(For administrative purposes) It is just over one calendar year since I started out on this PhD and so it would seem a suitably traditional time to reflect a little and see if anything has been achieved. On the 22nd September last year I went for a walk along the Malverns (and if it wasn’t for a stinking cold I’d probably be out walking now rather than sitting here typing this). I declared that with the walk I was starting as I meant to go on.
Well, the walking has remained core to my research (but the cycling and boating will not feature). I’ve only clocked up twelve ‘official’ walks and some of these have been run – a poor strike rate but the principal is there. In fact, the running rather than the walking has become more the focus as the extra exertion required has an important rôle to play in my thinking it seems.
Much of the year has been manillafied (BS 381c) – institutional homogenisation is just not my thing: I’m more than capable of homogenising myself thank you very much! So, manilla has been the broad-brush background wash and the mid- and fore-ground have been liberally punctuated with the vermillion of life’s little complexities which has all lent the year a disorientating, grindingly slow/low, high staccato effect. Not conducive to forward propulsion if, indeed, forward is where I’m intending to go. Forward is progress and ‘progress’ (probably more correctly now Progress™) has been hijacked in recent years…it’s on a pedestal with Impact™.
One thing is certain, the Romantic element of my research title is too misleading and open to misreading which takes what I am trying to do in completely the wrong direction. I’m not on a date with the landscape! Although that thought does have an appeal it is too dualistic. Action: Romantic spirit will be retained but it will not be declared on the ingredient list. ‘Landscape’ is very much still there however, the fact that landscape is generally ‘nature’ framed by culture is challenged by an embrace of the Ingoldian reading of the word’s etymology where shaping rather than looking becomes the driving force. (2011, 126) Having apparently cut the ties I am though interested in the fact that incorporating the word ‘landscape’ into my research plugs it into a certain cultural tradition (one that includes the Romantics).
Ok, ok, the ‘British’ bit is a problem too…apparently. But look, there’s a f•••ing hashtag in front of it! Can’t you see what it is doing? The hashtagging process (for surely # is a verb/gerund) is fluid – a form of identity is retained while constituent elements may come and go. British landscape IS different to French landscape for instance but a) the landscape we are discussing is not just to be looked at – it is an active thing; and b) this landscape can be drilled down into with micro definitions (#Wealdlandscape, #Scottishlandscape, etc.). The #Britishlandscape has fractal qualities.
Hmmmm. Nature, that’s right, even when it is not at the start of a sentence it is still Nature. Nature can also become nature too as it moves deeper into the sentence. Both have given me sleepless nights. Nature is a Problem. A big part of me wants to dismiss the whole idea as it so easily sets up an ‘us and them’ barrier. In a move reminiscent of Kathleen Jamie it would be so much more healthy to declare that we are all nature. (2012) If we do remove nature as an oppositional force it then seemingly becomes necessary to install it as Nature, a thing that grounds and becomes a surrogate God. This ontological slow dance doesn’t even begin to recognise the polyvalence that n/Nature has achieved. Is n/Nature something we conquer? Something we live in harmony with? Something we reserve or conserve? And what about our ‘inner nature’?
That brings me on to an aside. Wild. Rewilding. Commendable. Worrying. Potentially. There is something to applaud in the move but there is also meddling afoot. Humans have buggered things up so let’s put a big sticking plaster on the weeping sore. Care required. I’m concerned that a barrier is strengthened between us (culture) and them (wild). We will know where we are (here, safe) and they (wild) are over the big fence (there, dangerous). It seems to ignore the wild in the human. This doesn’t mean wild as in degenerate behaviour (whatever that is) where we have tabloid scaremongering about swarms of migrants and packs of hooligans. Doubly wrong as swarm and pack become synonymous with bad we offend both the humans and the non-humans. What I intend in the wildhuman is creativity, life force, unpredictability (Nietzsche territory). All things that are forbade in Britain™…but not in #Britain? Rewilding is definitely a positive in its challenge to homogenisation…just don’t start carrying out an Impact™ analysis of the process (7 out of 10 Daily Mail readers say that they have been scared by a wolf in the last six months).
So, we are getting rid of nature. Well, the easy sort of nature at least. And while we are at it lets throw out anthropocentrism too. And the subjective I. So what is this thing running in the landscape and if it does need to run then why does it then have to report that run? There is something happening here around machinic assemblages (Deleuze and Guattari) that it is filtered through some remnant phenomenology (late Merleau-Ponty via Abram). Somewhere amongst the peaks and troughs of the HRM and PS read-outs there is a wealth of geology, weather, sounds, flora and fauna to be discovered. To become.
What better way to celebrate the start of a PhD than go for a walk? … so I did. I thought I would get in just before the University induction events and activities and start as I mean to go on.
This research is about getting amongst landscape not looking at it from a remove. It takes as a starting point Turner’s apocryphal being-tied-to-ship’s-mast tale and could be seen to proceed via Constable’s touring the fields of Suffolk, Peter Lanyon’s glider flights, Bryan Wynter’s marine/submarine activities, Fulton and Long’s walks, etc., etc. For reference: I’ll mainly be walking, running and cycling amongst it all (with possibly the odd boat trip).
This particular walk was also about clearing my mind ahead of the course. Clearing decks and desks before I really get stuck into the PhD doing. It’s a walk I’d wanted to do for a while. The weather certainly put an effort in; in fact I found it a bit too hot towards the end on the exposed stony sections of the Malvern ridge. Down below and back in the morning the air was cool and autumn was most certainly pleasant. Up top – grasses tired from a summer of sun. Baked and ochre.
I took photographs as some form of memory prompt and wore my GPS watch to record some bare bones of the body moving through space. I surprised myself in that I forgot to take my sketchbook – no matter, plenty more chances for that. I was travelling relatively light and trying to stop myself from thinking too much. What is my research about? What do our bodies do in walking amongst the landscape? What does the landscape do as we move amongst it? Why does any of this matter?
The records below are similar to what I have done before. They are places to start and maybe each walk, etc. that I do I will produce this form of record. I’m hoping to experiment a lot more – prodding and poking at active landscapes to see what can be offered. It did occur to me that I need to contemplate the universal as I dwell on the particulars of each area that I move amongst. More pragmatically I feel that I need a reliable way of capturing my thoughts on the go. A dictaphone perhaps? [man seen / heard mumbling to himself in wilderness area – keep away].
Ok, the not thinking part didn’t go very well, but I did have a good work out! And the walk somehow just seemed like the right thing to do. So I did it. And will do it again.