Coloured Parasols

He saw all right, but what did he see? I opened out a copy of the National Geographic Magazine, and asked him to describe some pictures in it. His eyes darted from one thing to another, picking up tiny features, as he had picked up the pin. A brightness, a color, a shape would arrest his attention and elicit comment, but it was always details that he saw – never the whole. And these details he ‘spotted’, as one might spot blips on a radar screen.

He had no sense of a landscape or a scene.

I showed him the cover, an unbroken expanse of Sahara dunes.

‘What do you see here? – I asked.

‘I see a river,’ he said. ‘And a little guesthouse with its terrace on the water. People are dining out on the terrace. I see colored parasols here and there.’ He was looking, if it was ‘looking’, right off the cover, into mid-air, and confabulating non-existent features, as if the absence of features in the actual picture had driven him to imagine the river and the terrace and the colored parasols.

Oliver Sacks, The Man who Mistook his Wife for a Hat (1985)

Just the example of a person that, having a disease is not able to perceive the landscape gives us an idea of the complex process and implications of our inner construction of landscapes. But it gives us the idea so discussed in the second mid of the twentieth century that it should be “not real” and “real” landscapes. The last should be the ones that the very structure of our brain is prepared to perceive and understand. 

Christo and Jeanne-Claude, The Umbrellas, California (1984-1991)