Fake this. Fake that. Fake, fake, fake, it’s all fake, even orgasms. If someone tells you otherwise, it’s fake news. As already stated a number of times, seven times to be specific (eight if the title counts), this essay is all about all things fake. The problem with this is, as we’ll come to see, that even this essay might be fake. You may feel like not reading it because you can’t trust it, now that I’ve said that it might not be true. We’ll come to that as well, pending you choose to read this, despite the possible fakeness of it all.
Let’s start this by looking a dictionary. Why? Well because dictionaries never lie. If it is in a real dictionary, like the Oxford English Dictionary, then surely it’s true. Looking at is as a noun (OED, s.v. “fake”, n.2), the reader is told to have a look at it as a verb (OED, s.v. “fake”, v.2) to uncover the etymology. It’s turn out to be a bit of a bummer as there’s little information about its origins. It is indicated that it (OED, s.v. “fake”, v.2) possible comes from German ‘fegen’, having something to do with falsity or ill treatment of something. In terms of the meaning, it is indicated that it is a slang word having to do with deception:
“In thieves’ or vagrants’ language: To perform any operation upon; to ‘do’, ‘do for’; to plunder, wound, kill; to do up, put into shape; to tamper with, for the purpose of deception. In the last-mentioned application it has latterly come into wider colloquial use, esp. with reference to the ‘cooking’ or dressing-up of news, reports, etc., for the press.”
The other indicated uses (OED, s.v. “fake”, v.2) are similar, all having to do with deception, concealment, making things up, simulating and improvisation. While the word is widely used these days, namely when dubbing news as ‘fake news’, it’s perhaps worth it to look at other words as well. False is a more formal alternative, so let’s look at that (OED, s.v. “false”, adj.):
That’s surprisingly simple. To the point for sure. Let’s have a closer look what it entails (OED, s.v. “false”, adj.):
“Of opinions, propositions, doctrines, representations: Contrary to what is true, erroneous.”
“Not according to correct rule or principle; wrong.”
Again, to the point. It (OED, s.v. “false”, adj.) is understood as such when used in the context of, for example grammar, music, drawing and law. In other uses, it (OED, s.v. “false”, adj.) has to do with something being incorrect, untrue, misrepresentative, mendacious, deceitful, treacherous, faithless, deceptive, fallacious, spurious, simulated, ingenuine, counterfeit, pretended, artificial, feigned, unfounded and/or improper. Its (OED, s.v. “false”, adj.) etymology is indicated as in Latin ‘falsus’, having to do with deception, deceit, mistaking and erring. The word is given a multitude of meanings, pending on the context. In summary, on one hand it has to do with erring, being wrong or incorrect. It lacks intent, this … ill will to it, in the sense that you can err, be wrong or incorrect, along the lines that you lack knowledge or you have misunderstood something. On the other hand, it extends to intention, using it for various … purposes, including but not limited to the ones listed above.
What about wrong then? It (OED, s.v. “wrong”, adj.) is indicated that etymologically it has to do with its early uses as a noun (OED, s.v. “wrong”, n.2):
“That which is morally unjust, unfair, amiss, or improper; the opposite of right or justice; the negation of equity, goodness, or rectitude. (Frequently contrasted with right.)”
“Unjust action or conduct; evil or damage inflicted or received; unfair or inequitable treatment of another or others; injustice, unfairness.”
As well as:
“Violation, transgression, or infringement of law; invasion of right to the damage or prejudice of another or others: injury, harm, mischief.”
It’s not worth listing all the uses, but in summary, it seems that it has to do with what is deemed improper conduct, as codified in law or understood as such in the absence of legislation. There is also a somewhat religious tone to it in certain uses. Going back to its somewhat more common use as an adjective (OED, s.v. “wrong”, adj.):
“Of actions, etc.: Deviating from equity, justice, or goodness; not morally right or equitable; unjust, perverse.”
The sense is similar if not same in the noun use. It is also understood as (OED, s.v. “wrong”, adj.):
“Of persons: Deviating from integrity, rectitude, or probity; doing or prone to do that which is evil, noxious, or unjust; opprobrious, vicious.”
The religious aspect mentioned in the noun use is rather obvious here. It can also used more generally (OED, s.v. “wrong”, adj.):
“Not in conformity with some standard, rule, or principle; deviating from that which is correct or proper; contrary to, at variance with, what one approves or regards as right.”
“Not in consonance with facts or truth; incorrect, false, mistaken.”
