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The American Scene

David Lowenthal
Geographical Review
Vol. 58, No. 1 (Jan., 1968), pp. 61-88
DOI: 10.2307/212832
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/212832
Page Count: 28
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The American Scene
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Abstract

The American landscape is an amalgam of nature and human energy. Memory and desire transform that landscape into the American scene, a creation as much mythical as real. What the country looks like to the people, what they prefer to see, and what they have chosen to reflect in their own creations, as earthmovers and architects, is the subject of this paper. Vast and wild, teeming yet lonely, formless, violent, and extreme-these words express recurrent images of the country. And American habits of perception are likewise stereotyped. We tend to see things in the landscape as isolated structures rather than as aspects of an integrated whole; to identify proper appearance with production and to disvalue the viewpoint of the onlooker; to sacrifice present appearances to an idealized past or to a glorious future; to neglect the nearby and the typical for the remote and the spectacular; and to emphasize scenic enjoyment by self-conscious, signposted appreciation.

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