Unreal Nature

June 11, 2016

A Landscape of Consolation

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:45 am

… we should also be cautious not to erect impermeable barriers between the scientific understanding of the forms and processes of nature and our aesthetic responses …

Continuing through Geography and Vision: Seeing, Imagining and Representing the World by Denis Cosgrove (2008):

… ‘Mapping,’ the cognitive and creative process rather than the scientific and design aspects of map-making, has more than one meaning. Most simply, it refers to the locating and way-finding practices of recording places and things in space, for example the charting activities traditionally employed by navigators that produced coastal rutters or portolani.

[line break added] But mapping also suggests more broadly cognitive and imaginative processes of discovering and denoting our place within the world, and of ordering the worlds we experience through spatial representations: graphically, pictorially, even narratively and performatively.

Thomas Cole, The Arcadian or Pastoral State, 1834

Arcadia’s geography is one of yearning more than finding, it is a nowhere place, a utopia. Arcadia addresses the insistent question of the place that humans occupy, should occupy and, in reverie, perhaps once did occupy, in nature. Behind this single, simple toponym lies a complex geography of memory and desire, and a landscape that, once we map its poetic contours, reveals itself as the habitation of more troubling ghosts than we might initially expect.

… the idea that Arcadia and the pastoral originate in an ‘urban literature, expressing the longing of city sophisticates for vanished simplicities … the happy lives of nymphs and swains, and sometimes satyrs, … a realm of poetry and love, a natural idyll, … a land of lost content’ is profoundly mistaken, attending to only one side of a more ambivalent and imperial story.

[line break added] In Virgil, to whose poetry it has conventionally been traced, Arcadia is not an imaginative or desired place of stasis or of achieved harmony between humans and the natural world; it is a moment within a complex process of human evolution whose driving forces are sexual love and violent death.

… Virgil looks with pride over the achievement of empire, seeing the destruction of the Arcadians as a necessary stage in the progressive evolution of human society. He acknowledges that the price of empire is high, but the autochthons have contributed to its glory and they are immortalized in the legitimacy they give to the geography of imperial Rome.

… What does the 2000-year long story of Arcadia tell us about nature as an elusive paradise? One is that Arcadia is better understood as a landscape of consolation for the imperial bad conscience than for the heartaches of adolescence or the world-weariness of urban life.

… Another lesson is that we should resist the sentimentality of Sannazaro’s juvenile flirtation with a wholly romanticized nature, his embrace of what John Ruskin called the ‘poetic fallacy’: the conceit that nature itself responds to human feelings. Yet we should also be cautious not to erect impermeable barriers between the scientific understanding of the forms and processes of nature and our aesthetic responses to the natural world.

[line break added] By aesthetic here I mean the response that comes through the senses: the forms and colors, sounds and silences, smells and tastes of the world around us and our bodies’ direct contact with it.

My previous post from Cosgrove’s book is here.




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