Bad Binoculars! Bad Binoculars!

This is long overdue, mainly because I really haven’t had much to say about the topic. Anyway, not long ago Tamás Szabó and Robert Troyer teamed up again for another article, this time titled ‘Inclusive ethnographies: Beyond the binaries of observer and observed in linguistic landscape studies’, as published in ‘Linguistic Landscapes’ journal in late 2017. Their previous article had to do with this topic, sort of, but focused more on videography rather than ethnography. It contains some good insight to both videography and photography, so it’s good reading.

Before I jump into the article, I’ll select a random book that explores just what is ethnography. But before I do that, I’ll just quickly cover the semantics first. A dictionary tells is that ethnography (OED, s.v. “ethnography”, n.) is:

“The systematic study and description of peoples, societies, and cultures.”

As well as:

“A description of peoples, societies and cultures, or an individual example of these; a work of ethnography.”


“The ethnic character or constitution of a place, people, sphere of human action, etc.”

What is common with all theses senses of the word is that they have to do with description of people. That only makes sense considering the etymology and the etymons of the word, combining ‘ethno-’ (OED, s.v. “ethno-”, comb. form) and ‘-graphy’ (OED, s.v. “-graphy”, comb. form), the former standing for:

“Used in words relating to the study of peoples or cultures…”

And the latter standing for:

“Some of the words with this ending denote processes or styles of writing, drawing, or graphic representation…”

Again, a dictionary tells us that ethnography pertains to describing or depicting people. So, now, how about a book then? The first hit is ‘Handbook of Ethnography’ edited by Paul Atkinson, Amanda Coffey, Sara Delamont, John Lofland and Lyn Lofland, first published in 2001. By the looks of it, it is a whopping tome, containing texts by people mainly from the fields of anthropology and sociology. As it’ll get too specific to check out the chapters, I’ll just have a closer look at the introduction written by the editors.

They (1) begin by noting that, as a caveat, the topic is too broad, too contested and “escapes ready summary definitions.” That’s funny, given that I believe that I managed to give fairly good, broad, yet apt summary definition of the word, just by looking up the word in a dictionary. Anyway, this was expected, it’s this empty talk that you find in academic texts, a cliché not unlike ‘further research is needed’. Of course, that said, the editors consider this tome to be authoritative, because, you know, it’s written by leading scholars, people of international excellence (read: important people, celebrities, people who consider themselves important, as if that was itself a guarantee of anything) and reviewed by equally distinguished scholars known internationally (read: other people who are, at least, equally important as the people they review). To their credit, they (1) do indicate that they didn’t enforce any unified criteria as to what the people involved should say about the topic. So, yeah, it’s obvious that there’s this elitism as to who gets to contribute and who gets to judge the contributors (I mean that is a pretty much what elitism is about, getting to choose), but at least on paper they (1-2) are all for heterogeneity and distance themselves from specific models or typologies. Anyway, that said, while avoiding to give definition of the core concept, just on the first page, they (1) mention ethnographic methods, ethnographic research, ethnographic fieldwork, as if these were obvious to the reader. On top of that, on the second page they (2) indicate that they operated a broad definition of ethnography, yet, again, they don’t give a definition to the reader.

Okay, I get it that they want to avoid committing to this or that definition, considering that they seek to balance between two disciplines in which not everyone is happy about the inclusion of the other discipline. Fair enough. The editors (3) move on to discuss what is known as the crisis of representation, which basically puts the whole enterprise in doubt, followed by more discussion of homogeneity and heterogeneity that doesn’t really go anywhere, as far as I’m concerned as I still haven’t been treated to even a broad definition of what they mean by ethnography. It seems a bit paradoxical to keep talking about ethnography, as this thing, yet to be defined, mind you, while insisting that it’s not a single thing. Is it or is it not a thing? I keep being treated to ethnographic this, ethnographic that, such as ethnographic tradition (4) and ethnographic representation (4), yet, apparently, I am not to think of ethnography as a thing. Later on (5) there’s also ethnographic spirit. If it isn’t important, then keep on repeating the word, as if it was? I just don’t get it. There is so much evasion in this text that it amuses me. The level of contradiction in this just keeps on giving. Perhaps I just don’t get it. Fair enough.

It takes nearly four pages worth of this and that for the editors (4) to provide a definition as to what is ethnography:

“[T]he chapters contained in this volume … are grounded in a commitment to the first-hand experience and exploration of a particular social or cultural setting on the basis of (though not exclusively by) participant observation.”

Okay, so ethnography is, broadly speaking, as they initially (2) insist, participant observation, with wiggly room left for other options. They (4-5) add that:

“Observation and participation (according to circumstance and the analytic purpose at hand) remain the characteristic features of ethnographic research).”

Right, what they mean is that ethnography is observation, of others (not researchers), and participation, with the said others. They (5) clarify that this is because:

“Participant observation alone would normally result in strange and unnatural behaviour were the observer not to talk with her or his hosts, so turning them into informants or ‘co-researchers’.”

I get that it is odd, atypical behavior to simply spectate, or so to speak, when others are doing stuff, which results in other people acting in atypical ways, i.e. unnaturally as they put it. Then again, the mere presence of a guest changes the behavior of the hosts. It’d be quite bold to claim otherwise. This also assumes that the hosts are welcoming. In other words, there’s no way that the researcher can be sure that people don’t change their behavior in his or her presence, not to mention simply lying, making … up as they go. I mean you have to be a bit naive not to consider that. What gets reiterated by the editors (5) is that “ethnographic research remains firmly rooted in the first-hand exploration of research settings” and that it is “social exploration and protracted investigation”. So, what you really are saying is that what defines ethnography is that it’s not armchair research but so called fieldwork. Well I’ll be damned. That’s basically anything that isn’t merely hypothetical, as thought of by some researcher in his or her office. I’m not impressed.

Hmm… what about a monograph. Let’s see. How about the 1996 book ‘Ethnography, Linguistics, Narrative Inequality: Toward an Understanding of Voice’ by Dell Hymes? It might just do, considering my own familiarity with linguistics, as well as education. Sure, you can object to my choice, that it’s random, not representative, etc. etc. Aye, it is, or seems to be so, considering how I landed on it, kinda like following the Tibetan Method, instead of trying to rationalize what might be gold standard for this. Anyway, the relevant chapter was actually first published in 1978, as noted in the acknowledgments (xiii). Right, perhaps unsurprisingly, Hymes (3) kicks off by stating what the editors of that handbook kept repeating, that there’s a lack of unified conception as to what ethnography is. What strikes me on the first two pages already is how he (3-4) comments that:

“It is easy for anthropologist of a variety of persuasions to criticize such [quantitative and experimental] methods. It is often harder for them to state concisely the alternatives.”

Well, this aptly summarizes the issue I take with ethnography (if you already didn’t notice it). It’s easy to criticize others, that they are doing x, y or z wrong, but it’s often the case that no alternative way of doing things is proposed. I’ve been told that I should get with the times, or so to speak, to take into consideration the ethnographic turn (which I take to be in reference to the linguistic turn, and subsequent other turns, such as the spatial turn). However, as much as I get that there are these and/or those shortcomings in the way I do things, as I’m hardly perfect, I’m left hanging, as to what it is that I am supposed to do otherwise? So, like Hymes (3-4) points out, I’m not given concise alternatives. I’m not given anything, really, except why don’t you do ethnography type of responses.

Hymes (4) waffles around the issue, noting that, on one hand, you can’t expect everything to be neatly packaged, you know, because the world is a messy place. Fair play, fair play. I get that. On the other hand, he (4) acknowledges that if explicit attention is not paid to the issue and the concepts honed accordingly, it’ll lead to a brief fad, a modish moment where it’s all talk the talk but hardly any walking the walk. In other words, it’s only likely to result in empty rhetoric, plenty of hot air, providing some superficial accounts on this and/or that, patting each other in the back at conferences, without ever having a clue as to what the central concepts are about, not to mention if the underlying plane that holds it all together is at all sound in relation to the concepts.

Hymes (4) moves on to discuss how he conceptualizes ethnography. He (4) repeats some of the stuff that has already covered, which, in summary, consist of him expressing that ethnography is more of an art than it is a science. Okay, those are not his exact words, yet, that’s the feeling I get from this. Also, that does not mean that it’s bad thing. I think there is much to learn from art, often way more than from science, no matter how much art gets trivialized in the school system. However, oddly enough, the people who engage in the art of ethnography, if you will, are keen to assert that you need to play by the rules, do as they do, which is … erm … rather … unlike art and more like (old) school (science). Rather contradictory, if you ask me. His (3-4) characterization actually ends up doing exactly this, pointing out how hard it is to pinpoint as to what it is, only to point out that it’s not some whimsical thing, about psychological experience, you know, something touchy feely, but rather about systematic discovery of knowledge, involving systematic participation and observation.

There’s also something distinctively patronizing about this account, as marked by how he (4) acknowledges that ethnography “is associated with the study of people not ourselves”. I mean this is borderline colonial (well, it probably was back in the day…). It makes you think of researchers who parachute in, tell the locals that they are there to observe and report, supposedly for their benefit, of course, while the locals, possibly, wonder, did I ever ask for any of this, who the hell does he (I mean it’s probably a he) think he is, only to think that, perhaps, be it as it may, they need to show hospitality (out of common courtesy) to this fellow who just landed here, out of nowhere and will exit in an equally spectacular and abrupt fashion. I remember being in a conference, where someone had some presentation about linguistic typology, conducted in some remote part of the world, where people make do with what comes to be reified as a contact language. There I was, thinking to myself, wondering, whether the researchers actually asked the people involved, those whose creative engagement in language done for practical purposes they seek to classify as a distinct language, if they gave a shit. I realize that I may well be wrong, yet something tells me, call it intuition, that these people may have better things to do than babysit some random foreigner who came out of nowhere, didn’t actually contribute to anything (no, observing them and making some notes about their life doesn’t count as anything actual) and will leave once his or her work on them is done. I understand that I may be missing something, but I just can’t wrap my head around how they don’t seem to take that into consideration. Maybe they do. I don’t know.

Hymes (5) lists three features that become united in ethnography: being contrastive, systematic and interpretative. He (5) also calls this the topic-oriented tradition. There are, of course, other traditions. The other two traditions listed by him are what he (4-5) calls the comprehensive tradition (know it all, not just bits and pieces, but all the pieces that concern this or that people in this or that place, their way of life) and the hypothesis-oriented tradition (testing hypothesis, based on this or that theoretical base).

He (6) goes on to point out that these three tradition are linked to together, first having the goal to be comprehensive, then topic oriented, followed by theoretization. This makes me think of the theory and practice issue that seems to puzzle people. I reckon you can’t have theory without practice, which is the point here. Then again, there is no practice without theory, so no matter how you try, no matter how data-driven the approach is, like in the comprehensive tradition, there is always some theory, some intuition at play. He (7) actually points this out later on, how, for some, there is this, what I’d like to call a feedback loop. It might be better to call it a spiral or coil though, in the sense that theory and practice don’t simply or necessarily just loop back, things staying the same. Anyway, theory affects practice and vice versa, hence the feedback. I for sure have to come to terms with this in my own work. The real world of practice have made Swiss cheese out of my initial hypotheses and theorizations. Every time something has failed, I’ve gone through the whole sets of data again, over and over again, and adjusted accordingly. The alternatives to this would be, and I don’t recommend either of them, is, A), to sit in some office, come up with a model and then brute force all the data to fit the model or, B), ignore one’s own presuppositions, intuitions, gather some data and claim it’s all there, in the data. You can’t have one without the other. I wouldn’t call taking both into consideration a dialectical method though, as if one and the other, this or that, one as opposed to another, would be opposites and would subsequently lead to a synthesis. Feel free to disagree, but, yeah, I’m not having that.

Hymes (8) explains the feedback in terms used by Kenneth Pike in his 1965 book ‘The Language in Relation to a Unified Theory of the Structure of Human Behavior”. Pike (37) calls these the ‘etic’ and ‘emic’ standpoints for the description of human behavior. Firstly:

“The etic viewpoint studies behavior as from outside of a particular system, and as an essential initial approach to an alien system.”


“The emic viewpoint results from studying behavior as from inside the system.”

For those who are not familiar with linguistics, these labels are in reference to ‘phonetic’ and ‘phonemic’, used in analogously but for other, more general purposes, not only with regards language, as he points out (37). If you don’t know how these two differ, simply put, the phonetic level is the level of the actual sound, the physiology and the acoustics of it, whereas the phonemic level is the where they become language specific, how they become meaningful in combination with one another. So, as Pike (37) defines them, the ‘etic’ is the outsider perspective and the ‘emic’ is the insider perspective.

The gist of this is that an outsider fails to understand something others do, no matter how good the description is because the outsider lacks the necessary insider knowledge, as he (39) goes on to point out in reference to Edward’s Sapir’s observations of group member behavior in ‘The Unconscious Patterning of Behavior in Society’ (I’m looking at the 1928 listing, as contained in volume 3 of ‘The Collected Works of Edward Sapir’ edited by Regna Darnell, Judith Irvine and Richard Handler). In the relevant paragraph Sapir (158-159) states that “[a]ll cultural behavior is patterned”, that one’s actions, thoughts and feelings are not individual in the sense that they are brought about by the society which seeks to foster certain conduct. Simply put, what we think is individual, is actually social, as he (159) points out. The following part is what Pike (39) approvingly recites from Sapir (159):

“It is impossible to say what an individual is doing unless we have tacitly accepted the essentially arbitrary modes of interpretation that social tradition is constantly suggesting to us from the very moment of our birth. Let anyone who doubts this try the experiment of making a painstaking report of the actions of a group of native engaged in some form of activity, say religious, to which he has not the cultural key. If he is a skilful writer, he may succeed in giving a picturesque account of what he sees and hears, or thinks he sees and hears, but the chances of his being able to give a relation of what happens in terms that would be intelligible and acceptable to the natives themselves are practically nil. He will be guilty of all manner of distortion. His emphasis will be constantly askew. He will find interesting what the natives take for granted as a casual kind of behavior worthy of no particular comment, and he will utterly fail to observe the crucial turning points in the course of action that give formal significance to the whole in the minds of those who do possess the key to its understanding.”

I think what follows is also worth adding here (159):

“This patterning or formal analysis of behavior is to a surprising degree dependent on the mode of apprehension which has been established by the tradition of the group.”

So, in Sapir’s terms, the issue is that an outsider exhibits a pattern of behavior that is different from the pattern of behavior of the insiders. That said, I think it’s actually unnecessary to differentiate between outsiders and insiders or outside and inside a system. I think it’s better to think this as a matter of patterning, because this is not a binary, for or against. I think that Pike’s formulation oversimplifies and mystifies the issue, as if the patterns of others were mystical and incongruous. Then again, this likely depends on what’s at stake. The language itself? That’s going to be harder, way harder to figure out than let’s say that religious activity that Sapir mentions. Of course, if we bundle the two, then figuring out the religious activity, what it’s all about, is bound to even harder. Sapir seems to be rather adamant about the difficulties caused by the unconscious patterning, while offering a wide variety of examples, which may make the reader think that the patterning is so strong that it sets us a part so far from one another that it becomes borderline impossible to understand others affected by different patterning, to the point that it becomes a pointless task. Then again, Sapir himself seems to be able to grasp this, so which one is it? Can or can’t? I think there is also a risk of categorizing people into well defined groups, clearly distinct from other groups, for example, by their nationality or occupation, as if they were they defined the people to the point that it all becomes static, like, as if, all Japanese people are the same or all truck drivers are all the same because they are impacted by the same patterns. Sapir (287) actually makes note of this in his 1932 text ‘Culture, Society, and the Individual’, as contained in the same compilation:

“Clearly, not all cultural traits are of equal importance for the development of personality, for not all of them are equally diffused as integral elements in the idea-systems of different individuals.”

In other words, it depends. As he (287) goes on to point out, some of the patterns are very compulsive and thus have a great effect on people. In a sense they apply more universally. That said, as acknowledged by him (287), other aspects only affect certain people or certain groups of people. For example, people’s occupation may require certain set of skills, training or education, which, in turn, on the job, affects them, making their understanding of the world different from people of other occupational groups. His (287) examples are: a dairyman, a movie actress, a laboratory physicist and a party whip. Their way of seeing the world is going to be a bit different. I actually intentionally retained the actress instead of changing it to just actor because I reckon being a woman is also a matter of patterning, distinct from a man. That said, there are other patterns which are shared by these groups of people and even these specific patterns may apply only part time. For example, someone working a laboratory is not a completely incomprehensible person with bizarre habits outside work. He or she may well be engaging with someone else, let’s say that dairyman, and manage just fine, and possibly even learn to understand the little things that permeate the life of someone who deals with all things dairy. It could, of course, be that the lab worker isn’t that interested in dairy so that will remain a mystery. However, while different patterns affect different people, it all being clearly circumstantial, it’s not that the various groups of people are only affected by patterns that are specifically relevant to them as otherwise there’d be no way to comprehend them. This is something that Sapir goes on to address when he (285, 287-288) notes that economic, political or social definitions of groups, within a society, i.e. preset groups like ‘the working class’, fail to take into account the complexity of the situation. They are made up distinctions that fail to capture what’s real, so he (288), I think hilariously, calls them unicorns. Anyway, in his (287-288) words:

“If we consider that these specialized cultural participations are partly the result of contact with limited traditions and techniques, partly the result of identification with such biologically and socially imposed groups as the family or the class in school or the club, we can begin to see how inevitable it is that the true psychological locus of a culture is the individual or a specifically enumerate list of individuals, not an economically or politically or socially defined group of individuals.”

Biology may seem to be off here, but remember that your own body has an effect on you and your group membership. For example, women are very different from men. It’s pointless to deny that. Also, people with disabilities are different from able bodied people. None of it is whimsical, made up. Then again, that is not all there is to people. It doesn’t simply determine them. They are factors, among others. It’s also worth noting here that, for Sapir (288), the individual also needs to be (re)defined:

“‘Individual.’ however, here means not simply a biologically defined organism maintaining itself through physical impacts and symbolic substitutes of such impacts[.]”

So, he wants to move away from defining the individual as a starting point, identified in relation to a mass, as one among many. Instead he (288) wants to define the individual as what that person has become, as affected by the various patterns:

“‘Individual … here means … that total world of form, meaning and implication of symbolic behavior which a given individual parts knows and directs, partly intuits and yields to, partly is ignorant of and is swayed by.”

He (288) moves on to add that not only are some patterns more general, or universal, affecting more people, than others (extensity) but they also vary by their potency (intensity). In other words, some patterns are not as important as other patterns in terms of their potency, how much of effect they have on people. On top of that, in actuality, the patterns may have a greater effect on some people or groups of people than others, as he (288) points out.

I could keep going with this but I’ve already written on this text by Sapir so it’s better move on from this detour. As a side note, you can find Valentin Vološinov discussing the same thing in ‘Marxism and the Philosophy of Language’ (1973 translation by Ladislav Matejka and I.R. Titunik). He (88) explains by what he calls ‘we-experience’ which permits “different degrees and different types of … structuring.” As a result, according to him (89), what we get is:

“All these types of expression, each with its basic intonations, come rife with corresponding terms and corresponding forms of possible utterances. The social situation in all cases determines which term, which metaphor, and which form may develop in an utterance expressing [the phenomenon] out of the particular intonational bearings of the experience.”

He (87-89) explains this with how people come to experience something that all humans can and do experience: hunger. In summary, we can and do experience hunger but our experience of hunger depends on who we’ve become. As he wrote this sometime in the late 1920s, he finds it apt to exemplify this by contrasting the experience of hunger between peasants and factory workers. Anyway, the gist of this is that the phenomenon is apparent to both groups of people, but, according to him, the peasants experience it as material lack, just something that can happen, nothing shameful about it, whereas the factory workers will find it shameful and degrading, something to protest about. This is explained by how peasants are typically a non-unified group of people who do and also have to take care of themselves, living and working at greater distance from one another, whereas the factory workers are a (more) unified group of people, living and working in close proximity to one another. Surely there is more to it, but that’s the gist of it.

It’s also worth noting that, not unlike Sapir, Vološinov does not believe to in unicorns. He (88) emphasizes that what he calls “‘we-experience’ is not by any means a nebulous herd experience”. So, no, peasants or factory workers are not all the same, nor are they peasants or factory workers to begin with. Sure, they may well be or may well have been remarkably similar to one another but that’s due to the circumstances that result in similarity. This is why he (88) states that ‘we-experience’ is always differentiated. To make more sense of this, if you are not familiar with differentiation, he (88) clarifies this by stating that:

“[D]ifferentiation, the growth of consciousness, is in direct proportion to the firmness and reliability of the social orientation. The stronger, the more organized, the more differentiated the collective in which an individual orients himself, the more vivid and complex his inner world will be.”

So, for example, peasants have been peasants for how long, basically since whenever it was that people started cultivating land. By that time, late 1920s, peasants were still just poor manual agricultural laborers who lived off the land. Their links to one another are weak and they are hardly organized, namely because they do not live and work in close proximity to one another, at least not as close as the factory workers. There isn’t much differentiation involved when it comes to peasants because they hardly count as a collective, an organized group of people.

Vološinov (86) also points out that people have limits that are tied to their position, as members of a group or a collective, and time. This is what Pierre Bourdieu (164) calls the sense of limits or the sense of reality in the ‘Outline of a Theory of Practice’ (1977 translation by Richard Nice). Bourdieu (164) states that the sense of limits come about as “[e]very established order tends to produce (to very different degrees and with very different means) the naturalization of its own arbitrariness. In terms of experience, he (164) calls this doxa, a belief turned into truth, “the world of tradition experienced as a ‘natural world’. To be clear about this, as he (164) points out, doxa is what we come to take for granted. It’s unlike orthodox (posited as true) and heterodox (variable) beliefs because presenting something as true or correct or stating that there are multiple truths makes them apparent and contestable, as clarified by him (164).

In simpler terms, if someone claims that he or she knows what’s what, the correct or true interpretation of something, it’s easy to contest that, to ask ‘says who?’ This is the great weakness of those who Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari call priests, i.e. the arbiters of truth (any, not only actual priests), in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’ (1987 translation by Brian Massumi). They hold privileged positions which, supposedly, gives them exclusive authority to truth. Now, you only need to challenge them and the whole thing comes crumbling down. You only need to ask that one question (says who?) to make it apparent that it’s they, themselves, who say so. Orthodoxy isn’t great in that regard. It’s easy to challenge. That is, of course, not to say that it’s necessarily smart to challenge the orthodoxy because those who are in privileged positions can exercise power over those who seek to challenge their authority. Back in the day this was probably more of a process of, firstly, keeping the riffraff out of the temple (make them know their place), secondly, excommunicating/anathematizing them (making them outcasts, pariahs), and, thirdly, executing them for heresy (literally getting rid of the problem by getting rid of the troublemakers). Nowadays, of course, people aren’t executed for heresy (at least not in the western societies), but the priesthood hasn’t gone anywhere. For example, in the context of academics, this is all applicable. There is gatekeeping (keeping the riffraff out of the temple), dogmatism (branding others as heretics, for wrongthink) and starving the opposition (those without funding, or a stable salaried position for that matter, will find hard to conduct research when they have make ends meet in some other line of work).

With heterodoxy, this is all a non-issue. Heterodoxy entails a plurality of beliefs, so you don’t have the issue of true vs false, correct vs incorrect and the like. This is not the case doxa. Of course, to complicate things, the clever priests would never concede that they uphold an orthodoxy and use the system to further their own interests. That’d risk losing their sweet gigs. Instead, the whole order of things is presented as natural, despite being wholly arbitrary, a product of the conditions that permit it to come into being, and adhering only to its own internal logic, as explained by Bourdieu (164).

Now, obviously, it’d be too simplistic to argue that the people involved are malevolent, that there is some great conspiracy against the ordinary folks or the like. Simply put, it’s not that people just decide, one day, that they’ll abuse the system, for their own benefit. It’s rather that they have become the kind of people who do that. That happens largely unwittingly. They don’t necessarily consciously desire that. It’s rather that what they come to desire, at any moment, make it possible that they do that. Sapir explains this by what he calls patterning and Vološinov by what he calls differentiation.

Michel Foucault comments this in ‘The Archaeology of Knowledge’ (1972 translation by translated by Alan Sheridan) when he (25) argues that we must “disconnect the unquestioned continuities” by making apparent the “temporal dispersion that enables [discourse] to be repeated, known, forgotten, transformed, utterly erased, and hidden, far from all view, in the dust of books.” To be more specific, he (25) notes that discourse can be understood as based on the ‘already-said’ which is also ‘never-said’, existing only in semi-silence, as “voice as silent as a breath”. In his (25) words:

“It is supposed therefore that everything that is formulated in discourse was already articulated in that semi-silence that precedes it, which continues to run obstinately beneath it, but which it covers and silences.”

So, while this is not exactly the same as how it is explained by Bourdieu, Sapir or Vološinov, the gist of it is the same. He (25) continues:

“The manifest discourse, therefore, is really no more than the repressive presence of what it does not say; and this ‘not-said’ is a hollow that undermines from within all that is said.”

Now, as I pointed out, Foucault is not for this, at all. What he (25) wants to do is to “renounce all those themes whose function is to ensure the infinite continuity of discourse and its secret presence to itself in the interplay of a constantly recurring absence.” He wants us to pay attention to how it is that come to take things for granted and challenge them, to indicate how it is that this or that discourse came to be. He (25) wants us to do that because discourses are more than just language, calling things by this or that name. As he (25) points out, it is this more than just language, calling something this or that, we must focus on. What is this more then? I reckon it becomes clear in his (25) definition of discourses as the “practices that systematically form the objects of which they speak.” As you can see, language is creative, capable of creation, and it’s this aspect that “we must reveal and describe” (25), how it is that this or that discourse came into being. This is especially important because we are in the habit of forgetting how the discourses came to being and take things for granted. Everything just is. This is also linked to the way many people, if not most people, think that there is this neat correspondence between language and reality, that this keyboard that I write on is inherently a keyboard, that there is some transcendent idea of keyboard that the word keyboard expresses.

I guess it’s time to jump back to Hymes. He (8) acknowledges, similarly to Sapir, that labeling people as this or that, judging it, for example, by distance alone is misleading. People may still misunderstand one another, even those who live in close proximity and grew up in speaking the same language and, broadly speaking, in the same culture. He (8-9) exemplifies this with a questionnaire that ended up having wonky results, which, apparently entitles ethnographers to distrust quantitative methods such as questionnaires, “if the meanings of the questions to those asked are taken for granted in advance.” How is this relevant? I don’t know about others, but at least to me it seems obvious that the quality of the results has to do with the quality of the research design. This applies qualitative research as well.

Another point that I’m not buying is holding on to a binary, between the ‘etic’ and the ‘emic’. He (9) notes how the ‘etic’ has to with institutions, modes of communication and the like, whereas the ‘emic’ has to do with the local way of life. Who is it again that make up the institutions? Who is it that come to define the modes of communication? Would it not be people? The ‘etic’ perspective is supposed to be this outsider perspective, a generic or universal viewpoint, if you will. Is the researcher perpetually outside of reality or something? How is it that that’s even possible to see the world that way? Are we not always in the world, regardless how we define it? What in the actual …? This is what I struggle with when, for example, someone argues that literary examples are not examples of real language use? What do you mean by that? That they are not of this reality? I think it makes way more sense to consider it all real, that we are differentiated or patterned. If I were to retain the notion of viewpoint, I reckon we are all simultaneously both insiders and outsiders. However, that’s a contextual notion. I am indeed an outsider, in the sense that who I’ve become is different from people who’ve become unlike me, inasmuch as that is the case. I’m also an insider, in the sense that who I’ve become is similar to people who’ve become like to me, inasmuch as that is the case. In addition, this is not a static notion. I keep becoming and so do other people. Anyway, I don’t find this notion of outsider and insider perspectives to be at useful because it holds that a view from nothing is actually possible and relegates difference subsidiary to identity, resulting in unicorns, as Sapir might characterize the issue.

Moving on from the issue he takes with statistics, Hymes (10) also points out that ethnography is necessary because “self-report cannot be relied upon”, because “people are notoriously unable or unwilling to give accurate accounts”. No! People might lie! Mon Dieu! How does this not undermine the quest for the ‘emic’ perspective? How is it that we can be sure that we get to see the world like an insider if it is possible, if not likely, that the people whose understanding of the world you are trying to reach and subsequently depict might lying to you?

I could go on and on with Hymes or jump to another monograph, either randomly picked or something well known, but I’m ten pages in and yet to comment on the article I set out to comment on. So, how do Szabó and Troyer fare in this regard, how do they present ethnography?

They (306-307) start by linking the topics, ethnography and linguistic landscape research tradition. They (306-307) note that prior research has embraced the ‘emic’ perspectives, i.e. local views of the landscape, ever since the research tradition emerged in the early 2000s. What differentiates the article from what I’ve covered so far is their interest in raising awareness, inclusiveness, giving back to the people they engage with, or to speak. I think this is commendable. I’ll return to this later.

What is similar to what’s been covered in this essay so far is the jargon, attributing this and that as ethnographic, such as “ethnographic researchers” (306), “ethnographic data generation and analysis” (307), “ethnographic research methods” (307), “ethnographic fieldwork” (307, 314), “ethnographically orientated LL researchers” (308), “[e]thnographic walking based methods” (309), “ethnographic research” (310), “ethnographic methods” (311), “ethnographic approach” (312, 317) and “ethnographic projects” (314). As you can see, there is this and/or that ethnographic, yet no clear definition of ethnography and what makes something ethnographic (as opposed to not ethnographic) is provided. This is a odd, considering that even the title includes the word ethnographies. Okay, fair enough, it’s there, sort of, implicitly, but it bothers me that this isn’t addressed. They (307) present a partial definition:

“[THE] goal … is to provide a description of one form of participant-led research that combines audio, video, photographs and text and results in co-created encounters in the social setting.”

What is presented here involves participation, combined with audio, video, photos and text, resulting in co-created encounters, enacted by the researchers and the other people involved, in a certain context. Okay. They (308) move on to explain the importance of inclusivity in research:

“The emancipatory and the democratizing ambitions of inclusive research re-position participants from being ‘informants’ that solely serve the information needs of researchers to being co-creators of new insights.”

In other words, the point is that rather than treating people as informants, i.e. sources of data for the researchers to tap into, they are treated as people. For them (308) this results in blurring of the boundaries between the collection and the analysis of the data and “[i]t is only through detailed exploration of research practices that we can ensure that what we study – the experience of people as they navigate, interact with, and create their LL – is accurately documented during data generation.” Here you can see what the purpose of the study is, to document the people’s experiences, as they engage with their surroundings together with the researchers. This is well in line with the dictionary definitions of ethnography as pertaining to depiction people.

Now, what I think is good about this is the emphasis on making people aware of their surroundings and their capacity to “re-create and transform social spaces” (308) rather than just taking things for granted. I think this is great. I would say this is a matter of awareness. It’s important because people do take things for granted. This is the central issue with landscape and that’s why I keep reminding people that they should really take it into consideration. Again, I think it’s great that people are pushed to be more aware of these matters.

What I don’t like about this is ethnography part, the documentary aspect of it. I think it is misses the point. There is no need to document the encounters because the encounter itself, the experience, is what’s important. This is a very everyday thing actually. We, in general, not only as researchers, can provide opportunities to learn from us and we can learn from others. I’ve used this example before but I’ll do it again here. I once drove on the motorway around midsummer. It was night time but because the sun barely goes down here at that time of the year, the experience is, how should I attempt to describe it, worth experiencing. I can state the obvious, that it’s sunny, like a day, but the shadows are too elongated etc. and that the bodily sensation of driving on the road adds to that experience, but this is a mere representation of that experience, not the experience itself. I could write an article about it but, for me, it would be pointless. Why write about it? Why not just suggests others to do it themselves? Live a little.

Now, who am I to challenge the latest trends in research? Good point. I am well aware that I’m a nobody. Perhaps someone with authority can explain this better or at least be more convincing about this. Tim Ingold, who has also written about landscapes (not that I wholeheartedly agree with him on that, mind you) addresses the issue in ‘That’s enough about ethnography’, as published in HAU: Journal of Ethnographic Theory’ in 2014.

Ingold (383) points out already in the abstract that the problem with ethnography is that the term is so overused, not only in anthropology, which is his discipline, but also in other disciplines that when it’s used, it means just about nothing. I reckon landscape research and linguistic landscape research are no different in this regard. To be fair, to make it apparent, Ingold is being hyperbolic, as well as partisan, on this issue, as he (383) himself points out.

He (384-385) makes note of how the word ‘ethnographic’ is used as a common qualifier, so that people refer to, for example, “ethnographic encounter[s], ethnographic fieldwork, ethnographic method, ethnographic knowledge”, “ethnographic monographs”, “ethnographic films”, “ethnographic theory”, the point being that just about anything that has to do with an ethnographer then becomes ethnographic, just because it involves ethnographer. He (385) continues listing the absurdity that follows from this. For example, reflecting on one’s own experience becomes autoethnography. Also, investigating artifacts becomes ethnography of artifacts, despite the fact that artifacts are not people (remember how ethnography is about describing people). He (385) states that the only thing that isn’t rendered into ethnography is the academic life, be it with one’s colleagues or with students, in the classroom, in seminars, workshops or conferences. For some reason, as he (385) goes on to point out, there’s a lot of talk about ethnography but little doing it in the academic context. I reckon the gist of the issue here is that he isn’t happy that ethnographers are happy to describe the life of others, but not the life of the people they deal with on a daily basis (that is to say their own life). Perhaps that hits a bit too close to home. Anyway, be it as it may, it’s an anomaly alright, as he (385) points out.

He (385) explains his stance on ethnography, after pointing out that, by dictionary definition, ethnography is about “writing about people”. In summary, he acknowledges that any depiction of people, regardless of the mode, albeit typically done in writing, counts as ethnographic, inasmuch “it aims to the life and times of a people”. I agree, that does make sense. I just want to emphasize that it doesn’t have to be only in writing. Other modes of expression should be included in this. Of course, that doesn’t change things, really, as it’s about (graphic) representation. Anyway, he (385) explains what he doesn’t consider ethnographic:

“I do not believe the term can be applied to our encounters with people, to the fieldwork in which these encounters take place, to the methods by which we prosecute it, or to the knowledge that grows therefrom.”

He (385) proceeds to address what so far has been wildly labeled as ethnographic:

“Indeed to characterize encounters, fieldwork, methods and knowledge as ethnographic is positively misleading.”

This is because, by definition, ethnography is about depicting people. That’s all there is to it. He (385) adds that:

“Auto-ethnography, when there are no people to describe but only the self, and museum ethnography, where there are only curated objects, are simply oxymoronic.”

So, as I already pointed out, describing items for sure doesn’t count as ethnography. Items are not people. I don’t know about the first bit. Maybe you could qualify it as describing people, but then again, I guess that would lead to the problem that anything that I come up with, on my own, like what I’m doing right now, becomes ethnography, just because I’m depicting what it is that I’m engaging in, sitting at home, in front of a desk, looking a screen, thinking to myself, reading about ethnography, while writing about ethnography. So, yeah, I can see how that becomes an issue conceptually. Lastly, he (385) adds that:

“As for ethnographic theory, my argument will be that this is to get anthropology precisely back to front.”

He (385) doesn’t explain this further here, but he (392) addresses this later on. In summary, he (392-393) isn’t happy with the way it has led to particularism, marked by the countless number of case studies, “the retrospective chronicling of lives that are always on the brink of disappearing.” For him (393), what’s back to front with ethnographic theory is that instead of being “rooted in practical experience, of what life is like for people of particular times and places”, “this experience is schizochronically put behind us, even as it is lived.” In other words, in his view, ethnographers are keen to talk about the importance of experience, living one’s life, but experience isn’t held important in itself and what’s living gets killed in the process, or so to speak. He (393) characterizes this as resulting in ethnographers coming back from the field, wherever they may have been, to write reports about their encounters, explaining what they have found and then, later on, meet up with other ethnographers to “trade in the ‘insights’ they have brought back” with them from the field, convening together not unlike “connoisseurs of exotic art” “who put their treasures on display” for others to gaze in awe.

So, what is it that Ingold wishes to do then, to rectify all this? Firstly, going back a bit, to the point about encounters, he (386) argues that there is nothing ethnographic about encounters, in themselves that is. For him (386), encounters are just part of everyday life. People encounter one another. They do stuff together, inasmuch as they do and inasmuch they are competent enough to do what it is that they are supposed to do. Life is full of encounters. That’s it. Taking cues from Deleuze in ‘L’Abécédaire de Gilles Deleuze’, the series of interviews with Claire Parnet, I’d add here that encounters are not even specifically about people. It’s rather that, as Deleuze points out, encounters are not defined by people. We may encounter people, but we also encounter things. Of course this doesn’t mean that we can’t encounter people. I don’t know about others but there’s always something unplanned about encounters. That’s why Deleuze states that he tries to be alert, to be on the lookout for what is then called encounters. I reckon this is what Ingold (384) calls attentiveness.

For example, a month ago or so, on my way home from work, I stopped by at one of the university buildings. I stepped in and sat down. I needed to check something on my laptop so I did. Nothing interesting about this really. There was a woman sitting near me, to my left. I made note of her. I think she was (and likely still is) dark and tall. I think paid attention to her because of her height. I guess the world attracted me to her presence, or so to speak. Right, after I took out my laptop, she glanced at me, to see how I react, I guess, and then she approached me, asking me if it was okay to interview me. It was for some student term paper concerning travel habits, how often one travels and whether it’s travel by car, bus, train etc. I was cool with it. I kind of liked it that she just did that, almost without hesitation. Anyway, this is what I call an encounter. Of course, there are all kinds of encounters. Even reading a book can be an encounter, so don’t go thinking too narrowly about this.

Right, back to Ingold (386) who states that there is nothing inherently ethnographic about encounters. Instead, he (386) argues that ‘ethnographicness’ “is rather a judgment that is cast upon them through a retrospective conversion of the learning, remembering and note-taking which they call forth into pretexts for something else altogether.” To be more specific, the problem for him (386) is that this subsequent judgment is actually a pretext, an ulterior motive for documentary, to turning experience into data, that is there to begin with, before the ethnographer encounters other people and takes part in something in order to experience it. To put it bluntly, as he (386) goes on to explain the issue, the ethnographer is a covert operator, who isn’t sincerely engaging with other people in order to learn from them and, perhaps, to make it possible for them to learn something in return from the ethnographer and/or what possibly emerges from the encounter. To be clear, the problem for him (386) is not simply that the ethnographer double crosses the others as, I reckon, the people involved could be well aware that they are taking part in what is to become a study. It’s rather that this involves what he (386) characterizes as “a temporal distortion that contrives to render the aftermath of our meetings with people as their anterior condition.” In other words, those encounters only happen because the ethnographer needs data. So, again, the problem is not that people are used, even though they sort of are, being turned into data, but rather that the experience itself, what it is that the ethnographer seeks to document, is not genuine because it is not based on a genuine encounter with others whose experience one seeks to gain access to through observation and participation, because the very existence of the said encounter is based on the notion of ethnography, the desire to document the encounter. So, yeah, it involves quite the time warp alright, as Ingold (386) characterizes it.

