingway, A Farewell to Arms, 1929


I hope to welcome the life that breaks the face of man.

The Allegory of the Cave by kurt zhuang

From Plato's Book VII of The Republic

[Socrates is speaking with Glaucon]

[Socrates:]  And now, I said, let me show in a figure how far our nature is enlightened or unenlightened: --Behold! human beings living in a underground den, which has a mouth open towards the light and reaching all along the den; here they have been from their childhood, and have their legs and necks chained so that they cannot move, and can only see before them, being prevented by the chains from turning round their heads. Above and behind them a fire is blazing at a distance, and between the fire and the prisoners there is a raised way; and you will see, if you look, a low wall built along the way, like the screen which marionette players have in front of them, over which they show the puppets.

[Glaucon:]  I see.


And do you see, I said, men passing along the wall carrying all sorts of vessels, and statues and figures of animals made of wood and stone and various materials, which appear over the wall? Some of them are talking, others silent.

You have shown me a strange image, and they are strange prisoners.

Like ourselves, I replied; and they see only their own shadows, or the shadows of one another, which the fire throws on the opposite wall of the cave?

True, he said; how could they see anything but the shadows if they were never allowed to move their heads?

And of the objects which are being carried in like manner they would only see the shadows?

Yes, he said.

And if they were able to converse with one another, would they not suppose that they were naming what was actually before them?

Very true.

And suppose further that the prison had an echo which came from the other side, would they not be sure to fancy when one of the passers-by spoke that the voice which they heard came from the passing shadow?

No question, he replied.

To them, I said, the truth would be literally nothing but the shadows of the images.

That is certain.

And now look again, and see what will naturally follow if the prisoners are released and disabused of their error. At first, when any of them is liberated and compelled suddenly to stand up and turn his neck round and walk and look towards the light, he will suffer sharp pains; the glare will distress him, and he will be unable to see the realities of which in his former state he had seen the shadows; and then conceive some one saying to him, that what he saw before was an illusion, but that now, when he is approaching nearer to being and his eye is turned towards more real existence, he has a clearer vision, -what will be his reply? And you may further imagine that his instructor is pointing to the objects as they pass and requiring him to name them, -- will he not be perplexed? Will he not fancy that the shadows which he formerly saw are truer than the objects which are now shown to him?

Far truer.

And if he is compelled to look straight at the light, will he not have a pain in his eyes which will make him turn away to take and take in the objects of vision which he can see, and which he will conceive to be in reality clearer than the things which are now being shown to him?

True, he said.

And suppose once more, that he is reluctantly dragged up a steep and rugged ascent, and held fast until he 's forced into the presence of the sun himself, is he not likely to be pained and irritated? When he approaches the light his eyes will be dazzled, and he will not be able to see anything at all of what are now called realities.

Not all in a moment, he said.

He will require to grow accustomed to the sight of the upper world. And first he will see the shadows best, next the reflections of men and other objects in the water, and then the objects themselves; then he will gaze upon the light of the moon and the stars and the spangled heaven; and he will see the sky and the stars by night better than the sun or the light of the sun by day?


Last of he will be able to see the sun, and not mere reflections of him in the water, but he will see him in his own proper place, and not in another; and he will contemplate him as he is.


He will then proceed to argue that this is he who gives the season and the years, and is the guardian of all that is in the visible world, and in a certain way the cause of all things which he and his fellows have been accustomed to behold?

Clearly, he said, he would first see the sun and then reason about him.

And when he remembered his old habitation, and the wisdom of the den and his fellow-prisoners, do you not suppose that he would felicitate himself on the change, and pity them?

Certainly, he would.

And if they were in the habit of conferring honours among themselves on those who were quickest to observe the passing shadows and to remark which of them went before, and which followed after, and which were together; and who were therefore best able to draw conclusions as to the future, do you think that he would care for such honours and glories, or envy the possessors of them? Would he not say with Homer,

Better to be the poor servant of a poor master, and to endure anything, rather than think as they do and live after their manner?


Yes, he said, I think that he would rather suffer anything than entertain these false notions and live in this miserable manner.

Imagine once more, I said, such an one coming suddenly out of the sun to be replaced in his old situation; would he not be certain to have his eyes full of darkness?

To be sure, he said.

