Module C – The Art of Travel – Detailed Summary

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Module C: Representation and Texts (Representing People and Landscapes)

Text type/form: not easy to define


The text defies easy categorization. Yet the way we categorize the text changes the way we evaluate it.

  • DB claims it is a travel book, yet it offers no practical information.
  • Many regard it as a philosophy book, yet it lacks a strong thread of discussion or argument.
  • It has been referred to as memoir, as half of the book relates to his own experiences, yet a memoir does not pretend to be objective or representative of broader human experience as DB claims for his book..
  • It has been called a “collection of essays”, but these tend to have a greater degree of objectivity than this text.
  • The unclassifiable nature of the text may be one of its appealing qualities. He seeks to defy our expectations about his representation of “the art of travel” – and suceeds.

Structure: broken into “essays”, then further sections

Promises to broaden discussion of travel and our relationship with landscapes.

A philosophical inquiry: aims to examine many angles rather than drive a single argument or train of inquiry.

Structure: mirrors a journey

Starts with his journey to Barbados, ends with his return to London from Barbados.

Use of inclusive pronouns throughout text

Uses the term “we” regularly. Thus claims to speak for all his readers. Claiming a universality of experience.

People and landscapes: which “people”?

Himself and mostly 18th and 19th century European writers and artists. A Western Humanist framework or lens for his ideas.

Personal anecdotes: authenticity, intimacy

Half of the text is his own experiences. He brings a humanity to the text and its abstract ideas. He is a tangible persona in the text and offers descriptions of his everyday experiences, perhaps in the hope we can ground ourselves in the text, to make personal connections  with the ideas through shared experiences.

Intimate, conversational style

The style of his writing is often conversational. It is intimate and personal. He writes directly about himself and his thoughts and experiences. He also shares details of his everyday life. He is seeking to make himself  and thus his ideas accessible – to draw upon a “common human experience”. Not an emotionally detached text.

His role in the text

He inserts himself in the text in a very intimate fashion. Yet the title does not suggest it is about him. Also, the section indexes do not list him as a “Guide”. He employs his own authentic experiences and yet does not draw attention to the subjectivity his insertion within the text creates.

References to experiencess of writers and artists

In part to show how they have constructed landscapes for us. They construct landscapes we have yet to see and thus have only imagined. They also construct landscapes we know, that are real to us, by framing the way we “see” them.

We also ascribe a value to the views of artists and writers. They are deemend knoledgeable on sensory experience, emotional experience psychological experience, aesthetic experience. Apt in a philosophy/travel text.

Selection of artists and writers: subjectivity, bias

Mostly middle class or upper middle class male writers and artists from northern Europe of the 18th and 19th centuries. Guides = 4 Englishmen (including himself), 4 Frenchmen, 1 German and 1 Dutchman.  The exceptions are the American Hopper and the Old Testament Job.  DB presents these guides, and their respective experiences and insights, as representative of human experience. He fails to draw attention to the subjectivity of his selection.

These guides also serve to place his ideas in a historical and philosophical context: that of the northern European. When writing about the relationships between individuals and groups and the landscape, groups here could incorporate the European-specific experience of the landscape:”Nietzsche suggested a second kind of tourism, whereby we can learn how our societes and identities have been formed by the past and so acquire a sense of continuity and belonging” (De Botton, 113).

Selection of artists and writers: “groups”

The European emphasis could also represent a “group”, the author’s group or community, even if it was inadvertent on his part. (The rubric refers to “the relationship between the lives of individuals and real, remembered or imagined landscapes”).

Implication of the title

In our society, the phrase “the Art of….” usually promises a comprehensive account of a topic as well as guidance on how to do it well.

His unorthodox selection of imagery

DB offers us an unexpected array of imagery to examine in careful detail, often the everyday or banal, the ugly or seemingly insignificant or overlooked. He is asking us to “see” the landscape around us, without the usual editing function. He shines a light on the images around us that we usually fail to see or afford any significance and thus we edit them out.

He presents mostly abstract landscapes

DB asserts this as a travel book (see interview) yet his destinations or landscapes are often quite abstract. They exist within the memory or the imagination.

When he describes real landscapes, he tends to exclude people. This serves to also create a sense of the abstract in these places; they belong to him, they exist only in terms of his relationship with them, not in term of the lives of real people in those landscapes.

On one hand the abstract landscapes can be accessed by most readers; on the other hand, his abstract landscapes enable him to limiti the framework of his discussion to the experiences of a specific, white, upper middle class Englishman. Real people in real landscapes would confront and disrupt that.

