Place matters. What you think is, in large measure, a function of where you think. Having spent almost my entire professional life in one place, I know all too well both the delight and the horror place can breed. If to be is to be on the move, then how can one possibly stay in one place so long? Movement, however, is complex, and all too often people mistake motion for movement. Many of the people whose minds are most mobile move least,and some of those who are least mobile move most. Kant never left Konigsberg, Kierkegaard left Denmark but once, Hegel spent his whole life in what is now Germany; Emily Dickinson rarely left her house in Amherst.
I read and write in a converted barn perched on a hillside facing due west, overlooking the Taconic Range. These hills are haunted by the ghosts of some of the writers I most admire. Behind me is Mount Greylock, which Melville saw through his window at Arrowhead, while he sat at his desk writing Moby-Dick; less than twenty-miles down the road is Hawthorne's red cottage at the edge of Tanglewood, and nearby is The Mount, where Edith Wharton lived and wrote. Sometimes when I work late into the night, I hear the voices of these ghosts as they pass through the woods at the edge of the field.
The southern end of the Taconic Range is marked by Monument Mountain, where, on the sweltering Sunday afternoon of August 5, 1850, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Herman Melville, and others gathered for a picnic. They climbed the 1,642-foot peak to drink champagne and read William Cullen Bryant's poem, "Monument Mountain," which recounts the Indian legend of a Machian maiden who, in despair because she could not marry her cousin whom she deeply loved, jumped from the cliffs to her death. I have long suspected that was the afternoon Melville conceived what would become the greatest American novel ever written.
For some reason I cannot write in the city. I read and take many notes, but nothing happens until I am back in the barn, which, admittedly, is better suited to the nineteenth than the twenty-first century. As I gaze at the mountains, especially in the early morning light, thoughts begin to flow and soon are rushing through me as fast as I can write them down. Much of what I have thought and written about the tangled interrelation of the nineteenth and twenty-first centuries would have been impossible without the tension created by my retreat to this place. Vision becomes more acute as distance increases-I cannot see the city until I am far away. From my perch in the mountains I am free to insist that displacement does necessarily lead to authenticity, any more than being settled inevitably alienates. When you slow down and take time to reflect, you realize that speed is as often destructive as it is creative. Serious thinking can never be hurried. . ." pg.74-77 Mark C. Taylor "Field Notes From Elsewhere: Reflections On Dying And Living"