Ingold (386) turns his attention to what is known as fieldwork. Firstly, he (386) notes that it’s redundant to call it that because the whole world is a field, at least potentially, so, instead of speaking of fieldwork, we could just speak of work. Secondly, he (386) adds that as there is nothing intrinsically ethnographic about encounters with people, there is also nothing intrinsically ethnographic about the fieldwork either. So, for him (386) it would only make sense to just speak of work, not ethnographic fieldwork. All you need is work, work, work is all you need, just as the didn’t Beatles sing. What is work for him then? Well, he (386-387) sure doesn’t hide it. It’s just participant observation, as simple as that. That’s what he endorses. What counts as participant observation then? Well, for him (387), it’s not only, strictly speaking, observing people, but also taking part in their everyday activities. Why? Well, as he (387) goes on to point out, that’s what people do anyway, all the time, during the course of their lives. He (387) acknowledges that, typically, these are seen as two distinct things, incompatible with one another, observation being the, supposedly, objective approach and participation being the subjective approach, but he rejects this split that presumes that either we know about the world (outside) or exist in it (inside). This is actually the beef I have with the distinction between ‘etic’ and ‘emic’ perspectives, which suppose that such a thing exists as being outside the world, merely observing it from without. He (388) explains this quite aptly:

“[P]articipant observation is absolutely not an undercover technique for gathering intelligence on people, on the pretext of learning from them. It is rather a fulfilment, in both letter and deed, of what we owe to the world for our development and formation.”

In other words, what’s out there, what we observe, or, rather, come to observe, inasmuch as we do, is not a matter of us discovering something or uncovering something that we simply didn’t know and subsequently storing it into some great warehouse of memory. Instead, observing is participation in the world which affects who we become. If observation didn’t take place in the world, then what William Labov calls the observer’s paradox (awareness of being observed affects people’s behavior) in his 1972 book ‘Sociolinguistic Patterns’ couldn’t even exist. Just think of it for a moment. If observation is not in the world, how can it have an effect on what is being observed? Anyway, this is why Ingold (388) emphasizes, that for him, participant observation is a matter of education and he’d go as far as replace the buzzword of our times, ethnography, with education because of how it is transformative. That said, he (388) warns not to confuse what he calls education with the system of education, as best exhibited by educational institutions, such as schools. I’ve tried my best not to call it a matter of pedagogy for this reason, because it could easily be understood as something like teachers passing knowledge to students, as a matter of transferring information (objective knowledge). This is not the case. For me, it’s not about learning from but learning with, a matter of exposing people to the world and its variable concurrent paths we can take, as he (389) goes on to characterize it.

Ingold (390) contrasts his views, that of education and of correspondence (the with that I referred to), with ethnography:

“[I]t is the very opposite of ethnography, the descriptive or documentary aims of which impose their own finalities on these trajectories of learning, converting them into data-gathering exercises destined to yield ‘results,’ usually in the form of research papers or monographs.”

With regards to methods, he (390) states that:

“[T]he a posteriori ethnographizing of participant observation undermines both the ontological commitment that it enshrines and its educational purpose.”

This leads him (390) to wonder, are either of these, correspondence, on his side, and the practice of description, on the side of ethnography, methods at all? He (390) answers his own question by wondering what is a method anyway? He (390) likens it to a way of working, so it’s tricky to differentiate between theory and method as both have to do with practice. I agree. I keep being puzzled when I get called the theory guy or the like, as if theory was something that exists in isolation from practice, as if it were a mere matter of picking some template and then applying it, which, is exactly how, according to him (390), it is generally understood in the academic circles, “in the protocols of normal science.” It involves “a sequence of prespecified and regulated steps towards the realization of a determinate goal” which completely ignore the contingency of circumstances and how, as I’ve written in the past, nothing ever ends.

Right, I got carried away there, as did Ingold. So, what about ethnography? Is it a method or does it have a method or methods? He (390) argues that it is not a method but something that has methods, which he doesn’t go on to elaborate. The only thing that I can pull from the relevant paragraph (390-391) is that ethnography should not be a means to an end, serving the purpose of gaining insight into something, gathering data and creating knowledge about the world to be compiled into large volumes and contrasted with one another (remember the earlier point he makes about connoisseurs of exotic art who collect treasure and exhibit them to amaze others). What is the purpose of ethnography then? Well, the way I see it is that it’s about depicting people. That’s it. There is nothing wrong about that, in itself. It’s rather ‘what for’ people do it that matters.

The last thing that Ingold (391-392) addresses is the earlier remark he makes about how, for ethnographers, just about everything is ethnographic, except what happens within the academic world. He (391) specifically addresses the notion of co-creation or co-production of knowledge in this context. The problem for him (392) is not that this is a blind spot that the ethnographers have simply missed and that they should do ethnography about it as well. Instead, it has to do with co-production. He (391) finds it suspicious that “knowledge co-produced with informants is ethnographic” while, for some reason, “knowledge co-produced with students is not.” We can think this in both ways. So, if you conduct a study with someone, typically a colleague but it could also be a student (aka a junior colleague), everyone involved gets credit for it as its authors. Fair play. This is not the case with others. So, when the knowledge is co-produced with non-academics, typically only the researcher, in this case the ethnographer, gets the credit for the study as its author. Not fair play. In Ingold’s (391) words:

“I would challenge those who insist on using the word ethnographic to describe the knowledge that grows from their collaborative engagements (or correspondence) with the people among whom they work, to explain why they would not consider it equally appropriate to describe knowledge that grows from their correspondence with colleagues and students.”

Wait for it, wait for it! Here comes to the best part (391):

“Is it not because, despite all protestations to the contrary, they remain complicit in reproducing a pernicious distinction between those from whom and with whom we learn, respectively inside and outside the academy?”

Oh, snap! This is exactly what puzzles me. Why is it that non-academics are deemed unimportant, despite claiming otherwise? If they are involved in the work, indicated as having co-produced something, why are they treated like second class knowledge producers? Just because they don’t have the right credentials? Right, he (391) keeps on going:

“Surely when we seek an education from great scholars, it is not in order that we can spend the rest of our lives describing or representing their ideas, worldviews, or philosophies.”

Oh Tim! Oh Tim! How naive of you! To be serious, I agree with on this, 100%. That said, academics is rife with the exact opposite, cult of personality and schools of thought. That’s my experience of it anyway. Perhaps anthropology is better in this way. This actually reminds me of a chat I had with a fellow doctoral candidate, some years ago. We had a good laugh, at our own expense, both agreeing that we are totally in the wrong fields, totally out of place, just two busybodies caught up in the niceties of theory and what not. Anyway, Ingold (391-392) explains what we should have instead:

“It is rather to hone our perceptual, moral, and intellectual faculties for the critical tasks that lie ahead.”

Agreed. What you get out of something is what counts, not who it is that came up with this or that. I remember having this great idea, once, on my own, and, oooh, getting to report about it, only to have to attribute to Jacques Derrida, from who I did not get the idea. It’s not that Derrida didn’t come up with the same thing, way before me, good on him, but rather that because I’m a nobody, I surely could not have had such great ideas on my own, so I had to attribute it to him. Again, fair play to him, he probably explains it better than I could and I agree with him on that, so I don’t mind attributing it to him. That said, if he was around, he probably couldn’t stop laughing at the whole thing. I don’t know him, never did, but something tells me he wouldn’t have given a hoot. And I’d be laughing with him. Anyway, so, as summarized by Ingold (392):

“Knowledge is knowledge, wherever it is grown, and just as our purpose in acquiring it within the academy is (or should be) educational rather than ethnographic, so it should be beyond the academy as well.”

To get back to ethnography then, he (392) adds that:

“[E]thnographizing of these ways [doing and knowing], the priority shifts from engagement to reportage, from correspondence to description, from the co-imagining of possible futures to the characterization of what is already past. It is, as it were, to look through the wrong end of the telescope.”

Just as the character of Michael Kelso would put it in ‘That ‘70s Show’: “Oh, burn!” Anyway, do continue. And he does (392):

“Instead of calling on the vision afforded by our education to illuminate and enlarge upon the world, the ethnographer takes his or her sightings from the world in holding up the other’s ways to scrutiny. Who would dare do such a thing to our mentors and peers within the academy? Beyond its walls, however, such treasonable activity is not just routine; we even flag it up as our disciplinary strong point!”

To put it more bluntly, to match it better with the previous sentences, he is calling the ethnographers two-faced, people who supposedly care for the non-academics, the other people, offering them room to have a say, you know, to be inclusive, but all they are after is to profiteer, to further their own careers, to be more known as authors. Okay, you could disagree with that. Then again, as Ingold points out, why is that the co-producers of knowledge are not listed as authors then? You could even interject and ask me why I don’t name others as my co-authors? Well, to be clear, I don’t involve other people, I don’t do ethnography, as I deal with objects (discursive objects, to be specific) and, so far, no one has shown any interest in collaborating with me. That’s why. Also, I don’t really care about what Foucault calls the author function (as I have discussed in my previous essays), which,  I believe, is exactly what’s at stake. I really don’t get to not participate in the function, because, you know, I’m a nobody. On top of that, I continuously have to dodge anonymous criticism, to explain myself, to my supposed peers, why it is that I spend my time engaging in the niceties of theory, do what I do, the way I do, on my own, without any funding, mind you, as opposed to just getting with the program, you know, doing ethnography, like I supposedly should, because, as Stuart McLean (66) puts it in ‘All the Difference in the World: Liminality, Montage, and the Reinvention of Comparative Anthropology’, as published in 2013 in ‘Transcultural Montage’ (edited by Christian Suhr and Rane Willerslev), it has “become the default setting for much current … research and writing” and “the basis for many arguments concerning the discipline’s continued relevance to the understanding of contemporary social processes.” Oh, and yes, I am fully aware that, like Ingold, he (66) is discussing anthropology. It’s just that I can substitute anthropology with it my discipline(s) and the argument still holds. The moniker he (66) gives this trend is “ethnographically oriented particularism”. It’s worth reiterating that I’m not against ethnography, nor am I against particularism, in the sense that I’m, for sure, against universalism. I’ll put McLean (67) to task to explain the issue:

“My quarrel is not with ethnography as such, but rather with what I take to be … increasing tendency to define [the discipline’s / field’s] identity and distinctiveness principally on the basis of its deployment of ethnographic methods.”

The problem is that the discipline, in his case anthropology, risks becoming synonymous with ethnography. McLean doesn’t express it, so I’ll do it for him; ethnography becomes the new dogma. He (67) isn’t fond of the development because he is doubtful as to whether ethnography is capable of grappling with anything beyond the particular contexts, issues that are far greater and far more pressing than issues that pertain to a handful of local co-producers of knowledge. In other words, he (67) is concerned with the possible limitations that come with embracing ‘description of people’, which, to him, “risk[] enshrining a normative empiricism that absolutizes existing actualities as the unchallengeable horizon of what might ‘count’ as reality”, i.e. the “reification of ‘society’ and ‘history’”.

If you think that’s all that Ingold has to say about the issue, well, you are wrong. He addresses these issues again three later, because, apparently … all was achieved last time. I’ll now refer to ‘Anthropology contra ethnography’, as published in 2017, in the same journal as his previous article on this issue. Right, so, what strikes me, already in the abstract is this (21):

“Ethnography aims to describe life as it is lived and experienced, by a people, somewhere, sometime. Anthropology, by contrast, is an inquiry into the conditions and possibilities of human life in the world.”

Now, I don’t claim to be an anthropologist. I’ve never studied it, at least not formally and, as we know, that’s what counts in academics (am I right?). Anyway, for me, this reminds of how the difference between ‘appearance’ and ‘apparition’. The former has to do with the description, what something looks like (and yes, that’s very ocularcentrist of me, I know), whereas the latter has to do with how something came to being, what are its conditions and possibilities to exist, as experienced by us. He (21) also explains what’s at stake, oddly enough in the same way as I did a bit earlier:

“To study anthropology is to study with people, not to make studies of them; such study is not so much ethnographic as educational.”

Why? Well, turning people into data isn’t cool. That’s why. It’s what they call dehumanizing, turning people into mere depictions. To be more specific, he (22) is against ethnographic fieldwork because it “perpetuates the notion” of “wrap[ping] other people’s lives into cases”, “gathering material on people and their lives”, turning them into qualitative data to be analyzed and reported on. To make himself absolute clear, he (22) rephrases this:

“There is something deeply troubling, as we all know, about joining with people, apparently in good faith, only later to turn your back on them so that yours becomes a study of them, and they become a case.”

What we should be doing instead, according to him (23), is “to study with people, not to make studies of them – just as we might study with our teachers at the university.” The difference between this article and his previous article is that in this one he (23-24) explains more clearly that he is not against discussing human life, even speculating on it, assuming he can back up his arguments. However, those are all his arguments, involving his reasoning and his evidence, not something that can be simply validated by involving other people and distilling their views for his benefit, as he (24) points out. Another thing that I reckon he (24) is more specific here is his objection to a certain kind of inclusiveness that coddles people by sympathizing with them because it result in artificial and sanitized accounts. Of course, that does not mean that you should do the opposite either, to be apathetic about their lives. It’s rather that you should treat other people with indifference, give them a fair shake, while being critical at all times. You don’t go throwing people under the bus. No, no. That said, if people say or do what he (24) refers to as awful or abhorrent things, act evasively or simply lie about things, it’s on them and your task is to address it, not to sugar coat it.

The aspects deemed negative that possibly become apparent in people’s behavior should be addressed but going that route certainly leads to a dilemma. It’s standard these days that any involvement of people, those who you consult, anyone besides the researcher(s), must be handled with care and in most cases vetted beforehand. Firstly, people must explicitly consent to participating in research. It must also be made absolutely clear to people what they are participating in and for what purpose. All the details must be made clear to them. This is what is known as the right to self-determination. Secondly, just the processing of personal data is an issue in itself. This is what is known as the right to privacy, inasmuch as it applies, of course, and has to do with data protection. In other words, summarizing these two aspects, you mustn’t deceive people, tell them one thing, that you are looking at this thing, documenting them for this or that purpose, while doing another thing, looking at another thing and documenting them for another purpose. Now, this is, by no means, not a bad thing, in itself. Thirdly, research shouldn’t cause harm to people. Again, fair play, not a bad thing, in itself. However, this third aspect can become an issue if we reckon that anything that people say or do could be deemed harmful to them, exposing them to harm of any kind, including indirect harm, such as subsequent harm to their reputation in the eyes of others. By all logic, it is against the interests of others to look bad because … well it will simply reflect badly on them, i.e. harming them.

I’ve talked with others about this issue, how they deal with this and they wonder the same thing. Now, I don’t deal with people, so it doesn’t concern me. I am rather post-human in this regard, if you will, and, perhaps, to some, perversely fascinated with things rather than people. I am, nonetheless, interested in how this works because of my journalistic side hustles (that have nothing to do with my academic work). So, what if you want to be critical? What if you want to address this or that thing about the people involved, something that will, undoubtedly, cast them in negative light. Those who study social media are quite familiar with this issue. Right, the point is not to harm people but what if people put themselves in precarious positions by holding this or that view or position, by expressing something uncomfortable, disagreeable, awful or disagreeable? Ingold (24) argues that:

“Our task, then, is not to mask this abhorrence with a veil of sympathy, or present an artificially sanitized account of their words and deeds, but directly to take issue with them.”

Because, according to him (24):

“For in addressing the reasons why we feel as we do, we can grow in wisdom ourselves, and add strength and rigor to our own arguments.”

I agree. We should not coddle people. Sure, we should not lead them on, make them look bad on purpose. That said, by taking issue with them, addressing what they say or do, may well be against their best interest and thus even be harmful to them. This may have actual consequences.

To get somewhere with this, while I acknowledge that I don’t know enough about ‘ethnographic studies’, if I may use that moniker here, I get the feeling that the studies that emphasize inclusiveness, the insider perspectives, aren’t what one might dub as critical studies, probably because it’s a tough combo, first claiming to be inclusive, approaching people, telling them that they get to have a say, followed by, possibly, hacking them into pieces for what they’ve said or done.

You may feel to urge to point out here that they only have it coming if people say or do something ‘dumb’, or so to speak. Then again, remember that to be one of the good guys, you should make it clear that anything that people say or do, on the record, can be used against them, if that happens to be the case. If you tell people that you are not afraid to disagree with them, to present them negatively if that is warranted, then that will obviously affect their behavior. They’ll put in extra effort to make sure that they don’t look bad. In summary, this may risk providing “artificially sanitized account[s] of their words and deeds”, as expressed by Ingold (24).

For example, the research conducted on American suburban communities by James and Nancy Duncan could be characterized as long-term ethnographic research, as they (238) themselves point out in a book chapter titled ‘Doing Landscape Interpretation’, as included in 2010 ‘The SAGE Handbook of Qualitative Geography’ (edited by Dydia DeLyser, Steve Herbert, Stuart Aitken, Mike Crang and Linda McDowell). That said, I haven’t noticed them use that label in their own work. It certainly isn’t used in the book they refer to. At least I can’t find them using it in their 2004 book ‘Landscapes of Privilege: The Politics of the Aesthetic in an American Suburb’. Anyway, my point is that they have studied a certain community, the town of Bedford in the state of New York, ever since the 1970s and they sure didn’t go easy on the locals. Already in the acknowledgments section of their book they (xv) note that while they are indebted to the willing participation of the locals, the locals may not find the book to contain “the flattering portrait they have come to expect from those who write about the town”. Also, they (1) indicate in the introduction that they remember how back in the day, in the early 1990s, they we going through the town archives, looking up something pertaining to zoning, when they ran into a local who made snarky remarks about the presence in the town: “‘So you are back, are you? What are you finding we’ve done wring this time?’” The gist of the issue is that they were outsiders, nosing around, meddling in their business, bringing up matters the affluent local townspeople didn’t want to be discussed, for example, how landscape is appealed to in zoning in order to keep less affluent people from moving to the area, as discussed in James Duncan’s 1973 article ‘Landscape Taste as a Symbol of Group Identity: A Westchester County Village’ that appeared in Geographical Review. They (3) make another remark about the reception of the inquiries, noting that their “book will be scrutinized by some residents anxious to see whose ox is being gored.”

There’s no doubt that the Duncans caused harm to the local townspeople with their studies. People ended up looking pretty bad, hence the somewhat unwelcoming attitude shown towards them when they returned to the town after their initial study published in the early 1970s. Now, if people can’t be involved, asked to participate, without guaranteeing that no harm be done to them, we simply could not read about how the Duncans (3-4) noticed “the role that aesthetics plays in the production of place and of identities”, leading to social exclusion of people deemed as threats to the local identity and way of life.

They (3-4) argue that they “have no stake in the various status battles in town” as their “commitment is to describing in [their] own words, and in those of informants” the way landscape is utilized in the production and reproduction of ideal settings and identities, “while commenting on the wider social consequences of such aesthecitized view of the world.” In other words, they are not out to get the locals, but if it happens to be the case that the views expressed by the locals end up working against them, then that’s simply too bad for them. They (239) are reiterate this in the 2010 book chapter:

“The difference between us and many of our informants is that we do not have a personal stake in maintaining the landscape; on the contrary, we have an interest in exposing the inequities brought about by its maintenance. It is this difference of standpoint that led us to investigate the history of the landscape, in particular the political struggles that have produced it with an eye to tracing the effects the maintenance of the landscape has on potential residents who are excluded.”

Now, the thing is people may well end up working against their own best interest, as they (239) point:

“[W]e encountered many interviewees who, in our opinion, fail to see the structural biases.”

Of course, how aware people are of these issues depends. Some are more aware of their own position in all of this than others, as the Duncans (239) go on to add. It just tends to be the case that those whose interests are being served happen to be more aware of how this works in their favor than those whose interests aren’t being served, which is exactly why they’d rather not have other people, like some pesky researchers, look into things, as the Duncans (239) point out. In their (239) words, the people who benefit from all this “have no reason to trace the far reaching, unintended consequences and unacknowledged conditions of that privilege.” That’s why they (239) argue that, strictly speaking, their research is not about the landscape, but about investigating the underlying socio-political relations that are inextricably linked to the landscape but not visible in the landscape. They (239) indicate that they utilize ethnography, that is to say observation and participation, and archival research, i.e. going through all kinds of records, and then, most importantly, utilizing discourse analysis to go through all this material. To put this in the terms proposed by Pike (37), they are fine with including insider views but they don’t take their word for granted and thus there is always a healthy dose of distrust of people involved.

To be honest, I’m not sure that what the Duncans call ethnography would count as what Ingold considers ethnography. They do interview people but that’s probably not enough to call it ethnography. As I already pointed out, they don’t actually even call their work ethnography in their prior publications. I don’t know why they do that here. Anyway, the Duncans (240) do discuss what one might then call proper ethnography (if we argue that their modus operandi doesn’t count as such), in the sense that it doesn’t merely consist of semi-structured interviews, involvement of focus groups and short term fieldwork but of co-performances, co-creations or co-productions. However, while they are not entirely dismissed, as such, they (240) are puzzled by the lack of potential impact, except the handful of people directly involved. In other words, they are troubled by the lack of critical stance in such research.

Right, moving on, back to Ingold’s 2017 article, in which he (21) quickly reprises the central issue of his 2014 article and what is also expressed by McLean, arguing that the issue is not with ethnography, as such, but rather with the way it has become “be-all and end-all”, as if, pardon my French, everything else was shit. I reckon this has a lot to do with what he (25) goes on to refer to as “universities succumbing to corporate neoliberalism”. How so? Well, while I reckon it’s not a new phenomenon, as such, as there has always been schools of though, dogmatism, gerrymandering and what not, the way publishing is not only incentivized but also used as a measure of performance for both the academics and the universities certainly isn’t helping. It totally makes sense to go with the latest trend, whatever that may be, and spew out case studies on this and/or that that involve the least amount of effort possible. Of course, this is, by no means, unique to ethnography. It just happens to be that ethnography is one of the current hip things to do at the moment, or at least claim to be doing anyway. It’s all about efficiency, min/maxing, getting the most output with the least input. Going with the flow, not thinking for yourself and not asking ‘unnecessary’ questions about the way things work helps a lot with that. Friction is bad for efficiency.

Ingold (24) is also critical of moving the goals posts, going from what ethnography is, by dictionary definition, to attempt to eclipse it by presenting it as taking place during co-performance, co-creation or co-production. In his words (24):

“For example, while ethnography combines very well with art history, attempts to combine ethnography with art practice generally lead to bad art and bad ethnography, compromising not only the ethnographer’s commitment to descriptive fidelity but also art’s experimental and interventionist interrogation.”

This is actually something I’ve wondered. Ingold just puts it to words, better than I think I could have done. If you want to do art, be an artist. You don’t need anything else. The art speaks for itself, be it a painting, a composition, a poem or a dance performance. The Duncans (240-241) comment on this in their 2010 book chapter, noting that because of the non-representativeness of such practices, in the sense that art is about creation/presentation, not about re-creation/re-presentation (mimesis), they can’t be put into words, which leads to difficult methodological challenges. They (240-241) try to grasp how one might pull that off, only indicate that they have no idea how one might be able to do that. For me, the best thing you can do is to turn this into a matter of education, as proposed by Ingold. Of course, that will then render the ethnography, the subsequent report, pointless. For me that’s just fine. I’d be more than glad if I could lend my expertise to others so that they could benefit from it, to the point that my expertise becomes redundant. That’d be most grand.

I realize that Ingold is just one person and, by no means, the arbiter of truth (nor is anyone else, for that matter). It’s worth reiterating that, as he points out in his articles, he isn’t fond of ethnography. There’s that. Those interested in another take on the issue, those wanting to go through the various definitions of what is ethnography, can, for example, look up ‘Ethnography Beyond Method: The Importance of an Ethnographic Sensibility’ by Carole McGranahan, as published in SITES: New Series in 2018, or ‘What is ethnography? Can it survive? Should it?’, a 2018 article by Martyn Hammersley, as published in Ethnography and Education. I’ll take a closer look at the Hammersley article.

Hammersley (3-4) lists all kinds of definitions, some more on the humorous side, poking fun at their expense, others more serious. Many of the definitions covered are in line what has already been discussed in this essay. It’s not worth it, going through all of them, one by one here, so I’ll explore his summary instead. He (4) summarizes that ethnography is “holistic in focus” and consists of “relatively long-term data collection”, a process which takes place “in naturally occurring settings”, involving “participant observation”, or, generally speaking, personal engagement, yielding different types of data, with particular emphasis on culture, “the significance of the meanings people give to objects … [and subjects] …, including themselves, in the course of their activities”. To use the terms employed by Pike (37), ethnography emphasizes the ‘emic’ perspective, seeking to collect insider knowledge. Now, this makes it seem like this is all there is to this, which is, of course, not the case. Hammersley (5-6) goes on to problematize his own summary, noting that there’s plenty of disagreement between people who call themselves ethnographers, even more so contemporarily than in the past because, as Ingold points out in his 2014 article, ethnography has extended to everything, even to the corporate world. Well, yeah, that’s capitalism for you alright. Only makes sense for that to have happened, probably to the horror of many ethnographers who are devoted to ethnography for its commitments to certain values and “challenging inequality”, as pointed out by Hammersley (6-7).

It’s worth noting that, as stated by Hammersley (4), ethnography emphasizes inclusiveness, what Pike (37) calls the importance of the ‘emic’ perspective. However, Hammersley (8) points out that much of ethnography actually involves what might be considered ‘etic’, in the form of detached participant observation. He (8) lists the pros of participant observation. Firstly, it’s likely more accurate than relying on people’s own accounts, not only because people may lie (not necessary just because or out of habit but because it might be in their best interest to do so) but because people are to certain extent unaware of their surroundings and their own behavior. Secondly, the involvement of the researcher affects the setting (more like a lab setting), making it unnatural (making people do things they don’t do in their everyday life). This not the case when the observer is not involved. So, contrary to what McGranahan (5) claims, the presence of an ‘outsider’ makes the situation unlike “the actual conditions of life.” Thirdly, the observer may gain insight to what may not become apparent in formal interviews. At this point I have to point, however, that this assumes that the presence of the observer doesn’t affect people behavior, which, it does, at least if we are to believe Labov. The only way to get around the issue is to be covert, to study people without them being aware of being observed. However, yeah, good luck with that research proposal. My take is that, unless you can do that, literally spy on people, detached participant observation is pointless.

Hammersley (8-9) lists how these three assumptions about the pros of detached participant observation have been challenged by ethnographers. The first one I’m not so convinced by, how the value of outsider knowledge is challenged on the basis of that there are multiple perspectives. I reckon that the problem with this is that by asserting that it’s not correct that the outsider perspective is superior to the insider perspectives because it’s only one perspective among many, it treats all perspectives as unique and thus equally valuable, and, also, comes across as treating the outsider perspective as inferior to the insider perspectives. I reckon this is why McLean (66) calls the issue ethnographically oriented particularism. Anyway, for me, what’s problematic here is the underlying presupposition, the prephilosophical intuition, that upholds the primacy of the subject, granting it full autonomy and individuality. As I’ve elaborated in this essay and in many of my previous essays, I hold the opposite position, so, for me, no, all perspectives are not unique and therefore also not equal or, rather, equally interesting. As explained by Deleuze during his ‘Cours Vincennes’ lectures, dated April 29, 1980 (translation by Charles Stivale):

“Above all, we’ve always asked what in thought was true, what was false. But you know, in thought, it’s not the true and the false that count[.]”

Instead, according to Deleuze, what we should be thinking, what should count, is whether something is ordinary or whether it’s interesting. In ‘What Is Philosophy? (1994 translation by Hugh Tomlinson and Graham Burchell) he writes with Guattari (82-83) that what we aren’t to be inspired by truth but by what is interesting, remarkable or important:

“We will not say of many books of philosophy that they are false, for that is to say nothing, but rather that they lack importance or interest[.]”

Now, I reckon that this applies outside philosophy as well, as they (83) go on to point out. It’s also worth noting that what’s interesting should not be thought as what is good, as opposed to bad or evil, as clarified by the two (83). Instead, they (83) state what is interesting can well be what one might consider to be bad or evil, i.e. negative, including something that is considered repulsive or disgusting. There’s also an interesting passage in Deleuze’s ‘Mediators’, as included in ‘Negotiations’ (1995 translation by Martin Joughin) where he addresses the issue in relation to literature and music. He (128) laments the bestseller and the chart hits trends which conflate the popular with the interesting and turn what’s considered daring, scandalous or strange into something predictable in order for them to become popular. The central problem for him is that when everything is just more of the same, it’s very hard to even notice that you missing anything. I’m amused by the way he (128) characterizes the issue:

“Literature becomes a game show.”

Contained in the same passage, I’m also amused by the way he (128-129) characterizes what has happened to TV, way, way before reality TV, mind you:

“It’s rather worrying that there’s an enthusiastic audience that thinks it’s watching some cultural activity when it sees two men competing to make up a word with nine letters.”

Followed by his (129) equally humorous remark about radio and television (I bet he’d love the internet!):

“Radio and television have spread this spirit everywhere, and we’re riddled with pointless talk, insane quantities of words and images. Stupidity’s never blind or mute.”

But to get somewhere with this, to tie this with the topic at hand, wondering whether asking others for their view is what we should doing, Deleuze (129-130) has something interesting to say about it:

“You can’t just tell someone what they’re saying is pointless. So you tell them it’s wrong. But what someone says is never wrong, the problem isn’t that some things are wrong, but that they’re stupid or irrelevant. That they’ve already been said a thousand times. The notions of relevance, necessity, the point of something, are a thousand times more significant than the notion of truth.”

Indeed, it’s not that all perspectives aren’t important, in their own right, that they aren’t right, in some sense, but rather that they are not equally relevant or interesting. This is actually what I find problematic with academics. There’s plenty of work done, but there’s seems to be very little interesting work done. It’s mainly just more of the same, unimaginative, work, one-off studies done with a template. This also reminds me of comments like: why don’t you base your work on the latest literature? Well, because, the date, when something was written or published tells me nothing about the quality of the work, whether it’s relevant, nor whether it’s interesting. It just often happens to be that something written decades ago, by people with a typewriter and access to a library, is way better, way more interesting than what people manage to do with a computer and having immediate access to almost anything they could think of. Then there are the people who just had a pen, a quill, or the like … Funny how that is.

Back to the three assumptions listed by Hammersley (8-9), the second one is covered by the observer’s paradox so I won’t explain that further. The third one I can relate to, how what we are after is not what something is, as such, but what the conditions for it to become a thing are. Hammersley (9) points to Paul Atkinson (92) who addresses this in his 2015 book ‘For Ethnography’:

“[D]espite the apparent emphasis on participant observation, even research that calls itself ethnographic depends rather little on either participation or observation. Instead, what is attended to is conversational material collected in the field.”

In other words, as he (92) points out, when we deal with language, it is never simply descriptive. It’s always interpretative because language is not merely a matter passing information about the reality, as such, from one person to another. As I keep pointing out in my essays, words only refer to other words, not actual things in the world. Vološinov (11) is keen to point this out:

“The understanding of a sign is, after all, act of reference between the sign apprehended and other, already known signs; in other words, understanding is a response to a sign with signs.”

Or, as expressed by Derrida (354) in ‘Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences’ (1978 translation by Richard Macksey and Alan Bass), as published in ‘Writing and Difference’ (pagination here from the 2005 edition):

“The absence of the transcendental signified extends the domain and the play of signification infinitely.”

Or, as expressed by Deleuze and Guattari (112) in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’:

“[E]very sign refers to another sign, and only to another sign, ad infinitum.”

Which is why they (112) don’t find the concept of sign at all useful:

“[W]hat is retained is not principally the sign’s relation to a state of things it designates, or to an entity it signifies, but only the formal relation of sign to sign insofar as it defines a so-called signifying chain.”

So, what we have instead is an endless chain of signification. However, it’s worth pointing out that this doesn’t mean that there is no outside, no reality outside language. It’s rather that, as expressed by Derrida (158) in ‘Of Grammatology’ (1974 translation by Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak), language itself is stuck in language, going in circles. Anyway, this all relates to Atkinson’s (92) statement about how ethnography operates through language. That’s why Derrida’s (351) quote of Michel de Montaigne is ‘Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences’ particularly apt:

“We need to interpret interpretations more than to interpret things.”

This summarizes the problem well. When we quietly observe something, we interpret what happens. That’s our interpretation of things or states of affairs. When we engage with others, talk with them, in hopes to understand how they interpret the world, we must interpret their interpretation of the world. On top of that, when we subsequently present our interpretation of their interpretation to others, others must interpret our interpretation, which is, of course, of yet another interpretation of an intepretation.

Vološinov (36, 87-88) explains this issue particularly well. It’s impossible to explain one’s experience because no experience can be expressed to others without being mediated by language. As aptly expressed by him (36), “[a] sign can be illuminated only with the help of another sign.” This is why, for me, trying to understand the experience of others, i.e. the ‘emic’ perspective, is a pointless endeavor. To my understanding, there is no way for me, or for anyone else, to access someone else’s experiences. I can access my own experiences (it just happens, intuitively), but like any experiences, I cannot put them into words without altering them. I can’t even explain my own experiences to myself. What I mean is that my thoughts of my experiences are not the experiences themselves. It’s actually even stranger than that as all human experience is collective, what Vološinov calls ‘we-experience’, so what we experience, before we even attempt to put our experiences into words, is colored by language, our prior interactions with others. Anyway, this is why I recommend that people try things themselves rather than observe others doing something, ask someone else what something is like or read about other people’s experiences. Just do it, as famously proposed by a multinational corporation best known for its footwear. But don’t do it in order to report on it. Just do it. Simple as that.

I realize that this stands against ethnography, as discussed by Ingold, but that’s the point exactly. I’m not bothered by this because I am under no illusion that such approach, what is dubbed as ethnography, could ever work, at least not the way it is typically presented as inclusive, seeking to go beyond one’s own point of view, to understand the points of views of others. To be fair, it’s not that ethnography itself, that is to say writing about people, depicting their lives, is, itself, useless. It’s rather that, as expressed by Hammersley (10), it should not be considered the gold standard of social research, the only legitimate approach. It certainly has its strengths but it also has its weaknesses. I don’t know about others but I keep being told how great it is, what its strengths are, while the weaknesses hardly ever get mentioned.

I guess it’s time to return to the article by Szabó and Troyer. Do they manage to escape the issues pertaining to ethnography discussed in this essay? Well, in my opinion, no, they don’t. Why? Well, for starters, ethnography is presented as avenue for investigating the ‘emic’ understandings. The problem with this is that it ignores the central issue of temporal distortion brought up by Ingold. To be more specific, as expressed by Ingold (386) in his 2014 article, the problem is that what is, the encounter under investigation, only comes to being under the condition of what will follow, the report. It’s worth emphasizing that, the way I’d put it, this is not about an actual report but about the desire to report that creates the time warp. In other words, the encounters only come about because of that desire. To put it bluntly, in summary, this is a matter of a false premise (proton pseudos), which, despite the sound intermediate reasoning, ends up yielding false conclusions. Now, of course, you can object to that, that it isn’t a false premise, feel free to do that, but do address the premise, explain how it is that there’s there isn’t this time warp involved. Also, as discussed by Deleuze, with Parnet, encounters are something that happen, by chance. You can’t create an encounter. You can only be on the lookout for them but even then you can’t make them happen. Being on the lookout is aimless, very open ended, haphazard, and thus hardly conductive for research. That’s life for you.

There’s also the topic relevant issue of what are the sense of limits (the sense of reality) of those whose perspective we are invited to take into account, as opposed to the expert view of the researcher. James Duncan addresses this issue in his 1978 book chapter ‘The Social Construction of Unreality: An Interactionist Approach to the Tourist’s Cognition of Environment’, as included in the 1978 publication ‘Humanistic Geography’ (edited by David Ley and Marwyn Samuels). He (280) calls it naive humanism to even propose that we can somehow access the experiences of others and states that it makes no difference how hard we try. Now, I reckon that may seem a bit dismissive. So, to be more productive, he (280) rephrases the central issue:

“[J]ust as the stranger, because he is a stranger, can never truly see the world as the native does, so the academic will never recreate the consciousness of those he studies. As Bourdieu state, the very fact that the academic questions the taken-for-granted world of a group [e]nsures that he will never truly experience the world as its members do.”

In other words, by having gone beyond the sense of limits (sense of reality) of those whose perspectives we seek to taken into account, we have become unable to see, to understand the world as they do and there is no way going back. To make more sense of this, if you wish to do so, or just fail to grasp how this works, Duncan (271) explains this in Marxist terms, through the concepts of reification, alienation and ‘false consciousness’. To be brief, they all have to do with how we come to take the world for granted, as a matter of how everything just is. In his (271) words:

Reification refers to the process by which man produces a world both of abstractions – that is, ideas, values, norms of conduct – and of real concrete objects, which, although they are his own product, he nevertheless permits to dominate him as objective unchanging faculties.”

Now, I could have provided you some definition of this by Marx. However, as I’ve done that in the past and I happen to quite like how Duncan manages to explain the concept, so I won’t do that (I’m sure you can do that yourself though, if it bothers you). He (271) continues:

Alienation refers to the fact that man forgets that this world is his own product, thus allowing it to act back on him. By reifying the world as he has produced it, by forgetting that it was he who gave it a ‘life of its own,’ and by allowing it to have a power over him, man becomes alienated.”

Again, I just love his explanation of this concept. Sure, we might not want to think of humans in terms of them being men, but otherwise this is very well put. Anyway, this results in ‘false consciousness’, taking things for granted, assuming that how things are is your best interests, which isn’t the case. That’s why it’s called ‘false’ consciousness, not just consciousness. The point is by taking things for granted, not questioning the existing state of affairs you risk serving not your on interests but someone else’s interests while thinking you are serving your own interests. Of course, if you were to be serious about this, to explain this properly, you’d engage with, for example, Karl Marx, György Lukács and Antonio Gramsci, rather than explaining this in passing. However, I quite like how Bourdieu and Foucault explain this, as already discussed in this essay.

