restricted access Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Landscape
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thirteen ways of looking at a landscape Michael E. Harkin My title is drawn, of course, from Wallace Stevens’s poem ‘‘Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird.’’ This spare, imagist poem, reminiscent of Haiku, is theoretically interesting because it plays with and to a certain degree deconstructs the semiotic relation between human and nature. Observer and observed, signifier and signified, subject and object, are cut loose from their normal moorings inWestern discourse. Nature and nature poet trade places. The plurality of perspectives offered by both poet and blackbird is reminiscent of anthropology’s ‘‘Rashomon effect’’ (Heider 1988). With regard to landscape, both points are important. In order to take account of the phenomenology of place, we must resist the common view of place as mere object . Place takes on subjective qualities, of which humans may themselves become objects. Moreover, around any landscape a plurality, even an avian cacophony, of views arise. This is especially the case with respect to landscapes on contested ground. Clayoquot Sound on thewest coast of Vancouver Island, British Columbia , is the general area I am considering. Numerous perspectives have shaped the construction of Clayoquot Sound as place. I can only mention in passing the historically important ones of colonialism and the romantic picturesque, which I have discussed elsewhere (Harkin 2000). The colonial viewpoint is most eloquently expressed by Gilbert Malcolm Sproat, an English surveyor, government agent, and businessman, who was the first amateur ethnologist in the area. In 1868 he published Scenes and Studies of Savage Life about the Nuu-chah-nulth (Nootka) people of the area (Sproat 1987). His observations about place were informed by a fascinating hybrid of the military, navigational, logistic, and geological, which are entirely expected, with the aesthetic and picturesque, which are not. However, this combination was not unusual at the time. As the writer Jonathan Raban has recently (1999, Tseng 2004.8.9 07:12 7132 Mauze / COMING TO SHORE / sheet 425 of 548 2001) argued, Romantic notions of ‘‘the sublime’’ were integral to the view taken by the English of British Columbia, beginning with the younger generation of officers on Captain George Vancouver’s ship. Indeed, this celebration , even apparent worship of landscape, was evident in artists of the Northwest, such as Albert Bierstadt and Thomas Moran, and was also remarked upon by more direct agents of colonialism, beginning with Lewis and Clark (Allen 1972).1 W. J. T. Mitchell goes so far as to say that landscape is the ‘‘‘dreamwork’ of imperialism’’ (Mitchell 2003:10). The role of the aboriginal inhabitant of these landscapes is deeply ambiguous . The inhabitants of the Yosemite Valley were cleared out, by the typically brutal means practiced in 19th-century California, before Muirand Bierstadt saw the place. All indications of previous human occupation were ‘‘edited out’’ of the picture (Schama 1995:7–8; Bordo 2003:308–309). The effect was an apotheosis of landscape, in which certain elements are framed and fetishized. This reaches a climax in the photography of Carleton Watkins and, later, Ansel Adams, who, through various technical means, created the illusion of direct, unmediated access to the specific landscape features released from their ground (Snyder 2003:182–183). However, for many observers, interest in aboriginal peoples as part of an organic landscape was pronounced; it was, after all, part of the package of Romanticism. Poets such as Wordsworth and painters such as Constable were interested in the people who dwelled in landscape, as well as in the landscapes themselves. Such Romantic taste in landscape reflects both nostalgia for agrarian modes of life as well as a belief that the ordering principles of social life, which placed such persons in positions of poverty and marginality , were essentially just (Bermingham 2003:98). Ruskin set forth the principles for this style of art, which was highly influential in both Europe and America (see Ruskin 1873). North American artists of the 19th and early 20th centuries, especially George Catlin, Paul Kane, and Emily Carr, placed Northwest Coast native people and their artifacts within the frame of the sublime landscape. Emily Carr, who began her painting of Indian themes in Clayoquot Sound after meeting a local Ucluelet chief in 1898, epitomized the aestheticized view of native people and place. Interestingly, her meeting with the chief was wordless, as he spoke no English. She, however, believed that she understood perfectly what he thought: a nice metonym of the prevalent view 386 harkin Tseng 2004.8.9...