As well as:
“Of belief, etc.: Partaking of or based on error; erroneous.”
In these three uses listed above, it has to do with deviating from some standard, intentionally or unintentionally. Like with the word ‘false’, it’s not worth going through all the uses included. The purpose is not to reproduce the whole dictionary here, but feel free to browse through them on your own in case you wonder whether I’m faking it, attempting to deceive you. Anyway, there are similarities between the words examined so far. Erroneous (OED, s.v. “erroneous”, adj.) is listed as having less uses and contemporarily having to do with being incorrect, mistaken, wrong or faulty, quite a stretch from its obsolete uses that have to do with wandering and vagrancy. The related words, ‘err’ (OED, s.v. “err”, v.) and ‘error’ (OED, s.v. “error”, n.) both have more to do with the obsolete uses, in the sense that one goes astray, off course, departs, deviates, divegers or differs from something, but they do extend to being incorrect, mistaken, wrong and the like, as discussed already.
The words examined thus far have multiple meanings, ranging from the more general and abstract uses, assuming little to no intention, to the more specific and practical uses, assuming intention and ill will. Fake is currently the word that assumes most intention and ill will, but it’s also a very informal word. On the formal end of things, it’s worth having a closer look at what’s at stake, truth itself. The word (OED, s.v. “truth”, n., adv., int.) is indicated as having a Germanic origin, having to do with trust, loyalty, pledge, commitment, faithfulness, honesty, faith and integrity, as opposed to, for example, deception and disloyalty. As a noun, it (OED, s.v. “truth”, n.) is indicated as having to do with what I just listed:
“Loyalty, faithfulness, etc.”
Alternatively, and perhaps as people tend to understand it as:
“Something that conforms with fact or reality.”
Which is then specified as:
“True statement; report or account which is in accordance with fact or reality.”
“Understanding of nature or reality; the totality of what is known to be true; knowledge.”
As well as:
“In general or abstract sense: that which is true, real, or actual; reality[.]”
The other senses listed deviate little from what is quoted here. Related to truth, true (OED, s.v. “true”, n., adv., int.) is understood similarly, combining with the suffix ‘-th’ to form the word truth. The obsolete word ‘i-treowe’ (OED, s.v. “i-treowe”, adj.), having to do with being true or faithful, is indicated as an etymon (OED, s.v. “true”, n., adv., int.). What is interesting about the words ‘truth’ and ‘true’ is their origins, which, when taken into account, undermine how the word is used in scientific and scholarly discourse. Even in the more contemporary senses of the words, conformance, accordance and understanding, as indicated above, undermine its meaning, as also indicated above, as “the totality of what is known to be true[.]” Knowing, more specifically the verb ‘know’ (OED, s.v. “know”, v.) suffers from this as well, having to do with recognizing, acknowledging and perceiving in the sense that what is recognized, acknowledged or perceived is recognized, acknowledged or perceived as such on the basis of prior experience. That’s a bit circular if you ask me. Relevant here, the word ‘known’ (OED, s.v. “known”, adj.) then pertains to whatever it is “[t]hat has become an object of knowledge … generally or widely known or recognized, familiar to all, renowned .. identified as such.” Alternatively, it (OED, s.v. “known”, adj.) is indicated as what “is or has come within the scope of knowledge.” Knowledge (OED, s.v. “knowledge”, n.) then is indicated as having to do with “[a]cknowledgement or recognition”, i.e. having to do with the known as already elaborated, but also as “[t]he object of knowing; something known or made known” and perhaps most insightfully as:
“The apprehension of fact or truth with the mind; clear and certain perception of fact or truth; the state or condition of knowing fact or truth.”
“An act of apprehending something with the mind; a perception, intuition, intimation, etc.”
As well as:
“Perception by means of the senses.”
Okay, knowledge is understood as having to do with the senses (perception) and the mind (intuition). I’ve already covered truth (and true), but what about fact, a word often used to justify things, as opposed to fiction. Fact (OED, s.v. “fact”, n.) is indicates as pertaining to, among other things, “senses relating primarily to truth.” Most relevantly here, it (OED, s.v. “fact”, n.) is elaborated as:
“That which is known (or firmly believed) to be real or true; what has actually happened or is the case; truth attested by direct observation or authentic testimony; reality.”
