Taking a Hike and Hucking the Stout: The Troublesome Legacy of the Sublime in Outdoor Recreation

Georg Drenning
2013 Culture Unbound: Journal of Current Cultural Research  
As Henry Thoreau noted in the 1850s, the simple act of walking can be loaded with political and spiritual meaning. Today, taking a hike as an act of engaging in outdoor recreation is equally non-trivial, and therefore subject of the following analysis. As this paper argues, outdoors recreation is still influenced by the legacy of the Sublime and its construction of wilderness. This troublesome legacy means that the cultural self-representation of outdoor sports -and the practice itselflays
more » ... ice itselflays claim to the environment in ways that are socially and sometimes even ethnically exclusive. This essay uses William Cronon's critique of the cultural constructedness of wilderness as a point of departure to see how Western notions of sublime nature have an impact on spatial practice. The elevation of specific parts of the environment into the category of wilderness prescribes certain uses and meanings as nature is made into an antidote against the ills of industrial civilization, and a place where the alienated individual can return to a more authentic self. This view then has become a troublesome legacy, informing the cultural self-representation of those uses of "wilderness" that are known as outdoor recreation. In its cultural production, outdoors recreation constructs "healthy" and "athletic" bodies exercising in natural settings and finding refuge from the everyday alienation of postmodern society. Yet these bodies are conspicuously white, and the obligatory equipment and fashion expensive. Outdoor recreation is a privileged assertion of leisure, often denoting an urban, affluent, and white, background of the practitioner. These practitioners then lay exclusive claim on the landscapes they use. As trivial as taking a hike or any other form of outdoors recreation may thus seem, they put a cultural legacy into practice that is anything but trivial.
doi:10.3384/cu.2000.1525.135551 fatcat:xq45gqyuybhndkv3lroo6a75vq