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2007 03 01
Angle of Incident #44: Seminar 5, Mementos of the Fall, Part 2
Lisa Hirmer delved back into Octavio Paz’s writings to continue last week’s discussion of the nature of wilderness:

In an essay entitled “Landscape and the Novel in Mexico”, Octavio Paz (speaking in particular about D.H. Lawrence and Malcolm Lowry) writes: “It is not the natural surroundings that give rise to the vision; on the contrary, it is the poetic vision that gives the landscape its concrete form. The spirit sustains the stone, rather than vice versa. […] A landscape is not the more or less accurate description of what our eyes see, but rather the revelation of what is behind visible appearances.”

In Landscape and Memory Simon Schama echoes this notion: “Before it can ever be a repose for the senses, landscape is the work of the mind. Its scenery is built up as much from strata of memory as from layers of rock.”

In light of these thoughts, I am curious as to what ‘strata’ or ‘poetic visions’ lurk in our landscapes (and by ‘our’ I think I mean Canadian).

Northrop Frye, for example, says that “…in a country where the winters are so cold and where conditions of life have so often been bleak and comfortless, where even mosquitoes have been described as ‘mementos of the fall’. I have long been impressed in Canadian poetry by a tone of deep terror in regard to nature… It is not a terror of the dangers or discomforts or even the mysteries of nature, but a terror of the soul at something that these things manifest.”

Although we are certainly also in the presence of more benign or romantic visions of nature, I think we can sometimes see traces of this ‘terror’ in our landscapes, both literary and built. For me a particularly fitting example is the way Toronto seems to suture tightly across the Don Valley, as though it wants to close over this gulf in the grid and forget the dark river below.

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Octavio Paz. Alternating Current (New York: Arcade Publishing, 1990) p. 15.
2 Simon Schama. Landscape and Memory (New York: Vintage Books, 1996) p. 7.
3)Northrop Frye, The Bush Garden (Concord, Ontario: Anansi Press, 1995) p. 227.
4) Octavio Paz, op.cit., p. 15.



[email this story] Posted by Gary Michael Dault on 03/01 at 06:19 AM

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