Since his wife died – a socialist who still held him in check – my French neighbour and friend in our very small hamlet has refused to vote. In his eyes all politicians are robber barons and cheats.


Now that the battle for the French presidency between Macron and Le Pen is on, I listen to his same old song, this time with some cute different little lyrics: Choosing between these two – so he says – is ‘voting for either the pest or for the cholera’. The difference – my neighbour and friend then adds, this for my pleasure – is that the cholera at least has some antidote.


But voting he won’t.


When still in the Netherlands I pondered the same question, even though with us it is not the presidency which was at stake, but the size of political fractions in parliament and the possible participation of a party in a coalition government. A few months long I claimed not to go and vote. In the end I did.


Abstentionism, if I may coin that word, always favours the wrong guys. The Brexit Referendum is a perfect example. So many young people whose interest it is to stay in Europe did not put their fiches into the urns. Also the cheating of those into voting wrongly will be sourly remembered. In the Netherlands it is that silly man with his platinum-whitened hair who seduces the fools, together with some other nationalist intellectuals.




Now, the interesting thing about France this Sunday is the still great contrast between La France Profonde – farmers’ territory – and the towns. France has always known a strong anarcho-syndicalist movement. And anarchism in whatever shade tends to be against parliamentarism.


Enzensberger – in his fine book on Spanish anarchism The Short Summer of Anarchy – argues convincingly that this anarchism is the result of the existence of a vast labour force that is or not all too long ago has been made up of agricultural workers. Anarchists always splinter and by not voting they let right-wing forces come into governmental power.


Such traditions have a long life and extent into  the present. This tradition holds that power should be ‘with the people’, that no hierarchy or parties should be organized. Action now and here is their motto.


So, with this anarchist mood in Deep France still very much present, one may expect that Le Pen gets more votes than might first be expected from the results in the first round. Many of those in the campagne who voted for left-wingers the first time, will now follow their root instinct and probably abstain.


One does not choose between the pest and the cholera – their alibi.


6.5/2017 La Roche





OUTOPOS – Herder in Wörlitz

You may say, that thanks to his remarks the park grew and became richer. In advance already did he recognize what the new and growing plantings promised to become like. No spot was neglected where some thing of beauty could still be made to stand out or added to the garden.

Goethe, Die Wahlverwandtschaften



One thing is certain – Utopia is nowhere.

Some have designed their utopias to exist – one of these days. Others are invented never to come alive. Then again, there are also utopias expressly intended by their creators to realize a dream. In all cases, however, Utopia is simply nowhere, a non-place and thus pure future. No jam today, always jam tomorrow.

There is no way of testing the truth of a Utopia, no manner of predicting its effectiveness. Only what meets today’s requirements and needs can possibly be verified. Anyone claiming that art is an experiment with history is using a metaphor. The elusiveness and largesse of art’s objects exclude all testing. After all, an experiment presumes the possibility and ability to vary a number of variables. Art as such, however, is completely variable and always individual. Art is always utopian.



One chilly April day, sitting in my hotel room in French Fontaine-Chaalis, I wrote the following words on the back of a postcard showing an autumnal garden:

How strange, a world so bitter and cruel, yet covered with so many genuine paradises. Oh Garden Artists throughout the ages, Thou painters with brushes large as weeping willows and pigments fragrant as hyacinths – You are the greatest utopians ever!

That very day my colleague and I had already visited the gardens of Beloeil in the south-west of Belgium, now we were a stone’s throw away from the park of Ermenonville. The noble creators of these two parks, Messrs De Ligne and De Girardin, enjoyed their gardens thoroughly, they were considered a resting place for lost souls who wandered in from faraway cities.

Their owners, moreover, regarded these parks as true topoi, each a locus amoenus or beguiling spot which should encourage and spur its visitors to organize their own lives and their own society in accordance with the polished version of ‘nature’ as they found it here.

Intended not as ou-topos they were- a spot that never had existed and never would exist anywhere – but rather as a sort of zone liberated by guerrilleros from which goodness would spread throughout the whole wide world. Prince Franz wanted the realm of his Anhalt-Dessau to be ein Gartenreich, one great garden empire covered with paradises that would one day spread out to become Paradise period.

A noble guerrilla, for sure.




Curiously enough, it was precisely in the fact of their practical expectation of realizing such dreams that the unrealistic and utopian aspect of their ideas may be explored. When in the second half of the 18th century such noble Gentlemen began to lay out their first wild English Gardens, their social class – the aristocracy – was already doomed, certainly in France but if seen in a slightly longer time perspective also elsewhere else in Europe. Even in their own eyes all evidence pointed that way.

While in 1790, under the glorious Provence skies and in the very year after the beginning of the French Revolution, the Seigneur of Gémenos Jean Baptiste Albertas was giving a party in honour of his villagers, they murdered him in of all places his own garden. Yet, a slaughter of this kind still had the charm of being personal, bearing in mind that hundreds of kilometres further north not long after this gruesome event the nobility was to be killed en masse and almost anonymously.

This was done on the assembly line of the scientifically developed guillotine, a device that as a contemporary aptly remarked cut off heads with the speed of a wink. Perhaps, those who killed Jean Baptiste thought that with their Lord still alive the ‘better society’ as represented by his garden could simply not be realized.

Even before that time though, the gardens of Prince Franz and Jean-Baptiste were already ou-topoi or non-places. After all, their views on an ideal society and the notions entertained by ‘their people’ were rather different. The ‘modern age’ that was about to dawn or had perhaps already started was urban and industrial rather than feudal, rural and idyllic.

