I’m in the middle of doing one semester’s part-time teaching at Cal Arts (MFA workshop on the novel). Maybe you’ve heard of it. They say of themselves, “As an internationally recognized school for the performing and visual arts—film, theater, art, dance, music and writing—the CalArts artistic philosophy places an emphasis on an exploration of new paths beyond conventional boundaries.” That sounds like me, for sure.
Anyway, Calarts is thirty miles north of Los Angeles, set in the middle of a green, rolling campus and the first time I saw it I thought I, “Wow this place is huge, there’ll be so many opportunities for walking around and drifting and exploring it.”
I’m “mentoring” a couple of students and I have even been known to employ the peripatetic method when discussing things with them. I think they find it winningly eccentric, or at least eccentric.
But the odd thing and the interesting thing is that once you’ve walked round the campus even once you realize it isn’t nearly as big as you thought it was, and also although it certainly does have elements that are green and rolling, an incredibly high percentage of its acreage is given over to parking lots. This seems fair enough in one way. You’re not likely to get there without a car and you have to have somewhere to park the damn thing once you get it there.
The campus walk will also show you that there really aren’t very many people walking around, and the few that are most likely are walking from the car to their main building or vice versa.
On my first cursory stroll I did see what looked like an intriguing path, running through a hillside on the edge of the campus, and I saw that some graffiti had been painted on it – a face and a penis – not precisely “beyond conventional boundaries” but hey, street art gets everywhere.
So last week, before I started teaching, I decided I’d try to walk along this path. The first, and in some ways the last, problem was finding where it started. I didn’t much want to scramble down the hillside, if only because I thought it’d be a terrible sweat to scramble up again.
I poked, I walked, I ambled around in the scrub and finally found the start of what proved not to be a “path” after all. It looked like this:
And it wasn’t exactly an optical illusion, more a trick of perspective, the thing I was looking at wasn’t a path at all, it was part of a concrete drainage system. And it wasn’t flat, the way it had looked from the top of the hill, but it ran at an angle, which is no doubt what you need for water runoff along a concrete drainage system.
Well I was glad to have “solved” that problem though as a walking expedition it was a bit of a bust, and of course it meant there were even fewer opportunities for walking the campus than I’d thought. I went off to teach my class and finally found some walkers; my own students.
Later in the week, after some discussion about Thomas Bernhard, one of them
sent me this passage from Bernhard's Wittgenstein’s Nephew:
“I do not care for walks either, and have been a reluctant walker all my life. I have always disliked walking, but I am prepared to go for walks with friends, and this makes them think I am a keen walker, for there is an amazing theatricality about the way I walk. I am certainly not a keen walker, nor am I a nature lover or a nature expert. But when I am with friends I walk in such a way as to convince them I am a keen walker, a nature lover, and a nature expert. I know nothing about nature. I hate nature, because it is killing me. I live in the country only because the doctors have told me that I must live in the country if I want to survive—for no other reason. In fact I love everything except nature, which I find sinister; I have become familiar with the malignity and implacability of nature through the way it has dealt with my own body and soul, and being unable to contemplate the beauties of nature without at the same time contemplating its malignity and implacability, I fear it and avoid it whenever I can. The truth is that I am a city dweller who can at best tolerate nature. It is only with reluctance that I live in the country, which on the whole I find hostile.”
Here’s a picture of Thomas Bernhard walking, or doing something anyway.