And if there were a contest, and he had to compete in measuring the shadows with the prisoners who had never moved out of the den, while his sight was still weak, and before his eyes had become steady (and the time which would be needed to acquire this new habit of sight might be very considerable) would he not be ridiculous? Men would say of him that up he went and down he came without his eyes; and that it was better not even to think of ascending; and if any one tried to loose another and lead him up to the light, let them only catch the offender, and they would put him to death.

No question, he said.

This entire allegory, I said, you may now append, dear Glaucon, to the previous argument; the prison-house is the world of sight, the light of the fire is the sun, and you will not misapprehend me if you interpret the journey upwards to be the ascent of the soul into the intellectual world according to my poor belief, which, at your desire, I have expressed whether rightly or wrongly God knows. But, whether true or false, my opinion is that in the world of knowledge the idea of good appears last of all, and is seen only with an effort; and, when seen, is also inferred to be the universal author of all things beautiful and right, parent of light and of the lord of light in this visible world, and the immediate source of reason and truth in the intellectual; and that this is the power upon which he who would act rationally, either in public or private life must have his eye fixed.

Metaphor & Tropes by kurt zhuang

MIT Lecture

00 Trope: 

01 Metaphor:

02 Metonym:

“Rather than the relationship of two terms from separate domains that share overlapping features, it is the relationship of two terms that occupy a common domain but do not share common features” 

An umbrella can be a metonym for many things it is commonly associated with: rain, London, wind.

03 Synecdoche:

A trope in which the relationship between the two things is one of part to whole. "All hands on deck". 

Irony is a twist on these tropes, involves negation.


Ship of Theseus by kurt zhuang

The ship wherein Theseus and the youth of Athens returned had thirty oars, and was preserved by the Athenians down even to the time of Demetrius Phalereus, for they took away the old planks as they decayed, putting in new and stronger timber in their place, insomuch that this ship became a standing example among the philosophers, for the logical question of things that grow; one side holding that the ship remained the same, and the other contending that it was not the same.

Daedalus and Icarus by kurt zhuang

(This is absolutely one of my favorite myths.)

Beating his wings harder and harder, Icarus soared up into the sky and out over the Aegean Sea. It was hard to believe it but the plan had worked. For here he was now, flying alongside his father, Daedalus, as they left the island of Crete behind them and travelled on towards their freedom. Icarus glanced over at his father and grinned. 
"Come along, Father," he shouted over the sound of the wind rushing past them. "Smile, we’ve done it, we’ve escaped and we’re free."

“When my feet are back on solid ground and that island is many, many miles behind us, then you will see me smile,” Daedalus yelled back. “Now, keep your mind on what we have to do and remember, not too high, not too close to the sun.”

Daedalus thought back to the moment, a few days before, when he had thought up the plan that would help them escape - not only from the labyrinth but from the kingdom of King Minos as well. He cast his mind back even further, to the day when he realised that his own life and that of his son were in great danger. How had they come to this moment?

Only a short time ago Daedalus was being hailed as the great architect, the skilled inventor, the master craftsman. His incredible inventions and constructions were known and admired throughout many lands and when he arrived in Crete, many years earlier, King Minos was happy to welcome him to his land and quickly began to make use of his talents.

One of his first tasks was to construct a huge labyrinth, a vast underground maze of tunnels which twisted and turned in every possible direction, so that, on entering the labyrinth, a person would very quickly become lost and would be unable to find their way out again.

This giant maze served one simple purpose. It was to contain the Minotaur, a huge beast, half man, half bull. Standing twice as high as any man, the Minotaur had horns, as long as a man’s arm, with sharp points, on which it skewered its victims. It had almost unbelievable strength and was constantly hungry – hungry for the flesh of humans.

King Minos had come up with his own special way of satisfying the Minotaur’s hunger. Every year, he demanded that Athens send him a tribute of seven young men and seven young women and these would be sacrificed to satisfy the creature’s hunger.

One by one they would be forced to enter the labyrinth. They would then wander, sometimes only for hours but sometimes for many days before, somewhere in the pitch black tunnels, they would encounter the Minotaur. 

It goes without saying that none of them was ever seen again. Well, that’s not quite true actually, as one of the young men, not only found and killed the Minotaur, but also found his way out again.

This superhuman was Theseus, the son of King Aegeus of Athens. He had forced his father to agree to let him be sent as one of the seven young men, swearing that he would somehow kill the Minotaur and return home safely. 

As their ship docked in the harbour below the mighty palace of Knossos, and the youths were dragged from the ship, Ariadne, the daughter of King Minos, was watching.

