A Note on Landscape

Tuesday, May 16th, 2006

In Ti-Fu Tuan’s Perceptual and Cultural Geography: A Commentary, drawn from a horrid photograph in a database, originally published in a 2003 Annals of the Association of American Geographers, the author writes anout the English Landscape

What do the English make of it. What they make of it is very selective. They prefer the countryside to the city, the old to the new, the bucolic and picturesque to the indistrial. Although the tastes are clear, most English men and woman would not be able to trace them to the powerful–though often subtle and indirect–influences of architects and landscape architects, painters, novelists, essayists, and poets. The English may have a strong sense of the past, but this does not mean that most–or even many–possess a historical consciousness that is far reaching, judiciously evaluative, and self-critical

Forgoing comment on the general “they,” the final sentence draws attention to a process of perception relevant to memory, place, and experience. Yi-Fu Tuan makes a subtle distinction between a “strong sense of the past” and a “historical consciousness.” But what is the distinction?

A “sense of a past” may have very little to do with recollection, reminiscence, or recall, but more with belief. Memory may not have a lot to do with a self-critical historical consciousness, either, yet as a matter of process, belief becomes less of a factor. A “past sense” may have been told to me: your forefathers never lied or grandma used to be a snakecharmer. This honesty or odd picture may have a lot to do with how I visualize life in 18th century New England as a place overly infected by honesty. On the contrary, the past and my relation to it becomes dynamic when I ask: did they not tell any lies at all, which turns the past as populated landscape into a question. If I find a photograph of grandmother blowing a pipe over a whicker basket, then odd grandmother may lead to a process of “story about.” A question, a cracked mirror. Forks.

Where I live in Connecticut I have very little past. The town neighborhoods resemble nothing but themselves to me. A new home may be built to mimic an older form. One day I might see another Colonial. It may remind me of a house down the street from me, and I have yet to be reminded of a southwestrn bungalow by any archectural design I’ve encountered in this area. Furthermore, the antique houses in town are only about 10 years old, really. Of course, this has nothing to do with age, event, influence, or fact. But didn’t I exist according to the same perceptual frame as a kid in El Paso, where homes and other structures had only self-reference, although against other distinct structures the older crumbly ones would make reference to other abstractions like Spain, Mexico, Conquistadores, Islam, or the 20s?

It strikes me as a question to follow, how do we rationalize age beyond experience of physical time and memory since memory is an intangible image of experience? Hardness, shape, words, complex patterns.


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