Landscapes Beyond Land: Routes, Aesthetics, Narratives A. Árnason, N. Ellison, J. Vergunst, A. Whitehouse (eds.) Oxford and New York: Berghahn Books, 2012. 244 pp, illustrations, bibliog., index. ISBN 978-0857456717. USD $65.00/ GBP £40.00 (Hc.). eISBN 978-0857456724. USD $65.00/ GBP £40.00 (ebook).
Article first published online: 12 APR 2014
© 2014 Australian Anthropological Society
The Australian Journal of Anthropology
Volume 25, Issue 1, pages 123–125, April 2014
How to Cite
Ballard, C. (2014), Landscapes Beyond Land: Routes, Aesthetics, Narratives A. Árnason, N. Ellison, J. Vergunst, A. Whitehouse (eds.) Oxford and New York: Berghahn Books, 2012. 244 pp, illustrations, bibliog., index. ISBN 978-0857456717. USD $65.00/ GBP £40.00 (Hc.). eISBN 978-0857456724. USD $65.00/ GBP £40.00 (ebook). . The Australian Journal of Anthropology, 25: 123–125. doi: 10.1111/taja.12082
- Issue published online: 12 APR 2014
- Article first published online: 12 APR 2014
This thoughtful collection of essays on landscapes is largely inspired by the recent writings of Chris Tilley and Tim Ingold, whose own contributions bookend the other papers in the volume. Together the authors explore the relationships—between people, things and ways of being—that constitute and are themselves brought into being through the medium of landscape. A number of strong themes can be traced throughout the different essays, which also betray several fault lines of dissent. Articulated in some essays and latent in others, questions of practice and tutelage emerge as critical themes of the overall collection; this is particularly true for the ethnographically rich central essays with which I begin, tracing a different path or order in their arrangement.
Griet Scheldeman's sensitive account of the practice of the botanical artist Roger Banks is also a form of tutelage, through her willing apprenticeship to his approach to learning how to see. As the artist explains, having watched visitors sit briefly, uncomprehending, on benches facing his harbour, it is possible to look but not see. But his methods for communicating this particular way of seeing incorporate cooking and music as much as any formal discussion of light or colour: to understand a landscape, ‘You eat it, swim in it, climb it, you get to feel it’ (p. 44).
Embodied forms of engagement such as walking feature repeatedly as ways of producing and communicating meaning in the landscape. Suzanne Grant considers the role of visiting in the production of the pathways that define Nivaclé landscapes in the Paraguayan Chaco, and the adjustments required to accommodate the Mennonite introduction of livestock fences. The Manggarai people of Flores similarly map social relationships with the living and the dead across their landscapes, and Catherine Allerton is able to show how the meanings of these landscapes are both revealed through dream and constituted through speech and acts of sacrifice at ancestral altars. Celeste Ray tracks continuities from pre-Christian to Christian forms of engagement with landscapes arranged around holy wells, in which other elements of earlier sacred landscapes are incorporated as ‘stations’ in the Christian procession towards the well, a procession that itself mimics earlier practices. Patrick Pérez then provides a fine counter illustration of the importance of viewing for the sedentary Hopi, whose framing of the vision of distant mountains enables them to see the invisible landscape of the subterranean ‘world of flowers’.
Landscapes summon up the past but also invite and introduce innovation: Paul Basu describes the role of the Romantic imagination and Scottish diasporic narratives in the production of a landscape ‘haunted by the memory of loss’, to which stone cairns are recruited, recycled and re-exported to places as distant New South Wales and North Carolina, as engines of memory (p. 118). Julie Cruikshank offers a typically insightful account of the ways in which narratives about the glaciated landscapes of north-western Canada reflect different historical moments of encounter and different cardinalities of vision; she contrasts the sentience of the landscape recognised in Tlingit narratives with the widely varying readings offered by successive explorers and naturalists, culminating in the decisive distinction imposed through UNESCO's designation of the Glacier Bay World Heritage site as a ‘natural’ property. Sue Lewis shows how Manx legal, land and parliamentary systems of knowledge are mutually implicated in the constitution of the landscape of the Isle of Man, and the changes implicit in the shift from a rural mode of ‘dwelling in’ to the ‘looking at’ landscape promoted by housing developers. Similarly, Andrew Whitehouse juxtaposes the personal accounts of Islay farmers with the advertising pieces of the Islay Fine Food Company, which willingly misreads and appropriates the very senses of landscape that it is in the process of undermining.
Chris Tilley's opening essay seems strangely out of step with some of the insights of these papers, elaborating on his revelation along the footpath to Damascus: ‘It's only after walking in a landscape that I can learn how to see’ (p. 29). Embodied engagement is preferred over ‘technologies of abstraction’ (p. 15), but Tilley then proceeds to deliver a remarkably abstract account of walking, identifying three presumably universal ‘styles of walking' for example (p. 26). His experience of the landscape, understood here either through the texted experiences of others or the highly personal practice of walking, but curiously unmediated either by speech or by walking as part of a community, effectively effaces all of the immersive social and cultural pedagogies of learning—how to walk, how to see—described by the other contributors to the volume.
Tim Ingold's closing essay is a characteristically elegant and provocative exploration of the distinction between optic and haptic, or visual and multi-sensory forms of engagement with the world. Observing the derivation of ‘land-scape’ from the Old English term sceppan, ‘to shape’, Ingold proposes that landscapes are ‘a formal mapping in the mind, of the material world of sensory experience’, in contrast to purely visual landscapes which can be ‘viewed, studied, analysed, interpreted [but] not inhabited’ (p. 207). Only in his juxtaposition of mounds as spontaneous sites, always in a process of becoming, and monuments, as terminal forms of a planned process of construction, does Ingold sound an awkward note within this largely harmonious collection, for no such distinction is evident in the sacred landscapes of Ireland, or the cairns of Scotland and their global avatars. What this volume does is open up some space for further imaginative wanderings and questions about the precise manner in which both residents and scholars are socially disciplined or culturally conditioned to read different landscapes; in a more embodied vein, how might the questions asked by Julie Cruikshank play out in Islay, what might Catherine Allerton and Paul Basu make of either altars in Scotland or cairns in Manggarai, and just how would Chris Tilley walk in the Grand Chaco?