She saw Theseus and found herself falling in love with him there and then. She vowed to herself that somehow she would help him when it was his turn to enter the maze. And this was the moment when Daedalus found himself involved, in a way which he knew would not end well for him and his young son. Ariadne went to him and asked him to help her save Theseus from the jaws of the Minotaur. He gave her a great ball of flaxen thread.

“Somehow you must get this thread to Theseus. Tell him to tie one end to the door of the labyrinth and hang on to the other end. He can then use it to find his way back out again. But you must be ready to flee the moment he escapes, for, when your father finds out what you have done, your life will be in great danger.” 
And so will mine, he thought to himself, so will mine.

Their plan worked well. Theseus found the Minotaur and, after a long battle in the dark passages of the maze, he killed the beast. Using the thread, he made his way back to the door and to Ariadne. Making their way quickly to his ship, they set sail for Athens.

Daedalus was left behind to face the consequences and it took very little time for Minos to find him. The King was angrier than anyone could remember (and this was a man who was noted for his evil temper). He blamed Daedalus for the whole thing and dragged both him and Icarus to the door of the labyrinth.

“This is where you two will end your days,” he screamed. “In there, in the dark, along with the rats.” With that the guards threw them inside and swung the heavy door shut. 

Immediately they were plunged into total darkness. They could not see their hands in front of their faces, let alone the tunnels and passages in which they now found themselves. But all was not lost, for, of all the people who had ever entered the labyrinth, these two were the only ones who knew its secrets.

They had designed it, they had taken charge of its construction and Daedalus knew the layout of the labyrinth like the back of his hand. It took them little or no time to find their way out of the labyrinth but that was only the first hurdle. They still needed to escape from Crete, if they wanted to survive for more than a few days.

Daedalus knew there was no way to escape by sea, as Minos controlled all the seas around the island. So Daedalus, the great inventor, the master craftsmen, drew on all his skills and made, for each of them, a pair of huge wings. These wings were made from hundreds of feathers they collected from the birds around the island and were held together with a strong wax.

“These wings will take us away from this place and to freedom,” he told his son. “However, there is one thing you must not forget. These wings are held together by wax. If it gets too hot, it will melt and the wings will fall apart. So do not fly too close to the sun. Stay low and we will be safe.”

So here they were now, gliding across the brilliant blue sky, the sun shining above them and the Aegean sea glinting beautifully far below them. Daedalus glanced back nervously over his shoulder again, to see the island of Crete getting smaller and smaller as they flew away from their prison. But Icarus could not contain his excitement a moment longer. “We’re free,” he yelled to the empty sky around him. “Free and we’re flying, we’re flying with the birds.”

With a whoop of excitement, he soared up and up, gliding around the sky, zooming back down towards his father and then up again, up, up, up towards the dazzling sun. 

“Icarus, not too high, not too close to the sun,” his father screamed in desperation. “The wax on your wings will melt. Stay close to me and stay low.”

But his words fell on deaf ears. The boy continued to soar up into the bright blue sky, edging nearer and nearer to the sun and, as Daedalus flew along below him, he saw a bright white feather flutter through the sky and, looking up, watched in horror as more and more feathers detached themselves from his son’s wings.

He watched in despair as his son began to lose height and his despair turned to total anguish as he heard the terrified cry from his son, as he tumbled and spun past him towards the sea below. 

It took only seconds, but it seemed like a lifetime, as Daedalus saw his son plummet through the sky with increasing speed to hit the waters below with a resounding splash.

Daedalus flew low in the hope of seeing the boy appear on the surface of the churning waters but he knew that nobody could have survived such a fall and that all hope was lost. 

With a heavy heart, and almost exhausted, Daedalus regained the height he needed and, without looking back, set his course for the island of Sicily. There he hoped that he would be welcomed and be allowed to live a trouble-free life for the rest of his days.

But however long he lived, he would never be able to forget the sound of his son’s final cry as he sped towards the water. It was only the briefest of sounds but he heard it clearly, even above the sound of the foaming waves and crying gulls – “Father, help me”.

A Little Fable by kurt zhuang

Franz Kafka

"Alas," said the mouse, "the whole world is growing smaller every day. At the beginning it was so big that I was afraid, I kept running and running, and I was glad when I saw walls far away to the right and left, but these long walls have narrowed so quickly that I am in the last chamber already, and there in the corner stands the trap that I must run into."

"You only need to change your direction," said the cat, and ate it up.