“A thing that has really occurred or is actually the case; a thing certainly known to be a real occurrence or to represent the truth. Hence: a particular truth known by actual observation or authentic testimony, as opposed to an inference, a conjecture, or a fiction; a datum of experience, as distinguished from the conclusions that may be based on it.”
As well as:
“The actual occurrence of an event; the real existence of a situation or state of affairs.”
While these definitions do not cover the full spectrum of meaning attributed to the word, from these it can be gathered that facts have to do with the truth, what is known as true, as having happened or occurred, actual, authentic, real. However, it’s also indicated that it may simply be a belief, that it is understood as being the case, representing truth, not the truth itself, which ends up undermining how it is defined, as I just summarized. What about the word real then? It (OED, s.v. “real”, adj.2, n.2, adv.) is indicated in the dictionary as:
“That actually exists, or relates to this.”
More specifically, and highly relevantly here:
“Having an objective existence; actually existing physically as a thing, substantial; not imaginary.”
And in a philosophical context as:
“Designating whatever is regarded as having an existence in fact and not merely in appearance, thought, or language, or as having an absolute and necessary, in contrast to a merely contingent, existence.”
There are a bunch of other uses as well (such as having to do with real estate), but these are the ones most central to this essay and shall do for now. Out of the words examined so far, real is clearly marked by a claim to objectivity, whatever that means. The dictionary offers only one use for the word (OED, s.v. “objectivity”, n.):
“The quality or character of being objective; (in later use) esp. the ability to consider or represent facts, information, etc., without being influenced by personal feelings or opinions; impartiality; detachment.”
Similar definition is offered for objective (OED, s.v. “objective”, adj., n.):
“Of a person or his or her judgement: not influenced by personal feelings or opinions in considering and representing facts; impartial, detached. Also (formerly) (now rare): dealing with or laying stress upon that which is external to the mind; concerned with outward things or events rather than inward thoughts or feelings.”
Further definitions are offered, especially in reference to philosophy, but it’s perhaps better not to get stuck with elaborating such cases as they often have to do with certain thinkers, which would require quite a bit of elaboration. What else is there? Reality (OED, s.v. “reality”, n.) is defined rather simply as:
“The quality or state of being real.”
That add little to what has already been stated, so clarification is needed:
“Real existence; what is real rather than imagined or desired; the aggregate of real things or existences; that which underlies and is the truth of appearances or phenomena.”
“The quality of being real or having an actual existence.”
As well as:
“That which constitutes the actual thing, as distinguished from what is merely apparent or external.”
The second use listed is similar to the general one listed above the three. It refers to existence (OED, s.v. “existence”, n.), which is indicated as:
“The fact, state, or property of existing or having objective reality; being, reality. Also: an instance of this.”
Existence (OED, s.v. “existence”, n.) is also indicated as used for living, lives and life, in the sense that one exists and keeps existing as a being or an entity. In the first sense, as indicated above, there is certain circularity to the other words examined already. Back to reality, the word reality that is, it is indicated that it is the real deal, what’s underneath, there, but not or not necessarily what may appear to us. This is where it is probably helpful to turn to Immanuel Kant for some clarification. In ‘Critique of Pure Reason’, Kant (A249-A250) distinguishes between phenomena, how things come to appear to us, and noumena, how things are in themselves. It’s not worth going into much detail here, but, in summary, the point is that, according to Kant, we can only make sense of reality via phenonema, through how things appear to us through our senses. This means that the nounema, how things really are, are off limits to us. This does not mean that there is no objective reality. Instead, it means that we just cannot access it directly. Well, this is my reading of Kant anyway. Feel free to correct me if I got that totally wrong. What this entails is that we cannot know for sure if something is true or objective. In other words, we may claim that we know things as they are, but what we really know is how they appear to us. Now, Gilles Deleuze explains on his lectures on Kant, ‘Cours Vincennes: Synthesis and Time’, that a split between the sensible and the intelligible, as phenomena and noumena, is not unique to Kant, but the rendering is. Deleuze explains that prior to Kant, for example Plato, had this kind of split, but phenomena were treated with suspicion, the logic being that appearances can be deceptive, like a bent stick floating on the water, so one must look beyond the sensory illusion, for the thing itself, not merely rely on defective senses. What Deleuze finds different in Kant, radically different, is not positing the phenomena against the noumena, but rather as complementary. In order to clarify it, Deleuze states that apparition is better word than appearance, so let’s have a look. Oddly enough these are actually the very same words in French. First, appearance (OED, s.v. “appearance”, n.):
“The action of coming forward into view or becoming visible.”