Meanwhile, the paradises – or rather the miniature paradises in the shape of gardens like Wörlitz, Ermenonville, Beloeil and Le Désert de Retz – had lost their exemplary function. They no longer stood for a ‘better society’ but had degenerated into places of pilgrimage for nostalgic visitors who no longer possessed the allegorical power of their 18th-century predecessors.

Despite his misgivings the gardens of De Ligne survived the Revolution unscathed, however somewhat later they yet disappeared. Utopian as they always had been, they now became an ou-topos in a double sense: not only were they no longer kept, along with the Revolution ‘people of sentiment’ whom their designers had in mind had also disappeared. Nobody could understand the deep meaning of all those follies any longer…



All is flux – one cannot step into the same river twice, however one can do so twice in the River Rhine. Even when walking the gardens of Beloeil today, you are not walking in the gardens of De Ligne. In full bloom, yet nature morte. This even applies in a stronger sense to all the gardens that became incomplete, where follies or fabriques were not maintained or even have been demolished.




Just as the rise of the genre of the English Garden was not an instantaneous affair, its specimen in Wörlitz was not created in one stroke. The garden revolution began with a rather Dutch-sounding text, written in 1685 by William Temple:

In laying out the gardens, great sums may be thrown away without effect or honour if they want sense in proportion to money; or if nature be not followed; which I take to be the great rule in this, and perhaps in everything else …

 Whether the greatest of mortal men should attempt the forcing of nature, may best be judged by observing how seldom God Almighty does it himself, by so few true , and undisputed miracles as we see or hear of in this world.

This process of slow transformation of the French style of gardening – in England often known as Dutch Garden – into the natural English version involved the disappearance of a garden confined within walls with its formal flower beds, fruit trees, neat rows of plants and bushes, in favour of an idealized ‘total landscape’ sometimes called a ‘country park’.

Early 18th-century German literature was trying to express this growing feeling for ‘nature’. Such intensification, however, was not yet reflected in the period’s aristocratic gardens which, longer than those in England, remained formal and organized according to ‘the French taste’. One of the reasons for this was the fact that at the critical moment – around 1750 – the German antiquarian Winckelmann’s plea for ‘the Greek taste’ gave rise to a new German classicism, preventing the change towards the ‘English’ style.

The Wörlitz estate – the first German garden to become ‘English’ – consists of several gardens, a few of which are still geometrical, while the rest is in the English style. Work on them started in 1764, the geometrically laid out gardens being established first. The work on the much larger English park followed in stages, this after in 1770 great floods around the Elbe had occurred which actually triggered this garden revolution. A flower garden, several lakes and large areas of arable and pasture land were incorporated, bordered by a variety of trees.

Around 1770 you would still find French styled gardens at all small German royal courts, either stretched to its high-spirited rococo limits, or with a Baroque Garden fragmented into a number of smaller gardens, however still  geometrically designed. By that time, in England the type of ‘natural’ garden had already become quite popular. Prior to and during the construction of his gardens Prince Franz von Anhalt-Dessau and his advisors had even made four study trips to that British Isle. The Prince also considered to settle there with his maîtresse. However, regal form triumphed over bourgeois frivolity and folly so in the end he married a real Princess.

A remarkable contrast exists between model and imitation it was – between on the one hand his English ‘colleagues’ and on the other hand the German minor monarch Franz. The English landed gentry was largely made up of nouveaux riches, upstarts who had seized both the opportunity to become capitalist industrial entrepreneurs and take hold of a title, this at a moment of history, when the system of feudalism was definitively breaking down and parliamentary democracy began to take root, however not yet giving all too much power to the common people.

In Germany, by contrast, the top layer of society felt most uncomfortable about the bad example which rebellious people in France and elsewhere had given their own nationals, even though there was no revolutionary zeal in Germany yet. Smaller states, such as Weimar and Dessau, were ruled by ‘enlightened’, albeit still ‘absolute’ princes who had succeeded in buying out their nobles’ competition while brushing them aside. However, quite a few of these small princes did contemplate the handing over some influence to their people. They could afford the promotion of the arts and attempted to raise their people’s health, knowledge and skills.

Purveyors of culture, often members of the nobility, pursued Winckelmann’s classicism; the progressive bourgeoisie was looking mainly to English comfort. Prince Franz somehow managed to represent these two different levels of his population in his one royal person.




Apart from a Country Seat in Park Wörlitz built in the classical Palladian style, the Prince had also planned a Gothic Mansion. Here he withdrew himself among his old treasures and the family memento’s. Like the entire park, this country house was also open to the common man. His contemporary Boettiger wrote in a commentary: Man genoss doppelt, denn man genoss mit Hunderten. [You were enjoying yourself doubly so, as you enjoyed it with hundreds.]




In his novel Die Wahlverwandtschaften Goethe described (1809) this transformation of countryside into country park as mainly the pastime of a bored aristocracy. This, however, does not apply to Wörlitz. Prince Franz’ Gartenreich is rather unique, because he radicalized the inclination already present in the works of the Brit Pope, to unite the Useful with the Beautiful and the Pleasing.

Anhalt-Dessau under Franz’s reign presents us with the picture of an educational project integrating culture, medicine and farming. The primacy of the Beautiful, which had applied since Horace, was now reversed. There is nothing in this park purely for its aesthetic effect – everything is either immediately useful, with cultivation, grazing and growing going on right in the park; or indirectly so, with every scene designed to educate the people.

