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 article ‘Perspective and the Evolution of the Landscape Idea’. It led me to look up a compilation work by J.B. Jackson. 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 of 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 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. What a view!

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), what 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.


  • Cosgrove, D. E. (1985). Prospect, Perspective and the Evolution of the Landscape Idea. Transactions of the Institute of British Geographers, 10 (1), 45–62.
  • Jackson, J. B. (1980). Landscape and Theater. In J. B. Jackson (Ed.), The Necessity of Ruins and Other Topics (pp. 67–75). Amherst, MA: University of Massaschusetts Press.
  • Jackson, J. B. (1980). Learning About Landscapes. In J. B. Jackson (Ed.), The Necessity of Ruins and Other Topics (pp. 1–18). Amherst, MA: University of Massaschusetts Press.