“The action or state of appearing or seeming to be (to eyes or mind); semblance; looking like. to all appearance: so far as appears to anyone.”
As well as:
“The state or form in which a person or thing appears; apparent form, look, aspect.”
Then to apparition (OED, s.v. “apparition”, n.), which is arguably very close to appearance:
“The action of appearing or becoming visible.”
Indeed, it is nearly identical to appearance, but there is a subtle difference between the two. It is indicated that contemporarily apparition is understood as:
“An immaterial appearance as of a real being; a spectre, phantom, or ghost. (The ordinary current sense.)”
However, somehow I doubt that Deleuze is going for that one, so I’ll let him explain:
“The apparition is what appears in so far as it appears. Full stop. I don’t ask myself if there is something behind, I don’t ask myself if it is false or not false.”
So, the difference, a subtle one, almost superficial, is that appearance has to do with how something that is appears, i.e. for example what it looks like, whereas with apparition it is how something becomes, for example, visible, the point being how it appears to our senses. Summarizing Deleuze on Kant, the task is not about seeking noumena, but the conditions that render phenomena sensible to the subject. It should, however, be added that this does not make the world merely subjective. Instead, as Deleuze points out, only the conditions of how something comes to appear are subjective. It doesn’t mean that something doesn’t exist if it doesn’t become apparent to the subject, only that certain conditions are not met.
Linking this to landscapes, in ‘The Beholding Eye: Ten Versions of the Same Scene’, Donald Meinig ponders how something comes to be beheld by the eye and how that can differ between people. He (33) comes up with a small thought experiment:
“Take a small but varied company to any convenient viewing place overlooking some portion of city and countryside and have each, in turn, describe the ‘landscape’ … to detail what it is composed of and say something about the ‘meaning’ of what can be seen. It will soon be apparent that even though we gather together and look in the same direction at the same instant, we will not – we cannot – see the same landscape.”
He (33-34) concedes that the posse observing the landscape can and will agree on a number of things:
“We may certainly agree that we will see many of the same elements – houses, roads, trees, hills – in terms of such denotations as number, form, dimension, and color[.]”
Only to point out that it’s only part of the story (34):
“[B]ut such facts take on meaning only through association; they must be fitted together according to some coherent body of ideas.”
He (34) then summarizes accordingly:
“Thus we confront the central problem: any landscape is composed not only of what lies before our eyes but what lies within our heads.”
As indicated in the title of the essay, Meinig goes on to examine ten different versions of the same, landscape as nature, habitat, artifact, system, problem, wealth, ideology, history, place and aesthetic. As the text itself isn’t particularly long, only 14 plus pages, it’s not worth getting into the details. I recommend reading it yourself instead. In the final paragraph Meinig (47) points out that what he lists, the ten alternatives, is not exhaustive. Richard Schein (663) makes use of Meinig’s insight in ‘The Place of Landscape: A Conceptual Framework for Interpreting an American Scene’, but to his merit adding that what a certain background offers to the observer cannot itself be enough, meaning that in order to see a different version of the same, there has to be something to be seen in the first place, something that is manifested in the landscape. Now this is probably a bit of stretch, but in Kant’s terms, as explained by Deleuze to be more specific, it’s arguable that Meinig is examining apparition, how different things come to be seen in the landscape. Reversing Meinig (34), as done by Schein, it’s of course not only what lies in our heads but also what lies before our eyes. I’m not saying Meinig isn’t actually saying that, he clearly is, as quoted above, but rather that one needs both and perhaps putting emphasis on the observer grants too much autonomy to the observer, as pointed out by Schein (677). The way I see it, as quoted above, the thought experiment, as insightful as it is, puts too much emphasis on active and conscious observation, i.e. awareness of one’s surroundings. As I’ve written in previous essays, but to keep things relatively simple here, borrowing from John Berger, landscape is a way of seeing, as elaborated by Denis Cosgrove in ‘Prospect, Perspective and the Evolution of the Landscape Idea’. What results from this is that to most people landscape just is, at best something beautiful or ugly, as argued by Peirce Lewis in ‘Axioms for Reading the Landscape: Some Guides to the American Scene’. In the words of W. J. T. Mitchell (viii):
“[Landscape invites us] 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.”
