What is being avoided by those who hanker for Nature Pure—or what today would have to be a repristinated nature? What is being denied, I speculate, is that human-dominated landscapes provide the only experience we have had of anything like a presettlement template. The antimony (settlement v presettlement) is no antimony at all: The human world provides some of the most enduring examples of “repristinated nature” we have ever had.

How so? Take these two examples: 

1. “In Ise, Mie prefecture, west of Tokyo, a Shinto shrine said to date from the third century is razed to the ground and rebuilt to the same specifications every 20 years. The question of whether it is two decades or two millennia old is thus open to interpretation.”  Financial Times correspondent, David Pilling.

2.  “Hiddenness, then, is a sheltering enclosure – though one we stand some times outside of, at other times within. One of its homes is the Ryoan-ji rock garden in Kyoto: wherever in it a person stands, one of the fifteen rocks cannot be seen. The garden reminds us there is something unknowable is always present in life, just beyond what can be perceived or comprehended  – yet as real as any other rock amid the raked gravel.” Poet, Jane Hirschfield.

Both describe the inability of the observer to hold a stable focus on what is being seen. Yes, you’re seeing a shrine, but the rest is undecidable and that matters; yes, you are seeing a garden, but the rest is out of sight and that matters too in the same moment. So too it was said of Nature Pure and the Sublime.

John Berger, art critic (and so much more), writes of one landscape: “The scale is. . .of a kind which offers no possibility of any focal centre. This means that it does not lend itself to being looked at. That is, there is no place to look at from. It surrounds you but never faces you.” Imagine here herders moving onto an empty, horizon-less plain; or night watchers looking up into the open, depthless annihilation beyond.

That very same experience, I argue, can be felt in different contexts of the human world (my two examples are from Japan, but I could have just easily described the lack of focus I felt in the Holocaust Tower of the Jewish Museum Berlin).

To assume or act otherwise is, I believe, to deny the obvious fact that something like the sublime can be and is experienced in “everyday life,” and has always been.

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