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
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