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Chinese Gardens III                                       



Amid the clamour of public meanings. The presence of an unheard voice. For there is a double vision induced by the aesthetics of the Chinese garden, even if one voice speaks low. Its origin lies in the double nature of the contemplation that results: the result of the contemplation of Chinese gardens. The unequal doubling presents itself as a nesting together, a fusion, or apparent harmony: yet what it presents is the irreducible difference between the individual and the collective, the self and the community, the particular and the universal (a world-view). These disparate but complementary readings of the garden, of its meaning (of these readings as their meanings, as their function) signal humanity’s ability to be at once individuated and social; as perceiving from a point in space/time, but as formed and existing socially and so living in an extended web of shared and extended meanings. At once believing in the myths and the theatre, the costume and symbolism, the masks and the performance of religion, ritual and place, and implicitly understanding their role as fictions (as earthly copies, sublunary extensions, or unavoidable masquerades - we would say today ‘necessary metaphysics’ or ‘provisional’ moral ‘foundations’). A permanent doubling in perception – more particularly on the part of those incredulous of sound and spectacle. At once participating in and appropriating (in ones own way, or for ones own ends…). A tension aptly described in Durkheim’s concept of homo duplex (or Taussig’s the ‘Public Secret’). Both. Always. With, and against one-another. Chinese Gardens, due to their tendency to evoke contemplation, offer us a reminder of this eternal diremption of the self, as of the secret history it makes possible, the internal appropriation, the personal slanting of shared public meanings throughout time. Emperor and priest, State and Temple, both have marshalled meaning for their own (cohesive) ends. Yet in the end the provocation to contemplation is a double-edged sword. Thought is not held to the path trodden by others, but weaves its own solitary braid.


The bridge joining self and garden. The lyricism of the garden passes into the interior of the self in a contemplation indistinguishable from personal appropriation. Perhaps to return in a new lyricism, the expression of his contemplative interior, the return of the personal as surplus to the strictures of State or Religion (whence the necessity of ‘poetry after Auschwitz’).


Chinese gardens. A knot in the golden thread linking the inward and the external. Like the irruption of the flowering plum on its dark branch (the ‘old friend of the cold season’). Just as the water lily and the lotus both have their roots deep in invisible matter and must flower surrounded by the surface reflections of angular man-made structures, so do their bright petals cast the light of contrast upon all that surrounds them. Gardens, hope of cities.


Chinese gardens. Flowers on the iron grid of the social.





                                                            Copyright 2005 Peter Nesteruk