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)