In a letter from 1770, addressed to the philosopher D’Alembert, the Prusian King Friedrich wrote rather egotistically,

that it is a waste of energy to enlighten humanity. One should be content with being wise oneself, provide of course that one is capable of it. Folly must be left to the rabble, and one must keep them form crime because that disturbs the social order.

While, in the same vein, ‘enlightened’ David Hume believed that the common people could be irrational and religious; while Voltaire wondered how far one could go in trying to fool the people; while Schiller believed that, despite his proposal fort a Aesthätische Erziehung des Menschen [Aesthetic education of Man], it would take centuries to enlighten the common people, Franz and his advisers begged to disagree.

In contrast with these insights they adopted a strategy in which, also contrasting with the British solution, the park was there not only for the pleasure of its owner. They allowed the garden to descend the social ladder and invited ‘their people’ to enjoy it. The garden was expressly aimed at public education.




In Wörlitz repression was ‘trained to fit the Zeitgeist’, to use Sloterdijk’s words. It was most certainly not the intention of Prince Franz’ Gartenreich to instigate a revolution.

With an inscription on an imitation urn atop an imitation island in the Wörlitzer park, Franz praised the Frenchman Rousseau:

He instilled common sense into foolish fellows, he instructed the sensualist in genuine pleasure, he referred erring art back to the simplicity of nature, the doubter to comfort and revelation – all with manly eloquence.







The German philosopher J.G. von Herder was also given a memorial island. He had rewritten the ideas Rousseau on individual education, turning them into a pedagogy of the people which he interpreted as ‘an education of the heart’ as well as an ‘education of the whole of humanity’.

Bildung in short, a process that naturally unfolds in stages, each one taking up a whole ‘era’. This should have heartened good Father Franz, as he was sometimes called – after all, Herder was interpreting 18th-century despotism in a positive way. He called it the ‘fatherly hand’ so needed by ‘the childhood of humanity’.

Kent’s pioneering English Gardens contained multiple perspectives involving scene after scene. 18th-century garden theorist and neo-Gothicist Horace Walpole commented on them in his essay On Modern Gardening:

Prospect, animated prospect is the theatre that will always be the most frequented. An open country is but a canvas on which a landscape might be designed.

Kent’s individual scenes each have their own viewpoint or a line of sight without becoming overly forceful. However, the natural transition from one scene to the next also manages to give them a common harmony. We know that before they started on Wörlitz, Franz and his advisers had seen Kent’s gardens. Herder, who had his own unique views on the relative value of different cultures, appears to have been a solid source of inspiration for the pedagogical theory that fed the Wörlitzer set-up. Here then Herder’s cultural relativism was married off to Kent’s garden  philosophy, both connected with Franz’ Gartenreich.

To anyone who asks which has been the happiest nation in recorded history, Herder replies that every nation has its own high point of happiness – one sort of happiness is not ‘happier’ than another. The measure of happiness is certainly not technological progress, but rather the happiness of each person and the contentment of the whole of humanity. This point of view considers Winckelmann’s idea of a privileged Classical Greek period as being superior to others just as stupid as placing one’s own epoch on a pedestal, as did the Enlightened philosophers of the Age of Reason.

Italy is the theatre most instructive as to the various epochs of the world … Here you come upon the Egyptians, Greeks, Romans an Etruscans … Travel provides us with a catalogue of what survived.

Herder’s own trip to Italy, made in 1788, ended however in major disappointment. Face to face with the remains of Antiquity, he suddenly found these to be stagnant pools in a dead sea. His own philosophy, by contrast, focused on the living ideas of each period. He rejected as ‘foolishness’ all forms of nostalgia and Sehnsucht for the past.

Herder’s aversion to France and ‘French taste’ is remarkable. He called it Gallicomania and regarded it as the glorification of an ideal of life that is certainly not part of the German national tradition. In Germany it can only be borrowed and thus unnatural. Cynically he noted with regard to the French fashion: Every little Court must be a Versailles. Included in his scorn Herder had also the French Garden style in mind. For him the Gothic manner of construction is the true metaphor for natural growth of both language and folk culture – little by little, unplanned, everywhere each in its own individual way.

What nature cannot stop, the gardener cannot curb.

A wise prince must therefore take the responsibility of managing nature; he must not go against her. Herder’s God is to be found both in nature and history, two entities connected by a spiritual bond. Against this background his rejection of any revolution may be understood. When it comes to the regeneration of humanity, the buzzword ‘revolution’, en vogue at that time, is completely unacceptable for him: it is unnatural because it upsets the vibrant circulation of sap in the Tree of State.

Given that radical intervention in naturally evolved cultures is totally unacceptable, Herder recommended education through character formation, this by way of the measured guidance by what he calls a wise Father-Gardener. His concept of individualization is rather broad. Each nation is considered as the individualisation of the whole of humanity; within a single nation every person needs to be individualized and have a character. Individualisation of nations takes place under the pressure of their particular climate:

An atmosphere that surrounds us, an electric lake in which we live. Both are in perpetual motion … There, in the place were their sons have migrated and settled over thousands of years, they take root – like trees that have special leaves and fruits suited to the climate.

The true man of God is – still according to Herder – more likely to feel his weaknesses rather than to wallow in his positive powers. In other words: such a man is educable. Education is not about disciplinary regimentation, it is all about formation of individual character.

Social class merely produces puppets; personality, however, provides value and merit, to be understood as a person’s full value, his civic usefulness … full of healthy ideas and warm and joyful tendencies instead of external morality.

