Samantha Walton – ‘The Ear for Listening’
‘The Ear for Listening’: Sound, Sensation and the Body in Nan Shepherd’s The Living Mountain
Dr Samantha Walton is Reader in Modern Literature at Bath Spa University, and a poet. Her most recent books are The Living World: Nan Shepherd and Environmental Thought, and Self Heal, a poetry collection forthcoming from Boiler House Press. With Jonathan Prior, she composed an ecopoetic sound experiment on the Bath-Bristol Railway Path (2017, Geohumanities), and in Bristol she co-runs Sad Press, which is dedicated to experimental poetry pamphlets.
In this talk, I’ll explore the place of sound in the nature writing of Scottish modernist writer, Nan Shepherd. Written in the late 1940s, her meditation on the Cairngorm mountain range foregrounds the body as an ‘instrument of discovery.’ The mountain is an endlessly generous sensorium, a place of wonders and delightful otherness whose secrets never quite give way. The senses are a means of knowing the mountain, a way in, but they’re also fallible and provisional, a reminder of the site-specific quality of knowledge and the physical limitations on the human desire to know. Exploring sound as a site of touch, I’ll introduce Shepherd’s philosophies of embodiment and being, and also describe some of the sounds and sensations she experienced in the mountains.