Landscape – a ‘Focus of Perception’

LANDSCAPE IS a ‘focus of perception’ and by this is meant a focus in seeing, feeling, being and relating. Landscape as a ‘focus of perception’ is a manifestation of personal and collective creativity and imagination, which originates in the psyche.

Denis Cosgrove comes close to describing landscape as a ‘focus of perception’ when he concludes that:

“landscape is a social and cultural product, a way of seeing projected on to the land and having its own techniques and compositional forms; a restrictive way of seeing that diminishes alternative modes of experiencing our relations with nature.”[i]

A ‘focus of perception’ excludes to some extent other ways of seeing and experiencing the landscape which are not in focus. Like horse blinkers one sees, feels, has being in, and relates to what is focused upon and ignores what is out of intentional focus.

A ‘focus of perception’ is relational rather than objective, originates in and is mediated by the inner psyche of the individual, and is a manifestation of personal and collective creativity and imagination.

Pre-verbal, Universal, Landscape Perception

GIVEN THAT LANGUAGE is inextricably tied up with our perception of landscape, at this point one could ask, along with the deconstructionists, whether it is language which ultimately creates our perception of landscape and our ‘being’ in landscape. Or is the landscape – in which we have ‘being’ – based on something more fundamental than language?

It was philosopher Martin Heidegger (1889-1976) who referred to language as “the house of being”.[ii] In support of Heidegger, Saroj Chawla suggests there is “a close relationship between language, philosophy, and our handling of the natural environment”.[iii] For example, in comparison with Amerindian languages, English language habits are not very conducive to a holistic and careful attitude towards the natural environment. English as the ‘language of technology’, is now being adopted by other cultures and becoming a world language. If any change is to come about in our attitudes to the natural environment “it will have to be at the level of perception, and at the linguistic level, such perception is reflected in language”.[iv]

Sallie King, however, goes further. She suggests the reality of a non-verbal cognition and unmediated perception, which is independent of a verbal-cultural tradition:

“The sensorial experience of listening to music, as of drinking coffee, illustrates that there is something even in mundane experience that eludes the grasp of language: our ordinary lives are full of qualities beyond the denotative reach of our words… In coffee and music we have seen the reality of non-verbal cognition, we have seen the impossibility of the verbal-cultural tradition producing the experience.”[v]

King suggests that we need to examine further the way in which “reflective consciousness inspects non-verbal knowledge and issues its report”.[vi] She also suggests that phenomenological data for such inquiry can be found in both mystical and secular experiences. Furthermore, the universality of pre-verbal landscape perception is shown in our ability to imagine and enter into others’ perceptions of landscape, even that of animals. As Lopez points out:

“In recent years the writing of people like Joseph Campbell and Claude Levi-Strauss has illuminated the great panorama of human perceptual experience, pointing up not only the different approaches we take to the background that contains us (the landscape) but the similarities we seem to share.”[vii]

We can apprehend, understand, and imagine other human and even animal perceptions of the landscape, even those which diverge markedly from our predominant ‘focus of perception’. Lopez makes a plea for tolerance for perceptions of landscape other than our own:

“It seemed clear to me that we need tolerance in our lives for the worth of different sorts of perception, of which the contrasting Umwelten of the animals on the island are a reminder. And we need a tolerance for the unmanipulated and unpossessed landscape. But what I came to see, too, was that we need to understand the relationship between tolerance and different sorts of wealth, how a tolerance for the unconverted things of the earth is intertwined with the substance of a truly rich life.”[viii]

While, as Takeshi Yamagishi has pointed out, the individual’s existential landscape may be a ‘primary landscape’[ix], our ability to understand, imagine and enter into other’s perceptions of landscape is universal.

Direct, primal, feeling and mystical perception of the “unmanipulated and unpossessed landscape” is, as Lopez argues, the substance of a truly rich life.

TO SUMMARISE, landscape is not something totally objective ‘out there’, independent of us and our ‘being-in-the-world’. We generally bring a cultural, experiential and linguistic component to our ‘focus of perception’ and our being in landscape. However, it can be argued that there are some direct primal, feeling and mystical experience aspects to perception and perception of landscape, which are unmediated by language and prior to the subject-object split. This is not to deny that such experience can not be described later, however inadequately, and moulded to fit in with our existing epistemology and cultural perception of landscape. The implication of all this is that landscape perception can be at a deep level, unmediated, potentially universal and therefore not totally culturally determined. As we shall see, this type of perception is archetypal.

[i] Cosgrove (1984) Social and Symbolic Landscape, 269.

[ii] Martin Heidegger, On the Way to Language, Trans. Peter Hertz (San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1971), 63.

[iii] Saroj Chawla, ‘Linguistic and Philosophical Roots of Our Environmental Crisis’, Environmental Ethics, v.13, no.3 ( 1991), 253.

[iv] Ibid, 262.

[v] Sallie B. King, ‘Two Epistemological Models for the Interpretation of Mysticism’, Journal of American Academy of Religion, LVI / 2, Summer (1988), 266.

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] Lopez (1998) Arctic Dreams, 275.

[viii] Ibid, 313-4.