Stephen Daniels (196) explains the issue pertaining to the sense of limits (sense of reality) with regards to landscape in ‘Marxism, culture, and the duplicity of landscape’, a chapter included in ‘New Models of Human Geography: Volume II’ published in 1989 (edited by Richard Peet and Nigel Thrift):

“Landscape … does not easily accommodate political notions of power and conflict, indeed it tends to dissolve or conceal them; as a consequence the very idea of landscape has been brought into question[.]”

To put this more briefly, this is what is known as the duplicity of landscape. To explain this in the Marxist terms just elaborated, landscape involves reification, alienation and ‘false consciousness’. Landscape is an invention, a very specific one, as I’ve discussed in many of my previous essays. W.J.T. Mitchell explains this in the added ‘Preface to the Second Edition of Landscape and Power: Space, Place and Landscape’ published in 2002, when he (viii) argues that landscape involves an invitation, “to look at nothing – or more precisely, to look at looking itself – to engage in a kind of conscious apperception of space as it unfolds itself in a particular place.” That said, just about no one thinks of it as such, as an invention. As stated by Peirce Lewis (11) in ‘Axioms for Reading the Landscape Some Guides to the American Scene’, as included in ‘The Interpretation of Ordinary Landscapes: Geographical Essays’ published in 1979 (edited by Donald Meinig), the central problem is that, for the many, landscape just is. Mitchell (5) makes the same observation in his book, noting that “[l]ike life, landscape is boring”, only to add that “we must not say so.” Why? Well, because, again, explaining this in Marxist terms, landscape involves not only reification, but also alienation. So, it’s not only that we conflate landscape with reality itself, take it as objective, but also that we’ve forgot that it’s our own invention, which then gives it a life of its own, if you will, and makes us susceptible to its influence. The problem with all this is that, as he (5) points out, landscape is a medium, “good for nothing in itself, but expressive of potentially limitless reserve value.” So, not only do we take how the world appears to us for granted, having forgotten about how that came to be, and, as a result, are susceptible to its influence, but it may not also serve our best interests but someone else’s. That’s why one could argue that it has to do with ‘false consciousness’.

Right, landscape is actually important and highly interesting, not because it is interesting, in itself, but because, for the many, it isn’t. Be as it may, Daniels (197) does not, however, recommend abandoning the concept:

“This will involve … emphasizing observation, … emphasizing the importance of education, reinstating the biophysical world, and … reinstating the idea of landscape, not despite its difficulty as a comprehensive or reliable concept, but because of it.”

Indeed, ignoring the issue won’t make it go away. Saying ‘la-la-la, I can’t hear you’ loudly with your fingers in your ears, as if the issue didn’t exist won’t do any good. Because it’s there, you need to tackle it, head on, which I do, to much chagrin of some of my peers who either just don’t get it or just can’t be bothered to look into the issue themselves, probably because, well, that’s a lot of work. I mean, I reckon landscape is one of the toughest concepts to fathom, so I totally understand why you would just opt to ignore it. Ignoring it saves you from a lot of headache. It’s also a massive time vampire. Of course, if you ask me, that’s just a cop out.

So, the problem with including local participants, asking them to address various features in the landscape, is that by making them engage with the landscape and its features, they become more aware of what’s at stake. In other words, the researcher ends up altering their sense of limits (sense of reality), to match his or her own sense of limits (sense of reality). Therefore, the researcher ends up seeing him- or herself in the others, thus only reinforcing his or her own views, and risks providing expert accounts in the guise of lay accounts. This is a problem undermines the various walking methods that seek to push people to engage with the landscape, including those discussed by Szabó and Troyer in their article. Of course, this doesn’t mean that locals aren’t worth dealing with. I reckon you just have to be careful about it, not to make them directly engage with the landscape or its features but rather prod them about their attitudes, as done by, for example, the Duncans.

Now, it is possible to argue that the intention of the ethnographer, as presented by Szabó and Troyer (308), is not to investigate the current state of affairs, how things are, but rather to co-create, to co-produce, to transform the state of affairs during the encounters. Fair play. As they (308) point out, it’s not about how things are, but how they could be. In other words, the purpose is to make people more aware about their surroundings, their possibility to impact them and, perhaps, even encourage people to more engagement with their surroundings. I think this is all great and in line with what Ingold promotes. It’s also hard to blame them for not looking at how things are because the focus is clearly completely different. It’s like comparing apples and oranges. I’m fine with some people looking at apples while others look at oranges. This is not their fault, by no means, but the problem for me is, however, when those who wish to study the present state of affairs get criticized for not doing something else, like ethnography. It annoys me that I get criticized for not focusing on apples when I’m looking at oranges. As the purpose is completely different, the only thing that I can fault those who engage in ethnography, as presented by Szabó and Troyer, is not crediting their co-creators / co-producers as authors. If you don’t do that, then I reckon you go against the inclusiveness that you promote by retaining the distinction between the academics and the non-academic, the experts and the lay people.

As the lead author, Szabó (312) exemplifies ethnography as presented in the co-authored article with Troyer with his own work, indicating that, in his project, ethnography is not to be understood as a “method but rather ‘ontological commitment to the people with whom we work, providing a framework which enables voice to be made audible’”. This is in reference to Jessica Bradley’s 2016 working paper in ‘Translanguaging and Translation’ titled ‘Liquid Methodologies: using a linguistic ethnographic approach to study multilingual phenomena’. Earlier on in the same paper, Bradley (3) expresses the same thing in the form of a question: “How can we consider and demonstrate our ontological commitment to the people with whom we are working?” She (3) presents this right after having indicated that she has read Ingold’s 2014 article that is highly critical about not only “so-called ethnographic methods” but, as I’d put it, about ethnography as an endeavor. Perhaps it is just me, my reading of that article, but Ingold is very clearly against turning the people we engage with into studies, which is exactly what ethnographers do, thus retaining the distinction between experts and the lay people, no matter how it is presented as a co-creation / co-production, as the others are not deemed worthy of being indicated as co-authors. If we want to people to be treated fairly, I reckon we should start by treating those involved as equals, worth equal recognition for their involvement.

To their credit, this is actually something that Szabó and Troyer (314) explicitly address when they point out that they regard the locals involved as local experts and acknowledge they could have been named rather than anonymized. That said, the way this is expressed (314) doesn’t make it clear whether they would have treated the locals as co-authors or just named them in acknowledgments. There’s a major difference between the two in terms of the author function, the former meaning actual credit, the latter meaning no credit, so this leaves a lot to be desired. I reckon the latter is the case, judging by their reference to another study by Keri Facer and Bryony Enright, ‘Creating Living Knowledge: The Connected Communities Programme, community-university partnerships and the participatory turn in the production of knowledge’ published in 2016. Facer and Enright indicate in the acknowledgments section of the study that the “report is not simply a product of two people”, followed by going through all the people wo contributed to their report. Okay. Now, the problem with this solution is that despite the emphasis on co-production, i.e. everyone being considered as equals, two people are, to paraphrase George Orwell’s ‘Animal Farm’, considered more equal than others.

Moving on to the discussion part of the article, while I can understand why Szabó and Troyer (320) might point this out, as there’s something to it, I don’t agree with their statement that addressing what’s in the landscape, what they call representational corpora consisting of various written and/or audiovisual data (in any shape or form), result in static representations any more than what they propose. I mean, all documentaries, all reports, all studies are mere representations of what was, as interpreted in what is, the present. This is certainly the case with their article, just as it is with my essay (you’ll read this in what will be, future, after I’ve written this, albeit always in the present). Only what is present, right here, right now, , as you read this, is what they (320) call “dynamic, fluid and ever-changing.” I’ll leave to St. Augustine (243) to explain this:

“[T]ime is only in that it tends towards not-being.”

So, as explained by St. Augustine in ‘Confessions’ (2006 edition, edited by Michael Foley, translated by Francis Joseph Sheed), the only thing that matters is the present because only the present is. The past never is because only the present is. The past only exist in the present, so, it doesn’t exist in itself. It’s the same in with future. The future is yet to exist, so it can only exist in the present. In other words, as explained by Deleuze (76) in ‘Difference and Repetition’ (1994 translation by Paul Patton):

“It is not that the present is a dimension of time: the present alone exists.”

So, what we have is a synthesis of time, as Deleuze (76) goes on to explain:

“The synthesis of time constitutes the present in time. … [S]ynthesis constitutes time as a living present, and the past and the future as dimensions of this present.”

What I’m after is that only what exists in the present matters. For me, this is exactly why Ingold wants us to embrace learning with people, as opposed to learning from people. Anyway, it’s obvious to me that the world is in a flux. It wouldn’t otherwise change. I don’t think we need ethnography to realize this. I’m pretty sure this is not a new thing either. I mean, Heraclitus, as wrong as he may have been about this and/or that, figured this out and it’s well known that he raved about this some 2500 years ago. Of course, this doesn’t mean that just because what was no longer is we should simply abandon representational practices, no matter the mode, be it writing, drawing, photography, videography or the like. The great thing about the past is that it persist in the present, inasmuch it does, of course. It’s what allows you to read this, assuming you can decipher this, whenever it is that you read this. What does it tell you, what you make of it, whatever it happens to be, is what matters. Sure, people are in the habit of conceiving the world as static, thanks to the general subscription to transcendence, but that’s exactly why I approach the world critically, not unlike the Duncans. I do that so that it would become apparent to people how that’s not necessarily in their interest, so that we could move on, to live our lives, as advocated by Ingold. What I’m interested in is asking myself the question posed by Deleuze and Guattari (194) in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’ in reference to F. Scott Fitzgerald: “Whatever could have happened for things to have come to this?” For me, this is all about being a nomad, a minoritarian, attacking the system from the inside, with the very weapons of those who you oppose, or so to speak, as Deleuze and Guattari might put it.

In summary, I’m not against ethnography, in itself. Similarly to Ingold (21) in his 2017 article, what I don’t agree with is how ethnography is presented as “be-all and end-all”. I don’t like how it is presented as a superior form of research. For example, I think the intermediate reasoning, the actual study part included in the article by Szabó and Troyer is just fine. Clearly a lot of effort went into it. That’s not to say that the more hours you pour into something the better it becomes, obviously not, but rather that their article is not one those studies that you come across, read, and think to yourself, is this all there is to this? That said, what I don’t agree with is the premise. I don’t think ethnography works well with the study of landscapes, at least not in sense it is typically presented. That’s because, for me, it lacks critical bite. It doesn’t allow me to do what I’m after. It completely ignores how people come to make sense of the world, their sense of limits (sense of reality), which then leads to all kinds of issues that I’ve gone through in this essay and also in many of my previous essays. Then again, I acknowledge that while the premise is not suitable for my purposes, what I’m after, it may well be suitable for other purposes, such as educational purposes, making people more aware of their surroundings, which I think is great! That said, I agree with Ingold on that I’m not exactly sure why that requires any publications. Education, learning with people, is valuable in itself and, arguably, all that is needed.

All your base are belong to us

I keep running into landscape, I reckon, on almost daily basis in some news outlet. It’s hardly all there is to news, but keeps cropping up, as I’ve mentioned at times in my essays that have focused on its visuality. It was late last month, February 20 to be specific, that I came across a newspaper story that exemplifies the core issue with landscape, how it is a conservative and bourgeoisie way of seeing, as defined by Denis Cosgrove in his 1985 article ‘Perspective and the Evolution of the Landscape Idea’ published in Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. It’s also evident from the text that it is a medium, “good for nothing in itself, but expressive of a potentially limitless reserve value”, as defined by W.J.T. Mitchell (5) in his 1994 book ‘Landscape and Power’.

What I’m looking at here, in this essay, is a text or a bundle of texts attributed to Jari Heino, as published in Turun Sanomat (a local newspaper) on February 20, 2019. The title of the main text is ‘Kauppaopiston naapurit ovat nyreissään’. It translates to something along the lines of the ‘The neighbors of the trade school are upset’. The title of the additional text is ‘“Korttelin sisäalueet jäävät väljiksi”’ It translates to something like ‘The courtyard will remain open”. The online version has slightly different title: ‘Kauppaopiston naapureilla huoli miljööstään – seitsemän asuntoyhtiötä vastustaa korkean pihasiiven rakentamista’. That is something like ‘The neighbors of the trade school are concerned about their milieu – seven housing associations object to the plans to build a tall building’.

The gist of the story is that there are these residential buildings. They are five to six story buildings, by the looks of it. They form a U-shaped unit, with an open courtyard. The other end has no tall building facing it. As the buildings are on a hill, the current building in that other end is located downhill, so the wing of the school building that protrudes towards the yard in that end does not obstruct vision from the other end where one of the residential buildings is located. The school that caters to high school aged students, providing education useful in business and administration related jobs, is scheduled to relocated to another building that is currently vacant. The current building will be demolished and a new mixed use (residential and business) building is planned to take its place. What bothers the local residents of the surrounding buildings is the protruding wing of the new building that is supposed to be taller than the wing in the existing building. Simply put, the gist of the issue is that the other end of the block, currently open, will be partially visually obscured in that end. That’s why residents are aggrieved by the plans.

One thing worth noting is that the building discussed, to be demolished and replaced by a new building, is not on the same premises as the residential buildings. It is also not owned by the residents of these residential buildings. I’m not entirely sure who owns the property, but, for sure, it is not owned by them.

The photo caption is very telling of the issue. The two men depicted in the main photo are the people who are in charge (chairmen) of two of the housing associations (the residents collectively own the premises, kind of like a company, having shares). They are said to be concerned about the plans for the new building because it would obstruct the view, so that the tower of the Turku Cathedral, a local landmark, could no longer be seen from the buildings and the courtyard. In the text this is reiterated as the men being concerned about the planned changes that end up changing the landscape.

The residents have made appeals and voiced their concerns, not about the plans to construct a new building but about the height of the protruding wing, which, according to them should not be constructed, at all, and if it is, then at least it should not be allowed to be as tall as it is planned. The residents insist that the courtyard must be retained the way it is, i.e. the way the light enters it from one side and how it is open must not be affected. They argue that the wing of the planned new building must blend in with the environment, not redefine it.

The area has to be rezoned to accommodate the new building. That process is underway. The plan has been tentatively accepted (there’s always appeals etc.). The residential buildings, being old and all, are to be given additional protection, meaning that they cannot be altered as easily as they would be otherwise. The residents wish to include the adjacent building into the protected area. That would lock things down.

Here it is worth reiterating that the local residents do not own the adjacent property. Simply put, they want to block the construction of something that is not on their property. It is indicated that they are not happy with the planned increase of built space in the relevant building permits. They are expected to appeal on that basis. It is indicated in the supplementary text that, actually, the current building was not built as high as it was permitted to be built, as pointed out by the city zoning architect. It could be built higher, today, without any additional paperwork needed. In other words, the residents are basing their claim, at least partially, wrong information. The other reason they’d give is that the old residential environment must be respected. In other words, the protruding wing must not be constructed because it would alter the landscape. It’s quite literally so that ‘in their view’ this mustn’t be allowed to happen.

It’s puzzling how apt Cosgrove’s definition of landscape as a way of seeing is, as exemplified by the statements contained in this newspaper story. Again, remember that the local residents do not own the property that is planned to be redeveloped, yet, somehow, they consider that they hold a commanding view, that they own the view, what is outside their own property (the buildings and the courtyard). Simply put, as explained by Cosgrove (46) and Mitchell, it is clear that in this case landscape is a medium that is utilized for “the practical appropriation of space.” Remember, it is in their interest to prevent the redevelopment of the adjacent property. I can’t be sure of what factors weigh in, but, I guess, the view from the buildings is assumed to affect the value of their property. Anyway, I’m sure there’s no shortage of similar news stories and this is something which I’d like to research in the future, when I’m done with this doctorate.

As a side note, as much as people tell you not to read comments, this story actually has some good comments. For example, multiple commentators point out that we wouldn’t have buildings next to one another in a city if all these landscape concerns were taken into consideration. A couple of people also point out what’s at stake, using landscape as a medium, just so that you can prevent change, anything that is not desirable to you. This is why, as a way of seeing, landscape is conservative. Some are also amused by how people think they can own everything in the landscape, what can be seen from a certain point, without actually owning the relevant property. That is actually the whole point of landscape as a way of seeing. Also, it is not that people scheme and conspire, like comic book villains or the like, but rather come to see world this way (how this happens is another story, already covered in previous essays).

Field rations and greasy hair

This will be the second essay on ‘Learning About Landscapes’ written by J.B. Jackson, as published in his 1980 book ‘The Necessity for Ruins and Other Topics’. In the previous essay I looked at his presentation of landscape from the point of view of a traditional tourist, someone who, back in the day, was known for touring.

In summary, it’s worth reiterating that unlike the contemporary mass tourist, the traditional tourist is a man of property, i.e. man of privilege, someone who has the necessary dough to spend wondering about his surroundings, learning about this and that, about those little differences between places and the people who inhabit those places, while enjoying the view. He points out that this early tourist view, dating back to the 1800s and early 1900s is no longer viable, not because he can’t see it that way himself but because, for him, the world has changed so much that the corresponding view, that traditional landscape of this and/or that place, just simply isn’t there anymore. I countered this by pointing out that it seems to be the case, but only so and so, because what is considered traditional isn’t necessarily only agricultural, but also industrial, meaning that this view he is fond of can actually adapt to changes, even more than he seems to think is possible.

What I forgot to mention, to include in my previous essay was that I actually quite happen to like the things that supposedly aren’t worth seeing, the parts of town that contain no Sehenswürdigkeiten. For example, when I was in Regensburg, I quite liked the bike ride through a neighborhood that had these, sort of out of place feeling, 1970s looking apartment buildings. Certainly not a match with the medieval part of town, nothing to see really, but I reckon they had their own vibe, as we made our way through that area on a sunny day. Now I wouldn’t lament if one day they’d be gone, but the point being that not everything that you find interesting has to have that Sehenswürdigkeiten.

Anyway, there’s a whole other story contained in his text, which I’ll cover in this essay. So, the topic for this essay deals with what he calls the military landscape, based on his experiences serving in the US military during World War II. Without going into detail about what he saw, specifically (as I’m sure you can check it out yourself), he (11-12) notes that what he came to see was all kinds of streets, rail lines, canals and buildings. It’s what you’d generally expect in urban areas. For him (12) the interesting part of this is the contrast between the peacetime landscapes:

“In normal times I suppose the streets would have been crowded with men and women going to work on bicycles or in streetcars, and coal smoke would have floated from the tall chimneys.”

And wartime landscapes:

“Bombing and artillery fire soon reduced the towns to ruins. The streets were choked with rubble, and what there was of open country showed mile after mile of sagging powerlines. Everywhere there were craters full of black water that trembled after an explosion.”

In other words, during the peacetime there were buildings and streets crowded with people, while during the wartime it was hard to make sense of the scene as the buildings appeared to merge with the streets as the rubble from the buildings was what now crowded the streets. For him (14-15), much of this seemingly endless pile of rubble was the countryside of the military landscape, in the sense that there was nothing remarkable or grand about it, much like in the countryside during peacetime (…there’s just more of it). Now, you might be asking, what is he on about? I’ll let him (12) him explain:

“Armies do more than destroy, they create an order of their own. It was strange to observe how both sides superimposed a military landscape on the landscape of devastation.”

So, in summary, people are gone and things have turned into a pile rubble yet it isn’t merely disorderly. In his (12) words:

“It was even more strange, I thought, to see how the military landscape resembled the old pre-technological landscape, especially in the way it organized space.”

He (12) goes on to explain this in great detail, how you can see this by studying maps which all these markings that remind him of medieval administration and heraldry, central fiefs and their subordinate dependencies which also have their own relevant markings. In other words, the wartime military maps indicated to him that the military landscape is remarkably similar to what one might call the feudal landscape as the space is strictly hierarchical with matching territorial divisions. It’s a (pre-)Renaissance landscape, when things were just about to change. Properly old school in any case. He (14) likens the centers, i.e. headquarters, to cities:

“In the military landscape it always seemed to me that the important headquarters, even when concealed in a forest or a ruined manor house, played the role once played by the city – the focal point of power and knowledge and display, a place where everyone wanted to be. … There was the same profusion of important public buildings next to one another (tents with signs in front of them and a guard); the same profusion of insignia – on staff officers, clerks, MPs; the same important men to be glimpsed.”

Now, as you may know, if you’ve read my essays, I’ve served in the military, albeit I have never seen action, nor am I keen to ever see any. Anyway, I concur. There is something about the headquarters, some profusion of importance to it, as he characterizes it. I also agree with his (14) further elaboration:

“A spotless jeep arrived a celebrated battalion commander, spic-and-span in a clean uniform but resolutely macho with his carbine, and hand grenades taped to his combat jacket, and his shiny combat boots. There ensued a rigidly correct exchange of salutes. Everyone, performers and spectators alike, enjoyed the display of military etiquette.”

Erm, oddly enough, I remember this happening to me, albeit the officer, mr-whatever-his-high-rank-was, never even stepped out of the vehicle. He was making an inspection visit to our position. As my unit consisted of specialists, set out to do certain duties, we didn’t have this normal setup where you’d have guard posts and/or patrols. Anyway, our driver had returned with firewood (yes, we didn’t chop down trees because it’s peacetime, otherwise the forest wouldn’t be a forest in a couple of years) and I was ordered to go and get some of that firewood from the truck. Yes sir, on it. On my way back, returning with pieces of firewood in my hands, in front of me, so that I could barely see in front of me as the wood was in a tall stack, I managed to catch a glimpse of a vehicle. It was not ours and someone was sitting inside, so I went to check it out. I can’t remember how it went exactly (this was over a decade ago), but the gist of it was that this officer was not happy with my conduct, that I took too long to arrive, did not acknowledge his rank etc. Anyway, all I was doing was getting some firewood because it was winter and all the sudden I had to deal with someone in a mint uniform, sitting in a warm car. You get the gist. Anyway, back to Jackson (14) who explains how cities came to be:

“It was in fact the 16th century military engineer who helped give the city its modern form. He not only fortified it, he devised the grid of rectangular spaces to accommodate the various military units according to their standing in the social hierarchy of the times, and the placed a square in the center for drills and parades – a design still used in every army encampment, and in almost every modern town.”

Erm, who can forget that square at the garrison? That giant empty space that was there only for that purpose, for drills and parades. I can still (almost) feel drops of sweat pouring down my back as we were doing parade drills at that square, in parade gear, on a particularly hot summer day. There’s also another everyday feature that he (13) brings up, one that surely anyone who has served can remember:

“[I]n fact the military landscape was a place where dress, as in the old days, had great symbolic meaning. No matter how dirty or tattered a uniform might be, it revealed by means of a shoulder patch, a stripe, an epaulette, many details about a man: his special skill, the unit he belonged to, and his rank; it was not necessary to know more.”

Ah yes, everyone had the same haircut (except women because out of tradition, women are expected to be like women, even in the military), the same matching clothing, hence the word uniform, only to be differentiated by the insignia for one’s rank, typically placed on the collar of one’s jacket and/or on the right arm (nowadays dead center in the front of the jacket). There were some differences besides that, for example, in my unit, specialists wore berets instead of caps, so everyone could see that you weren’t part of the rabble, even though you were of equal rank with others in other units. Jackson (13) calls this pageantry, the display of signs and notices that pervade the military. Everything is labeled, but very simplistic and, most importantly, uniform. This had an interesting effect on people, something that Jackson (13) captures particular well:

“The men identified themselves not by where they lived but by who their leader was. They rarely knew the name of the town, and when out of touch with their unit, they felt lost.”

Only to reiterate this a bit later (13-14):

“In the military landscape they served an added purpose: they reminded us that we were part of an immense organization, that by being able to decipher them we proved that we had been initiated into a group secret, that we were bona fide members of the military society.”

Again, I concur. Now, as I pointed out, I was not out there, engaging in combat, yet, this is familiar to me. We often went to places, somewhere, in some forest, in some remote area of the country, driven there, sitting at the back of the truck (old school, basically on crates and what not, totally not safe, hence it’s no longer done during peacetime). Basically you had no idea where you were as your only frame of reference was the road behind you, the only way your could see out in transit, assuming it was day time (which it often wasn’t). In essence, you often had no idea where you were or what the place was called. Actually, it didn’t even matter because you had no choice but to be there. So, indeed, your sense of identification was with the unit, your team and your team leader. Oddly enough, I also agree with that if you were alone, for some reason, and had to work that way, you did feel a bit lost because you worked better as a team and if things didn’t pan out great (as they often didn’t), you at least had a sense of camaraderie to it. Anyway, while I was reading this passage, it made me think of nomadism, as explained by Deleuze and Guattari in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’ (translation by Brian Massumi), in the sense that in the military your sense of place is tied to the unit that you are part of, not the actual place.

Right, back to where I was with this, contrasting the headquarters with what is always outside. So, Jackson (14-15) likens the headquarters to the cities, and, I guess, you could say castles and monasteries function that way as well, but adds that what is outside the headquarters, the great wide open, the largest element of the military landscape is very similar to the countryside, the grunts being the peasants, the people whose life is very tactile, here and now. He (15) argues that life out there, outside the headquarters is very different:

“What really distinguished these men from their colleagues at headquarters was their greater awareness of the environment.”

To be more specific, he (15) adds that:

“In a very short time the men learned to rely on their senses for guidance; whether they were in a town or in the open country, their sense constantly picked up information – the smell of cordite, the smell of dead bodies, even the smell of the enemy, for each army had a characteristic body odor.”

While I cannot claim to have been exposed to the smell of dead bodies, to my knowledge anyway (albeit I suspect that I may have, as there was this rank, foul smell coming from my neighbors’ apartment once, so perhaps … albeit it could have been just food left to rot on a kitchen counter for days or the like … I can’t be sure), nor the specific smell of cordite (a noodle looking propellant that was around up to the late stages of WWII, it seems), I get what he means. There’s that body odor that kicks in after a while, after spending a lot of time without the opportunity to get a shower, especially when you run out of clean clothing. On one of the field assignments, in some forest, somewhere in Finland, we had the luxury of being able to go to a sauna to clean up, but then, it being winter and all, it got so cold that the officers forbade that because cleaning the sweat and dirt off one’s skin apparently makes the frosty conditions worse for the skin. I don’t know if that has holds or not. Anyway, what matters is that when we finally got back to the garrison, you could not only smell the sweat but also swipe it. My hair was like grease. Another common smell was smoke. All the tents had that distinct smell because they were kept warm with wood burning heaters. Anyway, he (15) continues:

“There were the sounds of different gunfire, the sound of shells flying overhead; the sound of footsteps, the sound of vehicles. On comparatively silent nights men on patrol learned to listen for the sound of ration trucks bringing food to the enemy, miles away. Any bright or sudden light was enough to rouse the soundest sleeper.”

It would be possibly to expand this list, quite a bit, but that would add much value to this. The point he makes is that in the military you learn the importance of all your senses. It is a matter of life and death, so quickly recognizing all that and being able to distinguish between this and/or that can quite literally be a life saver, to you and/or to your fellow soldiers. This is, of course, largely useless during the peacetime, as he (15-16) points out, noting that we really don’t need to know much about the “weather, topography, the soil, density of foliage, ‘the phases of the moon’” and the like under normal conditions. Anyway, what I like about this discussion is how he (16) doesn’t dwell on these memories and seek to glorify them. It’s instead what can be learned from it all. He (16) elaborates:

“These sensory responses were rarely of an exalted kind: loathing of the taste of C rations, the luxurious feel of clean clothes, the warmth and light of a roadside fire – all those hands stretching out of the darkness toward the flames! – their joy at the coming of sunny days in the spring; these were simply commonplace ways of participating in the world through the sense, but sharing them, recognizing them in others, made men remember their humanity.”

In short, it’s about the little things that you learn to appreciate when they matter. While I’ve probably been pampered by way better field rations, I still concur. Field rations aren’t exactly known for their taste, their consistency nor their look. The everyday equivalent would be like a steady diet of only instant food. Sitting by the fire (if that was permitted, mind you) or by the heater in the tent (more common) when was cold was particularly enjoyable, albeit, under normal conditions, it isn’t that memorable. It was very here and now, very tactile. This is exactly what he (16) would like to take from the military and make it part of the everyday life outside the military:

“This is how we should think of landscapes: not merely how they look, how they conform an esthetic ideal, but how they satisfy elementary needs: the need for sharing some of those sensory experiences in a familiar place: popular songs, popular dishes, a special kind of sport or game, played on here in this spot.”

So, as I keep stating, it’s this here and now, let’s do this, whatever it is that we are up to, that should matter, not engaging with the world in some distanced and aestheticized manner. It might be that my memory fails me, that it’s selective after all these years, but I reckon it was like this in the army. You were always doing something, always in a hurry, always engaging with the world, even if it wasn’t exactly glamorous (it sure wasn’t; sweeping the floors of the living quarters, mopping the washroom floors, keeping your locker in order, carrying heavy boxes from one place to another, followed by carrying other heavy boxes from that place to another place, re-coiling cables etc.) and at times hardly uplifting (spending your days in some forest, not having any idea where you are). There was an abundance of sensory experiences but vision was never as central as it is in civilian life. Landscape didn’t play a role, at least not in the way it does otherwise as a way of seeing the world, as discussed in the previous essay. At least on the ground level, among the grunts, the world was ordered very differently from what it is outside the military. This is what he (16-17) would like for everyone, not just the soldiers:

“A landscape should establish bonds between people, the bond of language, of manners, of the same kind of work and leisure, and above all a landscape should contain the kind of spatial organization which fosters such experiences and relationships: space for coming together, to celebrate, spaces for solitude, spaces that never change and are always as memory depicted them.”

To be clear, this is what he (16-17) thinks we should learn from the military, the good aspects of it, as exemplified by the camaraderie between soldiers. There’s plenty of what you don’t want to import from the military experience, as he (17) goes on to elaborate:

“[T]he military landscape provided us with a spatial order dedicated to sudden and violent movement, a set of relationships based on total subordination and anonymity, and a sensory experience based on death and the premonition of death; it was the ugly caricature of a landscape.”

That said, as he (17) goes on to add, it’s a bit ironic how the military can teach you how to reconstruct the way we come to experience the world, considering how negatively the military tends to be portrayed. I remember others saying this as well, that be it as it may, while you certainly didn’t want to prolong that experience, keep living that way, it did give you perspective, a new horizon, or so to speak. In his (17) words:

“Nevertheless, [the military landscape] functioned, and even its horrors instructed us in what a good landscape, and a good social order should be.”

In summary, what I like about Jackson’s discussion of his own experiences in the military is how he can make use of it outside the military. I realize that it may be hard to understand how the military has anything to offer outside its confines, but if you don’t get it, that probably has to do with not having ever served in the military. There’s nothing glamorous about it, except, perhaps, if you happen to be some high ranking officer who spends his (or her, likely a him though) days in the headquarters. Even if it makes sense to those who haven’t served in the military, I reckon this take on landscape is still quite unexpected. I certainly didn’t see it coming. What I like about this text is exactly that, how it does the unexpected, how it takes something that is generally considered destructive and spins it into something potentially productive. Oddly enough, the military can give you new perspective to life.

Gran Turismo

I was writing certain segments of the summary part of my thesis, putting much of what I have written in these essays in the highfalutin lingo that academics indulge in (not because I want to but because, out of habit, others expect me to do so), which led me astray, to check something in the notes section of Denis Cosgrove’s 1985 article ‘Perspective and the Evolution of the Landscape Idea’ published in Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers. It led me to look up a compilation work by J.B. Jackson published in 1980. My plan was to look up a text, ‘Landscape as Theater’ in ‘The Necessity for Ruins and Other Topics’ but, for some reason, I ended up reading the introductory part titled ‘Learning About Landscapes’ instead. Oh boy, did this random encounter prove to be interesting or what?

Firstly, there are some stray references that I made note of but I’ll save those for another day. Secondly, there are two themes, two topics in essay: how we come to see the world and appraise it, in a certain way, resulting in a certain order, and how the military effectively eradicates it, creating another kind of order in its place wherever roams. I’ll address the first topic in this essay and address the military in another essay.

Jackson (5-6) points out that ever since the Renaissance period, 1400s and 1500s, give or take, pending where we are at, we’ve become obsessed with depicting reality in our attempts to mirror it in whatever we do. On top of this, or, rather, within it, as if laced, or so to speak, there is religious aspect to all of it. Now, this might surprise you. I’m well aware of that, considering how rational and autonomous people think they are and how landscape, spun out of the application of linear perspective in painting, is tied to the crème de la crème of sciences, mathematics. The thing is that the world, back then, and still many centuries later, was rather religious, rather Christian. You could say it still is as only its recognized position in western societies has taken a hit. It’s still there, lingering, if you will. Anyway, in his (6) words:

“What the world as mirror revealed was clear enough: art, architecture, the hierarchical social order, the order of the cosmos itself, all reflected the human form, its proportions, the interdependence of its organs and members, its divine origin.”

It’s worth adding that, as explained by Cosgrove (51), at the time, when landscape art became a thing, applying mathematics to present the world ‘realistically’ was seen to only provide further proof of the glory of God. To put it simply, if God is almighty, then God made space, as we see it. So, if an artist can render that divine space on a flat surface, such as a canvas, or a wall in a church, thus effectively mirroring reality, then the artist is only depicting divinity! Clever! As expressed by Jackson (6):

“It must have been a very satisfactory view of the world, entirely consistent with Classical tradition, and endorsed by the church; a trustworthy guide to understanding and accepting human ways.”

He (6) adds to this, noting that there is something enviable about it, in its simplicity. What I take him (6) to mean by this is that, initially, it was, indeed, merely religious, indicating a certain harmonious social order that people subscribed to.

Now, I reckon the Catholic Church only approved the use linear perspective in art, resulting in what we know as landscape art, mainly in its pictorial form, because it sought to make use of it. Painting wasn’t actually cheap at the time, but the church had the money for it, to provide the artists everything they needed.

Obviously others also sought to make use of this new point of view. As elaborated by Cosgrove in his article, the emerging bourgeoisie, the patricians of Italian republics, also had the necessary capital to make use of landscape art, but, certainly, not merely to express the glory of God (it was, of course, a built in feature that also helped to keep the church from meddling in their affairs) but to appropriate space, all that property depicted in landscape paintings and while also justifying it (remember that this is also what God must want, as it is God’s harmonious order presented in the paintings).

The twist here is, as you might already suspect, that there was nothing that could prevent the patricians from commissioning a painting that would depict their interests rather than the reality, what’s out there. It’s one thing if a painting merely mimics reality, in all of its finest detail. It’s another thing if a painting appears to mimic reality, but, in fact doesn’t. If we look at a painting, be it the former or the latter, it is a true depiction of reality because not only is it backed up by mathematics (of its time, of course) but also by its divinity (thanks to the approval of the church). Sure, you could point out the obvious, that the latter is a fabrication and hence it is not a true depiction of reality, and you’d be right. That said, it doesn’t matter. If people don’t know what’s what, there’s nothing they can’t do about it. On top of that, there probably wasn’t much the vast majority of people could have done about it anyway.

In short, if you can present a social order, one that sees you benefiting, having the right to own land (which you, conveniently, happen have the money for, in abundance), as the divine order and people are religious, you are going to do exactly that. So, even more concisely, landscape is not a view, what is, but a vision, what ought to be.

Right, so, back to Jackson (6) who approaches this not from the perspective of a painter or someone looking at a painting, but from the everyday perspective. Of course, we need to be clear on what is considered everyday? And to whom?

It wouldn’t be off to call Jackson a tourist, in the sense that he toured quite a bit. It also wouldn’t be off to point out that during first half of his lifetime, the early 1900s all the way to the mid 1900s, he had have the opportunity to tour. That requires not only time but also money. Sure, we are not dealing with millionaire here but let’s say he was affluent for his time, in the sense that it’s easy to forget or just be unaware how poor most people were as late in history as in the early 1900s. To be fair, that would still apply, even after World War II, albeit less and less the closer we get to the 21st century. I’m not going to get stuck on pondering how things are now as the point really is that back in the day a tourist was not someone that you’d run into on a daily basis. Simply put, you had to be someone to be a tourist, affluent enough to afford all that touring. It’s also not that the tourist was a big spender, as he (8) explains later on. Anyway, there was nothing derogatory about it, being a tourist.It’s actually something that I’ve seen engraved in a grave stone. Jackson (6) is well aware of all this:

“That early tourist point of view certainly had its shortcomings. It was largely confined to a small though influential class: men of property and social standing[.]”

Now, it’s apt to call the early tourists ‘men of property’ because they most likely were men. What is worth adding here is what he (6) adds to this:

“[They were] not much given to looking beneath the surface of things or to doubting the evidence of their sense[.]”

Why is that? Well, remember how landscape is way of seeing, a vision, one which doesn’t make people question many things because it appears to reflect how things are and that’s how people have come to understand it. Of course, there’s more than meets the eye, but that’s the point, ignoring all ‘more’ to it. Jackson (6) is aware of this:

“[People] hav[e] little time for the mysteries of nature or for speculation about the problems or hopes of obscure and unimportant people, judging much of the world in terms of status – boundaries, privileges, wealth and rank.”

In other words, affluent people can afford this kind of engagement with the world, where everything appears to be in order and pleasure can be drawn from it. They don’t need to worry about the everyday stuff, whether they and their family gets to eat today and what not. This is why he (6) points out that it was never a given that they’d engage in tourism. That said, they can look deeper into things, to doubt the evidence of their senses and speculate things. Did they do that? Well, according to Jackson (7):

“[T]he first tourists set out to do what few had ever done before: learn about the world as a means of learning about themselves, and by and large they seem to have succeeded.”

Ah, great success? Triumph for a better world? Well, not exactly, as he (7) goes on to point out:

“[T]he manner in which they depicted their adventures, either in art or in writing, was so vivid, so compelling, so revealing of unsuspected beauty and humanity, that subsequent generations accepted their view of the landscapes as authentic one.”

In other words, they had the opportunity to look into things, quite literally, but that’s all they did. They didn’t look if there was more it, more than meets the eye. They didn’t go beneath the surface. It all remained as superficial as with the landscape paintings. It was all well within the canon, as he (7) points out. Critical stance to landscape is a very, very recent thing, as he (7) goes on to add:

“It is only within the last decades that we have begun to question the Renaissance canon of landscape beauty, and centuries of bling allegiance are still evident in the layout of our parks and suburbs and even our housing developments and scenic highways.”

He (8) also points out how selective this form of tourism was:

“The newer parts of town were ignored whenever possible; they contained no Sehenswürdigkeiten – objects deserving to be seen.”

