Geography and the Human Spirit

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Johns Hopkins University Press, Jun 14, 2002 - Science - 304 pages
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Geography and the Human Spirit takes up that challenge in a panoramic survey of ideas about humanity's relationship to the natural environment. Ranging widely across time and cultures - from Plato to the Upanishads, from Goethe to Barry Lopez - Anne Buttimer explores the ways that human beings have turned to natural science, theology, and myth to form visions of the earth as a human habitat. She also reaches beyond the Western tradition to examine how other cultures have conceptualized the nature and meaning of their environments. Buttimer begins by placing her study in the context of Western intellectual and cultural history. Focusing on the "emancipatory cry" of humanism, she identifies and interprets cyclical patterns of Western thought using the three mythopoetical characters of Phoenix, Faust, and Narcissus. Phoenix becomes her symbol for the emergence of new ideas and ways of life. Faust symbolizes the next phase, the typically Western drive to build structures, institutions, and legal frameworks around such new ideas. But tensions inevitably arise between Faust and Phoenix - between structure and the original emancipatory spirit. Then Narcissus appears, critically reflecting on the situation and eventually choosing one of two alternatives: falling in love with his own image or undergoing painful liberation from past certainties to welcome a new Phoenix. Buttimer uses these symbols to reflect on four ways in which the world has been perceived both in the Western cultural tradition and in other traditions throughout history: the world as a mosaic of forms, as a mechanical system, as an organic whole, and as an arena of spontaneous events. Although postmodern thinkers have seen the struggle between Faust the builder and Narcissus the evaluator as insoluble, she argues that the impulse of the Phoenix can bridge the gaps between disciplines, cultures, and world-views. "Each civilization has a story to tell," writes Buttimer. "The unfolding patterns of the earth around us invite a sharing of these stories as one essential step toward discovering mutually acceptable bases for rational discourse on wiser ways of dwelling."

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About the author (2002)

Anne Buttimer is a professor of geography at University College, Dublin. Yi-Fu Tuan is a professor emeritus of geography at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His many books include Escapism, available from Johns Hopkins.

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