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Gardens are not innocent. Once they were the visible imagining of Paradise, and so as the “utopia” of the “garden ideal,” they embodied a historico-philosophical conceptual model of the “all-embracing garden” (“Gärten,” in: Dinge und Undinge, 1993, p. 48; translated from the German). In Vilém Flusser’s dialectical critique, post-history perverts what once were “smiling” (lächelnd) gardens and makes them “laughable” (lächerlich) instead (ibid., p. 47; translated from the German). These post-historical gardens can now only be read “in the context of the cultural apparatus” (ibid., p. 49; translated from the German): as a rape of the natural, a propagation of the “cultivated,” an ideology-driven aestheticization of the pseudonatural.

That hits the mark, and there are abundant examples supporting Flusser’s critique of the depravation of the garden ideal, especially if one follows his gaze to the illusions of naturalness of the “garden city dwellers” in “suburbia” (ibid., p. 52; translated from the German). Ian McEwan’s novel The Cement Garden (1978) is a perfect example, as is Jacques Tati’s satire of the mechanical garden in his film Mon oncle (1958).

Flusser’s study of gardens is a veritable showcase for his dialectical method and for the gesture of “ambivalence” (“Wände,” in: Dinge und Undinge, p. 27; translated from the German). Thus the garden is sometimes an oasis in the desert, and at other times a clearing in the forest, depending on the context. Such ambivalence could be further extended to include open versus closed, wild versus orderly, symbolic versus pragmatic, and so on.

If one can free oneself from the suggestion of the garden’s quasi-naturalness and accept that its character is that of a place of otherness (much like Sartre’s park in the gaze of the other), then one can also imagine – very much in the Flusserian spirit – an inversion of Flusser’s critical gesture. Thus Central Park becomes a vehicle of playful imagination, as in his essay “Mein Atlas” [My Atlas]: “It is not the atlas that represents Central Park, but Central Park that represents my atlas.” (“Mein Atlas,” in: Dinge und Undinge, p. 117; translated from the German)

And perhaps, too, the suburbia of Flusser the terrace thinker (Bodenlos, 1992, pp. 207–214) is, like Main Street, “almost all right,” as architecture theorist Robert Venturi has written in the ledger of post-history: a suburbia that sounds like the concept album The Suburbs (2010) by the Canadian band Arcade Fire, smiling and laughable in equal measure. The inversion of “the garden’s seeming uselessness” (“Gärten,” p. 50; translated from the German) is currently evolving as well, becoming the kitchen gardens of transition towns in what is known as the permaculture movement.

Original article by Thomas Düllo

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gardens.txt · Last modified: 2021/11/05 17:47 by