Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Brinck Jackson in the Realm of the Everyday

Academic journal article The Geographical Review

Brinck Jackson in the Realm of the Everyday

Article excerpt

I merely think of myself as being more sympathetic to humble, less articulate elements in society. They may not always know what they're saying or doing, but they have to be given attention, too, and perhaps we can understand more about our humanity by studying the less brilliant examples of it.

- J. B. Jackson, quoted in Andrea O. Dean, "Riding into the Future," 1996

I have never seen our field so intellectually vibrant. . . . Advice may appear gratuitous, but if I could offer one piece it would be: resist specialization, despite all the pressures. Try to leave a corner of your professional life open for new perspectives and new influences, and remember that Young Turks can become Old Establishment with a speed that is distressing. Follow your own interests, read eclectically, and your head off.' nothing is ever wasted, and you cannot make connections if you have nothing to connect.

- Peter Gould, "Sharing a Tradition," 1999

Storytelling was the best part of J. B. Jackson's work. He was a lot of things, perhaps most of all a folklorist of the American landscape. He was a mentalite analyst who reveled in the descriptive complexity of the nation's many regional psyches. He was devout about landscape; it was an archive not of material culture, which as such really interested him very little, but of ideas and meaning. He was a dowser of the American way.

Jackson's stock in trade was the everyday landscape, or rather, diverse variations on same, for Brinck Jackson was, if anything, a militant pluralist. He did not see, nor did he want to contemplate, any single landscape; nothing could be farther from Jackson's way of thinking than the social engineer's insistence on the solitary "right" answer. He remarked to me once that "Facing Up to Ambiguity," the title of an essay by his friend Peirce Lewis, was something Jackson could easily borrow as his own credo (Lewis 1982). Respect for the complex is an attribute that Jackson tried to inculcate in his followers: Few though they numbered in the early 1950s, they rose to a sizable corps by the time of his death, in 1996.

He was not particularly comfortable as a prophet of ordinary landscape; he instead mastered a strain of Socratic descant guaranteed to jolt the complacent from their chairs and force on them experiences of their own, experiences to be plumbed for meaning and pattern (Limerick 1998). That said, Jackson's was not an art easily transferred or imitated, but he pushed a legion of people to make the attempt. For Brinck, landscapes - their smells, their sounds, their tastes, their feel, and, only last, their regard - were elaborate corroborations of human variation and, as readily and rightly, also a testimony to common needs.

Jackson was himself a figure of unlimited and almost unrivaled complexity. This was someone who seemed a dozen separate characters to fifty different people. The architect Jeff Limerick addressed exactly this singular facet of Jackson at a commemorative meeting of some 300 scholars, architects, neighbors, and friends held in October 1998 in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Jackson's intriguing personality slowly rolled around to become an underlying theme of the meeting: Everyone, it turned out, knew someone different. Each person there seemed to discern a distinct J. B. Jackson, but no one had grasped quite all the personae - not even his closest friends: "Each of those separate Jacksons guarded his own privacy, so that those who happened to know him within one circle were often unaware that the other circles existed" (Lewis 1997, 12). Always somewhere over there was another Brinck, cloistered, known to someone else.

John B. Jackson was, after all, the founder and the publisher of Landscape magazine for eighteen years, from 1951 to 1968; a patron in the northern New Mexico village of La Cienega who lived in a handsome home that he designed by and large himself;(1) he was a teacher at both the University of California, Berkeley, and Harvard University for more than a decade. …

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