Concluding Remarks

Closing Remarks
by Michel Conan

This has been a wonderful meeting, and I would not like to spoil the pleasures of endless discussion by proposing any conclusion. So, in my closing remarks I shall only share with you a few thoughts that have been bubbling in my mind as I became more immersed in the discussions of garden design and the experience of motion. The topic of this symposium touches upon an elusive domain of reflection that has not been given much attention, and we have had to face the difficulty of treading almost uncharted grounds for contemporary discussions of garden and landscape design. Each author has had to take many initiatives in defining an approach to a set of questions that do not spring from a tradition of scholarly discussion. Thus the presentations have taken diverse approaches and have taken on highly different contexts. I want, however, to share with you a very personal reading of the whole of the debates and to suggest a deep unity below the diversity of our ways of approaching the experience of motion for landscape design.

I must say that I have been taken by surprise by the turn of the presentations and the debates. I had thought that this symposium would lead to a phenomenological study of the experience of motion, but instead it pointed toward a criticism of phenomenology, turning away from the cogito and the transcendental ego to make room for “takagata,” if I may re-use the words of Norris Brock Johnson. I was dismayed to discover that my own presentation stood awkwardly within this conceptual framework. You may, however, feel that my interpretation is too far-fetched.

I believe it was good fortune that so many papers stemmed from very different cultural traditions. It has revealed to me that a critical analysis of the duality of subject and object--which is such a deeply taken-for-granted assumption of modern Western thinking that it seems to be out of reach for critical examination--lies at the center of the discussion of the experience of motion in gardens. Let me try to make this apparent and clarify in very general terms the relationships between the critical examination of dualist assumptions and the approach of the experience of motion. Whenever this duality is taken for granted a subject or an object has to be either still or in motion, and we are presented with three types of relative mobility, whether subject, object, or both are moving. Motion then always implies displacement. Motion is an attribute of items in space.

But subject and object can be conceived of as components of an entity in reciprocal interaction so that both partake of the life world. Nature then is seen as a living world from which human beings are deriving their existence as well as contributing to it. Then motion may entail two different ideas: displacement and vitality. Motion is no longer necessarily relative to space. This affords a larger variety of garden experiences according to the cultural interpretations of vitality and of its relationships to displacement.

Western science and its correlative techniques applied to landscape design rest upon a dualism clearly discriminating between garden objects and visitors, between objects and subjects. Moreover, the colonization of the life world by the principles of empirical science have lent a performative force to the reduction of motion to displacement. I mean very simply that we, as members of an industrialized modern society, share the intuitive belief that motion is a purely spatial phenomenon, that it is a displacement, and that as a logical consequence objects and subjects are either still or in motion. The sense of vision enables us, as subjects, to observe and appreciate our own relative displacement with respect to other objects or subjects in a garden. Experiences of motion may thus be conceived--even if they need not be--as purely visual experiences that can be distinguished according to the sense of agency that commands the displacement. This description of motion in a garden holds sway upon contemporary minds and, for that reason, it deserves careful study. Yet, this is not the only possible description. Arnold Berleant notes that this description comes under an aesthetic of contemplation, and Stephen Bann and Jan Birksted propose to describe it more precisely as an aesthetic of perspectival vision. Each of these lecturers has pointed to an alternative description of the experience of motion, calling upon an acknowledgment of the polysensoriality of this experience in a garden, and of the reciprocal vitality of the visitor and the landscape that allows the development of an aesthetic of engagement of the subject with nature.

One may observe that this focus on the experience of motion in the garden has led almost all the speakers to contribute more or less pointedly to a criticism of the aesthetic of the picturesque, which is a dominant form of the aesthetics of contemplation of contemporary landscapes. This consensus is all the more remarkable since it develops a number of different arguments that I shall not repeat here. It brings to light a variety of forms of experience of gardens that rest upon an interplay between subjects and objects. It reveals that moving in a garden introduces a world of experience that is not totally ruled by the dualist assumptions of our technicized everyday life. Thus garden designers may, according to how they are attuned to a particular description of motion in terms of displacement and vitality, pursue, through the gardens they create, different effects of motion that allow new developments of the life world, as has been brilliantly demonstrated by Patricia Johanson.

