it’s a war

Wittgenstein: ‘We might say “every view has its charm”, but this would be wrong. What is true is that every view is significant for him who sees it so (but that does not mean “sees it as something other than it is”). And in this sense every view is equally significant.’ [Remarks on Frazer's Golden Bough.]


Some places are easy to assign significance to. They give in to your first idea of them. Others are ready for you. They lie in ambush & while you’re trying to annexe the territory it’s annexing you. Long stretches of the East Sussex coast are like that. It would take months of stealthy occupation of Dungeness to find the way to break loose the qualities you want; longer to own & reassign them. It’s a war. For one thing–genius loci aside, if we can agree on that–local & quasi-local usage make a landscape. Each step you take has already been taken by someone else; each definition (& each way of making a definition) already belongs to someone else. & of course each sentence you produce is instantly in competition with every other piece of writing, filming or painting made along that coast.

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12 Comments

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12 responses to “it’s a war

  1. Simon

    That has given perfect voice to the feeling for me.

  2. Dungeness has of course been a scene of occupation; stealthily and otherwise.

    When I first went there about fifteen years ago it was all locals in 4x4s fishing off the hot springs of the power station. Over the years Derek Jarman’s garden has become a focus for thin waifish photographers in thick rimmed spectacles. And then every other garden became a replica of Jarman’s, as if mirrors had been hung from the telegraph lines criss-crossing the one-horse town.

    The 4x4s with their loads of fishing tackle and ruddy faces from Folkestone, Canterbury and the Medway Towns are still there. The two gangs of pilgrims pass each other wordlessly in The Britannia. United only at the bar where they order Shepherd Neame ales, Oranjeboom and battered fish, Coca Cola for the kids.

  3. uzwi

    Thanks, Simon. It’s an unpackable issue in landscape writing. A “point of view” is a form of usage. Nature writing as colonialism.

  4. Ina Grix

    Nice shot, I just pulled Frazer’s Bough off the shelf today and told my cat, here, sit on this for a week.
    (He has to sit on whatever I’m reading, collecting attention tax, as one should.)
    Speaking of territory and significance.

  5. uzwi

    Hi Z, didn’t see you there. Some usages neatly eviscerated.

  6. Thanks. It came out a little sniffier than I intended. Dungeness is still out there. It’s still The End. Coming back from Dungeness you watch England knit itself back together.

  7. you Brits are talking weird again—orangeboom sounds like an alien’s nick name, who happens to live in a territory of significance and over usage…I might paint it if I could

  8. Simon

    The sense that people don’t quite know what to ‘do’ with the experience of some places is almost tangible. I think we accept the feeling without realizing it and fold it into our experience of being in cities because we used to being wary there. It’s much more noticeable in ‘smaller’ places, or places which ‘should’ just be picturesque or rugged or bleak or whatever. When those places refuse to be only that we feel the tension. It’s a good thing to feel. We shouldn’t take anywhere for granted. The colonialism thing in nature writing is spot on.

    J.A. Baker’s The Peregrine, for example, is always alive to the strangeness of landscape, the fruitful sense of being an alien somewhere.

  9. uzwi

    Hi Simon. & of course places can never “just be rugged or bleak” because those very qualities are relic points of view–various sublimes & anti-sublimes put in place from the Romantic period on, each one shifted & reversed by a new generation of professional viewers. Places are as shaped by obsolete–or at least vestigial–cultural descriptions as they are by obsolete industrial uses (coppicing for charcoal, for instance). In fact in the age of mediation, there’s not a lot of difference between the fossil landscapes of the mind & the fossil landscapes of the landscape: as Zali points out, Jarman tourism at Dungeness was as much an industrial usage as the fishing.

    Successive waves of intellectual & poetic branding: in a way, Edgelands did us a favour by being so rawly determined to cuckoo its precursor points-of-view out of the nest. The gloves are off in the viewpoint wars: that means they can be off in the way we talk about viewpoint itself. My landscape! No, my landscape!

    I just read Nan Shepherd’s The Living Mountain, with an excellent introduction by Rob Macfarlane. Shepherd is, in a sense, limited by her generation’s view of the purpose of hill-walking & thus the purpose of the hills walked: but you can’t beat something like this, not just as observation, but as thinking: “Water so clear cannot be imagined, but must be seen. One must go back, and back again, too look at it, for in the interval memory refuses to recreate its brightness. This is one of the reasons why the high plateau … is perpetually new when one returns to it.”

  10. Simon

    Nan Shepherd – that goes on the TBR pile.

    ‘Cannot be imagined, but must be seen.’ Had the same thing with Jupiter, Venus and a new moon together in the sky. I couldn’t encompass it. It just *was*. It resisted description, it resisted being photographed. It certainly resisted inclusion in some hazy memory of a scene from SF.

  11. Lew

    The lighthouse at Dungeness (no idea if it’s still there) permanently unsettles Karen’s mind in ‘The House in Paris’.

  12. uzwi

    “It looked like the end. I did not see it would have an end. These hours are only hours. They cannot be again, but no hours can. Hours in a room with a lamp and a tree outside, with tomorrow eating into them.”

    There are two lighthouses now. I suppose Karen would have seen the old one, but I don’t know. Do you ?