Vignettes of Landscape Appreciation 

                                                                                            by Jorge D. Goldfarb                                                                                   

                                    Introducing Vignettes                  


                       ""The process of writing vignettes is a process of discovering what you know and, importantly,                                   what you still don’t know”

                                                                                                                     Rebeca Yamin [1]   



           In the WebPages that follow I  present a series of vignettes on topics which have a bearing on the appreciation of landscapes.  Vignettes, in the sense used here,  are very short essays, small compositions, dealing with particular aspects of a certain topic. I heartily subscribe to what Yamin says in the quote above about the process of writing vignettes; indeed one of my main motivations in writing these vignettes is to highlight what myself and others, concerned with landscape appreciation as a field of inquiry, "still don't know" about it (which, I dare say, largely outweighs that what is  known) 

          If you are interested in this sort of vignettes I'd advice you to have a look to these others (far better written than mine) which I consider very good examples of the art:          


      You have, for instance, Maurice Maeterlinck's book The Measure of the Hours [2]  which contains groups of vignettes   not only on time but also on topics such as 'the intelligence of the flowers', 'our anxious morality' and 'the Gods of war';   all of which make delightful reading while giving plenty of food for thought. 

          And there is A.C. Grayling's The Heart of Things [3]. In his Introduction  Grayling writes that what he presents are "conversational contributions, not academic dissertations, consisting for the most   part of short pieces, that aspire only to suggest or observe". Conversational pieces because people that read and reflect upon what's been read (and I assume you are of the kind otherwise you wouldn't be reading this) "engage in conversation with themselves, with other people and with the ideas they contemplate".


          And there are also the speculative vignettes of Novalis [4] Novalis Philosophical Writings (edited by Margaret Mahony) (New York State Univ. Press, NewYork,1991) A German philosopher of the 18th century, he had the good sense of writing under Novalis, a likeable trade name instead of under his real of Georg Philipp Friedrich Freiherr  von Hardenberg.  Do not let the term 'logological fragments' frighten you; they are not all that abstruse  although, admittedly,  more highbrow than those of Grayling. 


  Vignettes may be compared to brush strokes which, when put together, conform the image of something, be it a tree or a meadow or a pond. But, going further than that, when all the various elements or components are assembled together in a certain way, they conform a landscape painting. This view is reminiscent of techniques used by classical Chinese painters: they would work for a long time on painting images of individual trees, mountains or hills and later on they would compose a landscape by placing and connecting the various elements on a surface. 

    Similarly, there are various ways of putting together or assembling vignettes like the ones presented in the following pages and  thus, quite a lot of weight is placed on the shoulders of the reader who may construct his own picture by accepting some points of view, rejecting others and connecting the selected ones in various ways.

        Why vignettes of landscape appreciation? Why not to write one or several articles on its various aspects or even a treatise on landscape appreciation as is commonly done when exposing ideas upon a subject in a formal way?

    It so happens that, after quite a number of years of being concerned with landscape appreciation as a field of inquiry, I came to realize that the subject, as I visualize it now, might better be presented as bits and pieces leaving to the interested reader the task of assembling them as he or she seems fit. And why,  you might ask, don't I do the assemblage myself and let the readers decide  whether I am making sense or not? My answer to it is that in this field one can think of too many alternative conceptions all of which seem to 'make sense'.


       Appreciation itself is a term afflicted by considerable vagueness and ambiguity and the term 'landscape' even more so; when putting them together we have a condition that may be humorously diagnosed as acute ambiguity. You should be advised though that, although I used the word 'afflicted', my intention in these pages is not at all to attempt to alleviate said condition by striving towards precision and neatness, quite the contrary, I'll do my best to preserve it. What makes Landscape such an attractive field of inquiry is that landscape matters and signifies us in many diverse ways. To delimit the field by the use of reductive definitions and associated formal concepts deprives the idea of landscape (and of landscape appreciation) of their richness and evades the central point that the notion of landscape experience, upon which its appreciation is based, is characterized by extreme ambiguity.       

