Storytelling, listening, and initiation into an animate landscape

Authors: Charles Carlin*, University of Wisconsin
Topics: Cultural Geography
Keywords: Psychoanalysis, consciousness, wilderness, psyche, Jung, landscape, animacy, narrative
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/13/2018
Start / End Time: 3:20 PM / 5:00 PM
Room: Studio 10, Marriott, 2nd Floor
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


This paper describes and theorizes a ritualized practice of storytelling and interpretive listening used to incorporate the strange experience of fasting alone in remote landscapes. Increasingly, scholars are describing as madness the peculiar grip of the modern fantasy of a personal psyche set against an inanimate world. Though tremendous strides have been made in describing the human self or psyche as constituted from components extending far beyond the individual, how does one experience psyche as continuous with a landscape that is also alive and subjective? If such an experience is achieved, how to make sense of it?

For forty years, guides from a small school in eastern California have been building a practice of crafting and holding a ceremonial space for participants who fast for four days and nights without human company in the stark landscapes of the Great Basin and Mojave Desert. The experience can be truly bewildering, so storytelling and active listening have become central to the practice. The stories participants share take on a mythic character as practitioners reflect on what they hear and narrate a soulful world, full of its own psychic resonance.

To interpret what is happening in the extraordinary state of fasting and its incorporation into everyday life through storytelling, I draw on the work of Carl Jung and James Hillman. I argue that geographers should critically engage with the Jungian tradition to flesh out the entanglements of individual experience, animate landscapes, and myth in learning to experience psyche as more-than-human.

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