[ix] Takeshi Yamagishi, ‘Landscape and the Human being’, Human Studies, 15, (1992).

Corporations – Bigger than the Church

THE CHURCH, in other times, has had its functions taken over by the modern corporate. Joel Bakan argues:

“Today, corporations govern our lives. They determine what we eat, what we watch, what we wear, where we work, and what we do. We are inescapably surrounded by their culture, iconography, and ideology. And like the church and the monarchy in other times, they posture as infallible and omnipotent, glorifying themselves in imposing buildings and elaborate displays. Increasingly, corporations dictate the decisions of their supposed overseers in government and control domains of society once firmly embedded within the public sphere.”[i]

While Trickster characteristics imbue the materialist market landscape, as we shall see, Trickster is also inherent in the technological landscape which informs and increasingly directs the materialist landscape. Technological innovations have profoundly enabled and enhanced the corporate world’s mobility and portability through communications and transportation. Large jets, new shipping container techniques, integrated rail and track networks have increased speed and efficiency in the transportation of goods and services. Long-distance phone networks, fax, telex and internet mean that corporations can outsource and produce goods and services speedily at substantially lower costs.

[i] Joel Bakan The Corporation – The Pathological Pursuit of Profit and Power (New York: Free Press, Simon & Schuster, 2004), 5.

The Great Nurturer

SANDRA LEE, NEW ZEALAND MINISTER OF CONSERVATION, 1999-2002, and a Maori, once said, in reference to the earth: “It is Mother, Papatuanuku; we shouldn’t strive to have power over her, but rather acknowledge that she is the essence which nurtures us and enables us to be”.[i]

Intrinsic to the Mother Earth Archetype and the Nature/Earth Landscape is nurturing. This is characteristic of old European and near Eastern spirituality as well as old Maori mythology, lore and proverbs. It is also true of Native American Indian spirituality and that of other primal peoples. Nurturing is a universal feeling and root metaphor inherent in the Mother Earth Archetype and the Nature/Earth Landscape. Nurturing and mothering are components of the individual personality and the collective psyche.

THE OLD MAORI SAW THE EARTH as their Mother. Papatuanuku, Mother Earth, is “someone who nurtures us and to whom we in turn owe important duties of care”.[ii] In Maori mythology the elemental gods of the natural world are children of Mother Earth and stay close to their nursing Mother.[iii] In Maori mythology it is the Earth Mother who is ultimately responsible for all the foods which sustain us – especially crops such as the kumera (sweet potato) which grow directly within her body. The seasons which relate to Papatuanuku and the growing and harvesting of her foods are found in many ancient Maori proverbs.[iv] Papatuanuku’s children live and function in a symbiotic relationship:

“From unicellular through to more complex multi-cellular organisms each species depends upon other species as well as its own, to provide the basic biological needs for existence. The different species contribute to the welfare of other species and together they help to sustain the biological functions of their primeval mother, herself a living organism. They also facilitate the processes of ingestion, digestion and waste disposal… they cover her and clothe her to protect her from the ravages of her fierce son, Tawhiri the storm-bringer. She nourishes them and they nourish her.”[v]

Nurturing by and of Papatuanuku, Mother Earth, is not just a symbiotic physical relationship, it is also a spiritual nurturing. Maori Marsden points out that Papatuanuku belongs to an older primeval order. Her sustenance derives not only from the mauri – the life force immanent in all creation which generates, regenerates and upholds creation – active within her, but is supported by other members of that order.[vi] Marsden defines the mauri as “the bonding element that knits all the diverse elements within the Universal ‘Procession’ giving creation its unity in diversity. It is the bonding element that holds the fabric of the universe together”.[vii] Mauri is a force or energy mediated by Hauora – the Breath of the Spirit of Life. “Mauri-ora was the life-force (mauri) transformed into life-principle by the infusion of life itself”.[viii] This view was not unique to the New Zealand Maori.

In old European mythology, “Mother Earth was seen to be very active. She was thought to exhale the breath of life, which nourished living organisms on her surface”.[ix]

Anthony Stevens, on the Mother Archetype, notes that:

“It is necessary to repeat that when Jungians speak of a mother archetype, they are not referring to an innate image but to an inner dynamic in the phylogenetic psyche. The ‘artefacts’ of this dynamic – its symbolic residues – are to be found in the myths and artistic creations of mankind. The ‘symbolic canon’ of the mother archetype is very extensive… However some expressions are so universally encountered that they can be mentioned here: as Mother Nature and Earth Mother she is goddess of fertility and dispenser of nourishment; as water or sea she represents the origins of all life as well as a symbol of the unconscious, the fount of all psychic creativity; as Moon Goddess she exemplifies the essential periodicity of womanhood. She also takes the form of divine animals: the bear (jealous guardian of her children), the celestial cow, who nourishes the earth with milky rain.”[x]

Jung speaks of the qualities associated with the Mother Archetype as “maternal solicitude and sympathy…all that is benign, all that cherishes and sustains, that fosters growth and fertility”.[xi] The nurturing Mother Earth Archetype, while a component of the inner psyche, also extends to the outer world and is found in symbols:

“The archetype is often associated with things and places standing for fertility and fruitfulness: the cornucopia, a ploughed field, a garden. It can be attached to a rock, a cave, a tree, a spring, a deep well, or to various vessels such as the baptismal font, or to vessel-shaped flowers like the rose or the lotus. Because of the protection it implies, the magic circle or mandala can be a form of mother archetype.”[xii]

The nurturing Mother Earth Archetype, while associated with particular cultures, is to be found in all cultures and mythologies.

