Friday, 22 June 2012

Robert Macfarlane: holloways, old ways and wild places

Illustration from Holloway
Robert Macfarlane is busy at the moment; he writes about Holloway, his collaboration with artist Stanley Donwood and the writer Dan Richards on the Caught by the River blog. And his new book meditating on pathways across Britain and beyond, The Old Ways, is also now out. I'm halfway through reading this and, as expected, it is an inspiring and lyrical collection, although I dont think the chapter on walking in Palestine with have people rushing to explore the paths of that blighted land! I may get round to writing a proper review at some stage, although I'm not sure there is much I can add to the effusive praise the book has already had. In the meantime, here is Macfarlane with an expansive and fluid definition of 'landscape' to blow away the cobwebs of received wisdom and tired orthodoxy:
"landscape is not something to be viewed and appraised from a distance, as if it were a panel in a frieze or a canvas in a frame. It is not the passive object of our gaze, but rather a volatile participant - a fellow subject which arches and bristles at us, bristles into us...it is dynamic and commotion causing, it sculpts and shapes us not only over the courses of our lives but also instant by instant, incident by incident. I prefer to take 'landscape' as a collective term for the temperature and pressure of the air, the fall of light and its rebounds, the textures and surfaces of rock, soil and building, the sounds, the scents and uncountable other transitory phenomena and atmospheres that together comprise the brisling presence of a particular place at a particular moment."

His new book is the final part of a loose trilogy that also includes The Wild Places and Mountains of the Mind. The three books are generally categorised as 'nature', 'landscape' or 'travel' writing but are really much broader in scope than these labels can adequately convey. If you have not read his work, I would highly recommend that you do so.

There are many reference points in his books, but three acknowledged major influences are John Clare, Roger Deakin and Edward Thomas.

1 comment:

  1. And The Old Ways now finished; going back to one of the sources now: The South Country by Edward Thomas.

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