Inescapable Landscapes and the Human-Nature Separation
Landscapes are convolutions of physical characteristics and human interventions in a certain space. At the present time, it is impossible to find a place on the Earth that hasn’t been interfered with by human curiosity or exploited by human ambition. It is indeed not possible to find a -scape that would be able to escape the parameters which define a landscape.
Inspired by a conference on landscapes I recently attended at the Iuav University of Venice, and bothered by the persistence of presumably ontological – albeit purely ideological (in my view) – separation of nature and society/culture/civilisation, I have been trying hard to find a place, a space, a plain, a -scape, be it physical or metaphysical, that eludes the constraints of the necessity and inescapability of the oneness of the natural and the supposedly unnatural (i.e. human, cultural, cultivated).
The human-nature separation has no one clear origin. The genealogy of it is as complex as the nature of the relationship itself. Ancient Greeks comprehended the cosmos as an all-encompassing entity containing all there is. Despite this, the idealism of Platonism necessitated some distance from nature and the natural order. The same goes for Plato’s ideal state which is to be administered by precision and governed by reason. Despite the oneness of cosmos, there is a kind of Leibnizian setting discernible here, where every singular entity bears a trace of the whole as its representation, yet each particular manifestation of the whole links clearly to either the realm of the natural or the realm of the rational.
The Abrahamic religions resemble these traits of early idealism as well. The deity is considered to be above nature, transcending it with reason. The faithful are separate from it as well – if not as beings of reason, then certainly as beings possessing a predilection for morality, which – as Nietzsche emphasises over and over – is the most unnatural and life-denying of things bestowed on human beings since the emergence of organised religion.
The Rationalism of the 17th century gave the human-nature separation scientific validation. To me, one of the most interesting material manifestations of this is visible in gardens of the French kind of that era. These radiate a metaphysics of human domination over nature so contrarian to the metaphysics of the English garden – that is, the romanticised merger of the human and nature known also as the landscape garden in which there is a feeling of being safely at one with nature – that one can easily identify all the key oppositions of humanity which have been defining the human experience and our relationship with our immediate surroundings for millennia.
These have also encouraged the emergence of the ‘sanitary city’, a highly intertwined and structurally organised urban agglomeration of political, economic, technological, social, and community infrastructure. This kind of a total environment, which developed in the 20th century, tends to follow the metaphysics of Rationalist origin mandating us to tame, cultivate, and control nature, and, ultimately, construct a comprehensively structured and interconnected habitat, a highly functioning man-made techno-scape.
In the future, I intend to look deeper into this last onto-epistemological construct which is generating and reproducing the great divide so obvious to the human of the third millennium. More important than its origins are the reinterpretations and reconfigurations (of our perceptions) of landscapes we inhabit and co-constitute. The landscapes which are inescapable, and as such, impossible to be managed, shaped, and cultivated from without.
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