After Tom Wiscombe’s introduction, Timothy Morton describes being struck recently by the contrasting experiences of two neolithic sites in England: where matriarchal Avebury acts as a lens for the surrounding landscape, patriarchal Stonehenge acts as a camera. Morton proposes to think about landscapes in terms of light, that spills over boundaries of inside and outside, However, he argues that landscape is “not a painting you’re looking at through a screen, or a thing in a shop separated from you by a huge plate of glass, like it’s in a totally different dimension. It’s all atmosphere, lighting – surrounding, enveloping, interpenetrating, coming through the artificial boundary with a specific frequency and amplitude, like the yellow light pouring through the cat door, in a picture called ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’.”
Morton describes the two problematic landscapes: the classic suburban front lawn, and the backstage area of a rock concert, concluding that, “Mostly planet earth is now a nasty backstage area of human pee puddles with cigarette ash in them”. As an alternative, he suggests learning from lizards, “weeds with legs”, who survive without doing much at all.
Specifically, he proposes “synthetic landscape”, in which “landscape architecture, shorn of its landscape stage design aestheticized anthropocentrism” created “by blending with things as far as you can go without dying.”
Approached this way, buildings, “the thing that you think is superior to landscape … is actually something that materializes within the holistic vision of your synthetic landscape, like something materializing out of a field of elemental colored mist. A flowing, moving, oozing, smoke of design that doesn’t have to stay put and be maintained with the Whack-A-Mole violence.”
He concludes with a description and images of the formal and informal landscapes, gardens, and environments of Magdalen College, Oxford.