Embodying Landscape

an Honors Thesis and Film by Mana Parker

Dedication and Acknowledgements

Dedicated to Mother Earth for inspiring me to write this thesis about the thing closest to us all, and all of the landscapes I’ve had the privilege of spending time in throughout my time on Earth.

Thanks to my advisors and professors Nigel Gibson, Jon Honea, and Lauren Shaw for inspiring me to question everything, and think critically about my own work in the process. Thanks also to my friends and family who supported me during this project, and inspired me to further question and create in reaction to the idea of human relationship to landscape.

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Artist Statement

In conjunction with this thesis, I created an experimental film installation which explores my own personal relationship to landscape. The film, Embodying Landscape, discusses my journey in perceiving landscape, and how my own experiential relationship with land has shifted and developed throughout my life. Through a narrative written and recorded by myself, and paired with music, I question my relationship to landscape through a shared conversation with the land. The musical tension coalesces with the conversation between the land and myself to evoke an emotional response which can be likened to the experience of embodying the landscape through the sensuous nature of the human experience. The land itself responds in the wise and autonomous ‘voice’ of myself who has begun to understand landscape as a more complex form than which humans have imposed upon it. By narrating both my own experiences and the responses of landscape, I hope to illustrate that the landscape is ourselves, and therefore there is no separation between the experience of landscape and our own experience. 

Along with the spoken and musical dialogue, I include footage of myself interacting with landscape both behind and in front of the camera, as I explore what it means to fully embody landscape no matter what form it manifests itself in. Through this self-reflection process, I am using my art to see how my own body interacts with the environment around me in a form from which I can be somewhat detached. As an additional element to this theme, my film installation includes a partially improvisational performance by myself as a live part of the film narrative. As the recorded audio and video expresses my anxieties, uncertainties, and questions about landscape in relationship to my own being, I am also exploring my own relationship to myself by interacting with the flows and ebbs of the music in an improvisational manner. Although I have heard and seen the content of my film many times before, interacting with it through bodily movement in the moment of performance gives me the opportunity to embody my own storied relationship with the land. In this way, I become both the perceiver and the perceived, exemplifying the ways our relationship with landscape is reciprocal in both the physical and emotional sense. As I perform to the film, I feel the emotions of both harmony and discord, just as there is a constant tension between embodiment and disembodiment that we as humans must walk between in our relationship with landscape, as we see ourselves and are seen by the land. In the conclusion of the performance, the ways in which I break free of my discord with the landscape is by revealing myself to the audience at my most raw and vulnerable; stripping away the layers of my ego and pride as I smoke marijuana and strip off my clothes to revel in the core of being human using the tools I present to re-embody landscape. Although I am momentarily able to break free of the discord in my relationship with landscape, the end of the film reveals that both discord and embodiment must live together as I work through the tangled web of my relationship with the land, and discover more about myself in the process.

Embodying Landscape Performance Art Installation

An installation and performance art piece accompanied the premiere of my experimental thesis film, Embodying Landscape, at Studio 550 in Cambridge, Massachusetts on April 27th, 2019. Filmed by Noah Chiet.

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Introduction

Landscape exists as a profoundly psychological space in our memories and in our everyday realities. Visual recall of landscape pulls at us to return to these places to answer questions about the nature of our personal realities and of the environment itself. As John Berger writes, “It is seeing which establishes our place in the surrounding world…” (Berger 7). These memories that we harbor are not just emblematic of our past, they are also emblematic of our present, because the very virtue of perceiving helps us to contextualize our environments—both psychologically and existentially. Landscape in particular, has a unique existence in our environments, as it is an all encompassing space that surrounds us for our entire lives. We might not notice it on a daily basis, as it is assimilated into our routines, but on another level of perception which affects the way we perceive the world, we are profoundly influenced by the landscapes we experience. Given the immediacy of landscape in our lives, the ways in which we experience it have a profound effect on the ways in which we will choose to connect with it. In the context of the American post-industrial landscape, which has been completely effected by the work of human hands, examining our experience with landscape is an important step to altering how we relate to it. In this thesis, I will discuss the historic perceptions of American landscape as both socially constructed and an intimate and individual experience engaged with through the taskscape. By exploring both levels of experience, I will explore how this duality has created a national identity of landscape which has disembodied us from our environments. I will then discuss tools to re-embody landscape including dance and psychedelics. I argue that these tools can act to reject cultural frameworks and reconnect us with landscape as not separate from our experience as humans, but essential to it.

Landscape, however, resists definition. A landscape is that which inhabits both our external and internal worlds. It is both the ‘wild’ and pristine landscapes which have become the national landscape of the United States, but it is also the landscape of the every day; the environment surrounding the urban and suburban places most Americans call home. It is both the exotic and sublime, and the familiar and comforting, it is a space of ambiguity and of clarity, a space of material and objective reality and a space of the immaterial. This contestation of experiences is what makes studying landscape a challenge. There is no single perspective towards landscape, but rather a plethora of ideas that compose landscape in our individual experiences and within our cultures. Landscape is therefore a place of conflict, but for the sake of clarification, landscape in this paper can be defined as the general environments which are a part of the American consciousness; both those of the every day, but also those which we don’t see on a regular basis such as wilderness areas, industry, and the vast farming areas of the midwest. Essentially, landscape is every environment which has a shape or form, and to which we as humans can relate our own bodies.

As philosopher James Carey writes, “Communication in any form is the site of social conflict over the real” (Carey 66).  Although we must all view the world as individuals within our own experience, we are also inherently social beings and very rarely do the ideas that make up our reality exist without the context of the shared experiences of those we share our environments with. Therefore, our perception of landscape exists as a contested reality because of the inherent conflict in our perceptions of it. Landscape exists between the immaterial and material, creating an ambiguous space which leaves room for both the construction of landscape through culture, but also of a more immediate, intimate, and experiential perception. This inevitable duality of our perception of landscape through our internal and external reality however, is not something which is inescapable by the individual. Although much of what we name as landscape today is culturally constructed, valuing our own perceptions equally with those of culture can create a reality which is grounded in our immediate surroundings. Although the sense of place which manifests itself in the material properties of the environments we live in is inescapable, this system is disrupted through the altering of reality by our internal perceptions.  In a sense, the way we see landscape is key to our understanding and experience of it, and therefore examining the ways in which we regard landscape is key to altering our future relationships with it. 

