American Walk, Between Earth and Sky
Book chapter, 2016
What role do our sensory experiences and bodily experiences play when we saunter in a landscape? As the American philosopher Henry David Thoreau found, walking in the landscape helps us encounter our oneness with nature, life and the cosmos. In his essay “Eye and Mind”, French philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty quotes poet Paul Valéry: the painter takes his body with him” to emphasize the artist’s empathy with things in a relational space. Perception for him is a creative act where the ‘flesh’- the thickness and depth of space- forms an intermediary between the perceiver and the perceived, based on an interconnectedness and familiarity with the world. For Thoreau, walking brings one in contact not only with nature but with oneself, the surrounding space resounding with the inner space it elicts in the saunterer. Just how walking shapes the imagination is illustrated by artist Michael Hopsch dreamlike photographs. This essay with its reading of Merleau-Ponty’s texts on time and perception, examines a memory of a walk in an American landscape, is a dialectic between retention and protention. The essay discusses how a memory constantly recreates itself through new experiences and then asks a number of questions: How do we create a memory? Does a memory reflect other past experiences? And, how do we meet a new moment through past experiences?