By nature we mean the infinite interconnectedness of objects, the uninterrupted creation and destruction of forms, the flowing unity of an event that finds expression in the continuity of temporal and spatial existence. When we designate a part of reality as nature, we mean one of two things. It can mean an inner quality marking it off from art and artifice, from something intellectual or historical. Or we intend it as a representation and symbol of that wholeness of Being whose flux is audible within them. To talk of ‘a piece of nature’ is in fact a self-contradiction. Nature is not composed of pieces. It is the unity of a whole. (…)

As far as landscape is concerned, however, a boundary, a way of being encompassed by a momentary or permanent field of vision, is quite essential. Its material foundation or its individual pieces may simply be regarded as nature. But conceived of as a ‘landscape’, it demands a status for itself, which may be optical, aesthetic or mood-centred. (…) To conceive of a piece of ground and what is on it as a landscape, this means that one now conceives of a segment of nature itself as a separate unity, which estranges it from the concept of nature.(…)

That one part of a whole should become a self-contained whole itself, emerging out of it and claiming from it a right to its own existence, this in itself may be the fundamental tragedy of spirit. This condition came into its own in modernity and assumed the leading role in the processes of culturalization. Underlying the plurality of relationships that interconnect individuals, groups and social formations, there is a pervading dualism confronting us: the individual entity strives towards wholeness, while its place within the larger whole only accords it the role of a part. (…)

Out of this arise countless struggles and disunities in our social and technical-practical, intellectual and moral lives. Yet, that same form, in relation to nature, produces the conciliatory richness of landscape. Here is something individual, contained, self-contented, that at the same time continues to adhere to the whole of nature and its oneness without contradiction. It cannot be denied, however, that landscape only comes into being in a process whereby the Life that pulsates within our perceptions and emotions tears itself away from the homogeneity of nature. The specific object thereby created and transposed onto quite a new level then, so to speak, from within itself opens up again towards that total-Life and re-absorbs the infinite into its still intact boundaries.

Georg Simmel, The Philosophy of Landscape (1913)


Kare-sansui (dry landscape) zen garden at Ryōan-ji (circa 1480)

(Photo by Cquest – Own work)