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Romantic Geography

In Search of the Sublime Landscape

Yi-Fu Tuan

Publication Year: 2013

Geography is useful, indeed necessary, to survival. Everyone must know where to find food, water, and a place of rest, and, in the modern world, all must make an effort to make the Earth—our home—habitable. But much present-day geography lacks drama, with its maps and statistics, descriptions and analysis, but no acts of chivalry, no sense of quest. Not long ago, however, geography was romantic. Heroic explorers ventured to forbidding environments—oceans, mountains, forests, caves, deserts, polar ice caps—to test their power of endurance for reasons they couldn't fully articulate. Why climb Everest? "Because it is there."
            Yi-Fu Tuan has established a global reputation for deepening the field of geography by examining its moral, universal, philosophical, and poetic potentials and implications. In his twenty-second book, Romantic Geography, he continues to engage the wide-ranging ideas that have made him one of the most influential geographers of our time. In this elegant meditation, he considers the human tendency—stronger in some cultures than in others—to veer away from the middle ground of common sense to embrace the polarized values of light and darkness, high and low, chaos and form, mind and body. In so doing, venturesome humans can find salvation in geographies that cater not so much to survival needs (or even to good, comfortable living) as to the passionate and romantic aspirations of their nature. Romantic Geography is thus a paean to the human spirit, which can lift us to the heights but also plunge us into the abyss.

Published by: University of Wisconsin Press


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p. 1-1

Title Page, Copyright

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pp. 2-5


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii-x

Eight of my books were written and published since my retirement in 1998. I couldn’t possibly have done as much without the support of my departmental colleagues, who gave me a sunny office in which to work—or should I say play?—for it was so much fun! ...

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pp. 3-8

Coupling “romantic” with “geography” could seem a contradiction of terms, for few people nowadays see geography as romantic. Down-to-earth, full of common sense, necessary to survival, yes—but romantic? Yet there was a time, not so long ago, when geography did have glamor, was considered romantic. ...

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1 - Polarized Values

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pp. 9-28

What are the polarized values? They include darkness and light, chaos and order, body and mind, matter and spirit, nature and culture, among others. Every culture has its own set that is subtly different from those of other cultures. With all of them, there is a family resemblance— ...

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2 - Earth and Its Natural Environments

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pp. 29-108

The romantic imagination favors phenomena that are very large or very small rather than those of a middle scale. Moreover, the romantic imagination readily leaps from one extreme to the next, an example being in William Blake’s famous lines, “To see a world in a grain of sand / And a heaven in a wild flower.” ...

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Interlude: Wholesome but Ordinary

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pp. 109-112

In Genesis, God, after separating light from darkness, gathered the waters together into one place and created dry land. On the dry land, God “planted a garden eastward in Eden.” He then acted as the Divine Gardener. “Out of the ground” he made “to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food. ...

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3 - The City

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pp. 113-146

The city has majesty, one that is achieved by distancing itself as far as possible from bondage to earth. The city began as an attempt to bring the order and majesty of heaven down to earth, and it proceeded from there by cutting itself from agricultural roots, civilizing winter, turning night into day, ...

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4 - The Human Being

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pp. 147-166

Civilization has produced three distinctive human types: aesthete, hero, and saint. All three are inclined toward a behavior or quest that goes beyond, or trespasses, societal norm. The person stands out from the group, even when, as in the case of the saint, modesty and selflessness are the distinguishing virtues. ...

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pp. 167-178

Let me recapitulate some of the key points. Quest is at the heart of romance, but only if it is after something truly worthy. The drive for money or reputation, even if it requires heavy sacrifice, does not count. Nor is the drive to survive, and since geography and the social sciences devote themselves to the art of survival, they are not romantic. ...


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pp. 179-192

Illustration Credits

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pp. 193-194


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pp. 195-205

E-ISBN-13: 9780299296834
E-ISBN-10: 0299296830
Print-ISBN-13: 9780299296803
Print-ISBN-10: 0299296806

Page Count: 215
Illustrations: 6 b/w illus.
Publication Year: 2013