on the back (Percy 761). In my case, the box and instructions came in the form of an over-excitedtour guide—and with him, the choice of what to do with the coming experi-ence and his instructions about it. When I visited Malaysia a few years ago, Istayed at the Genting Highlands, a resort that rested right at the peak of theTitiwangsa Mountains. After landing in the country, my family and I board-ed a small van and prepared to drive up the mountains to this enchantingplace called Genting. In retrospect, I’m not even sure if the man telling us allabout the wonderful things we would find in the mountains was an actual tourguide; regardless, he filled the hour-long drive with colorful descriptions ofthe world we would soon enter: tall mountains piercing the sky, thick treeslining the mountains, and white clouds grazing the buildings.Hearing these descriptions, I thought that magical things would happenat 6,000 feet in the air—but they didn’t. Not really. As soon as I entered myhotel room, I rushed to the floor-length window and pressed my handsagainst the glass. Sure enough, just as the tour guide had described, cloudsfloated by right before my eyes. And that was exactly everything that I saw.Clouds. It was beautiful for about ten minutes. I spent the next two days ofmy trip eating potato chips I had bought from the small convenience store inthe hotel lobby.I had certainly appreciatedthe lovely sight outside my window, but wherewas that thrill that Williams encountered at the museum or the aquarium?Where was that moment of exhilaration that Percy desperately wished for hisreaders to experience? Why was my experience no richer than that of Forsterwith his paintings? Surely the problem could not have been with the sightitself, for how could someone notbe blown away by wispy clouds swirlingagainst his window, so close that he could almost touch them with his hands?How often does anyone get to literally be amongst the clouds? I would liketo blame the exasperating tour guide for limiting me with his account of theexperience, but in the end, it is my own responsibility, my mindset; his wordscould have had very little effect on me if I had chosen to ignore them. 30 - MERCER STREET
I, myself, determine my response to any sight. If I had only made aneffort to go beyond simple appreciation of the clouds, if I had only immersedmyself in the moment, I could have created an unforgettable experience ofthe wilderness, and perhaps, according to Williams, of art.Every time we perceive something, there is tremendous potential for cre-ation, whether or not we’ve been told what to see and how. Our responses toany sight are distinct to us and can only be sparked within ourselves. Thevalue of the viewer’s sovereignty ultimately lies in this creative act, this craft-ing of an experience as it happens. If we let someone else guide us to a par-ticular perception of a sight, this moment of creation can disappear: to findthe creativity of seeing despite this guidance requires an insistence on individ-ual participation that responds to what we’re told, but does not depend on itentirely. Williams may try to convince her readers to see wilderness as art, butonce, as viewers, we yield to her persuasion and go no further, we immediate-ly lose our power to create—to create a reaction, a response, a feeling partic-ular to us and only us.The moment I entered my hotel room, I could have dropped my bag onthe floor and flung myself at the floor-length window. The evening’s sunlightcould have trickled away, only tints of it trapped here and there between thegentle clouds. My breath of awe could have fogged the glass at the tip of mynose, and I could have hastily wiped it away with my sleeve and once again letmy heart and mind sink into the unbearably pink skies before my eyes. Thatcould have happened, but only of my own volition. While I cannot alter thephysical world around me in any way I wish, my experience of the physicalworld is by no means beyond my control: it begins with an act of choice. So let Williams attempt to persuade us to see wilderness a certain way—she may lead us to a better way of seeing for ourselves and to a deeper appre-
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- Fall '11
- Writing, Wilderness, E. M. Forster, Bloomsbury Group, Damien Hirst