Erich Neumann points out that Mother Goddess cultures and their mythologies are intrinsically connected with fertility, growth and agriculture in particular – hence with the sphere of food, the material and bodily sphere.[xiii] As the good mother:

“she is fullness and abundance; the dispenser of life and happiness; the nutrient earth, the cornucopia of the fruitful womb. She is mankind’s instinctive experience of the world’s depth and beauty, of the goodness and graciousness of Mother Nature who daily fulfills the promise of redemption and resurrection, of new life and new birth.”[xiv]

Rupert Sheldrake, biochemist, argues there “is something to be found ‘in nature’ which many of us feel we need… Nature is calm, kindly and nurturing, like an ideal wife”.[xv]

“Nature was traditionally idealized as benevolent Mother in images of the Golden Age. All was peaceful and fertile; nature gave freely of her bounty; animals grazed contentedly; birds sang pure melodies; flowers were everywhere, and trees bore fruit abundantly. Men and women lived in harmony.”[xvi]

In old Europe with the development of agriculture Mother Earth gave way to a more restricted notion of the Great Goddess of vegetation and harvesting. For example, in Greece Gaia was replaced by Demeter – but women were still closely associated with agriculture and soil fertility. Of course, metaphors connecting women with the ploughed earth and fertility exist all over the world. For example, in an ancient Hindu text it is written: “This woman is come as a living soil: sow seed in her, ye men!” and in the Koran: “your wives are to you as field”.[xvii] As Sheldrake points out, the “same metaphor is implicit in our word semen, the Latin word for seed”.[xviii] The Mother Earth Archetype invites feelings of a return to the protection of the maternal nourishing womb.

[i] Sandra Lee, ’Cherishing Papatuanuku’ – Interview with Powhiri Rika-Heke in: Nga Kaitiaki, no.21, August/September (1989), 9.

[ii] John Patterson, Exploring Maori Values ( New Zealand: Dunmore Press Ltd., 1992), 157.

[iii] Ibid, 158.

[iv] Ibid, 48.

[v] Marsden(1989) ‘The Natural World and Natural Resources: Maori Value Systems and Perspectives’, 22.

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] Ibid, 20.

[viii] Ibid, 21.

[ix] Sheldrake(1990) The Rebirth of Nature, 9.

[x] Anthony Stevens, Archetype – A Natural History of the Self (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1982), 89.

[xi] C.G. Jung, ‘Psychological Aspects of the Mother Archetype’, The Collected Works, vol.9, Part 1, para.158 (Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1959), 82. See also C.G. Jung, Four Archetypes, (Routledge & Kegan Paul, London, 1972), 15.

[xii] Ibid, para. 156, 81.

[xiii] Erich Neumann, The Origins and History of Consciousness (Princeton: Princeton University Press, Bollingen Series XLII, 1973), 43.

[xiv] Ibid, 40.

[xv] Sheldrake (1990) The Rebirth of Nature, 9.

[xvi] Ibid, 8.

[xvii] Ibid, 13.

[xviii] Ibid, 8.

A Focus in Feeling

LANDCAPE IS a focus in feeling. For environmental psychologist Roger Ulrich, environmental perception is not restricted to vision but is multimodal and feeling, or affect, is central:

“Affect is central to conscious experience and behavior in any environment, whether natural or built, crowded or unpopulated. … because virtually no meaningful thoughts, actions, or environmental encounters occur without affect … an affective state is an important indicator of the nature and significance of a person’s ongoing interaction with an environment.”[i]

Moreover there is no evidence that feelings are preceded by cognitive processes. Ulrich argues that there is mounting empirical support for the view that “many affects are essentially precognitive and constitute the initial level of response to environment.”[ii] Ulrich maintains that while culture is an important and significant variable influencing aesthetic reactions, it has perhaps been overstated.[iii] He argues that “there is no evidence that fundamental perceptual and cognitive processes vary between cultures” and further that “emotions are universal and have the same qualities across different cultures”.[iv]

Ulrich’s conclusion that “feelings, not thoughts, come first in environmental encounters, and the observer’s initial feeling reaction shapes subsequent cognitive events”[v] has been supported by the research of others.[vi] Cross-cultural, universal, pre-verbal, precognitive emotive perception is inherent to archetypes. This is significant because as we shall see, it points the way forward to an archetypal analysis of landscape.

[i] Roger S. Ulrich, ‘Aesthetic and Affective Response to Natural Environment’, Behaviour and the Natural Environment, Irwin Altman and Joachim F. Wohlwill, eds., (Vol. 6 of Human Behaviour and Environment, Plenium Press, New York, 1983), 85.

[ii] Ibid, 89.

[iii] Ibid, 110.