I don’t know about you but I just love that word! I need to find a place to make use of it, Sehenswürdigkeit! What is the difference between tourism back then and tourism now then? His (8) characterization is nearly four decades old but I reckon he’s not off, at least not a lot anyway. He (9) characterizes the contemporary tourist:

“Isolated from the commonplace world by tour buses and guides, the modern tourist is protected from foreign-ness[.]”

For him (9), what’s missing in contemporary tourism is the will to pass as a native, an urge to assimilate with the locals, in order to better understand the local ways of life, all those little things that come across as peculiarities, and to provide points of contrast for other ways of life, elsewhere, including back home.

Again, I don’t know about you, or others, but this is exactly what I do, always trying to blend in, to pass as a native, so that people who come up to me treat me as such. Oh and do I love it or what?

I remember, many years ago, in Turin, Italy, people came up to me, asking for something in Italian. As my Italian was virtually non-existent, I just shrugged it off, doing that gesture with my hands, to the sides a bit, the one I’m sure you know. Worked perfectly. The last time it worked like a charm was in Regensburg, Germany. That was, I think, a couple of years ago. I was able to successfully order a meal at a brewery, enjoy my food, pay for it, indicate the sum rounded up and give compliments about the food. Okay, it doesn’t always work, but I try best to fit in, if only to be treated better and not be overcharged, as also noted by Jackson (9).

In both cases, both in Italy and in Germany, I could pass as a local, based on my looks alone. In Germany, only my German ends up giving it away. In Italy, it was a bit trickier, but, I was told that it’s not exactly something out of the ordinary, as such, to find Scandi-looking locals, at least not in northern Italy. It’s not common, sure, but, apparently, not super rare either.

I reckon outside Europe I would stand out. I just haven’t been outside Europe, except in North America. That has to do with it being way cheaper to tour in Europe than outside Europe, when you happen to live in Europe, as well as know others who live Europe and on whose couches you can crash on, occasionally. I realize that this doesn’t take into account places where it’s fairly easy for anyone to blend in, places like large cosmopolitan cities. For example, when I’ve been in Toronto, Ontario, no one could immediately spot me as a tourist and that probably applies to just about anyone. Then again, I reckon it’s more about one’s behavior, rather than one’s looks. I mean I could easily spot the ‘modern tourist’ because of the way they go about it, isolating themselves from all things local, as noted by Jackson (9).

I know it sounds elitist, which I reckon it sort of is, in the sense that it is a choice, but I just detest what Jackson (9) calls a ‘modern tourist’. Why would you go on some bus tour, looking at the top ten landmarks in some place, wearing poorly fitting headphones, listening to a narration provided to you in your language of choice?

Sure, I want an ‘insider’ account, but not some ‘targeted’ one. That’s exactly why I try to go to visit my friends. That may seem like I’m just leeching off of them, firstly by crashing at their place, and, secondly, by using them as my tour guide. Aye, it may seem to be the case, but there’s more to it. As I already stated, I don’t want to be given some ‘proper’ or ‘official’ account of what’s there to see or do. I also don’t want an itinerary. I’m cool with missing some things. I like my friends, who, as locals, can take me to places they like, they think are cool or worth it, in some way, whatever way that is. That is the best.

For example, my friend in Regensburg took me to a dinner, hosted by her friends, so I got to talk with locals, engage in something that the locals do. I only wish I had known, so I could have brought something. Then again, there’s just something about not knowing in advance and rolling with it. I remember her, being like, I don’t know if you are interested, or something along those lines. Am I interested, in getting to hang out with locals? Yes. Yes. Yes. It was the same thing with vising a site nearby, a Bavarian hall of fame, of sorts, an elaborate ancient Greek style marble building built on a hill in the middle of nowhere. Do I want to go? To this place, a Greek style structure curiously named after the hall of Odin? Am, yes! Especially on bike! Kudos to you, you know who, for all that.

It was the same thing on the last leg of my tour, when I was in Schweinfurt, not exactly known for its marble wonders. I was also hosted by a friend, who, similarly, wondered if I was interested in hanging out, somewhere in the countryside, in the middle of nowhere, so off the grid that cell phone coverage was, well, dodgy at best. I was sold just by that alone. It also involved a barbecue, so how could I say no? We also drove to some nearby-ish local monastery, because, well, why not, but also because my friend’s dad wanted to buy some craft beer at a local store, which turned out to be hardware store. Nothing like buying beer in a store that sells lawn mowers! There’s a first time for everything! We also ended up, by the river Main in Schweinfurt, enjoying our beverages, while enjoying the view on the other side, the Cramer-Mühle mill.

It was the same thing at my second leg of the journey in Friedrichshafen and the surrounding countryside, where another friend of mine hosted me. It involved hanging out in a garden, staying more than adequate hydrated and enjoying people’s company. Most of it wasn’t planned but I thoroughly enjoyed it.

It was the same thing, but the other way around when a friend of mine visited me here in Finland. Sure we saw some of the usual stuff, what happened to be along the way but we mainly just hung out, did all kinds of stuff a ‘modern tourist’ wouldn’t do. We even got lost in Helsinki a couple of times (how? I know right!) but she was good sport about it.

Getting back to Jackson (10) who moves on to discuss how, following WWII, the character of national or regional landscape became a hot topic in European countries. In other words, as the world was changing, quite rapidly, countries shifting from rural agricultural societies to urban industrial societies, so was the landscape and that was something that caused discomfort among people. Some were more on the defense: they wished to conserve, to preserve the traditional national or regional landscape, i.e. the rural appeal. Others went on the offense: denouncing all things modern, urban and industrial. He (10) makes note of how this vision of the world coincides with his vision of the world and how sympathetic he is to those people who wish to preserve the world as it is, or, rather, was (supposedly). That said, he (10) is keenly aware why that is, why he sympathizes with the traditionalists. It’s because he grew up to be one. He was taught to admire all that. He (11) elaborates what’s at stake:

“The ancestral landscape created a special breed of men and women with common psychological and physical characteristics, and this came about through centuries-old attachment to the land; it was only by being rooted in the land, by having a peasant or land-holding background, by having undergone the ineffable influences of a certain climate, a certain topography, that a true German or Englishman or Frenchman came into being. It followed that a landscape was a cultural heritage that must at all costs be preserved intact.”

It’s clear that there’s a dose of nostalgia here. It’s hard to miss. Then again, I reckon he is making a point. Plus, he (11) is not blind to the issues that follow from this vision of the world:

“While it lasted it did enormous damage[.]”

What he (11) is after is rather that:

“[I]t also opened our eyes to the variety surrounding us and the unsuspected wealth of vernacular culture which every nation contained. We learned to see a great deal we had previously ignored.”

So, for Jackson (11) can be taken from the old tourist vision is the conscious attention paid to landscape. He (11) continues for a moment, further reflecting on his own experiences, how before WWII everything was more beautiful, more pleasurable than after the war, as the world had yet to be polluted by various eye sores, such as industrial complexes (you know, those field sized boxy sheet metal buildings), high rise buildings, traffic jams and crowds of tourists pouring out of purpose built resorts. It is at this point that he turns to reflect on his war experiences, but I’ll discuss that in another essay. He (17) returns to comment on the traditional vision of the world he grew up and came to enjoy in his early adulthood, noting that it’s unlikely that he’ll ever be able to see the world that way again, but not because he is no longer able to appreciate the landscape:

“Perhaps it is because I think the day is past when harmony, adjustments, can be our landscape criterion: what we contemporary men and women are, and what we are becoming is something which can no longer be faithfully reflected in the visible landscape.”

So, he (17) returns to lament the loss of the traditional landscape. It is not that the traditional vision is gone for him, but rather that, following WWII, the landscape changed to an extent that it no longer matches that vision. Having the benefit of about 40 years of hindsight, I reckon he is both right and wrong about this. The landscapes have changed, they must have, but not to the extent that he probably expected them to change. I reckon there is still an inclination towards the traditional landscape, which is evident in the conservative attitudes towards traditional landscapes, resulting in the so called authorized heritage discourse (AHD) that I’ve discussed in a previous essay. In other words, the traditional vision is alive and well, albeit it may have changed somewhat, to come to adapt to certain changes. For example, as the west nowadays revolves around the service economy and light industry, the old industries, all those red brick buildings, those magazine buildings (warehouses) dating to the late 1800s and early 1900s, are now considered part of cultural heritage and the landscape.

His (17-18) second to last comments on this (the last being a reprise of his longing of the past gone) has to do with how the world is changing, becoming more heterogeneous:

“Landscapes showing those characteristics are becoming numerous, and I think that is why we are increasingly fascinated by immense cities, industrialized regions, the desert, the wilderness, and with parts of the world awash with new and migrating populations. We seem to be living in the midst of a second and more massive völkerwanderung, in a period when old landscapes disappear and new landscapes involving new relationships, new demands on the environment are slowly taking form.”

While he does move on to reprise his own stance, marked by nostalgia, with regards to research, this change is, nonetheless, exactly what he (18) considers worth looking into:

And as I see it, it is in those places where what we call landscape studies can be particularly rewarding.”

I agree on this with him. That is probably where it will be most rewarding. That said, I reckon I’m more interested in the interplay of the old and the new, the attitudes and discourses that clash. I’m particularly interested in how the old traditional vision and desire for the past, one that, strictly speaking never was, has persisted, despite what Jackson envisioned in this text, some four decades ago. It keeps cropping up, just follow the news and be amazed how that is.


Time is of the essence

No, I have not abandoned this, whatever this is that I’m doing with this. It’s just that I’ve been fairly busy with work, thus having less time to write, except the stuff I need to do for work. The thing is that as I’m currently substituting, filling in for someone, I have to play catch up with just about everything that has been left undone while putting the hours in to make things work on a daily basis. There’s been a lot of backlog that needed to be cleared, so I had to prioritize that, just so that my workflow gets better on a day-to-day basis. I’ve also managed to get some personal projects done, so I should be able to get more writing done soon.

While I haven’t had that much time to write, I’ve managed to do some reading, here and there. I also started to write something but I’ll return to it later on as it needs much more attention than what I’ve given to it. I also returned to the 1979 book edited by Donald Meinig and re-read the essays by David Sopher and David Lowenthal. I’ve covered parts of the text in the past, in bits and pieces, but this time I’ll be taking a closer look at Lowenthal’s ‘Age and Artifact: Dilemmas of Appreciation’, as published in that 1979 compilation of landscape essays.

As the title suggests, Lowenthal’s text has a lot to do with, no, not the past, in itself, but how we come be aware of it, how we come to perceive it, how we come to think of it. He (103) summarizes the central dilemma:

“[T]he past is not a fixed or immutable series of events; our interpretations of it are in constant flux.”

Adding that (103):

“What we know of history differs from what actually happened not merely because evidence of past events has been lost or tampered with, or because the task of sifting though it is unending, but also because the changing present continually requires new interpretations of what has taken place.”

Here I’d like to point your attention to what Gilles Deleuze (100) writes in ‘Cinema 2: The Time Image’ (1989 translation by Hugh Tomlinson and Robert Galeta):

“[T]here is a present of the future, a present of the present and a present of the past, all implicated in the event, rolled up in the event, and thus simultaneous and inexplicable. From affect to time: a time is revealed inside the event, which is made from the simultaneity of these three implicated presents, from these de-actualized peaks of present.”

This actually something that he approvingly takes from St. Augustine, as he (100) does point out. In ‘Confessions’ (2006 edition, edited by Michael Foley, translated by Francis Joseph Sheed), St. Augustine (242) wonders:

“What is time? … What then is time?”

Only to answer his (242) own question(s):

“[I]f nothing passed there would be no past time; if nothing were approaching, there would be no future time; if nothing were, there would be no present time.”

Only to end up wondering even more (242-243):

“But the two times, past and future, how can they be, since the past is no more and the future is not yet? On the other hand, if the present were always present and never flowed away into the past, it would not be time all, but eternity. But if present is only time, because it flows away into the past, how can we say that it is? For it is, only because it will cease to be.”

In other words, as he (243) reiterates it:

“Thus we can affirm that time is only in that it tends towards not-being.”

What I take from all this is that, to be precise, only the present is. The past never is because only the present is. It’s the same with future. It never is because only the present is. In ‘Difference and Repetition’ (1994 translation by Paul Patton) Deleuze (76) writes something similar:

“It is not that the present is a dimension of time: the present alone exists.”

That said, the past and the future are, on their own is, in the present, in the sense that we can speak of them, grasp them, intuit them, in the present (note how I keep using the word is when explaining them!). In Deleuze’s (76) words:

“The synthesis of time constitutes the present in time. … [S]ynthesis constitutes time as a living present, and the past and the future as dimensions of this present.”

Of course, again, to be precise, the past can never be, as the past is what ceases to be, and the future can never be because the future is yet to be. The again, the present, and only the present, can only be because of how the future becomes present and how the present becomes the past, hence the point he (243) makes about being and not-being. In Deleuze’s (76) words:

“This synthesis is none the less intratemporal, which means that this present passes.”

What we could do is what Deleuze (76) suggests but is nonetheless against:

“We could no doubt conceive of a perpetual present, a present which is coextensive with time: it would be sufficient to consider contemplation applied to the infinite succession of instants.”

However, this is not satisfactory because, as pointed out by St. Augustine, it would render time into eternity. So, for, Deleuze’s (76-77):

“But such a present is not physically possible: the contraction implied in any contemplation always qualifies an order of repetition according to the elements or cases involved. It necessarily forms a present which may be exhausted and which passes, a present of a certain duration which varies according to the species[.]”

Anyway, moving on, the point being that, strictly speaking, the past and the future have no existence, only the present has, unless we understand it as Deleuze (100) formulates them in ‘Cinema 2: The Time Image’ as a present of the past and a present of the future. In ‘Difference and Repetition’, he (77) states that:

“One of the great strengths of Stoicism lies in having shown that every sign is a sign of the present, from the point of view of the passive synthesis in which past and future are precisely only dimensions of the present itself.”

He (77) exemplifies this:

“A scar is the sign not of a past wound but of ‘the present fact of having been wounded’[.]”

Anyway, where was I? Right, back to Lowenthal (103) who states that past is very much in the present, in the sense that our understanding of what was is always from what currently is, here and now, as also pointed out by Deleuze and St. Augustine. For many, if not for most people, the problem with this conception is that it is unstable. In Lowenthal’s (104) words:

“The provisional and contingent nature of history is hard to accept, for it denies the perennial dream of an ordered and stable past.”

Remember how just about everything was way, way better back in the day, whenever that supposedly was? In other words, people find this hard to accept because it forces them to acknowledge that they can’t just relax, take it easy, as otherwise they may risk things slipping from their grasp. They want a sense of security that guarantees them that what was, what they consider good, will be there even in the future. Lowenthal (104) explains this better than I do:

“We seek refuge from the uneasy present, the uncertain future, in recalling the good days, which take on a luster heightened by nostalgia. Memory highlights selected scenes, making them so real and vivid we can scarcely believe they do not actually survive.”

I’d add here that this demise of what was is what really riles up people. I can’t remember if I pointed this out already, in an earlier essay last year, but I’ll risk reiterating it here. So, I was having dinner (or was it more of a supper?) with some Danish scholars at a conference last year. The discussion briefly turned to having stuff, this and/or that, how some of us can be in the habit of hoarding stuff. For others, there were plenty of stuff that they could not live without, or so to speak. Okay, they could live without them but they are the type of things that are considered irreplaceable, you know, for sentimental reasons. I told them that I don’t really have anything, any stuff that I wouldn’t be able to let go. Sure, I have things that I hold dear and it’s not that I wish for their demise, destruction or the like, but rather that they are not irreplaceable to me. I added that, in general, it’s the same with anything what was, even with people. Again, that doesn’t mean that I don’t think people are irreplaceable. It’s rather that people come and go and you can’t hold on to them forever. They move elsewhere or you move elsewhere and what not. This pushes you to get to know other people, make new connections. Life goes on and so should you, or something along those lines.

As a side note, related to our interpretation of the past, there’s a reference to St. Augustine in the Virginia Woolf bits quoted by Lowenthal (104), albeit it has to do with how he conceptualizes memory as a store house, full of things we’ve perceived, that we’d then retrieve, if my memory serves me (haha, that came out perfect, by accident!) correctly. Lowenthal (104-105) comments on this, this dream of recovering the past from the storehouse of memory:

“Such total recall is rare; most of us can no longer retrieve past scenes after we have outgrown the way we originally experienced them.”

He (105) then moves on to point out that not everyone clings to their own memories, that is to say how we remember the past having been. In many cases that is actually simply impossible as we haven’t been around longer than we have. He (105) states that in the 1800s scholars believed that it was possible to recover the past through records of the past, a point I made already about clinging on to things. He (105) also points out that, at least in theory, it may be possible to recover the past by observing past events from other galaxies, given the way light works. Anyway, as the title of his essay suggests, he (105-106) focuses mainly on the material aspects of past, on the various artifacts we can observe in our surroundings.

Before getting on with the topic, Lowenthal (105-106) summarizes the dilemma people encounter when they cling on to the past. He notes that objects that once were outstanding, pristine and perfect will eventually get damaged, fade, deteriorate and disintegrate. He provides the example of preserving sunken ships, which are easier to preserve for future generations by leaving them where they were discovered on the seabed than by placing them in some museum. Of course, the irony is that what is the point of a ship that people consider historically valuable if it can only be observed in the depths of some ocean? It might as well not exist.

Of course as good as that ship example is, it’s also fairly trivial. It doesn’t have much to do with everyday life and it makes little difference to people whether some ship is at the bottom of some ocean or in some museum that they are unlike to visit anyway. The next stop for Lowenthal (106-107) is to address how memory is fallible and can play tricks on us, to the point someone might think it has all been made up, just to mess with you. These bits make for fun reading and I recommend reading them, as well, but as they aren’t what I find most interesting, nor the most relevant, for the purposes of this essay, I’ll skip ahead accordingly.

So, back to the artifacts, which Lowenthal (108) considers particularly important in how we perceive the past. He (108) states these “physical traces”, these objects, as present in the landscape, appeal to us in two ways. The first way he (108) characterizes as antiquarian and hinging on historical knowledge:

“One is their resemblance to, or congruence with, forms, styles, or species that are historically antique and obsolete – open field traces, vintage automobiles, classical pediments.”

Indeed, for something to be considered as antique has to be based on historical knowledge. The second way he (108) characterizes as senescent, marked by awareness of change, of decay, which occurs regardless of whether we like it or not:

“The other is our awareness of prolonged use or decay – a worn chair, a wrinkled face, a corroded tin, an ivy-covered or mildewed wall.”

Some of this is, of course, more obvious to us whereas some of this isn’t. For example, rocks take quite a while to deteriorate whereas we humans deteriorate much faster, even if we take good care of ourselves. Of course, we can’t be sure of these insights. That’s why Lowenthal (108) notes that they can be erroneous:

“The Greek vase, the classical column, may be a copy or a fake; the open field pattern may be an inaccurate reconstruction; wrinkles may have been painted in, moss on the roof grown deliberately by the use of manure.”

Therefore he (108) summarizes that:

“Appearances of antiquity can be just as deceptive as memories of the past.”

Ah, yes, there’s more than meets the eye. He (108) continues, noting that our relationship with the past, namely all things old, is bittersweet. We admire all things old. We appreciate them for being old. We expect them to be sensibly old, to have that old look, that old feel. They should have a bit of wear and tear. They are not supposed to look mint, as if they had just been unboxed. The problem is that nothing last forever. Eventually what we appreciate for the old look and feel will be rendered unrecognizable by all that wear and tear. This is a cause for great anxiety.

Lowenthal (108-109) acknowledges this dilemma, the appreciation of antiquity and the lamentation of decay, but shifts the focus to the various artifacts that are still with us, noting that:

“[J]ust as awareness of history alters what we know of it, so recognizing the historicity of artifacts transforms both their significance and their appearance. To realize that something stems from the past is actively to alter it.”

He (109) continues by listing three activities that revolve around these landscape artifacts: “recognition and celebration, maintenance and preservation, and enrichment and enhancement.” These activities have to do with how when “we recognize an historical object or locale, we mark it with signs, celebrate its setting, herald its existence in print, protect or restore it, recreate it in replica”, as he (109) characterizes them. He (109) further elaborates the first activity:

“Designation serves both to locate the antiquity on our mental map and to dissociate it from its own surroundings. It is no longer just old, but ‘olde.’ The marker emphasizes its special antiqueness by contrast with the unsignposted present-day environs, and diminishes the antique artifact’s continuity with its milieu.”

Therefore, as summarized by him (109):

“The antiquity becomes an exhibit; we stand before it like a painting.”

In other words, when we locate something old in the landscape, we mark it, we signpost it. We literally put up signposts that indicate that this, this exactly, is worth paying attention to. This results in us paying attention to the signposted artifacts or features. Conversely, we end not paying attention to what is not signposted in our surroundings. Okay, fair enough, maybe what is signposted is worth paying attention. Granted. Then again, when something is signposted, we don’t get to judge that ourselves.

Lowenthal (109) adds that signposting is not only an issue in the sense that it guides our attention but also in the sense that the signpost, the marker and what’s indicated in it, may become more important than the artifact or the feature in question. It may even even end up substituting the thing in question. He (109) exemplifies this with what is known as the Kensington Runestone. It was found in Solem township in Minnesota, but it is located in a museum in Alexandria, Minnesota. Its authenticity is contested, but what matters is that people consider it as authentic and have erected an outsized replica of it in a prominent place in the town. It not even relevant if it is authentic or not. What’s relevant here is that the signposts, the outsized replica and a statue known as Big Ole, “America’s Biggest Viking” who carries a shield with the text “Alexandria, Birthplace of America” (as if no one was around in North America when Vikings were busy pillaging coasts in Europe, mind you), have come to be more important than the real (or not?) deal. The simulacra have substituted the original. They might actually well be simulacra of a simulacrum, but that’d only make this example even better.

Lowenthal (109-110) adds a couple of other examples where there’s basically nothing to see, as such, but, of course, that hardly matters. You can go through the examples yourself, but the gist of them is that you only need to put up some signs and voila! Notable! Worth your attention! This then results in, I guess what you might expect, tourism, featuring a whole array of markings, such as names and legends, items, such as photographs and memorabilia, and activities, such as guided tours, as noted by him (110).

For Lowenthal (110) nothing is quite as intrusive, or should I say transformative, as actual signposts. He (110) exemplifies how people engage with signposts with a story about how someone objected to a sign contained the word ‘castle’ when the said castle was, in fact, a mere ruin of a castle, which forces the relevant authorities to add ‘ruin’ to the sign. In other words, people take their signs seriously. He (110) further elaborates the role of various markers on the landscape:

“Even the least conspicuous marker on the most dramatic site drastically alters the context and flavor of historical experience.”

Now, he (110-111) goes on to add that, for some, this is a form of vandalism, ruining what’s out there, the beauty of it, in its own right, with signs that tell us what we are looking at, what we should think of this and/or that thing in the landscape, thus drowning it all in trivia. To put this more concisely, he (111) summarizes that not only do signs identify and index what it is that we are supposed to pay attention to but also classify what that thing is, which then forces us to compare different things, be they artifacts or landscape features, with other things, reducing the complexity of what we see to something like a written record. In Deleuzian terms, the signs we are so keen to erect render difference into something that is merely between two or more classifications or identities.

Signs are, of course, not limited to actual signposts out there. Lowenthal (112) reminds us that we also come to experience the world through markings that are not actually present in the landscape. For example, maps and guidebooks come to shape our experience as we engage with our surroundings. We come to search for this and/or that feature in the landscape if it is indicated on a map or in some guidebook and also come to recognize such features, even though we wouldn’t without the maps or guidebooks. He (112) adds that, conversely, if something is not indicated on a map, and/or in the landscape, it is not considered to be there because it lacks the validity for its existence, as guaranteed by some relevant authority. This may also lead to a situation where there is something interesting out there, but it lacks the relevant recognition. He (112) notes how that may lead to situations where some area is (re)developed without taking existing artifacts or landscape features into account, thus risking damage to them.

With regards to landscapes, not merely certain features present in them as discussed thus far, he (112-113) states that the depictions of landscapes may become more important the landscapes themselves, what’s out there. He (112-113) exemplifies this with the case of Niagara Falls. There’s certainly no shortage of paintings and photographs of Niagara Falls. People go to see the falls for that reason, to see those great waterfalls. They are, quite literally, chasing waterfalls (sorry, I just had to). The thing with bodies of water is that they are susceptible to change. All that water is not just contained in some impenetrable concrete vessel that will stay the same forever. That means that bodies of water, such as rivers and waterfalls will eventually change. Of course, this is bad for business as people come there to see a visual monument, a marvel of nature, those spectacular waterfalls, not some gently sloping rivers that meet at a lake. This results in intervention. The site has to be managed, in ways that preserve it as depicted in paintings and photos. This is, of course, rather ironic, considering that people come there to see a ‘natural’ wonder of the world.

Again, he (113-114) provides other examples, but I’ll leave to you to go through them on your own. It’s, however, worth noting that these examples include what he calls architectural antiquities, various buildings and monuments which would crumble if not preserved in various ways. There’s also the question of what counts as something worth preserving anyway. Who gets to judge that? And based on what?

Lowenthal (114-118) elaborates various cases and how one might handle them, ranging from leaving things be as they are or attempting to restore things, as we think there were, that is to say ought to be, as well as altogether re-enacting or re-creating something long gone. What I take from this is that there is no right or wrong answer to this, how to handle the issue. No matter what we do, it’s always going to be selective. As he (117) points out, we are in the habit of wanting to preserve “what we feel ought to have been” rather than what genuinely was because our actions “inevitably convey the flavor of … [the] day.” As he (118) keenly observes, this results in “mak[ing] remnants from the past more clustered, uniform, and homogeneous”, especially if those remnants are moved from where they once were to one specific area, such as a historic precinct, as is the case with “a tastefully restored Colonial village, a ghost mining town, [or] a Gay Nineties downtown street”. In other words, this results in artificial purity (albeit isn’t purity always artificial?) of both space and time and areas that are “as sterile and as atypical of their own periods as a brand new subdivision today”, as he (118) points out. They are like large scale museums, in the sense that museums tend to be places filled with items that have little to do with one another.

The next interesting part of the text for me is where Lowenthal (118) notes how what we consider important in one era differs from what we consider important in another era. Should we preserve and/or exhibit this or that? Why and why not? He (118-119) distinguishes two themes. Firstly, there’s a tendency of valuing and preferring anything old over everything new. The older, the better. Secondly, if we encounter multiple pasts, artifacts from multiple eras, again, we tend to value the older over the newer. In other words, there’s a bias towards the primordial, the Ur, although there’s nothing that guarantees that old artifacts reveals us more about our past, our origins, than the more subsequent artifacts, as he (119) points out. He (119) provides some examples in which the common theme is deemed purity, removing or attempting to remove more subsequent features that ‘intrude’ on the historical integrity of a building, a site or a landscape. For him (119-120) this view ignores how environments are lived, how they are stratified and how they will change and will keep on changing.

I’ll skip some bits again, including the highly amusing bit on how Robert Rauschenberg took a Willem de Kooning drawing and obliterated it by finely erasing it contents, so that you can only, sort of, see the original lines, as pressed against the paper. Anyway, at this point (I realize that I forgot to number these) Lowenthal (120-121) states that the key issue pertaining to the three types of activities, marking, protecting and enhancing, is that it is hard to draw a line between them, because they flow from one to the other, in a way that it becomes a vicious circle. It’s hard to prevent the world from transforming.

The final part of the essay (121-124) is dedicated to monuments and memorials. This change in focus has to do with how they don’t function “to preserve the past but to recall and celebrate it”, as he (121) clearly points out. In a way they are what one might call a standout feature in any landscape because, as he (121) clarifies, they rarely have anything to do with the place where they are located. Instead, they function as constant reminders of sorts, of some past era, event or remarkable person. They are also standout features exactly because that’s the intention, to impress people and making it hard not to pay attention to them. This is also why people come to object to them, far more than any other feature in landscapes, even destroying them, as he (123) points out. Examples of this that come to my mind is what happened to Nelson’s Pillar in Dublin and, more recently, in my time, when people started pulling down Confederate statues in the US.

For Lowenthal (123), cemeteries are landscape features that have little to do with the dead as they function as fields of remembrance, as “assemblages of personal memorials.” If we put an Augustinian spin on this, the dead matter not because they lack existence, only the living do, hence cemeteries are, in fact, for the living, not the dead. Cemeteries can even function collectively, as is the case with military cemeteries. They are, quite literally, fields of the dead marked by uniform grave markers, evoking not remembrance of the individual, whoever it is that is marked as buried in the soil, but some war, the heroic deeds of soldiers who died for their country, as he (123) specifies their character. He (123) adds that the more distant the deceased become to the living, the more collective the remembrance becomes, shifting the focus from an individual past to a common past. There’s also the odd quality to cemeteries, how both the form and content mark a certain era or eras, albeit it’s hardly intentional, as he (123) points out.

It was, I think, a couple years ago, in the summertime, when we visited the grave site of some distant relative, because its upkeep had to be renewed. Anyway, that’s hardly memorable, in itself. What was striking was exactly what Lowenthal (123) is pointing out. We had to look for the specific gravestone so it took a bit of gazing before we found the right one. Anyway, there was this engraving on one of the gravestones that caught my attention. It had the usual bits, name, date of birth and the date when the person had died. It also had what one might consider the person’s profession or job. The thing is that it was ‘tourist’. Oh, okay? I can only comprehend that by assuming that back in the day, I think it was in the early 1900s, one had to be quite wealthy to be a tourist. So, the point here being that “the antiquarian effect is seldom intended”, as Lowenthal (123) phrases it.

It’s time to wrap this up and why not, because Lowenthal (124) does it in style:

“The past, like the present, is always in flux. When we identify, preserve, enhance, or commemorate surviving artifacts and landscapes, we affect the very nature of the past, altering its meaning and significance for every generation in every place.”

In other words, as he (125) summarizes this:

“Conscious appreciation of the tangible past always sets in motion forces that alter it.”

Only to give it an ominous spin (125; in reference to ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’, page 31):

“As Orwell feared, ‘who controls the present controls the past.’ I have tried to show that this is true, not only for totalitarian societies that deliberately expunge and alter the past, but for all human beings.”

He (124) reiterates the paradox of how the interest in the past, being antiquarian, threatens and likely debases what is antiquated. This is particularly true with popular tourist sites. A place that is considered important becomes an attraction, then money is needed to keep it maintained and restored, but that only leads to more attraction, to more tourists. Of course things don’t have to be this way and in many places people don’t make fuss about this and/or that feature of the past, which he (124) comments on:

“[L]inks are unbroken only so long as no one realizes how unlike the present the tangible past is.”

Then again, as he (124-125) goes on to comment, all it takes is to break that link, how this and/or that artifact or landscape feature is no longer a part of everyday life, no longer part of a continuum. It doesn’t take much, as he (125) goes on to elaborate:

“They would wonder at it, think it of another time, sketch and photograph it, and transform the children into pimps and picturesque likenesses on Kodachrome. Villagers would provide lodgings and souvenirs – post cards and replicas … – and mark the way with signposts. Publicity would swell the press of visitors and require the government to fence off the [site], station guards, and charge admission to defray these costs.”

Haha, love it, they way he presents this! You need to know what Kodachrome is! Not a given these days. Also, stating that people, in this case the area children, are turned into pimps! Of course, I reckon, not in the sense that they are procures who arrange opportunities for illicit sexual encounters, but in the sense that they pander for an appetite. They are turned into parts of the product, matching the appeal of the ‘olde’.

He (125) finds pros and cons in all this. On one hand, it’s apparent that this can be potentially dangerous, as it “can falsify and destroy the real past”, either by simply ruining it or turning it into something it never was. The case of the Kensington Runestone is a good example of the latter, where it matters not whether the artifact is even genuine, when the local people celebrate it as such and erect oversized monuments to venerate it. On the other hand, the falsification and ruination of the past can be a good thing because it “can help free us from conscious or unconscious dependence on a mythical past.”

What I like about this essay is that it not only focuses on how time is particularly important in understanding our relationship with out surroundings but how it also turns our attention to how signposts, or just signs as they are typically called in linguistic landscape literature, alter our encounters with out surroundings. They not only physically change the sites, the landscapes, but also change how we come interpret, to understand, them. In Deleuzo-Guattarian terms, they create corporeal transformations as well as incorporeal transformations. In the case of the Kensington Runestone, it led to the erection of an outsized replica of the said runestone and a large cartoonish viking statue that has a text on its shield, claiming that vikings were first to be in North America. Fair enough, apparently the Vikings got to North America before Columbus, if L’Anse aux Meadows site at the northern tip of Newfoundland is taken into account, but there’s no confirmation of them ever reaching Minnesota. Then again, it matters not how things actually were. What matter is how they are now because, following Deleuze, or, alternatively St. Augustine, the past is a dimension of the present, or, as Lowenthal (125) puts it, “to appreciate the past is to transform it” as “[e]very trace of the past is a testament not only to its initiators but to its inheritors” because the past is always rolled up in the present and seen from the present perspective.

Impressions and Expressions, Designs and Designations, the Elite and the Riffraff

So, I have about ten or so pages of ‘The Biography of Landscape: Cause and Culpability’ by Marwyn Samuels left to cover. I’ll go through these pages in this essay. But before I do that, I’ll summarize what I covered in my previous essay.

Right, the gist of the essay is that we should not attribute what we see, the landscape, to some abstract, otherworldly entity or process, such as nature, culture, deity, economy, labor, capitalism, politics or humanity. That said, that’s the trick. We tend to do exactly that, to attribute landscape to no one in particular (at all), which then obscures why things are the way they are. It is in this sense that landscape is particularly absurd. It’s clearly a human invention, yet it appears as if it wasn’t. On top of that, it’s very telling of humans, yet, oddly enough, it’s that in the absence of actual humans. In short, I guess you could say that landscape is human, yet, at the same time, also inhuman because all that’s human is at the expense of actual humans. So, it also not only obscures why things are the way they are, but it also obscures who did what and, in reverse, who didn’t do what, that is to say who don’t have agency, who don’t get to have a say about the way things are or should be. In other words, Samuels reminds us to not forget who is or could be held responsible for the way things are, hence the title of his essay includes the words ‘cause’ and ‘culpability’.

In order to address the central concern of his essay, authorship or, what I’d rather call it, agency, Samuels (69) distinguishes between how we come imagine the world, landscape impressions, and how we come to live in the world, landscape expressions. Up to this point in the essay he’s gone on and on about how subjectivism is a good thing, to the point that I think that he, inadvertently, ends up doing the same as the objectivists, universalizing what it is to be human, making it no one in particular. Anyway, here he (69-70) shifts his view, making this neither simply a subjective or an objective matter. I can only appreciate this move.

He (70) elaborates landscape impressions or landscapes of impressions. For him (70), they are “by definition, [what] belong to and arise from the thoughts of someone”, “more about than in the landscape”. What’s crucial is how people come to perceive their surroundings and reshape them into images. So, in a sense, landscape impressions are imaginary. What’s also important is how ill conceived landscape impressions are, how landscape imagery is riddled with caricatures, with clichés. He (70-71) includes a short list of such caricatures that plague landscape art. I won’t go through them. I’ll offer another example instead. I remember watching a documentary on Australian painters. The documentary covers different stages in Australian visual arts. What struck me was how the first bunch of painters were plagued by the landscape impressions of Europe. Their depictions of their new surroundings looked awfully lot like Europe. For example, their depictions of mountains bore resemblance to the Alps. Having grown up in Europe, they had become accustomed to the ways painters had depicted mountains, so they ended up depicting them the same way. That may seem absurd but you do have to keep in mind that painting outdoors, looking at what you are attempting to depict on canvas, is fairly new thing. Many famous landscape paintings were actually painted indoors, in a studio, because mixing the paints was a pain in the ass, way too much of hassle to do somewhere outdoors before the introduction of prefabricated paints. When you take that into account, it’s not that surprising that their depictions of Australian mountains ended up looking like the Alps. Okay, they may have had sketches done on the spot but they still had to fill in the gaps, or so to speak, and that‘s where the impressions kick in.

I pointed out in the previous essay how landscape art became associated with nationalism. Samuels (71) makes the same observation as did the lecturer on my aesthetics lectures when he points that nation states were keen to utilize landscape art to their own purposes:

“The modern history of nation-states is filled with exaggerated images about homelands, motherlands, and fatherlands. They are exaggerated both by means of poetic license applied to the ‘we of some identity with place, and by exaggerating the conditions of an alien ‘they.’”

He (71) calls this the topophilic myth and exemplifies it with how countries such as Canada are depicted as virginal and untrammeled, distinguished by the vast swathes of untouched forest. He (71) adds that, in reverse, what tends to be missing is anything modern or technological:

“It is a landscape of lost, but aspired to, innocence; a modern day variant of romanticism.”

So, anything that is ‘alien’ or ‘other’ to these romanticized depictions of our environment is kept out. This means that, in practice, you’ll find it hard to find landscape imagery that contains polluting factories, traffic jams, clearcutting or the like. Now, of course, this does depend on the context. For example, I reckon that you can have landscape imagery that depicts factories, say, those old brick buildings from the late 1800s and early 1900s, but, in my experience, they are, quite literally, sanitized versions of what was.

Anyway, Samuels (71) moves on to point out that while landscape impressions are riddled with hyperbole, exaggeration and caricatures, they are not simply a matter of make believe. People are not being whimsical. In his (71-72) words:

“[I]f subjective in origin, landscape impressions acquire an objective content insofar as they have a history: a history of authorship, diffusion and impact. That is, whether benign or odious, landscape images have an objective content as[.]”

This is a three-fold matter to him (72). Firstly (72):

“[T]hey can be attributed someone[.]”

Secondly, continuing on the first case (72):

“… who … created, obtained, or conveyed an image in a context[.]”

Thirdly, continuing on the second case (72):

“… which … is shared with others.”

In other words, as explained by him (72):

“The image can be explained in terms of an historic someone somewhere. It can be explained in terms of a reality charged and often supercharged with attachments to and identities with places, people, and things on the part of some author in some context. In the process, the image itself acquires an objective content, because it too has a history.”

If it isn’t obvious already, the key word here is history. So, instead of taking things for granted, that the landscape is inevitably like this or like that, we need to examine its history, how it came to being and who were involved in it coming to being. Samuels (86-87) further elaborates this in the notes section of his essay, noting that it matters not whether something is actually true or false. What matters instead is what people hold to be true or false. In his (86-87) words:

“The ‘truth-value’ of an image is not in the environment itself, but in the eye of the beholder. If the image is ‘exaggerated,’ it is only to say that someone else (a third party, or the one against whom the image may be aimed) holds a contrary view which through common agreement, is less ‘exaggerated.’ Whether true or false, benign or dangerous, images exist and acquire an ‘objective’ content as they acquire a history; a history of authors in context.”

