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Garden Thinking

Before delving into the materiality of specific gardens in this chapter, and before tarrying with Ruzzante and the Jesuits in Chapters 3 and 4, I want to introduce the garden as an epistemic epicenter around which a spatial dialectic assembles itself. In this sense, “dialectic” names the non-identity of opposite entities (that is, the extent to which two opposite forces, essences, materials, or concepts fuse disjunctively by merit of their precise differences from one another) as well as the art of inventing or arranging understandings of truth. Regarding the fusion of opposites, Enzo Cocco offers the following example: “In order to explore the form of the garden, it is necessary to undertake a double journey (inside and outside) and to examine the dialectic tension developing at its boundaries. The ‘ideal’ configuration of the enclosure must take into account what is contrary to it” (53). Not only do the meanings of gardens bloom through the labor of dialectical thinking; the garden also exists as dialectical space, as thought-made-spatial, insofar as its entire existence hinges on the differentiation and epistemic exclusivity between inside and outside, between the manicured landscape within the wall, hedge, or fence and the natural, unkempt terrain beyond. On some level, conscious or otherwise, dialectic garden space requests that its inhabitants contemplate not only how the exterior terrain conditions the possibility of the garden but also the extent to which the groomed, allegorical, constructed interior of the garden conditions nature itself. The relation between inside and outside, between nature and art in gardens, led Jacopo Bonfadio (in 1541) and later Bartolomeo Taegio (in 1559) to develop the term “third nature” to describe the event “in which nature becomes the creator of art and shares the essence of art. Together they produce something that is neither one nor the other, and is created equally by each” (Lazzaro 9).

Regarding the art of invention and arrangement embedded in dialect garden thinking and garden space, I turn to Marta Spranzi whose research reveals how, coeval and coincident with the explosion of baroque garden creations (including the 1545 establishment of the first botanical garden by decree of the Venetian government), Italian philosophers (such as Rudolph Agricola, Agostino Nifo, and Carlo Sigonio) turned to what she calls the art of dialectic (Spranzi 2). For Spranzi, the term “dialectic” evolves directly from Aristotle’s Topoi and “refers both to finding and ordering arguments in order to prove a given statement and (in a stronger sense) to finding out the truth itself” (9). This brief quotation contains terms brimming with meaning. “Finding” out the truth, for example, hints at the unclosed form of the dialectic. Though dialecticians seek to persuade others of truths in which they themselves fervently believe, the way to truth always shifts and turns, thus requiring artists of the dialectic to destabilize their thoughts and reestablish them through careful consideration of the matters at hand, to search and re-search for truth. Likewise, the phrase “ordering arguments” requires close attention. To argue, one must first assemble the materials of the argument. I think of this assembly as a type of gardening. With great care, the artist cultivates ideas from seed, arranges them in rows so that neighboring ideas can inform one another, and eventually presents the assortment of individual ideas as a whole. As Davidson mentioned, Jesuits like Kircher and Hawkins thought in a similar way. From Aristotle’s Topoi (“a place where different items can be arranged in an order that will aid in their subsequent recollection” [Spranzi 30]) to gardeners’ topiary (ornamental gardening) the art of dialectic entails a keen sense of arrangement and a willingness to perpetually re-arrange one’s thoughts.

To access the baroque pastoral and engage in the dialectical art of garden thinking, one must escape, or at least try to escape, the seductive abstraction of metaphor and, instead, dive into the materiality of the encounter with the gardens springing up in and around Venice during the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. A garden may refer to something else (something sexual, for example, as with Ruzzante) but it never merely stands in for this other entity, relationship, or concept. Rather, from the fertile tilth of the sixteenth and seventeenth-century garden springs an understanding of the world as a whole and as a non-abstract location in which we live. Michael Marder stresses this notion in the section of The Philosopher’s Plant devoted to Leibniz’s famous description (now synonymous with baroque thinking) of the interfolded architecture of the world: “every bit of matter [contains] a garden full of plants or a pond full of fish” (Monadology, Proposition 65). As Marder writes, “Every portion of matter is, in accordance with this image, a garden within a garden within a garden—and so on to infinity” (120). If we believe Marder’s compelling version of events, then Leibniz’s concepts (as well as Aristotle’s fascination with wheat, Augustine’s appraisal of pears, and Avicenna’s consideration of celery) do not live in a world of vague abstraction but emerge from the roots, fruits, flowers, plants, and pests of gardens. More than that, they emerge from and remain tethered to this ground. To overlook the ground and the tether is to misunderstand the realm of abstraction that hovers over the philosophies of these thinkers. To be precise, Marder cites the gardens of Herrenhausen in the Electoral Palace of Princess Sophie in Hanover where Carl August von Alvensleben set out to locate two leaves that were exactly alike. This episode does not merely act as a performed inquiry into Leibniz’s principle of the identity of indiscernibles; it also hints at how the principle arose in the first place and how it continued to shape individuals’ interactions with the world in which they live. Likewise, one might imagine that the topology abounding with “gar- den[s] full of plants” and “ponds full of fishes” climbed into Leibniz’s mind through careful perusal of specific gardens such as those of Herrenhausen. Building from Marder’s thoughts, baroque pastoral names an actual ground, one cultivated with dirt, plants, trees, poetry, literature, theatrical fare, spectacle, and philosophy, but not necessarily given over, despite the ingredients in that list entwined in the craft of fiction, to absolute abstraction. When poets do lose their way, when their ideas fail to reach back down into the ground, anxieties abound, such as in the case of Tasso whose allegorical craftsmanship reveals a feverish desire to tame nature’s bounty with art.

In the next chapter, baroque pastoral ground nurtures Angelo Beolco’s first play, appropriately named Pastoral. In Chapter 4, the same ground gives rise to the Jesuit brand of pastoral power developed to guide the souls of lost sheep who have strayed from the fold of the Church. Here, in the next section, I find baroque pastoral within two gardens that express the complexity of worlds-within-worlds envisioned by Leibniz and the dialectical qualities of garden thinking: Valsanzibio and Bomarzo. Not only do these gardens individually integrate a “multiplicity of phenomena” to “create a flux of things in perpetual becoming” (hallmarks of baroque gardens), they also speak to each other and welcome their visitors into the baroque pastoral limen at which art and nature comingle (Turner 224).

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