[iv] Ibid, 109.

[v] Ibid, 117.

[vi] See for example Harry Heft and Joachim F. Wohlwill, ‘Environmental Cognition in Children’ in: Daniel Stokols and Irwin Altman (eds.), Handbook of Environmental Psychology (Malabar Florida: Krieger Publishing Co., 1991), 175-203; Rachel Sebba, ‘The Landscapes of Childhood – The Reflection of Childhood’s Environment in Adult Memories and in Children’s Attitudes’, Environment and Behavior Vol.23, no.4, July (1991), 395-422. As Sebba finds from research(p.395), “the environment which an adult remembers as significant in childhood was personally experienced without adult mediation and the related experiences were only found in childhood. The child’s sensory perception remains in adult memory as a central childhood experience because its relative importance is at its peak at this stage of life. The adult recalls the natural environment due to qualities that are substantially different from those of the man-made environment”.

The Inner, Imaginal ‘Postmodern Ecological Landscape’

FACED WITH AN ECOLOGICAL CRISIS, the landscape which now confronts us is postmodern and ecological in focus. The Technological/Materialist Landscape is now frequently being questioned and even rejected for what could be termed a new, inner and imaginal Postmodern Ecological Landscape.

This Postmodern Ecological Landscape is concurrent with a revision in epistemology. As has been shown, the modernist domination, objectification and externalisation of nature, built into concepts of science and modernist epistemology, has been increasingly criticised.[i]

With the Postmodern Ecological Landscape we seem to have returned to the primal animist sacred Nature/Earth Landscape imagination and vision. The difference is that perhaps we are more self-consciously and deliberately aware of the imagination in creating landscapes.

It could be argued that it is the inner archetypal landscapes of the psyche, from which the imagination springs, that creates the outer landscapes of our being in the world. Indeed, as shall be shown in the final chapter, this is what was argued by Henry Corbin in his translations and interpretations of the writings of the ancient Persian pre-Islamic mystics and the Shi’ite, Mazdean and Sufi mystics in respect to their ‘visionary geography’.

If this inner landscape of the psyche – or as cultural historian William Irwin Thompson terms it, “imaginary landscape of the “middle way of the mind”, in which “we humans come to know our world”[ii] – is accepted, then we would seem to have arrived at, or spiraled into, old understandings, feelings and rememberings of our spiritual embeddedness in the natural world.

American environmentalist and academic Lynn Ross-Bryant argues that Barry Lopez is one of a number of contemporary writers of ecological literature who offers a postmodern and holistic view of humans, nature and spirit. Most of these writers share a sense that “in allowing the mysterious otherness of nature to present itself, the ultimate dimension of life, the sacred, is revealed”.[iii]

For Lopez, imagination is the key to the relations and interactions between the natural world and human beings. These relations are mediated by the imagination and creations of the imagination. Thus Lopez asks: “How do people imagine the landscapes they find themselves in? How does the land shape the imaginations of the people who dwell in it? How does desire itself, the desire to comprehend, shape itself, the desire to comprehend, shape knowledge?”[iv]

Lopez argues that we must approach the land with an “uncalculating mind” and with an attitude of regard, because whatever evaluation we finally make will be inadequate: “To intend from the beginning to preserve some of the mystery within it as a kind of wisdom to be experienced, not questioned. And to be alert for its openings, for that moment when something sacred reveals itself within the mundane, and you know that the land knows you are there”.[v]

Imagination, mystery, wisdom, the sacred within the mundane and the reciprocity of I-Thou relation are all characteristics of the Postmodern Ecological Landscape. Lopez speaks of a relationship with the arctic landscape which is mystical, emotional, lyrical and reverent:

“I came to believe that people’s desires and aspirations were as much a part of the land as the wind, solitary animals, and the bright fields of stone and tundra. And, too, that the land itself existed quite apart from these.”[vi]

This is a very different imagination and ‘focus of perception’ from the secular I-It world of the modernist Technological/Materialist Landscape, in which the sacred has been critically and rationally excised from the landscape.

Oil workers in the arctic told Lopez “the Arctic was really a great wasteland ‘with a few stupid birds’, too vast to be hurt. Whatever strong men could accomplish against the elements in such a place, they insisted was inherently right.” A drilling supervisor said “Technology is inevitable. People just got to get that through their heads”.[vii]

Lopez like other recent writers of ecological literature, who could be described as postmodernist, share not only an extensive knowledge of the land but also an unabashed I-Thou relation with the Nature/Earth Landscape. They are not restricted by the I-It objectivist epistemology of science, technology and materialism. Rather they are willing and unafraid to use poetic language and acknowledge imagination and metaphor as a means of exploring and describing other ways of knowing. There is an emphasis on wholeness and relationship with the natural world. In Lynn Ross-Bryant’s words:

“Their intent is to know humans better by knowing them as part of the natural order, and, insofar as possible, through metaphor and imagination, to know the land better as well. Through this use of the imagination they come to an awareness of the whole process of which humans are an interrelated part which leads them to a double emphasis, first on human responsibility to the whole and all its parts and second on human spirituality as it is rooted in this experience of the whole.”[viii]

Unlike The Judaic-Christian Anthropocentric Landscape where the sacred is transcendent, and the Technological/Materialist Landscape where the sacred is leached from the landscape and men would objectify and manipulate the land to their own materialist ‘progressive’ ends, there is a revisioning in landscape perception by these environmentalist writers towards a Postmodern Ecological Landscape.

