III. Un blog sur les paysages: an English introduction

After having presented a French petit début and a German prolog to my paysage blog, follows here the English version. It is not the translation of the two other versions; as it is written in English, it is perhaps a slightly different approach to the subject. The blog will present some thoughts and ideas about paysages, the French word for landscapes – but I am not sure if both words really mean the same. The blog should present some subjective thoughts about paysages, landscapes and Landschaften – for the more objective scientific approach you can go to my professional homepage . It will be a multilingual blog, most of the contributions will be written in French and German, some perhaps also in English. As I did it in the French and German notes I want to begin with a citation of David Blackbourn : “What we call landscapes are neither natural nor innocent; they are human constructs. How and why they were constructed (many would say “imagine” even “invented”)belongs to the stuff of history (Blackbourn 2007: 16)”, yes I agree with Blackbourn, but with one exception, – the analysis of the human construct of what we call landscapes, landschaft or paysage should also be a stuff of geography, of what we call a modern landscape geography (or should be called) who can read and understand natural environmental processes and systemsand what kind of human constructions produced the landscapes behind these processes, the images and the storylines behind. This also linked to the language we use.

I learned English at school, – in the Gymnasium Schramberg in Schramberg where I passed great part of my childhood and youth, – and my approach to English language is rather different as my French or German. English is together with French my working language, but its more technical than the French i use, actually most of the papers and books I have to read for my profession are in English. In this sense English is for me language of scientific text books and papers, National Geographic, Newsweek and CNN etc.

French, because in the regions (Mediterranean countries, francophone Africa) where I mostly work actually, is still the dominant scientific and technical language. In this context is interesting to observe, (from a german point of view) – that because in Germany education of French language is very declining, more and more scientists, advisers, consultants etc. working in francophone Africa (African French ) for german enterprises, organisations, NGO, consultants-firms etc. are coming from Switzerland, even from the alemanique German Switzerland, where they have a good French teaching, from Canada (not only from Quebec), from the United States, from Britain, Italy, Portugal, Spain etc – those nations have an increasing presence on the „terrain“ – and Germany is actually losing influence, not only at the scientific-technical level, no one on a more broader range reaching from socio-economics to cultural liaisons. As I have heard recently the German GTZ has sometimes problems to get experts for their jobs in francophone Africa. Most of the paper concerning this regions are still published in French, and I think still the best way, to reach a forester, agricultural engineer in Marocco, Tunisia, Algeria, and France is to publish in Forêt Mediterranéenne , Sécheresse, – and not in a any Anglo-American ISI quoted journals– nobody will read it. But perhaps in Germany it’s the same, – is a forest engineer on the terrain (in the Black Forest, the Pfälzer Wald etc.) reading Forest Ecology and Management, – no – at best he will perhaps read the AFZ – die Allgemeine Forst Zeitschrift.

Actually I have only read three novels in English, – Hemingway’s “for whom the bell tolls”, Malcolm’s Lowry “under the volcano” and Graham Greens “the Quiet American”, – not more – and because I think – our readings are also important to the ways we construct our landscapes – the approach to landscapes in English seems to be rather different to my approach in German or French. My English, even if it’s not a pristine or innocent English, – I would call it a juvenile English – has not the same cultural baggage of hundred of novels, which my French or my German has. Surely I have read some translation of English and American books, for example the german translation of complete work of Hemingway. But I think its not the same, because the original picture the author creates has been transformed by the translator. The picture Hemingsways creates, the images of landscapes he is painting, – is a different – the American English image of landscapes, man and women sounds different, is different from the German translation, the translator is also an interpretor, a third person between original work and reader. In this context, I would suggest to read the blog contribution of Pierre Assouline concering the new translation of Berlin Alexanderplatz from Alfred Döbelin into French “ Retour en majesté d’Alfred Döblin ” done by Olivier Le Lay.

So whenever possible books should be read in their original language, independently therefrom if it is a novell or a scientific text book. For example I suggested to my students to read the cited „conquest of nature“ from David Blackbourn in the English original. Whereas the German Edition of the book „Die Eroberungen der Natur – eine Geschichte der deutschen Landschaft.“ has got a excellent critic by Hartmut Leser (2008) published in „Die Erde – Zeitschrift der Gesellschaft für Erdkunde zu Berlin „, but i think, as worte above, if possible try to read the original version.


Actually in our world, the construction of what we call landscape, has become partly a domain reserved to the writing class (and to the world of movies), journalists, novelists, scientists, blogger, wikipedianists. Reflecting the importance of the writing class for the construction, I think the statements of Blackbourn should be broaden in the sense of the words of Golo Mann « wir alle sind was wir gelesen » (originally a citation of Eichendorff ) “we are all what we have read” – or translated to landscapes – the landscapes we construct in our imagination are strongly influenced by our readings. In a foreign language, which we normally learn at school, – it’s also important to see what kind of mental geography is transmitted to the pupils by their teachers. I think I will discuss this in a one contribution apart, because it’s a very interesting topic and important topic – what kind of mental geography doe foreign language teachers provide to their pupils.

For me English in a certain sense is the “pristine” (but not innocent) language of a more scientific approach to landscapes. But it’s clear that the American, English authors and authors from other country might they be native English speakers of not, – they all carry their cultural and academic baggage even if the try to describe us so called pristine landscapes (as for example Thomas Vale in Fire, Native Peoples and the Natural Landscape).

In this sense, geography or landscape ecology can never be an innocent science, because they are always charged with the cultural baggage of those who do the science, the research and the way they talk to their public, scientific public or wider scientific vulgarization.

Reflecting Ideas, subjective thoughts – and sharing discussions about what we call landscapes, paysages and Landschaften (at all levels of perception) will certainly be one of the objectives of the blog.



The other focus of the blog is to provide me a platform for citizenship, – a platform for presenting and discussion of my political opinions, of my personal view of the globalized world. This is the blog of the Citizen Neff.

As well as one the French petit début and the German prolog this posting is ending with a chanson from Patricia Kaas , – d’ Allemagne a song where Patricia Kaas is painting a very strong emotional picture of Germany of the the 1980.


Sources and Citations:

Blackbourn, D. (2007): The Conquest of Nature. Water, Landscape and the Making of Modern Germany. New York (Norton Paperback)

Blackbourn, D. (2007): Die Eroberungen der Natur – eine Geschichte der deutschen Landschaft. München (DVA)

Green, Gr, (1955): The Quiet American. London, (Heinemann)

Hemingway, E. (1940 ): For whom the bell tolls. (Charles Scribner)

Leser, H. (2008): Blackbourn, David: Die Eroberungen der Natur – eine Geschichte der deutschen Landschaft. München DVA 2007. In: Die Erde, Zeitschrift der Gesellschaft für Erdkunde zu Berlin, Forum für Erdsystem und Erdraumforschung, Buchbesprechungen, 272-273.

Lowry, M. (1947): Under the volcano.

Mann, G. (1991): Wir alle sind war wir gelesen. Aufsätze und Reden zur Literatur. Berlin (Verlag der Nation).

Vale, T.R. (2002): Fire, Native Peoples and the Natural Landscape.Washington,(Island Press).



Christophe Neff, Grünstadt 28.5.2009