Monday, May 4, 2009

Shepard on Shepherd

Deep down my left sidebar I have a list of books that have been important to the development of my ideas about landscape, nature, the garden, and us. There have been few more informative to my way of thinking than Paul Shepard. I picked up Man in the Landscape a half-year ago. As with another book of his I read a year earlier, its slow going at first, with fits and starts. The enormity of his understanding seems to be condensed into every sentence. Its easy to spend minutes unpacking them and since I do most of my reading on the subway, you'll see me holding the same page for multiple stops.

My training in art and my interest in landscape makes some of his ideas familiar territory, but his books read like a guide to the missing link. How does a fish eye evolve to a human eye and how is the woods like the under sea? What kind of God would a pastoralist dream up? What are the roots of class structure? And then I leap to new thoughts about the Venus of Wilendorf or what it may have been like for the first man to see another man "flying" on horseback (think -Tatars invading on horseback in Tarkovsky's Adrei Rublev), or why we wish never to die.

I'm still involved with chapter three, "The Image of the Garden." The quote below is the final paragraph from chapter two, "A Sense of Place."

"My point is that their origin is inextricably associated with a surplus agriculture, that cities tend to grow beyond what the local agriculture will support, and that there is an urban attitude toward nature which is insular, cultivated, ignorant, dilettante, and sophisticated. At the same time, by virtue of the very polarity in the landscape that cities create, they contain and educate and produce men who retreat to nature, who seek its solitude and solace, who study it scientifically, and who are sensitive to its beauty. The very idea of a sense of place is an abstraction, a sort of intellectual creation like sex or climate or fashion, which is impossible except in a world of ideas whose survival depends on the city. The dilemma is that those who yearn for the warm garment of landscape security are already deflowered. They can only go back so far. They can regain the hunter's, pastoralist's, farmer's nonverbal responses, limited to an extent by their self-consciousness; but the yearning is thrust upon them in any case, for they were all children once and they had wild ancestors and they dream and to some degree all have premonitions of special places."

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