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The Cross and the kimono

Christopher Alexander puzzles over the difference between a Catholic vestment, which is likely to have a symmetrical design centered on the Cross, and a Japanese kimono, which is likely to have an intentionally asymmetrical design, although one composed perhaps of symmetrical and even identical elements like stylized blossoms. (The Nature of Order, vol. ii, pp. 484-88.) The difference strikes me as a consequence of differing metaphysical views. The vestment connects to the world by imaging it as a whole. Like the Catholic world, it’s centered on the cross, about which everything arranges itself. That’s a natural way to present a world ordered hierarchically by some knowable principle. The kimono, in contrast, connects to the world by imaging one part of it. That part is intentionally made radically asymmetrical so we can make sense of it only by seeing it as a part of a much larger whole that is only implied. What you see on the kimono is like what you see looking through the gaps in a Japanese fence or partition—a fragment that implies something much larger and more complete. That’s a more natural way to present a world without a highest principle that can be stated or known.

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