Radical Difference

There is one other important concept that underlies that seems to underlie the theory of landscape instrumentalism; that of radical difference.  This is built on a foundation of Deleuzian philosophy and the idea of an affirmative definition of difference:

Negation is difference, but difference seen from its underside, seen from below.  Seen the right way up, from top to bottom, difference is affirmation.  This proposition, however, means many things:  that difference is an objects of affirmation, that affirmation itself is multiple… It is not the negative which is the motor.  Rather, there are positive differential elements which determine the genesis of both the affirmation and the difference affirmed.  It is precisely the fact that there is a genesis as such which escapes us every time we leave affirmation in the undetermined, or put determination in the negative. [p 67]

[oyster shell cages near Baton Rouge, Louisiana, acting as erosion control; notice the difference creates between sediment deposition on the land side and the river side]

General applications of Deleuzian philosophy have been explored in landscape practice for a least two decades, although the concept of positive difference has remained relatively unexplored.  Levi Bryant, a Deleuzian object-oriented philosopher, writes at length about an idea called the ontic principle.  This principle makes clear that objects have an effect on the world, and this effect supersedes any intention from another object that they may carry with them.  No mere vehicle for the mep engineer that specified its installation, a silt fence may be installed around a perimeter to reduce off-site sedimentation, but it will always have more effects than intended.  And it is this fact that landscape instrumentalism is attempting to wrestle with.

By theorizing every object in the landscape as an instrument- including people, rats, tennis shoes, silt fences, plane trees, and building facades- landscape instrumentalism works to grapple specifically with the forms and effects of every single specific instrument through the development and application of techniques and conceptual tools.  As a for instance, if a particular textile is imagined as a tensile device for guiding rainwater and stormwater and this textile-instrument is considered in terms of the conceptual triad (form-effect-assemblage), then the actual textile might actually be a range of different materials.  However, the same material applied in a different way- perhaps as a shading device- would be considered a radically different instrument because its effects are radically different.  (Admittedly, this is not a new realization, but theorizing it opens up new possibilities in the design process, and ultimately the creation of new types of landscapes).

The theory must be further elaborated (at some point) but if for a moment it can be accepted, then the work of the designer is left to two areas:  (1) determining which instruments are actionable, accessible, or otherwise important to model, trace, map, and develop possibilities with, and (2) understanding at which point changes in the assembly of instruments introduces a radical change in the landscape and fundamentally alters the type of landscape itself (the form, the effects, or the assemblage it takes part in).  This brings up the necessity of the concept of radical difference; deciding it, and recognizing when something else decides it. This concept is something which shall be further explored in the future, but for now it is useful to take the example that is the object of this study- the Riachuelo.

[the Riachuelo was once a bathing promenade and resort located on the outskirts of town, promising mid-20th century relief from the bustling industrial core in Buenos Aires]

The Riachuelo was originally a sinuous river, then remade as an ad-hoc industrial thru-way, later fashioned into a full-fledged industrial shipping canal and port facility, then taking the form of a sanitation canal, and finally becoming a remediated site that generates new port economies and park ecologies throughout the river basin.  At what point does it stop becoming the Riachuelo landscape?  This is contingent, based on the project.  Ultimately one could argue that it always persists- the Riachuelo is the riachuelo landscape.  But what if the water course is diverted?  The low part of the city floods?  Or the river dries up completely?

Ultimately this seems to be a topological question, one concerned with processes of continual change over time.  It calls for a reckoning in landscape practice with the fact that all of the various conceptual forms might be actually the same, or relatively irrelevant, but simple changes in maintenance practices, municipal funding, or erosion control regimes can summon an entirely new landscape.  This understanding requires a position, a politics of design, and a realization of the statement by Graham Harman that “you can never go back in space, but you can always go back in time.”  The specificity required by this realization is attempted in this landscape instrumentalism project through the instrument table and the correlation wheel in particular.  In the future I imagine many more and better techniques might be developed.  

The ethical implications of this theory that says everything, even humans, in a landscape is to be understood as an instrument must be addressed, and for this the concept of radical difference must be addressed. Through the theory of instruments it is possible to understand that an instrument is not a dumb receiver of intentions but rather an object with its own agency, that can only be partially perceived at any moment. Landscape instrumentalism is a theory that valorizes the singular.  It is a queer theory that pursues difference instead of seeking normalcy or totalizing concepts.  Landscape instrumentalism is a materialist theory, one that places execution on equal footing with conceptualization.

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