He (87) also clarifies what he wants to do:

“One essential merit of a biography of such imagery is that, by tracing the history of authorship, we expose the identity of those most responsible for the image, as well as for the landscape made in the wake of the image.”

That said, as acknowledged by him (72) in the body of the text, this is easier said than done, because:

“[T]he original authors, contexts, and meanings of landscape images are often lost[.] … The image may become, as it were, part of the media for the making of its likeness in the impressions of others. Here too, however, the image acquires an objective content as it is shared, promulgated, and changed by other authors to suit their own purposes. The image may become part of the media for the making of shared landscapes.”

More simply put, as this deals with landscape impressions, how we imagine our surroundings, the impressions end up shaping subsequent impressions, and so on and so on, to the point that it can be quite hard to trace who did what, why, where and when. It can get quite blurry, yet it’s all still quite important as our imagination is loaded with these impressions that we have inherited down the line. I reckon it’s fair to say that landscape is an invention, of a certain artistic kind, and hence subjective. That said, imaginary or not, they are, oddly enough, not merely subjective. You don’t get to have a say, really. This is part of the problem. You can not not see landscape because it’s not about you.

Samuels (72) turns his attention to landscape expressions or landscapes of expression. Not unlike landscape impressions, for him (73), “landscape expressions are, by definition, expressing something on the part of someone.” So, as already hinted in the title of his essay, he (73) wishes to emphasize the importance of asking the question of who is behind this and/or that expression in the landscape. The problem with this task is that, as acknowledged by him (73), “landscapes are the products of pluralities, rather than particular individuals.” In other words, again, it’s hard to pinpoint anyone particular as responsible for this and/or that in the landscape. On top of that, as pointed out by him (73), while it may well be possible to indicate certain individuals as responsible for this and/or that expression, as manifested in the landscape, one needs to take into account how the landscape impressions, as well as any other unrelated impressions, operate as “the contexts for the making of landscapes”, i.e. why people act in this and/or that way. Then there’s also the problem for accounting for all the impressions that do not, for whatever reason, manifest in the landscape and indicating why that is or might be, as he (73) goes on to add.

There’s some repetition in this part of his (73-74) essay (on how impressions and expressions are alike and linked to one another), which I’ll gladly skip, in order to cover new ground. So, Samuels (75) turns his attention to what he calls “the design of landscape.” He (75) indicates that some landscapes are clearly designed, that is to say that they were purposely designed and subsequently built and/or shaped according to a certain design. He (75) exemplifies this with large gardens that are designed to look a certain way. That said, he (75) acknowledges that his example is clearly contrived and has little to do with the everyday life of most people. Indeed, when was the last time that you spent your days in some garden? Yeah, that must have been a while ago. I for sure can’t remember when that was. I reckon my last encounter with such was walking through some palace garden abroad. That would mean it was years ago. As a result of this issue, he (75) turns his attention to cities as they are often designed, yet, in actuality, their design involves a vast number of people, including “all those who live in and contribute to the design of the landscape.”

Samuels (75-76) reckons that language plays an important part in how it is that we come to think of certain areas. Again, he (76) wishes to emphasize that landscape impressions, namely in the form of landscape imagery, are as important as the landscape itself. To be more specific, he (76) argues that, in the modern context, those who make the landscape are also often those who imagine it. So, you have to take into account those who have a stake in various developments, including “real estate agents, brokers and developers” who not only “convey and perpetuate landscape intentions cast by others” but also “create, manipulate, and designate the forms and meanings of places” in order to convey a message that molds places, as explained by him (76). I reckon it’s worth clarifying here that they do so because it’s in their interest to do so, to make money. So, in short, while design is important, one also needs to take into account how language (or, I guess, more broadly speaking, semiotics) plays a role in the production of landscapes, what he (76) calls designation.

Having established what he calls design and designation, Samuels (76) indicates what’s left to do:

“[W]e are still left with the problem of identifying particular authors. We may understand that some author or authors were responsible for an event or fact of landscape, but find the task of specific attribution difficult. At this juncture the biography of landscape becomes akin to the task of investigative reportage. It becomes, as it were, a search for those who have obviously, intentionally, or inadvertently left their signatures somewhere.”

What I found interesting about this is how we need to be on the lookout for signatures. This made me think of Jacques Derrida in ‘The Post Card: From Socrates to Freud and Beyond’ (1987 translation by Alan Bass) and in ‘Limited Inc’ published in 1988. In ‘The Post Card: From Socrates to Freud and Beyond’ Derrida (5) asks a number of relevant questions:

“Who is writing? To whom? And to send, to destine, to dispatch what? To what address?”

As suggested by the title of his book, he (5) focuses on a post card and wonders, who wrote this, who sent this, and to whom it was written to, to be received in mail, only to make a further distinction. He (5) notes how a post card may contain a signature, yet he can’t be sure that the person who put his or her signature on it is the same person who wrote it. He (8) points out the same thing in ‘Limited Inc’, how the writer, the scripteur, is not necessarily the same person as the underwriter, the souscripteur (the one who subscribes?), the signatory. It’s the same thing on the other end. The addressee is not necessarily the person who actually receives and takes a look at the post card.

This may seem rather gloomy, but, I reckon it’s not. It’s not a bug. It’s a feature. As explained by Derrida (8) in ‘Limited Inc’, works, in his case texts, are always cut off from their creators, “orphaned and separated at birth”. I reckon this is a positive thing. This actually allows the works to operate in the absence of their creators. For example, this feature allows you to make sense of this essay, in my absence. I hope you are aware that I’m not literally having a conversation with you. Instead, it’s rather like you having a conversation with a text, which is, at best, a fictional version of me, as imagined by you. Oddly enough, you don’t have to query any of this from me. Sure, you can do that and I could put this and/or that in other words, to further elaborate what I’m after with this and/or that, but it’s not necessary. This also applies to cases where the creator is long gone, already dead. Of course it’s besides the point whether the creator is dead or not as the absence just has to do with not being present, there and then, to be consulted. Anyway, we are able to make sense of things, even in the absence of others, those who created whatever it is that we are trying to make sense of.

Of course this not only makes our creations quite handy but it also lends us the potential to express anything in our absence. Simply put, it’s handy that we can relay a message to someone else, for example by leaving a note, say that we’ve run out of food, so that that person can remedy the issue. That’s very productive as people don’t have to be in the same place at the same time. Then again, that’s only one example, a rather benign one. The same applies to other expressions, such as signs indicating that an area has camera surveillance. It can and probably does change people’s behavior, regardless of whether there actually are any cameras or not. Now, we could have someone there, to express the same thing to people, on the spot. We could also just have them there, for that purpose, to keep an eye on people, so that they behave. However, all that is expensive, at least when you compare it to just having a sign that tells people that they are under surveillance. As I pointed out, you don’t even need the cameras. You only need to make it seem like there are or could be cameras, recording your every move.

For Samuels (76), one obvious form of signatures is the practice of naming places, calling them this or that, often after this or that person. He (77) also notes how a lot of what’s contained in the landscape, the design(ed) bits, can traced back to various public and private entities by looking at various records, such as “city and county council minutes, newspaper editorials and columns, corporate stock holder meetings, promotional literatures, and in various other public and not-so-public archives.” That said, he (77-78) reckons that this is only a part of the story as the records tend to only contain information about “those whose names have been deemed worthy of record.” He (78) argues that we end up subscribing to a partial and elitist view of landscape authorship if all the “transients, newcomers or strangers, criminals, the ‘outsider[s],’” and “the ‘poor’” are not taken into account.

Before he moves on to take less evident landscape participants into account, he (78) clarifies what he means by elitist. I don’t think it’s necessary for me to cover this segment. That said, I’ll include bits of this segment because people often use the word differently from what it used to mean, specifically. He (78) acknowledges how it is typically used:

“Whatever their scale or nature, the ordinary meaning of the term ‘elite’ refers to those who occupy positions of authority in the sense that others follow, listen to, and are influenced by their choices and decisions.”

I agree. I reckon that’s how people tend to use the word. That said, as pointed out by him (78), to be specific, ‘elite’ has to do with having the ability to choose and therefore “[c]hoice is the central criterion of elitism.” Often having a choice has to do with money. However, it’s not only about the money. It could be about status or about your contacts. I’m not going to go deep into this as this is a topic for another essay, something that I’ve already done. Instead, I’ll go with how Samuels (79) further elaborates the issue:

“[T]he implementation of choice is often limited to those who, for one reason or another, have the means to overcome or escape social, economic, political, legal, education, physical, or other constraints.”

This does not, however, mean that it’s a clear cut thing, that there are only the haves and have nots, not to mention the have yachts. Samuels (79) argues that while it may seem like that only the select few can shape landscape, everyone actually do, albeit their influence over landscape obviously varies accordingly. In his (79) words:

“[E]ven in the most socially limiting circumstances of birth, race, wealth, education, or position, individuals ceaselessly emerge to mold and create their own landscapes.”

He (79) adds that the expressions of the masses, the folk and the poor are not hidden. They are always there but you just have to know how to look for them, as he (79) points out. What’s missing here is, however, how one does that, how one not only looks for those expressions but also how one finds them. He (79) does provide some examples, such as graffiti, but at least I find his instructions rather concise. Then again, perhaps I’m just more stringent on what counts as such expressions. He (79) includes people and what they tell in the mix, whereas, for me, those don’t count as landscape expressions. I reckon they may well count as landscape impressions, but not really as expressions. Anyway, feel free to disagree if you don’t like my view of the issue.

Samuels (79) wraps up his essay by emphasizing that unless we address agency and grant that people have agency, no matter how difficult the circumstances may be, as in the concentration camp example he uses, we succumb into determinism in which no one has any responsibility because no one has any choice. For him (79), there’s always choice, even if those choices can at times be very limited. He (79) does acknowledge that there can be situations where people have no choice but it’s not because they inherently have no choice but because others have stripped them from having a choice. In other words, the choice is rendered moot. This is what he (79) refers to as dehumanizing, a process in which victims are no longer treated as humans and the perpetrators are, possibly, no longer acting as humans but mere automatons. Of course, he (79-80) isn’t content with this, even if that may well be the case on the ground, or so to speak. This goes back to his (52) initial statement about the absurdity of landscape, how it is certainly human, yet it is “a geography of man devoid of men.” Simply put, as I pointed out early on, landscape is both human and inhuman at the same time. That’s the central problem. In his (80) words:

“[If] no one is ever responsible, if we are all but victims of G[o]d, History, Nature, Reason, or ‘the System,’ then we and our landscapes are by definition, lacking in human content. In that event, ‘explanation’ may supercede ‘attribution’[.]”

If it isn’t obvious already, he (80) wants us to do the exact opposite, to pay attention to who is responsible and for what. How one does that is something that he leaves open, as I already pointed out. To be fair, he (80) does actually indicate that his theory and his method is hardly complete, albeit largely because he reckons that he has barely scratched the surface of the issue that pertains to human choice and responsibility. I think it’s good that he acknowledges that. Then again, perhaps that’s a bit unnecessary. I mean, I reckon he does a fairly good job at explaining such a complex issue in about 30 pages of text. I quite appreciate how, at the time, it was actually possible to write 30 pages on a single issue. Imagine that now. Yeah, not gonna happen. There’s no patience. What is expected of people is more of the same, what has already been established. I’d love to write 30 pages on a single concept, but I reckon it would be considered tedious. Oh, why dost thou even bother, they’d ask. For me the problem is that I end up writing something either something super dense or superficial when I don’t get to explain things in the necessary detail.

Samuels (81) also adds that as much as he is in favor of focusing on the individual, in order to embrace greater particularity and avoid the inhumanity of attributing landscape to abstract entities or processes, he acknowledges that his approach may not always work. To be more specific, he (81) concedes that much of our environment has been “molded, designed and designated” for centuries without there being any traces of anyone’s signature. It’s, of course, possible that there once were signatures but they have been eroded or removed. It’s also possible that people didn’t leave any signatures. This is actually ones of the points Derrida makes when he discusses how texts function. Anyway, Samuels (81) reckons that often the best thing we can do is to speculate, to infer, to intuit, who is responsible for this and/or that feature or artifact in the landscape. For him (81), this by no means results in “a dehumanization of the faceless and the nameless” and it is, perhaps, if not likely, “all that we can ever hope to accomplish.” On top of this, I would add, one should acknowledge the possibility of forged signatures. Not everything is what it appears to be. Appearances can be deceiving.

As a recap, while I don’t agree with everything in the essay, I do recommend reading it as it contains very good points that actually still highly relevant. Sure, I reckon it’s fair to say that it shows that the essay was written in the late 1970s, having been published in 1979. That said, it’s still way, way better than most journal articles that one comes across these days. There’s just the level of depth that I like. His emphasis on agency, who is responsible and for what, is what makes this essay stand out. He is also willing to recognize how difficult the task of answering that question is and how one inevitably runs into problems when attempting to answer that. At best, one is often left to make educated guesses, working on intuition as those responsible for this and/or that are long gone. So, do yourself a favor and read this essay. You’ll find it in a collection of essays titled ‘The Interpretation of Ordinary Landscapes: Geographical Essays’ edited by Donald Meinig.

The (un)happy couple – When Athens met Jerusalem

In the previous essay I presented a list of excuses as to why I’ve been unproductive but finally managed to be productive. Anyway, I didn’t get far. The only thing I attended to was noting how perceptive Marwyn Samuels is in his 1979 essay ‘The Biography of Landscape: Cause and Culpability’, as included a collection of essays titled ‘The Interpretation of Ordinary Landscapes: Geographical Essays’, as edited by Donald Meinig.

The gist of that essay is that Samuels asks us to pay attention to the absence of humans in the landscape, be it how we come to observe the world, our surroundings, or in art. The central problem is that agency or authorship, the issue of who did this, was, and arguably still is, largely explained by appealing to entities such as culture, which is as useful as attributing its existence to the will of God. I also pointed out that, oddly enough, Samuels seems to end up doing the same thing.

I’m going to continue from my point of departure in the essay, which is before I got sidetracked and ended up explaining why attributing landscape to not only no one in particular but to something as broad as culture is such a problem. Relevant to that issue, Samuels (53) wonders how it is, how it came to be so that we’ve come to forget the who when it comes to landscape. How is it that landscape is all about people, yet always in the absence of people. The short answer here is that objectivism, what Valentin Vološinov might call abstract objectivism, leaves no room for the subject, the self.

Samuels (53) characterizes the intellectual heritage of the West as having two sources: Athens (the Ancients: the Greeks, the Romans) and Jerusalem (the Jews and the Christians). The former is marked by objectivism, seeking explanations. The latter is marked by subjectivism, engaging in lamentation, anguishing in passional guilt.

Now, if you’ve read my essays on ‘A Thousand Plateaus’ by Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari (1987 translation by Brian Massumi), you’ll notice something familiar. On one hand you have the signifying regime of signs. On the other hand you have the postsignifying regime of signs. The former is marked by a thirst for meaning or signifiance, what something is or means, that can be rather paranoid, as one simply needs to know! Damn you Plato! The latter is marked by passionality, the know it all type, and infinite postponement, existing under reprieve, going from one trial or anguishing experience to another, just when you thought you made it. Contemporarily these are mixed, hence people want to know what something really is, say, the meaning of life, their raison d’être, or the like, and, yet, think they know it all, that they are the center of universe and everyone else is dumb. The irony is, of course, that their quest for the meaning of something is futile and they know nothing, you know, like Jon Snow.

For Samuels (53-54) the issue is that Athens has overrun Jerusalem, eradicating the self, the I. Even though I don’t fully agree with him, I’ll ally myself with Samuels here for a moment because he is making a good point. Now while I try to write these essays, these glorified blog posts, in a way that would be approachable to just about anyone, this is not the case when I write articles that are published in journals. Why is that? Well, because, you are not supposed to be ‘subjective’. You are supposed to be ‘objective’. This extends to the way how things are expressed, to the point that it’s just absurd. Taken to the extreme, there shall be no ‘I’ in a ‘scientific’ article because that’s a sign of ‘subjectivism’ and we, no, sorry, they, the priests, simply cannot have that. The irony is, of course, that no matter how you abstain from expressing the ‘I’, it’s always there. What do ‘I’ mean by this? Well, let’s say there’s this line (that ‘I’ just made up, on the spot):

“It is a matter of fact.”

As you can see, there is no ‘I’ contained in that line. There’s no who to it, which is exactly what bothers Samuels (53). Of course that’s just nonsense. How so? Let me rephrase that:

“I say that it is a matter of fact.”

The objectivist is either clearly misguided or simply dishonest. Perhaps even both. No matter how you try to justify it, there is no expression, be it spoken or written, or anyhow … expressed … say, gestured, without it having a source, someone who expresses it. There is no language without people. It’s always the ‘I’ who expresses something, regardless of the mode of expression. It’s just delusional to think otherwise. Expressing ‘I’ is redundant, considering that it’s always someone, an ‘I’, who expresses the ‘I’. This actually the issue you could take with such ‘subjective’ formulations. Why express it? It obvious that the expression always has an origin, no matter if that origin is a mere mouth piece.

That said, you can state that the latter formulation is still different from the former. Agreed. It’s not that expressing the ‘I’ doesn’t have its uses. For example, it can be handy when the origin of the expression is obscure or unclear. This would be the case if I said what’s contained in the former example, only to be asked who said it, followed by me saying what’s contained in the latter example, that I was the one who said that.

Then again, taking all that into consideration, the supposed objectivist still cannot hold his or her abstinence from expressing the ‘I’ as an indicator of objectivism. I reckon that, unless the ‘I’ is expressed for the sake of clarity, expressing it or not expressing it results in the same thing. It may indeed seem that the latter example concedes something and that it is thus subjective, the former example is no more objective than the latter example, considering that there’s always an ‘I’, even if, on the surface, it doesn’t appear to be the case.

To make this interesting, for you that is, try it out, properly, by eliciting a reaction from an objectivist. I dare you! Don’t be a frail coward! Push people a bit and you’ll see how rewarding it can be! For example, try it out on some high and mighty publication, just so that you can experience how the editor(s) and/or reviewers react to a supposedly subjective formulation. The goal is to see how it works in actuality, how the objectivists snap at you when they fail to see the point, when they take the bait. Okay, it won’t get you anywhere as they don’t have to concede anything, because, as I have explained in the past, the thing with priests is that they are always right because they are in a position to be right, by the grace of God.

To get back on track here, in the words used by Samuels (53-54) in reference to Lev Shestov, there is “an unrelenting ‘struggle against the ‘I,’ against individual experience’ which arises from the all too human endeavor to escape the particular and the consequences of selfhood.” More concisely, the way he (54) puts it, the objectivist hates nothing more than the ‘I’, the enemy number one is always “the ego, the self, and even the soul, all of which find their integrity simply as dependent variables.”

I acknowledge that I’m out of my league when it comes to medieval theology, so I can’t vouch for everything that Samuels (54-55) goes on about pertaining to the problem of subjectivity in Christianity and subsequently in the Enlightenment. There’s that. So if I’m off about something or if I fail to challenge him on something, it’s simply because I haven’t delved deep enough into medieval Christian theology to know any better. Know thy limitations and what not.

Anyway, in summary, Samuels (54-55) argues that under Christianity will, individuality and the self became associated with the doctrine of sin. That said, he (54) also notes how the will of the self is an essential premise in the Judeo-Christian understanding of what it is to be human as that’s what differentiates humans from animals. He (55) also connects monasticism and especially asceticism, seclusion from the hustle and bustle and the temptations of crowded cities, with the development of landscape as a secluded activity, confronting the world alone, in the absence of others, “devoid of humanity-in-general”.

This reminds me of how on the aesthetic lectures that I attended the lecturer stated how landscape was conceived as operating this way, as one’s solitary engagement with the world, in the early 1800s. Art was still very religious, even though, at the time, the influence of Christianity was far from what it was during medieval era. He indicated that back then it was held that it was possible to achieve metaphysical understanding of the world and your place in it by, for example, hiking to an elevated position, such as a steep hill or a mountain, and looking at the world from that position. This then ended up shifted from engagement with the world to engagement with the nation in the late 1800s. You no longer sought to understand the world and yourself by through distanced visual engagement but to understand the nation and yourself as a national, as part of that nation.

Back to Samuels (55) who notes that while there was this emphasis on the self in ascetism and in the secluded life in the monasteries, the social order of monasticism still prevailed. In short, the world and the society were seen as in dire need of order (logos), whereas anything individual, anything related to the self and the will, was deemed perverted. He (55-56) continues, noting that this reached a whole new level in the Cartesian Cogito which saw the self, the empirical or particular self, the individual, being substituted by the universal self, the self of no one in particular. It resulted in a peculiar form of idealism. He (56) elaborates it:

“The idealism of the new world was thus never subjective idealism. The paradox of that idealism, furthermore, was that in order to defend its own brand of humanism, the new sciences had to rid themselves of any anthropocentric taint. Thought became the center of being, but had nonetheless to rid itself of the familiar enemy: the potential assertion of self, its suspect will, unreliable senses, and fearsome accountability.”

In other words, the subject, the self became universal. This also explains the point he (57) makes about how in science the observer, the one doing the experiment is always taken as no one in particular. There is also no room “for the idiosyncrasy, willfulness, and irrationality of men”, as he (57) puts it.

At about this point in the essay I find myself no longer in agreement with Samuels. He (58) is very adamant about the willful self, the autonomous individual subject, to the point that, to me, he, himself, ends up conceptualizing humans as no one in particular, as having built-in universal autonomy and exhibiting perfect individuality distinct from everyone else. For example, he (58) castigates David Harvey for ignoring those who live and work in the landscape:

“At least, we might expect an interpretation of the meanings people give their landscapes. In fact, however, what we are given instead is a panoply of qualifications. First, the landscape symbols themselves are deemed meaningful only in the light of their most general concatenations. What is more, only the ‘messages people receive from their constructed environments’ acquire significance here, for only they can be measure with any accuracy as regards behavior.”

In other words, he (58) isn’t happy with how Harvey considers people passive recipients in the landscape, having no agency. He (58) finishes his argument against Harvey:

“As for anyone in particular, any one individual that might have constructed the landscape, Harvey is quick to add that he ‘doubt[s] very much whether we will ever truly understand the intuitions which lead a creative artist to mold space to convey message.’”

He (58) takes issue with what to him seems like Harvey’s unwillingness to understand the author, the artist, the will of the individual. He (58) calls this a rationalist belief, that holds that it is impossible to understand someone’s intuitions. I’m sorry but I have to side with Harvey on this one. I just don’t buy it that there is any ill will to it. That said, I think Samuels is correct when he (59) states that no matter what, the self lurks in the background. Even the researcher is always an ‘I’, no matter how much attention you pay to formulation sentences so that it doesn’t appear to be subjective, as I pointed out earlier. However, I don’t agree with him (59) on that:

“[T]he failure to understand the intent and responsibility of the individual in no sense here mitigates the ‘fact’ of ‘intuitions which lead (some individual) to mold space to convey a message.’”

Which, according to him (59), apparently:

“It merely admits to a failure of method. Indeed, by his doubt, Harvey proclaims the individual (i.e., the ‘creative artist’) as the source of landscape meaning.”

The way I read Harvey, I just don’t see him admitting to any failure of method. Sure he (31-33) isn’t crystal clear about the issue in ‘Social Justice and the City’, the book that Samuels is referring to here, but I can’t find a passage where it would be evident that this is the case. I also fail to find a passage where he asserts that the individual is the source of landscape meaning. His (31-32) examples actually consist of churches, chapels, skyscrapers and villages. Sure, an artist, in this case an architect, may have something in mind, but an architect is rarely the person who commissions buildings. The artist may have his or her own vision but those who commission the projects are the ones whose interests they further. Harvey (32) actually notes how the layout of an 18th century English village actually reflects social order, how the nobility and church are in privileged positions in the society. Simply put, it is of little consequence who came up with the actual layout or engaged in masonry when those who fund the projects have the final say anyway.

Now, for the sake of argument, let’s imagine that the artist, be it, say, an architect or a sculptor, funds the project him- or herself and puts it on display in a place owned and controlled by the artist. This way we eliminate the third parties. However, that still gets us nowhere when it comes to explaining the artist’s intent. It still remains ineffable. How so?

Well, for me, following Vološinov (36) in ‘Marxism and the Philosophy of Language’ (1973 translation by Ladislav Matejka and I.R. Titunik), one’s expression of one’s experience, is never the same thing as experience itself and experience itself is never individual as it is always conditioned by language, which certainly does not emerge from the individual but from engagement with other individuals. That’s why Harvey (32) calls them intuitions. You can try to explain intuitions, something intuitive, say, how it is that I know my hand is my hand and that I can do all kinds of things with it, for example wave it. However, at least I keep failing to explaining how that is. Just stating that I do something with my hand is off. It’s, as if, my hand was separate from me, my body, which it is not. I just do. Explaining how I do that is ineffable.

As I’m just some random graduate student, perhaps it’s better to have someone smarter explain this, someone like Henri Bergson. In ‘Introduction to Metaphysics’ (I’m looking at the 1946 edition of ‘The Creative Mind’, translated by Mabelle Andison) he (187-188) makes a distinction between two kinds of knowing, relative and absolute. The former is perspectival and symbolic (involves translation). The latter is non-perspectival and non-symbolic (no translation necessary). So, to go back to my hand example (Bergson actually uses moving an arm as an example), I sure can wave it around, in front of my eyes and see it from many perspectives, as if it was outside me, my body, dangling in front of me. I can also just have it be in front my eyes and move myself, my head and my eyes instead. I can also translate all that, put it into words, for me and others to know but the knowledge of that will always remain relative. I will have to keep analyzing my hand forever. Alternatively, and, at least to me, making way more sense, I can intuitively understand what the heck is going on. No words, nor thoughts are needed for me to operate my hand. I don’t have to command my hand, to articulate it in inner speech or outer speech. I don’t need any of that because I’m, quite literally, inside my own hand. If you feel like doubting my take on his view on this, just have a look at the original wording by Bergson (187):

“Take, for example, the movement of an object in space. I perceive it differently according to the point of view from which I look at it, whether from that of mobility or of immobility. I express it differently, furthermore as I relate it to the system of axes or reference points, that is to say, according to the symbols by which I translate it. … [I]n either case, I place myself outside the object itself.”

That is the relative way of knowing something, be it mobile or immobile. He (188) reiterates the key points in a shorter form:

“Symbols and points of view … place me outside it; they give me only what it has in common with others and what does not belong properly to it.”

He (187-188) explains the absolute way of knowing something:

“[T]he movement will not be grasped from without and, as it were, from where I am, but from within, inside it, in what it is in itself. I shall have hold of an absolute.”

Only to be reiterated by him (189):

“[W]hat is properly itself, what constitutes its essence, cannot be perceived from without, being internal by definition, nor be expressed by symbols, being incommensurable with everything else.”

According to him (189), the problem with the relative is that:

“Description … and analysis … leave me in the relative. Only by coinciding with the [object] itself would I possess the absolute.”

To get to point, he (190) indicates that:

“It follows that an absolute can only be given in an intuition, while all the rest has to do with analysis.”

He (190) further clarifies that intuition is always unique and inexpressible. Conversely, as added by him (190), analysis always involves reduction, reducing an “object to elements already known, that is, common to that object and to others”, and expressing something “in terms of what is not it.” I like the way Brian Massumi (16) expresses what happens here in his 1992 book ‘A User’s Guide to Capitalism and Schizophrenia’ when he reminds the reader that “[t]ranslation is repetition with a difference.” I reckon that’s as simply as you can put it.

It’s worth reiterating and emphasizing that, for Bergson (190), the central problem with analysis is that it will always result in a representation. For him (189-190), the central problem with representation is that it is never match to the original and it will always remain imperfect, no matter how much you attempt to add more data or further elaborate what’s at stake in other words. He (189) uses the example of attempting to photograph a whole city, a project that can only fail because no matter how much effort you put into it, you can never be sure that you covered it all. He (189) also explains this by comparing a poem with its translations, noting that while the translations may get close to the original, especially if they are reworked side by side, they always remain imperfect.

This is why Deleuze and Guattari (21) explain that we shouldn’t confuse multiplicity with multiple. With regards to the former, in practice, we always deal with subtractions of it, hence the formula they (21) use: n – 1. With regards to the latter, as they (21) explain, no matter how you pile up ones, you only end up with a multiple and therefore the formula is not: n + 1. The trick is that you can never piece together a multiplicity by piling up ones, by listing them all together because the ones are themselves subtractions of a multiplicity that “is not composed of units but of dimensions, or rather directions in motion”, as they (21) explain it. I like to think of it as trying to piece together a puzzle, only to never really know if you’ve managed to complete it because you don’t know if you have all the pieces because you don’t know the dimensions of the puzzle.

To explain this the other way around, for Bergson (189-190), only the absolute, only that what can be given in an intuition, reaches perfection. The analysis is forever condemned to going around in circles in its attempts to embrace objects from the outside, as explained by him (190-191).

Getting back on track here, back to the essay written by Samuels, I have to state it again, that I don’t know if it’s even possible to understand someone else’s intuitions as they cannot be put into words. The absolute can never be explained as something that is explained always becomes relative. It’s pointless for me to go on and on about my hand, how it is that I know that it’s my hand and what I can do with it. I just know and so do you. I can’t explain it and neither can you, yet I know and so you do. Strange, isn’t it? I must investigate this more, but I’ll leave that for another day.

Anyway, Samuels (84) actually further clarifies his stance vis-à-vis Harvey in the notes section of the essay. There he acknowledges that he is, in fact, largely in agreement with Harvey. For him, the key difference between him and Harvey is in their views on how meaning or sense emerges. Samuels is adamant about how one must start with the individual and then work his or her way up from there. Harvey (34) acknowledges that meaning is never separate from the individuals, yet, for him, like for me, and also for Vološinov, not to mention for Deleuze and Guattari, experience is, pretty much, always collective. Therefore, as hypothesized by Harvey (34), people are remarkably alike, largely because one’s experience is always colored by language, which one simply isn’t born with, nor are others, those from whom you acquire language, for that matter. That said, this does not result in herd mentality.

I think Vološinov (88) explains this issue particularly well when he distinguishes between the ‘I-experience’ and the ‘we-experience’. The former has to do physiological reactions, animal like behavior, if you will. For me, getting hit hard in the face or the like might just do it. The latter has to do with all those experiences that aren’t merely direct physiological reactions. It’s also worth emphasizing, as he (88) does, the ‘we-experience’ is never “nebulous herd experience”. Instead, for him (88), as it is for me as well, the physiological reactions aside, experience is always collective, yet differentiated. In his words:

“[D]ifferentiation, the growth of consciousness, is in direct proportion to the firmness and reliability of the social orientation. The stronger, the more organized, the more differentiated the collective in which an individual orients himself, the more vivid and complex his inner world will be.”

He (88-89) exemplifies this with how one comes to experience hunger. Hunger is a specific experience, very intuitive really, yet, as he (88) points out, being part of a collective always colors it, somehow. For example, it may be associated with various feelings, such as humility, shame and enviousness. It’s festive season right now and most people sure won’t end up experiencing hunger during Christmas. There are, however, always people who spend the holidays queuing to a soup kitchen or standing in a bread line. If it were only about the food, getting a fix to a physical reaction, those people wouldn’t feel any shame about it.

He (89) also warns not to confuse ‘individualistic self-experience’ nor ‘solitary self-experience’ with the ‘I-experience’ as both are actually forms of ‘we-experience’. The former does not emerge from the individual him- or herself, but from the socioeconomic situation outside the individual. He notes that it may well appear to be ‘I-experience’ but it is not. It is the ‘we-experience’ of the bourgeoisie and the aristocracy. In his (89) words:

“The individualistic type of experience derives from a steadfast and confident social orientation. … It is the … interpretation of one’s social recognizance and tenability by rights, and of the objective security and tenability provided by the whole social order, of one’s individual livelihood. The structure of the conscious, individual personality is just as social a structure as is the collective type of experience. It is a particular kind of interpretation, projected into the individual soul, of a complex and sustained socioeconomic situation.”

Here, in particular, I would make note of how he calls it a projection and how he (89) adds to this that it is in contradiction with itself. I reckon the contradiction is rather obvious, considering that it is not actual ‘I-experience’ but ‘we-experience’ projected on to oneself. In ‘A Thousand Plateaus’ Deleuze and Guattari (129-130) calls this relation or recoiling, the invention of the doubled subject, being slave to pure reason, the Cogito.

With regards to the ‘solitary self-experience’, Vološinov’s latter example of peculiar ‘we-experience’, he (89-90) characterizes it as “characteristic of the modern-day West European intelligentsia”, involving an illusory split between thinking ‘for oneself’, for the inside, and ‘for the public’, for the outside. He (89-90) explains that it is illusory because both are one and the same. Taking all this into account, he (90) summarizes how experience works:

“Thus the personality of the speaker, taken from within, so to speak, turns out to be wholly a product of social interrelations. Not only its outward expression but also its inner experience are social territory. Consequently, the whole route between inner experience (the ‘expressible’) and its outward objectification (the ‘utterance’) lies entirely across social territory. When an experience reaches the stage of actualization in a full-fledged utterance, its social orientation acquires added complexity by focusing on the immediate social circumstances of discourse and, above all, upon actual addressees.”

In other words, the individual is always the product of the social, never the other way around. Who you are is who you’ve become and who you’ve become is always the product of the outside. All your experiences are collective, albeit differentiated. All that you can say or do is always conditioned by what has been said or done before you say or do. Anyway, I think he expresses this better than I do.

So, right, I find myself more in agreement with Harvey than Samuels when it comes to the interpretation of landscapes and/or the elements present in landscapes. I don’t agree with Samuels (84) when he states in the notes section that:

“From the perspective of this paper, group consensus, as such, makes little or not sense unless and until its individual components are determined.”

It just doesn’t work for me when I take into account what Vološinov has to say about language and experience. Anyway, this doesn’t mean that Samuels doesn’t have good points in the essay. Another good point is when he (59) notes that the issue he takes with objectivism, in its many forms, be it “objective idealism, materialism … logical positivism, modern nominalism, and the manifold forms of determinism”, is in how it results in “the loss of freedom.” I agree with him, that objectivism leads to the loss freedom, individuality and the self, but so does subjectivism as it fails to take account how experience takes place in social territory. It ends up resorting to an asylum of ignorance when it gives primacy to the subject, by asserting the autonomy of the individual, the willing self, as a given and as a starting point for everything else.

It’s also worth acknowledging that Samuels (61) makes note of certain limitations to the position he holds, that “[w]e understand now better than ever before that human and individual choice, freedom, will, and responsibility are undeniably constrained” and that we are “object[s] in nature, … function[s] of bio-chemical drives, … victim[s] of the DNA molecule[.]” On top of acknowledging the built in constraints or should I say, rather, features, he (61) acknowledges that “[n]either can we deny that human beings as such and as individuals live out their lives in close accordance with hereditary, physical, psychological, social, education, and broadly environmental conditioning”, as well as “that virtually all our thought, feeling[s] and actions are subject to a mode of classification and analysis that renders ourselves merely latent in the environment. He (61-62) goes as far as to point out that if wasn’t the case, we’d have to consider, for example, insanity, sickness and poverty as mere choices, as lifestyles, if you will. He (64) also indicates that he is well aware that language cannot be subjective, up to the individual, as otherwise people wouldn’t understand one another.

That all said, Samuels (62-65) firmly holds his ground, arguing in favor of the primacy of the authorial intent. To be more specific, he (64) argues that landscapes are not unlike other products human creativity. For him, the limitations or constraints are contextual. He likens the contextual limitations to the materials needed in visual art such as paper, canvas or rock, the colors, the brushes, the pens, the knives and the chisels. Same applies to written self-expression, namely literature. Nonetheless, it seems that he considers the limitations or constraints more like obstacles or inconveniences that the artist not only must but also can confront and overcome than something that conditions and sets limits of human action and thinking, as one acts and/or thinks. For him, what matters in a work of art is the author’s intention. In his (65) words:

“The images, symbols, metaphors, and most of all the meanings, whether visual or literary, are always references to something on the part of someone – the author. If that ‘upsurge’ is always ‘engaged in’ some context, the product itself is equally the function of some author’s intentions, perspectives, aspirations, inclinations, or broad partialities.”

I disagree with this. For example, what does a word mean? Look up the word in a dictionary and you’ll notice that it refers to another word, explained in other words, which are also explained in other words if you happen to look up those words. Words are always in an infinite regress. This gets us nowhere, especially if we take into consideration that, following Bergson, once we put something into words, we can no longer know something absolute, only relatively. So no, going back to his objection to Harvey’s remarks, while it may be the case that we manage to intuitively understand someone else’s intuitions or intentions, we always fail once we put something into words. It’s the same thing with any mode of expression, not only language, be it spoken or written.

In other words, explaining this through my own research, it’s not that I cannot grasp the intentions of others, to truly know why something is the way it is, as manifested in the landscape, even if that may not necessarily be the case. I don’t think that I can ever be fully certain that I know it all, for sure, albeit, I reckon I do, but only intuitively. That’s actually the problem. Once I attempt to put those intuitions into words, they are rendered into partial accounts. Piling them doesn’t do much good either as there can only be partial accounts, no matter how many accounts you take into consideration. In other words, there’s little value added by adding more and more views as the view is never complete. On top of that, it is likely that the views of individuals are remarkably alike, considering that, if we disregard physiological reactions, experience is always collective.

I have written essays on this already so I won’t go into detail about my objections to the primacy of authorial intent. In short, for me, it matters not what the author intended to mean. Once a work is done, it starts to live a life of its own. Often we couldn’t even rely on the creator as people do tend to have a limited life span. Oddly enough, as exemplified by the cases where those who have created the works have already died, we don’t need the author to tell us what he or she meant by it, what the intention is. Just imagine it, reading a text, enjoying it, getting, and then, all the sudden, like a flash of lightning you no longer can make sense of it, because the author happened to die a moment ago. Now obviously that’s not the case. You can make sense of just about anything, regardless of the intentions of the author.

The lecturer explained this issue well during the aesthetics course. He told the audience a story how a student came to him after an exam, to point out that he or she (in Finnish it’s unclear whether it was a he or she as the pronouns are not sexed) deserves a better grade because the examiner just has not understood what she meant by this and/or that in his or her answers. He told us how he reacted to the student, telling the student that it matters not what you say you intended when what is conveyed to the reader is something else. Simply put, he sought to make the audience aware that the only thing that matters is what is contained in the text. In a sense, what is written is always exactly what is intended, as read by whoever it happens that comes across the text.

