Lawn Gone Manifesto

“The Manifesto of Surrealism,” and for that matter all of the manifestos of the avant-garde, belong to the tradition of the discourse on method.  A comparison of Breton’s manifesto with the various classics of method reveal that they tend to include a common set of elements, which are representable for mnemonic reference by the acronym CATTt (Ulmer, 1991b).  The CATTt includes the following operations:

C = Contrast (opposition, inversion, differentiation)

A = Analogy (figuration, displacement)

T = Theory (repetition, literalization)

T = Target (application, purpose)

t = Tale (secondary elaboration, representability)

[Heuretics, 8]

CONTRAST.

The front lawn symbolized the collective face of suburbia the back-yard its private aspect.  In the back, you could do pretty much whatever you wanted, but out front you had to take account of the community’s wishes and its self-image.  Fences and hedges were out of the question: they were considered antisocial, unmistakable symbols of alienation from the group.  One lawn should flow unimpeded into another, obscuring the boundaries between homes and contributing to the sense of community.  It was here in the front lawn that “like-mindedness” received its clearest expression.  The conventional design of a suburban street is meant to forge the multitude of equal individual parcels of land into a single vista – a democratic landscape.  To maintain your portion of this landscape was part of your civic duty.

[Michael Pollan, Second Nature, On Long Island in the late 1950’s]

ANALOGY

A sub-urban front lawn should take account of the community’s wishes and its self-image, but it should do so according to what we, as a community, know about the darker aspects of wishes and wish-fulfillment [‘Careful what you wish for” cf. the myth of the Pied Piper].  Our lawns should express the theory, which also came to a prominant position in American popculture in the 1950’s via psychoanalysis, that our self-images contain paradoxes and blind spots.

THEORY

The conventional design of a suburban street is meant to forge the multitude of equal individual parcels of land into a single vista – a democratic landscape.

‘Multitude’ is more complicated in the same way that wishes and self-image are.  Hardt and Negri’s attempts to articulate the conditions under which a joyful Global Democracy might emerge is theory about what it will take to ‘forge the multitude’ in a world organized by Global Capitalism.  I am under the impression that the theory of the ‘Multitude’ calls for an alternative to the implicit homogeneity of a ‘single vista’, namely a political dimension made up of heterogeneous political entities, each with their own agendas, all working against the homogenization that certain kinds of Capitalism bring about.

TARGET

Without making large scale policy suggestions – no prescriptions for the whole world – it seems safe to say that the American Lawn is an artifact of a bygone era and should give way to some kind of diversified expression of our current communal values.  In Boulder there is already a movement underway that fits this programmatic, at least partially.  Community Roots is a distributed multi-plot suburban farm that gives local landowners a way to introduce local labor into the food economy and to strengthen communal identity in the forms of CSA’s, farmers markets, and other local food sharing institutions.  The organization’s conversions of lawn space into food producing gardens definitely expresses the community’s dissatisfaction with an economy that depends of fossil-fuel for food production and transportation.  What may benefit this movement, in addition to hard work and soil toil, which definitely will benefit the movement – What may help is an electrate tale [a blog] that works to place the movement in a historical context, and that will figure a way to express some of the more ambiguous, unspeakable dimensions of growing plants in a deeply wired transition town.

TALE

Ethan Brand finds himself guilty of the Unpardonable Sin.  First a 19th century iteration, now a 21st century iteration of the myth of the Original Sin for which AdamEve was expelled from the Garden.  The garden, as the replacement for the suburban lawn, is a site of avant-garde activity.

“If gardening is an exploration of a place close to home, being a teenager is an exploration of mobility, and these two approaches to place, or home, are bound sooner or later to come into conflict… Much of gardening is a[n attempt at] return, an effort at recovering remembered landscapes.”   Gardening is an activity for Theoria, an exploration of a place to find out for one’s self what is going on in the world, as opposed to being at the mercy of global market speculation.

The tale goes that Ethan Brand is convinced that his Sin of abortive romance deserves a recompense of immortal agony, and his tale ends with self-commitment to a fiery furnace or a portal.  If the sub-urban gardens of Boulder don’t figure this tale exactly, they should at least figure some of it’s ambiguity.  There is ample cultural and experiential evidence to believe [and theory is the production of belief via supra-scientific pain sensing] that there are portals to ‘Other’ dimensions that play a part in this tale, and this is a direction for further research.  In trying to imagine a public understanding of what it might mean to pass through a portal to the ‘Other’ dimension, I get the impression that the lawns wont be the only thing that get gone.

Gate Gate Para Gate Para-sam Gate Bodhi Svaha

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