What is worth emphasizing here is the part on apperception. Contained in the ‘Preface to the Second Edition of Landscape and Power: Space, Place and Landscape’, Mitchell (vii) explains that landscape involves redundancy in the sense that one engages with the world visually, “look[ing] at the view” rather than individual features present in the environment, say a mountain, a forest or a river. In other words, Mitchell (vii) argues that:
“The vernacular expression[, look at the view] suggests that the invitation to look at landscape is an invitation to not look at any specific thing, but to ignore all particulars in favor of an appreciation of a total gestalt, a vista or scene that may be dominated by some specific feature, but is not simply reducible to that feature.”
Summarizing Mitchell (vii-viii), as he (vii) puts it, landscape involves plenty of looking, which I think others, namely Lewis and Maurice Ronai, wouldn’t disagree with, but it also involves overlooking. So, when landscape just is, as Lewis (11) puts it, it is exactly because it has to do with overlooking things. Having a closer look at the preface and the contents of his book would be useful, but perhaps another time. Meinig actually does address this, sort of, in an earlier text ‘Environmental Appreciation: Localities as a Humane Art’. It in, on the first page, he makes note of how what we are familiar with leads us to take it for granted, leading into the blur of everyday life. This is, however, only in passing and perhaps it takes a bit of good will on my part to make notice of it. Anyway, what can be taken from Meinig, as indeed done by Schein, is, for sure, advocating for more awareness of landscapity or as Meinig calls it, “environmental appreciation”. At least I see it as important, considering how common it is to run into what namely Mitchell, Lewis and Ronai, as well as Cosgrove, all make note of. I realize that I may come across as some sort of a zealot or conspiracy theorist when it comes to this, seeking to point out how landscape functions and trying to make people more aware of it, how alluring it is, but it is at times perplexing how it suddenly emerges in discussion without a shred of critical attitude towards it. At a recent conference, the one that prompted me to write on a couple of issues, I did a presentation, one that had everything to do with landscape and space. I covered much of the relevant studies, including the ones mentioned here. I could have put more emphasis on it, but I didn’t because I’ve done it before quite a bit, only to get asked about it, the social aspect of this, i.e. why it’s important. I was quite happy to elaborate as for once someone asks just that, the why aspect of it. Anyway, that got covered and I believe by now I have a reputation of raving about it. After the presentation we had lunch in a university cafeteria. I enjoyed the company of two colleagues, who briefly made note of an upcoming conference that they’d be attending in another city and pointed out how the city looks during the day and during the night, i.e. the aesthetics of it, which prompted me to point out the obvious, how less than an hour ago I explained the problems associated with aesthetic appreciation of landscapes. Now, I’m not knocking on my colleagues, no-no, and I only bring this up here to point out how pervasive landscape as a way of seeing is. This is not the first time I’ve encountered this either. I’ve explained the looking/overlooking angle multiple times to people, only to hear about how the view looks beautiful or how it would but some aspect in it is ruining the otherwise pretty view.
I got sidetracked here, so back to reality. In summary, so far, it’s been established that one might well be stuck in the phenomenal world, meaning that whatever we take as objective or true will have to be at least bracketed. That doesn’t mean that there isn’t an objective reality, the noumenal, but that whatever we make of it is through the phenomenal, which itself, if we are to believe Kant, isn’t the surface appearance of how things really are, which complicates the possibility of understanding how things really are quite a bit. As a quick refresher, the point is that it is not what we sense, but what we come to sense, not appearance, but apparation, meaning that we might not even be making note of certain phenomena because we are unable to meet the necessary conditions. When it comes to landscape, it gets even more complex than that. When we come to see landscape, it is only because the conditions for that are met. I think Meinig (34) is spot on on this when he states that landscape is “composed not only of what lies before our eyes but what lies within our heads.” What about the essence of it then? Well, to my understanding there is no essence, nothing essential, no objective entity, no noumenon that is landscape. I find positioning it both as a representation of space and representatonal space in Henri Lefebvre’s triadic understanding of social space, as presented in ‘The Production of Space’, very fitting, considering its origins in painterly conceptions of space, as elaborated by, for example, Cosgrove, which then come to affect how people come to see space. So, in other words, once the conditions for the apparition of landscape painting are met, it makes it possible to come to see the world that way. Of course whatever are the conditions for landscape painting, namely linear perspective and oil paints, have their own conditions and so on. I think Claude Raffestin elaborates this well in his article ‘Space, territory, and territoriality’.