I reckon it’s necessary to ponder a bit here. What counts as art? Are landscapes art, can space itself be art? Why does Samuels seem to think it’s necessary to liken the two, art and landscape? The first question is tricky and I guess it depends on what is the basis for an answer to that. From a legal perspective just about anything is art or can be a work of art. A work of art always has a creator, regardless of whether the whoever it was that created it is known or not. We could call the creator an author but, as discussed in my previous essays, the author is not the actual person who created the work. The author is always the figment of our imagination. For example, I don’t know Samuels, Harvey, Vološinov, Deleuze or Guattari, yet I behave as if I’m having a conversation with them. Of course I’m not doing that. I don’t know them, nor would it even be possible with some of them, considering that some of them are dead already. I think Henri Lefebvre (73) has something useful to say on this in ‘The Production of Space’ (1991 translation by Donald Nicholson-Smith):

“Consider the case of a city – a space which is fashioned, shaped and invested by social activities during a finite historical period. Is this city a work or a product?”

Yes, I reckon it’s fruitful to make this distinction, even though, I guess, all works are products but not all products are works. Lefebvre (73) exemplifies this:

“Take Venice, for instance. If we define works as unique, original and primordial, as occupying a space yet associated with a particular time, a time of maturity between rise and decline, then Venice can only be described as work. It is a space just as highly expressive and significant, just as unique and unified as a painting or a sculpture.”

So, yes, it would appear to be the case that something spatial, such as the landscape of a city, can be understood as a work of art. That said, it’s not at all that clear that this is the case. Lefebvre (73) continues:

“But what – and whom – does it express and signify? These questions can give rise to interminable discussion, for here content and meaning have no limits?”

This is the problem with art. What does it mean? As also argued by Harvey, Lefebvre (73) thinks that there is no right answer to this, nor would it even be possible to query it from the author or the authors. Why? Well, as argued by Lefebvre (73), we need to ask another question:

“Who conceived the architectural and monumental unity which extends from each palazzo to the city as a whole?”

In other words, how does one decipher the author of a landscape? Each building may have an architect and a city may well be planned, but, on the whole, it seems absurd to try to assign a landscape an author. We can list everyone involved in this and that project that led to this and that building, monument, square or the like, but the sum of all this is not the author of the landscape. In his (73-74) words:

“The truth is that no one did – even though Venice, more than any other place, bears witness to the existence, from the sixteenth century on, of a unitary code or common language of the city. This unity goes deeper, and in a sense higher, than the spectacle Venice offers the tourist.”

He (74) attempts to explain this in less abstract terms:

“[A city] has, after all, been ‘composed’ by people, by well-defined groups. All the same, it has none of the intentional character of an ‘art object’.”

So, in summary, it’s not that a city, nor, I’d add, the countryside, cannot be art or, rather, come across as such. It’s rather that while they are indeed produced, as is anything really, they aren’t created as works of art, as Lefebvre (76) goes on to reiterate. Simply put, landscapes don’t have authors. That said, it’s not that they aren’t produced, that they aren’t created by actual people. They are. I’ll let Lefebvre (75) elaborate this:

“There is an overwhelming case for saying that it is a product strictu sensu: it is reproducible and it is the result of repetitive actions.”

A page earlier he (74) provides an example:

“What exactly were the great cathedrals? The answer is that they were political acts.”

Only to expand on this, albeit in the context of the city of Venice (76):

“The fact that this … production was put to an aesthetically satisfying use, in accordance with the tastes of people who were prodigiously gifted, and highly civilized for all their ruthlessness, can in no way conceal its origins.”

What he is getting at here is that while there is indeed a difference between a work of art and a product, between creativity and production, even the artists are still people. Also, even if they were somehow distinct from other people, they are nonetheless working at the behest of someone else. In the case of Venice that would be the wealthy patricians. The artists aren’t somehow exempt from the influence of others. So, to repeat myself, I’d say that all works of art are products, but not all products are works of art. What’s relevant to this essay is that, in the terms used by Lefebvre, both works of art and products, are the results of production. So, yes, to connect this back to the essay written by Samuels, someone is always culpable for their presence. Landscape, on the whole though, is unlike a work of art though. Unlike what is contained in it, it lacks an author that we can point to.

As a side note, before I jump back to the topic of this essay, I think it’s worth emphasizing what Lefebvre (75-76) thinks is particularly important about our engagement with space:

“A further important aspect of [produced] spaces … is their increasingly pronounced visual character. They are made with the visible in mind: the visibility of people and things, of spaces and of whatever is contained by them. … People look, and take sight, take seeing, for life itself. … We buy on the basis of images.”

The central problem is then, for him (76) that:

“Sight and seeing, which in the Western tradition once epitomized intelligibility, have turned into a trap: the means whereby, in social space, diversity may be simulated and a travesty of enlightenment and intelligibility ensconced under the sign of transparency.”

In other words, we are in the habit of conflating seeing with truth, which leads us to take what can be seen as what is true. The central problem is that what we see is actually produced. I reckon that should be sort of a given, really, as everything is produced, everything has come to being. It’s not that things are simply always already there, but come to appear to us, yet people take things for granted. That’s why Lefebvre (75-76) characterizes our reliance on vision a trap. People tend to rely on images, not realizing that those images are products.

Anyway, I can’t really explain why Samuels wants to explain this issue by comparing landscape with art. I reckon it’s more fruitful to compare it with anything produced, as all products have their producers. It still retains what Samuels is after, the responsibility and culpability aspects that are central to his essay. I can, however, agree with Samuels (64) on another thing:

“[E]very work of art imposes an order of reality[.]”

Before I offer my take on this, Lefebvre (77) actually also brings this up:

“Each work occupies a space; it also engenders and fashions that space.”

In other words, a work of art always a function. It operates. It does something. It doesn’t merely exist. Anyway, I agree with Samuels on this, as I do with Lefebvre. Every work, every text, every utterance, is always imposing, as I’ve discussed on my essays on pragmatics. This is also the position held by Deleuze and Guattari in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’. For them (75-76) language functions impose, to compel, that is to say make things happen, make people do things, including refraining from doing things. Hence they (76) call the elementary unit of language, the statement or the utterance, the order-word. More broadly speaking, language orders reality, in the sense that it creates or produces (whatever word you want to use here) a certain order of things. Language is thus very creative or productive, even though what is created or produced by it isn’t always good for people. So, yeah, I agree that intention matters, in the sense that whatever one does or says is never neutral. This is why Samuels (64) is so keen to emphasize responsibility and culpability:

“[E]very work of art … is nonetheless the responsibility of its author. It is his responsibility, further, because he, first and foremost, gave it meaning. Even if successive generations of critics reinterpret that meaning in the light of their own contexts, the author’s responsibility does not change. Neither does his meaning change without a change in authorship.”

As much as I understand why that might be the case, why you might want to hold people accountable for what they say or do, I’d rephrase this, swapping works of art with products or creations. What I don’t buy is the emphasis on the importance of the author’s intent, for reasons I’ve addressed already in this essay. This also goes back to the point made about the aesthetics lecturer. It only follows from his (64) view on authorial intent that, once again, David Harvey is, apparently, wrong about the impossibility of explaining human experience, why it is that someone does this and/or that. He (65) argues that:

“[Intuitions] are everywhere evidenced by the way individuals explain, rationalize, or describe their intentions.”

Again, as expressed by Vološinov (36), one’s expression of one’s experience, is never the same thing as experience itself. So, no, I don’t think Samuels (65) is right about intuitions being accessible through people’s “diaries, letters, books, poems, paintings, and in the broad archival collections of individuals” or through the “means of interview and discussion.” I can partially agree with him (65) on that:

“[W]e can probe the intentions of individuals, whether rational or irrational, right or wrong, good or bad, to find the meanings they ascribe to a landscape already given, and to find the means whereby they mold their environments to create meaningful landscapes.”

I reckon we can probe the opinions people have about landscapes. However, I wouldn’t simply assume that what people say to those who interview them is what they believe. It might not be in their interest to do so, so you can’t just assume that you are getting good information. This also assumes that people have anything to say about the landscape. They might not pay attention to it, as argued by others elsewhere in the same book. They might also end up saying what you wish them to say about things they’ve never cared for and/or paid attention to. For example, if you ask people to tell you about the landscape, you are putting them on the spot, likely making them more aware of the landscape or the various particulars in it. Funny how language works, ordering reality, compelling people.

There’s still ten or so pages to cover in the essay written by Samuels, but I reckon I’ll leave the rest to a later date. I’ve already crammed in a lot, so adding more probably won’t do any good. So, how to summarize all this? Right, I agree with Samuels, but only to a certain extent. What’s great is how he points out how the objectivists manage to only fool themselves when they appeal to the universal, generic human, who happens to be no one, ever. What’s not so great is how he, in support of subjectivism, ends up doing the same when he asserts that one should always start with the individual. For me, that’s just all to quaint. I find myself somewhere in between the two, albeit I realize that I probably shouldn’t explain it as such. Anyway, more to follow, whenever it is that I find the time to address the rest of the essay.

Homo this, homo that, yet, crucially, no homo – Landscape and the Absence of Humans

You may have already thought that this month is going to be an exceptional month, that nothing is coming out in December. I’ve been busy, with a bit of this and a bit of that, attending a funeral, doing requested and suggested changes to a manuscript, that seemingly never ending task that it tends to be, having to or getting to temp, this time going through undergrad essays, doing the photo assignments that I do to make money as I sure as hell I’m not getting any grant money nor paid position to do my thesis, learning all kinds of things about videography, doing more reading on assorted topics and listening to podcasts when I don’t have the opportunity to read (cooking, when on a bus, working out etc.). Oh, I managed to do a second interview this year.

Anyway, now that I listed all those excuses for slacking, it’s time to indicate what this essay will be about. As I haven’t had the time to focus on anything substantial, say a chapter or two of that book by Valentin Vološinov, or that even bigger book by Deleuze and Guattari, I think it’ll be fitting to do something short. I’ve mentioned it a couple of times in the past, but I haven’t addressed ‘The Biography of Landscape: Cause and Culpability’, an essay by Marwyn Samuels, published in 1979 in ‘The Interpretation of Ordinary Landscapes: Geographical Essays’ edited by Donald Meinig, despite it being part of the first book that I read specifically on landscapes.

If you want to know the gist of that essay, Samuels goes on and on about the absence of humans in the landscape. To be more specific, it is not exactly that there are no humans, that the world is empty, but that we tend to think or imagine landscape as something that is essentially empty of people or at least the people are not of primary interest. This is what puzzles Samuels. Also, the title is a bit of a spoiler. It’s just way too informative for my taste. Anyway, the title tells you, the reader, that he is interested in how the landscape came to be, as well as who is responsible for it. That is the gist of the essay. Well worth the read, even if you don’t agree with him. I don’t and I still recommend going through it. It’s not unlike other the essays contained in the book, in the sense that there’s a sentence in the essay that I keep returning to. Samuels states (52):

“However rational, there is something unreasonable about a human landscape lacking in inhabitants; something strangely absurd about a geography of man devoid of men.”

The old fashioned wording aside (not humans, but men), this hits home with me. It is more than just a bit absurd but landscape is indeed rational, yet unreasonable at the same time. It’s actually something you could call a hallmark of rationality, having its underlying principle rooted in geometry, as explained, perhaps, best by Denis Cosgrove in his 1985 article ‘Prospect, Perspective and the Evolution of the Landscape Idea’. That said, I think Samuels (52) is very perceptive as he turns our attention to the absence of people.

To me, landscape is exactly “a geography of man devoid of men”, in the sense that when we look at the our surroundings, when we engage with landscape, or so to speak, it’s always without the actual people. Yes, yes, the buildings are still there, so are the roads, the lamp posts, the street signs and the ditches by the roads, etc. All that is human is there, in the landscape, even when we think there is nothing human or, dare I say, cultural, as even the bits of nature that are out there are arranged by humans. Those neatly trimmed lawns, bushes and trees are not there by accident. Now you might object to that and you are right, not all those elements are there as planted by humans. Then again, in a sense, they’ve been left the way they are, by humans. In a way they are there, as they are, wherever they happen to be, but only because humans let them be. So, all that is human is there, in the landscape, everything, everything except humans themselves.

When I started doing photography, that is to say take photos with a DSLR and not just point and shoot with a compact camera, I took a lot of photos of my surroundings, wherever I happened to be. There’s nothing odd or off about that, at least not at that stage. A lot of people do that. What’s interesting about it is that when you are out there, out and about, you want to capture that scenery.

Despite having no recollection when it was, which year it was, I remember the moment quite vividly, taking a nice summery photo by the river here in Turku. The sun was shining, the weather was perfect. I was walking by the river, on the western bank. It’s a pedestrians and cyclists only street, cordoned off from cars. I’m facing down the river. I stop. I grab my camera, go for the wide angle on the kit lens, frame the photo and press the button. I take a couple more. There is nothing remarkable about this. It’s not even memorable. I only remember this because someone who walked into the frame and was captured in my shots walked up to me and loudly objected to me photographing him, telling me to delete the photos. I was going to say that I actually would prefer if he wasn’t in my photos but the man went his way before I managed to say anything. This is exactly what landscape photography is, “a geography of man devoid of men.”

To be fair, there are, at times, people in landscape photos, just as there are in landscape paintings. However, they are never the main thing about them. It’s strange really, how the main thing in a landscape photo or a landscape painting is the background. It’s only in portraits that the humans are the main thing, as presented in the foreground. This also applies to everyday life, not only to photography or painting. As we look around, we don’t pay attention to anything in particular, unless we encounter and engage with someone, closeup. The people themselves are missing, as if they had been removed from the scene, just so that they don’t ruin it, like the man who walked into my frame from the side so that I had to take another … clean … photo. It’s a strange thing, how people come to ruin landscapes. It’s something that I feel that I need to look up to better understand how that came to be. As Samuels (52) puts it, it’s “strangely absurd”.

It’s worth noting that in this essay Samuels is not actually concerned with landscape art. I reckon his (52) objection has more to do with something else, something that I haven’t mentioned so far. This book can be considered pioneering work in landscape research. Published in the late 1970s, it certainly contains influential essays that helped to revive or, perhaps, rather reimagine landscape research in the English speaking circles after it had become marginalized in the mid 20th century. I know I’m generalizing this quite a bit here, but by that point landscape had been attributed to culture and/or nature. Later on the book he (57) addresses this explicitly, noting that:

“[H]uman geography everywhere [has] focussed on generic man, man-in-general, and man-in-mass[.]”

Related to this, he (52) notes that:

“The thing is, [landscape] represents a certain pattern, style or motif that emerged in the wake of other patterns, styles and motifs.”

To be more specific, he (52) continues by clarifying that:

“We can trace its aesthetic and institutional origins and be satisfied that it ‘derived’ under the influence of Chinoisere and Physiocratic idealism.”

What he (52) is referring here is actually Kew Gardens and Blenheim Palace. Anyway, he (52) goes on to explain that:

“Or, we can assign the landscape various economic, social, political and broadly cultural ‘forces’. We can assign its ‘underlying impetus’ to such ‘processes’ as the industrial revolution, the spirit of capitalism, the doctrine of progress, or to the ‘nature’ of homo economicus, homo politicus, homo laborens, homo ludens, and of course, homo sapien.”

I already spoiled this early on but the point is that humans have a tendency of being absent in the landscape. Linked to the essay title, here Samuels points out that landscape is thought of as a product, a telos, caused by various forces or processes, typically so general that, despite all the talk about homo this and/or that, it just comes across as having very little to do with actual people. They appear missing, or so to speak. You may object to this, but here, if anywhere, it would thus be fitting to characterize landscape as being ‘no homo’ because there seems to be a lot of talk of humans, yet there is a clear absence of actual human beings. Samuels (52) continues:

“We can, as it were, explain the landscape without so much as a passing reference to anyone particular who happened to live in, pass through, influence, or even make the landscape.”

As you can see, from the previous passage, the one before this one, landscape tends to be attributed to something grand and overarching, yet unspecific, as culture, as if actual humans weren’t involved. In the words used by Samuels (52):

“All such individuals become ‘meaningless’ as they are explained away in the wake of one or another all-encompassing ‘process’ that ‘alone makes meaningful whatever it happens to carry along’.”

Here he (52) is actually referring to Hannah Arendt’s 1961 book ‘Between Past and Future’ in which she (63-64) laments that we’ve come to rely on misleading “generalities [such] as the disenchantment of the world or the alienation of man … that often involve a romanticized notion of the past” and that “[t]he process … has thus acquired a monopoly of universality and significance.” The problem for Arendt (64) is that in modernity, as juxtaposed with the antiquity (the Greeks and the Romans), causality and context are separated from actual events (when something occurs) and thus process has come to be considered as having a life of its own and event a mere surface expression of the process. In other words, as she (64) puts it, the general is taken as explaining the particular.

This is exactly the problem with concepts such as culture, nature and ideology. They end up being used to explain and justify why something is the way it is or someone acts the way he or she does rather than being the things that needs explaining. The way it works is what Baruch Spinoza calls sanctuary or asylum of ignorance (asylum ignorantiae) in the first book of ‘Ethics’ (see appendix, 1883 translation by R.H.M Elwes)

“So they will pursue their questions from cause to cause, till at last you take refuge in the will of God – in other words, the sanctuary of ignorance.”

Spinoza speaks of taking refuge in the will of God but culture, nature and ideology work equally well in this regard. As I implied already, I’m not against these words, or others for that matter, inasmuch they are the things that need explaining, namely how they came to be the way they are at some point in time and space. I’m against them when they are used to explain and justify why something else is the way it is. For example, I don’t see an issue when someone says that this or that practice is part of this and/or that culture, a practice among a set of practices if you will. It becomes an issue when this gets reversed, when a practice is explained by the set of practices, also known as culture. It’s the same as stating that a practice, why someone does this and/or that, is because ‘God wills it’, as explained by Spinoza.

Oddly enough, this is also my gripe with Samuels in this essay. It’s very clear that it is a humanistic text, unabashedly so. There’s no veneer to it, so, even though I find myself disagreeing with him, at least I can appreciate that he is very open about how he comes to conceptualize landscape. I hope to expand on this in the next essay. That’ll be within a week or so, so either late this year or early next year. I may want to rearrange some things, but we’ll see.

Counterthoughts, Smooth Striders and The Art of Archery

I’ve brought up what Gilles Deleuze calls an ‘image of thought’ in ‘Difference and Repetition’ (1994 translation by Paul Patton) on a couple of occasions. To be more specific, in that book he (131) zooms into a particular image of thought, should we, perhaps, even say the image of thought, considering that, for most people it is the only image of thought there is. He (131) calls it the dogmatic, orthodox or moral image. In one of his essays, ‘To Have Done with Judgment’, as included in ‘Essays Critical and Clinical’ (1998 translation by Daniel Smith and Michael Greco), Deleuze links to what he calls the doctrine of judgment.

I try to point out to others that I do not subscribe to this dogmatic image of thought. I oppose it. In that sense I subscribe to another image of thought. The 1994 English translation of Deleuze’s 1968 published book ‘Différence et Repetition’ contains an additional preface which is written almost 30 years later from the original date of publication. In it he (xv) makes note of how it was the first book in which he wrote philosophy, rather than writing about philosophy, how he selected his arrows and shot them into the distance, rather than merely studying archery (this may seem odd, but this will crop up again, soon enough). He (xv) also notes that, more or less, everything he wrote after this book was connected to it, one way or another. He (xv) summarizes what the book is about:

“[T]he majority of philosophers had subordinated difference to identity or to the Same, to the Similar, to the Opposed or to the Analogous: they had introduced difference into the identity of the concept, they had put difference in the concept itself, thereby reaching a conceptual difference, but not a concept of difference.”

As this may seem rather abstract to people, he (xv) explains it in less fancy terms that, I believe, should be fairly easy to grasp even if you aren’t familiar with the book, his other work or, well, philosophy in general. Firstly (xv):

“We tend to subordinate difference to identity in order to think it (from the point of view of the concept or the subject: for example, specific difference presupposes an identical concept in the form of a genus).”

So, for example, you have A and B, both are identities. What is between them is difference. It is measured in relation to identity. You need identity for difference to emerge. Secondly (xv):

“We also have a tendency to subordinate it to resemblance (from the point of view of perception), to opposition (from the point of view of predicates), and to analogy (from the point of view of judgement).”

This is how you do it. As I sort of stated already, the problem is that, as he (xv) puts it:

“[W]e do not think difference in itself.”

The issue is that difference is merely what follows, an afterthought. As the title of the book suggests, half of the project for Deleuze in that book, and later on as well, is to flip these two, so that identity becomes secondary to difference, so that it’s not about identity in itself (or thing-in-itself, to put it in Kantian terms) followed difference but about difference in itself, followed by identity. The other half is about doing the same to repetition or, as he (xvi) puts it, making it so “that variation is not added to repetition in order to hide it, but is rather its condition or constitutive element, the interiority of repetition par excellence[.]” Simply put, repetition is not about the same, about the identical, say doing something over and over again (as in what we like to call repetitive when it seems to be just more of the same), but something that permits change, the non-identical.

Despite being often thought of as non-educated simpletons, in my experience athletes are the people who understand this pretty much immediately when you explain it to them. For them it’s rather obvious that they never actually repeat anything. They wouldn’t change, they wouldn’t develop, they wouldn’t get better if repetition was just about doing the same. They do still speak of repetitions or reps. Sure. But, for them, as Deleuze (xvi) puts it, repetition is rather the condition or constitutive element of variation. Who’s a simpleton now?

When these two, difference and repetition are flipped, we get at what the book is about. The problem with all this is that people do not think like this, as Deleuze is well aware. What needs to be done is to undermine, to question the traditional image of thought. He (xvi) warns us not to confuse the image of thought with method:

“By this I mean not only that we think according to a given method, but also that there is a more or less implicit, tacit or presupposed image of thought which determines our goals when we try to think.”

I find it helpful to think of it as like an operating system on a computer. It’s not about whether this and/or that piece of software doesn’t work the way it should or can’t accomplish what we want. That would be about the method, how we get this and/or that done once we are on a certain operating system. He (xvi) further elaborates the classic image of thought:

“[W]e suppose that thought possesses a good nature, and the thinker a good will (naturally to ‘want’ the true); we take as a model the process of recognition – in other words, a common sense or employment of all the faculties on a supposed same object; we designate error, nothing but error, as the enemy to be fought; and we suppose that the true concerns solutions – in other words, propositions capable of serving as answers.”

For him (xvi), the problem with this image of thought is that:

“[A]s long as the critique has not been carried to the heart of that image it is difficult to conceive of thought as encompassing those problems which point beyond the propositional mode; or as involving encounters which escape all recognition; or as confronting its true enemies, which are quite different from thought; or as attaining that which tears thought from its natural torpor and notorious bad will, and forces us to think.”

Aye, to get what he is after, and what I’m after when I point out that my peers subscribe to an image of thought that fails to account for this and/or that, is to start from the beginning, no, not at the method, but from the premise, from thinking itself. I think the very final words are worth emphasizing. The classic, traditional, dogmatic, orthodox or moral, whatever you want to call it (hence it’s, perhaps, best calling it just ‘the image of thought’) is exactly what keeps us away from thinking. It’s about more of the same, because it’s a line of thinking or model of thought that relies on the Same, the Identical, the Similar, the Opposed or the Analogous, as he (xv) characterizes it.

But what can we do then? His (xvi-xvii) solution is to come up with a new image of thought. To be specific, he (xviii) actually seeks to liberate thought, thinking, from the images that imprison it, that prevent the thinker from going beyond its limits. This is what he then does with Félix Guattari in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’ (1987 translation by Brian Massumi).

At this point, before I attempt to explain anything in that book, it’s worth reiterating what Deleuze and Guattari (22) state in the introduction of ‘A Thousand Plateaus’:

“[A]ll we know are assemblages. And the only assemblages are machinic assemblages of desire and collective assemblages of enunciation.”

This is something that I find helpful to keep in mind at all times when I read the book. As a side note, what they state is not exactly correct because there’s more to them, to the book, than just assemblages, for example, abstract machines (or diagrams) that put assemblages into action (their immanent causes). It’s also worth noting how in a previous collaboration of theirs, in ‘Anti-Oedipus’ (1977 translation by Robert Hurley, Mark Seem and Helen Lane), they use a different moniker for assemblages, calling them desiring machines. Brian Massumi (82), the translator of ‘A Thousand Plateaus’, notes in his guide to to both books, ‘A user’s guide to Capitalism and Schizophrenia: Deviations from Deleuze and Guattari’, that:

“Due to persistent subjectivist misunderstandings, in A Thousand Plateaus the word was changed to the more neutral ‘assemblage’.”

That said, be as it may, they still use the word machine in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’, which can be a bit confusing at times. At least I find it a bit confusing that they opt to call it another thing, for a good reason, as pointed out above, but then sort of half-ass it. For example, I’ll be covering much, but not all of the plateau called ‘1227: Treatise on Nomadology – The War Machine’ (which, by the way, I think has to be, in part, a cheeky wink to Gottfried Leibniz’s ‘Monadology’). The war machine is the key concept on that plateau but, as it turns out, the machine is an assemblage. As they (399) clearly indicate:

“Assemblages are passional, they are compositions of desire. Desire has nothing to do with a natural or spontaneous determination; there is no desire but assembling, assembled, desire. The rationality, the efficiency, of an assemblage does not exist without the passions the assemblage brings into play, without the desires that constitute it as much as it constitutes them.”

I try to write my essays in a state of flow, as it happens, and not edit them, beyond a final look for any typos (some may still be there, as I can’t be that bothered to double or triple check), but, for this essay, I felt like going back to add this here, just so that people don’t think that the war machine is not an assemblage but something altogether different. To be fair, their project is all over the place, intentionally so. They aren’t too fussed about it. Happens. Whatever.

Now, where was I? Right, to be clear, it is what the two write in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’ that prompted me to look up again what Deleuze has to say about the image of thought in ‘Difference and Repetition’. I was reading the plateau on the war machine where the two (374) bring up the classical image of though, noting that it is a model that is tied to state apparatus, which, in turn, defines its “goals and paths, conduits, channels, organs, an entire organon.”

To clarify here, organon is Greek and, apparently has to do with instrument or a tool that, I guess, here is about how it pertains to knowledge (actually, this is some proper foreshadowing). It’s also probably a reference to Aristotle. They (374) also characterize the classical image of thought as “covering all of thought” and “like the State-form developed in thought.” For them (374-375) it is rooted in mythos and logos, the mythical foundation and the legislative proceeding, pact or contract that sanctions that foundation. They (375) also refer to the former as the imperium of truth and the latter the republic of free spirits. If you’ve read other plateaus in the book, you can clearly see how this is also about the contemporary mixed semiotic, about signification and post-signification (but that’s something that I’ve covered in the past, so I won’t tangled up on it here). Anyway, they (375) add that, taken together, these two operate together, despite being antithetical to one another (think of, empire vs. republic …), and act as “the necessary condition for the constitution of thought as principle, or as a form of interiority, as a stratum.” Again, as a side note, if you’ve read the first plateau, the one on strata, this is easier to grasp. Also, if you’ve read that plateau, their (352) earlier comment on how it is a double articulation should make much more sense to you.

What is striking about this image of thought then? Well, this, what they (375) explain, is what struck me on this plateau in particular:

“It is easy to see what thought gains from this: a gravity it would never have on its own, a center that makes everything, including the State, appear to exist by its own efficacy or on its own sanction.”

It is, it seems, that the image of thought, gains a lot from the State model. By now, because I didn’t cover this, at all, and just jumped at it, you might be wondering, what state, what State? Luckily they (375) explain it in this context:

“But the State gains just as much. Indeed, by developing in thought in this way the State-form gains something essential: a whole consensus. Only thought is capable of inventing the fiction of a State that is universal by right, of elevating the State to the level of de jure universality.”

What they are saying here, and elsewhere on this plateau, is that State (or we can just call it state here) is not something that humans developed as societies evolved from primitive societies, once people grew out of being primitive simpletons or something along those lines. They don’t buy that, at all. It is explained in this bit, as they point out that a state is an invention, a fictive product of thought. It happens in a sudden flash, “in a single stroke, in an imperial form”, and what makes the distinction and relation between the governors and the governed possible, as characterized by Deleuze and Guattari (359). To put what has been already expressed more concisely, they (375) state:

“The State gives thought a form of interiority, and thought gives that interiority a form of universality.”

In other words, the state models thought, as well as protects it, whereas, in turn, thought legitimizes the state as universal, something that must be, so, in a way, also protecting it. So, again, it’s worth returning to the earlier bit on mythos and logos, the foundation and what legitimizes that foundation, which is, pretty much, what they are on about here as well. They (375-376) put it, once more, in other words:

“[B]ut that exchange is also an analytic proposition, because realized reason is identified with the de jure State, just as the State is the becoming of reason.”

If you struggle with this, they (376) also explain this in less abstract terms:

“[I]n the so-called modern or rational State, everything revolves around the legislator and the subject.”

You may wish to think of yourself as a subject, someone who is capable of doing this and/or that, like a grammatical subject in a sentence, but this is only part of the story. Here it is worth noting that you are, in fact, also not only subject, but also subject to. Our representative democracies work this way. You vote for someone else, or yourself if you are up for the job (or someone else if it seems a bit smug to vote for yourself), to represent you, in the hopes that your chosen representative gets into the house of representatives (parliament) where they legislate, that is to say come up with laws that people must obey. This is why the two (376) add that:

“Always obey. The more you obey, the more you will be master, for you will only be obeying pure reason, in other words yourself…”

If you find this oddly familiar, from my previous essays or from the book itself, it is because it is. On the plateau on regimes of signs, ‘587 B.C. – A.D. 70: On Several Regimes of Signs’, they (129-130) address the same thing, noting how this works in a contemporary society in which there is no single imperial despot who we must obey no matter what:

“There is no longer even a need for a transcendent center of power; power is instead immanent and melds with the ‘real,’ operating through normalization. A strange invention: as if in one form the doubled subject were the cause of the statements of which, in its other form, it itself is a part. This is the paradox of the legislator-subject replacing the signifying despot: the more you obey the statements of the dominant reality, the more in command you are as subject of enunciation in mental reality, for in the end you are only obeying yourself! You are the one in command, in your capacity as a rational being. A new form of slavery is invented, namely, being slave to oneself, or to pure ‘reason,’ the Cogito. Is there anything more passional than pure reason? Is there a colder, more extreme, more self interested passion than the Cogito?”

Not that it is surprising, but, as I pointed out, very similar. Back to the plateau on the war machine, where they (376) add that even philosophy or, perhaps, philosophy, in particular, is complicit in this paradoxical slavery to oneself:

“Ever since philosophy assigned itself the role of ground it has been giving the established powers its blessing, and tracing its doctrine of faculties onto the organs of State power. Common sense, the unity of all the faculties at the center constituted by the Cogito, is the State consensus raised to the absolute. This was most notably the great operation of the Kantian ‘critique,’ renewed and developed by Hegelianism.”

After Descartes, Kant is the one to, in particular, to be reprimanded by the two (376) for advocating for thought to function for the state:

“Kant was constantly criticizing bad usages, the better to consecrate the function. It is not at all surprising that the philosopher has become a public professor or State functionary. It was all over the moment the State-form inspired an image of thought. With full reciprocity.”

Make note of the word that they use quite a bit in the book: reciprocity. Keep that in mind. It crops up elsewhere in the book and helps you to understand what they are after in other contexts as well. Anyway, they (376) note that as complicit as philosophers like Kant and Hegel may have been in this, they no are longer the people the state turns to. In contemporary societies it is the sociologists (such as Émile Durkheim, who they mention) and the psychoanalysts who have taken this position of serving the state. I’d go as far as to argue that much of the academia operates this way, both voluntarily (albeit perhaps unwittingly) and involuntarily (you have to justify what good does this and/or that do for the society, for the state, for the well-being of people etc.). As they (374) pointed out two pages or so back, the state sets the “goals and paths, conduits, channels, organs, an entire organon.”

Now, if you made it this far, to this point in my essays, perhaps perplexed by how someone writes about five pages on thought and how one should focus on thought before anything else, you may find this laughable. Deleuze and Guattari (376) make note of this as well:

“In a sense, it could be said that all this has no importance, that thought has never had anything but laughable gravity.”

I mean, come on, fuck off (in the sense that it expresses sudden disbelief), are you kidding me, thought, why would it have any gravity, why would it be worth going on and on about? Well, because, as they (376) explain:

“But that is all it requires: for us not to take it seriously.”

That’s exactly why, but if you are not convinced, they (376) do provide a more elaborate explanation as to why we need to take thought seriously, why we shouldn’t just skip it and simply start from the subject:

“Because that makes it all the easier for it to think for us, and to be forever engendering new functionaries. Because the less people take thought seriously, the more they think in conformity with what the State wants.”

So, think of this the next time you find yourself wondering, along the lines of why is it that I feel bad about this and/or that, why is it that I’m anxious, why is it that I feel fearful of this and/or that. Would it not be that you, yourself, albeit, perhaps, by proxy, through representation, have created the norm, the standard that you, yourself, must now conform to through self-discipline? Just think of it. When you realize that all that angst, guilt, fear, etc. is your making, your rationalization, it goes away. Not that it’s easy to get to that point, but you can. Just saying, which is exactly what Deleuze and Guattari (376) address next when they make note of counterthoughts.

They (376) refer to counterthinkers as private thinkers in order to distinguished the from public thinkers, the state professors. They (376) name Kierkegaard, Nietzsche and Shestov as these private thinkers, only to find the label private thinker not very apt because it emphasizes the individual, the subject, which, in turn, points to the interiority of thought when in this case it is about the exact opposite, about the exteriority of thought, what they call outside thought. At this point they (376-377) link thinking to the war machine (which may have puzzled you earlier on … because I didn’t explain it).

War machine is not exactly what you might think it is. If you think that it’s the army, the military or the military complex, you are mistaken. What’s relevant is that the war machine is what is exterior or outside the state, as Deleuze and Guattari (351) point out on the first page of this plateau. They (352) are very clear on this, that “war is not contained within this [state] apparatus.” Instead, for them (352, 355), armies or militaries are what happens when the war machine is seized, integrated or appropriated to the state, to function in its service. They (353-354) add that by being exterior or outside the state, from the standpoint of the interior or the inside, that of the state, war machine is always characterized as the negation of the state, not only acting against it (which it is, as they, 359, point out), but also in a negative form, such as “stupidity, deformity, madness, illegitimacy, usurpation, sin.” To be more exact, they (354) emphasize that the war machine is not only something merely outside the state, external to it, but, in fact, the very form of exteriority itself, whereas the state is the very form of interiority which “we habitually take as a model, or according to which we are in the habit of thinking.” As they (359) go on to clarify, the war machine is against the state-form, be it actual or virtual, an actual state to be opposed or opposing the circumstances that result in the emergence of a state. To make it absolutely clear, it’s worth reiterating that the war machine is not a military institution because, as they (355) point out:

The State has no war machine of its own; it can only appropriate one in the form of a military institution, one that will continually cause it problems.”

What do you mean by problems? They (355) argue that they will have their problems because what the state does is to rein in the war machine, in order for it to exist for an antithetical purpose, to go against itself, or so to speak. They (355) explain what happens when it is positioned between the two poles, mythos and logos, the despot and the legislator:

“Trapped between the two poles of political sovereignty, the man of war seems outmoded, condemned, without a future, reduced to his own fury, which he turns against himself.”

Only to wonder (356):

“Is it the destiny of the war machine, when the State triumphs, to be caught in this alternative: either to be nothing more than the disciplined, military organ of the State apparatus, or to turn against itself, to become a double suicide machine for a solitary man and a solitary woman?”

They (357) also further characterize the war machine on the level of society as what not only goes against the state, that is to say when a state emerges, but also wards off the formation of the state within a society that is not a state. How to characterize it? It’s anti-static? Haha! Anyway, funny business aside, they (357, 359) note how in what people call primitive societies (not a pejorative label here) do have their organization and their rulers, their chiefs. That said, they (357) add that having a chief, a top dog, or whatever you want to call it, is not what makes a state. Instead, they (357) argue that what makes a state is “the perpetuation or conservation of organs of power.” In other words, it involves setting up a fixed position or positions, a head or heads of state, and making sure that things remain the same. Now you might object to this. You might point out that chieftainship can operate the same way, to be, for example as inherited titles. They (357) disagree with you:

“[T]he chief … has no instituted weapon other than his prestige, no other means of persuation, no other rule than his sense of the group’s desires. The chief is more like a leader or a star than a man of power and is always in danger of being disavowed, abandoned by his people.”

How to put this more simply? Perhaps, one could say that the chief, the leader, the star, has to constantly to prove to be worthy of that status as there is no appeal to a fixed position, that he or she is entitled to lead, to rule, to be appreciated. So, as a mode of operation, it is not that the war machine can’t involve leaders. They can and they do. It’s rather that leaders can’t expect people to follow them, just because. They (358) add that the very function of the war machine goes against one erecting oneself on a pedestal and expecting to stay on that pedestal as there are always challengers. As they (358) point out, in this mode leadership is always immanent, warding off those, even the strong ones, who seek to stabilize it (in order to fix it in their favor). In other words, sure, it’s not against strong leaders, but it is against strong leaders who seek to rig the system. This is why they (358) speak of packs and bands where they may be and are leaders but those positions are always contestable.

Oh, and yes, there’s some clever wording here, on this plateau, going from bands to bandits, you know, those people who are outside the state, outside the law, outlaws. As another interesting bit, while I’m on it, they (357) note, in passing, that it’s a common misconception to think of the state as war like. It is the exact opposite, “the State is against war, so war is against the State”, as they (358) point out. The state does not want war as it risks the state, unless it serves the interest of the state, say, when you go against another state in order to grab land from it or the like. There is also yet another little fascinating bit that is easy to miss. This one is where they (358) characterize as indiscipline, noting that:

“We certainly would not say that discipline is what defines a war machine: discipline is the characteristic required of armies after the State has appropriated them.”

Aye, discipline is what you need to keep the war machine in check, to make sure it stays bound. They (358) add to this a word of caution, not to think that the rules of the war machine is inherently better than those of the state (probably because they are not here to judge anyway):

“We are not saying that [the rules of the war machine] are better, of course, only that they animate a fundamental indiscipline of the warrior, a questioning of hierarchy, perpetual blackmail by abandonment or betrayal, and a very volatile sense of honor, all of which, once again, impedes the formation of the State.”

