Sharp Blue: The art of shih


About This Article

comments feed

Tips Jar

Paypal Pixel


In David Zindell’s wonderful Neverness books, shih was

…the opposite of facts and raw information; shih was the elegance of knowledge, the insight and skill to organize knowledge into meaningful patterns. As an artist chooses colours or light to make her pictures, a master of shih chooses textures of knowledge - various ideas, myths, abstractions, and theories - to create a way of seeing the world. The aesthetics and beauty of knowledge - this was shih.

I have no idea what the etymon of the word “shih” might be, but it seems like an extraordinarily useful concept. I’d really like to become a master of shih, and it seems that the best way to do so is to read books on fields that are aspects of shih and to assimilate their lessons. The only problem is that I’m not sure which books are best. I’ve already read Edward Tufte’s books on the graphical presentation of information, The Visual Display of Quantitative Information, Envisioning Information and Visual Explanations, which seems like a fine start. On typographic design, I’ve read Robin WilliamsThe Non-Designer’s Design Book. And that’s all.

I’d imagine that shih would encompass such fields as graphic design, writing style (both on a paragraph level and on the level of entire documents), hypertext design, web design, rhetoric, pedagogy and so on: anything that involves the structuring and presentation of information in the most elegant and lucid manner. So what else should I read?

Shih sounds rather like the insight autistic people often exhibit.

Shih seems like a Wade-Giles transliteration of a Mandarin word. However, not being very familiar with Wade-Giles transliteration, I'm afraid I'm not going to be able to supply the modern Pinyin transliteration, or the Mandarin ideogram from which it is obtained.

Hey... I haven't managed to get into those articles you posted... I just moved into a new job in a new city, and my PC died. (And the Win95 PC on my desk here is pretty crashy.) I will get to them, but I thought I would mention that while it's probably not an etymon for "shih", there is possibly a shared heritage for it... for what?

In Korean, the word for "poetry" is "shi". (The word can also be a suffix added to names when you address someone, and it shows up in all kinds of other words... but related to aesthetics and beauty, "shi" means poetry, and "shi-in" means "poet".

Now I have to go to the immigration office and get things sorted with this new job. Off I go!

It may seem far afield from your objective Rich but have you read Hesse's Magister Ludi?

No, I haven't read that but it sounds very interesting indeed. Thank you for the recommendation.

(I have Hesse's Narcissus and Goldmund somewhere deep down in my pile of unread books.)

Leave a comment