Death by Landscape

Tuan’s ninth chapter of Space and Place, “Time in Experiential Space,” seems at times as though it were written as a supplement to Margaret Atwood’s “Death by Landscape.” In the short story, the main character, Lois, is stuck in her past because of an experience from childhood that haunts her every day. As a girl, Lois went to camp with a girl named Lucy. On a canoe trip, Lucy mysteriously disappears off a lookout point in the forest and Lois is the only one who was there. She is made to feel responsible, and for this reason she carries the weight of Lucy’s lost life with her throughout every occurrence in her own life. This manifests itself in a collection of landscape paintings Lois keeps in her home. These landscapes serve as snapshots of where Lucy disappeared, and Lois feels that Lucy lives through the landscape paintings.

In this chapter, Tuan discusses many interesting concepts that pertain to Margaret Atwood’s story. He says that physical space has been called “spatialized time” (118). This feels like exactly what Lois was trying to do with her paintings. The physical space in which that terrible moment in Lois’ life took place represents that time period itself. Lois can’t let go of the landscapes because she can’t let go of that time and event. Tuan also discusses the difference between objective and subject space. Objective spaces are physical, tangible objects, while “subjective space belongs to the mental realm” (120). He says that “cyclical time—the movement of the sun and the pendulum swing of the seasons—is located on objective space” (120). However, for someone like Lois who is trapped in one moment, the passing of time has little bearing on her life. Yes, she marries and has children, but because she feels trapped with Lucy, she feels that her life has been lived for someone else… the passing of time is more subjective for Lois than objective.

What’s especially crucial in our discussion of “Death by Landscape” is Tuan’s discussion on the way time and space is perceived in a forest. He says that “in a dense forest environment… aural space is less focused. Forest sounds are not precisely located,” which could explain why Lois may not have been able to identify exactly where Lucy’s scream came from, why they didn’t hear the splashing of water or the falling of rocks, and why they never found Lucy (119). It would have also been extremely difficult to locate Lucy in the forest because there, “space… is a dense net of places with no overall structure” (119-120).

Finally, Tuan begins to discuss landscape paintings. He says that upon looking at a landscape painting, “we almost automatically arrange its components” to be able to set them in terms of our life (123). In a scene of a countryside, “we imagine ourselves traveling down [the] road” in the painting (123). This phenomenon couldn’t hold truer for Lois in the way she needs to keep the images of that moment with Lucy in her life, in her home, to constantly live through them and to allow Lucy, who she feels looks out at life through the paintings, to live and exist within them as well. By keeping the paintings around, Lois keeps herself in that moment, never letting go of Lucy or the moment her life changed forever.

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Published in: on March 24, 2011 at 11:41 am Comments (0)

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