“Arcs and Circles”: Enter the Fertile Imagination of a Gardening Expert
Landscape artist Marc Peter Keane’s newest collection of essays, “Of Arcs and Circles,” vibrates with wisdom. His meandering ideas inspire frequent reading breaks for deeper contemplation, inducing an experience similar to walking around the “unbalanced” designs of his Japanese gardens.
Arcs and Circles, by Marc Peter Keane
STONE BRIDGE PRESS
As a garden expert and writer living in Kyoto for over 20 years, Keane’s essays, like his design work, are deeply influenced by Japanese aesthetics. His words flow easily from metaphysical questioning to practical observations, with clear nods to the meandering structure of Japanese. zuhitsu personal essay form. “Of Arcs and Circles”, however, is not strictly for Japanophiles.
Even considering concepts such as wabi-sabi (imperfection) or void, Keane’s essays are based on his own experiences. His observations stem from his young adulthood in the United States, his many years in Japan as a specialist in Japanese garden design, and his home in Ithaca, New York. This mix of locations expands its ideas with a touch of relatability, even for readers unfamiliar with Japanese culture or the country.
Unlike many books detailing the “Japanese experience,” Keane does not seem concerned with imparting so-called Zen knowledge or delivering thinly veiled cultural diatribes. Instead, he plays with style and language to render a personal experience, record a moment, or divulge a thought to his readers. His book is a written version of the Japanese proverb “ichi-go ichi-e(“once, an encounter”), as each essay briefly welcomes us into the inner workings of its mind, a transient sense of connection to be cherished and reserved for future consideration.
Throughout the book, Keane deftly experiments with form. In the essay titled “Consolation for the Tumbling Mind”, Keane observes his thought process as he walks in nature. He oscillates between optimism and despair, noting that he is at first “carried away by thoughts of a life based on trust and holiness and respect for natural rhythms”, but then his mind becomes “hooked on the crusted edges of waste and callous indifference to the world we also embody. Avoiding any orderly conclusion, he leaves us with a symbol of humanity’s mark on the natural world, complicated and contradictory, as he describes approaching a polluted river. Although his original intention was to dispose of the rubbish, he discovers life among the litter – “a little fish lives in an empty tin can”. Keane is thus unable to disturb this ecosystem fragile created from our discarded waste.
Each essay is an unexpected foray into Keane’s fertile imagination. In ‘Dream Garden’ he creates dreamscapes of an apocalyptic future to affirm the importance of beauty to engender hope, and in ‘The Last God’ he challenges the innate values of humanity. , postulating the idea that “mutations and accidental events” quietly triumph over our gods of power and efficiency. “What does this say about our societies, which in many ways favor those people who do everything right when in truth so much of our progress is due to the accidental and the unforeseen? he writes.
Keane provides no conclusions, but with each carefully crafted essay, he leaves his readers a little changed.
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Marc Peter Keane, Arcs and Circles