Unreal Nature

September 3, 2016

To Unsay the World

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:36 am

” … as culture-dwellers we do not so much live in forests of trees as much as in forests of words.”

This is from the essay ‘Ecology and Landscape as Agents of Creativity’ found in The Landscape Imagination: Collected Essays of James Corner 1990– 2010 (2014):

… “In reducing the living world to ingredients that could be easily measured and graphed,” observes Worster, “the ecologist was also in danger of removing all the residual emotional impediments to unrestrained development.” “To describe a tree as an oxygen-producing device or bog as a filtering agent is [a violence] that is debasing to being itself,” writes Evernden.

[line break added] Both Worster and Evernden conclude that resourcist views of ecology effectively neutralize the wonders of creation; that the objectivist, instrumental manner of manipulating the world leads only to the domestication of all that is genuinely wild, self-determining, and free. “In combating exploitation, [resourcist] environmentalists have [merely] tutored the developer in the art of careful exploitation,” Evernden notes.

[line break added] Through such practices, ecology simply promotes an analytic and detached instrumentality, one that facilitates an apparently “harmless” human control over an objectified and inert natural “reserve.” In other words, progressivist ecology merely conditions a particular way of seeing that effectively severs the subject from the object.

[line break added] It is this culturally perpetuated relationship to landscape, this continual objectification, that prohibits a more empathetic reciprocity between people and the world. While Evernden’s remarks may upset professional land planners whose practices are founded upon objective, emeliorative, and “rational” means, he points directly to the root source of continued environmental decline: The will to manage and control something that is “out there,” not within.

Robert Pogue Harrision writes: “The word ecology names far more than the science that studies ecosystems; it names the universal manner of being in the world. … We dwell not in nature but in the relation to nature. We do not inhabit the earth but inhabit the excess of the earth.” This relation — or network of relations — is something that people make; it is an excess (of which landscape architecture is a part) within which a culture dwells. As such, human dwelling is always an estranged construction, one that can be as destructive and parasitic as it can be reciprocal and symbiotic.

… Consequently, “even though it is the demise of earthly forests that elicit our concern,” writes Evernden, “we must bear in mind that as culture-dwellers we do not so much live in forests of trees as much as in forests of words. And the source of the blight that afflicts the earth’s forests must be sought in the word forests — that is, in the world we articulate, and which confirms us as agents of that earthly malaise.”

… The revitalization of wonderment and poetic value in human relations with Nature is, therefore, dependent on the ability to strip away the crust of habit and convention that prohibits fresh sight and relationship. One must get behind the veneer of language in order to discover aspects of the unknown within what is already familiar. Such transfiguration is a process of finding and then founding alternative worlds. I can think of no greater raison d’etre for the landscape architectural project.

In describing the capacity of human thought, George Steiner writes that “ours is the ability, the need, to gainsay or ‘unsay’ the world, to image it and speak it otherwise.” Through the disappearance of the distinct and separate form of things there is enabled the appearance of a radically new form of experience and knowing. One must first shed the conventional view that language merely describes an external, detached reality, and realize instead that both the signified field and the things signified are combined inextricably in mutually constitutive processes.

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

-Julie

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