Discipline is highly important for the state. It is what keeps the war machine in check. It keeps people from reaching to the form of exteriority. It keeps people within set limits, within boundaries, within fields, well within the interior. They (360) make further note of states as bounded entities, adding that not only do states operate through sovereignty, that is to say delimiting area reigned over by the state, what it is able to internalize or appropriate locally, but also in relation to what lies outside their borders, which, to be specific, is not simply a bunch of other states but rather the possibility of no state (the counter-state society, the war machine). They (360) aptly characterize this when they state that “the outside of States cannot be reduced to ‘foreign policy’” as there is no negotiating with the form of exteriority.

To make this easier to comprehend (rather than discussing primitive and pastoral societies), they (360) list, among others, commercial formations, such as multinational corporations, industrial complexes and religious formations and movements, namely those that are wide spread, as contemporary war machines. The point here is that while they are located within states, they are not beholden by them, as hinted by the word multinational. They even seek to undermine them, as is the case with multinational corporations that couldn’t give a hoot about the states, except for when it comes to securing their property. This is what they (360) call the ecumenical worldwide direction or, I guess, the global direction that undermines the states.

The other direction is the local direction that they (360) characterize as marked by various local segments and mechanisms, consisting various bands of people, marginal groups, minorities that are in conflict with the states locally. In contrast to the global ecumenical machines, they (360) refer to this direction as neoprimitivism, a modern form of tribal society.

For Deleuze and Guattari (360), these two divergent directions are always there, undermining or going against the state. What is listed here, as listed by them (360), is merely a collection of contemporary formations. Different times and different places have their own formations. Anyway, to get somewhere with this, they (360) add that these directions overlap or merge partially. Their (360) examples include how, in part, “a commercial organization is also a band of pillage, or piracy” and how “it is in bands that a religious formation begins to operate.” In other words, the global can go local and the local can go global. More importantly, they indeed do so. What is common between the two, despite the difference in direction and in scale, is that both the global and the local are irreducible to the state, as they (360) aptly summarize this. They are about war, whereas the state is about peace (states do wage war but only for there to be peace).

In summary, as summarized by the two (360-361), the war machine is a form of exteriority, a non-identity, existing only in its own perpetual metamorphoses, whereas the state is a form of interiority, about identity. Anyway, after that lengthy, albeit, perhaps, necessary detour, it’s to return to science or academics. Where was I? Right, I was about to link this to the image of thought before I went on to explain the war machine. Now that I’ve done that, what they (377) express should make a bit more sense:

“Every thought is already a tribe, the opposite of a State.”

Remember how they (376) hold that the state is the form of interiority and the professor is a state functionary, which results in an image of thought that is inspired by the state. Also, remember how they (376) point out that the state and the professor reinforce one another. In other words, this results in thought being modeled after the state and in conformity with it, which, as they (374) state, defines its “goals and paths, conduits, channels, organs, an entire organon.” In short, the dominant image of thought is that of the form of interiority. Back to the image of thought, that of the form of exteriority, which they (377) further elaborate as:

“But the form of exteriority of thought – the force that is always external to itself, or the final force, the nth power – is not at all another image in opposition to the image inspired by the State apparatus. It is, rather, a force that destroys both the image and its copies, the model and its reproductions, every possibility of subordinating thought to a model of the True, the Just, or the Right (Cartesian truth, Kantian just, Hegelian right, etc.).”

So, going back to what Deleuze states in the preface to the 1994 English translation of ‘Différence et Repetition’, the form of exteriority of thought, to use the terms he uses alongside Guattari in ‘A Thousand Plateaus’, is not, strictly speaking an image of thought because it is a force that seeks to destroy the image, as well as its copies, to uproot the arborescent model and its reproductions. I reckon this is why Deleuze (xvii) considers it to be a matter of liberating “thought from those images that imprison it” rather than merely replacing one image with another as what they, he and Guattari, advocate for instead, the rhizome, is about the continuous metamorphosis. Then again, not unlike Deleuze (xvii) who briefly refers it to a new image of thought (before stating that it is rather about liberating thought from the images that imprison it), I find it hard to explain all this, going against the dominant image of thought, without stating that I subscribe to another, diametrically opposite image of thought. I mean, oh boy, oh boy, if I have to explain all this, now about 8 pages or so, just so that I abstain from referring to it as an image, or a model, in some peer-reviewed paper, yeah, it’s just not going to work (unless I get to spend that many pages to explain this central issue).

What about the bows and arrows bit then? I indicated that this will crop up again and this is the point in the book where archery gets mentioned. Deleuze and Guattari (377) explain the issue they take with what is called a ‘method’:

“A ‘method’ is the striated space of the cogitatio universalis and draws a path that must be followed from one point to another.”

I have yet to explain what striated space is, but I’ll get to it soon enough. Cogitatio universalis is the dogmatic image of thought, the form of interiority of thought that professors subscribe to. It takes different shapes, such as “Cartesian truth, Kantian just, Hegelian right, etc.”, to name a few, as they (377) do. In contrast, they (377) elaborate non-method:

“[T]he form of exteriority situates thought in a smooth space that it must occupy without counting, and for which there is no possible method, no conceivable reproduction, but only relays, intermezzos, resurgences. Thought is like the Vampire; it has no image, either to constitute a model of or to copy.”

Again, I have not explained smooth space, but I’ll get to that as well. Anyway, to get to the point about archery, I’ll have to let them (377) continue:

“In the smooth space of Zen, the arrow does not go from one point to another but is taken up at any point, to be sent to any other point, and tends to permute with the archer and the target.”

Finally, the point about bows and arrows, as also mentioned by Deleuze (xv) in the added preface of ‘Difference and Repetition’, is that it’s one thing to examine how examine how arrows are made, how they are shot, how far they go, how accurate they are, for what purposes they are shot, what they land on, etc. in order to master archery, to hit a target, and another thing to “trim our own arrows, or gather those which seem to us the finest in order to try to send them in other directions[.]” In ‘A Thousand Plateaus’ Deleuze and Guattari (378) make note of what happens to archery when the state is involved:

“Is it by chance that whenever a ‘thinker’ shoots an arrow, there is a man of the State, a shadow or an image of a man of the State, that counsels and admonishes him, and wants to assign him a target or ‘aim’?”

To contextualize this a bit, as it is torn off the page here by me, the bit on “a shadow or an image of a man of the State”, as opposed to “a man of the State”, has to do with this doesn’t require an official representative of the state, say a politician, a bureaucrat or a professor, as anyone who subscribes to that image of thought will do just as well. To put it in terms used elsewhere in the book, and repeatedly by me in my previous essays, everyone is a priest in this regard. It’s that pervasive.

In other words, you can learn to shoot arrows from one point to another according to an image or a model. Alternative, you can do the opposite by ignoring the image or the model in order to avoid being led by the arrow to this and/or that point. The arrow is in perpetual flight, or so to speak. You could, of course, say that the arrow is always at a certain point, but that’s besides the point here (haha!) as the arrow is always curving somewhere else. The point where it happens to be is only relevant if it is thought of as going from one point to another in a straight line.

I did a quick search on Deleuze, Zen and archery, which led me to read an article by Diana Soeiro titled ‘«Know thyself» Mind, body and ethics. Japanese archery (Kyudo) and the philosophy of Gilles Deleuze’ published in ‘Enrahonar. Quaderns de Filosofia’’in 2011. She (200) explains what kyūdō (弓道), the Way of the bow (do as the Way, you know, also like in kendō, the Way of the sword), or the art of archery, is, by first establishing what it is not:

“Asking «what is [kyūdō]» while writing on a piece of paper is one of the less [kyūdō]-like things one can do.”

Followed by explaining what it is (200):

[Kyūdō] is about doing and not about talking about it.”

So, as explained by Deleuze (xv) in the English preface, while there’s nothing wrong with talking about archery, that’s is to say examine the work of others, you are free to do so, but it is still not archery, that is to say it’s not creating your own work. Anyway, Soeiro (200) further elaborates kyūdō:

“The best way to understand what [kyūdō] is, is to find a place where it is taught and start practicing and observe others to practice.”

Perhaps it’s worth emphasizing that Deleuze (xv) is not against learning from others, but rather against establishing a model or a school of how to to do something. In this case it’s about archery, but he is actually talking about philosophy. So, the point is rather not to approach whatever it is that is at stake, say archery, as if it needs be learned through a manual. It’s about archery, not about measurements applied to archery. Soeiro’s (200) cites Kenneth Kushner in his 2000 book ‘One Arrow, One Life – Zen, Archery, Enlightenment’:

“A «Way» in its essence is therefore best described in action. Moreover, «actions become Ways when practice is not done merely for the immediate result».”

In her (200) own words:

“This means that action, in this context, should be taken as gesture. This distinction is crucial to understand that what is at stake in the practice in any of the «Ways» is not the result but the act of doing itself.”

Very simply put, it’s just about doing archery, not about examining what archery is, what happens when the arrow is propelled by the bow, from the point where you stand, and hits something, at the point where the arrow lands. In her (200) words, it’s about performing the gesture. To be more specific, she (201) elaborates what can be learned and cannot be learned:

“One can learn the gesture but one can never learn its result – and that is why in [kyūdō] hitting the target or not is irrelevant.”

If you fail to grasp the usefulness of this, why the point is about performing the gesture, think of it as a primary concern to you. Getting the gesture right, the movement as surely as possible is what it is about. That’s you try to learn. That is what you need to focus on. Hitting the target is secondary. Once you have perfected performing the gesture, you know that the target will be hit, as she (201) explains it. As that might be hard to comprehend, she (202, 206) reiterates this by stating that release which creates a sense of oneness occurs not when the arrow strikes the intended target but when one lets go, releases the arrow, letting it fly because kyūdō is not about proving yourself and be acknowledged by others for your skill with the bow and arrow but knowing yourself, your character, at that very moment, to reach harmony with yourself. Simply put, it’s about the experience of doing it, being involved in it, not about what comes after it.

I guess I should add that explaining the purpose of learning as reaching perfection is, perhaps, a bit misleading, in the sense that the practice is never over. You don’t simply start from zero, work your way to perfection, lets say a hundred as the measure of perfection, and you are done. As I pointed out earlier on, just ask an athlete how this performing the gesture works. They’ll tell you that it involves hard work and it’s not over once they achieve a certain level. They still need to work hard in order to maintain that level, in this case perfection. As Soeiro (202) characterizes it, this is why “practice is a Way to know yourself.” Linking this to the earlier point she (200) makes, it’s worth reiterating that this is, indeed, a practice that facilitates knowing oneself, but one that only involves doing, experiencing, not talking about what you do or experience, or, to be more accurate, did or experienced. As I really want to move on, as fascinating as this is, in summary of what is stated by Soeiro in the article, archery, that is to say the art of archery or the Way of the bow, is about experiencing oneness with the bow, knowing one’s place as “the medium between this (technique) and that (release)” (203), about becoming-bow, to put in Deleuzo-Guattarian terms.

If you think this is rather nonsensical, against common sense, even pointless in the sense of going through a rigorous, as well as a clearly repetitive process, to get somewhere, you are correct. That’s exactly the point, abandoning you, yourself, the subject, as the starting point for everything else and letting who you are, at any given time, emerge, to take shape through practice, that is to say though difference and repetition, as explained by Soiero (207-208). In her (208) words, linking this to will or desire, the point is to:

“To know through one’s own character fueled by the desire, to know. To know, not what society or others assumed as important for anyone to know, but to know what one’s own character wants to find out: following its … orientation. When you do know you no longer need to will it and knowledge (character and thinking) comes to you in a clear, sharp way.”

Connecting to the previous point about letting one’s identity to take shape through practice, I think it’s worth emphasizing here the point she makes about it not being what society or others want. You need to let go of such conception of yourself, as this and/or that, what others want you to be. I’d also emphasize here that it’s not only about letting go of how others view you but about letting go of how you view yourself as well. That’s the point about the release, literally letting go in order to let the arrow be propelled from the bow, in order to experience who you are as an event, going from the interior to the exterior only to curve back to the interior, as if your intention was to hit yourself, as explained by Soiero (202, 205). I guess, in a way, the purpose of kyūdō is always to shoot at yourself in order to develop, to become something else. I mean, you do want to get better at it, right? In her final remark Soiero (209) points out that while «Do» translates as «Way», «kyu» can be translated not only as bow, but also as endurance and continuity, as well as as student or beginner, so when all these sense of «kyu» are taken into consideration, kyūdō is about difference and repetition, “using the bow repeatedly where one, also repeatedly, is a beginner each time one shoots is like starting anew” which, in turn, “demands endurance and continuity.”

After a lengthy elaboration of the war machine, going on for about a dozen pages or so (387-401), Deleuze and Guattari (400) address martial arts in general. To better understand the importance of martial arts, it’s worth noting that, for them (398), weapons are the consequences of the war machine. To make more sense of that, it’s worth reiterating the war machine is an assemblage. As they (398) point out:

“The very general primacy of the collective and machinic assemblage over the technical element applies generally … for weapons.”

To get to the point, in summary of what they (398-401) go on and on about, both the war machine and the weapons that come about as its consequence are marked by speed (which will be explained later on). The gist here is that, unlike tools that are burdened by gravity, that have very specific heavy duties associated with running the state, namely making things, creating this from this and/or that, as well as keeping them together, weapons are linked to what they (397, 401) call the free-action model, permitting absolute movement and going against anything seeks to prevent this. As they (398) point out, weapons are tied “to a speed-perpetuum mobile system” and therefore, in a way, can be understood as speed itself. This is why they (400) are fascinated by how practicing martial arts can permit one to become something else:

“[M]artial arts do not adhere to a code, as an affair of the State, but follow ways, which are so many paths of the affect … the weapon being only a provisory means. Learning to undo things, and to undo oneself, is proper to the war machine: the ‘not-doing’ of the warrior, the undoing of the subject.”

I have stop here for a moment, to point out here that, as intriguing as kyūdō might be, it also seems to be or rather seems to have ended up rather striated and thus antithetical to the war machine as characterized by Deleuze and Guattari. How so? Well, because the performance of the gesture involves a specific, apparently nowadays codified, eight step method (hassetsu) described by Soiero (203-204), which is held as the correct way of performing the gesture leading to release. It’s worth reiterating that for Deleuze and Guattari (377):

“A ‘method’ is the striated space of the cogitatio universalis and draws a path that must be followed from one point to another.”

So, oddly enough, while it may have been that kyūdō is without a method, that it was more of a gradual process that required little talking rather than doing to get there, it seems that it has ended up with one, with different schools and what not. Apparently there is an official kyūdō manual, published by All Nippon Kyudo Federation. Looks a lot like it involves drawing a path that is to be followed, going from one point to another. Very striated, if you ask me. It’s not that this surprised me though. For example, Nietzsche is very much someone whose thought qualifies as what Deleuze and Guattari call the war machine, yet he ended up being a poster boy for a certain state that was very much at the center of things in the 1930s and 1940s. Not even death can prevent that from happening. The state is out to striate.

Right, so, I reckon that for Deleuze and Guattari the process would be about picking up a bow and arrow, learning to master it, with or without others, as you see fit, as there are many ways to do this. Of course, weapons are not the only way. For example, once you figure out what Deleuze is on about with difference and repetition, another way of thinking emerges that allows you to shape yourself the way you see fit. I think Ronald Bogue (35) puts it aptly when he explains the same thing in ‘The Master Apprentice’ which is included in ‘Deleuze and Education’ edited by Inna Semetsky and Diana Masny, published in 2013:

“The ‘way’ of philosophy is a way of living, a mode of existence, and like the way of Zen, one that applies to all aspects of life.”

Something tells me though that kyūdō is far from reading an official manual, going to school (in this case dojo) and going through the steps explained in the manual as instructed by a teacher, followed by enlightenment. I believe Bogue (34) manages to explain the role of the eight steps of kyūdō well:

“The postures, breathing techniques and metal exercises, however, are only means to an end.”

The point here being that for the aspiring archer, it is not only to be about archery, but about how one then applies this way to all aspects of life. It’s one way of getting there, or so to speak. For me, I do that through thinking, having read philosophy, Deleuze in particular, albeit not exclusively. As noted by Bogue (34), it is of little consequence how you get there, what path you take, be it through the way of the bow, the way of the sword or the way of the empty hand (or the way of writing or the way of tea, as listed by Soiero, 200), or the way of thinking, as done by Deleuze, as what matters is that you do.

Of course you cannot expect this to just happen to you. As pointed out by Deleuze (xv) in the added preface to ‘Difference and Repetition’ and explained by Bogue (34-35), you still need to learn, with or without others, albeit, as I’ve argued in the essays on Vološinov, all you know and all you do are always tied to others. This is what Deleuze did when he engaged in the philosophy of his predecessors, as well as his contemporaries. I guess you could say that he became-them in order to go beyond them, become someone else, someone else than them, to create something of his own. To put it very simply, for Deleuze, as he (23) explains in ‘Difference and Repetition’, the role of the teacher is not to say “‘Do as I do’” but to say “‘do with me’” because the former only results in reproduction whereas the latter permits heterogeneous development.

To get back on to the plateau on the war machine, going back a bit to an earlier remark they make about the two directions of the war machine, they (378) warn not to turn archery into a model of archer, “into a model to be copied.” To be accurate, they (378) don’t exemplify this with archery, but by examining art, contrasting those whose thought is of the form of exteriority (war machine) to those whose thought is of the form of interiority (state). Their (378) examples include contrasting Antonin Artaud with Jacques Riviere and Heinrich von Kleist and Jakob Michael Reinhold Lenz with Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. I opted to skip these here because I’m not that familiar with their work (I’d just do a poor job; I’m sure you can read those bits yourself). The point is the same as it is with archery. I guess it’s just easier to explain the dangers of valorizing those whose engage in outside thought. In their (378) words, valorizing such figures may end up turning them into monuments. So, indeed, you can learn from past masters (senseis in the context of kyūdō) but not in order to copy them, but to, eventually, find your own way.

To summarize this detour on the art of archery in non-Zen terms, Deleuze and Guattari (377) rephrase their point about bows and arrows, characterizing how on the level of the society it’s about “[a]n ambulant people of relayers, rather than a model society.”

I guess I have to go back a bit at this point, to explain striated space and smooth space. I’ll get to those in a moment. Deleuze and Guattari (361) elaborate on those concepts when they focus on the two kinds of science, the major, royal or imperial science and the minor or nomad science. By this point it should be obvious which is the state science and which is the war machine science. Those who wish to delve more into this may want to look up ‘The Birth of Physics’ (2000 translation by Jack Hawkes, 2018 translation by David Webb) by Michel Serres as they largely build on this book on this.

Deleuze and Guattari (361) characterize minor science as fundamentally fluid, pertaining to flows, fluctuation and consistency, and atomist. It’s about becoming and heterogeneity, making becoming primary and being secondary. It’s marked curving or curvilinear declination, deviating from a straight line, forming spirals and vortexes, and vectors. They (362) also note that minor science is problematic, that is to say that “figures are considered only from the viewpoint of the affections that befall them”, one going “from a problem to the accidents that condition and resolve it.” It is about figures designating events, that, to them (362), involve “all kinds of deformations, transmutations, passages to the limit[.]” What results from this is that one cannot examine this and/or that independently. They (362) exemplify this by noting that “the square no longer exists independently of a quadrature, the cube of a cubature, the straight line of a rectification.” They (362) caution not to think of problems in minor science as mere obstacles that one then after some pondering seeks to overcome but overcoming the obstacle as it is or while its projected, as it happens. For me, this is among the hazier passages on this plateau but I reckon that the point here is, as they (362) sort of go on to explain, that the problems are, in fact, the war machine itself, that is to say that in this conception we do not simply encounter pre-existing problems, as if they were out there, just waiting for us, but that we are the ones that create them (hence we project them) as much as we seek to surpass them. They (367, 408) indicate that minor science is what Edmund Husserl (166) calls “essentially, rather than accidentally, inexact” in the first book of ‘Ideas Pertaining to a Pure Phenomenology and to a Phenomenological Philosophy’ (1982 translation by Fred Kersten), what they call “anexact yet rigorous” as it involves vague and fluent essences, such roundness. They are hardly exact, yet they are rigorous. What minor science is based on is what Deleuze and Guattari (368) call the plane of consistency or composition, also referred to as the plane of immanence elsewhere in the book.

In contrast, they (361) characterize major science as fundamentally solid (fluid is a deviation from solid), pertaining to “the stable, the eternal, the identical, the constant.” It’s about matter, being and homogeneity. Being is primary, while becoming and heterogeneity are mere secondary characteristics that we can observe as the differences between two identities, as explained early on in this essay. It is marked by the straight line, parallels, lamellarity, gridding and rastering. They (362) add that major science is theorematic, that is to say that “one … go[es] by specific differences from genus to its species, or by deduction from a stable essence to the properties deriving from it” and problems are approached as to be subordinated by the theorem. They (367) indicate that unlike minor science, major science deals with theorematic figures and seeks to be exact. They (367) exemplify this with a circle that is always ideal and fixed essence, which, nonetheless, spawn the problematic figures listed by Husserl (166), all related to both circles and roundness, such as lens-shaped, umbelliform and indented. What major science is based on is what they (368) call the plane of organization or formation.

Oddly enough, as indicated by the existence of problematic figures, the two conceptions of science meet at a point, between the exact and the inexact but rigorous. That said, Deleuze and Guattari (367) note that major science is given primacy over minor science, which, unfortunately, obscures “the relations between science and technology, science and practice, because nomad science is not a simple technology or practice, but a scientific field in which the problem of these relations is brought out and resolved in an entirely different way than from the point of view of royal science”, which, in turn makes it hard, if not impossible to appreciate minor science. Perhaps the best way of explaining the relationship between the two is conceptualizing it as the relationship between the state and the war machine. In their (367) words:

“The State is perpetually producing and reproducing ideal circles, but a war machine is necessary to make something round.”

In other words, major science wouldn’t exist without minor science. You can’t exactly draw circles without something as inexact as roundness. Therefore major science always ends up drawing from minor science. That said, as indicated by the two (368), those who subscribe to major science tend to take issue with those who subscribe to minor science because the state has no need for autonomous “intellectuals or conceptual innovators”. They (368) clarify that it’s not the state doesn’t want these intellectuals, the innovators, as they are, indeed, highly useful to the state, but that they should know their place and make it so that their intellect, their innovation, can be shared and reproduced by others, those who already know their place. They (368, 374) characterize those who know their place in the academics as having imagined autonomy as they think they are free to conduct research as they see fit, yet they are dependent on the state that sets the “goals and paths, conduits, channels, organs, an entire organon.” However, they (368) add that it’s worth noting that the state couldn’t care less about minor science but not because of its vagueness and inexactness but because of the way it operates. Simply put, they (368) argue that the types of divisions of labor in minor science just don’t mesh with the state. The state doesn’t like it when something that is done within its borders is done without its blessing, its supervision, its governance. Individuals and groups of individuals that have tacit knowledge are problematic because it makes the state dependent on them and not the other way around. The state finds it problematic when people have knowledge that doesn’t belong to them, or so to speak, because it undermines the governor-governed dynamic that is in its favor.

Deleuze and Guattari (369) offer another way of characterizing minor science and major science. Following Plato in ‘Timaeus’, they (369) classify minor science as Dispars, elaborating it as marked by material-forces, as well as irreducible adequations, inequations and differential equations, and major science as Compars, elaborating it as marked by matter-form, always in search of constants extracted from the variables or equations from the relations of the variables. In other words, they (369) define minor science as pertaining to singularities, haecceities (vague essences), events and individuations and major science with constituting general forms, objects. Moreover, they (369) characterize the two as the opposition of the nomos, open ended conventional law of particulars, and the logos, closed system of sovereign law of universals.

By further contrasting the two, we arrive to their definitions of smooth space and striated space. For them (361-362) smooth space is “vectorial, projective, or topological” and striated space is metric, gridded or rastered. They (362) add that “in the first case ‘space is occupied without being counted,’ and in the second case ‘space is counted in order to be occupied.’” It’s worth noting here that, as acknowledged in the notes (553), Deleuze and Guattari borrow this from composer Pierre Boulez, who distinguishes between smooth and striated space (surface) and time in ‘Boulez on Music Today’ (1971 translation by Susan Bradshaw, Richard Rodney Bennett). To give you an example, one listed by Deleuze and Guattari (363-364), sea is a smooth space, an open space that involves vortical movement. Later on they (386-387) exemplify this with pirates, as well as fleets that patrol the seas in order to secure them against pirates and other fleets. Gothic architecture also presents smooth spaces, namely in the form of Gothic cathedrals, in the sense that, at least according to them (364), they didn’t rely on Euclidian geometry to build them. Apparently the process of building them was largely intuitive. It’s not that no mathematics was involved but rather that it happened there and then, which then, according to Deleuze and Guattari (364-365) didn’t sit too well with state and church representatives because it wasn’t done according to set templates for building. Another example of a smooth space named by the two (365) has to do with the minor science involved in bridge building way back in the day.

Deleuze and Guattari (371) offer another way of explaining striated space and smooth space, by contrasting straight line with curve, vertical descent with curvilinear motion when considering velocity. They (371) state that:

“Smooth space is precisely the space of the smallest deviation[, clinamen]: therefore it has no homogeneity, except between infinitely proximate points, and the linking of proximities is effected independently of any determined path.”

Only to add that (371):

“Smooth space is a field without conduits or channels. A field, a heterogeneous smooth space, is wedded to a very particular type of multiplicity: nonmetric, acentered, rhizomatic multiplicities that occupy space without ‘counting’ it and can ‘be explored only by legwork.’”

And, in contrast to striated space, they (371) state that:

“It is a space of contact, of small tactile or manual actions of contact, rather than a visual space like Euclid’s striated space.”

And (371):

“[It] do[es] not meet the visual condition of being observable from a point in space external to [it]; an example of this is the system of sounds, or even of colors, as opposed to Euclidean space.”

They (371) go on to give more examples of how one makes more sense of smooth space and striated space, such as the matter of speediness and slowness, but I’ll leave it up to you to read it yourself. Instead, I’ll jump ahead to a passage on this plateau where Deleuze and Guattari (384-386) complicate the relation of the state, the war machine, striated space and smooth space when they state nothing prevents mixing and that while the state is out to striate smooth space, it is not that it seeks to halt everything, rather than to police everything, to capture and channel “flows of all kinds, populations, commodities or commerce, money or capital etc.”, to restrict circulation and regulate speed, slowing it down, relativizing it to movement, going from one point to another as opposed to roaming, turning moving bodies into moved bodies. They (386) indicate that the easiest way of doing this is setting up something to prevent passage, such as a fortress, but I guess a fence, a wall, a trench or the like would do as well. The point here is to relativize the absolute movement of those who roam, to channel or guide their movement, as well as to slow them down. Moreover, they (387) add that striation is not the only thing the state is capable. I noted earlier how sea is a smooth space, one that can be striated by making it dependent on land, on ports, but, according to them (387), state is also capable of occupying a smooth space that it cannot properly striate. This is the case with sea, patrolled by naval fleets, as well as the case with air, patrolled by air forces, as they (387) point out. This is sort of a word warning, not to think that smooth spaces as inherent positive and striated spaces as inherently negative. Deleuze (33) exemplifies this in ‘On A Thousand Plateaus’, as published in ‘Dialogues’ (1995 translation by Martin Joughin):

“We can’t assume that … that smooth spaces are always better than segmented or striated ones: … nuclear submarines establish a smooth space devoted to war and terror.”

Indeed, little black submarines can crop out of nowhere to devastate you. They don’t even have to lurk near your coast as just the notion that they might be there will be enough to unsettle you. Anyway, I’ll now jump back to the issue of minor science and major science. By procedure, they (372) classify the former as a matter of following and the latter as a matter of reproducing. To be more specific, they (372) clarify this distinction by stating that:

“[F]ollowing is not at all the same thing as reproducing, and one never follows in order to reproduce.”

Why is that? They (372) their conception of major science:

“The ideal of reproduction, deduction, or induction is part of [major] science, at all times and in all places, and treats differences of time and place as so many variables, the constant form of which is extracted precisely by the law: for the same phenomena to recur in a … striated space it is sufficient for the same conditions to obtain, or for the same constant relation to hold between the differing conditions and the variable phenomena.”

What they add next seems, perhaps, a bit unnecessary to even state, as we all likely know it already, but I’ll indulge stating the obvious nonetheless. So, they (372) add:

“Reproducing implies the permanence of a fixed point of view that is external to what is reproduced[.]”

In other words, to summarize what they state here is that major science is all about universals, coming up with universal laws for this and/or that that will hold regardless of where and when this and/or that, what happens to be observed, occurs. That’s the point they (372) make about major science involving “reproduction, iteration and reiteration”.

In contrast to major science, minor science is out for something different. It’s about following, going from one singularity to another, as they (372) explain it:

“One is obliged to follow when one is in search of the ‘singularities’ of a matter, or rather of a material, and not out to discover a form[.]”

The point they make about following being about actually following is exactly what they are saying. You are literally following something. They (372) provide an example where one starts by making one’s way to a plant, then follows the crevices made by water, examines them to figure out where the water has flown, in order to find where the seeds of the plant have been carried by the water. So, as they (372) summarize it, unlike major science which establishes universals and constants drawn from the particulars, from the variables, and establishes or reterritorializes around one fixed point of view, minor science is a “process of deterritorialization” that “constitutes and extends the territory itself.” How so? By following, for example, by all that tracking that involved in finding where the seeds have been carried by the water. As they (373) go on to point out, minor science is always on the move, never settling, never reterritorializing around what it encounters unlike major science which deterritorializes only in order to reterritorialize around what it comes across.

They (372-372) note that one might object to their examples, for example the plant example, because following looks awfully lot like going from one point to another and so on, step by step. They (372-373) acknowledge this but argue that it is only partially correct, considering that the procedures and processes of minor science “are necessarily tied to a striated space” of major science by being “always translatable, and necessarily translated” into striated space by major science. This (373) what they calls “the triumph of logos … over the nomos.” This does not, however, result in the destruction or disintegration of the smooth space of minor science. It’s always there. It’s just that major science is triumphant in translating, in converting smooth space into striated space … because it operates by placing grids or overlays on smooth space (I’m thinking of rasterizing a vector here, which may be of help to understand this if you’ve dabbled in graphic design). They (373) add that major science triumphs because minor science is dispersed, decentralized, never resulting in it “tak[ing] on an autonomous power, or even to haven an autonomous development.” They (373) argue that this is because they rely on intuition and construction, “following the flow of matter, drawing and linking up smooth space”, going one from problematic encounter to another, always ending up with more problems while problems are solved. I guess you could say that there’s always more to it, which, oddly enough they (374) go on to state, how minor science “inhabit[s] that ‘more’ that exceeds the space of reproduction and soon runs into problems that are insurmountable from that point of view”, the point of view of major science. Once you think you are done, once you’ve managed to solve a problem according to its own non-autonomous constitution, as they (374) characterize the process in minor science, you notice that you have ended up somewhere where there are other problems that you must solve and so on, and so on. This most definitely keeps happening to me. There’s always more to it, another problem to be solved, that, actually, oddly enough, is usually linked to the problem at hand, making it very hard to not address it in the same context. This is why I find article format so constrained. If only the world was so neatly parceled that one could figure out one thing at a time, in isolation from other things.

So, in summary, in opposition to minor science, major science is centralized and operates by “isolat[ing] all operations from the conditions of intuition, making them true intrinsic concepts, or ‘categories’”, as they (373) explain it. Note here how they are not against concepts or categories, as such, but against holding them true and intrinsic. That’s why they (373-374) call its apparatus apodictic. This is the point they make about how major science operates by reterritorialization.

Now that I managed to explain smooth space and striated space, minor and major science, it’s time to get back to where I left off, to the issue revolving around thought or image of thought. I ended up going off the path, to explain those concepts, when Deleuze and Guattari (377) argue against method, it being part and parcel of major science, and advocate for minor science and thought that is of the form of exteriority, while warning against monumentalizing who subscribe to the war machine and attempting to copy them. So, in summary, to reorient this essay, I now move back to thought from my detours into the specifics that ought to help understand what was expressed before and after those detours.

Deleuze and Guattari (379) pinpoint what the dominant image of thought and the striation of space that results from it aspire to: universality. They (379) clarify that there are, in fact, two universals that mark the dominant image of thought: the Whole and the Subject. The former they (379) define as “the final ground of being or all-encompassing horizon” and the latter as “the principle that converts being into-being-for-us.” They (379) then contrast this image of thought with another way of thinking, what has been covered so far to a certain extent, that they call nomad thought (as they do with nomad science). I guess you could also call it minor or minoritarian thought as well, but realize that nomad only makes sense, in the sense that nomads are always on the move but never fussy over going from one point to another. As they (380) later on point out, it’s not that nomads are unaware or ignorant of points, or unable to comprehend them, but rather that points are, for nomads, a consequence, not an underlying principle (for those sedentary, it’s the opposite). As (380) further clarify, for the nomad, the point is there only to be left behind, eventually, just like in a relay of a trajectory. To be accurate, to correct myself a bit, if we think of the nomads on their own terms, that is to say in smooth space, the nomads are actually never on the move as they never go anywhere, as they never leave, as they never depart, as Deleuze and Guattari (380) point out. The nomads are always where they are supposed to be, wherever they may roam. That only makes sense when you take into consideration milieu (which I’ll explain in the next paragraph). Anyway, to make more sense of the nomad thought, they (379) elaborate it:

“It does not ally itself with a universal thinking subject but, on the contrary, with a singular race; and it does not ground itself in an all-encompassing totality but is on the contrary deployed in a horizonless milieu that is a smooth space, steppe, desert, or sea.”

So, as I pointed out, like actual nomads, who are known to roam the steppes and deserts, nomad thought also roams, never settling and thus having no fixed view point, hence, I reckon, the point they make it being horizonless. Also, make note of how having no horizon is called milieu, which is about always being in the middle, as they (21) point out in the introduction. What they (379) add here is that in nomad thought milieu is smooth space, which does make sense, considering what has been covered so far, that smooth space lacks distinct points unlike striated space. Singular race may come across as a bit odd, so they (379) elaborate it being what they call ‘a tribe’, only to immediately warn against the possible pitfalls of these labels, from racializing it, from orienting ourselves as members of this or that group in opposition of other groups. As this is not only a touchy topic but also rather obscure (hence their warnings), they (379) clarify their views on this:

“The race-tribe exists only at the level of an oppressed race, and in the name of the oppression it suffers: there is no race but inferior, minoritarian; there is no dominant race; a race is defined not by its purity but rather by the impurity conferred upon it by a system of domination.”

So, in other words, assuming that I get this correctly, for them, just like for me, there is no such thing as a race, nor a tribe. Instead, what we have is minor vs. major, minoritarian vs. majoritarian (standard), as they (291) define on another plateau, the one that focuses on becoming. They (291) emphasize that it crucial to not confuse the various terms:

“It is important not to confuse ‘minoritarian,’ as a becoming or process, with a ‘minority’, as an aggregate or a state. Jews, Gypsies, etc., may constitute minorities under certain conditions, but that in itself does not make them becomings. One reterritorializes, or allows oneself to be reterritorialized, on a minority as a state; but in a becoming, one is deterritorialized.”

Following this clarification presented on another plateau, it is now clearer what they mean by race and tribe on the plateau on the war machine. Race and tribe only exist in relation to majority, which, according to them (291) implies state domination. That’s why they (379) point out that race is about impurity, deviation from the standard. So, strictly speaking, there is no race, no tribe, in nomad thought, except when it becomes subordinated by the dominant image of thought. Here it’s worth adding that this is also highly contextual, as they (379) point out when they state that:

“Bastard and mixed-blood are the true names of race.”

The Métis and the Mestizo exemplify what Deleuze and Guattari mean by this. If we go back in time, to when this minority emerged, they were exactly what Deleuze and Guattari (379) call a race: bastards, mixed-blood people. As indicated by the monikers Métis and Mestizo, they were the people of mixed origin, typically having a European born father and a Native American mother. Always an outsider to both. Impure in relation not only to one group but both groups. While not specifically related to race, they (413-415) also similarly characterize smiths or metallurgists as hybrids, as people shunned by sedentaries (state, striated space) and nomads (war machine, smooth space) alike because they are the true underground people, those who invent holey space (think of holes in the ground, caves, mines, where you get the metals needed in metallurgy). Smiths, and I guess bastards and mixed-blooded people, are, in a way, marked by vague essences, as pointed out by the two (414-415). They blur the distinction.

As this plateau is massive, some seventy-odd pages, I won’t be going through it all here. I have already skipped quite a bit and will keep doing that. I’ve also covered some parts of this plateau in previous essays (for example, the part where they discuss, metallurgy development of weapons, hylomorphism, emergent properties), so I go into those in this essay. There are, however, a couple of bits that I want to address. One of them is their (399-400) distinction between feeling and affect. For them (399), what is common with the two is that both feeling and affect are passions, effectuations of desire. What makes them distinct then is how they differ according to the assemblage, as they (399) clearly point out. The former they (399-400) link to the work regime of the state whereas the latter they link to the war machine. In their (400) words:

“Affect is the active discharge of emotion, the counterattack, whereas feeling is an always displaced, retarded, resisting emotion.”

In other words, affect is immediate, here and now, whereas … I had a bit of a giggle on this because I only agree … feeling is retarded. For a moment I pondered whether to characterize it as somewhere and then, as opposed to here and now, but I guess displaced is a good word for it, both spatially and temporally because it happens later on and isn’t tied to a specific place. Another thing here is the point they make about resistance and counterattack. The former is how the state operates, by blocking, by parrying, that is to say tempering action, slowing things down in order to protect itself, to reach “an equilibrium of forces”, as they (397) characterize it. The latter is about disrupting this equilibrium, albeit, the way I understand this, the specifics as to why they call it the counterattack rather than just attack has to do with maneuvering. Attack is about going on the offensive against an enemy, moving forward. Defense is about holding ground, halting an attack. Counterattack is about attacking the attacker, while thwarting the efforts of the attacker. Anyway, back to affects and feelings, to which they (400) offer another way of setting them apart:

“Affects are projectiles just like weapons; feelings are introceptive like tools.”

In other words, as they (395) point out elsewhere on the plateau, weapons are centrifugal, directed to exteriority, whereas tools are centripetal, directed to interiority. Anyway, I only bring up this distinction to indicate how feeling is more of an afterthought of affect, of discharges of emotion. This ties nicely to my previous essay where I point out how introspection fails to be experience itself and present it because attempting to explain experience, to yourself or to others, is always something displaced.