Motif: the tree

DB pays particular attention to the tree throughout the text. It seems to signal a particularity about a landscape: the palm tree “gently inclining in a tropical breeze” that was one of the tree images of Barbados he anticipated from London (9; 12); the “shimmering” clump of trees in the Lake District that come back to him as a restorative memory while in London traffic (155); his awakening to the beauty of the Provence cypress and olive trees, via the paintings of Van Gogh. He also notes, in the “Art” section, On Possessing Beauty, that “ten minutes of acute concentration are needed to draw a tree; the prettiest tree rarely stops passerby for longer than a minute.” (223). The tree is the one constant in these landscapes, enabling a sense of continuity as well as a comparison between landscapes.  The one exception is the Sinai, but he explicitely draws attention to this: it is “empty of life, without trees” (161) – it is not of this world.

Shifting dyamic in the relationship

He shifts throughout book in his emphasis on the dynamic of the relationship between man and landscape. At times DB depicts the dominance of man: the ways in which man imposes himself onto a landscape due to his emotional or psychological state, his cultural lens, his aesthetic preferences and his representation of the landscape. At other times, DB depicts how the landscape dominates man, through beauty, majesty, ugliness, or a sense of incongruity (being at odds with how we are feeling).

Representation in specific chapters

Specific techniques underlined.

IDEA = possibe sub-theses ideas.

(5), (36), etc = page numbers for quotes

EVALUATION = A more critical appraisal of his representation

Departure: On Anticipation

Places: Hammersmith, London; Barbados

Guide: JK Huysmans

  • IDEA: Certain imagined landscapes promise to remedy a negative emotional or psychological state.
  • IDEA: Difference between anticipation of the imagined landscape and the experience of the real landscape.
  • IDEA: Memory has an editing function in our relationship with landscapes.
  • IDEA: Landscapes are constructed, edited and culturally mediated by writers and artists.
  • IDEA: Imagined landscapes result in a sense of incongruity when we encounter the real, unedited and unconstructed landscape.

Section 1

Uses emotive language in conjuring the imagery of winter London – the landscape seems to both impact on and be a refelction of his emotional state: decline… old age… relentless… confused… dampness… death… ominous… desolate… forbidding… sadness… (5).

This is interrupted by discussion of travel brochure, “Winter Sun”, which conjures for him the imagery of the imagined landscape: “relief… sweet… turquoise… I imagined there to be waterfalls.” (8).

Demonstrates power of anticipation in contrast between bleak imagery to describe the real London landscape and the pleasant sensory language used to describe the imagined Barbados landscape.

Draws conceptual relationship between “Winter Sun” travel brochure and what he regards as his origins: Hodge’s paintings of Tahiti, exhibited in London in Winter 1776 – what he claims is the model for subsequent imaginings of the restorative nature of the tropical idyll.

  • EVALUATING: Whose model? The northern European, though he does not state this.

Section 2

“Our lives are dominated by a search for happiness” (9).

“We are inundated with advice on where to travel to; we hear little on why and how we should go.” (9).

Section 3

Character Duc des Essientes, character from 1884 novel ” A Rebours” by Huysman: anticipates an imagined London, constructed for him by Dickens. In central Paris, on way to London, fulfils his thirst for the imagined London in a wine bar full of English people. Decides to return home: “How wearing it woud be actually to go to London… a person could travel so wonderfully sitting in a chair.” (11).

Section 4

When DB arrives in Barbados, after two months anticipation, “Nothing was as I imagined” (12).

Had imagined three things: beach with a palm three at suset; hotel bungalow with French doors; an azure sky. This set of imagery comprises common, constructed simbols of paradise created across the world in northern Europe.

DB provides a theatrical allusion: the constructedness of his anticipated tropical paradise is like a simplistic theater  set onto which the audience projects their imagined details. (12)

DB employs personification in his suggestion that the banal and ugly details of the real Barbados force themselves on him on his arrival. Suggests a feeling of being attacked. He is affronted by their rudeness. “On arrival, a range of things insisted that they too deserved to be included within the fold of the word Barbados.” (13). And: “They made it strangely harder to see the Barbados I had come to find.” (13).

DB uses accumulation of imagery to convey the sense of the barrage of ugly and banal details that confront him on arrival: “frayed mats… flies… overflowing ashtray… stray dog… waste ground…” (13).

Description of train journey: again an accumulation of ugly and banal imagery: “grey seats… broken nail… rain… a fly…” (14).

DB then repeats this again.

The “anticipatory and artistic imaginations omit and compress.” (15).

Memory:  also serves as an editing function. Writes about the over-simplication of our memry of landscapes.

