Unreal Nature

June 13, 2015

The Shifting Focus

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:39 am

… the more modest variety space explorer lives next door, and what we notice in particular about his activities is the rubbish-strewn landscape, the disregard of time-honored esthetic values, the reckless driving.

This is from the essay ‘The Abstract World of the Hot-Rodder’ found in Landscape in Sight: Looking at America by John Brinckerhoff Jackson; edited by Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz (1997):

… in the new, more or less solitary sports, there is usually a latent, not entirely unpleasant, sense of danger, or at least of uncertainty, producing a heightened alertness to surrounding conditions. Without much experience, without the presence of others to help and advise, without a stock of traditional skill, the sportsman, whether on skis or aloft of in a boat or on wheels, has to develop (or revive) an intuitive feel for his immediate natural environment. Air currents, shifts of wind and temperature, the texture of snow, the firmness of the track — these and many other previously unimportant aspects of the outdoors become once more part of his consciousness, and that is why mountaineering, even though it entails a very deliberate kind of progress, has to be included among these new sports. None of them, for one reason or another, allows much leisure for observing the more familiar features of the surroundings. … [T]he new style sportsman is reestablishing a responsiveness — almost an intimacy — with a more spacious, a less tangible aspect of nature.

An abstract nature, as it were; a nature shorn of its gentler, more human traits of all memory and sentiment. The new landscape, seen at a rapid, sometimes even a terrifying pace, is composed of rushing air, shifting lights, clouds, waves, a constantly moving, changing horizon, a constantly changing surface beneath the ski, the wheel, the rudder, the wing. The view is no longer static; it is a revolving, uninterrupted panorama of 360 degrees. In short, the traditional perspective, the traditional way of seeing and experiencing the world is abandoned; in its stead we become active participants, the shifting focus of a moving, abstract world; our nerves and muscles are all of them brought into play.

… The discoveries of science, and in particular the insights of artists and architects, have made us familiar with changing concepts of space and matter and motion; without always understanding the theories, we accept them as best we can. But what is our reaction when the man in the street tries in his own way to explore the same realm? We profess sympathy with the uncertainty, the inability to communicate, of the contemporary artist; why do we express little or none for the hot-rodder and his colleagues? Because his unconventionality comes too close to home; the artist and the physicist can be left to themselves (or so we think), whereas the more modest variety space explorer lives next door, and what we notice in particular about his activities is the rubbish-strewn landscape, the disregard of time-honored esthetic values, the reckless driving.

My most recent previous post from Jackson’s book is here.

-Julie

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