Chinese Gardens: On Stone II
There are no statues in a traditional Chinese Garden (but there are ‘statues’…).
To call them statues is already a personification… but perhaps that’s right. But a personification of who… of what…?
On Lithomorphs and Garden design.
On stone forms and garden design. Antithesis incorporated. Culture takes on Nature and produces, Horticulture, Nature tamed, Ideal nature (the Nature of the Garden, the Park or Parkland, and the Farm) as opposed to real Nature, ‘red on tooth and claw’, overgrowing, overwhelming any structure left un-attended, un-tended (whence the ‘Aesthetics of Ruins’) and producing ever-fecund diseases that test human immunity. If the design is culture, represents a culture’s philosophy (or part of a culture’s philosophy - the point of view of the ‘scholar’ – influenced by Daoism, but also Chan or Zen, and the sense of exile, or desire for escape, from the barbarities of power…): then what of Nature (Real Nature)? Look attentively at the Lithomorph: does it not seem out of place? Even though incorporated, framed, appropriated, absorbed - the terms used indicate its irreducible difference – it still stands out, a quotation from another book, a citation from another kind of text, incommensurable – untamed… Its gaping holes, framed and framing absences, its mouths, its orifices, suggest so many entrances, windows into another kind of world; indeed, unlike the rest of the garden space – though blind, it seems to look back… the object stops us short with its gaze… The most uncanny of feelings… Indeed if the general tenor of garden design is to gently, invisible convince us (a ‘perlocutionary’ speech act, or message) designed to persuade, to gently ac-culture ourselves: then the stone ‘sculpture’, the found object, the lithomorph, imposes itself upon us, (a ‘performative’ speech act, or message) its message is asserted, like its mysterious identity – an act of self-imposition from a stone without a self… (but, well, in our imaginations, may it has… whence the sense of ‘statue’, of personification). By contrast the garden space in general is descriptive (but also performative in its gentle contours and proportionality, in its civilizing use of wild flora, tree, bush, shrub) descriptive of a way of life, of a civilization refined…
Antithesis incorporated? The whole contains the part – but set apart. A quotation. A sentence from another kind of book. A book before writing…
Sublime and/or Beauty: again Nature (the Object) wild; Nature pacified… In Chinese art so often combined (tamed by the Subject, made by the subject for the subject); here included… the grain that in the shell becomes the pearl, but here rather a pearl of meaning: ‘meaning’; something much older…
When again faced with the fear of the more powerful, unknown, larger, vast, the overwhelming (like the starry sky at night, or a mountain range, the ocean with its horizon, or a storm at sea), something we cannot fully comprehend, know, control - unlike the Beauty, or symmetries, or order, of an order of ‘Nature’, a copy that we make of what there never was; an ideal, created in the form of a garden, in the garden form… And so the disposition. Of water and earth and plant life and... stone. Including that kind of stone… the suggestive but forever un-recognisable forms of the lithomorph.
Created out of objects (the object) by subjects for subjects, at the behest of a subjectivity. The identity of one who may, in quiet, appreciate such a space, the understanding recognized the space and it meaning, and so re-creates them, the function of memory: but memory reading, reading what is written in the garden, in its re-configuration of Nature, or space (of the Object) and so the garden passes them on - the function of writing… The garden as a form of writing. The memory of an identity.
Gift for those that can read… (Otherwise commodity to be bought at the price of a ticket…)
Echoes. Inscriptions from the distant past. From Daoism, Nature worship (also found in Zen painting as Buddhism also adopts Nature as a model, as Natural Law… and as its Beyond…). And from the scholar, the self-imposed exile (also combining the influences of Daoism and Buddhism, but redefined) as aids to the good life… As ‘types of space’… and we, inhabiting space, inhabiting the space of civilized design, of civilising design, we walk the space, and as we walk we are psychologically re-modeled after its own image… As we occupy it so it occupies us; the influence of beautiful space: but we do not occupy the space of the lithomorph; it is separated from us by water and by walls, by its situation in a bed grass or flowers or in rockery (stone tamed, with stone, ‘untamed;), of plants - out of which it erupts. Or sequestered by water, in the space beyond water, segregated… in all cases, forming a view…
It pre-occupies us.
The shrine in the shrine; the shrine to Nature enclosed within the shrine to Culture… One containing the other as it contains, controls, Nature… containing the associations, the communication, the meaning, the ‘speech’ of the lithograph, its message of representing the unrepresentable (the Beyond)… still there… still here. Nevertheless included… a reminder… (not of the outside of the garden gate, this is not difficult to recollect, it will recollect us as we leave: rather, the outside of the forms we behold, their origins, their materiality) the material whose form is not the gift of culture, but a remainder, a supplement to civilization (formed from material by mind). A Return. Appropriated (included) but not digested (made into One). Recognition of an exterior, an Other... another place… an entirely Other (Object as Absolute Other). Other to ourselves as Subject (as Culture).
Antithetical coupling, antithetical containment, just as our self, our subjectivity, our ‘now’ must contain our desire and its uses of the past and future; must contain the object (and the other).
The civilized self and the object without… inexhaustible (and the subject, self, itself taken as object, also therefore bears the same unending conversation…).
Leaving us with… the ordered object (a space constructed by ourselves) and the disordered subject (the self) that it is its duty to tame… to civilise… found represented by the ’other person’, the personification, the symbol or entity, the Lithograph, ‘stone god’, the other ‘personage’ found in the garden - besides ourselves… Beside ourselves… Self (subject) moved by Object, fashioned into an environment of Beauty, in which we find a place for ourselves as untamed, as object of a civilizing force, in the context of a ‘civilising space’, as subject of ‘the civilising process’ (which is why we may not enter upon its space, the space of the lithomorph, the place of the ‘Lithomorph’, for it is ourselves, too, that is represented here). In a mirror with the reflection removed, gaping, like the holes in the rearing stone, perhaps representing that part of ourselves that remains nature, like the lithomorph… For what we find is the stone gods (the forces of Nature) waiting for that glimmer of recognition that they are in us, are us; so it is us, that it is we, after all, who require the stroke of the gentle hand the civilizing presence of Nature tamed… designed by ourselves, for ourselves… to remind us of what we want to be… (and the clay we mare made from…)
And if the cajolements of Beauty fail, then the ‘fear and trembling’, the awe stoked by the Sublime (which the human animal always remembers) remains…
…the writing of the Lithomorph: the Lithomorphic as lithograph - an unreadable writing… writ on stone…
Copyright Peter Nesteruk, 2020