    Parent terms like Art Appreciation or Literature Appreciation are also vague and ambiguous  but there we encounter two main constrains: 
The first:_ since appreciation is 'of something', whatever we might say of it may be critically examined in the light of a concrete  'thing', be it a work of art or a written text. These concrete things  have an enduring existence;  various persons may experience a particular work, painted centuries ago, in different manners but,  when sharing their experiences with others, there is always a referent so that their impressions, feelings or thoughts may be compared or contrasted against the ‘original’ particular work.  In the case of Landscape Appreciation, that 'some thing' is ephemeral, fleeting; if revisited, one cannot claim that it is the same thing we confronted hours or months ago

    The second:_ there is a vast corpus of learned writings about the appreciation of art, literature or music. In each field they conform some sort of tradition, so that, when someone comes around with a novel idea which may collide with those of  preceding thinkers, his or her thesis has to be defended against the objections raised in the comparisons. There is not such a tradition in the case of appreciation of landscapes. Although there is a number of very good books on appreciation of Nature, they have little bearing on the appreciation of landscape; landscapes are mental constructs, figments of our imagination, not at all like, flowers, mountains, rivers, buildings, or other 'concrete objects' found in Nature


       Now , going back, with all the above in mind, to the why vignettes? question: vignetting seems admirably suited for presenting differing points of view about the various activities, skills and mental states that are  assumed to play a varying role in appreciating a landscape. The idea being that the interested reader may pick from here and there and compose an overall picture best suited to her or his personal worldviews and experiences. 

    Not that I presume to present the various in a neutral, objective fashion. Each of the vignettes written in the following pages  is necessarily tainted by my opinions and world view. Witness to that my bias in favor of pragmatic points of view and my emphasis  on the affective aspects of valuing, contemplating or experiencing, which results in emphasizing the affective over the cognitive in appreciating landscapes and also  my continued effort to keep at bay reductive definitions, together with the(implied) formal concepts. 





      For the particular case which concerns us here, that of appreciating, the above considerations may be illustrated with the aid of the image below. In it, the various subjects or themes bearing on 'appreciating' are embedded in clouds: 

     The location of each activity or mental process in the above image is not to be considered  at all as a fixed one. As much as clouds drift according to the whims of the winds, valuing, for instance, might drift, depending on the context, so as to be alongside of feeling or understanding. Clouds have diffuse borders and so do each of the mental processes mentioned here; borderline cases are profuse and clear cut ones are exceptional. As said, vagueness and ambiguity prevail throughout and I'll do my best not to evade them; that would be as misguided as trying to represent cloud formations as regular geometrical shapes, neatly separated one from the other. I have drawn experiencing larger than the others because all the activities mentioned may be considered as various forms or manifestations of the experience of a landscape.

      You may have noticed by now that I favor the –ing endings (like experiencing instead of experience of or appreciating instead of appreciation of something). This because the –ing ending stresses the 'duration' of the activity; I am taking them all up as processes rather than 'acts' with well defined beginnings and ends.  The – ing ending because of "Here for anyone to see is the active process of trying -- not a mere state of being affected but the act of affecting " (Halliburton: 295).




      This is an ongoing project, my intention is to dedicate a separate group of vignettes to each of the terms shown above in the cloud diagram. The ones already written are shown below and you can get to the pertinent page by clicking on the name link below:

                         Vignettes on          - VALUING 


                                                             -  CONNOISSEURSHIP

                                                              '  CONTEMPLATING

                     coming soon!            RECOGNIZING

                                                       Keep in touch for updates



Notes and References:

     The plant images shown above are from the collection "Velins du Museeum" by courtesy of the Reunion des Musees de France,

[1] Yamin, Rebecca,  Through many Eyes, in Reconsidering Archeological Field Work, edited by Hannah Cobb, Springer, New York. (2012)
[2] Maeterlinck, Maurice, The Measure of the Hours, Dodd,Mead & Co., New York (1911)
[3] Grayling A.C., The Heart of Things: Applying Philosophy to the 21st Century, Onion Publ., Phoenix (2010)
[4] Mahony M. (editor) Novalis Philosophical Writings, N.Y. University Press, New York (1991)
[5] see, for instance:-- Zhang Q, (1998)Fuzziness, Vagueness, Generality, Ambiguity, Journal of Pragmatics, 29, 13-31
                                            Levine D.N., The Flight from Ambiguity, Univ. of Chicago Press, Chicago (1988)
                                            Fredsted E.,(1998)  On Semantic and Pragmatic Ambiguity, Journal of Pragmatics, 30,527-541


                                                                                                                                    Last Edited: July 2014                     

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