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Conflict as both a source of & a motive for knowing

brevity of our civilization | Marx's themes | loss | errors | landscape of progress

Navarro River

Seagull & driftwood on the Navarro River, Minor White, photograph 1950s.


“The Machine ate my Garden
Joseph Siry

"the noisy world into the midst of . . . slumberous peace."

Loss | simplicity | complexity | dialectical tension | landscape of reconciliation | Fear | images

"the inadequacy of the Arcadian situation as an image of human experience."

The Machine in the Garden, p. 23.

Defining the rhetoric of multiple meanings

simple versus complex | science versus technology

Loss of naiveté [ORIGIN late 17th cent.: from French naïveté, from naïf, -ive]

simplicity -- "to describe America as a hideous wilderness, however is to envisage it as another field for the exercise of power. This violent image expresses the need to mobilize energy, . . ."

The Machine in the Garden, p. 43.

complexity -- "These are poetic metaphors, imaginative constructions which heighten meaning far beyond the limits of fact.

But if some Elizabethan travelers discovered that the stock images of America embraced a contradiction, few had the wit to see what mysteries it veiled. Few recognized that a most striking fact about the New World was its baffling hospitality toward European aspirants who desired a better life.

The Machine in the Garden pp. 43-45.

The rhetoric of the technological sublime and the visions of a supplicant nature, do or do not originate in the absence of the Renaissance in America's brief past?

A. African, Negro slavery is old; having lasted longer than the age of the US .

B. The explosion of knowledge due to discoveries since the first crusade has devoured more than one lion of certainty.

C. Our concepts of ethnic identity and geography are older than we know.

D. Ignorance of the use of rhetoric does not insulate you from being duped by the four idols we worship since the Renaissance placed humanity at the focus of our scholarship.

E. Egypt was to Greece and Rome, what Greco-Roman culture is to our century.

F. As both "second" Rome's, Spain and England have vied in our past creating conflict at the very roots of our attitudes about wealth, power, agency, and ownership. As such and those concepts may be more enduring than either technology or the knowledge our tools allow us to verify.

The Machine in the Garden


Loss | simplicity | complexity | dialectical tension | landscape of reconciliation | images

Our knowledge of the profane or material world is both organized and reliable according to McCloskey and Feynman to make it in Brecht's terms believable, or at least worth fighting over.

1. Applied science or technology is the way we use what we know

2.The body of knowledge that we can know

3.The means we have (tools and technology) or method used to reveal our errors.

Those are the three things Feynman argues are the characteristic traits of what McCloskey called a systematic description of material and physical, social and human, literate and metaphorical knowledge on which we rely to make intelligent decisions.

Science versus technology

brevity of our civilization | Marx's themes | loss | errors | landscape of progress


Intelligence may be a virtue, but taking off your "Lorrain glasses may be necessary for you to see the proverbial forest from the all too real trees." Hence we have a conflict over meanings, methods, visions and outcomes at the very heart of scientific worldviews of the profane.


Nankoweep Mesa along the Colorado River on the way from Marble and into the main body of the Grand Canyon, Arizona. JVS 1992

brevity of our civilization | Marx's themes | loss | errors | landscape of progress


Marx differs in his analysis of rhetorical devices to reveal the hidden meaning of our entanglements with nature, technology and fear.

"The difference between the masque and the plantation speech, finally is the difference between a pastoral and a primitive ideal. For Prospero the center of value is located in the traditional landscape of Ceres. He stands on a middle ground, a terrain of mediation between nature and art, feeling and intellect."

p. 65, The Machine in the Garden

"the artificial is but a special, human category of the natural. Mind and nature are in essence one. Nature is all.

p. 67, The Machine in the Garden

The Tempest.

".…that the play, in its overall design, prefigures the design of the classic American fables, and especially the idea of a redemptive journey away from society in the direction of nature. As in Walden, Moby-Dick, or Huckleberry Finn, the journey begins with renunciation.

"In the wilderness only essentials count. America, Emerson will say, is a land without history, hence a land 'where man asks questions for which man was made.'

What finally enable us to take the idea of a successful 'return to nature' seriously is its temporariness. It is a journey into the desert and back again–'a momentary stay against confusion.' On the island Prospero regains access to sources of vitality and truth."

p. 69, The Machine in the Garden


"The contrast between 'city' and 'country' in the pastoral design makes perfect sense as an analogue of psychic experience. It implies that we can remain human, which is to say fully integrated beings, only when we follow some such course, back and forth, between our social and natural (animal) selves."

• "the vitality of the unconscious and preconscious experience."

• "if the city is corrupt" … "it is men who have made the journey of self-discovery who must be relied upon to restore justice, the political counterpart of psychic balance."

• "it is a symbolic middle landscape created by mediation between art and nature."

A need for engineering alone required to make economically productive use of wetlands, islands, harbors, forests, plains, gardens or marinas enormously benefits more than just a Jeffersonian phantasm.

Be aware that due to dialectical synthesis of competing Jeffersonian and Hamiltonian idealizations those who benefit from the transformation of nature are: developers, the local tax base, and investors, owners of property, and the commercial world we depend on for our livelihoods.

Federal regulation of these activities has always been important due to the interstate character of coastal waters and the commerce clause of the Constitution. State governments have both a sovereign interest in the submerged lands and in the development of coastal resources for fisheries, ports, transportation development and the promotion of recreation or tourism. Local governments have bonding, zoning, and taxing authority in counties. Due to the real estate values of property, often a substantial portion of municipal and state revenues are derived from a handful of sources such as riparian (riverfront) or the coastal zone lands. California for example receives revenues from tidelands where it pumps oil or leases oil drilling parcels to corporations.

Since colonial times North America has been steeped in the twin illusions of providence and plenitude; both of which are ecologically ignorant of the actual conditions.

brevity of our civilization | Marx's themes | loss | errors | landscape of progress


The twin illusions of providence and plenitude:

Currently our beliefs in progress rest – in large part – on these twin errors but is further bolstered by the Protestant ethos of each person as their own priest. In the the classical sense each of us then is our own magus, we each are our own Prospero, fearful of yet dependent upon our Caliban's to transform the waste into the second nature we all prefer. Platonically speaking the second nature is the world we finish from the rough hewn and unwrought world of the demiurge into which we are thrown by fortune and or karma.

Palos Verdes Cliffs and beachesLand in Europe and from Roman precedent is considered “sovereign land.” This means that regardless of private property titles, or actions of legislative bodies, the land's intangible and intergenerational qualities can never be fully owned in fee simple absolute as is all real estate in the United States.

"A garden is a miniature middle landscape. It is a place as attractive for what it excludes as for what it contains."

Common lands are “encumbered” with restrictions referred to as a “public trust” that legally protects these lands for the use of the public and our oldest common in English America was established in 1628 in Salem, Massachusetts.

Salem Common

This protection furthers two competing benefits, the promotion of commerce and citizen access to hunting, coppice (wood) and fishing. Private property rights over the public trust is severely limited by this sovereignty held by the states, or in Europe by national legislative bodies.

Serious declines in wildlife due to the destruction of land, water and air represents a serious threat to agriculture, forestry, biodiversity, ocean fisheries, and even now the world's climate balance.

The Machine in the Garden

brevity of our civilization | Marx's themes | loss | errors | landscape of progress



books J. Siry,

Marshes of the Ocean Shore.


The Machine in the Garden

Guide to themes







brevity of our civilization | Marx's themes | loss | errors | landscape of progress

The Machine in the Garden

Tools of Toil: what to read.
Tools are historical building blocks of technology.

Date: 2-14-08