“The anticipatory and artistic imaginations omit and compress, they cut away the periods of boredom and direct our attention to critical moments and, without lying or embellishing, thus lend to life a vividness and a coherence that it may lack in the distracting woolliness of the present.” (15).

Section 5

Back to Duc Des Essientes: disappointed by the presence of so many banal and ugly elements in the Dutch landscape. Realises that the intensified and undiluted depiction of Holland only to be found in his beloved Dutch Masters paintings. He preferred to “travel” via the art gallery (16).

Section 6

Lenghty description of his real Barbados on first morning as a pleasant idyll: mirroring his anticipated landscape. Yet incongruity: had brought his anxieties. Sore throat, work worries, headache, need for the toilet. “I had inadvertently brought myself with me to the island.” (20).

Incongruity: the unexpected continuation of his real self despite the discontinuity of the landscape. He was no longer in London but had brought his London self to the tropical island (22).

Section 7

Explores island and describes finding exotic and pleasant aspects. Imagery is lush and intriguing (24).

Then fight over dessert in restaurant. Petty, banal issue. Draws contrast between the idyll of Barbados = which promised happiness – and the wretched mood post-argument. Incongruity becomes more acute: his mood “felt insulted by the perfection of the weather” (25).

The “state of the skies and the appearance of our dwellings can never on their own underwrite our joy nore condemn us to our misery.” (26).

Section 8

Conclusion? Don’t go? “The finest aspect of travel, its anticipation” (26).

Quotes Des Essientes (Huyman) again: ” the imagination could provide a more-than-adequate substitute for the vulgar reality of actual experience.” (27).

Departure: On Travelling Places

Places: The service station,; The airport; The plan; The train

Guides: Charles Baudelaire, Edward Hopper

  • IDEA: We are actually and socially mediated to regard some landscapes as worthy of our attention while others are not.
  • IDEA: We romanticise foreign landscapes as a means to escaping the banal and everyday in our real, “home” landscapes.
  • IDEA: We can experience the most profound moments in the least profound landscapes.
  • IDEA: By inviting us to “see” liminal and overlooked landscapes through the lens of writers and artists, De Botton enables us to experience their poetic nature.

Note: The places he selects (see above or p29) are all abstract, not real or specific. Ie he does not specify at this stage a particular service station or a particular airport beside “Places”. They are the same all over the world.

Section 1

“The liminal travelling space” (32) – liminal means ambiguity or disorientation in middle stage of rituals… participants no longer hold pre-ritual status, but not yet begun transition afforded by ritual.

The motorway service station. Presents it as we are culturally mediated to “see” it: ugly.

He uses sensory language and garish imagery to depict the unappealing nature of the service station: “The buiding was architecturally miserable, it smelt of fried oil and lemon-scented floor polish, the food was glutinous and the tables were dotted with islands of dried ketchup.” (32).

Section 2

Charles Beaudelaire, 19th century  French poet. Hated bourgeois French life. Suffered an acute sense of restlessness: ” Life is a hospital in which every patient is obsessed with changing beds” (34).

“The destination was not reeally the point. The true desire was to get away, to go, as he concluded, “Anwhere! Anywhere! So long as it is out of the world!” (34).

He couldn’t figure out where to go and had a sense he wouldn’t be happy  once he got there anyway. It was more about the prospect of other landscapes that arrested him (35).

He loved “harbours, docks, railway stations, trains, ships and hotel rooms; that he felt more at home in the transient places of travel than in his own dweling.” (35).

T.S. Elliot called Beaudelaire’s obsession “romantic nostalgia” (35).

Section 3

These ideas above captured in this section on DB’s personal experiences of London’s Heathrow airport.

The tone throughout the section is one of excitement. This offers an antidote to when he is “feeling sad at home” (35).

Uses accumulation across the section to convey the vast array of possible imagined landscapes that are concentrated at Heathrow Airport, including: Singapore, Bay of Bengal, Delhi, Afghan Desert, Caspian Sea, Romania, Czech Republic, southern Germany, Dutch coast, Thames over London, Malay Peninsula, New York, Long Beach, Canada, Brazil, Pakistan, Korea, Tokyo, Amsterdam, Istanbul, Warsaw, Seattle, Rio, Trieste, Zurich, Paris.

DB juxtaposes images of the tedium of everyday life – “In detached villas, kettles are being filled. A television is on in a living room, with the sound switched off… The everyday.” (36-37) – with the miraculous, celestial quality of the aircraft above Heathrow – “… a small, brilliant white light, a star dropping towards earth” (36).