As Karl Benediktsson and Katrín Anna Lund write in the introduction of Conversations with Landscape, our relationship with landscape can best be understood as a conversation (Benediktsson and Lund 3). Although in the past landscape has been understood as a passive body which cannot speak for itself, Lund and Benediktsson assert that landscape indeed communicates, albeit deviating from the norm of a human linguistic approach to communication. They point to the studies done by biosemioticians such as Charles Sanders Peirce who asserted “that all life be recognised as an exchange of signs” (Benediktsson and Lund 4). By exploring the semiotics associated with forms in landscapes, their human counterparts can better understand the non-linguistic communications exhibited by the land. Landscape can be seen to communicate through its own natural processes, and therefore, our dialogue with landscape can be viewed in much the same way as linguistic communications. Furthermore, our mutual human-landscape interactions are what develops our relationships towards landscape. You cannot build a structure for example, without recognizing that the landscape will enact it’s own pressures upon the space which you have constructed. These conversations happen every day between humans and landscape without our recognition of the autonomy landscape is exhibiting over our own lives even as we recognize our own autonomy. 

This view of landscape has been used in arguments for the autonomy of nature in political discourse surrounding landscape, but can also be extended to describe the complex social interrelationship between humans and landscape. Richard Evanoff states that “a communicative approach to ethics can be linked to a transactional ontology which sees individuals in the context of the interactions they have with both their social and natural environments” (Evanoff 251). Similarly to Peirce’s semiotics, Evanoff saw a way for a communicative ethics model to be used in consideration of non-human entities such as the natural environment because of the evidence of autonomy it exhibits through its natural processes. Evanoff argues thought that landscape does not have to exhibit autonomy in the ways humans do though, as it lacks the ability to make choices or reflect on its actions because of its inability to reason consciously outside of its “chemical reactions, biological instincts, and simple stimulus-response mechanisms.” In contrast,  humans must contend with ethics because of the biological evolution of consciousness which has made us consider these questions (Evanoff 252). Evanoff’s perspective is dualistic in its relationship between humans and nature. He argues for a moral considerability where humans must make choices about their interactions with nature because nature cannot make choices for itself (and where no human interacts with nature, there is no ethical choice to be made). In resistance to Evanoff’s dualism, anthropologists such as Tim Ingold argue that we are a part of the landscape, just as “each component enfolds within its essence the totality of its relations with each and every other” (Ingold 154). Despite the ethical choices we feel we must take on behalf of non-conscious nature, nature is making choices about our own lives through its own processes and interactions. Despite its lack of ethical input, it still intertwines us within its complex web. Our own ethical choices towards landscape are therefore guided by our own connection to landscape, and this cannot be separated despite our human-centric concept of morality. This in itself shows evidence of a dialogue between landscape and humans which is guided not just by socially constructed forms such as ethics, but also by the landscape’s own autonomy and our own inherent place in it.

The human-landscape conversation therefore, is not about the duality between our internal and external worlds, about the object (landscape) and the subject (humanity), but rather recognizes the interconnectedness of humans with landscape. We are not separate from landscape, but rather dwell within it, we embody it. Ingold argues this in his 1993 essay, The Temporality of the Landscape, stating that landscape should be seen from a “dwelling perspective” where the landscape itself is a record of the lives of past generations. Landscape does not just carry its own past, but also ours. In other words, landscape is not just what we see in our immediate environment, but also what we don’t see (Ingold 153). From this perspective, landscape is a contextual orientation from which people engage and move through the world. Landscape is neither an external cultural construction or inward perception, but rather a starting point from which we sense the world around us. Ingold’s perspective offers a reconciliation between the internal and external, between culture and instinct, between the temporal and the universal. These dualities are usurped by perception achieved through bodily and tactile involvement of the senses which is essential to achieving “bodily immersion rather than detached observation” as Merleau-Ponty wrote (Benediktsson & Lund 6). Through the recognition of our intertwined relationship with nature in our every day life, Ingold’s dwelling concept reinforces the notion that through our daily interactions with the landscape, we are ourselves sculpting forms within the landscape which exist not just from and for our own uses, but extend into the landscape creating their own life in the process (Ingold 170).


Social Construction of Landscape

Stories about the world have been understood throughout time to cover up the true meaning of the world and to create a socially constructed dialogue which controls the perspectives of those engaged in these cultural myths. Carey speaks of this phenomenon in his book, Communication as Culture, where he states that there is two fundamental types of communication, transmission communication which is centered around the distribution of information across space “for the control of distance and people” and ritual communication which is “directed not toward the extension of messages in space but toward the maintenance of society in time” (Carey 13-15). Communication in this latter view draws people together through commonality, constructing a meaningful world that is not necessarily created to alter opinions or represent a certain function in society, “but to manifest an ongoing and fragile social process” (Carey 5). This view of communication acknowledges that reality is a fluid perception across time and space, and will inevitably be influenced by our individual contexts, rather than by an overarching view of American culture. Carey sees the possibility of communication as communion and ritual, both words which have religious connotations because of their inherent ties to religion as “the prayer, the chant, and the ceremony” in order to bring people together in commonality (Carey 15). But rather than rejecting the controlling nature of the transmission view of communication, Carey asserts that ritual communication sees the inevitable path of communication as a drama unfolding, displaying the ways in which a particular worldview can be confirmed through a community consensus towards one type of information (Carey 6). As many intellectuals in America embrace the reality of science, still others use religious metaphors as a basis for their perceptions of reality. These are both methods of transmission as a means of control of information, but both fall under a ritual view of communication because group consensus is created through individual domination of prevalent ideals over others. 

Whereas Carey clearly sees communication as culturally constructed, and as a way to construct a particular worldview, viewing landscape as akin to these communication processes adds another layer to the assumptions made about how we construct our perceptions. Ingold writes about the importance of stories as not a tool for covering up the landscape, but of making explicit an understanding of the world. Although Carey separates the perceiver of the world from the world itself, Ingold does not see a distinction between the perceiver and the perceived. “The landscape, I hold, is not a picture in the imagination, surveyed by the mind’s eye; nor however is it an alien and formless substrate in the imagination, awaiting the imposition of human order” (Ingold 154). Human-landscape interactions are instead, an embodiment of our inherent interactions within the landscape, and human social interactions are an intrinsic part of that dialogue. These communications however, are just a part of our ability to explain our place within the landscape, rather than covering up the true meaning of a place. Therefore, when discussing the history of American landscape in particular, it is important to note that the stories that have been told about landscape are not just a way to cover up the ‘reality’ of a place by constructing our own, but rather to elucidate the world around us. 

Given that landscape gains clarity through conversation with both human relationships and human-landscape relationships, then we must lend credence to both as equally important ways of embodying the landscape. Through the dwelling perspective, landscape is embodied through the mundane and ordinary tasks of the everyday and Ingold states, that “tasks are the constitutive acts of dwelling” (Ingold 158). This taskscape, as Ingold refers to it, is the multitude of activities which are necessarily associated through the social nature of their doing. These tasks that we engage in are temporal, and we embody them through engagement with our tasks. Although we see a social construction of time that allows us to observe the passage of time as if it were separate from us, this is falsely disembodied from “our own journey through the taskscape in the business of dwelling” (Ingold 159). Just as we see time as being separate from us when in actuality it is us engaging with time, it is the same with landscape. We are not just conversing with landscape through dwelling, but also with each other. American landscape has been embodied through these social interactions in the mutual engagement in the act of dwelling. By deconstructing social constructions as imposed upon the landscape rather than a part of it, we are not getting closer to the truth, but rather farther away from it. Instead, through exploring the sociality of human-landscape relationships, we can see the ways in which these resonances have shaped and also been shaped by landscape as living process through both artificial and natural structures.