In this context, the influence of the arts on people is crucial, in particular the influence of the art of gardening. In his critical debate with Immanuel Kant, Herder emphasized that art is not just an artistic game played with our imagination; it is instrumental in forming character. Natural beauty is absolute, our feeling for it is innate. However, its shape in the forms of people’s tastes is determined by the environment. Art, then, is an vital part of these surroundings considered as our cultural climate.

Herder’s analysis of the significance of the various senses in relation to the arts is important. The philosophers tend to give primacy to the visual. This, however, is our most detached, our coolest sense. Hearing and touch bring us far more directly in contact with the substance and form of things. Kant, in his Aesthetics, had already claimed that the essence of architecture and of the art of gardening lies in the drawing. Undoubtedly, he had the formal French garden in mind.

Ideally, one may conjecture, a Formal Garden must indeed be viewed from a static point, situated on the platform in front of the House, that is: as if the garden were a drawing. For Herder, however, perfection is the essence of any art, including the art of gardening – perfection as the essence of form. For Kant, on the other hand, aesthetic satisfaction is merely a play of forms.

Among the five liberal arts Herder registers the gardener’s art, while according to Kant could never be a real art at all, being too useful, too utilitarian.

In this context Herder’s unique consideration of the sublime is of interest, i.e. the experience of the many in one. The more unity in the experience there is, the more for him it is sublime. For Kant the visual sense is especially susceptible of the sublime, so painting, architecture and sculpture can best achieve this effect. Missing in his list is gardening.

For Herder the garden is abundance of the many par excellence, the involvement of all the senses, particularly those of smell and touch, but even those of taste for anyone who quenches his thirst with a few dewdrops or honey leaves.

Unity effects the sublime, as seen in the unity of the French Garden; multitude and abundance however provide us with the beautiful, which for Herder happens in the English Garden, presented as something organically grown and therefore not primarily sublime. However, one can still get this uplifting sublime experience while observing the great House and also the pensive follies and sculptures that are scattered in the park.




For Herder, then:

 …every prince is a gardener taking care of  the education of the first,

tender human shoots – this in a favourite garden of God.

Could Prince Franz, the gardener and educationalist, have thought of a finer motto for himself and his Wörlitzer undertaking! Herder’s God resides in the unity of history and nature. Only in the English Garden, and this through the senses, do these two come directly together. An enlightened educationalist could find fulfilment in this. It was at the time the pretext for control by the gardener of the cultural climate.




Prince Franz succeeded in combining the aesthetic guideline contained in the Englishman William Kent’s series of relatively autonomous scenes, each with their own perspective, with Herder’s philosophy of history. In his  Wörlizter park Prince Franz collected models from various periods in human history, giving each of them their own ‘scene’ which symbolizes their intrinsic cultural value – not a hierarchy, not the one above or below the other, but all cultures beside one another.

Thus in his park you will find a Jewish synagogue in a classic guise, a Gothic mansion, a British version of the Palladian Villa, an Egyptian base for a Pantheon, a Classical urn – and so on.


Golden Urn, Woerlitzer Park, UNESCO World Heritage Site Dessau-Woerlitzer Gartenreich, Woerlitz, Saxony-Anhalt, Germany, Europe


That these several cultural periods should not be interpreted as fragmented pools in a dead sea is proven by the fact that long sight-lines between certain key elements in the park have been created, giving them an overriding, but at the same non-hierarchical coherence. From the terrace of the Schloss you can simultaneously observe from afar all the various historical highlights; the same applies to the positioning of the Urn, the Monument, the Gothic House and the Temple of Venus.

Sometimes, this solution is found in one and the same building, as for instance das Fremdenhaus in the Georgium, one of the other parts of the Dessauer Gartenreich.




It is a design from the architect Erdmannsdorff, who was responsible for a significant portion of the classicist buildings in Anhalt-Dessau. This building, once a ruin, now restored, has four different façades: baroque, gothic, renaissance and late classical. It stood secluded in the garden and none of these façades took precedence over the others. For the connoisseur a stroll around it was like walking through the history of humanity, however without making any progress. One might, as it were, walk on an on in the same circle.

This deliberate choice for various types of garden and its follies, all next to one another, seems to express Herder’s cultural relativism, which is typical also of Wörlitz. After elsewhere in Europe the Garden Revolution’ had taken place, whole French Gardens were suddenly dug up completely to make way for the English variety. In Wörlitz it was there from the start, itself naturally evolving over the years.

The enlightened, yet absolute little Princes of Germany anticipated the possibility of their people getting revolutionary ideas and therefore began to educate them properly, that is gently pushing their imagination in another direction. They had always that beautiful example in their mind of the a non-violent revolution in England.

What better to do in this context but hold up to them a static tableau which, albeit showing a variety of real historical cultures, completely dispenses with that notion of progress which elsewhere in that same period was so richly praised. All this in a park which assembles these cultures under the aegis of a Prince whose aim it was to improve the living conditions and the character of his people, of course according to his own design.

What we have in Wörlitz is Herder’s ‘the many and the one’ and why not: the many in one, many ages in a single age, even though it is impossible to survey these in there entirety. However, the variety of perspectives do give it the nature of a baroque collection of cultures, like the baroque library aimed at the creation of a collection of all possible sorts of knowledge, with no less the figure of God himself high in the lofty roof of the library, in his ultimate wisdom overseeing and encompassing it all – something, of course, not given to a mortal intellectual down there at one of the reading tables.

The main function of the classical English Garden in Wörlitz was the stabilising of an existing order and of immobilising time. Refinement is the maxim, not progress. Whereas in England a landed gentry made the countryside productive and profitable in a capitalist manner so as to provide the growing cities with enough food – by order of parliament, believe it or not – Anhalt-Dessau was a Bedarfsdeckungsgesellschaft, a society based on the principle of the fulfilment of need, with a Prince who needed to make its preservation his function.

