Unreal Nature

June 27, 2015

And No Doubt the Price Is Reasonable

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:13 am

… we have … learned to accept without questioning a vast and growing assortment of edicts indicated by signs and lights and symbols and inscriptions …

This is from the essay ‘Roads Belong in the Landscape’ found in Landscape in Sight: Looking at America by John Brinckerhoff Jackson; edited by Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz (1997):

Which came first, the house or the road leading to the house? Medieval scholars with their love for origins and symbols may well have long wrestled with the question, eventually coming up with a theological counterquestion: Which of the two objects had been divinely ordained to be first? It could have been reasoned that if God had meant us to stay home, to be sedentary, to put down roots as farmers or husbands (a word which once signified house-dwellers), he would have first commanded us to build a house. But if he had intended us to be forever on the move — hunters or herders or pilgrims in search of an elusive goal — he would have ordered us to beat a path, to make a road and follow it.

Odology is the science or study of roads or journeys and, by extension, the study of streets and superhighways and trails and paths, how they are used, where they lead, and how they come into existence. Odology is part geography, part planning, and part engineering — engineering as in construction, and unhappily as in social engineering as well.

… Within a few decades we have learned to abandon our traditional attitudes toward the road and to adopt new driving skills, new ways of coping with traffic, a whole new code of highway conduct and highway law; learned to accept without questioning a vast and growing assortment of edicts indicated by signs and lights and symbols and inscriptions on the surface of the road itself. We have learned to drive defensively and to outwit traffic jams and lurking policemen. We have also learned to take advantage of the proliferation of highway-oriented businesses and diversions and to discover the joys of speeding, of seeing the landscape flash by at an inhuman rate. We have become so submissive that radical odologists are encouraged to propose further electronic controls within our own vehicles, further restrictions on our use of the highway, further tolls and fees.

That is the price we pay for uninterrupted steady flow, and no doubt the price is reasonable. But odologists seem to forget — and we ourselves sometimes forget — that the road serves other needs. For untold thousands of years we traveled on foot over rough paths and dangerously unpredictable roads, not simply as peddlers or commuters or tourists, but as men and women for whom the path and road stood for some intense experience: freedom, new human relationships, a new awareness of the landscape. The road offered a journey into the unknown that could end up allowing us to discover who we were and where we belonged. …

That final ellipsis is in the original. It’s followed, inevitably, in the next paragraph, by Frost’s “Two roads diverged … “. Noooooooooo … !

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

-Julie

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