Validates Beaudelaire’s stance: simply being at the airport and contemplating the fact that “there is always a plane taking off for somewhere, or, as Beaudelaire said, “Anywhere! Anywhere!” can counteract the”lassitude and despair” that hits at 3pm” (39).

Section 5

Returns to the service station, yet this time asks us to “see” it through a new lens.

It belongs to “some third, travellers’ realm, like a lighthouse at the edge of the ocean.” (48).

Explores the “collective loneliness”, a “pleasant kind of loneliness” one experiences there (49).

Introduces early 20th century American artist Edward Hopper.

DB’s choise of artists here enables him to explore shifts of society’s view of liminal landscapes: shifts from the Romantic restlessness offered by Beaudelaire to the collective loneliness of the Modern 20th century experience.

Hopper influenced by Beaudelaire: a “shared interest in solitude, in city life, in modernity, in the solace of the night ands in the places of travel.” (49).

Hopper’s particular fascination was for the transient or liminal places of the American highways and railroads. (My notes: a  particularly American landscape; a part of the American narrative of trasience and life “on the road”) (50).

“In these ignored, often derided landscapes, Hopper found poetry” (50).

What these places offered was the experience of loneliness, a natural human condition, without the accompanying despair that usually accompanies loneliness because we usually experience it surrounded by people who are not lonely. In these places, we are all lonely, thus a shared loneliness. It is OK to feel lonely or melancholic here. Hence the poetic nature of such places.

Section 6

DB weaves a narrative about driving at night into the scene depicted by Hopper’s painting “Gas” – an isolated gas station at night (54). We have no clear sense of where DB’s narration ends and the world of Hopper’s paintings begins. Thus DB draws us directly into Hopper’s imagined landscape.

DB uses vivid imagery that contrasts the dark, wild world of the roadside woods at night – “the darkness that spreads like a fog”(56) – with the comforting, brightly lit and colourful human space offered by the gas station – “this last outpost of humanity” (56). This has become an extended metaphor of the service station as a “lighthouse” (see 48). It offers comfort in a dark, lonely  world.

By inviting us to “see” liminal and overlooked landscapes throught the lens of writers and artists, De Botton enables us to experience their poetic nature.

DB uses repetition to create in our minds the idea that the service station is “poetic”.

Section 8

Takes the idea one step further: raises the idea that from the late 18th century mankind found or experiences true humanity in isolation and loneliness: “the outsider came to seem morally superior to the insider… We implicitly feel that these places offer us a material setting for an alternative to the selfish ease, the habits and confinement of the ordinary, rooted world.” (69).

EVALUATION: “This is a culturally specific school of thought (European Romantics). DB does not provide this context. Thus it is presented as universal: “we implicitly feel…”.

Motives: On The Exotic

Place: Amsterdam

Guide: Gustave Flaubert

  • IDEA: The idea of the “exotic” landscape is culturally mediated.
  • IDEA: The “exotic” can be found in the everyday.
  • IDEA: The search for the “exotic” is our response to the mundane world of home.
  • IDEA: Our defintion of “exotic” is usually defined as that which is at odds with or in stark contrast to our own, familiar landscape.

Section 1

Mesmerised by the sign at Schiphol Airport in Amsterdam. Struck by the “exoticism” (69) of seeing an official sign in a foreign language – sees something out of the ordinary.

Section 2

The word exotic has culturally specific connotations: “snake charmers, harems, minarets, camels”(70). The term became synonimous with the Middle East in the 18th century.

DB also refers to “Orient”.

Introduces 19th century French writer Flaubert, who detested his bourgeois French world and longed for Egypt, which promised to be “exotic”.

EVALUATION: DB does not specify who ascribes these connotations (ie north-west Europeans) to “exotic”, or the fact that the “Orient” is a term created by the Imperial European nations to construct a world that encompassed many disparate non-European nations to the “East”, from the “Middle East” to the “far East” (middle and far in relation to northern Europe).

Section 3

DB describes a row of apartment blocks in a street of Amsterdam.

Do not “ignore how rich in meaning details may be” (78).

It is exotic to him, because it is modern, whereas London wasn’t : “What we find exotic abroad may be what we hunger for in vain at home.” (78).

DB uses high modality language and repetition to convey his acute or startling response to the “exotic” within this landscape: “felt an intense longing… my love…hunger… I wanted…. I wanted… I wanted ” (76, 78).

Section 4, 5 and 6

Egypt offered Flaubert the opposite to all he detested at home (79).

DB describes in detail a woman he sees cycling troughout Amsterdam. He is struck by her: she is foreign, she is clearly at home in this place that feels foreign to him. His language shifts to sex: “desire… see her naked” (89-90).

