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Modern Nature: Journals of Derek Jarman Hardcover – 8 Aug 1991
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"The most beautiful & furious book of all time" (Olivia Laing)
"Jarman gave his garden a certain narrative; perhaps he treated it a bit like a film or theatre set. His films were visionary, eccentric, romantic and rebellious, all of which could also be said about his garden" (Guardian)
"A marvellous, moving book" (Sunday Telegraph)
"It's hard not to warm to the man who, in the face of all the personal and professional hardships described in this book, can still regard himself as 'the most fortunate film-maker of my generation" (Guardian) -- Dieser Text bezieht sich auf eine andere Ausgabe: Paperback.
A very special book – a divine, meditative and inspiring diary of Derek Jarman's famous garden at Dungeness. -- Dieser Text bezieht sich auf eine andere Ausgabe: Paperback.See all Product description
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As one might expect from a film-maker, these writings are vividly descriptive, whether Jarman is speaking of the vicissitudes of growing things on a bed of shingle in the shadow of a nuclear power station or of his encounters on Hampstead Heath. The garden at Dungeness is central to Modern Nature; it has the constant presence of a guardian angel, a place of safety to which Jarman returns gratefully, a place which centres him and which is at the centre of his being, a link with his past and a way of living in the present. The garden appears to be metaphor too; life with AIDS is undoubtedly more difficult than life before it but the pared back garden, the resilience of its plants, the curious statuary of rusted metal and stones from the sea, have a beauty and integrity synonomous with the author as revealed so intimately to us in these journals. Against all odds, the garden does not merely cling on, it triumphs - and so does Jarman.
This is not an easy read. As the book progressed, I felt increasingly understanding of Derek Jarman the man. Injustices which rankle with him rankled me too - the fact that 'special measures' applied when a film of his was screened on television later than other films in a series by other film-makers, the fact that Ian Charleson was apparently encouraged to cite Chariots of Fire not Jarman's Jubilee as his debut role given the then frenzied prejudice around AIDS and homosexuality. There is too the huge injustice of Jarman's own illness, the deaths of his friends cut down like flowers; he is honest and matter of fact in the face of such devastation - as you'd expect, no mawkish sentimentality here, yet the depth of his feeling is unquestionable.
Another constant theme in these journals is love. Jarman shows us a country where, although the flesh is weakened, the spirit simply burns more brightly. Writings about HB are filled with love and it is clear the feeling is mutual. HB helps Jarman both practically and spiritually and the depiction of their relationship is one of the most moving aspects in a book which is continually affecting.
The world we now inhabit is rather a different place from the one Derek Jarman moved in. What would he have made of it all? Yet his garden still endures. For some of us, it will remain a garden of the imagination; it makes us think of other gardens as diverse as Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights, of Eden, of lost gardens, of our own garden, of home. Gardens are a collaboration between God and man and they are constantly on the brink of a return to wilderness.
As the journals describe, the artist Maggi Hambling, in suggesting that Derek had discovered with his garden not nature but 'modern nature', prompted the naming of this volume of journals. For some, Derek's garden will become not merely a garden of the imagination but a place of pilgrimage. The garden at Dungeness keeps on keeping on, as physical as ever the man was, pointing the way to eternity in a world in which constantly the screen appears to be flickering and changing, in which the notion of eternity is increasingly a rare, almost outmoded concept.
Modern Nature reveals a thoughtful, sensitive, humorous and courageous man, full of integrity - yet full of humanity also. Quite simply, one of the best books I've ever read and so far without doubt the best journals.
The book is as extraordinary as the garden but to get the full power, you need a little bit of context (which sadly the book does not give). Around the time that Jarman was diagnosed as HIV positive - which in the eighties was a death sentence - he bought an old wooden cottage on the shoreline at Dungerness and began to create a garden on the shoreline. Unfortunately, Jarman belonged to the generation of gay men who went onto develop AIDS - before the arrival of the medications that have saved so many lives. He died in 1994 just a few days after the premier of his last film.
As a therapist helping people face existential crises - and the knowledge than none of us is immortal - I was fascinated by how Jarman found meaning at a time when not only he was under a death threat but many of his friends had died and throughout the book he is constantly getting calls from friends who have diagnosed HIV positive too. So what did he do? He returned to his childhood love of gardens and for the first time since he left home at 18 started to plant out his own one. Some of the most moving parts of the book are when he meditates on the gardens he created at boarding school and in the various outposts of the empire where his father had been stationed. At one point, he muses how, if his life had taken a different turn, that he would have become a gardener but his class and the times had dictated that he gave up 'childish things' and sought a 'proper job.' He promised his father to get an academic degree before being allowed to start art school. (Jarman is definitely a renaissance man who paints, writes and makes films.)
As the book progresses, there is less about plants and his childhood and more about illness as his temperature rises, his energy falls and he is bathed by constant sweats. He is finally diagnosed with TB in his stomach and later pneumonia and the diary ends abruptly with his appendix being removed.
The writing is beautiful and I wished that I too could identify and name so many wild flowers but at the heart this is a political book about how our society keeps outsiders at arm's length - normally by thoughtless cruelty - and cannot value different views. In some ways, the world has changed. HIV is just a serious condition that, properly managed, does not stop people having a natural life span and the number of new infections have started to fall. Gay men have the right to marry and on the surface we are a more tolerant society. However, I doubt Jarman would completely agree with this sunny assessment. Our society still demonises the outsider... we just have different definitions to make someone 'other'. And how good are we even now in finding beauty that does not conform to the given, the conventional and the obvious?
I was not disappointed. This book is fantastic and rivals many fine garden writings, as well as being deeply moving regarding his attachment to the place and the necessary trips to hospital that he made due to his ailing health.
I loved it and could not put it down.
Like when I read 'The Garden', I felt I wished I'd known more of him, and I reveled in the acuity and clarity of his observations.
This is a classic.
This is wonderful testimony from a man that must not be forgotten.
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