A Sunday Afternoon in the Park with William
by Julia Daniel
Book II of William Carlos Williams’s Paterson follows Dr. Paterson on a Sunday stroll through the scenic mountaintop landscape of Garrett Park. Analyses of this episode often treat the natural elements of the park as just that: natural, pre-human, and pristine. However, Garrett Park is in fact a carefully sculpted zone designed by Frederick Law Olmsted, the father of American landscape architecture, for use by a working-class public in sore need of green spaces. The park thus serves as the living arena in which Williams plays out his dreams of union between the human and the natural as his speaker wanders through this work of green architecture, where the very materiality of the space blurs neat distinctions between the organic and the crafted. As I will demonstrate, Williams’s presentation of the complex interplay of man and nature in the park relies on the literary heritage of a commonplace act: walking. Specifically, in the kinetic body of Dr. Paterson, Williams conflates two iconic literary figures often associated with urban and natural environments respectively: the flâneur and the nature writer. The arc for both figures follows a stroll that concludes with a spectacle viewed by the privileged and sensitive witness-speaker. The difference between the two is largely a question of their environment, and in the comingled zone of the park, the figure of Dr. Paterson inhabits the role of urban voyeur and amateur naturalist simultaneously. By foregrounding the artifice of the park and its function as an object of urban consumption, Williams undermines our continued treatment of these spaces as “natural” and thereby invites the reader to reconsider how her steps both shape and are shaped by the park environment.
October 23, 2013
2:30 p.m., 130 Colson Hall