Review: Escapism by Yi Fu Tuan (1998) Assessment 9 out of 10

Culture is viewed as escapism from nature.

Yi Fu Tuan, the doyen of humanist geography, summarises human geography as focused on migration and a desire to change our surrounds. Escapism is the construction of culture away from nature and in denial of our animal selves, which we seek to avoid, in the way we eat, die and reproduce.

Our ecstasy in making love is a private passion, portrayed explicitly on Hindu Temples in congress between gods and voluptuous goddesses, the sacred, as much as the profane.

Cultural ideas includes the current desire to return to nature. Cities, holiday resorts and theme parks are all places of escape. US suburbia, stimulated by pastoral nostalgia, is the archetype middle landscape between town & country. Other middle landscapes are gardens, parks and sports fields. All are transitional.

We escape into books, music and our imagination, which includes both belief in angels and the enchantment of dark forces and evil spirits.

We deny or ignore that creation relies on destruction. All civilization may be seen as burying the fact of death, removing from sight the butcher’s work and disposal of animal and human corpses, their sights and smells. Caste is a social construction to avoid pollution, where all have their place.

Agriculturalists are essentially cooperative, playing down individuality. Hunter gatherers are divided between women collectors, who work together, and male individuals, who hunt. More glorious and glamorous, they tell stories, climaxing in the kill.

In hierarchical societies the powerless are humiliated by the powerful. Culture, in particular language separates we/us, from the other, in our past into mutually unintelligible, antagonistic groups. There are distinguishing markers other than language. In Rwanda the pastoralist Tutsi drank milk and beer. They ate little and in private, looking down on the Hutu who ate more, living on sweet potatoes and a porridge of beans, peas or maize.

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