The landscape of the American continent, in particular is one which in a short time period has changed drastically in form. When the earliest immigrants came to the New World, the essential motivation behind this movement was to find a landscape to inhabit that was untouched and uncorrupted by the long and lengthy histories of Europe, and which had potential for profitable human use, both material and ideological. The landscape itself was redemptive, and because of the vast space it offered to the immigrants, was one that was almost mythic in proportion to the small state-like countries of Europe (Nash 23). Many Anglo-Saxon Christian immigrants desired to escape the trappings and traditions of European society for the freedom to practice their religion, where “movement in itself could be a redemptive act.” The stark landscape of the American continent had the ability to illuminate new virtues. By transporting themselves from an old world to a new one, these pilgrims wanted to establish a utopic vision of God’s terrestrial kingdom (Carey 13). 

The actual landscape that greeted the immigrants in the New World however, was one of wilderness. Wilderness can be seen as a form of landscape throughout history, that has been most often associated with myths and legends about the unknown. “If paradise was early man’s greatest good, wilderness, as its antipode, was his greatest evil” states Frazier Nash about the old world roots of perception of wilderness (Nash 9). Particularly in the Judeo-Christian tradition, the popularized Bible story of the Garden of Eden is an exemplification of the desire for the paradise of the pastoral and a rejection of the untamed and evil of wilderness. The Garden of Eden is described as well watered and filled with edible plants, and there is no fear because of the lack of wild and dangerous creatures (besides the snake) in The Garden. After Adam and Eve fall to the temptation of the snake, essentially succumbing to evil, they are punished by being cast out of The Garden of Eden and sent into the wilderness which is described as a “‘cursed’ land full of ‘thorns and thistles’. This view of wilderness however, was only one of many which permeated the culture of the immigrants coming to the new world. Wilderness could also be “a sanctuary from a sinful and persecuting society,” as well as “a testing ground” for which people could become closer to God. Wilderness was both a place of refuge and “a disciplinary force” (Nash 15-16). For the immigrants of the New World, the landscape was fulfilling a prophecy of deliverance from evils, and through control of the evil of the wilderness, they could become closer to God. During this early immigration of Europeans, proliferation of pastoral landscape ideology was essential to the ways in which society functioned. The taskscape that the immigrants engaged in was centered on cultivating the land for productive purposes, and of protecting themselves from the harsh realities of the landscape of the New World. 

Although the stories told about the wilderness of the landscape, can be seen as myths, they also explicate a very important aspect of human relationship to landscape. Through telling these stories which revolve around a critical approach to wilderness, the story teller is able to warn those who listen, of the risks associated with venturing into the wilderness unguarded. Wilderness is a complex, uncivilized place, which exhibits its own autonomy over the landscape. When venturing into these places, humans are no longer able to guarantee their own survival. Just as early humans had to confront the realities of wilderness to survive, the modern human too had to overcome wilderness in order to obtain necessities such as food and shelter. By creating a pastoral landscape, this was more easily accomplished, and there was less risk involved than with living in the wilderness. The stories they told each other about wilderness reflected the passing down of information about the very human need to survive. As New England became more developed, the nature of the pastoral landscape took on its own character in relation to the inhabitants that engaged with it. This in turn resonated with their stories of the Godliness of the garden they had created. Although these stories are seen as socially constructed,  this did not cover up the ‘true nature’ of the landscape, but rather changed the conversation with those who dwelled there. For landscapes are not static, but fluid, and they are as a part of our sociality as we are a part of the structures of landscape which intertwine with our own lives.

Not all immigrants to the New World however, valued the pioneers perspective of valuing the pastoral over wilderness. This can be rooted in the era of Enlightenment which brought about the idea of the sublime. Edmund Burke expressed this in 1757, expressing the idea that “terror and horror in regard to nature stemmed from exultation, awe, and delight rather than from dread and loathing”. This dualistic perspective became a way to accept a reality which could exist outside of the confines of human experience. Sublimity became a way to see God’s work more clearly, as it was “pure nature” as opposed to the ordered world which humans had superimposed on God’s land (Nash 45-46). One particular mythos rose up from this era of Enlightenment which led into the era of Romanticism and Primitivism. The ‘noble savage’ or wild man came into being as one who lived an idyllic life in the depths of the woods, leaving behind the discord, corruption, and materialism brought about by life in civilization, for the peace and harmony of the wilderness (Nash 47). Many Europeans, and later Americans, following romantic leanings, journeyed through the wild country of the New World, hoping to find landscape as solace. Those who shared an enthusiasm for wilderness based off the philosophies of Romanticism and primitivism however, often had the privilege to be unconcerned with conquering it for material gain, in contrast to the many colonists did who had more puritanical views toward wilderness. Instead, these lovers of wilderness saw the ideological power in forgoing the necessities of civilization others relied on, for the psychological freedom of living outside the boundaries of culture. The access to this experience of landscape was strongly tied to privilege and many of these brave surveyors of wilderness were white men who had the least tie to obligations or expectations brought about the cultural purity of the era. This acknowledged however, these men were able to write about a valuable aspect of the human experience, that of embodying landscape.

This attitude towards wilderness bled into the Progressive era at the turn of the century where the spread of urban intellectuals began to value the wild landscapes of the West for their “symbolic and spiritual meanings” (Bright 61). During this time period, the United State’s shifted dramatically from a mostly rural to a mostly urban population. A profound split in relationships to landscape was building between those living in urban areas and those living in rural ones. Intellectual urbanites in the east began to feel a pull towards a wild landscape, partially in response to the closing of the Great Western Frontier, and also partially owed to the groundwork laid by romanticism in the 18th and 19th centuries (Bright 61, Nash 44). Vacations into the wilderness became more popular as a way to escape from urban life. Joel T. Headley, a reporter for the New York Tribune, wrote particularly about the merits of wilderness for the traveler to the Adirondacks of upstate New York. “…I love the long stretch through the forest on foot, and the thrilling, glorious prospect from some hoary mountain top. I love it, and I know it is better for me than the thronged city, aye, better for soul and body both’” (Nash 62). 

