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Editor: Pascale Guibert
Too many landscapes have been reduced to silent commodities by being put into golden frames on top of our fireplaces. Too many landscapes have been reified by being considered as objects holding forth referents to an omnipotent looker-on, with his/her language ever ready to seize and transcribe. The articles gathered here, prolonging an international conference held at the University of Caen Basse-Normandie (France), 14-16 June 2007, set the landscapes loose again by engaging with their essentially relational quality.
What makes this volume particularly stimulating and critically innovative is this initial acknowledgement of a landscape’s reflectiveness – that is the fact that it contains unthought thought, and thus presents itself to us both passively and actively. This straightaway appraisal of the lines of flight in the seemingly static, tranquil images facing us, has opened the way to deeply critical readings bent on questioning old tracks, testing new itineraries, denying the closure of the subject. At the same time, and by way of consequence, it leads us to encounter the force in landscape. A force like an energy, an impetus, which makes it possible – if not advisable! – to still compose, read and enjoy landscapes in the XXIst century.

In this paper I discuss the mnemonic and intertextual associations of landscape. I return to the idea that place is imbued with articulated and unarticulated associations, personal or collective. Indeed, the perception of landscape is a complex interaction between several elements: the national imaginary or national desire, family memories, official ideologies or cultural myths. Working with the poem, “Mametz Wood” by Owen Sheers, I read landscape as psycho-semiotic, traumatised space invested with memory and desire. I draw on the work and reworking of Lacan, especially the idea of the symptom/“sinthome” as a knotting together of the imaginary and the symbolic in the real of desire. In Sheers’ poem the traces of the death drive are seen in a landscape that was once the site of the battle of the Somme in the Great War. In this paper I want to open up for discussion how psychoanalytic paradigms have unsettled the study of place by enabling a more nuanced and conceptualised discussion of the force of landscape to elicit emotions and meanings across sites of memory and mourning.

In: Reflective Landscapes of the Anglophone Countries

Whereas colonial constructs posit landscape as a framed, exotic view, writers may attempt to negotiate cultural appropriation by choosing to represent borderline spaces, depicting landscape through skeptical difference in terms of what it is not, denying exotic satisfaction and challenging Eurocentric prejudices. Thus the opening of E. M. Forster’s 1924 A Passage to India precludes pictorial definition, relying on systematic negation to create a kind of photographic negative, so that the landscape can no longer be defined univocally and mocks the colonial attempt to do so. V. S. Naipaul’s 1987 The Enigma of Arrival furthers such negative experimentation. A meandering autobiographical homodiegetic narration subtitled “a novel”, Naipaul’s book blends genres and pays an explicit tribute to Englishness and the tradition of landscape painting in the manner of Constable. But the landscape-challenged narrator must learn to deconstruct and reconstruct perception, walking and writing in order to fill the blanks of his view of England as the mere negative of the cultural images he has absorbed. The kinetic quest allows the narrator to see the landscape in terms of time and decay, rather than as a timeless whole, freeing himself from Orientalist clichés in reverse. The landscape becomes a privileged site from which the stroller may examine British culture and his own sense both of estrangement and of belonging, his own colonial nostalgia. Discarding Constable, Naipaul turns to Giorgio de Chirico’s eponymous Enigma of Arrival, with its mysterious sense of desolation, as a model for a new kind of textual landscape. Thus both Forster’s and Naipaul’s novels may be read as passages towards the heart of darkness, problematizing shifting cultural boundaries, yet yielding to a melancholy sense of fragmentation.

In: Reflective Landscapes of the Anglophone Countries
In: Reflective Landscapes of the Anglophone Countries

I will examine the region around Alice Springs as it appears in the writings of Frank Gillen (in his letters to Baldwin Spencer), and in his joint writing with Spencer (the ethnological texts). In the texts we catch glimpses of three modes of landscape: that of the invaders, farmers and pastoralists, that of their scientific comrades, the biologists, geographers and ethnologists, and that of those whose land they have appropriated — the Arrernte. Three ways of dreaming a landscape, three ways of living one.

For the pastoralists, the landscape is seen in terms of property and profitability: the one goes with the other, and it is their capacity to make a profit from the land that gives them their right to occupy and own it. Consequently, the landscape is also a well-policed area, in which the unprofitable is tracked and hunted down. For the scientists, the landscape is a patrimony, a shaft which permits them to delve into the beginnings of our time and follow the course that takes us to the present. The ethnologists discover that their project necessarily entails a consideration of the third landscape, that of the Arrernte themselves.

In: Reflective Landscapes of the Anglophone Countries

This article proposes a survey of the writing of landscape in Canadian literature in English, underlining the evolution of this tradition, from its beginning to recent postmodern writing. It relates together interrogations which have been permeating Canadian landscape writing since the early days of colonization, when they became imbricated with larger cultural anxieties such as the legitimacy of territorial divisions, the negotiation between old ways of seeing and unfamiliar settings and, finally, the forging of affective ties with the environment.

In: Reflective Landscapes of the Anglophone Countries

This article explores the notion of landscape in Stein’s theater, and more specifically the meaning and function of Stein’s so-called “landscape” plays. As a matter of fact, such a notion can resolve the Steinian problem of theater and constitute a key to its interpretation. The subject-matter of Stein’s landscapes is not the world but grammar: landscapes are not mimetic but performative. What can be called “page-landscape” is for Stein an idiosyncratic mode of writing that gives access to a sense of permanence or at least to a non-tragic sense of time.

In: Reflective Landscapes of the Anglophone Countries
In: Reflective Landscapes of the Anglophone Countries

A mostly visual poet, Wordsworth apprehends Nature as landscape, as picture. At the same time, the beautiful sights of his native Lake District provide the repressed Narcissist with so many handy mirrors. In this respect, the stolen boat episode in The Prelude reads as a traumatic scene in which the poet realizes it is his own reflection he admires and has intercourse with, through the landscape. ‘Subliming’ what he deems a shameful urge, the poet finds more indirect reflections of himself in the landscape, in the shape of a series of doubles. But a still safer way is to exchange sight for vision, in the way his great predecessor Milton did, and be inspired by the landscape with reflections of another type: intellectual and metaphysical ones. Yet even in these, the trope of personification, and the haunting presence of the human face betray the poet’s narcissistic relation to landscapes.

In: Reflective Landscapes of the Anglophone Countries

This paper examines how English landscape painting was affected by abstraction from the 1930s onwards. It focuses on the practice of two artists: John Piper, whose transitional work reflected the tension between two semiotic codes: the representational conventions of the picturesque and the formal language of abstraction; and Peter Lanyon whose work relied on a form of abstraction but went beyond the tension explored by Piper and developed a new way of perceiving landscape. Both artists were attracted to bare places which accommodated two contradictory meanings: the revival of a tradition and a new beginning, two potent values that shaped the attitudes of wartime and post-war artists.

In: Reflective Landscapes of the Anglophone Countries