Now that that got covered, am I saying that there is nothing objective, real, true or truthful about landscape? Is it just fake? I think Stephen Daniels and Denis Cosgrove (1) put it the best in this regard in ‘Introduction: iconography and landscape’:
“A landscape is a cultural image, a pictorial way of representing, structuring or symbolising surroundings. This is not to say that landscapes are immaterial. They are represented in a variety of materials and on many surfaces – in paint on canvas, in writing on paper, in earth, stone, water and vegetation on the ground. A landscape park is more palpable but no more real, nor less imaginary, than a landscape painting or poem.”
So, to answer the question or questions, it’s a yes and no. Landscapes are figments of our imagination, yet they are very real, even very palpable and their effects are also very real, as elaborated in a vast body of literature on landscape. Following Jean Baudrillard (166), as presented in ‘Simulacra and Simulations’ (pagination ‘Selected Writings’), replacing map with landscape, it can be understood as either simulacrum or simulation. As a simulacrum, there is nothing to landscape beyond landscape, no truth that is concealed as it is the truth itself. As a simulation, it mimics or mirrors something real, or attempts do so anyway. So which one is it? Well, if it were to be understood as a simulacum, then whatever was originally depicted in landscape paintings must no longer be. Taking cues from Raffestin, and replacing map used as an example by Baudrillard (166), it is possible to state this:
“The territory no longer precedes the [landscape], nor survives it. Henceforth, it is the [landscape] that precedes the territory – precession of simulacra – it is the [landscape] that engenders the territory[.]”
I changed the order of sentences here, this precedes the quote above, but it’s more fitting here this way, so to explain this, Baudrillard (166) states:
“Abstraction today is no longer that of the [landscape], the double, the mirror or the concept. Simulation is no longer that of a territory, a referential being or a substance. It is the generation by models of a real without origin or reality: a hyperreal.”
What is the real or the original? Well, we’d have to examine the different, let’s say, spatial concepts, but I’m afraid here is not the best place to do that. It’s not that I couldn’t, but I would end up on another tangent. However, I think it boils down to the concept of space itself. What is space? It’s such a tricky question that it makes my head hurt every time I attempt to answer that question. Perhaps one day I’ll know for sure, but having dedicated only very little of my life to this question, a few years at best, but more like a couple of months, I don’t think I can offer any satisfactory definition for it. I’m not sure anyone can, but, well, in any case, I feel like I should investigate more, above and beyond. Anyway, previously I have linked landscape to space, as presented by Lefebvre, so let’s go with that.
If I follow the logic presented by Baudrillard, that a map, replaced here by landscape, once sought to simulate or represent the real, for example territory, as explained by Raffestin, but no longer does, then it is understood as a simulacrum. The thing with landscapes is that, as elaborated, for example, by Cosgrove, as well as Ronai, those who commissioned landscape paintings, i.e. representations of space, were not content with having representations decorate the walls of their manors. This meant that the landscapes once depicted in frames jumped outside the frames once territory became landscaped. The development is obviously more convoluted than what I’m presenting here, but, in other words, the world was rendered into a painting and in the long run the paintings no longer actually matched the world out there, well, if they ever actually did for that matter. Contemporarily, landscape paintings are not that important to our lives. What is important is their legacy, how a simulation turned into a simulacrum. As Raffestin (132) points out, it used to be the case the territory preceded the landscape, but then that got inverted. Now the figments of our imagination live a life of their own, detached from the world they used to represent, attached to the world that they don’t represent.
