Landscapes of the Mind: Worlds of Sense of Metaphor.
Porteous' study is a reaction to a desensitized world dominated by consumerism, a "cretinous popular culture," "amiable mediocrity," and scientism. It is an investigation of the human condition in the Western world and an exploration of "the convoluted, intricate, and always rewarding landscape of our minds." The concern is not merely academic. Rather, Porteous is advocating a "more intersubjectively loving relationship with the earth" to be achieved through the honing and transformation of the conscious at the personal and, hopefully, global levels.
Porteous is a geographer, and for him geography is "above all, the study of landscape, and a striving to be at home in our physical and social landscapes." But he wants more. Recognizing the dominance of visual constructs in people's identification with place, Porteous urges the exploration of non-visual and metaphorical constructs as foundation for his study. As is recognized by the author, much of this is redolent of Gerard Manley Hopkins' search for the complex of characteristics that went to make up the essence of things. Porteous-like, Hopkins lamented in his Journal how the "beauty of inscape was unknown and buried away from simple people and yet how near at hand it was if they had eyes to see it." And Porteous-like, Hopkins sought through his "inscapes" and "instress" the patterns and order that explain external forms and help explain the quality of living.
Clearly, all of the senses are necessary for this exercise and we have to go beyond the dominance of sight. Thus, Porteous introduces us to "smellscapes" and "soundscapes" as additional components of the sensory world, while the psychological structures of the mind are approached through the worlds of metaphor found in literature. Indeed, while several authors are referred to, over half of the book is devoted to two writers, Malcolm Lowry and Graham Greene. For this reader, the book is worth the read simply for the imaginative and fertile interpretation and application of the minds of these two major literary figures. But there is more. Porteous uses these "exiled Englishmen" as particularly powerful guides to the "shadow realm" of six metaphorical landscapes of the mind. These are grouped in three paired antimonies: bodyscape and inscape; homescape and escape; childscape and deathscape.
These chapters constitute the springboard to launch into the world of "otherscapes" in order to "add to the reader's burden of awareness, to provide a counterweight to the unbearable lightness of being." Porteous' list of other consciousnesses is as daunting as it is imaginative: allscapes, blandscapes, dreamscapes, Godscapes, noisescapes, tastescapes, touchscapes and sexscapes. This exercise in neology stops short of "genitalandscapes," but the imagery is there.
Many readers may not be ready to identify factory chimneys, dockside bollards or water towers with phallic symbols, but for Porteous, "the body is a complex of components that metaphorically correspond with the component complex that is the natural landscape." He guides us through a forest of symbolic relationships between the human body and the natural landscape. Having climbed so many mammary peaks and explored so many orificial caves, I can corroborate his assertion that the male monopoly of power has so often expressed itself in the imposition of a masculine lexicon of sexual toponymy.
For readers of this journal, Porteous' chapter on "deathscapes" may prove most challenging. It opens with the provocative assertion that "[s]ensitive persons are generally not enamoured of twentieth-century urban-industrial landscapes." Seen through the eyes of Porteous' Lowry, cities are defined in terms of filth, corruption, and evil, their ethic symbolized by an icon of "Jesus Christ driving a locomotive across a virgin forest." Graham Greene's view of the "underside of life" in "Greenland" and "Metroland" is no less daunting and results in a proposition and question: "Deathscape in the shape of the city, as we shall see, looms large. And if this is 'home,' should we not try to escape?"
But perhaps the most exciting contribution of this volume is its advocacy of a new way of looking--(I mean touching, feeling, smelling, hearing!)--at reality. Recent literature in the social sciences has been preoccupied with litanizing the deficiencies of "scientism" and eulogizing the insights of humanistic and qualitative enquiry. Both the central premise and organizational structure of this volume underscore the need for a liberalization of the social sciences. Porteous argues thus: "Despite the recent humanistic revolutions in psychology, sociology, and geography, society continues, as yet, to revere technical science and remains skeptical of the insights to be derived from poetry, introspection, free association, and other 'unscientific' forms of knowing. This is ill advised. It is not that the humanist calls for the overthrow of science, rather that more subjective modes of understanding and expression ... should be given greater consideration." In this vein, he advances the lessons to be drawn from Lowry's near-schizophrenic blurring of self and lived-in environment. To be sure, Porteous recognizes that this might be dangerous for the individual, but he concurs with Heidegger's approach to "environmental humility," via a fusion of psychiatry, biography, ecology, and geography, that may serve modern Western society by breaking down our alienation from nature and ourselves.
Brian S. Osborne
Department of Geography
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Author:||Osborne, Brian S.|
|Publication:||Urban History Review|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Feb 1, 1991|
|Previous Article:||The emergence of a "loft" District in Montreal.|
|Next Article:||East of Adelaide: Photographs of Commercial, Industrial and Working-Class Urban Ontario 1905-1930.|