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Chinese Gardens: ¡®Isomorphy¡¯ (Speculative¡­)             





A quick look at history reveals that garden space (gardens and parks), play an important role in the lives of those who have the means to establish one (the rest of us must be to content to be visitors or join the ¡®miniaturists¡¯ in arranging plants in pots). Across history pretty much every culture worth the name has produced garden spaces; climate, geography and flora may well differentiate between them, but being something that is regarded as necessary to cultured living, is one factor they all hold in common. It is as if when we have the possibility, the means, to create a garden, then the drive to do so, quickly makes itself manifest. Otherwise put: when we can we will¡­ recreate a piece of ¡®Nature¡¯, tamed, re-visioned (¡®bettered¡¯) just for ourselves and our like-minded friends (and who does not appreciate the view or backdrop of a garden space). Let me suggest that this is because there is a fundamental isomorphy, parallelism, even a relation of (self)projection, between human consciousness, identity (our drive to recognition, our self-image) and the spaces we create. Created to be our stage and (in active voice) a mood-altering, sense enveloping, total environment. Something to express our culture, and also to inculcate a culture - least we forget what we wish to be¡­




Place need not always be viewed as ¡®found Nature¡¯ (as in ¡®found object¡¯), but a very different kind of genius loci, ¡®made Nature¡¯; the spirit of the place no longer a personification (genius loci, an indirect image of ourselves¡­) but the place in which that spirit may reside, may be found, may become, incarnate¡­ may be ¡­ ourselves.  Perhaps true of ¡®place¡¯ as we find it in Nature. And even more so when made by ourselves for that very purpose¡­


Of the isomorphism of humanity¡¯s products with itself, its consciousness; most especially in its culturally privileged products, its ¡®high culture¡¯, its special places, its horti-culture¡­ The garden tradition.


Gardens as an image of, or realization, or parallel reference, ¡®isomorphy¡¯ of human consciousness¡­ (of conversely, of the limits, the unknowing projection of our ¡®transcendental¡¯ interior onto everything ¡®outside¡¯) often leading to an infinite, mirror in mirror sequence of reflections (sic). Think for a moment of what is present to us, now¡­ what we would we like to be present to us¡­ of all human experience as an ¡®environment,¡¯ that which fills us, fills up all our senses - the state of our Eternal Present. What we would be comfortable with, comfortable in, if we had to spend an ¡®eternity¡¯ there¡­ *So on two further counts, we may find an isomorphy between our inside and our outside: one, through interpretation, the reflection of our wishes of it, our conscious projection of ourselves into the space we admire¡­: and two, as the product of a ¡®hardwired¡¯ desire (not unlike ¡®the sacred¡¯, ¡®the sublime¡¯). Part of our need to imbue things with value (even terrible things), once props for religion to be sure: but also a useful means of granting respect and protection, that is, bestowing value, to Nature, Culture and People¡­ the protection of the environment, of our historical heritage and a good foundation for basic human rights, for civilized behaviour. In short, a model of how to treat objects and people¡­


And if something is to be eternally present then it had better be good - the Garden as Heaven. Heaven on Earth.


Ideal Nature. As it never could be, ¡®in the wild¡¯. True of all garden spaces, including regional variants - and even ¡®Romantic¡¯ gardens¡­ as in a general idea (a ¡®universal¡¯): but needing particular cultural inflections to reflect regional historical consciousness¡­(China, Italy, the Arabs and the Persians, the French and English, Renaissance, the Classical and Romantic, the Baroque and Modern, and, dare I say, Baroque and Minimal¡­ (and then Modern and Post-modern) styles. As with the ¡®mirror to mirror¡¯ analogy above, a feature findable everywhere, a feature of human consciousness as such, of human desire as such (all): and as a product of Chinese gardens, a part of the design and pleasure and lasting aesthetic imprint of this kind of space, this manner of place¡­ and each particular discrete place (some). Manifest aspect of our ideal Nature.


If we map out the patterns on a grid of Nature as matter, and of Culture as the content of consciousness (¡®Second Nature¡¯); and again, Nature as we see it and think it, our experience of ¡®Mother Nature¡¯, and our ¡®nature¡¯ as human - the place of our experience: of time and temporality¡­


                            Nature           Culture                Time



Garden:  Material/means of exp.   Form/content of exp.   Change of seasons


Object           Matter/signifier       Meaning              Passing time

                                                                                        ¡®Death and Memory¡¯


Subject/     Body, genes         Language/             Perception/

Ourselves                               Nurture                ¡®incoming¡¯/ the

Eternal Present


Experience    Embodied         Frame/the             Content of Frame                                                                                                                     enclosure              room of ¡®self¡¯           changing content



So Suggesting¡­


The image of the garden as an image of human consciousness.


The form of the garden as the form of human consciousness (rhetoric/projection).


The content of the garden as the content of human consciousness (context).


And the means of expression, the material, of the garden as analogy, as allegory, a prosopopoeia of the elusive invisible, but omnipresent (if only to ourselves) nature of human consciousness¡­


Nature (¡®second Nature¡¯, so Nature as formed by Culture (¡®Nature Tamed¡¯), as the construction of a home, a Nature, we can live with, and in, become the home to the spirit as well as the body. Our mind, or self, as desiring a home as much as our body need physical shelter and a modicum of comfort. This reforming of nature, of matter, as the cultural imprint of ¡®the Mind¡¯¡­ ¡®of Spirit¡¯ (to wax Hegelian for a moment¡­ (but what else did Hegel mean?) the movement of ¡®Spirit¡¯ as the evolution of Culture¡­ (but stripped of its original Euro-centric teleology)). This imprint is one of the best images of how we ¡®look¡¯ inside¡¯, or perhaps our ideal ¡®inside¡¯, or better still, the image of a ¡®higher¡¯ version of ourselves; as our rebarbative, competitive, destructive nature is lost as the dangers of real Nature recede in its transfiguration into the Garden (and as the dangers from others of our own kind also are kept outside the garden walls). We have the further ¡®isomorphy¡¯ of a ¡®tamed¡¯ self to a ¡®tamed¡¯ nature. Civilization, in a word¡­ (whose incarnations are regional and historical¡­ but mutually comprehensible and admired)



Is the image of the garden, the image of human consciousness? And is the general idea, or concept, the ideal garden, coming from human consciousness, a genealogical image, an art image ¨C the image of human consciousness at its best?


Is the form of the garden the form of human consciousness? The shapes and passage, motion, and change as images of, process, similar to how we think¡­


Is the content of the garden as the content of human consciousness? What we see as forming us, making an impression, changing a mood. Our identity in context. (Identity is context: context is identity).



We are where we are. (We also owe our mental being to place¡­


(Otherwise put: the self too is a matter of context, of emplacement; embodiment does not stop at the limits of the body.)






Copyright Peter Nesteruk, 2018