The Wörlitzer Gartenreich – a conservative utopia, a garden in which the future of the past was designed. Here Herder’s ideas took precedence over the revolutionary ideas of Rousseau. A collective and conservative pedagogy was more than a match for a progress-oriented individualism.




Prince De Ligne and prince Franz were convinced that a well-designed garden could attract only people of the right kind – people who would leave it as better men than as they had come in.

What conclusions should we draw from this experiment with history, an experiment based on the art of gardening? Should we say that Wörlitz failed because it was unable to save an enlightened absolutism? Or claim that – if only more people had been ‘exposed’ to the park – its loss could have been avoided? I believe that Herder has taught us a wise lesson. Each work of art is utopian and unique – the great grasp of an artist can neither be verified, nor falsified.

Herder in Wörlitz – Herder not in Wörlitz. Who knows? I’ve had my say and perhaps my reader could follow my argument. But to verify my reading of these gardens – once again impossible.

When in 1787 Prince Franz was constructing the Dessauer cemetery he was still considering death as a form of sleep. By the time he had created his Herder Island – in 1797 – he seemed to have changed his opinion and moved to Herder’s more melancholic position.




The first of the inscriptions on the philosopher’s cenotaph is taken from his work:

 We are mortal and so are all our wishes

Sorrow and joy, they pass as we pass

It would appear that during the long decades in which the Wörlitzer park was laid out, Franz moved closer and closer to Herder’s view of the world. The second inscription on that cenotaph reads:

We must learn to play,

for without play life is doom and gloom.

With this, just like Franz, Herder meant the serious play with Beauty which is considered at once the Good and the Truth. Not the frivolous play of mere sensuality. That only leads to revolutions and the like.





This essay was first published in The Architecture Annual 1996/1997, 010 Publishers Rotterdam (1998)


Prince Charles-Joseph de Ligne, Coup d’oeil sur Beloeil et sur une grande partie des jardins de l’Europe, translation, University of California Press (1991)

Brown, The Art and Architecture of English Gardens, Rizzoli, NY (1989)

Lovejoy, The Chinese Origin of Romanticism, in: The Journal of English and Germa­nic Philology (1933), vol. 32

  1. Hoffmann, Der Landschaftsgarten, Hamburg (1963)
  2. Reinhardt, German Gardens in the eigh­teenth Century,in: Mosser/Teyssot editors, The Architecture of Western Gardens, MIT press (1991)
  3. Kathe, Grundzüge der Geschichte Sachsen-An­halt im 17./18.J­h., in: Zwischen Wörlitz und Mosig­kau, ed. Hirsch/Höhle Dessau (1992)
  4. Hirsch, Experiment, Fortschritt & Praktizier­te Aufklärung, Des­sau (1990)

Him­mel­farb, The Idea of Poverty, Lon­don/Boston (1984)

  1. George, En­gland in Transition, Londen (1953 ed.)
  2. Pfeier, Kunstheoretische Ansichten in Anhalt-Des­sau, in: Hirsch/­Höhle

Eisold, Das Dessau-Wörlitzer Gartenreich – der Traum der Vernunft, Köln (1993)

Störig, Geschiedenis van de Filosofie, II (1964 vert.)

  1. Schiller, Über die ästhetische Erziehung des Menschen, in: Sämtliche Werke, Säkularaus­gabe (1985) Fackel Verlag, Band 5
  2. Sloterdijk, Kritik der zynischen Ver­nunft, Suhrkamp (1983)

Sierksma, Toezicht en taak, PhD Leyden University (1991) SUA

  1. G. Herder Sämtliche Werke, ed. B. Suphan a.o. Berlin (1877)
  2. G. Herder, Werke in Zwei Bänden, (1953) Hanser Ver­lag

J.A.­W. Hef­fernan, The Re-Creati­on of Landscape, 1984

Walpole, On Modern Gardening, in: Anecdotes of Painting in England, ed. Dallaway/Wornum, Vol. III, London (1862)

Lasdun, The English Park – Royal, Private & Public, NY (1992)

  1. Cereghini, his intriguing short article: The Italian Origins of Rousham, in Mosser/Teyssot.

Schama, Landscape and Memory (1995)

Schmitt, Herder und Amerika, Mouton (1967)

J.K. Fugate, The Psychological Basis of Herder’s Aesthetics, Mouton (1966)

Kant, Kritik der Urteilskraft (1790)

Friedrich Wilhelm von Erdmannsdorff – Leven.Werk.Wir­kung, Wörlitzer Hefte 2 (1986)

Winckelmann, Gedancken über die Nachahmung der Griechischen Werke in der Mahlerey und Bildhauer-Kunst (1755)


– ‘By the way, forget your dreams about going to Venezuela. You won’t find anything there…’
– ‘I have never dreamed of going to Venezuela’.
– ‘A pity!’ said Yablonski. ‘One must dream always and of everything’.

Paustovsky, The Restless Years


The title of this little piece title is also the title of one of Paustovsky’s little pieces. So, having admitted this, I cannot be a plagiarist anymore.

The Yablonski quoted in the motto is obviously a man of contradiction – if only for argument’s sake, perhaps even only for the sake of mere conversation.

Then again, he seems to be deadly serious. “There are occasions when nature cannot be left to itself. It must be directed for the good of humanity, but of course without interfering with its basic laws.” This thesis is paradoxical, though I doubt very much if Yablonski meant it as such or perhaps that he even saw its inconsistency.

