What’s natural, what’s unnatural about this place

Apr 15, 2011 by

What’s natural, what’s unnatural about this place

„It looks like a Legoland,” an English friend of mine said when she first came to visit. She didn’t mean the New York lego paradise, but the Yale campus. A place which, speaking with a pinch of British sarcasm, is a demonstration of what you can do with a lot of money and little taste. The campus itself aims to imitate Oxford, but once you stroll a little off, you see university buidlings scattered around, each different, each lonely, each – out of place.  There is no atmosphere, no narrative, just buildings: American-Gothic, American-Roman, American-American (that’s when you run out of categories). History with its steady pace would not have allowed such a mix. But the campus was constructed after History took her leisurely stroll and men took over.

What does it all mean? People coming here for a day or two often accuse this place of being unnatural. It looks as if a computer scientist sat down in front of a screen, to play SimmCity or YaleCity, programmed Yale shuttles to run every five minutes from one part of campus to another, for free, to prevent students from walking outside the main campus (in British translation: health and safety reasons, in American: segregetion).  Everything here runs so smoothly that it does in some way seem artificial, programmed, unnatural. And yet…

What does it mean unnatural and natural? If natural means being close to nature than of course any civilization, and American especially, would seem unatural. But if we take Aristotle’s view that  “a thing’s nature is what is it when it has reached its goals,” then the situation changes. For him, the nature of the acorn is not to remain acorn, but to grow into a tree. Similarly, the nature of a man is not to remain close to their natural selfs, but to grow, to develop, to fulfill their potential. This is Natural written with a capital N. These are rose bushes in April, outside my window.

No country should be judged for not reaching aims it had not set for itself. America should not be criticised for lack of cathedrals growing naturally along with villages and cities, but for the artificial creation of circumstances, called universities, in which Nature of men grows almost as fast the ivy climbs the buildings. Some might argue it’s not natural to have so many genious professors in one place, so many events, so many books  – this is not distribution by nature, but by men, with a purpose and resources to do so. America should not be criticised for the artificiality of the outside (of course it is not authentic, it’s too young too be!), even though this is what the tourists see and complain about, but for genuine openmindedness and childlike naturalness of its people. It should not be criticised for dry pragmaticism, but for its organizational skills. Anyway, the sentences could be turned inside out, on another less sunny day, with less gratitude in heart. Today let it be, America is Natural.

What we  see of this country in the first instance does not put it in a good light. This is because the aesthetic impression is not the main purpose of this nation (it is enough to arrive at the platform of New York Grand Central to realize that). What it strives for are values, ideas, opportunities that can only be felt, appreciated or criticised, after you havespent some time here. A tourist might admire the Statue of Liberty, but it will mean little to him, unless he gets to know the people and sees the relation of the outside to the inside, of statues and what they represent, to people. In Europe, statues relate us to history, but America has little of it – what they relate us to are ideas, purposes of human mind and personality. (Hmm, never thought I’d be so generous to this place 🙂

Related Posts

Share This

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *