Academic journal article About Performance

Talking to My Left Foot: Performative Moves In-Between Self and Landscape in Yosemite National Park

Academic journal article About Performance

Talking to My Left Foot: Performative Moves In-Between Self and Landscape in Yosemite National Park

Article excerpt


"Come on little guy, you can do it."

The words came out encouragingly. They were gently coaxing but intently focused. They could have been directed at a child or a puppy dog or even a baby bird. However, this was not the case. I was talking to myself-or at least to a part of myself. Or at least I was talking to what I would have thought was a part of myself. I was talking to my own left foot and to the general area above it up to the knee joint.

When this quick little speech act happened, it seemed to me as though I, albeit in a small way, had lost my mind. The words were obviously not being spoken by me to the extent that that term referred to the individual who knew herself to be in Yosemite Valley, on 26 April 2009, climbing on a rock face known as Swan Slab on a route named Bay Tree Crack. On the contrary, I literally found myself uttering them. They came out of my mouth to my own surprise and left me mildly bewildered.

I wondered where these words could have come from, if not from the conscious subject who uttered them. Why were they addressing my body parts as though they were foreign beings in the landscape? What was their significance for understanding "nature" as conceived of in a place like Yosemite National Park? These are the questions that came to motivate this essay. Answering them requires a theoretical orientation capable of traversing symbolic and existential domains of human experience.

Rock climbing in Yosemite National Park (YNP) is regularly cited in both official and commercial discourses as an example of how visitors might best connect with nature in the park landscape. Acts of climbing are considered to be performative in this regard, as are other locomotive activities such as hiking, backpacking, and mountaineering. That is, they are seen to act upon the subjects who do them in a significant, socially transformative way.2 They serve as relationship-creating movement experiences, bonding visitors to the park's wild and scenic environment. In the words of one Yosemite ranger's slide presentation, which I heard delivered to campers in Yosemite's Lower Pines campground in May 2008, such experiences were highly recommended because they enabled visitors to "fall in love with a natural place." Visitors become better stewards of the national parks in so doing.

However, the ontic transformation of my left foot/knee as it occurred in the climbing instance reported above-the shifting of my lower limb's status from being a part of me to its being an addressable figure in some realm of my not-self world, and the designation of this not-self figure, done as it was by a not-self-uttered speech act- these movements of signs and beings indicate that a relationship of a different sort was in the making in this particular performance of locomotive landscape activity. It was not a relationship of increasing intimacy between a rational human subject and a world (always) already understood as natural. Rather, it was a relationship of what seemed to be disintegrating selfhood, in a realm of experience that no longer adhered to conventional divisions such as self and world, or nature and culture.

With regard to the question of where these words came from, I will try to show in what follows that these words came not simply from the figure of a conventional, modern, Euro-American (individual, agentive), and therefore environmentally detachable subject. Rather they came from a space of performance. They emanated from an emergent, energetic space of which "I," fleetingly, served as nothing other than a sign, a "fact of Thirdness" in the semeiotic terms of Charles S. Peirce-that is to say, a tool of meaning-making (EP2 1998, 272).3 They were authored out of a moving, pre-symbolic "space of affect" (McCormack 2003), which had temporarily enfolded the "me" of my individual organism, as well as the "not-me" of the nonhuman physical environment into an alternatively configured reality. …

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