These writers “share a love for and extensive knowledge of the land emphasizing nature as nature rather than nature as a springboard to transcendent reflections on humans”.[ix] Ross-Bryant argues that for Lopez there is an interaction between humans and nature:

“imagination and desire encounter the landscape and the living things in it: knowledge is gained – not simply of one’s imagination, nor purely of the land, but of the mysterious process in which land and humans – all living things – are involved.”[x]

This is in essence a description of the mystical I-Thou relation.

Lopez wants to change the way we imagine the world. He shows the different ways in which Eskimos, explorers, painters and oil workers have imagined the arctic landscape and the consequences of their imagination. Ross-Bryant says of Lopez’s spirituality and what he identifies as sacred is an encounter with wholeness and mystery in the encounter with the earth:

“The experience of wholeness and mystery that he everywhere encounters in the things and people of the earth is the heart of his spirituality and his connection with what he identifies as the sacred.”[xi]

THE IMAGINATION HAS A ROLE IN EVOLUTION and one might add a spiritual revolution. Lopez states “The continuous work of the imagination…(is)…to bring what is actual together with what is dreamed is an expression of human evolution”.[xii]

It could also be argued that it is the continuous work of the imagination to bring what is actual together with what is dreamed of, that is reflected at the collective level in historical changes in landscape ‘focus of perception’. In this regard, it is worth noting Bishop’s argument that:

“Postmodernism marks not so much the end of history, as the end of history as concrete reality … Indeed, it marks the beginning of history (the past memory) as a metaphorical reality. By identifying the possible plurality of histories, HISTORY can be deliteralised. Like all the old literal power-words – Progress, Duty, Heritage, God – ‘History’ now becomes an imagistic truth.”[xiii]

For cultural historian William Thompson the orthodox religion of our era is “scientific materialism,”[xiv] but at the same time “Gaia [the Earth] is a new landscape” and the new mentality is a “planetary culture” or “postmodernism”.[xv] While he uses different terms, Thompson’s arguments accord with the perspective of the postmodern ecological landscape.

Thompson critiques modernism and argues for the return of the imagination as a mode of participatory perception – a way of being in the world and knowing.

“[T]he value of the imagination returns to challenge the reductionist mentality of modernism that ruled during the period of the mechanization of the world picture.”[xvi]

Thompson points out that in the straightforward linear world that Whitehead called “scientific materialism”, “it is precisely simile and metaphor that the materialist is trying to eliminate in reductionism” and that:

“this naïve philosophy, cultural constructs like “space” and “objects” are taken to be independent of the mind that frames them through its own threshold of possible perceptions, and by a strange inversion that amounts to a perversion, “mind” and “culture” are reduced to accidental collisions of these imaginary “real” objects in “real” space.”[xvii]

We are at one of “those exciting times when the creative imagination of an entire civilization is undergoing a transformation of its basic mentality”.[xviii] The dynamic mentality of modernism, the mentality of Galileo, Newton and Descartes with its linear equations is moving into a postmodernist science of which Chaos Dynamics is one important expression.[xix]

The Gaia hypothesis has stimulated a new way of knowing the planet and it is “as large and imaginatively provocative for our era as Darwinian evolution was for our great-grand parents time”.[xx] It gives “a new way of appreciating how the part participates in the whole” .[xxi]

Again there is great emphasis on the imagination. Thompson maintains that the imagistic mode that we call the Imagination is an ancient faculty which seems to involve a prelinguistic form of mind in which “thought is developed through correspondences, homologies, and participations of identity”.[xxii]

The imagination “is like a transformer” and metaphors are by their very nature transformers.[xxiii] Thompson argues that it is the “metaphorical process through which the Imagination takes in knowledge and steps it down into the conventional imagery of the sensory world with which we are all familiar… the Imagination is an intermediate realm, the realm of the artist, scientist, or prophet who renders the Intelligible into the Sensible”.[xxiv] The fundamentalist is not able to follow the symbolic utterance and takes image literally.[xxv] Thompson concludes that:

“Between the heights of the macrocosm of the Gaian atmosphere and the elemental depths of the microcosm of the bacterial earth lies the middle way of the Mind and it is in this imaginary landscape of the middle way, whether we call it the Madhyamika of Buddhism or the Christ of Steiner or the Da’at of the Kabbalah, that we humans take our life and come to know our world as the dark horizon that illuminates our hidden center.”[xxvi]

In Thompson’s view, landscape is inextricably tied to the interior mind and the imagination; and this is a postmodern view of landscape.

LANDSCAPES ARE BOTH IMAGINAL AND VISIONARY. In this chapter it has been shown that landscapes are sourced in the personal and collective imagination of the psyche. That our landscapes derive from personal and collective imagination has long been recognized by geographers wrestling with the concept of landscape. The prime role of the imagination in creating landscape is inherent in postmodern geography. It is however in the consideration of spiritual landscapes that the role of the imagination becomes most apparent.