He draws parallels between his own experience and that of Flaubert. DB discusses Flaubert’s sexual experiences with a high class prostitute in Egypt, who is described in great detail, paying particular attention to her exoticism (her contrast to French women): “coffee coloured… bronze… dark… black…” (91).

DB includes paintings of Egypt on these pages depicting street scenes. They do not offer any portraits of locals in close up. It is a distanced view, through the eye of the foreigner only, with litle attention to the individual people. The exception is the painting on page 92 , which depicts a group of women looking sensuous and alluring: they too exist for the pleasure of – and to be consumed by  – the foreign viewer. This image comes after discussion of Flaubert’s prostitute.

  • EVALUATION: There is an imperialistic, Western (and male) view of the “exotic” constructed here. DB fails to draw attention to this subjectivity.

Motives: On Curiosity

Place: Madrid

Guide: Alexander von Humboldt

  • IDEA: Curiosity is an essential ingredient when exploring a new landscape.
  • IDEA: Our curiosity for the landscape is not sparked by a series of facts in a guide book.
  • IDEA: Our relationship with a landscape must be generated by our specific, individual curiosity rather than an external set of criteria.

Section 1

DB in Madrid conference. He feels compelled to stay longer because he “had been told of its attractions” (103).

He is a reluctant tourist. DB uses emotive language to depict his apathy: “half-hearted… shy… lethargy… listlessness… self-disgust… indolence” (103-104).

Section 2

Introduces Alexander von Humboldt, a young German explorer and scientist.

DB provides an almost breathless, glowing account of  Humboldt’s relationship with landscapes around the world.  Humboldt “mastered… transformed… redrew… researched… discovered… mapped… measured… studied… compared… conceived…” (104-107).

He ends with: “What may be accomplished in a lifetime – and seldom or never is.”

We are being asked to compare DB’s own apathy in Madrid with the “accomplished” approach of  Humboldt.

EVALUATION: DB’s descriptions of  Humboldt and his approach to landscapes are completely reflective of the European Enlightenment and in turn an imperialistic agenda. To map, to measure, to classify is an attempt to “capture”, to own. DG’s giddy descriptions of  Humboldt do not consider this. Consider the painting on page 106 of  Humboldt and friend in Venezuela.  Humboldt is depicted as the shining feature of the artwork : the European. He is white; he is indoors. He is contrasted with the dark expanse of exterior  “Venezuela” (not Europe).

Section 6

DB frustrated with the factual information provided by the guidebooks. He quotes Nietzsche

“I tried to imagine an uninhibited guide to Madrid, how I might have ranked its sights according to a subjective hierarchy of interest.” (114).

Landscape: On The Country And The City

Place: The Lake District

Guide: William Wordsworth

  • IDEA: The power of the natural landscape to heal, restore, calm and awaken.
  • IDEA: The restorative power of the natural landscape, in opposition to the physically and psychologically detrimental impact of the man-made city environment.

Throughout this essay, the choosen images depict man as dwarfed by the majesty of the rural landscape. A sense of calm, of a rural idyll. Serves to support the view of  Wordsworth (and DB).

Section 1

Travels by train to the Lake District. A range of imagery evoking the disorienting nature of the experience.

Section 2

Their motives to go are personal but also “belonged to a broader historical movement dating back to the second half of the eighteenth century” (132). City folk going to the countryside for physical and soul restoration.

Wordsworth and the Romantics: a specific relationship with nature, of “seeing” and experiencing the landscape and its impact on the mind, body and soul.

Section 3

Wordsworth in a sense “created” the Lake District in his poetry. He experienced “beauty” and “joy”.

DB directly aligns himself with this view: they were not haphazard articulations of pleasure. Behind them lay a well-developed philosophy of nature.” (136).

Intially he was mocked but soon, DB writes, “serious critical opinion seemed almost universally sympathetic” (138).

DB evokes the sense of the restorative: “regular travel through nature was a necessary antidote to the evils of the city” (138).

Section 4

A clear contrast between the sensory language of Wordsworth, which depicts the natural landscape as restorative and beautiful, with the sensory language DB uses to depict the man-made landscape of the city: “the smoke, congestion, poverty and ugliness of cities” (138).

The Romantic movement was a direct response to the ugly and soulless nature of the cityscape after the Industrial Revolution.

Section 7

DB and M  return on the train to the city. The train journey takes them across “fields and industiral cities”, while a man talks loudly on his mobile phone, searching “for someone called Jim who owed his money” (153). DB thus confiates the ugliness of the cityscape with the ugliness of man.