These presentations reveal the importance of the aesthetics of engagement in accounting for garden experiences, and they invite an exploration of the variety of aesthetic approaches that can be adopted. The presentations may seem to be very different and little related to one another. If, however, we look at all of them as a whole, we see three dimensions of analysis that underlie all of the papers to a varying degree. Let me call them, in short, vitalism, culture, and inter-subjectivity, and examine briefly the domain of variations among experiences of motion in gardens that each of them covers.

Romans, like the Japanese Buddhists and the Chinese neo-Confucians, indulged in a form of vitalism, a conception of nature as inherently animated by living forces, or a living spirit--Eros for the Romans, Chi for the Chinese--but Western examples rest upon a view of nature that receives its life from the interplay with humans, past or present, or from the materialistic understanding of the great chain of living beings. The life of nature in Western cultures is always a cultural construct stemming from a dualism of subject and object. It may be transcendental, as in Emerson’s writings, or it may lead to a purely materialistic understanding of life in nature, as in ecological theories. Nevertheless the acknowledgment of life in nature by a visitor may heighten his emotions, as Linda Parshall has shown, or capture his imagination through a Pascalian meditation on the two infinities, the infinitely small and the infinitely large aspects of the cycles and changes of natural life that can be attended to in a garden. Thus one may experience gardens according to different forms of vitalist or materialist perspectives.

Culture plays a major role in choreographing motion or emotions in gardens--as shown by Linda Parshall and John Dixon Hunt--as well as in establishing the conditions of interpretation for garden motions--as shown by Ann Kuttner, Michael Charlesworth, myself, and Anette Freytag for instance--and it is even more obvious in the intertextual tradition of interpretation of narratives of place in Japan and China--as shown by Norris Brock Johnson and Stanislaus Fung. But culture also plays a major role in creating the models of vision with which we attend to natural scenery and that pattern our attention for different sensual experiences, as demonstrated by Stephen Bann. This makes way for artistic creations of new gardens or landscape experiences when artists attempt to introduce new modes of perception, as shown by Jan Birksted.

Lastly I should turn to intersubjectivity as a source of meaning and personal development. This demands attention be paid to the role of dwellers or visitors in constructing the meaning of their garden experiences, and to the reciprocal self-transformation into which this may lead them. This dimension has been touched upon in several papers. Ann Kuttner has shown how shared experiences of seavoyage, of swimming, and of visiting public waterscapes among Romans had created a shared sensibility to motion through water, and how, in return, the reciprocity among swimmers, spectators, and water garden sculptures created the possibility in water gardens for a cathartic experience and psychological reparation. In a different way Michael Charlesworth and Norris Brock Johnson have shown how the meaning of motion through the garden results from the interaction among designer, garden artefacts, and visitors rather than from signs to be discovered in the garden as in a text, and thus may contribute to an intersubjective process of self-development. Stanislaus Fung, calling to mind the role of the game of Fort /Da in child development, has illustrated the role of garden artefacts as symbols of an interworld that allows the playful repetition of intersubjective encounters among Heaven, Earth, and the Garden Master. Thus garden experiences of motion may derive much of their meaning from intersubjective encounters between designers and visitors that are mediated by the garden artefacts, symbolically in Western gardens, intrinsically in the Eastern ones. Thus gardens are shown to provide experiences of motion that contribute to the appropriation of new cultural meanings, correlative developments of self, and the reconfiguration of cultural communities.

Thus it is my general impression that our intuitive understanding, as members of industrial societies, of the experience of motion in a garden has been deeply challenged and replaced by a conceptual frame that enables us to analyze the experience of motion, to conduct comparative study among different cultural contexts, and to see how these experiences, and garden creation, may contribute to cultural production.


Conferences and Tertulias | Speaker List


Document Actions