Landscape is neither in space, nor is it of space. Indeed, landscape had to be evacuated and erased in order for space to come into being. In this regard, space is a historical fiction that is all too real in its consequences. Space was formed as conceptual space through a historical process that involved the invention of writing, the development of mathematics, and the rise of capitalism and colonialism. Before that there was only landscape. However, while a certain form of humanity is a necessary condition for the emergence of space, landscape is in no way dependent on the human nor any other living being. Where space is a epistemic category, a cultural category, landscape was there well before any humans or any other living beings existed and will be there long after the demise of all these beings. Landscape is in no way dependent on the gaze of the artist nor those that dwell within it.
Space is an abstraction, a subtraction of all difference, and therefore an idea, a system of signification. As a subtraction of all difference, it is the form of form, or the possibility of absolute exchange. The formation of the form of form was a necessary condition for the rise of the commodity. The form of form is the milieu of identity, of the same, required for the institution of generic equivalence as the core unit of being. Through the institution of the form of form as that which renders everything comparable and exchangeable, as that which institutes the brute repetition of the same at all levels of civilization, the infinitude– not withdrawal –that resides in each thing or being is veiled and the attempt is made to tame and master all that exists. Beings are reduced to a handful of variables such as their extension. The obsession with repetition known as “quality control” or the reign of the generically repeated for each instantiation in the order of time comes into being. One place becomes the same as any other, for in reality space is without place. Everything therefore becomes comparable according to a value, even people and all other living things.
That which fails to fit the form of exchange and equivalence instituted by the form of form becomes so much rotten produce to be thrown away as quickly as possible. Alternatively, the a-formed becomes the site of social and industrial problems to be re-formed through institutions, pharmaceuticals, psychiatry, etc: the problem student, miscreant, the junkie, delinquent, the homeless, the mad, etc. Art, of course, also speaks to that which isn’t of the order of space or the form of form. Where, prior to the emergence of space, art probably had a religious signification marking the site of the Real in landscape, with the institution of space art comes to be that which continues to mark the place of landscape in opposition to the inexorable expansion of space. This took place in painting, music, poetry, true architecture, and literature. Art marks another Real in the age of space and bears witness to it. Even as it is exchanged and transformed into a commodity, it continues to index that which cannot be exchanged or that which is without any sort of exchange value; sometimes going so far as to invent that which is without exchange-value. In poetry, for example, a strange language that doesn’t communicate in Habermas’s sense of the word, but that nonetheless resonates and landscapes the language within which we dwell.
What can be said of landscape in the age of space? It is difficult to say precisely because language is a form of exchange and equivalence– this is the teaching of the first movement of Hegel’s discussion of sense-certainty in the Phenomenology –and therefore any wording of landscape is already transforms it into equivalence. The corporate restaurant chain attempts to transform the Brooklyn dive bar into a general equivalent that can be found in every mall in the country, all the way down to vintage metal advertisements hung haphazardly on the wall. No doubt the chemical companies will soon even find a way to make perfect synthetic dust that can be artfully placed upon these old advertisements, milk bottles, airplane propellers, and so on so as to create the perfect illusion of that place that belongs to the neighborhood.
Of landscape we can say this: Landscape pervades the entire universe and is another name for cosmos or being. However, landscape is not space. While it is everywhere, unlike space that is a milieu of in-difference, equivalence, or exchange, landscape is a milieu of difference and the inexchangeable. Where space strives to create a system of equivalences that transforms the infinitude that dwells within things into finitude subject to mastery and commodification, landscape is the infinitude within things, their absolute singularity and contingency, that is without equivalent. It is characterized by texture, intensity, or haecceity. Where space is the de-inviduation of all beings so they might all be rendered comparable, landscape is always individuated and perpetually engages in individuating processes. Where space is without history and is the erasure of all natural and cultural history, space is always historical whether at the level of culture or the natural. Landscape is that which is at odds with all reproduction– in Benjamin’s sense of the word; and The Arcades Project was a profound exploration of landscape –and is therefore without repetition, even if everywhere it reproduces itself through all sorts of onto-cartographical processes.