By Katherina P. Juszczak
As I was heading back home from my volunteer work, I decided to take a slight detour to the subway station and stumbled across a tiny street level shop that attracted me with its vibrant interior. The store offered “zen weaving” classes according to a contemporary Japanese technique known as Saori. This was my first exposure to the concept of Saori.
Saori is a hand weaving technique that doesn’t follow any rules or patterns; it could be done with or without a weaving shuttle; one can include any type of fabric, thread, or ribbon to add more texture; places in the woven cloth can be skipped, so little or bigger windows form; some weavers even create 3-dimensional art pieces. As the woven piece becomes longer, it gets rolled up, so the weaver can’t see more than about 10 inches of it at a time. This space conserving feature adds an additional artistic benefit – the lack of possibility to see how patterns already created may blend with each additional woven row, breaks the mind’s natural tendency to find and follow patterns. Instead, one is forced to accept the lack of predictability of how the woven piece will shape up, and to let it unfold – almost as if that unraveling cloth had its own independent existence and will. In other words, when being pushed to get out of the groove of seeking and reproducing patterns, the artist finds his or her own voice by completely letting go of expectations and of controlling the creative process, and becomes an observer in the manifestation of his or her own creative thoughts.
I see a lot of similarities between Saori weaving and creative writing. Many times authors have shared that characters in their stories might seem as if taking on an independent existence and behaving in ways that have surprised their creator by the end of the story. I think that when this happens, the story has much more impact; the reader’s interaction with the characters becomes much deeper and the story feels much closer to an experience than a fiction.
So, how could Saori inform writing for the social sciences? In the end, every research paper, regardless of the type of science to which it contributes, has a very strict norm regarding its structure. All of us, who have had any research background or continue enriching their fields by conducting studies, are painfully familiar with the elements of research writing: introduction and stating our research question, literature review, stating our hypothesis and selecting research method/s, conducting our study and presenting our data, discussing our findings, conclusion, and references. There is no questioning of this structure – all scientific writings must conform to it. So how can Saori apply to scientific writing, and more specifically, to writing for the social sciences?
The underlying principle of this Japanese technique is that no mistakes are considered mistakes in creating a final product. The beauty of all finished Saori creations lies in their irregularity and uniqueness. No two products are ever the same – even if done by the same weaver. In offering absolute creative freedom, Saori embraces all kinds of creative expressions as being the most perfect version of themselves exactly as they have been made.
Taking that principle back to scientific writing – I think that in hard sciences conformity to certain strict rules and procedures is necessary, at least out of safety considerations and considerations stemming from our objective reality such as laws of physics, chemistry, etc. I am certainly not claiming that creativity has no place in hard sciences – I do think that it does and that it is critical for bringing advances in research in any field. To me, however, the social sciences are much more interpretative in nature and much less confined to the physical limitations of the world around us. If there are no hard rules about interpreting human behavior or social interactions, then therein lies the possibility of limitless creativity.
If the structure of a research paper is the canvas for the unfolding product, then, applying the Saori concept of no mistakes, we could grant ourselves the creative freedom to look at any problem, to interpret any interaction, to delve into any puzzle related to human nature, with the conviction that anything that provokes our curiosity is worth studying, and that even if our study ended up producing no significant results, the journey we took to pursue our interest was worth the effort because it produced a unique product that no one else thought of examining. Applying the Saori approach, with any attempt to investigate and write about something that is interesting to us, we create unique, unrepeatable products that enrich our field of study, by showing our particular way of seeing the world.
The added benefit of the Saori way of thinking is that the process of scientific inquiry comes to the forefront of our research study and the fear that we may produce insignificant results dissipates – “there are no mistakes”. All intellectual creations are valuable and all pave the road for future research – even the ones that have produced no significant findings. In Saori, we must “respect the dignity of all things” (www.loopoftheloom.com). In social sciences, we value all intellectual creations as unique and priceless contributions and we must create them without fear of judgment!