What, indeed, are the ‘basic laws’ of nature? Newton’s paradigms? A biologist’s insights? The latter day knowledge of the complexity of the world’s eco-systems? Perhaps ‘directing nature’ may be quite something different when done from these different perspectives on what ‘nature’ is.

We are living in the Stalin era; great works are under way, costing millions of people their health, if not their lives. So innocent it is not, when Paustovsky and his room mate Yablonski are discussing ’the taming of the desert’. Paustovsky once wrote a book titled Kara-Bugaz, a desolate site on the East-coast of the Caspian Sea, deserty like hell, with oil drills and camels galore – those ships of the desert. Paustovsky agreed with his room mate, though.

In his book he wrote pointedly: “A country, and especially the USSR, cannot have deserts.” Not being a bit like the Yablonski’s of this world I would certainly have asked him: ‘And why not, Mister?’

It took me quite a few decades before I finally went into the desert myself, always having had this longing for a sandy je ne sais quoi – perhaps only for the notion of the desert which from an early age somehow already got stuck in my mind. Later on, photographic and cinema images filled in the blanks – but imaginary the desert remained, till I finally drove into it on camel back, in the very southern tip of Tunisia.


Only after that trip did I encounter the desert once more in the fine works of Paul Bowles and others. Paul Theroux asked of himself: “Why have these arid wastes taken so firm a hold on my memory?”

All Western desert travellers shared that same longing, which – so I am sure – has to do with death, solitude and melancholy. Speaking of love for the desert is taking it too far. It seems more like a yearning, perhaps a desire which, the moment you experience its vastness and roughness, immediately gets mixed up with awe and even pity for that empty landscape.



Sahara of Tunisia

When confronted with the ruggedness and, once in a while, with the desert’s enormous storms and floods – yes, them too! – this ambiguous and barren region turns its visitor ambivalent. Until that great day when I went out camelling in those vast and glorious seas of sand, I had only read about such experience. Out there, though, it was a good feeling that in my back a solid jeep was waiting to transport me back to my island Djerba which, incidentally, is also rather deserty.




My visit suited my wishful image. Dunes almighty, flowing like ochre waves in an endless ocean. I remember the pang of surprise, yet also of annoyance when much later in life I saw the movie Lawrence of Arabia, which from then on, of course, I saw time and again. When these magnificent Arab horses are crossing the desert on their way tot Akaba, the plain suddenly turns in to a bed of ugly, angry rocks. Where have my yellow waves gone, where my sea of sand!




We know that those who live and die by the desert, the nomads whose routes through it follow the secret trails of the wells, invented their Persian carpet to symbolize the ideal of a perfect garden inside it, an oasis with its four corner streams and the fountain head in its midst – yet a Paradise always already encircled by the all powerful ocean of sand.

Surviving the desert on camel or enjoying it, Yes! But why tame her? Tasting the desert’s trial.

Sierksma 10.11.2016


Il y a si longtemps, dans un époque on peut dire quand le Brexit était sur l’agenda pour la première fois dans l’histoire de l’Europe, le grand écrivain du théatre William Shakespeare a écrit: ‘La France – le plus beaux jardin du monde!’


Comme il avait raison! Et c’était encore vrai quand, depuis la fin des années soixantes, ma femme et moi ont commencé a voyager La France. Mais comme si ca a changé…


Naturellement, on ne doit pas oupblier que l‘enlaidissement de ce magnifique pays avait déjà commencé a ce temps. On se souvient le misérable mouvement du remembrement qui a detruit une grand part de la Francer. Un peut plus tard les soi-disant ‘pavillons’ ont commencé a ruiner les petites villes avec cette moississure blanche qui a commencé a les enveloper.


Heureusement on a compris que c’étaient des graves erreurs. Le ‘parc naturel’ était une des solutions partielle pour conserver parts de La France. Moi, il y a maintenant dix-sept annees, j’ai acheté une petite maison dans le Parc de La Brenne.


L’écrivain Americain Norman Mailer a contemplé l’existence du Dieu et du Diable. Pour moi, l’hypothese de Dieu est improbable, par contre je suis sûr que le Diable existe. J’accepte Mailer, qui indique l’invention du matière plastique comme la preuve.


Malheursement, le Diable n’est pas de figure de Mick Jagger, le Rolling Stone qui le joue dans son drôle vêtements en chantant Sympathy for the Devil [Sympathie pour le Diable]. Aujourd’hui le Diable s’habille dans un costume plus ménacant, plus bruyant.


Les petits Rois Soleils des Grandes fermes ont decidé d’acheter des tracteurs avec une installation satanique qui beep-beep-beep automatiquement au moment qui’ils vont arrière. On peut ecouter ce vacarme a deux cents metres.


Sûrement ils vont citeer les reglements idiots de Bruxelles et Stassbourg. Mais c’est fou de ne pas couper ce bruit quand ces monstres ne sont pas sur la route publique, mais travaillent les terrains des propriétères si près de leur voisins. Maintenant, dans mon hameau, c’est comme j’habite la ville que j’ai échappé, avec tous ces camions avec le même chahut…


Ces Rois Soleils des Grandes Fermes devient maintenant aussi Elevateurs d’Électricite. Enormes granges sont construit avec – Oui! – subventions Européens, couvert par des panneaux solaires. Et aussi les belles fermes anciennes sont changé exactement comme ca.


