“The Living Mountain” (1977), by Nan Shepherd

From: Landmarks (2015), by Robert Macfarlane:

“Our vision is never correct but only ever provisional. ‘Illusions’ are themselves means of knowing (a reminder of James Joyce’s aside about errors being the portals of discovery). Importantly, these illusions cannot be summoned into being or ordered on request. They are unpredictable conspiracies of the material and the sensory; like the mountain as a whole, they are ‘impossible to coerce’. Shepherd doesn’t systematically traverse the Cairngorms, or seek by some psychogeographic ruse to prise them open. The massif is graceful in the Augustinian sense; its gifts cannot be actively sought (mind you, there’s more than a hint of good Deeside Presbyterianism in Shepherd’s preoccupation with ‘toil’: ‘On one toils, into the hill’…one enjoys ‘a tough bit of going’…one ‘toil[s] upwards’).

In an amazing passage about illusions, Shepherd describes looking from a distance at a stone barn on a humid day. The moist air acts as a lens, multiplying and redistributing her sight lines, so that she seems to view all sides of the barn simultaneously. Her own style possesses a similar dispersive quality. While reading The Living Mountain your sight feels scattered – as though you have suddenly gained the compound eye of a dragonfly, seeing through a hundred different lenses at once. This multiplex effect is created by Shepherd’s refusal to privilege a single perspective.”

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