University of Calgary

ENGL 607 Topic 59 - Psychogeography in the Wild

Instructor: Pamela Banting
Schedule: Wednesday 12:00-2:45 

Course Description

"Walking is the great adventure, the first meditation, a practice of heartiness and soul primary to humankind. Walking is the exact balance of spirit and humility. Out walking, one notices where there is food. And there are firsthand true stories of 'Your ass is somebody else's meal' – a blunt way of saying interdependence, interconnection, 'ecology,' on the level where it counts, also a teaching of mindfulness and preparedness." -- Gary Snyder, The Practice of the Wild
"You liberate yourself from the tacit assumption of your everyday life. What a relief to escape from being a voter, taxpayer, authority on old brass, brother of man who is authority on old brass, author of best seller, uncle of author of best seller . . . . Tramping is a way of approach, to Nature, to your fellowman, to a nation, to a foreign nation, to beauty, to life itself . . . . There is much to learn, there are illusions to be overcome.  There are prejudices and habits to be shaken off." -- Stephen Graham, The Gentle Art of Tramping
"Around 100m people a year make a pilgrimage, according to the Alliance of Religions and Conservation, a body that this week summoned representatives of the world's main faiths to the pure air of Assisi, an Italian hilltop town, to see how religious travel might be made more environmentally benign." The Economist

In a fossil-fueled world in which, to take just one telling example, most of our food travels between 1500 and 3000 miles to land on our plates such that our food is more well-travelled than we are, what is the meaning of walking and other forms of bodily motion and locomotion? When people spend more time on freeways and 'the information highway' than face-to-face, how do the meanings of space and place change? What are the connections between face and place, especially in light of worldwide use of Facebook, where we post our photos and update our locations and our status? How do we make sense of a world where under free trade agreements and globalization not only food, data and packages but animals, animal parts and products, and even human organs and blood, are rushed frenetically around the world? Where even the bees are no longer local but are trucked hundreds of kilometres to service crops? In what ways do our own largely stationary lives inhibit or skew our understanding of nature and wild animals? What is the meaning of the picaresque when it is our devices that are mobile, and we are increasingly sedentary? Are we the flâneur as phoneur? Can foot travel give us alternate modalities of face and place?

The literature of walking far exceeds the quantity of criticism of such literature. While considerable critical and theoretical attention has been paid of late to the figure of the flâneur and his jaunts around the metropolis, far less scholarly attention has been paid to moving through 'natural' environments. Walking will be the dominant form of locomotion we will consider in the course, but we may also read relevant books and articles about some of the following kinds and styles of locomotion: swimming, mountain climbing, fly-fishing, kayaking, doing physical work in nature like logging or tree-planting, bird watching, horseback riding, Australian bushwalking and the aboriginal tradition of the walkabout, tracking and stalking, tourism, etc.

We will begin by exploring walking and the roles it has played in our literary and cultural inheritance (e.g. see The History of Walking, by Rebecca Solnit, especially her chapter on "Wordsworth's Legs"). The aim of the course will be to explore points of intersection between physical movement through space and the development of consciousness of space and place and forms of knowledge, including traditional ecological knowledge, rhythm, corporeality, emotion, community, the life world, matter and materiality. We shall consider such topics as the following:

  • locomotion as local motion: how corporeal motion, awareness of our surroundings and self- and place-awareness interconnect;
  • legs, locomotion and poetic composition;
  • the literary tradition of the ramble;
  • nomads and nomadism vs. settlers and 'settler-ism';
  • movement and epistemology;
  • contemporary pilgrimages (religious pilgrimage, running marathons, 'bagging' peaks, swimming the rivers of England, tours and tourism) (e.g., Jon Krakauer's Into the Wild; Roger Deakin's Waterlog);
  • the figure of the tourist;
  • emotional geographies;
  • animal geographies;
  • following animals on foot – hunting, natural history observation -- and on video -- nature documentaries (Being Caribou);
  • how our relationships with other animals are inflected by the fact that many of them can outrun us (and some can eat us);
  • stalking urban nature;
  • the extent to which environmental activism often develops out of some form of outdoor recreation;
  • digital flâneurie: the flâneur as phoneur; telemobility, automobility, biomobility; the effects and affects of boots and shoes vs. bare feet;
  • journeying through toxic landscapes (radioactive spaces, tar sands, hydro-fracked landscapes) (Ellen Meloy; Sandra Steingraber, Terry Tempest Williams);doing housework as a form of flâneurie (the image of the home-maker gliding around her floors led by her Swiffer);
  • and more.

The course will also present an introduction to 'narrative scholarship' or 'personal scholarship,' a hybrid genre that blends personal journalism or narrative nonfiction with scholarly writing. In an effort to "walk the talk," students will keep a journal about their own perambulations during the course.

Research – library, internet and on foot – will be a strong component of this course.

Weather permitting, and in conjunction with a related text, we may embark on a collective walk or hike (e.g. to Nose Hill Park or other nearby park and/or we may do one easy day hike together in Kananaskis or Banff).

Reading List

Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust: A History of Walking

John Tanner, The Falcon

Sharon Butala, The Perfection of the Morning: An Apprenticeship in Nature

Cormac McCarthy, The Road

Karsten Heuer, Being Caribou: Five Months on Foot with an Arctic Herd

Sid Marty, Switchbacks: True Stories from the Canadian Rockies

Louise Erdrich, Books and Islands in Ojibwe Country