At the collective level, particularly in the West, there have been discernable historical changes in spiritual imaginal-visionary landscapes: the primal sacred Nature/Earth Landscape; the Judeao-Christian revelatory Anthropocentric Landscape; the modernist ‘secular’ Technological/Materialist Landscape; and the imaginal Postmodern Ecological Landscape which allows for an Inner Landscape from which our outer landscapes are a manifestation and materialization.

With the Postmodern Ecological Landscape we seem to have created a full circle return to the animist, sacred, Nature/Earth Landscape imagination and vision. The difference is that we are more consciously and deliberately aware of the imagination in creating landscape.

Paradoxically, it would seem that spiritual and imaginal-visionary landscapes have simultaneously undergone historical change and are timeless. There is a timelessness or historical transcendence in our understanding of and our potentiality to participate in different spiritual, imaginal-visionary landscapes, which could be called archetypal. This archetypal aspect of landscape, which is historically transcendent and centred in the individual’s psyche, is the subject for the next chapter.

[i] Cindy Katz and Andrew Kirby, ‘In the Nature of Things: The Environment and Everyday Life’, in: Transactions – Institute of British Geographers, v.16, no.3 (1991), 259-271.

[ii] William Irwin Thompson, Imaginary Landscape: Making Worlds of Myth and Science (New York: Saint Martin’s Press, 1989),169.

[iii] Lynn Ross-Bryant, ‘Of Nature and Texts: Nature and Religion in American Ecological Literature’, Anglican Theological Review, v.73, no.1 (1991), 38.

[iv] Lopez, Arctic Dreams, xxvii.

[v] Ibid, 228.

[vi] Ibid, xxii.

[vii] Ibid, 398-399.

[viii] Lynn Ross-Bryant, ‘Of Nature and Texts: Nature and Religion in American Ecological Literature’, 39.

[ix] Ibid, 39.

[x] Ibid, 41.

[xi] Ibid, 49.

[xii] Lopez(1998) Arctic Dreams, 414.

[xiii] P. Bishop, ‘Rhetoric, Memory, and Power: Depth Psychology and Postmodern Geography’, Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, v.10, no.1 (1992), 17.

[xiv] William Irwin Thompson, Imaginary Landscape: Making Worlds of Myth and Science, 52.

[xv] Ibid, 130; see also 123.

[xvi] Ibid, 131.

[xvii] Ibid, 50-51.

[xviii] Ibid, xviii.

[xix] Ibid, xix.

[xx] Ibid, 130.

[xxi] Ibid, 84.

[xxii] Ibid, 80.

[xxiii] Ibid, 83.

[xxiv] Ibid, 84.

[xxv] Ibid, 83.

[xxvi] Ibid, 169.

The Modernist, Secular ‘Technological/Materialist Landscape’

THE SACRED IS ALMOST completely leached from the Nature/Earth Landscape and replaced by a sceptical secularism. This is the imaginative construct and ‘focus of perception’ of the scientific, realist and objectivist mind. In the new modernist, ‘secular’ Technological/Materialist Landscape, it could be argued that ‘religious’ enthusiasm is now for the idea of man and man-made progress in scientific discoveries and technological and materialist creations – as opposed to an omnipotent, transcendent God Father revealed through the Bible (His ‘Holy Word’) and in His holy places: temples, cities and churches.

The Nature/Earth Landscape where all natural phenomena are intrinsically sacred has been left far behind and is no longer regarded as a threat. It is derogated as ‘primitive’ or ‘romantic sentimentality’ or ‘new age nonsense’ by the positivist sceptic and materialist alike.

IN THE EARLY 1960s, Erich Isaac described this situation in geography of religion, where in a modern, secular culture, religion’s impact on landscape is minimal. He argued that geography of religion had become in practice “an essentially ethnological and historical study… religion as a great basic power in transforming the landscape has virtually ceased to operate”.[i]

Isaac drew a distinction between ‘religion’ and the ‘religious impulse’, which could be imputed to ‘secular ideologies’. He argued that humanity has become the new object of worship and man’s secular ideologies have important parallels to religion:

“It is not accurate to say that the religious impulse as a transforming power in the landscape has virtually disappeared in the 20th Century. What has actually happened is that this impulse has been translated into another form. … This … has made it possible for secular ideologies to develop, bearing certain important parallels to religion. The important ideologies of the 19th and 20th centuries postulate a world order which must be brought into being.”[ii]

One can think of a number of ideologies that would fit Isaac’s description of the religious impulse – in particular Marxism and Capitalism, both of which are based on salvation through material progress, although Marxism in theory is more concerned with social equality and justice. It is arguable that the underlying ideology of the twentieth century is that of human progress as salvation, here on earth, based on a technological/materialism. Indeed, Isaac concluded that for those studying the religious motive in cultural landscape the study of the role of ideology in landscape transformation is essential:

“Problematic though it be, the study of transformations of the landscape made upon ideological principles constitutes the major material for one who would study the religious motive at work in the cultural landscape of the present day.”[iii]