The spreading popularity of wilderness would later form a national landscape which was said to characterize America through the various famous geographies which existed across the continent. This idea of the national landscape however, was one understood primarily by the intellectual, urban elite who were told stories about the importance of wild landscape through a certain taste in music and art. Those who lived in rural areas, in contrast, were aligned with a degraded social class who could not value wilderness because of their utilitarian leanings towards the pastoral landscape (Miller 214-215). This however, did not necessarily mean that those with more mundane concerns than venturing into wilderness for the sake of it could not see the value in wilderness over that of cities, but rather that this was secondary to their motivation to work the land (Nash 63). 

Ironically, as those in urban areas began to seek wilderness, this created incentive for further development of the West. Landscape had become commodified for the masses. Stereographs were produced which depicted views of the geologic west such as Yellowstone, the railroad companies capitalized on this fascination with wilderness by advertising the scenic routes across the country to urban dwellers, and the automobile and cheaply constructed roads gave access to city dwellers as never before. Those who could afford to take time off from the urban life were able to journey to these places that they had only seen as images before, and to escape the industrialization of cities as earlier romanticists sought to escape town life. As Deborah Bright writes, “The Great West embodied the antithesis of urban, industrial life…the pervasive subservience to the oppressive bureaucratic structures”  (Bright 61). 

As the place-specific landscapes of the wild came into prominence, they became the national landscape of America. In her discussion of the importance of landscape imagery in shaping perception of the national landscape, Angela Miller writes that this created a process “of cultural consolidation around certain pivotal symbols” and created a perception of landscape which rested on the capitalistic nature of industry. “…America as a land of expanding horizons and natural wonders is our banalized and postmythic projection of the national landscape” (Miller 212). She argues that this constructs a reality surrounding wilderness spaces where the dominant imagery represents an idealized version of nature outside of the real. This national landscape may have been more accessible than ever, but people were not truly seeing it for what it was outside of the romantic notion of a landscape “devoid of the artifacts of human life, offers us a ‘a magnificent garden, a colonial vision of paradise imposed on a real place that is, at best, only selectively known’” (Miller 213). Miller is arguing for a culturally imposed vision of landscape which exists outside of the real landscape, and instead through people’s culturally imposed perceptions.

Through this perspective, can we ever truly see landscape? Or is it permanently divorced from its materiality, shifted into the iconography of American soil, tainted by the cultural nationalism and capitalism which imposed ideological notions upon its soil? I think not. This view is too anthropocentric, and does not give enough credit to the autonomy of the landscape itself. This landscape has existed, and always will exist, albeit in many different forms, as landscape is just as temporal as culture is. The national landscape is not covering up landscape as true form, but is instead calling attention to the parts of it which humans have become oriented. Just as earlier human-landscape relationships resonated with the construction of a pastoral landscape, this later attraction to wild landscapes resonated with a proliferation of a landscape which humans oriented themselves around in search of a national identity and a refuge from the oppression of an industrial culture. This human-landscape interaction tells a story of human progress where certain types of presentations of landscape became more prominent as a consequence (Benediktsson and Lund 3).This however, does not mean that these meanings were imposed on landscape. According to Ingold there is no differentiation between the natural and the artificial, and therefore the forms constructed by humans in landscape are as a part of the landscape as earlier wild forms are (Ingold 162). The idea of the imposition of a national landscape is regressive then, because you cannot look upon landscape as an outside force because it is exactly the surrounding from which we take view of our environment. Although the national landscape became space specific, this was only because of the surroundings that we oriented ourselves around. We are all dwellers, and through the process of dwelling, we have left an enduring record of our interactions on the landscape’s surface.

However this is not to say that the creation of a national landscape always created a more open dialogue between humans and landscape. This can only be done “through bodily immersion rather than detached observation” and the stereographs, railway system, and the prevalence of cars can be argued to discourage a more tactile and bodily feeling of presence in landscape (Benediktsson and Lund 6). Instead, the national landscape could become somewhat of a disembodied space where those who saw it were viewing it from outside of a neutral position, as they were influenced by their social group, as landscape-human interactions are influenced by the sociality of our taskscape. It can be argued then, that the national landscape was not culturally imposed, but rather part of the process of dwelling. For human-landscape interactions cannot exist outside of the social and this sociality influences in what ways we are actually able to embody our place in the taskscape because of the inherent power and privilege linked to our social systems. As Rebecca Solnit writes:


[Landscapes] have political as well as aesthetic dimensions; on the small scale they involve real estate and sense for place, on the large scale they involve nationalism, war, and the grounds for ethnic identity … [Landscape is] not just where we picnic but also where we live and die. it is where our food, water, fuel, and minerals come from, where our nuclear waste and shit and garbage go to, it is the territory of dreams, somebody’s homeland, somebody’s gold mine. (Benediktsson and Lund 8)


The landscapes we interact with might not necessarily be those that we see with our eyes, but that we interact with in every part of our daily lives. As Ingold writes, landscape does not have boundaries, but rather flows seamlessly from place to place, each representing a whole (Ingold 155). Given this logic, we must consider our places of dwelling to also be the places which are engaged with through our taskscape, however indirectly. Although the idea of the national landscape is static in it’s specificity of place, the landscape actually experienced by and which we benefit from in our acts of dwelling is very much interconnected across the entire continent and even now beyond to the other places which we are connected with via our global economy and power our lives in many hidden ways. It is this acknowledgement of landscape as the space which we interact with both indirectly and directly that must be resolved. For how can we possible start to embody landscape without every physically being there?


Embodying Landscape

If we acknowledge that today, we have become more and more disembodied from our landscape and lack a mutual conversation with landscape because of globalization, then how do we change? Culture, although a huge part of our engagement in the taskscape, is not an inescapable place from which we must view the world. Going back to Ingold’s argument, there is no “division between inner and outer worlds” where our internal reality governs our external reality (Ingold 154). Instead, this reveals our relationship to landscape to be one in which we are intertwined, because the landscape includes us in its web. Globalization has divorced us from this perspective and is heavily engrained in our cultural reality. In order to overcome this illusion of separation though, must we simply change our cultural perspectives or must we fundamentally change the way we interact with the landscape? Given the false dichotomy between our internal and external worlds, simply shifting cultural lenses would not usurp dualism, but instead reinforce it. We must instead recognize that landscape holds the memories of our pasts as individuals, but also as a species, and we exist within that network of relations. As I discussed earlier, Ingold sees embodying landscape as the tasks of dwelling which make up our everyday lives (Ingold 158). Rather than being the beholders of our reality, we are the participants. Through that perspective, we can no longer separate ourselves from reality through the veil of culture which covers up the real and replaces it with the subjective. Instead we ourselves are what makes up reality, through our sensuous interactions with landscape. Through the use of our bodily senses, we become enmeshed in the processes of the landscapes we traverse through. As Ingold states, we resonate to the cycles of light and darkness…to cycles of vegetative growth and decay…” (Ingold 163). These are not just historical forms of the landscape, but also a part of our very biological processes which respond to the landscape through coevolutionary history. 

