A Heideggerian approach of landscape as dwelling in Breyten Breytenbach’s Nege landskappe van ons tye bemaak aan ’n beminde (1993)

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This article attempts to develop the theoretical approach of landscape as dwelling through analysing Breyten Breytenbach’s series of poems “dinkding” (“think-thing”) in Nege landskappe van ons tye bemaak aan ’n beminde [Nine landscapes bequeathed to a beloved] (1993) (NL 11–22). The approach of landscape as dwelling is derived from the anthropologist Tim Ingold’s “dwelling perspective”, inspired by Martin Heidegger’s essay “Bauen Wohnen Denken” (1952).

Ingold (2000:185–6) develops the dwelling perspective from Heidegger’s effort to regain the “original” perspective of dwelling, that is, to understand how our everyday activities of building – of cultivating and constructing things – belong to our dwelling in the world. This “original” perspective concerns itself with the idea that we do not dwell because we have built, but that we build because we are dwellers. From this, Ingold (2000:186) derives the foundation of his dwelling perspective:

[T]he forms people build, whether in the imagination or on the ground, arise within the current of their involved activity, in the specific relational contexts of their practical engagement with their surroundings.

Approaching landscape as dwelling is mainly concerned with the activities of mortals which form part of their dwelling on earth. To dwell suggests more than the mere fact of “accommodation”, however. Heidegger (2010:347–8) shows that dwelling is not limited to “the houses in themselves”: “The truck driver is at home on the highway, but he does not have his lodgings there” (Heidegger 2010:347). In the same way, housing gives “accommodation”, but is not in itself a “guarantee” for dwelling (Heidegger 2010:348).

What is the meaning of dwelling? Heidegger (2010:351) describes the “essence” of dwelling regarding the elements of what he calls “the fourfold” as follows:

To dwell, to be set at peace, means to remain at peace within the free, the preserve, the free sphere that safeguards each thing in its essence. The fundamental character of dwelling is this sparing. It pervades dwelling in its whole range. That range reveals itself to us as soon as we recall that human being consists in dwelling and, indeed, dwelling in the sense of the stay of mortals on the earth.

But “on the earth” already means “under the sky”. Both of these also mean “remain before the divinities” and include a “belonging to men’s being with one another”. By a primal oneness the four – earth and sky, divinities and mortals – belong together in one.

In summary, dwelling happens for mortals “[i]n saving the earth, in receiving the sky, in awaiting the divinities, in initiating the mortals” as part of the “fourfold preservation of the fourfold” (Heidegger 2010:353). However, dwelling is not “merely a staying on earth under the sky, before the divinities, among mortals”, but rather “always a staying with things (Heidegger 2010:353). From these passages, one can see why dwelling means more than the mere fact of accommodation: to dwell means to keep “the fourfold in that with which mortals stay: in things” (Heidegger 2010:353).

Ingold (2000:190) argues that landscape and dwelling are inextricably bound based on an analysis of what landscape is not: “It [landscape] is not ‘land’, it is not ‘nature’, and it is not ‘space’.” These distinctions bring about, as Wylie (2007:160) indicates, a phenomenological credo of landscape, rooted in everyday, embodied dwelling.

To foster a better understanding of dwelling, Ingold (2000:195) distinguishes between landscape and taskscape. Ingold (2000:195) defines a task as “any practical operation, carried out by a skilled agent in an environment, as part of his or her normal business of life”.

Because tasks are the constitutive acts of dwelling, this article pays specific attention to the analysis of the taskscape. Each task gets its meaning from the task’s specific position within an ensemble of tasks, performed in “series” or “parallel”, and mostly in combination with several other people contributing to the same task. The taskscape is this complete ensemble of tasks (Ingold 2000:195). The taskscape and the landscape are inherently part of the same process, but while a series of related characteristics constitute the landscape, a series of related activities constitute the taskscape (Ingold 2000:195). Acknowledging the fundamental temporality of the landscape diminishes the distinction between the taskscape and the landscape (Ingold 2000:201).

Breyten Breytenbach’s poem cycle “dinkding” consists of eleven poems that represent examples of Heidegger’s notion that dwelling is itself “always a staying with things” (Heidegger 2010:353). The title “dinkding/ ’n saamgestelde besinning” suggests a multifarious reflection about various things that produces thoughts about those things. In other words, the poems may indicate “things” that make thinking possible (thinking instruments), or “things” as the result of thinking. These poems can also be understood as thinking instruments of dwelling and building.

The first poem (NL 11) contains, for example, a landscape as a “think-thing”. The speaker looks through the window over the hills and says, “I am so proud of those hills/ as if I have drawn them myself” (lines 4–5, our translations). The speaker wants to claim the landscape scene as his own and capture it with his pride and drawing skills, but even more: he wants to recreate it in his own expression, thereby making it his product. In other words, the landscape scene is a thing that not only generates thoughts, but also produces things such as drawings that are the result of thinking.

The fourth poem (NL 14–5) illustrates how the landscape as the “solid form” (Ingold 2000:198) of the taskscape reveals artefacts as “thinking things”. Here the speaker mentions the prehistoric times of humankind and refers to “the denominators that trenched around the earth close by” (lines 11–2). The speaker compares the prehistoric times to a distant memory, because “hardly any pieces of bone” (line 15), and only “smoke-congealed dwelling caves” (line 16) and “mysterious figurines of the earth goddess” (line 18) remained as traces of the “denominators”. The landscape thus becomes a thing that congeals the past as a record of people who used to live there and inspires thoughts about prehistoric times.

In the seventh poem (NL 18) the speaker mentions the activity of digging, which links with the line “the patience that has been dug into such/ a landscape” (lines 2–3). This line indicates a continuous taskscape and the activities of the mortals in proximity with the earth. The typographical white in the poem relates to the way in which the speaker digs meaning into the landscape as if the poem itself were the land. The typographical white emphasises the slow process of growth in the vineyards and the way the fourfold gets preserved in “the truncated vineyards” (line 4) that “shows” (line 4) their “green leaves” (line 5) only with the passing of time.

Approaching landscape as dwelling, emphasising everyday activities and the relationship of mortals with the elements of the fourfold, is a productive reading strategy for understanding Breytenbach’s series of poems. However, the approach can be criticised for its human-centredness, focusing on the “lifeworld” of human subjects. Although the world exists beyond subjectivity, humans cannot experience the world beyond subjectivity.

Keywords: Breytenbach, Breyten; dwelling; fourfold; Heidegger, Martin; Ingold, Timothy; landscape; taskscape

Lees die volledige artikel in Afrikaans: ’n Heideggeriaanse benadering van landskap as woon in Breyten Breytenbach se Nege landskappe van ons tye bemaak aan ’n beminde (1993)

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