Comme ca, Le visage de La France est ruiné. C’etait comme ci-dessous, il y a seulement dix-sept années :




La même ferme aujourd’hui :



Et de l’autre cote:




On parle de deux granges, ensembles au moins quatre vint dix metres en longeur, l’expression de l’attitude des nouveaux Rois Soleils Fermiers. ‘L’état, c’est moi!’ Et plus grave: ‘La France, c’est moi!’


Mais non, messieur!


Ce qui est ironique, c’est qu’ils pensent eux mêmes comme héros de la ‘bio-bio’, de la ‘nature-nature’. Mais ‘la nature’ dans notre époque ce n’est pas les feuilles vertes grace a les panneaux solaires, c’est avant tout un beaux paysage, le silence et flora et fauna.


Et naturellement, ces petits Rois Soleils dominent la politique locale de La France Profonde partout, un peu comme les gangsters, qui paient les pauvres feuves avec leur monaie fausse.


Surement, je ne suis pas contre L’Europe. Je suis contre un Europe ou le ‘progrès’ est seulement capitaliste. Je suis pour un Europe Social dans laquelle progrès signifie la production des lois et des regles humains pour les hommes et pour les animaux. L’Europe, par contre, est devenu l’Europe des banques, des fonctionaires communautaires – et des Rois Soleils Industriels de Fermes.

Sierksma, Ruffec le Chateau, 30.8.2016


In order of cure the depression which has come over me, having fallen into my depths, I am seeking great heights. After all, I am not a doctor.


The destiny chosen is the Puy de Sancy, a mountain in the middle of France at the centre of its Massif Central – its peak at 1886 metres. After hours of driving the smaller roads of La France Profonde, in order to slow down my arrival and take it easy, I suddenly perceive my target in the far distance.





Once in Bourboule, the place where I shall sleep, I experience uneasy trepidation. Have I gone mad? Did I completely forget that to be amongst mountain heights one must enter the vale?


Swiss writers – why no call them specialists – have rubbed it in: Mountain valleys are depressing.


Only yesterday Thomas Hürlimann, in his story Die Tesserin, explained the never ending cold and humid sombreness which those living in the Swiss Alps suffer. Decades ago, the great Max Frisch, never one for outright optimism, speculated profoundly on the intrinsic connection between what he saw as specifically Swiss miserable melancholy and life in the mountain vales. I think the title was Der Mensch enstand im Holozän – or something like it.


So, neither am I a doctor, nor a Swiss person, also I am a man with a bad memory. Then my ‘room with a view’ offered this:




Knowing what views you can have here, this from former and far more joyous visits to this place, I immediately fell into a spell of worse depression, down and down and down.


The people here are immensely unpleasant to behold. Either a few autumn tourists who always dress up to show that they are on holiday; or that peculiar species of homo sapiens, at least of homo erectus, the one who is ‘taking the baths’. After all, this is sulphur territory.


The one who ‘takes the baths’ actually loves to submerge in the valley and stay there, living in bath-hotels, scurrying along the road on their way to the Thermes, in cold times in capes ‘so as not to catch a cold’.




These weirdoes have that sullen bio-bio gaze which always depresses me. In their ‘free time’, when not washing their misery in sulphur, they may apply that gaze to mountain minerals exhibited everywhere, magically expecting wholesome effects on their soul. Mens sana in corpore sano, so to say.


After a bad night I rise and shine in order to catch the téléférique up the mountain – I want to be the first man today to reach the peak. My afflictions, for which no sulphur helps, make me tired easily. But since a while steel pills do their work, it is only 100 metres to actually climb.




The morning is cold; driving towards the Puy de Sancy a glorious morning sun is catching one of its smaller brothers right in the face.


Before my car may start its arduous climb toward the lift, I pass through Mont-Dore. Just to remind me of my depression which we are going to fight up there, a sign serves as a reminder. The graveyard is just around the corner.





Then the Master himself, proudly awaiting its visitor up there with the climb and afterwards a drink in the small café.




It will be of my own doing if I do not return from this endeavour. Chances that the equipment might fail – certainly a thought coming to the depressive, melancholy man – are slim. The fitting of the lift cabin to its cables looks professional.





Then, up there, The Sublime. The spirit soars. The whole of France in one’s arms – a full 360 degrees of it.




There is one thing, however, which defines mankind. Wherever you are, the beauty and the sublime of it – there is always at least one asshole ruining the pleasures. While I am up there, together with the two others plus their dog who came with me in the first lift, we hear behind us and down there an awesome noise.


We thee are old, it took some time to climb. In the mean time some one else has taken the second elevator, an old man who has been following us. Steaming like a 19th century engine, he jogs up the steps. The dog, who was very nice before, starts to scream at him. The exhibitionist, sweating and grumbling, older than the three of us together, joins us, drawing all the attention he intends to draw. Behaviour and outfit succeed in destroying the surrounding grandiosity.




Suddenly I feel so depressed.


Sierksma, Bourboule, 1 September 2016


In the shade of my courtyard, yesterday late afternoon, the thermometer hit the mark of thirty eight degrees Celsius – plus.


The globe tilts. Live changes its degree of latitude. These days it is donning the yellow robe of the Sahara parallel, Pays de la Soif as the French painter Fromentin so aptly called one of his desert pictures. The Land of Thirst.




Walking through the last dell of my oasis I count the trees still in sight, till finally their last shadows are behind me. A sun, suddenly unmasked and merciless, is showing its glaring coppery countenance.


I contemplate an early return. Out there is the awesome desert.


Yet move we must, if only to make the unhealthy body not even unhealthier. Though walking these barren fields may soon turn it into a corpse, awaiting buzzards, perhaps even the proverbial vulture.


