Nature versus Nurture: the irony of intervention, despoliation and remediation

Jeremy Kargon


The out-scaled processes of strip-mining appear incredible, absurd, and even ironic. In fact, the notion of irony, in which explicit meaning is different from intended meaning, is itself a useful critical tool for extending concepts which otherwise guide conventional discussion about design for the environment. We read about, for instance, the “vernacular” landscape. But how can the word “vernacular” – which denotes characteristics unintended, unselfconscious, yet entirely artificial – be applied to landscape? Are there circumstances in which understanding the transition from a natural to man-made landscape can be moderated by “ironic” sensibilities? Acts of despoliation afford us with useful examples. One can perceive, in their engagement with pre-existing natural environments, a kind of visual vernacular established by the landscape’s precedent at an existing place and time. Perception of this vernacular, on the other hand, depends upon the subtle, ironic chiasm between site specificity and its opposite: the general concept of landscape itself. The relevance of the anthropologist relationship in bipolar space-time.

(…)Nature after Planning
Among the many plans that we make are intentional acts of despoliation, such as strip mining or any other kind of systematic material extraction from the earth. The word “systematic” is key -- and is quintessentially human, since upon systematic effort is founded civilization itself, traditionally seen as the historical transition from subsistence to agriculture, from nomadism to settlement. Mining, whether for metals or for stone or for oil, is the inorganic counterpart to agriculture. Indeed, our hegemony over the natural environment increases inexorably through the constant consumption of mining’s products.(…)

(…)Speaking “Landscape Vernacular”(Aronson’s Negev Phosphates)
A plausible counter-example might be a project by Shlomo Aronson, in Israel’s Negev Desert not far from the Dead Sea. [Figure 04] This project may be interesting mostly because it embodies troublesome issues about reclamation as much as it solves them.

(…)The Irony of Intervention
Planning our world has always been bedeviled with ongoing antinomies. [Figure 05] No single interpretation of our man-made landscape remains dominant. As it turns out, writers who have studied irony have always come up against just such an “interpretive regression,” which can appear to be infinite. (de Man 1996 and Alford 1984) Much of the substance of “interpretive regression” depends upon an ironist’s intention. Usually, the regression goes like this: did the speaker mean what he or she said, or was the statement meant ironically? Does the use of irony itself allude, ironically, to another meaning? (…)

In keeping with this ironic turn, one might consider two images not from the 21st century but from the 16th. These are Philibert de l’Orme’s allegorical wood cuts, “The Bad Architect” and “The Good Architect (…)


Landscape, irony, Strip-mining, Negev phosphate works.

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