Landscape perceptions and experiences

The aims of this blog is
1) to gather material which helps us to view 'Landscape' from many different perspectives (Science, Phenomenology, Aesthetics, Ethics etc)
2) and secondly to record 'Landscape experiences' from our workshops (Reports) and my own experiences (Diary).
For our workshops see our website


Here you will find abstracts/excerpts or whole articles from various writers in relation to phenomenology, which relate to 'Landscape'  

Phenomenolgy and Merleau-Ponty

As Merleau-Ponty is hard to understand or read, I have to my delight found two works which can be a good introduction to Merleau-Ponty. One from David Seamon 'Geography of the Life-world' and the other from Tim Ingold's 'Perception of the Environment'. Here follow two excerpts, which describe in a nutshell the essential new idea of which Merleau Ponty was talking about.

Excerpt from

"Geography of the Life-World" 

by David Seamon.

Merleau-Ponty and learning for body subject

Consciousness is being toward the thing through the intermediary of the body. A movement is learned when the body has understood it, that is, when it has incorporated it into its “world”, and to move one’s body is to aim at things through it; it is to allow oneself to respond to their call, which is made upon it independently of any representation. Motility, then, is not, as it were, a handmaid of consciousness, transporting the body to that point in space of which we have formed a representation beforehand. In order that we may be able to move our body towards an object, the object must first exist for it, our body must not belong to the realm of the “in-itself”.
Merleau-Ponty introduced the notion of body-subject in his 'Phenomenology of Perception' over three decades ago, and discoveries from the environmental experience groups suggest in a concrete context what he spoke of in more general, philosophical terms. The central problem of philosophy for Merleau-Ponty is the “origin of the object in the very centre of our experience”. He concludes that this centre is the body, particularly its function as intelligent subject. A large portion of his work demonstrates how traditional philosophies and their psychological offshoots have ignored the central role of body in human experience and thus misrepresent the nature of man and his place in the world.
Merleau-Ponty’s criticism of the cognitive theorists is their treatment of the body as merely a physical entity upon which consciousness may act by an exterior causality: “my body has its world, or understands its world, without having to make use of my ‘symbolic" or "objectifying" function”. Movements of the body are not directed by this conscious force - but by the body’s intelligent connections with the world at hand:
"My flat is, for me, not a set of closely associated images. It remains a familiar domain round about me only as long as I have “in my arms’ or “in my legs’ the main distances involved, and as long as from my body intentional threads run out towards it."
The body has an understanding of the world that is independent of any ‘set of closely associated images’ that the cognitive theorist would term cognitive map. Movements are learned when the body has understood them, and this understanding can be described as a set of invisible but intelligent “threads’ that run out between body and the world with which the body is familiar. This picture of movement corresponds to group descriptions above -- the arms turning the wheel, the legs taking the person to the required destination, the feet carefully choosing a resting place in the stream-bed. The body has within itself the power to initiate these directed movements before and without a need for cognition to screen the world at hand and then implement orders.
In a similar way, Merleau-Ponty questions the behaviorist conception of movement because it also depicts the body as unintelligent -- though in a considerably different way from the cognitive approach. The actions of the body in its world “are not complexes of elementary movements, each "blind" to itself and to the other movements making up the total”. Merleau-Ponty explain that
"the reactions of an organism are not configurations of elementary movements but gestures endowed with an internal unity...Experience in an organism is not the recording and fixation of certain readily accomplished movements. It emerges from aptitudes, that is the general power of responding to situations of a certain type by means of varied reactions which have only their meaning in common. Reactions are not, therefore, a succession of events; they have in themselves an “intelligibility”."
Merleau-Ponty argues that the body is active and that through this activity our needs are efficiently transformed into behaviours. His criticism of the cognitive and behaviourist theories is the same as that presented here: their assumption -- arrived at from two opposite lines of reasoning--that the body is “essentially a passivity in respect of its sensuousness to objects’
The body must have within its ken the required habitual behaviours if we are to move our body effectively to meet the requirements of everyday living. Without the structure of body-subject in our human constitution, we would be constantly required to plan out every movement anew -- to pay continuous attention to each gesture of the hand, each step of the foot. Because of body-subject, we can manage routine demands automatically and so gain freedom from our everyday spaces and environments. We rise beyond such mundane events as getting places, finding things, performing basic tasks, and direct our creative attentions to wider, more significant life-dimensions:

"There is a freedom from milieu that results from what is stable and pore-established in the subject. This promises to balance out the conventional existential emphasis on spontaneity as the sole reality of freedom, an emphasis that sets freedom and stability in the most radical opposition...”It is an inner necessity for the most integrated existence to provide itself with "a habitual body" if it wishes both to be engaged with the world and to dominate that engagement”

 Excerpt from the essay

"Stop, Look And Listen!"

  by Tim Ingold to be found in his book "Perception of the Environment"

"So what does it mean to see?
Merleau-Ponty’s essay ‘Eye and Mind”, his latest published work, is an attempt to answer this question. The arguments of the essay are not easy to follow, but one can get the gist of them by performing a simple experiment. Close your eyes for a while, and then open them again. Do you have the impression that you are staring out upon the world through a hole (or perhaps two holes) in the front of your head? Is it as though you were looking through the windows of your unlit house, having opened the shutters?
Far from it! Rather, it seems that you are out there yourselves, shamelessly mingling with all you see, and flitting around like an agile spirit from one place to another as the focus of your attention shifts. It is as if the walls and ceiling of your house had simply vanished, leaving you out in the open. In short, you experience seeing not as seeing out, but as being out - until, that is, you close your eyes again, at which point the spirit is instantly captured and put back inside, imprisoned in the dark and eery confines of a shuttered enclosure, your head.
For Descartes the light of the mind (lux) was in this darkness, which is why the he thought the blind could see. But experience teaches us differently. It is, as Merleau-Ponty writes, that through vision ‘we come into contact with the sun and the stars, that we are everywhere all at once’. Or again, vision ‘is the means given me for being absent from myself’. We now have a clue to what Merleau-Ponty meant by his repeated insistence on the indistinguishability of the seeing and seen, or the ‘sensor and the sensible’. This is primordially evident in the case of my body, which both sees and is seen, but equally true of the whole ‘fabric of the world’ in which it is caught up. And we can understand what he means by the assertion that vision is not of things but happen among them. For it is constitutive of the whole perceptual field, drawn around myself at its centre, which both they and I inhabit.
All this is a far cry from the picture that Jonas paints of the immobile and detached spectator, contemplating a world with which he has no causal involvement whatever. Returning to an opposition that I have already introduced in the context of my initial discussion of the anthropology of the senses, Merleau-Ponty replaces the image of the spectator with that of the seer.
‘Immersed in the visible by his body’, he writes, ‘the seer does not appropriate what he sees; he merely approaches it by looking, he opens himself to the world’. Raise your eyelids, and you find yourself, almost literally, ‘in the open’. Indeed, this little phrase perfectly captures what Merleau-Ponty portrays as the magic - or delirium - of vision. We live in the visual space from the inside, we inhabit it, yet that space is already outside, open to the horizon. Thus the boundary between inside and outside, or between self and world, is dissolved. The space of vision both surrounds us and passes through us. Elsewhere, Merleau-Ponty imagines himself up at the blue sky;
“As I contemplate the blue of the sky I am not set over against it as an acosmic subject; I do not posses it in thought, or spread out towards it some idea of blue such as might reveal the secret of it ……I am the sky itself as it is drawn together and unified,and as it begins to exist for itself; my consciousness is saturated with this limitless blue”