Saturday, May 09, 2009

The garden of Bouvard and Pécuchet

Encouraged by Geoff Manaugh's defence of the practice, I have followed the example of some of my favourite blogs and started a Some Landscapes twitter (not sure I've mastered the idiom yet, can the word be used as a noun like 'blog'?) The idea is to include a few quick quotes and links and comments as they arise - some will get incorporated in later posts here, others won't. The 140 character constraint is a challenge to write with almost Flaubertian concision. Here's the sort of thing I've twittered: One of Flaubert's 'Accepted Ideas' - 'Landscapes (painted): always look like a mess of spinach.'

This quotation comes from a newly translated edition of Flaubert's Bouvard and Pécuchet. Among the numerous projects of these two misguided enthusiasts, Flaubert describes a disastrous attempt at landscape gardening. After reading Boitard's The Garden Architect (see above) they consider the various options: the Melancholic or Romantic garden with its ruins and tombs; the Dreadful garden with hanging rocks, shattered trees, and burnt-out shacks; the Exotic garden 'to inspire memories in the colonist or traveller'; the Pensive garden with 'a temple to philosophy, as at Ermenonville'; the Majestic (obelisks); the Mysterious (moss and grottoes); the Meditative (a lake); or the Fantastic garden - a hermit, wild boars, 'several sepulchers, and a skiff departing from the banks on its own power to bring you into a drawing-room, where spurts of water drench you as you recline on the sofa'. They decide to adopt an eclectic approach...

The garden had previously been devoted to vegetables. Bouvard and Pécuchet 'sacrificed the asparagus and in its place built an Etruscan tomb', erected 'a kind of Rialto' over another part of the vegetable garden and contrived to evoke a Chinese pagoda by placing a tin cap with its corners curled up over six squared-off trees. 'In the middle of the lawn rose a boulder that looked like a giant potato.' The finishing touch was a linden tree, felled and lain across the entire length of the garden, 'making it look like it had been washed away by a flood or struck down by lightning'. But the garden fails to impress their neighbours, whose disparagement Bouvard and Pécuchet see as being due to 'the blackest envy.' "They barely even noticed the pagoda!" "Saying the ruins aren't clean is plain idiotic!" "And the tomb inappropriate! Why inappropriate? Don't we have the right to build one on our own property? I'd even like to be buried there!"


Tara Dillard said...

Great stuff. Proof nothing has changed with landscaping your own property.

The neighbors who didn't like the ruin have become our era's HOA's (Home Owner Assoc.) A nearby HOA, formed in the early 80's continues to rule with an iron fist. Sadly, their mission, to improve property values, now, decreases property values. Lawns neatly clipped, fertilized, irrigated, toxic chemicals to eradicate weeds/bugs and huge trees (hollies) maintained as small green meatballs.

Did you see the NYTimes article by Holland Cotter about Maya Lin's new work?

A piece of earthwork depriving Earth of its trees & wildlife.

With an upcoming project, "...she plans to monitor globally the corruption and demise of the natural environment that has been her subject and source."

She has become her art. "Contributing to the corruption and demise of the natural environment..." Oddly, Cotter does not address this in the article. Why?

Garden & Be Well, XO Tara

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed reading B&P again in that new translation, last year i think, but it was a little tainted by Mark Polizzotti's use of the word "snicker", which i can't imagine either of them doing no matter how slightly amused.

new york city garden said...

hilarious. I see myself in their creative analysis of garden types. So I had to laugh at myself