A national landscape based on a few key symbolic landscapes became the national landscape as a whole and this falsely disembodied us from landscape as the everyday as we searched for the landscape of the sublime. We stopped engaging with our landscapes not only because we saw them as physically distinct and distant from us, but also because our culture and economic life was no longer centered on the taskscape of the pastoral. Although earlier historical perception of landscape in America regarded the pastoral as Godly, later shifts in perception changed the attitude towards landscape. Those rural peoples who did embody landscape through their occupations were denigrated to a lower class, and the fields they carefully tended to were looked down upon as uncharacteristic of the sublime and wild landscapes that had become so essential to America. However, this rural working class did in fact embody their landscape in so far as they were fully present in the taskscape of their lives, working with landscape in a constant conversation, full with the sensuous nature of tasks which engage the whole body. 

The rejection of this aspect of life by urban intellectuals created disembodiment from the landscape of the everyday, as they came towards a new relationship with landscape as ideology rather than as conversation of sensuous engagement. Urbanites no longer had to grow their own gardens, or hunt for their food in the wilderness, but instead could step back from this traditional and reciprocal relationship between humans and landscape to create a more ideologically centered dialogue with landscape as a place of purity and sublimity which existed outside of the confines of civilization. 

Contrary to this new and distanced tradition regarding landscape, embodying landscape rests “on an intimate experience of place” where landscape is oriented towards our own bodies, instead of seeing landscape as something distanced from our own experience (Miller 216). Essentially, we must bring the human element back to landscape, and this is done through our own self-perception. We must examine our individual relationships to landscape in order to unpack our cultural histories, and to reconsider the ways in which we perceive and embody landscape. This counter-cultural movement against the dominant perspective of the other and distanced landscape can act as an embodiment of landscape which again rests on a landscape which is in intimate communication with our own bodies through engagement with the taskscape.

This human element is the mind and body; both sensuous in their engagement with the landscape, as they both involve using many tools of re-immersion with landscape in order to converse (conversation being to speak and listen with equal reciprocity). This is grounded in several different bodily processes which can be incorporated into the every day, modern taskscape in the same way that a day passes for a farmer who must tend their fields. There are many artists engaged in the critical work of reconnecting with landscape through their art, and art is indeed a key component in how we can engage with and truly see landscape. Seeing is the sensuous; it is not just sight, but also touching, smelling, hearing, and tasting. The creation of art is an embodiment of most, if not all of our senses just as landscape is an embodiment of our senses through the tasks we do. In this way, art can be paralleled with landscape as a valuable way to elucidate what it means to embody. As Ingold states, “embodiment [is] a movement of incorporation rather than inscription, not transcribing a form onto material but a movement wherein forms themselves are generated” (Ingold 157). Just as art is not created from nothing, but from the compilation of forms into a piece of art, landscape is made from a compilation of the orientation of the beholder. By drawing parallels between art and landscape, I want to explain the ways in which art can help us to converse with landscape, and thus embody it's forms more completely with all of our senses. 

Landscape itself resists any firm place in material reality. It is a fluid thing, constantly shifting and changing. Our relationship with landscape is as fluid, because we are always moving through it, and through that journeying process, our orientation within landscape is constantly shifting. Our relationship with landscape is reciprocally built upon our movements through space and understanding this can help us to understand that while we are seeing landscape, landscape is also seeing us. As John Berger writes, “Soon after we can see, we are aware that we can also be seen…the reciprocal nature of vision is more fundamental than that of spoken dialogue” (Berger 9). Seeing can be expanded beyond vision though, to include the other elements of the sensuous. For example, while we are observing our footsteps puncture the earth, the land is observing our movements upon its surface through its reciprocal response to our feet. We do not act alone, but rather in tandem. It is exactly this relationship to the land of which we must be aware. By observing the way our own movements interact with the landscape, we can be more conscious of the ways in which we are conversing with the landscape. 

This is more explicitly stated in Aldo Leopold’s short essay, Thinking Like a Mountain, where he talks about his experience shooting a wolf and hi subsequent realization. Leopold discusses the legacy of wolves having been hunted by humans for various reasons including protecting livestock, and creating more deer hunting opportunities. Leopold points out however, that by killing off the wolves, there has become an overpopulation of deer which have decimated the plant life of the landscape until there is no foliage left for the inflated deer population and many have succumbed to disease and death. Without the wolf population, the natural balance of the ecosystem was disrupted. “I now suspect that just as a deer herd lives in mortal fear of its wolves, a mountain lives in mortal fear of its deer” (Leopold 132). The mountain itself needs the aid of the wolves to protect the balance of its ecosystem, so that everything can thrive. This is an ecocentric perspective which is hard to bridge when thinking from an anthropocentric lens. Leopold elucidates a very important point about our reciprocal relationship with the land, and the ways in which we cannot possibly converse with the landscape without understanding this perspective. A conversation is only possible through “speaking” to the landscape by observing its own natural processes as an autonomous cycle of which we are only a small part.

How do we observe these processes of landscape though? It could be argued that science is the perfect antidote to this problem, because by its very process, it observes natural processes and offers a perspective which gives solid evidence in support of why or why we should not be interacting with landscape in a particular way. In many cases science has given us the answers we need to solve a problem which is directly related to the ways in which we interact with landscape, and it is also oftentimes a powerful political tool because of the solid evidence that it purports to provide us with. However, that is also science’s weakness, as the human justification behind our decisions often lies outside of the rational and instead in a place related to feelings of power, fear, or something else which lies in the realm of the irrational, and science is not situated to dispute the irrational. Additionally, science claims to situate itself between the subject and object, as if the subject were able to observe the object as outside of themselves, but some dispute this notion of the subjective observer. Ingold writes about archaeology for example, “the practice of archaeology is in itself a form of dwelling” (Ingold 152). Archaeologists cannot separate themselves from that which they are studying because by the very process of studying it, they have become a part of its processes. The same can be said of other forms of science. I argue that Scientists cannot separate themselves as objective viewer, because they themselves are a subjective part of what they are studying.

In response to the inherent nature of science, the best way to observe, communicate, and collaborate with landscape is to embrace our place within it. Lund and Willson critically engage in the short essay “Slipping into Landscape” with the simple experience of going for a long hike and the emotional aspects of the experience which accompany this journey. Embracing this humanistic aspect of engaging with landscape is an interesting way to observe how we engage in conversation with landscape through the ways landscape connects to our emotions. Going on walks in the past has been associated with romanticism (Lund and Willson 99). As I discussed earlier, followers of romanticism and primitivism and later followers of transcendentalism in North America drew inspiration from their encounters with wilderness. Naturalists such as John Muir would famously often go on long walking journeys through wilderness as a respite from the ills of civilization (Nash 126). This type of walking in literature has been associated with the “rather trouble-free walking that “unites the walker and the landscape in a lived dialectic of being and becoming, acting and being acted upon” (Lund and Willson 99). This emphasis on engaging with landscape is a key aspect of Ingold’s argument for recognizing our inherent place in landscape: “…it is with us, not against us” (Ingold 154). This romantic notion of human place in landscape implies that it is possible to live in harmony with landscape without engaging with the tension of landscape as well. However, there is also a discord within our relationship to landscape. The early immigrants to the harsh environment of the New World were only too aware of the landscape’s threatening ability to both give and take. It is this constant push and pull within our relationship to landscape that is important to acknowledge. Just as the river flows through the riverbed with occasional disruptions of rocks and other debris which shift its course, there will inherently be moments of discord within our relationship to landscape as we flow through it which shift our conversation.

