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Arnold Berleant

Down the Garden Path
Arnold Berleant

Like Borges’ “Garden of Forking Paths,” choices present themselves when we enter the garden, choices in experience. These lie between two alternative aesthetic meanings: contemplation and engagement. I call these the observational landscape and the landscape of engagement. Each encourages a different mode of experience, and each implies different kinds and degrees of motion. They also encourage different conceptions of design.

Of course, few gardens are exclusively observational. Most lie somewhere between these two models, and develop under the influence of politics, economics, social, cultural, and historical forces. Yet once we go down the garden path, we cannot help but engage with the garden. We can even think of the garden as the embodiment of motion. For the primary motion of the visitor is echoed in the reciprocal motion of the landscape.

Yet, however their design comes about, these two meanings of landscape lie before us. Examining their differences can help us decide which approach to garden design reflects the kind of experiences we want to encourage. Further, these differences enable us to realize how a garden aesthetic embodies an understanding of the human place in the world.

Arnold Berleant is professor of philosophy (emeritus) at the C. W. Post Campus of Long Island University, where he taught from 1962 to 1992. He has also taught at Sarah Lawrence College, the New School for Social Research, Hofstra University, and San Diego State College, and has lectured widely in the United States and abroad, including Finland for the past twelve years. He was
President of the International Association for Aesthetics/Association international d’esthétique from 1995-1998. From 1978-1988 he was Secretary-Treasurer of the American Society for Aesthetics, and from 1987-1995 Secretary-General of the International Association for Aesthetics. Since 1993 he has been President of the International Advisory Committee of the International Institute for Applied Philosophy, based in Finland.

Berleant is the author of four major books, The Aesthetic Field, A Phenomenology of Aesthetic Experience; Art and Engagement; The Aesthetics of Environment; and Living in the Landscape: Toward an Aesthetics of Environment, as well as many articles and reviews. His work has been translated into Chinese, Korean, Russian, Polish, Arabic, French and Finnish. Berleant has also composed music for a variety of instrumental and vocal combinations, and his compositions have been performed in the U.S. and abroad.

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