Lewis 1979_betterPics - Axioms for Reading the Landscape...

Info iconThis preview shows pages 1–2. Sign up to view the full content.

View Full Document Right Arrow Icon
Axioms for Reading the Landscape Some Guides to the American Scene Peirce K Lewis About the axioms and about cultural landscape For most Americans, ordinary man-made landscape is something to be looked at, but seldom thought about. I am not talking here about "natural landscape,” but about the landscape made by humans – what geographers call cultural landscape. Sometimes Americans may notice cultural landscape because they think it is pretty, or perhaps ugly; mostly they ignore the common vernacular scene. For most Americans, cultural landscape just is. Usage of the word tells a good deal. As a common verb, to "landscape" means to “prettify.” If a suburban lot is advertised as “landscaped," it is generally understood that somebody has fussed with the shrubbery on a small bit of ground, perhaps planted a few trees, and has manicured the bushes – more or less artfully. It rarely occurs to most Americans to think of landscape as including everything from city skylines to farmers' silos, from golf courses to garbage dumps, from ski slopes to manure piles, from millionaires' mansions to the tract houses of Levittown, from famous historical landmarks to flashing electric signs that boast the creation of the 20 billionth hamburger, from mossy cemeteries to sleazy shops that sell pornography next door to big city bus stations – in fact, whole countrysides, and whole cities, whether ugly or beautiful makes no difference. Although the word is seldom so used, it is proper and important to think of cultural landscape as nearly everything that we can see when we go outdoors. Such common workaday landscape has very little to do with the skilled work of landscape architects, but it has a great deal to say about the United States as a country and Americans as people. 1 At first, that idea sounds odd. The noun “landscape” evokes images of snow-capped mountains and waves beating on a rock-bound coast. But the fact remains that nearly every square millimeter of the United States has been altered by humankind somehow, at some time. "Natural landscapes" are as rare as unclimbed mountains, and for similar reasons. Mallory expressed a very American sentiment when he said he wanted to climb Everest because it was there. Americans tinker with landscape as if pursued by some inner demon, and they have been doing so ever since their ancestors landed at Jamestown and Plymouth and began chopping down trees. They continue today, and the sound of the power lawn mower is heard throughout the land. All of this is obvious, but the implications are less obvious, though very simple, and very important to our understanding of the United States. The basic principle is this: that all human landscape has cultural meaning, no matter how ordinary that landscape may be. It follows, as Mae Thielgaard Watts has remarked, that we can "read the landscape" as we might read a book. 2
Background image of page 1

Info iconThis preview has intentionally blurred sections. Sign up to view the full version.

View Full DocumentRight Arrow Icon
Image of page 2
This is the end of the preview. Sign up to access the rest of the document.

This note was uploaded on 09/26/2011 for the course HON 2973 taught by Professor Staff during the Fall '11 term at The University of Oklahoma.

Page1 / 12

Lewis 1979_betterPics - Axioms for Reading the Landscape...

This preview shows document pages 1 - 2. Sign up to view the full document.

View Full Document Right Arrow Icon
Ask a homework question - tutors are online