He then recalls a moment in the Lake District: juxtaposes a moment of everyday banality; as he and his companion discuss their favourite chocolate bars, with sudden sense of being arrested by the beauty and poetry of the natural scene before him.

His memory of this scene (the remembered landscape) comes to him later, when stuck in traffic in the city, weighted down with the everyday anxieties of city life, and the trees “protected me from the eddies of anxiety and, in a small way that afternoon, contributed a reason to be alive” (155).

He is consoled by his memory of the natural landscape, thus demonstrating for us its enduring power, just as Wordsworth promised.

Unlike previous sections, which relied on the way in which we approach the landscape, this considers the way in which the landscape “approaches” us.

Landscape: On The Sublime

Place: Sinai Desert

Guides: Edmund Burke; Job

IDEA: The search for the sublime in nature is akin to the religious pilgrimage.

IDEA: In the secular Humanist world, man seeks divinity in the sublime landscape.

IDEA: The sublime landscape confronts us with our own mortality and comforts us at the same time.

Section 1

The Romantic’s desire for a landscape to make them feel small. Describes the plane journey he takes to Israel to “wonder in the Sinai” (159); this religious allusion = evokes the Old Testament – frames his journey as being akin to the religious pilgrimage.

Section 2

Describes the landscape of the Sinai: the language again evokes a sense of the biblical. It is epic in scale, timeless, immortal: “Only boulders lie strew across a sandstone floor, as though the stamping of a petulant giant… valley empty of life… geological origins… the pressure of millennia… expanses of time… the earth’s tectonic plates have rippled granite as though it were linen” (161).

Section 3

The term “sublime”(early 18th century) is man’s attempt to describe a human experience of landscape that otherwise defies description. Language cannot adecuately convey the experience (161).

Painting (162-163): “Avalanche in the Alps”: image also evokes the biblical. Scale and ferocity . Wrath of God.

A new way of framing / constructing / seeing / experience the landscape: value not according to aesthetics (is this beautiful?) but “according to the power of places to arouse the mind to sublity” (165).

Section 4

Opening line: “The southern Sinai at dawn.” (166). Even the word “dawn” takes on a biblical quality: the dawn of man, of civilisation; this landscape has been here since the dawn of time.

In comparison to the epic nature of the landscape, “man seems merely dust postponed.” (166). This language calls upon a widely held metaphor that equates the mortality of man with dust: man returns to dust after death (Anglican burial rite:”ashes to ashes, dust to dust”; Hamlet: man, “this quintessence of dust”).

Edmund Burke is listed as one of the two “Guides” for this chapter, yet he is given little coverage. Mentioned here in relation to his book “A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful”. Much more coverage given to the other Guide: Job. Job is perhaps a better vehicle for conveying the religious element in the concept of the “sublime”, an angle DB pushes in this chapter.

DB attempts to define the “sublime” landscape, in terms of how has been defined within Western thinking:

“Sublimity had to do with a feeling of weakness” (166);

“A landscape could arouse the sublime only when it suggested power, power greater than that of humans and threatening to them.” (166);

“What defies our will can provoke anger and resentment; it may also arouse awe and respect” (167).

Burke, he states, defined the necessary features of sublime landscapes: “vast, empty, often dark and apparently infinite” (167).  So even though timeless and immortal, still need to be defined by man, one man!

Section 5

Humans are “awed by what is powerful and noble” (167).

Photographs on pages 168, 172-173 and 176-177: Otherworldly. The landscapes extend into the infinite haze on the horizon. The foreground features defy easy comprehension and lack any man-made structures  or points of human access.  Images are also unattributed (no title or composer); thus the text itself defies a specific human touch. It is not specific to a time, place, or culture. It is beyond – greater than – man.

More biblical allusions in the language: “This is the lesson written into the stones of the desert and the icefield of the poles.” (169). Allusion to the Ten Commandments.

“The sense of awe may even shade into a desire for worship.” (169).

Section 6

Numerous allusions to time thrughout the chapter – the vast expanse of time, giving light to our insignificance and immortality: “what is mightier than man has traditionally been called God… The mountains ad valleys spontaneously suggest that the planet was built by something other than our own hands, by a force greater than we could gather, long before we were born, and set to continue long after our extinction” (169).

Back to Sinai. Places God in the landscape, to amplify the sense of it being a landscape of majesty and divinity: “God is said to have spent much time in the Sinai… “The LORD came from Sinai” said Moses” (170).

“The Western attraction to sublime landscapes developed at precisely the moment when traditional beliefs in God began to wane… The landscapes offered them an emotional connection to a greater power” (171).

Section 7

Draws more direct links between the sublime landscape and God by calling on the story of Job.

