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"Americans are like fish that can't see water. Although human life requires the constant support of complex surroundings, most people in the United States do not consciously notice their everyday environments. Universal schooling in science and dozens of television nature programs have begun to sensitize Americans to animals and ecosystems. Yet, even Americans with advanced degrees rarely have concepts for pondering, discussing, or evaluating their cultural environments. These people are in danger of being poor appreciators and managers of their surroundings."

Paul Groth, "Frameworks for Cultural Landscape Study," from the book Understanding Ordinary Landscapes, Groth & Bressi, editors.

For these purposes (and to quote Professor Groth again) the word "landscape" denotes "the interaction of people and place: a social group and its spaces, particularly the spaces to which the group belongs and from which its members derive some part of their shared identity and meaning."


As you might have guessed, I've decided to attempt to re-engage the part of my brain that thinks in terms of architecture's larger place in the city fabric. I've been largely housebound for the last year, and I need to allow the city to reassert itself on my thinking patters, even if only in an academic sense.

While I was at Berkeley I only managed to take one class with Professor Groth, but it was awesome. (I use his title not out of obligation, but respect. In class he had us call him Paul.) This was the oft-referenced Summer class, all day on Fridays. Seven hours of class in one day, but it was the least punishing, most enjoyable experience of my college career (undergrad or grad school) because each class was a day-long walking tour of some chunk of the Bay Area. And we looked at everything in our path. Ethnic churches of all stripes. Coffee houses. Apartments. Parks. Everything from monuments to hovels to suburban tract homes, and it all threaded together into a narrative we only barely began to explore by the end of the semester.

I need to get those eyes back. If I still can.

Date: 2010-02-10 09:18 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] mostuncertain.livejournal.com
I was just reading a book by a woman with autism about animal behavior, & one of the most interesting factors for myself, in what she perceived as similarities between people with autism & animals, is that they notice everything. She talked about animals being spooked by reflections & various other (environmental)things. She said that interior designer freinds would be perpetually perturbed by cracks in marble & so on, and made a distinction that animals are visual & that largely so are autistic people. But the interesting factor which I think relates somewhat to your entry, is the fact that normal human thought, as she posits it, is designed precisely to filter things out, & to only allow people to see & process what they expect to see. There was a study she discusses where people were asked to count the number of baskets made in a videotaped basketball game which they are shown on a screen. A very high percentage of people, something above 80 percent, don't notice the woman who walks in front of the camera in a guerrilla suit & beats her chest before walking out of frame (they don't "forget" her, they actually don't see her). The first response to the findings of these studies is to feel insulted, having it implied that we (normal people, or in the case of your quotations "Americans") are insultingly oblivious. But the fact is we are locked into a kind of big picture, abstract thinking, which in a way keeps us from seeing or noticing what is, in many instances, right in front of us. It's a human trait. I'd like to be one of the people on the brink of both worlds - a visual person, or an observant, slightly "dysfunctional" autist, whom still has enough filtration software to function normally in society. Noticing things & talking about them are different things though. We might find that Americans are less educated or less able to/ready to improvise a conversation about the things mentioned in your article. It's funny though because I very rarely see or hear "Americans" referred to anywhere as such, when they are not also being referred to as a kind of sub species & lowest possible common denominator. I think learning to turn the filter off though, is probably a very beneficial exercise for anyone who can undertake to do it. What's interesting is that the filter which causes certain obliviousness, at least according to the position advanced by the two doctors who wrote the book I am discussing - is not actually insulting, although it implies a kind of ignorance. it is necessary, & even responsible for certain portions of evolution & higher functionality as humans. She talks a great deal about the things which she was able to observe which spooked animals in various situations, which were obvious to her, & she couldn't believe that people whom worked with & dealt with the animals on a daily basis could not notice them. It tuned out that in some respects, her autism was an advantage. That's the main subject of the book.

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