Geographer Yi-Fu Tuan, 1978, also noted the decline of the sacred and transcendental and questioned whether in fact there is now a secular church – a church which “is increasingly a social and service center”. In contrast, the medieval church “however much it catered to secular activities, was primarily sacred space: it radiated power”. [iv] Wistfully he concluded that contemporary life has lost its sense of the sacred, whether it be in the forests and streams or the sacred space of the church:

“Today the gods no longer dwell in forests and streams. If we abuse nature we shall pay for our wantonness in the long run and ecologists can tell us just how this will happen with the help of systems analysis and computers. But such rational and longwinded argument cannot chill our spine as can the belief that if we polluted a sacred spring our limbs would at once wither. …our pretense to scientific understanding and power has also corroded our feeling for profound mysteries. The world seems transparent. Contemporary space, however colorful and varied, lacks polarized tension as between the numinous and the quotidian. Contemporary life, however pleasant and exciting, moves on one plane – the plane encompassed by rational and humanist vision. Ecstasy and dread, the heights and the depths, the awesome and the transcendent rarely intrude on our lives and on our landscapes except under the influence of chemical stimulus… A sense of holiness and of worldly splendor has dimmed in modern times, and some people feel the loss.”[v]

Belden Lane also expresses a sense of the loss of the sacred and the mysterious for modern humanity: “As much as we might be tempted, amid the spiritual poverty of our contemporary life, to reach back to a renewed sense of paleolithic wonder, it is no longer possible or perhaps even desirable. The oracle is dumb. All shrines are defunct”.[vi] His description of modern life exemplifies the loss of and the longing for both the Nature/Earth Landscape and the revelatory Anthropocentric Landscape of patriarchal monotheism:

“The rootless character of American life, the Neo-Platonic impulse within the history of western spirituality, radical monotheism’s stubborn resistance to circumscribing the holy – all these would seem to minimise the significance of the phenomena [sacred space] being considered here. They are joined, finally, by the extraordinary impact of modern, critical thought in desacrilizing the world of nature, driving all mystery from it.”[vii]

He argues that, since Descartes and the Enlightenment:

“we no longer attribute numinous power to the landscape. The world is not for us the clear window of access to God that it might once have been… Yet human beings have never more longed for an awareness of God’s presence than today. Seldom have they been so divorced from a sense of place and the experience of meaningful dwelling that it can provide. Modern men and women, no less than their forebears, still hunger for the power of myth and place.”[viii]

Perhaps anticipating the imaginal Postmodern Ecological Landscape, Lane concludes:

“If there is hope for a rediscovery of the spirit, it will not be found in looking back to an innocence once lost, a simplistic return to the paradise of Eden. It will demand a reaching through and beyond the harshest criticisms leveled by the whole of western spiritual tradition. It will require a metanoia, a turning away from all efforts to manage the mystery of God. Only then may it be possible to encounter, by grace, a second naivete – a renewed sense of wonder glimpsed within the myriad landscapes of the holy.”[ix]

Lane places emphasis on the imagination, the experience of meeting and the mystery of grace and wonder which reveals the spiritual multiplicity of landscapes. This points to a description of the Postmodern Ecological Landscape to which we now turn.

[i] Erich Isaac ‘Religion, Landscape and Space’, Landscape, v.9, no.2, Winter (1959-60),18.

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Ibid.

[iv] Yi-Fu Tuan, ‘Sacred Space: Explorations of an Idea’ in: Butzer, K. (ed.), Dimensions of Human Geography, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1978), 94.

[v] Ibid, 98-99.

[vi] Lane(1988) Landscapes of the Sacred, 190-1.

[vii] Ibid.

[viii] Ibid.

[ix] Ibid, 191.

Participatory, Poetic Landscapes

HUMANISTIC, EXISTENTIAL and postmodern geographers, who have questioned viewing the world through an objectivist epistemology, or theory of meaning – are supported by some Western philosophers, biologists, neurophysiologists, environmentalists; and East Asian philosophy, particularly Taoism and Buddhism. Here very briefly, are the arguments of some others who advocate meaning or an epistemology based on an active and relational process of perception and cognition.

OBJECTIVISM AS A ‘GODS-EYE-VIEW’ of reality independent of human understanding is opposed by philosophers Mark Johnson and Hilary Putnam. According to the Objectivist orientation, which is rooted deeply in the Western philosophical and cultural tradition, the world consists of objects that have properties which stand in relationships independent of human understanding. Human beings can have no significant bearing on the nature of meaning and rationality.[i] Johnson, like Putnam, argues for realism based on our mediated understanding of our experience. They argue that experience is an “organism-environment interaction”. The organism and its environment are not independent and unrelated entities.[ii] Johnson concludes that objectivity “does not require taking up God’s perspective, which is impossible; rather, it requires taking up appropriately shared human perspectives that are tied to reality through our embodied imaginative understanding”.[iii]

