The Place-Experience of Inhabited Solitude: Interdisciplinary Perspectives and Implications
Thurston Goodroe, Laura Michelle
Marshalling the intellectual and practical history and contemporary thought concerning notions of rurality, place, and wilderness, I propose that the place-experience of inhabited solitude is an experience with the non-human I, the Other, encountered in wild nature, and one that is privileged in the sense that it is an encounter that differs from aesthetic experiences with nature, wilderness, and the so-called ‘outdoors. The place-experience of inhabited solitude is an encounter most commonly experienced by those who inhabit the non-agricultural-rural (hereafter, non-agri-rural), but also one that can occur if an individual, regardless of geographic living circumstances, spends prolonged time in places of inhabited solitude. I will present evidence of the lure inhabited solitude and, in particular, the importance of forests and mountains to this notion. Employing a lens of twentieth-century continental philosophical thought including phenomenology and existentialism, I will argue that certain themes in these traditions provide profound insight to the place-experience of inhabited solitude. Critically, this place-experience is ascribed meaning and retained in memory Through language, myth, and metaphor. I will argue inhabitants of the non-agri-rural, particularly inhabitants of places characterized by sparse human populations in or adjacent to landscapes noticeably free from human economic activity, far from urban or suburban areas (far enough to preclude commuter-rural populations), and free of the sounds of human activity—freeways, roadways, resource extraction, robust tourism—more commonly have place-experiences of inhabited solitude. The key factor is solitary, prolonged, uninterrupted exposure to the non-human I, as a matter of routine inhabitation, over time, in places of inhabited solitude. Implicit in my proposition is the conclusion and conviction that inhabitants of the non-agri-rural serve as critical stewards and gatekeepers of these places, due to their deep knowledge of, participation in, and connection to places of inhabited solitude. Engaging ideas including reciprocity, perspective, Being, attention/intention, and intersubjectivity as context, I consider in greater detail the Otherness of nature in places of inhabited solitude and humans’ relationship to that non-human I. The place-experience of inhabited solitude, while not superior to other human-nature encounters, is a privileged experience with particular characteristics that define it, one utterly indivisible from geographic place.
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