Two-ness

The storms that started south of Roanoke continued until soon after the big thunderclap around 2:00 this morning. We had been asleep for about four hours at Betty’s when it woke me up.

Nashville got seven inches of rain. Columbia got less, but enough wind to knock down power lines. Some of them and their poles occupied the right lane of a road we took from the spur to Betty’s. Police were blocking off lots of flooded roads.

What a walk! This morning I played the student of the vernacular landscape, a term John Stilgoe credits to John Brinckerhoff Jackson to mean the landscape “made and used by most people most of the time.”1 Stilgoe says anyone can do it:

“Unorganized, unafraid of mishap and getting lost, often appearing ignorant especially in front of locals, the few do what anyone can do—move along slowly, look, listen, think, and try to learn later about what turned up.”2

Or maybe it’s not so easy. Austen Allen quotes Stilgoe: “With care, inquirers can understand the landscape conjurings of others, but only rarely can they escape, even momentarily, the contemporary mindset.”3

Homogeneity is democracy’s cul-de-sac. It’s the dead end of the French Revolution with its concept of “le peuple,” which, as Hannah Arendt points out, carries “the connotation of a multiheaded monster, a mass that moves as one body and acts as though possessed by one will . . .”4

“It never ceases to surprise me how easy it is to leave the hybridity of the city and enter into all-white spaces, the homogeneity of which, as far as I can tell, causes no discomfort to the whites in them.” — Julius in Teju Cole’s Open City

White space is rarely public space in the United States. But much Black space is public space. “Let me be clear from the outset. We didn’t do this neighborhood to ourselves.” — Jean Luck Godard in John Edgar Wideman’s Fanon.

Sarah Daleiden wonders if “a Black landscape” is “a place that supports neighbors to focus on the civic so we can walk toward freedom from racism and the inequities and trauma it can trigger and produce in any of us.”5

Black landscapes can’t afford homogeneity. “All Americans can learn from people who have had to look at themselves with a two-ness,” Walter Hood says, reflecting on Du Bois’s famous term. “People should see that they themselves, and landscapes, have multiplicities: we should be moving through space that constantly reminds us that women are equal, that we owe responsibility to natives who were here beforehand, that Black hands built our landscape.”6

Landscape, as much as anything, “signifies how we personally come to something, to a place.”7

[Thank you, Bethany, for Black Landscapes Matter, edited by Walter Hood and Grace Mitchell Tada, University of Virginia Press, 2020.]

  1. Stilgoe, John R. What Is Landscape? (p. 211). MIT Press. Kindle Edition.
  2. Id. at 213.
  3. Allen, Austen. “Site of the Unseen: The Racial Gaming of American Landscapes.” Black Landscapes Matter, Walter Hood and Grace Mitchell Tada, Eds., Virginia, 2020, page 102.
  4. Arendt, Hannah. On Revolution. Penguin Classics, Penguin Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, page 84.
  5. Daleiden, Sara. “The Beerline Trail: Milwaukee, Wisconsin.” Black Landscapes Matter, Walter Hood and Grace Mitchell Tada, Eds., Virginia, 2020, page 154.
  6. Walter Hood. Afterword. Black Landscapes Matter, Walter Hood and Grace Mitchell Tada, Eds., Virginia, 2020, page 175.
  7. Allen, supra, page 129.