Drawing on Marin’s work, Stephen Bann has produced some stimulating essays that concentrate on certain contemporary gardens sites, in particular, Ian Hamilton Finlay’s Stockwood Park garden and the landscape designs of Bernard Lassus (Bann, 1993, 1994 and 2003). All these essays usefully highlight Marin’s conception of utopia. Bann’s analysis uses in particular Marin’s study of the textual play within Rousseau’s ‘Le Jardin de Julie’ - a letter within Rousseau’s epistolary novel La Nouvelle Héloïse (Marin, 1992: 64-87). The letter in question is written by Saint-Preux, Julie’s frustrated lover, and recalls his first visit to the garden at Claren, accompanied by Julie and her husband, Wolmar. Marin delights in the ambiguous textual play within the description of Julie’s garden. He travels through the text as if taking a stroll. The garden, Rousseau’s text and Marin’s own commentary become digressions, simple delight and pleasure, a form of daydreaming, a certain idleness. Marin reflects on how the garden in Rousseau’s text is an intensely ambivalent place, rehearsing themes that I have discussed earlier: A typical example is found in the way Julie describes the construction of the garden: ‘nature did it all, but under my direction, and there is nothing here that I have not designed’ (83). Each character criticizes the formal and pretentious gardens that were fashionable at the time in France, for example, incorporating Greek follies such as temples and statues, or following strict geometrical designs, but Julie’s garden is just as carefully and artfully constructed. This points to ‘the antique paradox’ of a garden:
the unsurpassable contradiction, where art and nature, artifice and truth, imagination and the real, representation and being, mimesis and the origin, play hide-and seek. (Marin, 1992: 70)
For Marin the logic of the garden mirrors the logic of the text where the ‘displacement of the space of nature’, an infinite diversity and profusion, are condensed into a product, a representation: ‘a substitute and a replacement’ (see also Bann, 1993: 106). Marin goes on to conceptualise Rousseau’s text as capturing a non-place, without perspective, neither inside nor outside, both opening and enclosing.The garden becomes, like the play of text, an ambiguous ‘immobile voyage’ (1992: 65).Bann considers that Marin’s notion of the garden as utopia is linked to the self-reflexivity of the ‘English’ garden rather than the spectacle dominated ‘French’ style. The garden offers us a ‘Utopian moment’ defined by ‘a certain sensory effulgence, by a sudden reversal of the terms of signification which habitually govern our experience’ (Bann, 1994: 834). Marin also explores how Rousseau encapsulates the otherworldliness of the garden, that is, through a ‘promenade-reverie’ he describes a place that ruptures both time and space.For instance, Saint-Preux recounts that the garden is hidden from the house and ‘cannot be seen from anywhere’ and once it is entered the gate is so masked that ‘I could no longer see where I had entered’ (Marin, 1992: 67). He found himself there as if ‘dropped from the sky’. The garden is described as ‘Elysium’, a ‘desert island’, and the ‘end of the earth or ‘utterly outside the earth’. It is the essential utopian topoi, ‘between Eden and Paradise, between heaven and earth, between here and there’ (65). At the heart of Marin’s practice is the concept of the ‘neutral’, which I discussed in chapter two in the context of Hetherington’s work. The neutral is impossible to grasp, ‘neither yes nor no, true nor false, one nor the other’, a placeless contradiction that can only appear as a lightening flash:
Utopia is thus the neutral moment of a difference, the space outside of place; it is a gap impossible either to inscribe on a geographic map or to assign to history (Marin, 1984: 57).
Marin’s thought is often difficult, intense and elusive, but a key point as discussed in the first section of this chapter, is that he wishes to grasp utopia in its ‘process’, not as a settled image, representation, system, totality or ideology. He highlights utopia as the work, practice, play, voyage or digression of the imagination. It is in this context that we need to place the plea, highlighted by Bann (2003: 112), to designers:
You who build gardens, don’t make parks or green spaces, make margins. Don’t make leisure and game parks, make places of jouissance, make closures that are openings. Don’t make imaginary objects, make fictions. Don’t make representations, make empty spaces, gaps, make neutrality. (Marin, 1992: 87)
It seems a plea to produce an utterly different space, an unsettling placeless place of pleasure and discovery. However, I diverge from Bann in his use of Marin in relation to the work of the French contemporary landscape designer, Bernard Lassus. Referring to specific projects, Bann outlines a development within landscape design that incorporates the traditions of both utopia and Arcadia. (1992: 67). Bann goes on to trace how Marin’s instruction to garden designers is incorporated within specific projects undertaken by Lassus. Bann makes many stimulating references to Marin, but tends to turn Marin’s thought about utopia into a range of simple dichotomies, for example, between ‘the domesticated and clipped vegetation appropriate to the town’ and its antithesis within a wild, pathless landscape produced by Lassus. In other words, Bann refers to ‘disjunctions’ and ‘margins’ within Lassus’s various projects, but ultimately this comes down to oppositions:
The relationship can be seen as a critical, or ironic one; or indeed it can simply be represented as a utopian ‘other side’ of the disciplinary structures of modern urbanism (2003:112).
Bann does not address the utopian aspects of much ‘modern urbanism’. Although a critical and ironic relationship is mentioned, generally Lassus’s strategy is seen as ‘entirely opposed to the conventional practices stigmatised’ by Marin or a ‘counterpoint to the functional, dynamic and linear movement’. It is possible that such designs by Lassus are in keeping with Marin’s thought, but the evidence produced does not confirm that it is ‘beyond question that Lassus’s highly inventive descriptions of garden projects function as utopian texts’ (117). This is because Bann in this essay, although hinting at Marin’s complex thought on utopian spatial play, does not fully engage with it and therefore is left instead with a simple oppositional framework in which to undertake his analysis. The garden designs produce ‘dislocations of space and incitements to the imagination’, but Bann does not explain how they are utopian except in their opposition to dominant trends (109).
Refs to Bann
Bann, S. (1993) ‘A Luton Arcadia: Ian Hamilton Finlay’s contribution to the English neo-classical tradition’, Journal of Garden History, (13): 104-122.
Bann, S. (1994) ‘Shrines, Gardens, Utopias’, New Literary History, 25: 825-837.
Bann, S. (2003) ‘Arcadia as utopia in contemporary landscape design: the work of Bernard Lassus’, History of the Human Sciences, 16 (1): 109-121.
 The study, under a section Utopiques: Le jardin de Julie, appears amongst a series of essays in Marin’s Lectures traversiéres (1992). The translations are my own.
Peter Johnson, PhD Thesis, Extract, July 2010, With kind permission to reference text by Peter Johnson.