Biologists Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela reach very similar conclusions to Mark Johnson’s “embodied understanding” by “offering a scientific study of cognition as a biological phenomenon” wherein “the extremes of representationalism (objectivism) and solipsism (idealism)” are eschewed.[iv] The act of cognition does not simply mirror an objective reality “out there” – rather it is rooted in our biological structure and is an active process in which we actually create our world of experience through the process of living itself. We are “continuously immersed in a network of interactions, the results of which depend on history”.[v]

Steve Odin observes that “the primacy accorded to relational ‘field’ over that of the ‘substantial objects’ implicit in the ecological world view is also at the heart of the organismic paradigm of nature in East Asian philosophy, especially Taoism and Buddhism”.[vi]

Aldo Leopold (1887-1948), environmentalist, scientist, ecologist, forester and writer of the classic ‘A Sand Country Almanac’ (1949) is widely regarded as establishing environmental ethics as a distinct branch of philosophy. His ethics arise from a “metaphysical presupposition that things in nature are not separate, independent, or substantial objects, but relational fields… the land is a single living organism wherein each part affects every other part”.[vii]

J. Baird Callicott an American philosopher of environment and ethics, follows the insights of Leopold and argues that “object-ontology is inappropriate to an ecological description of the natural environment. Living natural objects should be regarded as ontologically subordinate to “events” and/or “flow patterns” and/or “field patterns”.[viii]

THE RELATIONAL FIELD idea of environment or landscape, has been promoted by ecologists and some significant philosophers, East and West. In the Western philosophic tradition, English philosopher and mathematician, Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947) was seminal with this view.

Modernism and hence objectivism was systematically challenged by Alfred North Whitehead. Regarded as one of the earliest postmodernists, Whitehead whose contribution to philosophy, mathematics and logic as well as metaphysics is “considered by many to be one of the great intellectual achievements of all time”[ix] is known in particular for his relational field view of reality. A.N. Whitehead gave the field concept of nature implied by ecology its fullest systematic expression in his process metaphysics and philosophy of organism.

As Odin points out, Whitehead “elaborates a panpsychic vision of nature as a creative and aesthetic continuum of living field events arising through their causal relations to every other event in the continuum”.[x] Odin argues that nature, in terms of the Gaia hypothesis, is “a synergistic ecosystem of symbiotic relationships” and this is the relational view of reality of many ecologists as well as much philosophy of East Asia based on Taoism and Buddhism.[xi]

Polish philosopher Henryk Skolimowski is another one who argues for a new epistemology based on a “participatory concept of truth” wherein ‘objectivity’ “has become a myth which is pernicious and which we need to transcend”.[xii] He holds that there is “a close and inevitable relationship between the view of the cosmos of a given people (cosmology) and the system of knowledge of a given people (epistemology). One recapitulates the other, and is in the image of the other. Thus the outer walls of the cosmos are the inner walls of the mind.”[xiii] In other words, there is a close and inevitable relationship between the landscape ‘focus of perception’ of a given people and the system of meaning or knowledge (epistemology) of a given people.

For example, Lopez argues that the rational, scientific approach to land loses something profound; rather the land is like poetry. For instance:

“A Lakota woman named Elaine Jahner once wrote that what lies at the heart of the religion of hunting peoples is the notion that a spiritual landscape exists within the physical landscape. To put it another way, occasionally one sees something fleeting in the land, a moment when line, color, and movement intensify and something sacred is revealed, leading one to believe that there is another realm of reality corresponding to the physical one but different.

In the face of a rational, scientific approach to the land, which is more widely sanctioned, esoteric insights and speculations are frequently overshadowed, and what is lost is profound. The land is like poetry: it is inexplicably coherent, it is transcendent in its meaning, and it has the power to elevate a consideration of human life.”[xiv]

[i] Mark Johnson, The Body in the Mind – The Bodily Basis of Meaning, Imagination and Reason (University of Chicago Press, 1987), x.

[ii] Ibid, 207.

[iii] Ibid, 212.

[iv] Humberto R. Maturana and Francisco J. Varela, The Tree of Knowledge – The Biological Roots of Human Understanding (New Science Library, Shambhala Publications, Inc. 1987), 214.

[v] Ibid, 241.

[vi] Steve Odin, ‘The Japanese Concept of Nature in Relation to the Environmental Ethics and Conservation Aesthetics of Aldo Leopold’, Environmental Ethics, v.13, no. 4 (1991), 350.

[vii] Ibid, 346; see also Aldo Leopold, A Sand Country Almanac: With Essays on Conservation from Round River (N.Y: Ballantine Books, 1966).

[viii] J. Baird Callicott and Roger T. Ames (eds.) Nature in Asian Traditions of Thought – Essays in Environmental Philosophy (State University of New York, 1989), 58.

[ix] Ted Honderich (ed.), The Oxford Companion to Philosophy, (Oxford University Press, 1995), 909-910.

[x] Steve Odin, ‘The Japanese Concept of Nature in Relation to the Environmental Ethics and Conservation Aesthetics of Aldo Leopold’, 350.

[xi] Ibid, 360.

[xii] Henryk Skolimowski, The Participatory Mind – A New Theory of Knowledge and of the Universe (Arkana, Penguin Group, 1994), xviii-xix.

[xiii] Ibid, xvii.

[xiv] Lopez (1998) Arctic Dreams, 274.