Going back to where this started, is landscape fake then? Well, there’s nothing inherently fake about it, but, of course, it can be used for deceptive purposes. I don’t think the artists themselves, the ones who came up with landscape painting, using the linear perspective to render the world into a canvas, had the intention to deceive. Fair enough, rendering the 3D into 2D must have seemed uncanny, deceptive in the sense that it was unprecedented, that it could be pulled off. Nowadays it seems borderline silly to think that some paintings, as accurate as they may seem to be, had any actual impact anything. Then again, now is now, then was then. Anyway, I don’t think the painters themselves had any deception in mind. The people who commissioned paintings, after witnessing what the artists could do, well … I wouldn’t put it past them. That said, did they congregate somewhere to plan how to make people only engage with the world in aesthetic sense? It’s possible, but I’d say that that seems to assume quite a bit. I think landscape was instrumental in accomplishing whatever was deemed beneficial, but only as an instrument among others and perhaps not even the most effective instrument. I think Mitchell puts it well when he (vii) states that landscape is not the most effective means of exercising power, at least not in comparison to “that of armies, police forces, governments, and corporations.” Then again, as he (vii) counters his own argument, it “exerts a subtle power over people” and its effects “may be difficult to specify.” In other words, there are way more effective means to get things done, but at the same time, they are very visible, to the extent that it’s hard not to see them, meaning that they are bound to spark resistance. There’s also the costs involved in having to keep order by force. It’s not very cost efficient. The subtle forms may seem to be weak on paper, but they are also very hard to detect, meaning very little resistance. So, no, I don’t think landscape as we understand it qualifies as fake or false, untrue or untruthful, subjective, unreal or imaginary, even though it is fair to call it an invention, one that has its origins in landscape art. Knowing its origins, you can argue that it’s fake because it doesn’t even exist, or didn’t use to exist that is, yet it’s very real to many and has very real effects on people. It is a veritable invention, one that can and has been put to many uses, for example helping to consolidate property, as indicated by, for example, Cosgrove, as well as in nation building, as examined by, for example, David Matless in ‘Landscape and Englishness’. So, as Mitchell (5) puts it in his nine theses on landscape:
“[Landscape] is good for nothing in itself, but expressive of a potentially limitless reserve of value.”
Indeed, landscape is hollow as it gets. Once you start excavating it, there is nothing to it on its own. That said, it clearly has had and still has its uses and that’s why Mitchell (5) calls it a medium. Relevant to the topic of this essay, Mitchell (5) also states that:
“Landscape is a natural scene mediated by culture. It is both represented and presented space, both a signifier and a signified, both a frame and what a frame contains, both a real place and its simulacrum, both a package and the commodity inside the package.”
Here we could object or rather clarify that perhaps we shouldn’t even speak of nature and culture. Not that it changes much here though. Landscape is still something that is inside our heads, as Meinig put it. Of course we can’t know for sure, but something in me makes me feel somewhat secure about asserting that it’s only a human invention. I might be wrong, it’s not like I can ask them to confirm this, but, for example, I don’t think the animals that roam national parks stop on knolls to admire the view. Mitchell (5) also makes an important … observation … as he asserts that:
“Landscape is an exhausted medium, no longer viable as a mode of artistic expression. Like life, landscape is boring; we must not say so.”
If you, the reader, have been wondering why I don’t make use of photos in my essays, to illustrate the topic of landscapes with landscape photos, well here you have it. If you think of it, you don’t see painters pushing out landscape paintings these days and I think that’s been the case for about a century or so now. Yeah, sure, I guess some people paint them, you got me there, but it’s not exactly a thing anymore. What we have now is an endless number of landscape photos instead. I’ve taken plenty of landscape photos, been there, done that, but after a while it loses its charm. I can’t be bothered with it. It’s bland and boring, the same … in a slightly different package, yet people keep doing it and don’t make much of it. I think it’s the case especially with digital photography. Anyone with a smart phone can churn out endless numbers of bland landscape photos, filter or no filter, only to then admire them on that or on another screen. This does not have to be the case, hence my interest in landscapes.
How to summarize all this? In this essay I wanted to examine certain words and how landscape is in relation to those words. Just examining the words proved to be quite interesting as the words can be used in ways that undermine the other uses. I wanted to do this because it seems like there is little interest in engaging with claims to objectivity and truth in research, something that I find particularly problematic when one is dealing landscape as it makes both use and mockery of objectivity and truth. It’s always there, even though strictly speaking it’s not. It’s both easy and hard to ignore at the same time, in the sense that it’s bland and boring, except for the occasional pleasure or disgust evoked by the view, yet even if you are aware of it, it’s easy to forget about it. It’s also a medium that people make use of all the time and I’m not even speaking of only the rich and the influential people. People appeal to landscape surprisingly often, usually when it works for them, for their purposes. Keep an eye out for this. If someone wants to build something somewhere or remove something, there’s always someone who objects to it on the grounds of that it ruins the landscape. There is nothing to landscape, at least not anymore, if there ever was anything to it to begin with, yet people hang on to a simulacrum, an unreal reality, a past that never was, a dream of presence, a hope in a reassuring foundation, as one could put it following Derrida (370) in ‘Structure, Sign, and Play in the Discourse of the Human Sciences’, as included in ‘Writing and Difference’, and as, indeed put by Mitch Rose, in his own way (as he might not approve my take of that), in ‘Gathering ‘dreams of presence’: a project for the cultural landscape’.
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