For me, another bit worth making note of here on this plateau is to remember that as much as they positively attribute the war machine, they (403) warn not to be nostalgic about it, to “resuscitate old myths or archaic figures.” You’d achieve little by attempting to role play a steppe nomad. As they (423) point out in the last paragraph of this plateau:

“It is not the nomad who defines this constellation of characteristics; it is this constellation that defines the nomad, and at the same time the essence of the war machine.”

So, as I pointed out, the war machine is not only about nomads. They (423) continue:

“If guerrilla warfare, minority warfare, revolutionary and popular war are in conformity with the essence, it is because they take war as an object all the more necessary for being merely ‘supplementary’: they can make war only on the condition that they simultaneously create something else[.]”

In other words, war machine involves war, rather obviously, but the purpose is not to destroy, or, rather to only destroy. This reminds me of how Deleuze and Guattari (28) state something very similar about discussion and criticism in ‘What Is Philosophy’ (1994 translation by Hugh Tomlinson and Graham Burchell):

“To criticize is only to establish that a concept vanishes when it is thrust into a new milieu, losing some of its components, or acquiring others that transform it. But those who criticize without creating, those who are content to defend the vanished concept without being able to give it the forces it needs to return to life, are the plague of philosophy.”

To link this back to ‘A Thousand Plateaus’, criticism is about waging war, engaging in combat, but it is pointless if it is done only for the sake of it. To wrap this is up, to go back to the start, or so to speak, the issue that I keep encountering, especially in academics, is the dogmatic, orthodox or moral image of thought. We could also call it the thought as a form of interiority, as principle, as stratum. My favorite is calling it the static thought. It’s only fitting, really, because it gets it form of interiority from the state, which is interested in keeping things as they are, you know, as static. If we get hung up on having to call it science, calling it major science is only fitting. As argued by Deleuze and Guattari, the problem with this is that science, not unlike thought, is pointless, unable to invent anything if it is content and even happy to hold on to its existing images and their copies, its models and their reproductions. You just end up doing more of the same. There is no novelty to it. Perhaps it’s foolish of me to expect anything minoritarian though. Major science. State functionaries. Foolish me. Anyway, unlike the majoritarians, at least I offer an alternative, create something else, as I criticize those who subscribe to the dogmatic image of thought.

As a final note here, more as a general commentary, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this plateau. It is long, so long, but good, so good. There’s a lot to it, so, I reckon it’s better to not get hung up on this and that particular, otherwise you might find yourself not finishing it. For me the most interesting stuff is about the steppe nomads and warfare. Then again, what I find particularly relevant are the parts on science and thought, how the state and major science go hand in hand. Of course, what I find interesting on this plateau might not be what others find interesting. This was only about twenty or so pages whereas the plateau is about seventy pages, so it’s only likely that I skipped parts that might interest others. That’s why I always recommend people to read the originals themselves, no matter how intriguing my take may be on something.

Hmmm… ‘Boldt! How can you be Saussure?

Guess what! Okay, no need to guess, you know it. You know what it is (not black and yellow though). I’ll be, once again, focusing on Valentin Vološinov’s ‘Marxism and the Philosophy of Language’ (1973 translation by Ladislav Matejka and I.R. Titunik). Last time I looked into one of the chapters, the third chapter of the first part of the book, that pertains to psychology as well as anti-psychology, that is to say, on one hand, certain strands of psychology of his time, the 1800s and the early 1900s, and, on the other hand, phenomenology. I wasn’t sure if I’d cover it as it goes a bit out of its way to cover issues that aren’t that close to what I’m interested in, in general, but then opted otherwise because it includes various minor interesting bits that make it worth the reading.

In summary, it is established in that chapter that consciousness or psyche, i.e. how it is to be human or the human condition (as opposed to some other sort of consciousness, because, let’s be honest, other forms of life have some sort of consciousness, it’s just vastly different from ours), is social and emerges only through social intercourse, dealing with other humans, albeit it does also necessitate the human biology or physiology (but doesn’t simply follow from it without the social aspect). The interesting segments in the chapter are the bits on inner and outer speech, how experience is intertwined and colored by language (experience as a sign), introspection (not experience itself but a sign of a sign), as well as proton pseudos (false premise leads to false conclusions, regardless of the intermediate reasoning).

This time I’ll be going through the first chapter of the second part of the book that carry the titles ‘Two Trends of Thought in Philosophy of Language’. I wanted to include the second chapter ‘Language, Speech, and Utterance’ but I guess I’ll get it done eventually (it has a more critical look to things than what is in the first chapter).

If the introductory parts are not taken into account, this is actually the first part of the book that I read when I started reading the book because it is dedicated to key issues in language and linguistics. I reckon it’s actually fairly basic for linguists and perhaps not worth reading, in the sense that if you are a linguist, you probably know most of the stuff covered in this part of the book. Then again, if you are not a linguist, or a semiotician, then this part of the book is most definitely worth going through because, as the title suggests, it covers two major lines of thinking about language, not only at the time but, to some extent, contemporarily as well. So, if your background is something else, say geography, then, as dated as this book may be, this is a must read. Anyway, even if you are a linguist or a semiotician, I’d still read this. At least for me it was not only a refresher of this and/or that, but also included parts that were never covered in my prior studies (albeit that might not be the case for others).

Vološinov (45) indicates in the abstract that the first trend of thought is individualistic subjectivism and the second trend of thought is abstract objectivism. As this is about the philosophy of language, doing the groundwork for the study of language, he (45) ponders:

“But what is language, and what is word?”

Only to answer this himself (45):

“We do not, of course, have in mind anything like a conclusive definition of these concepts. Such a definition (insofar as any scientific definition may be called conclusive) might come at the end of a study, but not at its beginning.”

So, let us not be hasty, is what he is saying here. He (45) proposes that instead of jumping to conclusions here, we start by setting up methodological guidelines that we follow and see how they pan out. In particular, he (45-46) proposes that we use our eyes and hands, to see and to grasp, if you will, only to point out that when it comes to language, it seems that ear, our hearing comes before seeing and touching. He (46) makes note of this, should I say, impericism of the sound:

“[I]ndeed, the temptations of a superficial phonetic empiricism are very powerful in linguistic science. The study of the sound aspect of language occupies a disproportionately large place in linguistics, often setting the tone for the field, and in most cases is carried on outside any connection with the real essence of language as … sign.”

Oh, and yes, I did not typo empiricism as impericism. It is my point exactly when it comes to this. Anyway, he (46) clarifies what the problem with this is:

“If we isolate sound as a purely acoustic phenomenon, we will not have language as our specific object. Sound pertains wholly to, the competence of physics.”

That sounds about right. If we just look at language as sounds, there’s really nothing to it. It’s just sounds among other sounds, like the sound of my computer humming in the background. It’s then just well within the competence of physics to address, mere sounds among other sounds. He (46) moves on with the issue:

“If we add the physiological process of sound production and the process of sound reception, we still come no closer to our object.”

In other words, we’ve only added who (or what, if we don’t differentiate between animate and inanimate) makes the sounds and who (or what…) receives it. He (46) thus adds more layers to this:

“If we join onto this the experience (inner signs) of the speaker and listener, we obtain two psychophysical processes, taking place in two different psychophysiological beings, and one physical sound complex whose natural manifestation in governed by the laws of physics.”

Here it’s worth noting, as a side note, that this makes more sense, this is easier to get, if you went through the previous chapter on psychology where experience and inner speech (inner signs) is covered. We are slowly getting somewhere with this but he (46) still isn’t happy about it because:

“Language as the specific object of study keeps eluding us.”

Only to summarize what has been, nonetheless, achieved so far (46):

“[W]e have already encompassed three spheres of reality – the physical, the physiological, and the psychological, and we have obtained a fairly elaborate composite complex.”

What is lacking then, don’t we have it all already? For him (46), what is clearly lacking is what he calls “a ‘soul’”, some unity, something that links these three components so that they are not a mere list of separate entities but “precisely the phenomenon of language.” What is this ‘soul’ then? I mean he isn’t suggesting that it’s literally missing a soul. For him (46), as you might guess if you’ve read other parts of the book (or at least previous parts), is the social intercourse. In his (46) words:

“In order to observe the phenomenon of language, both the producer and the receiver of the sound itself must be place into the social atmosphere. After all, the speaker and listener must belong to the same language community – to a society organized along certain particular lines.”

However, that’s not all, as he (46) continues, adding that:

“Furthermore, our two individuals must be encompassed by unity of the immediate social situation, i.e., the must make contact, as one person to another, on a specific basis.”

This is an important addition because, as already covered in my previous essays on this book, language is always particular, not only general. If we ignore this addition that he makes here, we have a conception of language that is social but what is social about it, the language community, the society with its organization, rendered inert, fixed, set in stone. That would be just idealism again, assuming that there is this ideal language community, this ideal society that can be understood according to its organization along those certain particular lines. However, that’s not the case. In summary, thus far, he (47) states:

“So, we may say that the unity of the social milieu and the unity of the immediate social event of communication are conditions absolutely essential for bringing our physico-psycho-physiological complex into relation with language, with speech, so that it become a language-speech fact.”

To make it absolutely clear what language isn’t, as also argued in the previous chapter:

“Two biological organisms under purely natural conditions will not produce the fact of speech.”

So, as I stated earlier on about the human condition, consciousness or psyche, it doesn’t simply emerge from our biology, our physiology, on its own, sort of unprompted. Anyway, he (47) notes that be as it may, what he has stated thus far in this chapter, has done little to clarify anything rather than further obscuring it. That is, however, only because language is highly complicated, involving multifaceted and multifarious connections, some more, some less important than others, as he (47) summarizes the issue. For him (47), what must be done is to account this all, to bring all these strands together “to the focal point of the language process.” Obviously that’s not going to be an easy task, but, then again, if it was easy, then we wouldn’t be going on and on about it.

Where are we at then, at this point? Well, we’ve landed at the very heart of the issue, the problem of language itself. He’ll move on to address it by taking a closer look at the two philosophies of language, individualistic subjectivism and abstract objectivism, and how they seek to solve this problem, which he (47-48) calls “the problem of the identification and the delimitation of language as a specific object of study.”

Starting with the former, individualistic subjectivism, he (48) characterizes it as based on a conception of language in which the creative act of speech is based on the individual, the source of language being in the individual psyche. Again, I reckon that if you read the previous chapter, this point comes across better. In a nutshell, as summarized by him (48), language is seen as a continuous or unceasing creative process that emerges from the psyche of an individual, which, in turn, means that the laws of language, that one is to study in linguistics, are also the laws of individual psychology. Simply put, as stated by him (48), language is seen as analogous “to art – to aesthetic activity.” He lists four principles of this trend. Firstly (48):

Language is activity, an unceasing process of creation (energeia) realized in individual speech acts[.]”

Secondly (48):

The laws of language creativity are the laws of individual psychology[.]”

Thirdly (48):

Creativity of language is meaningful creativity, analogous to creative art[.]”

Fourthly (48):

Language as a ready-made product (ergon), as a stable system (lexicon, grammar, phonetics), is, so to speak, the inert crust, the hardened lave of language creativity, of which linguistics makes an abstract construct in the interests of the practical teaching of language as a ready-made instrument.”

If this seems familiar to you, it’s probably because you are familiar with Wilhelm von Humboldt’s conception of language. Of course you might not be, like I wasn’t until it was explained to me, rather randomly, on the aesthetics lectures I attended last semester. I reckon you don’t really run into his conception of language these days because, well, it’s not only out of fashion, but also kept out of fashion, namely for being … cough, cough … German, because, something tells me that most things German got effectively erased from curricula due to certain events in the last decades of the first half of the 1900s, as I pointed out in a short essay dedicated to Wilhelm von Humboldt’s views on language.

Anyway, as suggested by ergon (product) and energeia (process), this trend is indeed marked by the influence of von Humboldt, as indicated by Vološinov (48). It’s not that he is the only representative of this trend, as noted by Vološinov (48), as there are others, such as Johann Georg Hamann and Johann Gottfried von Herder who were his predecessors, but he is, nonetheless, the most influential representative of this trend. In Vološinov’s (48) words:

“Humboldt’s powerful thought has exercised an influence far exceeding the scope of the trend we have just characterized. It can be claimed that all post-Humboldtian linguistics, to the present day, has experienced his determinative influence.”

He (48-49) acknowledges that von Humboldt’s thought is not one specific thing, a totality that neatly aligns with the four principles of this trend that he listed, but rather a host of things far too broad and complex, as well as contradictory, to fit his description, lending itself to “widely divergent trends and movements.” He (49) adds that von Humboldt’s successors, those who are part of this trend, as much as they rely on his work, their conceptions of language are narrower and more simplistic than von Humboldt’s views. I mean, as I pointed out in the essay dedicated to him, his work, largely existing only in German, is very extensive and all over the place. In that sense, it’s only bound to happen that if you build on his works that you end up coming across as rather simplistic and small in scale in comparison to him. Anyway, be as it may, Vološinov (49) sees von Humboldt’s views as pivotal to the emergence of the first trend. It’s still worth keeping in mind that it is incorrect to classify this trend as representing vol Humboldt’s philosophy of language. To my understanding, and if I remember correctly, language is markedly social for von Humboldt, which is something that Vološinov (49-50) considers largely missing in the first trend, with the insistence that language is situated only in the individual psyche. So, in a way, von Humboldt is and isn’t a representative of this trend.

What actually fits the bill, the four principles he lists, instead of von Humboldt, Vološinov (50) names Karl Vossler and his followers. He (50) indicates what distinguishes what he calls the Vossler school:

“[I]t is defined first and foremost by its decisive and theoretically grounded rejection of linguistic positivism, with its inability to see anything beyond the linguistic form (primarily, the phonetic from as the most ‘positive’ kind) and the elementary psychophysiological act of its generation.”

Only to add what Vossler is after (50):

“The main impetus to linguistic creativity is said to be ‘linguistic taste,’ a special variety of artistic taste. [It] is that linguistic truth by which language lives and which the linguist must ascertain in every manifestation of language in order genuinely to understand and explain the manifestation in question.”

Vološinov (50) cites Vossler summarizing his views in ‘Grammar and the History of Language’, published in 1910 in the journal ‘Logos: Zeitschrift für systematische Philosophie’. Because I’m not lazy, I traced this back to the original, ‘Grammatik und Sprachgeschichte oder das Verhältnis von »richtig« und »wahr« in der Sprachwissenschaft’, in which Vossler (94) states:

“Aber eine Wissenschaftliche Sprachgeschichte wird erst diejenige sein, die durch die ganze praktische Kausalreihe hindurch zur ästhetichen gelangt: so daß der sprachliche Gedanke, die sprachliche Wahrheit, der Sprachgeschmack, das Sprachgefühl oder wie Wilhelm von Humbodlt es nennt: die innere Sprachform in all ihren physisch, psychisch, politisch, ökonomisch und überhaupt kulturell bedingten Wandlungen ersichtlich und verständlich wird.”

Which is translated into English, apparently from the Russian translation of the same journal issue (as, apparently, it ran side by side as German/Russian, one being translated to the other), by the translators, Matejka and Titunik (50-51):

“The only history of language that can claim the status of a science is the one that can run the whole gamut of the practical, causal order of things so as to arrive at the aesthetic order, so that thereby linguistic thought, linguistic truth, linguistic taste, and linguistic sensibility or, as Wilhelm Humboldt has called it, the inner form of language, in its physically, psychically, politically, economically and, in general, its culturally conditioned transformations, may be made clear and understandable.”

Why did I go through the effort of finding the original, in German? Well, translation is always a translation. There’s that. Then there’s a translation of a translation. That’s hardly ideal. As a side, before I continue on Vološinov, this journal is fascinating. It contains texts by the likes of Benedetto Croce, Ernst Cassirer, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Edmund Husserl, Georg Lukács, Georg Simmel and Max Weber, plus a host of others I just don’t recognize. Right, back to Vološinov (51) who summarizes that:

“[F]or Vossler the basic manifestation, the basic reality, of language should not be language as a ready-made system, in the sense of a body [inherited], immediately usable forms – phonetic, grammatical, and other – but the individual creative act of speech (Sprache als Rede).”

As a side note, to clarify a bit, the [inherited] part above is almost as is as there seems to be typo in the book, the word being ‘inhereited’. Anyway, he (51) adds that what follows from this conception of language is that speech acts do not simply consist of one going for “shared, stable, and immediately usable” grammatical forms of a specific language across all utterances, but actually stylistically concretizing and modifying these forms on the go, thus individualizing and uniquely characterizing each and every utterance. He (51) labels this as stylistic individualization and emphasizes that as it is creative, that is to say productive, it is also historical, which, in turn, results in the production of grammatical forms. In other words, he (51) argues that, for Vossler, style, the creative production of language, is primary, and grammatical form, the solidified product of style, is secondary. He (51) summarizes this as “the precedence of style over grammar”. As a final note on this trend, before I move on to the second trend, it’s worth noting that he (51-52) mentions Benedetto Croce as part of this first trend, indicating that in his works the key term is expression, that is to say artistic expression, which then should be the object of study in linguistics.

The second trend, abstract objectivism, is, I reckon, very familiar to linguists, as well as semioticians, or at least should be. You’ve been sleeping during lectures if you haven’t encountered this. Like me, you may have been ignorant of the first trend for years, but with regards to the second trend, I don’t know how you managed to pass the introductory course exams if you aren’t familiar with it. It’s just that familiar to you. Just dropping the name Ferdinand de Saussure should do the trick.

Vološinov (52) broadly characterizes abstract objectivism as shifting the focus on language from its use to it as “the linguistic system[,] as a system of the phonetic, grammatical, and lexical forms of language.” He (52) further contrasts the two trends, noting that in the first trend language is considered “an ever-flowing stream of speech acts in which nothing remains fixed and identical to its itself” whereas in the second trend language is considered “the stationary rainbow archer over that stream” and what is pivotal are the “the phonetic, grammatical, and lexical factors that are identical and therefore normative for all utterances” thus registering and insuring “the unity of a given language and its comprehension by all the members of a given community.”

Turning his attention to normativity, he (52-53) clarifies that he considers this second trend as focusing on normative identities, for example, how something is pronounced in order to be understood by all members of a specific language community, because there is no actual factual identity at play as each utterance is unique to each individual speaker due to various physiological differences between people. I would add here that, to be accurate, even each utterance by the same speaker is unique as one is, after all, tied to time and space. We never stay the same, so we can never, strictly speaking say the same thing again the same way we did before. Sure, as he (52) acknowledges, we may think that there are no differences because we cannot hear them, to distinguish the minute differences between speakers and their peculiarities. In short, it’s about normative identity because it can’t be about actual identity. As I’ve discussed in my past essays, contrary to popular belief, identity is about being non-identical to someone or something else. In simple terms, wearing the same t-shirt, whatever it is that they want you to buy to supposedly stand out from the crowd, is about being identical, resulting in a twisted sense of uniqueness that builds on the same, being the same as others. That’s normative identity alright.

This normativity applies to all elements of language, not only phonetic, hence he (53) calls it the “normative identity of linguistic form”. With regards to the individual, the speaker, he (53) states that in this view the speaker is seen as merely implementing and impleting a particular form in a particular speech act. In short, the order of things is reversed here. Unlike in the first trend, from the view of the first trend, in the second trend the product (ergon) becomes before the production (energeia). One just applies language and the differences in speech between speakers are considered fortuitous factors that, nonetheless, do not play an important role, as he (53) points out. In summary, thus far, from the view of the second trend, creativity that underlines the first trend is irrelevant because language is considered a distinct system of language separate from “individual creative acts, intentions, or motives” of its speakers (and writers if we go beyond speaking). In his (53) words:

“Language stands before the individual as an inviolable, incontestable norm which the individual, for his part, can only accept.”

There is no non-acceptable, as he (53) goes on to clarify:

“If the individual fails to perceive a linguistic form as an incontestable norm, then it does not exist for him as a form of language simply as a natural possibility for his own individual, psychophysical apparatus.”

Simply put, as he (53) summarizes it:

“The individual acquires the system of language from his speech community completely ready made. Any change within that system lies beyond the range of his individual consciousness.”

In other words, in the second trend language is this pre-existing fixed thing that you just inherit from people around you as grow up. Whatever you say, you ain’t changing a thing. You can’t even think otherwise. He (53) explains what follows from this:

“The individual act of articulating sounds becomes a linguistic act only by measure its compliance with the fixed (at any given moment in time) and incontestable (for the individual) system of language.”

So, to put it bluntly, your only option is compliance. Resistance is futile. If your articulation is off, too much, then it isn’t considered language because it is measured in compliance to a fixed and incontestable system. You can always ask: ‘what about this, what about that?’ The only reply you get is no, that falls outside the bounds of language.

Having summarized the second trend, albeit only in brief, so far, Vološinov (53-54) moves on to address what are the laws that govern the system of language. His (54) short answer is that these laws are irreducible to any other laws, hence they are always already there. As a reminder, to jog your memory, in the first trend the laws are also the laws of consciousness or psyche.

His (54) more elaborate answer is that synchronically, that is to say examining language at any specific point in time, say right now, all forms of language are mutually indispensable and complementary and thus form a system. He (54) calls this linguistic systematicity. Importantly, as expressed by him (54), as language is a system beyond you in this view, it cannot explain individual consciousness or psyche. What follows from this, as he (54) goes on to explain, is that language operates beyond you on an as is basis and you inevitably opt in to it.

What also follows from this is that, as I’d put it, is that language is considered neutral. This is because, as he (54) states it, there is no room for evaluation and discrimination, style or taste, that, for example, something is considered “better, worse, beautiful, ugly, or the like” as the only criterion in linguistics is whether something is correct or incorrect. This was, sort of pointed out already, as he (53) states that language is inviolable. If you claim something that violates the laws, then it’s simply a matter of you being incorrect as it doesn’t correspond with the normative system of language, as he (54) clarifies the issue. It’s a yes or no. What ifs are always rendered into yes/no because there is no room for evaluation beyond that binary.

An important bit here is also to make note of how this results in, from the point of view of the individual speaker, the arbitrariness of language, as linguistic systematicity is not based on anything that comes from the individual speaker, be it natural (biological or physiological) or social/cultural (artistic, creative), as he (54) summarizes this point.

Having explained the first characteristic of the second trend, that language is a synchronic system beyond the individual, Vološinov (54) moves on to explain the second characteristic of the trend. He (54) argues that if language is independent from the individual, then language must be a collective product, a social entity that operates like a normative social institution, above and beyond the individual. What is crucial about this is that, as we know, language does actually change, no matter how fixed it may seem. It only happens on the level of the speech community, the collective, as he (54) characterizes it. This occurs, according to him (54-56), as “a special kind of discontinuity between the history of language and the system of language[.]” In other words, there is a gap between how language develops (diachrony) historically and how it is always, at any given point in time, a full fledged system in which everything is neatly in place, consistent, indispensable and complementary (synchrony) ahistorically. Any change is, rather obviously, always in contradiction of the system of language. He (56) argues that to make room for this change, it must be attributed beyond the individual because, remember, the individual is incapable of consciously changing the system (always within its bounds). So, as he (55-56) points out, any change is to be attributed to unintentional errors, which, once popularized in the community, become the norm.

Vološinov (55-56) explains the second principle and, centrally, the incapability to make the synchronic and the diachronic dimensions mutually comprehensible in quite the detail, with examples pertaining to ‘I was’ or ‘Ich was’ and it gets changed, but I reckon you get the point and can take a closer look yourself in case you didn’t get the point. Instead of getting bogged down by the examples, it is more fruitful to contrast the two trends. Similar to the way he summarized the first trend, he (57) also provides a list of four basic principles for the second trend. Firstly (57):

Language is a stable, immutable system of normatively identical linguistic forms which the individual consciousness finds ready-made and which is incontestable for that consciousness.”

Secondly (57):

The laws of language are the specifically linguistic laws of connection between linguistic signs withing a given, closed linguistic system. These laws are objective with respect to any subjective consciousness.”

Thirdly (57):

Specifically linguistic connections have nothing in common with … values (artistic, cognitive, or other). Language phenomena are not grounded in … motives. No connection of a kind natural and comprehensible to the consciousness or of an artistic kind obtains between the word and its meaning.”

Fourthly (57):

Individual acts of speaking are, from the viewpoint of language, merely fortuitous refractions and variations or plain and simple distortions of normatively identical forms; but precisely these acts of individual discourse explain the historical changeability that in itself, from the standpoint of the language system, is irrational and senseless. There is no connection, no sharing of motives, between the system of language and its history. They are alien to one another.”

As you can see, and as he (57) goes on to point out, these four principles are the antitheses to the four principles of the first trend. To make more sense of the second trend, it is, perhaps, useful to contrast it with the first trend. He (56) indicates the key differences between the two trends, first summarizing individualistic subjectivism:

“[F]or the first trend the very essence of language is revealed precisely in its history; the logic of language is not at all a matter of reproducing a normatively identical form but of continuous renovation and individualization of that form via stylistically unreproducible utterance.”

Or, defined more concisely as (56):

The reality of language is, in fact, its generation.”

In summary, to put this all in other words, language is always in the moment, here and now, as one unity, as it is uttered, as he (56) goes on to elaborate in Vosslerian terms. It is also worth adding here that, as emphasized by him (56), what language is and how it goes from one historical form to another always occurs in psyche, in individual consciousness. As noted earlier on (48), explaining things in Humboldtian terms, the first trend is all about the energeia, whereas the second trend is about ergon.

Speaking of von Humboldt, who is, arguably, the progenitor of the first trend, albeit, strictly speaking not of his doing, Vološinov (57) indicates that origins of the second trend are murky and there is not a single person like von Humboldt that one could consider as its founder or, at least its forefather. Instead, he (57-58) notes that its origins are in rationalism, Cartesianism and the Enlightenment, going all the way back to the 17th and 18th centuries. Jumping to the 20th century, as quickly done by Vološinov (57-59), as I pointed out when I switched over from explaining the first trend to explaining the second trend, the biggest name to represent the second trend is Ferdinand de Saussure and his contemporaries, namely Charles Bally and Albert Sechehaye. In his (58) words:

“The ideas of this second trend all have been endowed with amazing clarity and precision by Ferdinand de Saussure. His formulations of the basic concepts of linguistics can well be accounted classics of their kind. Moreover, Saussure undauntedly carried his ideas out to their conclusions, providing all the basic lines of abstract objectivism with exceptionally clear-cut and rigorous definition.”

I think it’s worth noting here that his approval here is not of the second trend, of abstract objectivism, but how it is well it is formulated and presented by de Saussure. I guess you could say that he approves it for its rigor, even if he doesn’t agree with it all. I don’t know what it is, but having read other studies, unrelated, in unrelated fields, such as geography, there seems to be just something to the way they wrote in the early 1900s. For example, I remember reading J.G. Granö’s ‘Pure Geography’, originally published in German in 1929 as ‘Reine Geographie’ and subsequently in Finnish in 1930 as ‘Puhdas maantiede’, out of interest to landscapes. I can’t say I agree with Granö, with much anything, really, but, oddly enough, I enjoyed reading it. The clarity, the precision, the rigor. It has its appeal.

After noting in passing that abstract objectivism, following de Saussure, via Bally and Sechehaye, has had considerable impact on Russian linguistics, Vološinov (59) summarizes the key things about de Saussure’s conception of language, split into three aspects: “language-speech (langage), language as a system of forms (langue) and the individual speech act – the utterance (parole).” In this conception language-speech (langage) consist of both language (langue) and utterance (parole). Crucially, as emphasized by Vološinov (59), in this conception language-speech (langage) “cannot be the object of study for linguistics” because it’s “a heterogeneous composite”, not something that has “inner unity and validity as an autonomous entity”. As approaching language speech (langage) isn’t feasible, one must turn to something else, which, for de Saussure (25), is language as a system of forms (langue), as indicated in ‘Cours de linguistique générale’ first published in 1916 as edited by Bally and Sechehaye (the pagination here is from the second edition, first published in 1922, albeit I’m looking at a 1971 republication):

“Il n’y a, selon nous, qu’une solution à toutes ces difficultés : il faut se placer de prime abord sur le terrain de la langue et la prendre pour norme de toutes les autres manifestations du langage. En effet, parmi tant de dualités, la langue seule paraît être susceptible d’une définition autonome et fournit un point d’appui satisfaisant pour l’esprit.”

Which is translated by Wade Baskin into English in ‘Course in General Linguistics’ as (9, pagination from the 1983 edition):

“As I see it there is only one solution to all the foregoing difficulties: from the very outset we must put both feet on the ground of language and use language as the norm of all other manifestations of speech. Actually, among so many dualities, language alone seems to lend itself to independent definition and provide a fulcrum that satisfies the mind.”

To make more sense of this, de Saussure (25) elaborates the difference between language (langue) and speech (parole):

“Pris dans son tout, le langage est multiforme et hétéroclite ; à cheval sur plusieurs domaines, à la fois physique, physiologique et psychique, il appartient encore au domaine individuel et au domaine social ; il ne se laisse classer dans aucune catégorie des faits humains, parce qu’on ne sait comment dégager son unité.”

Which translates to (9):

“Taken as a whole, [language-]speech is many-sided and heterogeneous; straddling several areas simultaneously – physical, physiological, and psychological – it belongs both to the individual and to society; we cannot put it into any category of human facts, for we cannot discover its unity.”

This is the point Vološinov (59) makes about how language-speech (langage) can’t be object of study for linguistics. Anyway, as we need to get somewhere with this, I’ll let de Saussure (25) continue on the difference between language-speech (langage) and language (langue):

“La langue, au contraire, est un tout en soi et un principe de classification. Dès que nous lui donnons la première place parmi les faits de langage, nous introduisons un ordre naturel dans un ensemble qui ne se prête à aucune autre classification.”

Which translates to (9):

“Language, on the contrary, is a self-contained whole and a principle of classification. As soon as we give language first place among the facts of speech, we introduce a natural order into a mass that lends itself to no other classification.”

I think here it’s worth noting that how he indicates that one introduces not just an order, but a natural order, hence the emphasis of language as a system (langue) over speech (parole). This is why Vološinov (60) states that for de Saussure language (langue) is always the point of departure for speech (parole). With regards to speech (parole), de Saussure (30) further comments on it:

En séparant la langue de la parole, on sépare du même coup : 1o ce qui est social de ce qui est individuel ; 2o ce qui est essentiel de ce qui est accessoire et plus ou moins accidentel.”

Which translates to (14):

“In separating language from speaking we are at the same time separating: (1) what is social from what is individual; and (2) what is essential from what is accessory and more or less accidental.”

Okay, but that’s not all as de Saussure (30) continues:

“La langue n’est pas une fonction du sujet parlant, elle est le produit que l’individu enregistre passivement ; elle ne suppose jamais de préméditation, et la réflexion n’y intervient que pour l’activité de classement [.]”

Which translates to (14):

“Language is not a function of the speaker; it is a product that is passively assimilated by the individual. It never requires premeditation, and reflection enters in only for the purpose of classification[.]”

As you can see here already, language (langue) is something that does not originate in the speaker. Instead, it is the speaker who assimilates the language, which happens passively, without any need to reflect upon it. Anyway, de Saussure (30-31) still continues on this:

“La parole est au contraire un acte individuel de volonté et d’intelligence, dans lequel il convient de distinguer 1o les combinaisons par lesquelles le sujet parlant utilise le code de la langue en vue d’exprimer sa pensée personnelle ; 2o le mécanisme psycho-physique qui lui permet d’extérioriser ces combinaisons.”

Which translates to (14):

“Speaking, on the contrary, is an individual act. It is wilful and intellectual. Within each act, we should distinguish between: (1) the combinations by which the speaker uses the language code for expressing his own thought; and (2) the psychophysical mechanism that allows him to exteriorize those combinations.”

So, in summary, language as a system (langue) is beyond the individual and thus social, whereas speech (parole) is individual, which happens to be main thesis here, as noted by Vološinov (60). The important thing here is to note that in de Saussure’s linguistics speech or utterance (parole) is simply inconceivable as its object of study, as indicated by Vološinov (60).

Now, as approving as Vološinov (58) is of the clarity and rigor of how de Saussure presents his view on language, he (61) just doesn’t buy it and states it contains a proton pseudos, a false premise that undermines de Saussure’s whole project (which I hope to address sooner or later). Here it’s worth reminding that, again, reading the previous chapter helps immensively as it covers the issue that comes with false premises. In short, in case you didn’t read it or forgot about it already, the issue is that if your premise is false, your conclusions end being false, no matter how much you there’s blood, sweat and tears in between the premise and the conclusions. Vološinov (60) turns to de Saussure’s (129) own wording again here:

“C’est ainsi que le « phénomène » synchronique n’a rien de commun avec le diachronique …”

Which translates to (91):

“The synchronic and diachronic ‘phenomenon,’ for example, have nothing in common …”

The synchronic is explained by de Saussure (140) as:

“La linguistique synchronique s’occupera des rapports logiques et psychologiques reliant des termes coexistants et formant système, tels qu’ils sont aperçus par la même conscience collective.”

Which translates to (99-100):

Synchronic linguistics will be concerned with the logical and psychological relations that bind together coexisting terms and form a system in the collective mind of speakers.”

Whereas, for de Saussure (140), the diachronic is about:

“La linguistique diachronique étudiera au contraire les rapports reliant des termes successifs non aperçus par une même conscience collective, et qui se substituent les uns aux autres sans former système entre eux.”

Which translates to (100):

Diachronic linguistics, on the contrary, will study relations that bind together successive terms not perceived by the collective mind but substituted for each other without forming a system.”

It’s not hard to figure from the definitions which form of linguistics is important for de Saussure (if it wasn’t obvious already). There’s also something peculiar about stating that language is a system that exists in the collective mind of speakers, in the sense that it is outside them. That seems awfully superorganic or transcendentally holistic to me. It doesn’t do much good either when Vološinov (60) indicates that alongside de Saussure school of linguistics there is another similar school of linguistics that builds on the sociological school of Émile Durkheim, as represented by Antoine Meillet. I mean this has Durkheim written all over it. Collective mind of speakers? Did you mean collective consciousness? Anyway, I won’t get tangled up on this as not long ago I wrote an essay that focuses on this very issue.

This is pretty much everything that Vološinov has to say about the two trends in this chapter. In the very final paragraphs he (61-62) notes that, of course, there are more trends than these two trends and he only opted to cover them because they are the major trends. If we think how things are now, in glorious retrospect, it’s rather evident that only the abstract objectivism is still around. Of course that doesn’t mean that individualistic subjectivism is gone altogether. It’s rather that there isn’t much of a competition in linguistics these days. The are minorities that seek to undermine abstract objectivism, also known better known as structuralism, typically under the heading post-structuralism, because, well, structuralism, as I see it, should be largely, no, sorry, should have been binned ages ago.

I have to separate this, as this is going to be a rant. Feel free to skip this paragraph if you can’t be bothered with me ranting. I realize that I anger my fellow linguists with all this … heresy! I was actually going to write that I ‘probably’ anger them but, well, judging by the lack of appreciation to what I do, especially in terms of funding (except for travel???) and peer review, it’s rather evident that it’s not just ‘probably’. I do anger them. Of course no one expresses it, at least not in their own name. I would actually welcome open anger, confrontation and combat, instead of what it gets morphed into because it serves them, their desires: anonymous satire, judgment and appeals to asylums of ignorance, such as appealing to consensus or propriety. I’d have respect for challengers, just as I have respect for Plato, despite everything that I disagree with with him.

Where was I? Right, yeah, things have changed alright, ever since Vološinov wrote this book. There are challengers, namely those who engage in sociolinguistics, discourse analysis and pragmatics, to name a few. Of course, compared to the mainstream, it’s all very bubbling under and not considered linguistics proper. Anyway, skipping his brief elaboration of minor trends, say various philological strands, which do, of course exist, Vološinov (62) expresses his unhappiness with linguistics, as well as other disciplines:

“In linguistics, as in any other discipline, there are two basic devices for avoiding the obligation and trouble of thinking in responsible, theoretical, and, consequently, philosophical terms.”

Ooooh! How dare he! Do go on (62):

“The first, way is to accept all theoretical views wholesale (academic eclecticism), and the second is not to accept a single point of view of a theoretical nature and to proclaim ‘fact’ as the ultimate basis and criterion for any kind of knowledge (academic positivism).”

These days the first way is known as ‘anything goes’, which, is, oddly enough, what the people subscribing to the second way accuse people who are, in their view, just off the hook with all the, whatever, unnecessary theoreticism, esotericism or mysticism. I wonder though. I don’t think there is much room for the first way these days though, except in the views of those who subscribe to the second way, which is, at least the way I see it, the majority in academics. I usually despair when I have to read academic papers, not because they are eclectic but because they tend to be devoid of any theory, grounding, premise, plane, philosophy, whatever you want to call it. It’s all just supposedly factual, which is exactly what Vološinov (62) is upset about here. I know I’ve expressed this before, but, yeah, it’s a bit sad that, somehow, some obscure Russian fellow (62) who lived in the early 1900s, managed to put it all so, so well already back in the day:

“The philosophical effect of both these devices for avoiding philosophy amounts to one and the same thing, since in the second case, too, all possible theoretical points of view can and do creep into investigation under the cover of ‘fact.’”

Oh dear, oh dear. If only this wasn’t so to the point and so well expressed. This is exactly what I mean when I complain (oh, and I DO complain about it) about people sneaking in a premise, a presupposition, some a priori, through the backdoor, as if nothing of such ever happened, as if it all was simply a matter of facts. Vološinov (62) even picks the most fitting word for such behavior:

“Which of these devices an investigator will choose depends entirely upon his temperament: the eclectic tends more to the blithe side; the positivist, to the surreptitious.”

Aye, an eclectic would be like, yeah, dude, whatever, anything goes, can’t be bothered, but, I can’t think of such people in the academics, except, perhaps the people who are about to retire and just don’t care and give the students better grades than they should be getting, just because, because it’s not like it makes any difference if you do or don’t as no one is going to fire you for it. Surreptitious. What. A. Great. Word. For. This. Doing something stealthily, you know like … when sneaking. Wicked mischief! That’s exactly what I keep running into in a lot of texts, talks and presentations, even if it happens, I guess, unwittingly to certain extent.

While the first chapter of the second part of the book is dedicated to the elaboration of the two major trends, the chapter that follows it, the second chapter, expands the discussion, moving on from explaining the trends to properly analyzing them (there is some analysis already in the first chapter, but it’s still rather superficial, more contrastive than critical). Rather than presenting things in the same order as in the previous chapter, Vološinov (65) continues on the second trend in order to the questions posed at the end of the previous chapter (63), which is what I hope to get around to do next, in the next essay.