Tennessee Jars

1. Walking down the Charles River one day, I found a copy of Wallace Stevens’ The Palm at the End of the Mind sitting on a park bench. I sat down and began to read it; and since then that bit of story has adhered itself to that copy of the book, which I kept, and to my idea of Stevens in general. More importantly, though, for that hour I read the Charles River and the wan park to either side of it through Stevens. As though it were the binocular stand stationed at an observation deck, the object was an invitation to see the surroundings through a single point. And much like such a viewer, you could swing to examine the surroundings in all directions, through pivoting that point in place. This relationship between object and landscape lessened as soon as I moved the book, and is fairly vestigial now that it sits on my bookshelf among other books.

As long as it stays sitting in the landscape, holding down the larger scene like a paperweight, let’s call an object like this book a Tennessee jar; or a jar for short.

As a teenager, my friend and I would walk through the ruderal woods around his house and always end up at the same point, where someone had left a shopping cart in a small clearing by a lichened outcrop of rock. The position of this shopping cart in the woods came to stand for the woods themselves – a cheap holiday, an incongruous exception to what was otherwise ranch houses and mini-malls. It was such a jar; it said its surroundings succinctly.

2. Walking along the Olentangy River the other day, I found a copy of Elizabeth Barlow Rogers’ Landscape Design: A Cultural and Architectural History sitting on a concrete slab just back from the bike trail. I did not read it, since it was waterlogged, and I have read through most of it anyway. But it made the slab, and the waste of woods around it, and the river itself, a design on the land of some sort. Physically, how strange that this book would say landscape again, and again, on its pages, in grandiose strokes; but each of those strokes a flat spray of ink in a wet stack of pulp.

3. What happens when you proliferate jars? The beams of sight you shoot through each one refract and interfere with one another. Rough classes of impression begin to emerge, sorting themselves out and sitting atop one another, a mental pousse-café. Each jar is lessened into one color in a swatch. Multiply this jarring and stratification enough and you end up with a landscape, something that recurs and repeats itself through various scales and spatial extents.

(October 2016)