(cont.) Sacred and Profane, or S M L XL

by MT

[For Part I see: Sacred and Profane, or S M L XL]

Interdisciplinary scope of landscape study has been demanding; and the discipline of politics has gone unnoticed until recently. Perhaps it was Peter Waldmen’s Architecture 101 course that triggered my attention, in particular the class reading of Thoreau’s essay on Dwelling and Robin Drips’s story of The First House in reversion. Waldmen’s world consist of the surveyors, nomads, and lunatics, where politics and aesthetics meet and become almost indistinguishable. Architecture, or landscape at large, is not only a manifesto, a world in miniature, it is also the conduct and agent in itself. After his first lecture, the world was suddenly obscured and becomes a blurry but beautiful place to inhabit.

Reading J. B. Jackson is another obscure experience, like my experience with the ordinary landscapes he wrote about. Trained as a designer since college, it is often the most common places in everyday life that I fail to make sense of. Shamefully, regardless of the numerous praise on the insights and elegancy in J. B.’s essays, I often found it difficult to remember what point he has made, in particular in “A Pair of Ideal Landscapes [1984],” about which I lost count of the times I have read and reread. With the suggestion of Beth I began with his much earlier essays, “The Social Landscape” and “The Public Landscape”, both published in 1970, that has contain many seeds he developed later on. I also read D. W. Mening’s biographical (?) essay in The Interpretation of Ordinary Landscapes and Peirce Lewis’ essay “The Monument and the Bungalow” in Everyday America. Then the story becomes clearer.

The four basic units of ordinary landscape in Jackson’s earlier essay on public landscape are boundary, roads, meeting place, and monuments, which he carries on into his 1984 essay. What he has more to say in a Pair of Ideal Landscapes are the idea of land ownership, visibility, and of nature. It is a bit surprising that this essay was published in the same year Denis Cosgrove publish his Social Formation and Symbolic Landscape, such a different tone and style, but, as Cosgrove acknowledged in his 1998 introduction, perhaps shared a very similar approach to the understanding of landscape.

Here I quote Jackson again:

We are what Aristotle called political animals; animals, that is to say, having the power of speech, which enables us to debate such matters as good and evil, justice and injustice, and how to act to achieve a good life.

Yes. But what complicates our identity is the fact that we are also inhabitants of the earth, involved in the natural order and in a sense even part of it. This means that we have to spend time and thought and evergy on providing ourselves with shelter and food and clothing and a degree of security.

~“A Pair of Ideal Landscape,” in Discovering the Vernacular Landscape (1984): 11

And then there is this question of emancipation from and (re)integration into the society. This is where I see Feuerbach comes into the picture. He jumps in an immense scale from the smallest unit (the individual) to the extra large (the infinity, meaning the connection among the million individuals). What is true freedom? An philosophical and religious question as it might be, it is also feverously discussed in politics under the genre Libralism. Of course John Stuart Mill is always a starting point. For a glimpse of the end of the story, or the so-called “spoiler”, it is perhaps worthwhile to read the grim but realistic picture drawn by John Gray, the political philosopher at the London School of Economics, particular his book on Post-Liberalism Perhaps John Gray’s book is too demanding to be called a story, but it does again indicate the inexhaustive nature of the topic, hence another rant after two cups of coffee in a grimy winter morning in Charlottesville.