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Gardens: An Essay on the Human Condition

by Robert Pogue Harrison University of Chicago Press
Pub Date:
Pbk 264 pages
AU$36.99 NZ$39.12
Product Status: Not Our Publication - we no longer distribute
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Humans have long turned to gardens - both real and imaginary - for sanctuary from the frenzy and tumult that surrounds them. Those gardens may be as far away from everyday reality as Gilgamesh’s garden of the gods or as near as our own backyard, but in their very conception and the marks they bear of human care and cultivation, gardens stand as restorative, nourishing, necessary havens.

With Gardens, Robert Pogue Harrison graces readers with a thoughtful, wide-ranging examination of the many ways gardens evoke the human condition. Moving from from the gardens of ancient philosophers to the gardens of homeless people in contemporary New York, he shows how, again and again, the garden has served as a check against the destruction and losses of history.

The ancients, explains Harrison, viewed gardens as both a model and a location for the laborious self-cultivation and self-improvement that are essential to serenity and enlightenment, an association that has continued throughout the ages. The Bible and Qur’an; Plato’s Academy and Epicurus’s Garden School; Zen rock and Islamic carpet gardens; Boccaccio, Rihaku, Capek, Cao Xueqin, Italo Calvino, Ariosto, Michel Tournier, and Hannah Arendt—all come into play as this work explores the ways in which the concept and reality of the garden has informed human thinking about mortality, order, and power.

Alive with the echoes and arguments of Western thought, Gardens is a fitting continuation of the intellectual journeys of Harrison’s earlier classics, Forests and The Dominion of the Dead. Voltaire famously urged us to cultivate our gardens; with this compelling volume, Robert Pogue Harrison reminds us of the nature of that responsibility—and its enduring importance to humanity.

PrefaceAcknowledgments                     1          The Vocation of Care2          Eve                  3          The Human Gardener   4          Homeless Gardens                    5          “Mon jardin à moi”                   6          Academos                    7          The Garden School of Epicurus             8          Boccaccio’s Garden Stories                  9          Monastic, Republican, and Princely Gardens     10        A Note on Versailles    11        On the Lost Art of Seeing                     12        Sympathetic Miracles    13        The Paradise Divide: Islam and Christianity        14        Men Not Destroyers 
15        The Paradox of the Age             Epilogue           Appendixes1          From The Decameron, Giovanni Boccaccio     2          From Mr. Palomar, Italo Calvino                     3          “The Garden,” Andrew Marvell                        4          A Note on Islamic Carpet Gardens       Notes               Works Cited                Index

"The Year's Best Nonfiction"
Robert Pogue Harrison is the Rosina Pierotti Professor of Italian Literature at Stanford University. He is the author of four books, including Forests: The Shadow of Civilization and The Dominion of the Dead, both published by the University of Chicago Press.