Chris Johnston wrote:
I think we need a better metaphor.
But Chris, the tree is the metaphor....
There is no one thing that typifies literati, there are no numbers, no specifications, no English words. It is an emotion, a feeling. Understand the emotion and you will unserstand the style. Mike is right in that you have to look at literati and feel their 'spirit' before you can either fully appreciate them or successfully create them.
Try defining the sensation of plonking your bare foot into a bowl of jello. You can't. It is the kind of thing that one might use to describe plonking your foot into something else that's squidgy. Define squidgy: Like plonking your bare foot into a bowl of jello. Get my drift? To understand fully the sensation, you have no alternative but to experience it!
There are any number of terms that could be used to define literati, some have been mentioned: feminine, grace, elegance. One could use sinuous, lonesome, fluid, sparse or, considering the term 'literati, calligraphic.
To define any of the above in this particular context, you must look at a good literati bonsai. What you see is a visual metaphor
for the abstract concepts the words are attempting to describe. The tree defines the words.
It is a particularly western thing to want written definitions, formulae, sizes, numbers, rules. (Never liked any of them much, personally!) Hark back to Peter Warren's explanation of the appeal of Mike's tree to the judges, and you'll see it is highly charged with emotion and rather sparse in the definitions department.
So, when someone asks you to define literati, tell them it's like plonking your bare foot in a bowl of jello.