Includes an extended passage from the Book of Job.

Choise of “Destination”: It is noteworthy that he choose to visit the Sinai when writing about the sublime. It is a landscape that is prominent in the Old Testament and thus enables DB to easily draw a stronger link between the sublime and the religious.

DB paraphrases God’s words to Job: “Accept what is bigger than you and do not understand… Our lives are not the measure of all things” (178).

His discussion has a reassuring tone: “If the world is unfair and beyond our understanding, sublime places suggest it is not surprising things should be thus. We are the playthings of the forces that laid out the oceans and chiselled the mountains. Sublime places gently move us to aknowldge limitations that we might otherwise encounter with anxiety or anger in the ordinary flow of events.” (178).

“If we spend time in them, they may help us to accept more graciously the great unfathomable events that molest our lives and will inevitably return us to dust.” (179).

Extended metaphor of “dust” to symbolise human mortality and/or the transient nature of our lives. Most evident in descriptions of the dust and earth of earth’s fundations in the Sinai in sections 2 and 5. We are part of the matter the earth is comprised of.

Art: On Eye-Opening Art

Place: Provence

Guide: Vincent Van Gogh

  • IDEA: The truth of a landscape may be found in an artist’s edited representaion of it, as opposed to the “real” experienceof it.
  • IDEA: Artists can help us to “see” a landscape.

Section 1

Travelled to Provence because it was thought by “sensible people to be very beautiful” (185). His motive was “simple and hedonistic: I was looking for beauty. “Delight and enliven me” was my implicit challenge to the olive trees, cypresses and skies of Provence.” (185-186).

DB picks out trees as the focal point for beauty and continues this motif throughout the chapter. Initially finds the olive trees ugly: “stunt, more like bushes” (186).

Section 2

Van Gogh wanted to help people to “see” the landscape (189).

“It was for Van Gogh the mark of every great painter to see certain aspects of the world more clearly.” (190).

Section 3

Art can make us realize that the way we see the world is subjective. Two artists can “realistically” portray the same landscape yet look vastly different. Each artist edits, just as the traveler does (192). The “process of selection” (193).

Section 4 – The Trees!

Van Gogh loved the Provence cypress trees. DB also now seeing them through Van Gogh’s eyes – via Van Gogh’s paintings of the landscape and descriptions of the landscape in letters. He quotes Van Gogh’s descriptions and also provides his own detailed descriptions. He somewhat personifies the cypress by detailing its dance-like motions: “thrust upwards from the ground” (194). DB writes: “the tree taken on the appearence of a flame flickering nervously in the wind. All this Van Gogh noticed and would make others see.” (194). On the corresponding page is a photo of a cypress and a Van Gogh painting of a similar cypress, the latter more effectively capturing the sense of motion DB describes. DB thus confirms his theory that artists enable us to “see” the real landscape.

(197) DB then does the same thing for the maligned olive tree: describes the asthetics and movement. Again, parallel photo and Van Gogh’s painting. The latter highlights the movement, achieved through the linear, line-heavy quality of Van Gogh’s brush strokes.

Van Gogh: if only you pay attention to [the night sky] you will see that certain stars are citron-yellow, others have a pink glow, or green, blue or forget-me-not brilliance.” (201).

Throughout this chapter on Provence, DV wants us to think like artists. He gives us the language for that. Just as an artist carefully selects very specific coulours to depict what they see, DB provides the reader with an abundance of references to colour, both his own words and those of Van Gogh (extracts of letters). Many are unorthodox, or sound like descriptions of paint colours. The following is a small selection: “limpid blue… frozen pink… sepulchral grey… Velasques grey… dawn red… silvery… pure rich blue… soft blue… violet… deep purple… very dark green… pale yellow… blue-black… sulphur… lilac… bright yellow… yellow colour of butter… glaringly green… whitewashed… intensely blue… grass green… chromes… richest, intensest blue… rich blue… pink and golden…” etc.

Section 5

On a tour, notes that “an Australian [my emphasis] wearing a large hat said to his companion… “Well, doesn’t look much like that”.” (204). A mockery of a non-European for his lack of  cultural insight?! (Also later on p209: “The complaints of the Australian man were unusual in the group. Most of us left Sophie’s lecture with a new-found reverence for both Van Gogh and for the landscape he had painted.”).

Quotes Van Gogh: “I have played hell somewhat with the truthfulness of the colours”. DB then states: “Yet in playing hell Van Gogh was only making more explicit a process in which all artists are involved – namely, choosing what aspect of reality to include and what to leave out.” (204).