Acknowledging this discord is important to being able to understand that both the harmony and disharmony with our relationship to landscape is key to our place within it. Willson and Lund use walking as a metaphor for this “integrated tension in the ‘openness to the world’” (Lund and Willson 99). In the beginning of the walk, Willson describes a feeling of expectations of what the hike will be like which are informed by her previous familiar experiences of walking across landscape, even though the landscape she will be walking across is foreign to her. Then as she comes into proximity of the terrain she will walk, she is feeling distanced again and a sense of vulnerability arises about walking in a place which is inherently foreign to her (Lund and Willson 115-116). Once the hike is actually under way, at first Willson feels a familiarity in the terrain. She forgets her body and plans in the movement of walking and is rather with the landscape (Lund and Willson 117). This is the feeling of being embodied within your task, of becoming part of the landscape (Ingold 156). Later however, Willson starts to feel insecure as she encounters a difficult part of the hike and then becomes aware of the fact that she is walking again. This could be seen as becoming disembodied, of separating herself from the landscape. She gets separated from the group and ends up falling down a slope and having to be rescued by her guide, and she feels vulnerable at this moment. This is revealing of the way in which “‘Mishaps are particularly pointed examples of becoming aware of what landscapes are really like’” (Lund and Willson 118-119). No longer is the walk or the journey romanticized as a space of peaceful cooperation between landscape and human, but rather a space of bumps and divets which define our conversation.

Through this journey, Willson encounters the inherent tension in engaging with landscape. She comes in and out of being with landscape as her emotions shift from those of peace and tranquility to those of anxiety and fear. Embodying landscape is more complex than just feeling a part of the landscape, as there is an inherent tension in our relationship to landscape when we traverse a place which is unfamiliar to us. Van Den Berg writes of the threshold between the body being aware of itself as separate from landscape when planning a journey, and the body becoming unaware of itself when in the act of traversing across the landscape. “When the body…enters the landscape, it is not merely in it, as when looked from a distance, but with it…absorbed by [the landscape] and the ‘body (just as the plan) is realized as a landscape’” (Lund and Willson 117). The body is constantly in the process of becoming unaware and aware of itself as it situates itself in relation to landscape. There is no constant feeling of embodiment with the landscape, as the human mind easily comes to feelings of self-consciousness when engaged in a landscape of the unfamiliar, but can just as easily resist feelings of self-consciousness when engaged in the landscape of the familiar. 


Tools of Embodiment

Tension in human relationship to landscape is inevitable, and helps to explain why as humans in the Anthropocene, we have so easily become disembodied from the landscape. This disembodiment is just a part of the process of our communications with the landscape, and not the ending of human-relationship conversation, but rather a large boulder diverting the river for awhile before it begins to flow again; but where does this boulder end? Or rather, how long will it take us to see the ending of the boulder before we begin to embody landscape again? There are several tools which serve this purpose, and which have a long-standing tradition among those who seek a way towards embodiment. The first tool I will discuss is dance, and the second, is ritualistic use of psychedelic drugs. Both of these tools, as I will argue, are able to situate the beholder into an intuitive and bodily—rather than predominantly cultural—space. In order to embody landscape, the individual must be able to situate themselves bodily within it, and the barrier of globalization has made it necessary to find new tools of embodiment which allow us the space to embody despite the impracticality of engaging explicitly with every part of our taskscape. Although in the past this has been done by engaging with the physical taskscapes of the everyday which were required to survive before industrialization, post-industrialization has left a void of disembodiment with landscape. One could argue that the individual is able to embody landscape again by traveling into wilderness spaces and immersing themselves fully into their environment. In fact many have done this, and it can be an effective tool to learn how to embody landscape on a physical level. What it often fails at though, is maintaining a space of embodiment of landscape even when the individual leaves wilderness and comes back to the urban and suburban centers of American life. Although the visitor to these spaces may have temporarily embodied landscape through their interactions with it, it may not have facilitated further engagement and embodiment of the landscape of the every day. After you leave the wilderness, you have to come back to civilization, and often this space holds more ties to disembodiment than to embodiment.

Therefore, these tools are a further way to converse with landscape, be it the cityscape or the countryside, as they connect the individual to a more immersive and bodily experience which facilitates conversation with landscape on a critical, immersive, internal and personal level regardless of setting. Jodie Allinson discusses the ideas of George Lakoff and Mark Johnson about “‘embodied knowledge’” which one learns through bodily experiences and development. They argue that human development of our conceptual structures is intrinsically linked to perception of landscape. These structures “emerge from one’s experience in the world and so develop in conjunction with sensorimotor, perceptual, and cognitive abilities. Subsequently perceptual habits, actions, and behaviors emerge from the conceptual system, and shape one’s relationship with the world”. This bodily-centric notion asserts that perception is shaped through the body and therefore defines our everyday realities (Allinson 5). Further elucidating this point, Lakoff and Johnson argue that the body is a container and the environment is another container, both separate entities from one another. With this ‘container’ metaphor, they define boundaries where the self is the center from which we interact with the world. It is from this perspective that they argue it is difficult for one to experience the world from another perspective (Allinson 6-7). When engaging with the container metaphor, it is easier to explain the reasons behind why humans are disembodied from landscape. If we are indeed separate entities from landscape, engaging in conversation with landscapes outside of our field of vision is almost impossible without the conceptual framework to guide it.

This argument is in direct contradiction to Ingold however, who firmly rejects this notion of dualism between humans and landscape, stating instead that there is no distinction between these inner and outer worlds, and instead asserting that landscape is an endless unfolding of relations to each other (Ingold 154). If the body is a container, then how can we ever recognize our inherent place as part of the landscape. The intersection between Ingold and Lakoff & Johnson’s arguments is their perspective that the body is the orientation from which we relate to the world. Given this understanding, can we shift our conceptual frameworks to embody landscape? Although in the post-industrial era we are disconnected from the taskscape of the everyday—of the landscape which provides for our survival—is there a way to shift our orientation to this space without making a dramatic lifestyle change? We must bodily engage with our landscape in order to engage with new conceptual structures outside of the body as container. Allinson argues that bodily engagement is capable of shifting these structures to reinstate the notion of “bodies [as] gathering places” where “interdependence and interrelation” become our new conceptual structures through a bodily experience (as Lakoff and Johnson state, these structures come into being from our sensorimotor, perceptual, and cognitive interactions with landscape) (Allinson 9). 