Soon the heat makes of pacing a mere moving. On and on and on. The walking cadence become ritual, the mind starts drifting. A cow-like gaze takes over. Lo and behold! The mandatory hallucination materializes.


Not the insubstantial, yet Holy Mary, Consolation of Sufferers. The true stuff of any honest believer – Water! Fata morgana, fate of the desert walker.





Would I be a cow, sure enough this image would have converted me to a faith in the Golden Calf. I would have danced around its so beauteous liquid green. A four legged dance certainly, but a dance of joy and praise all the same.


Sierksma, 24.8/2016 La Roche


… The wisemen tell me that the garden gods
Twined good and evil on an eastern tree; …

Dylan Thomas, Incarnate devil


What a profound difference. The one between, on the one hand, an intact folly that would like to look like a ruin – a vain construction leading one into a volatile meditation on the transience of everything and thus of one’s own live. And a folly, though a living part of an English garden, yet fallen into ruin thanks to the negligence of its owner. Anyway, the French have called their folly a fabrique, perhaps best translated as a handyman’s project.

In the Park of Ermenonville, in which our Nature Lunatic Rousseau passed his last days in quiet, you will find a beautiful example of an intended ruin: The Temple of Philosophy. Unfinished intentionally, so as to indicate the per se incompleteness of all knowledge. This uncompleted Greek temple represents modern philosophy.

On each of its six standing columns, one finds the name of a famous philosopher plus a term that characterizes him: Newton (lucem) , Descartes (nil in rebus inane) , Voltaire (ridiculum) , Rousseau (naturam) , William Penn (humanitatem) , Montesquieu (justitiam). Perhaps one may wonder at the maker’s Latin.



It has not been ‘finished’ so to say. The idea, then, is that we who follow these Greats may once finish it with the pillars on the ground, yet without a name. However one might also imagine that the columns lying around have fallen from what once was a finished little building and will never be put back again – the more somber perspective. Anyway, this folly was for those who built it the symbol of an ever-evolving knowledge, never finished. Enlightenment.

There are even follies that were built in mint condition in the first place – as a splendid, yet ‘finished’ ruin. One famous example is the unfinished pillar in the French Désert de Retz, also an English Garden par excellence.



This drawing, probably dating from 1782, shows rather well what it meant. It is a giant, grotesque pseudo-ruin of the base of a pillar which, when extrapolated, must have measured hundreds of meters high. Built as a ruin, it served as a residence for its owner. This pillar base was intended ‘to confront the visitor with the bizarre’. And so it does, however even more so with the boundless megalomania – the idea of a humanity that builds its Towers of Babel into high heaven and is doomed to fail.

However, such a neatly designed and carefully executed pseudo-ruin may turn into a… ruin. This becomes clear in a photo taken at the beginning of the 20th century.



Thus the ruined ruin-house looked at a certain moment – broken windows, stones fallen out, blistering stucco. So, in fact, it was possible to restore a dilapidated ruin as a ruin: a paradox realized, including the restoration to perfection of the original ‘cracks’ that were designed into it. ‘A ruin in ruins’, then, is not necessarily a pleonasm.



This is the column as I saw it somewhere in the ‘80s of the last century

Also an entire landscape, once featuring fine French and English gardens, may me destroyed.


Behold a once delicious Arcadia – the area of the former Wijkermeer in the Dutch province Noord-Holland, in the 17th to late 19th century with its banks, its country houses and gardens, embedded as so many precious stones in their dune bowls and surrounded by lover.

In the new ‘landscape’ created – after the lake was filled up, now showing ugly buildings and a coarse network of roads – the few remaining country houses and gardens are orphaned. The whole area has become one ruin. You cannot, like in the case of a paralyzed body, wonder if perhaps its ‘character’ is still intact. Driving through this disaster area one knows: This is ruined and it is smashed completely and forever.

The great Architect and Nazi Speer invented for his crazy chef the infamous Law of Ruins. In Adolf’s Thousand Year Reich an architecture had to appear, which in its the future state was already designed to a certain kind of ‘ruin’. Instead of the ordinary destruction of neighborhoods and even whole cities – something in which Speer and Hitler also were good and which they practiced with their Blitzkrieg elsewhere – rather meticulously the megalomaniac fascist designed a vision of Germany’s ruinous future.

With Speers hold over Time he designed his Nazi projects in such a way, that in a thousand years the ruins of the Reich would look at their ruinous best. Aesthetical and political utilitarianism! Not like the accidental ruins of Rome and Athens – dilapidated forms of broken marble; no, artful compositions of rusting steel and broken concrete. The lovers of ruins may think of the industrial wrecks in former East Germany or in eastern Belgium, which nowadays get aesthetic attention – these, however, were merely the result of an accidental capitalism.

More recent cinematography seems to have learned from this. In the dark room of the cinema the illusion of ruins went one step further. In Ridley Scott’s 1983 film Blade Runner we see architectural parks in which highlights of ruined modern architecture form the backdrop of destruction and annihilation. As under the Nazi regime, they suggest catastrophic destruction as a phase in liberation. Could this filmmaker have been inspired, not merely by Speer’s architecture, but also by Maoism? To make one radical clean sweep, then ‘let a thousand flowers bloom…’

Does it make sense to erect in the middle of what once was the Wijkermeer – as a folly, that is – a huge, real size version of the column belonging to the base in Désert de Retz? A warning signal for this postmodern world which is exploding itself.

Could it be that God created his world according to Speers Law of Ruins? Could he – like a Tinguely – have assembled the universe as a self-destructive machine, containing as a time bomb the creature he kneaded in His image…?

Sierksma February ’16