Literature and Life: Landscape Encounters
Writing is an activity that is practised, and in being practised it is ever on the move. Even while standing still it composes a travelogue: of a journey around a room, for instance, cluttered with things; of a collection of things and how they bundle together to express a mood, an atmosphere of affect. Or else, writing is a journey through a landscape and how it is perceived, what carries significance for you the perceiver, and how your landscape encounter arouses site specific action, how the landscape looks back at you, how the landscape sees. How a landscape encounter erupts in the capacity to affect, as well as enabling sufficient sensitivity to be affected. This is where I will venture below, toward a series of landscape encounters.
Writing is a practice, much as art or architecture is practised, it creates transversal relays between thinking and doing. What does it mean to undertake a transversal approach to writing? Transversality is a concept intended for practical use. It is signed by the thinker, psychoanalyst, and philosopher Félix Guattari, who was also a practitioner exploring ways of undertaking group analysis: how to work collectively in order to rearticulate individual problems with societal structures, rather than remaining trapped in the delimited dialogical universe of analyst and analysand. Guattari is said to have borrowed the concept of transversality from Ginnette Michaud, a student of medicine and psychology, and a visitor to the by now famous La Borde clinic, south of Paris. It is important to remember that transversality is a concept that has work to do, it is a concept-tool. When it comes to transversal writing this work concerns the creation of connections, how to transgress norms, challenge clichés, deviate from habitual modes of expression, and defy power relations where they become oppressive. Transversal writing forges connections between what Guattari has called the three ecologies, across mental, social, and environmental ecologies, which is immediately an indication of how ‘ecology’ is more than simply a special interest for nature lovers or a domain of specialisation for natural scientists. For the purposes of this exercise, I am specifically interested in how transversal writing covers distances, and lends itself to an instructional mode.
The instructional mode takes the simple instruction and pushes it to its limits. An instruction necessarily produces something, but the outcome may not be what you expected. An architectural brief, for example, can be understood as a set of instructions, and in every instance this requires the labour of interpretation. Even the simplest instructions, such as those drafted by Sol Le Witt for his Wall Drawing #258 from 1975 dedicated to Agnes Martin, lend themselves to surprising effects when carried out in different contexts. Interpretation becomes less a matter of being faithful than of creating something entirely new: Less interpretation than experimental constructivism.
Below I want to compose a series of instructions directed at future work. Work that may never be completed, but for which some early instructions can nonetheless be offered up. I offer a brief, speculative gesture toward a future and suggest the construction of speculative fabulations. The formulation of a speculative gesture comes from the work of Isabelle Stengers, while a speculative fabulation comes from Donna Haraway. Both are philosophers of science. The speculative here is a formulation that challenges us to work experimentally toward possibilities, modes of existence, and possibilities of a life. Give me the possible or else I will suffocate, as Gilles Deleuze says, alluding to Kierkegaard. When it comes to the art and act of speculation, we must be wary of abstractions where they get us stuck in ruts, and at the same time we must also recognise a need for them because they assist us to think: To bring forth thinkables. We must be wary of the concept-tools we inherit, invent and use, and how they are likely to lead us in certain directions rather than others, as we continue on our journeys. We cannot do without these tools, but we should not assume that the tools do not sometimes manage us, rather than vice versa.
And so I set out a series of speculative landscape encounters for future work, and the transversal zig-zag line that cuts a cross-section through these landscapes takes up a series of eccentric characters in its wake, and how they bring forth the possible in order to challenge us to think otherwise. Eccentric simply means that which challenges the stable location of a centre or a presumed core (of a discipline such as architecture or art, for instance). Eccentric suggests other orbits, and alternative trajectories. I write with, and not afterwards. I write toward the ill-formed and the incomplete. It is a passage of life, and not a report. It is suggestive of transformations and becomings, both conceptual and sensory. I will attempt to write from the midst of what I call landscape encounters…
1. Between Maria Reiche – mathematician, geometer and anthropologist – her aluminium ladder, her pencil and her skirt, and an ancient 450m2 territory called the Pampas in Peru where the pre-historic Nazca lines are to be found. A tracery of negative geoglyphs cut into the earth as a bestiary cum cosmic observatory.
2. Between Margit Brünner – architect, artist, and Spinozist – and a place called Oratunga in the Flinders Ranges, South Australia. Out Back, as we say Down Under. Between her skirt, and the mallee brush, between her vivid red protective gear and the scratching branches of dried tree and undergrowth. Between a video camera on a tripod, and the wind in the microphone, and the swing of her arms as she caresses the local vegetation.
3. Between Katla Maríudóttir and coastal Iceland in the vicinity of the volcano after which she is named. Stories of ship-wrecks, wandering churches, fishing shacks, turf houses in varying states of decay. Her compass maps a criss-cross of narrative, architectural and landscape events and their material specificities.
4. Between Julieanna Preston – artist, interior architect, and advocate of vibrant matter – and her buckets of mud and her stacks of timber pallets, moving stuff between the Whau River estuary and Rosebank Road in Auckland, New Zealand. Contravening nature-culture distinctions, feeling their admixtures. Managing the mud on a molecular level at the risk of her own corporeal well-being.
5. Between Zoë Sofoulis (also known as Zoë Sofia) – radical feminist cultural theorist, formerly a student of Donna Haraway – and container technologies, including water infrastructures. She leaves the city behind, seeking a line of exit, a line of leakage by retiring early from the institution and setting up camp in the Blue Mountains, outside of Sydney.
6. Between Helena Webster – architectural educator – taking her exit from the institution and arriving on the Isle of Skye in the wind-swept Hebrides where she is building an imaginary community, Black Shul Shed, with the help of the architect Mary Arnold-Forster.
The above sketches an open list of possible directions to be taken, encounters to be experienced. Work yet to be done, a hopeful promise to a future.