Dancer and environmental philosopher Andrea Olsen uses the role of the performer in relationship to landscape as a guide to reinstate our bodies within landscape. Her practice includes two different aspects: “‘paying attention’” and “‘collaborative creative response’” (Allinson 9). The first practice, paying attention, requires the performer to “be fully present, in the sense that they are paying attention to themselves and/or the landscape in that moment, without judgement, simply observing what is there” (Allinson 9). One example of this performance in action is sitting still in a place for 20-30 minutes in order to be able to fully observe the patterns and rhythms of both the landscape and ourselves. Olsen points to this as a particularly effective exercise, as the pathways of perception are those most easily accessible to the performer. By intentionally observing, the performer is able to have a sort of conversation with landscape where they understand their bodily interactions as they relate to the landscape’s own processes. Olsen states: “When we value what the body has to tell us, we create a dialogue with our senses. The same is true for the earth. The task is to develop a relationship with the details and cycles of life around us” (Allinson 11). By engaging in a somatic and intentional experience such as the one Olsen developed, the performer is able to recognize the ways in which they are both active and passive recipients of the processes of landscape, and therefore more mindful of the way they are oriented within landscape. No longer are they a container, but instead a gathering place from which all enfolds.

The second aspect of this practice, “collaborative creative response,” is about recognizing the ways in which this dialogue can guide our movements within landscape. This can be seen as recognition of the autonomy of landscape enacting its forces upon our own autonomy. Allinson gives an example exercise of possible collaborative experiences one can have with landscapes in recognition of this autonomy. 


In the space you have explored please do the following:

  • Make yourself small in relation to something big.
  • Make yourself big in relation to something small.
  • Find the best place to hide.
  • Find the place to jump.
  • Find the place where you can disappear.
  • Make yourself the protector.
  • Make yourself the protected.
  • Go to the place that someone just left and be their goodbye.
  • Find the quiet resting place.
  • Find the place where the chaos is just about to happen

For each one first find the space, then let the space tell you what to do. Respond (through image or action). Notice and remember everything you’re in relation to. (Allinson 11-12)


This exercise could happen in any landscape regardless of its place within the realm of the artifical or the wilderness, and it would have the same effect of aiding the performer in embodying the space that exists around them, and engaging in conversation with the landscape as a force outside of their own agency. By embodying landscape intentionally through a performative act such as what Olsen developed, the performer then becomes a collaborator with landscape in a way that is not static but flowing; a constantly shifting process of orientation through landscape. This practice of mindful awareness within landscape is one way of lessening the impact of the egocentrism on our perceptions. By reorienting ourselves in landscape, we can begin to see the ways in which our own internal self is very much intertwined with the world around us. A movement based practice such as the one Olsen developed, is one which allows us to step outside of our previous conceptual structures in order to engage with the landscape on a less anthropocentric, and more ecocentric level. 

Another tool I propose for embodying landscape also involves bodily engagement, but is a more extreme response to displacing cultural barriers in search of re-embodying landscape. Neuroscientists such as Chris Letheby and Philip Gerans argue that psychedelics such as psilocybin and LSD have the potential for ego-dissolution, and offer an explanation of the idea of self. Self is an important aspect of embodiment, as it has the ability to either displace or situate our bodies within landscape. They assert that the self is “an entity inferred by the mind to predict the flow of experience” (Letheby and Gerrans). The self is the conceptual structures which are a part of our lived experiences and are developed throughout our lives through our cultural understandings. This is what Lakoff and Johnson call “embodied knowledge”; the frameworks that humans learn through cognitive and experiential development (Allinson 5). Letheby and Gerans expand upon this idea of embodied knowledge to discuss the ways in which the development of self is a process of cognitive binding where perception is filtered in order to make sense of, and predict patterns of experience through an egocentric perspective. They argue that in response to this cognitive binding, psychedelics “degrade these binding processes, enabling subjects to experience cognition not bound by self models” (Letheby and Gerans). Psychedelic experiences in the past have been discussed in terms of mystical states where an ordinary sense of self is instead replaced with union with “an ultimate reality underlying all manifest existence” (i.e. cosmic consciousness) (Letheby and Gerans). If psychedelics truly can degrade these cognitive frameworks, then this points to a tool for embodying landscape which simultaneously rejects the cultural boundaries which have enforced our separation from it.

Although much research is left to be done on psychedelics, there is a lot of anecdotal evidence to suggest that the theories Letheby and Gerans propose are feasible. This idea of cosmic consciousness was espoused by leaders of the psychedlics movement in the 1960s, and influenced a whole generation. Ram Dass (born Richard Alpert) was a Harvard clinical psychologist who started to experiment with psilocybin and LSD during the 1960s and later became an American spiritual teacher based off the teachings he received from Hindu guru Neem Karoli Baba. In his book, Be Here Now, Ram Dass discusses his first experience taking psilocybin. He describes hallucinating different constructed versions of himself passing by his eyes until there was nothing left but his basic form and then that too was gone. “I realized that although everything by which I knew myself, even my body and this life itself, was gone, still I was fully aware! Not only that, but this aware “I” was watching the entire drama, including the panic, with calm compassion” (Dass 7). This extreme loss of self is an example of how psychedelics have potential as a powerful tool against egocentrism and of embodying landscape through an ecocentric lens. If psychedelics indeed are able to detach the user from a sense of attachment to a particular state of mind as Ram Dass describes, then the user is able to engage with landscape without the binding effects of culture and socialization. Instead, the user must rely on a perceptual relationship to their surroundings which is unguarded by the normal conceptual frameworks of a sober state of consciousness. Through this framework, human relationship to landscape can be experienced in a completely new way, challenging cognitive models of perception which disembody humans from landscape. 

In popular author Michael Pollan’s new book, How to Change Your Mind, he also explores the potential of psychedelics for treating mental health problems such as addiction, anxiety, and depression, as well as fear of death and dying. These mental health issues Pollan describes as being an excess of rigid structures imposed on the brain. He references Dr. Carhart-Harris who suggests that taking psychedelics can act as a reboot for the brain by disrupting its “default mode network” and inserting new pathways which can fight these stubborn networks and linkages causing mental health problems. By taking psychedelics, Pollan asserts that people have successfully been able to rewire their brain structures and quit bad habits such as smoking where other methods have failed (Pollan). He argues that “garden variety unhappiness” also, may be linked to ego, and “walls us off from our emotions, from other people, and from nature” (Pollan). As mental health problems have the potential to disconnect us from each other and from landscape, a path towards reembodying our environments may be available by dissolving the ego through use of psychedelics. Pollan’s own experience on psychedelics especially, highlights the importance of psychedelics in gaining the ability to re-embody landscape. 


