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Revision and the Japanese Philosophy of Kintsugi (the Artful Repair Damage)

Dr. Marty McGovern
I am working together with one of my graduate students on an article tying together the “art of revision” (in creative writing or prose in general) to the Japanese philosophy of kintsugi, the “artful repair of damage.”


This innovative student came across the concept in the process of revising the novel she is working on for her Capstone. I thought the correlation between kintsugi and revision is so on the money that I suggested she should write an article about it. The student countered that we both write said article, and I agreed to do it.

Primarily used with the art of ceramics, the Japanese art of kintsugi, which means “golden joinery,” is all about turning ugly breaks into beautiful repairs. The art’s perhaps apocryphal origin: a 15th-century Japanese shogun, Ashikaga Yoshimasa, sent a broken tea bowl to China to have it fixed. When the bowl came back, it was held together with metal staples. Repulsed, he set out to find a better, more aesthetically pleasing method to repair broken pottery. His solution? Adding gold dust to adhesive resin, so that cracks were emphasized and made attractive.

Most repairs hide themselves — the goal is usually to make something “as good as new.” However, kintsugi proposes that repair can make things better than new. Repair can be beautiful. In terms of revision — and this is a difficult thing to show since many writers actually do want their work to look pristinely “as good as new” and thus hide the revision process — we are examining the work of authors who have previously spoken/written about their revision process (in interviews or short essays already in print) in light of including in the final piece elements of the original imperfections. The article will also include interviews with a least two current successful authors about their process of revision and what they keep from the original “imperfection” (and essentially “show”) and what they throw away.

Kintsugi opposes perfectionism with acceptance, improvisation and even wit. The possible results: museum-worthy cracked wood bowls layered with thinly-hammered gold, or patched textiles made rhythmic by a network of contrasting repairs. A truly beautiful work of art made so by admitting, showing, the human imperfection that made it blossom forth.