Conflicting Affect: Bouldering in Central Park

The centers for rock climbing in the United States, the parks of California, Utah, Colorado, stand in stark contrast to New York City. And yet, the city plays host to a thriving community of climbers who gather at indoor gyms, but also within the heart of the city itself. The stray formations of rocks and boulders left behind by retreating glaciers that formed the geography of New York can still be seen in Central Park. One of these boulders, nicknamed Rat Rock, is central to this scene.

ratrocknov2014-2

There is a clash of culture here that makes for a unique environment. The rock climbers’ vibe: laid back, outdoorsy, nature-loving, adventure-seeker comes into contact with thousands of people who have no knowledge of climbing, and are bewildered seeing lean climbers clamber their way up 8 foot boulders.

How do these climbers interact with the community and the rocks they converge around? Jane Bennet questions the responsibility of the individual towards an assemblage in Vibrant Matter, asking herself “Do I attempt to extricate myself from assemblages whose trajectory is likely to do harm?” (Bennet 37). Do these climbers take seriously their ethic of respect towards nature and the places they climb when surrounded by a city that has no interest in those tenants of the climbing culture?

The attitudes and actions of climbers at Rat Rock are certain to change depending on the size of the passing crowds – dozens in the summer but none when the cold drives people from the park. Teresa Brenan would argue that their very biology is different between these extremes, as she postulates in The Transmission of Affect “social interaction changes our biology (as distinct from the notion that biology determines social behavior)” (Brenan 10).

The community that forms around the natural boulders of Central Park is at odds with the city surrounding them. Their interactions with outsiders represents a conflict of affects.

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~ by caspermessmann on September 20, 2015.

2 Responses to “Conflicting Affect: Bouldering in Central Park”

  1. This post was well stylized as your image asset illustrates the convolution of the questions you pose. The extremity of Rat Rock’s participants produces a multilateral imagination of backpacks strewn on leaves, of children and teens struggling to hang on; and of professional climbers gawking at the reductive manifestation of nature and its unimposing elements.

  2. 2. I learned the most from the post. I personally was unaware of this ecology and am interested to learn more about how people use this space for sport, leisure, and whatever else. It would be interesting to hear different perspectives from people – some of the rock climbers who might take it very seriously as a method of training vs. the kids who are just there to play. The parallels and relations between the two would be interesting to compare and visualize. I would be interested to see how the climbers prepare for their ascent vs. the kids who jump in carefree.

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