Then I looked out and saw myself spread over the landscape like a coat of paint or butter. I was outside myself, beside myself, literally, and the consciousness that beheld this ... was not my normal consciousness, it was completely unperturbed. It was dispassionate. It was content, as I watched myself dissolve over the landscape (Gross). 


This anecdotal evidence which is highlighted in many users recounting of their experiences on psychedelics. They become disconnected from a sense of self, and instead become united with their surroundings. It is exactly this type of experience which is most beneficial in reconnecting the individual with a higher sense of place within the landscape which does not rest on the assumptions of ego, but rather on a grander sense of inclusion within their environments.


Conclusion

Landscape throughout American history has held the burden of many different stories. Stories of landscape have been a way to elucidate the world around us and have profoundly impacted the ways in which we experience, engage, and interact with landscape. The first experiences of pilgrims settling on the shores of the New World viewed the American landscape as both a force of evil and a force of godliness. This in turn helped them to engage with the taskscape in order to create a pastoral land which would adhere to their standards of godliness. Later romanticists sought to find respite from civilization in wilderness, and to find godliness in the sublime. Both of these traditions affected the way later generations would perceive landscape and led to further change in the way we interacted and conversed with the land.

This is evidenced in the dramatically shifting American landscapes of the contemporary world, and our own cultural ambiguities surrounding landscape. The national landscape has become an amalgamation of pivotal symbolic forms, a “post-mythic projection” which no longer exists as the real, but rather as a cultural construction (Miller 212). When looking from outside of our cultural definitions, landscape is not just these last few wilderness places which Americans have come to know through the representations of imagery of the national parks and precious little pristine wilderness. Landscape is also the entire post-industrial landscape which has come to be familiar as a characterization of the rest of America. The real America is the one of the every day; the one of strip malls and shopping centers, suburban housing units and parking lots, the vast fields of GMO corn and the animal feed lots, the ever-expanding urban sprawl and the tallest of skyscrapers. All of this exists alongside the natural environment as a part of the living system of landscape. Landscape is autonomous, and it is constantly co-opting what we have built; creating new contexts for its forms outside of human intention (Ingold 170). Although these forms of landscape in post-industrial America are constructed by human hands, this does not mean we should dismiss these spaces as unworthy of the title of ‘landscape.’ These spaces are familiar to us, and have become the every day taskscape with which we engage the most. We are not separate from landscape but dwell within it, and therefore any forms that we construct or omit are as legitimate within the landscape as a tree or a mountain (Ingold 153).

The post-industrial landscape has created an illusion of disembodiment as we seek to discover what it means to converse with a landscape which is highly exemplary of the artifice; a reflection of our own lives rather than a wholistic view of the entire system. We are surrounded by ourselves; by our collective humanistic ego which spends much of the day seeing what we have created. We have become disembodied from landscape, because we do not recognize the autonomy of the forms interacting with our own movements. Landscape plays an important role in our lives, but we do not observe this if we are not mindfully and actively engaged in the taskscape.

In Olsen’s somatic and intentional practice to reinstate our bodies into landscape, fully observing the patterns and rhythms of ourselves and the environment is an important part of reinstating a conversation with landscape. The simple act of paying attention becomes a way of recognizing the landscape’s autonomy and reducing the role of self in an intentional act of embodiment. We begin to recognize landscape as an entity which is wholly intertwined with our existence, and guides our movements through time and space. We recognize that we are literally enmeshed with landscape, and we resonate within it. We follow the cycles of the seasons and the movements of the earth which we have become interlaced with throughout our coevolutionary history. Similarly to Olsen’s somatic practice, taking psychedelics can physically alter our brain pathways that lets our brain talk to itself (i.e. the dissolution of ego). Instead the mind and body becomes fully integrated into its surroundings, and can reconnect with landscape as a result. 

Although normally the role of ego inhibits our ability to embody landscape if we do not intentionally engage in acts of embodiment, this is a part of the experience of being human. Our human existence always rests in flux between embodiment and disembodiment, both in our experiences as individuals and as social beings. It is precisely this tension which creates a space for reflection about our orientation within the landscape. In order to fully embody landscape, we must sit in the place of both active and passive recipient of the processes of landscape. We become no longer just containers filtering information, but rather a gathering place from which all enfolds around us and a part of us. Once we start to recognize ourselves as a piece of the landscape system rather than as separate from it, we can begin to dissolve our own sense of self which divorces us from this space. In order to reconcile the duality between our internal and external worlds, we become a form within landscape. 

Embodying landscape requires us to engage with the taskscape in new and profound ways and requires rewiring our conceptual frameworks to consider an ecocentric point of view of autonomous landscape in which we are all encompassed. Embodying landscape means acknowledging our place in the world, and the ways in which our taskscape of the everyday affects the world at large. This is only possible when we engage in dialogue with landscape by adopting tools of embodiment which challenge our learned cultural behavior. Essentially, we must reengage with our humanness through the sensuous nature of our bodily experiences. Rather than rejecting the forms of landscape which perpetuate our separateness from it, we must embrace these forms as enfolded into the landscape. Only through the gradual release of the human ego, will we be able to embrace a sense of reconnection with the landscape through our very humanness itself.

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Works Cited

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Benediktsson, Karl, and Katrín Anna Lund.Starting a Conversation with Landscape.” Benediktsson and Lund, pp. 1-12.

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Gross, Terry. “'Reluctant Psychonaut' Michael Pollan Embraces The 'New Science' Of Psychedelics.” NPR.org. 15 May 2018. 

Ingold, Tim. “The Temporality of the Landscape.” World Archaeology, vol. 25, no. 2, 1993, pp. 152-174.

Leopold, Aldo. “Thinking Like a Mountain.” A Sand Country, Almanac and Sketches Here and There. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 1949, pp. 129-133

Letheby, Chris, and Philip Gerrans. Self Unbound: Ego Dissolution in Psychedelic Experience, New York: Oxford University Press. 2017.

Lund, Katrín Anna, and Willson, Marget. “Slipping into Landscape.” Benediktsson and Lund, pp. 97-108.

Miller, Angela. “Everywhere and Nowhere: The Making of the National Landscape.” American Literary History, vol. 4, no. 2, 1992, pp. 207-229.

Nash, Roderick Frazier. Wilderness and the American Mind. 5th ed., 1967. New Haven and London: Yale University Press. 2014.

Pollan, Michael. “The New Science of Psychedelics.” MichaelPollan.com. 3 May, 2018. 

Wilson, E. O. Half Earth: Our Planet’s Fight for Life. Liveright Publishing Corporation, 2016.

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