Surely we can say this of ALL REpresentation, including this book. (See also underlined quote below.).

Section 6

DB: “painters do not merely reproduce. They select and highlight.” (2010).

Section 7

By REpresenting “beauty” in a landscape, artists can cause people to desire the real landscape, ie travel there.

Art does not simply help people to “see” the landscape – it also prompts them to visit actual landscape (189; see also 187).

We “tend to seek our corners of the world only once they have been painted and written about by artists.” (214).

Art: On Possessing Beauty

Places: The Lake District, Madrid, Amsterdam, Barbados, London Docklands

Guide: John Ruskin

This chapter is all about the “remembered landscape” (see Mod C rubric).

  • IDEA: Our emotional and psychological reponse to the “real” and immediate landscape is influenced by remembered landscapes.
  • IDEA: By attempting to draw the landscape and thus becoming artists ourselves, we can be attentive to beauty and our personal logic in classifying it.

Section 1

DB provides us with rich, poetic imagery of  Madrid, Amsterdam, Barbados and the Lake District, four of the places he has experienced and discussed in this book. The descriptions are like word paintings. As noted in the first chapter, we heavily edit our memories of places (the “remembered landscape”).

Section 2

Our desire to possess beauty; to “hold on to it” (218).

Section 3

DB paraphrasing John Ruskin: “beauty is the result of a complex number of factors that affect the ming psychologically and visually… there is only one way to possess beauty properly and that is through understanding it… the most effective way of pursuing this conscious understanding is by attempting to describe the beautiful places by art” (220).

Drawing here is about truly “seeing” rather than “capturing” the landscape (think Von Humboldt and his mapping, measuring and mastering of the landscape). It is reverent rather than arrogant.  Throughout the Chapter, the accompanying images are Ruskin’s intimate and reverend portraits of details of nature: an intricate pencil drawing of a peacock feather; a diagram of the different structures of tree branches; a portrait of a crab in luxurious oils. He also includes a Turner engraving of clouds, dispaying their detail and dynamic movement.

Section 6

Memory: “Drawing allows us, in Ruskin’s account, “to stay the cloud in its fading, the leaf in its trembling, and the shadows in their changing”.” (228).

Section 7

“Attractive places typically render us unaware of our inadequacies with language.” (231).

Section 8

Many places “strike us as beautiful not on the basis of aesthetic criteria.. but on the basis of psychological criteria, because they embody a value or mood of importance to us” (234).

He provides this example, when in London on a  foggy night looking at a tower block: “Foggy nights may, like certain smells, carry us back to other times we experienced them. I thought of nighs at university, walking home along illuminated playing fields; and of the differences between my life then and now, which led to a bittersweet sadness for difficulties that had beset me then and precious things that had since been lost.” (237).

EVALUATION: Does this contradict much of what he has been alluding to, especially throughout the “Landscapes” section, about a certain universal beauty or magnificence in specific landscapes and which we know to be specific to European tastes?

Return: On Habit

Place: Hammersmith

Guide Xavier de Maistre

Section 1

He returns home from Barbados. Circular in structure but also returs to his opening idea and imagery: the contrast between the “azure skies” of Barbados and the “funereal” skies of London (243).

The sense of incongruity again: he has been on holidays, is refreshed, but London is still the same: “the difference of the world to any of the events unfolding in the lives of its inhabitants.” (243).

Section 2

DB gives us merely a one-line Pascal quote in this section, to truly emphasise this key idea: the sole cause of man’s unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his room.” (243). This makes sense… the representations of landscape  have been quite abstract throughout the text. Here he is telling us that we can travel anywhere else if we can’t travel in our own mind.

Sections 3 & 4

DB employs humour here by contrasting the magnificent traveller and conqueror of lands, Von Humboldt, with Frenchman Xavier de Maistre who takes “a journey around his bedroom” (243). To enhance his point, and humor, DB cites Von Humboldt’s long list of travel requirements, including “ten mules”, and contrasts it with de Maistre’s only requirement: “a pair of pink and blue cotton pyjamas” (244). Who sounds more ridiculus? Who is more accessible?

De Maistre”pioneered “”room-travel”: “He particularly recommended room-travel to the poor and to those afraid of storms, robberies and high cliffs” (245). De Maistre himself seems to be gently satirizing, as is DB: “In his second volume of room-travel… he went to his window” (247).

YET, his conclusion is clear: “the pleasure we derive from journeys is perhaps dependent more on the mind set with which we travel than on the destination we travel to.” (246). Here DB Returns to his original line of discussion, evident in Chapter 1.

He cites “receptivity” as the key “travelling mindset” (246).

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