Monday, May 17, 2010

Body and soul in the garden

Philosophizing is like travelling in your mind. It is often full of unexpected experiences and often you do not know where it will bring you. And travelling can be a bit like philosophizing and bring you new experiences that make you think. Anyway, so it was for me last week. When my wife and I left for the Pyrenees, we did not expect that our actual roundtrip would end near the border with Belgium in the little town of Béthune near Lille. But so it happened. We had just arrived in the mountains in Southern France or the weather became so bad that we decided to turn back and to go where it was better and at least where it was dry. Thus we arrived in Central France, in the Loire region with its famous castles. After having visited Blois we went to the nearby Château de Chaumont. We had been there already a few years ago, but every year it organizes a garden festival with a new theme on its domain. This year’s theme was quite philosophical, body and soul, and I was curious how garden designers would interpret it. It is true, the distinction body-soul is not exactly the same as the distinction body-mind, one of my favourite fields of interest, but isn’t it so that already in the old days of Plato and Aristotle these concepts were seen as more or less the same?
The gardens were beautiful and interesting and what was striking for me was that the interpretation of the theme was very different from how a philosopher with an interest in analytical philosophy like me would have done it. This doesn’t mean, of course, that they were unphilosophical or nonphilosophical. They simply gave a different view. So no Cartesian gardens that tried to stress that body and soul are separate entities, or, criticizing Descartes, that they are just one, however such ideas might be expressed in a garden. What I saw were mainly gardens that stressed how gardens make you relax, how they influence your feelings and so your body. What was also striking was that most designers interpreted the body-soul relation this way, while there are lots of other ways for seeing the theme, of course, without thinking of a Cartesian or anti-Cartesian interpretation: a theological one, for example, where the soul is a divine essence seated in an earthly frame. To difficult to express in a garden design? Would I be able to that? And so I had a lot to think on my way to Chartres and then to Béthune, my last stop before going home.

1 comment:

Luzdeana said...

A garden made for philosophying about body and soul? That makes me very curious! Never heard something of that sort before. I imagine how much you must have enjoyed it! Any pics? I'm sure you took quite a number of them.
Interesting, Henk!