literature on the art of walking (and thinking)

The art of wandering aimlessly, freezing time, sharpening the senses in an internal Machado dialogue through streets and paths. These are some of the multiple literary ramifications about walking that philosophers and writers have connected as a seedbed of ideas or have directly amassed in transformative processes: from Rousseau (The dreams of the lonely walker) to the surrealists who were inspired by their spectral walks through the cities, to Poe, Dickens, Nietzsche, Virginia Woolf or Antonio Machado. Illustrious walkers of modernity and storytellers.

The critic Roland Barthes claimed that “it is possible that walking is mythologically the most human gesture”, while the German philosopher Walter Benjamin defended “the slowness” in the steps as a reflection linked to experience and a measure of freedom, since wandering adrift is not specifically useful for anything.

The forerunner was, however, Baudelaire that opened a gap in his poetry on the flâneur (a kind of lonely and indolent observer of the Parisian streets) until the recent essays of the French sociologist David de Le Breton, whose last book, walk life, delve into the open path. One more kind of indirect paradox: the theory of thought flourishes unchecked parallel to the edging of the philosophy of study plans. Below, on this Book Day, a selection of titles to walk and think about.

Praise of walkingDavid Le Breton

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This little essay (Siruela) has become in a reference on the subject in its most humanistic aspect. Le Breton claims walking as an escape from the urgencies imposed by modernity, an enjoyment of nature and an open path to reflection.

A transformation of thought that connects with our vision of time, space or silence. The anthropologist slides pearls that guide the steps of the walker who he is no longer the same person after his journey on foot: “Walking is an opening to the world (…) it is living the body (…) it is a detour to find oneself”, he points out.

WalkHenry David Thoreau

Thoreau was a pioneer in the impulse of ecology and one of the founders of modern American literature, faithful to his spirit of total dissident he conceived of walking as a solitary act of rebellion and communion with nature.

Essay Walk (Walking, 1862) was intended as a lecture and published posthumously. Loaded with irony, he exerted a reflexive lever on wildlife or unhealthy leisure and rest habits. As he himself stated: “Boredom is but another name for domestication”. To confirm his theories in his own flesh, the philosopher lived for two years in complete solitude in a cabin in the woods of Lake Pond. Thoureau emphasized that his true profession was that of “inspector of blizzards and deluges.”

Wanderlust: A Walking StoryRebecca Solnit

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As if it were the rhythm of a good walk, Solnit affirms that walking is the state in which “the mind, the body and the world are aligned”. In this fascinating portrait, which has become a critical and popular success, the writer delves into the eternal symbiosis between philosophy and aimless wandering (The ‘Wanderlust’ in the title is a term that comes from the German word “wandern” meaning means to walk, and “lust” which means passion).

It analyzes topics ranging from the anatomical evolution of the human being to the design of cities, passing through treadmills, hiking clubs and sexual mores. Solnit argues that the different variants of pedestrian movement -including walking for pleasure- they suppose a political action, aesthetic and of great social significance. To do this, it focuses on the most significant walkers in history and narrative, whose extreme and daily acts have shaped our culture.

A lonely walk among the peopleAntonio Munoz Molina

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A title that escapes classification because it filters from the novel, the essay or the media. Munoz Molina stroll through important cities in his life such as New York or Madrid to find answers about the current world cradled between smells, images and sounds.

The writer invokes Baudelaire or Whitman among other famous walkers to travel to invented worlds drenched in nostalgia and poetry. And he always does it on foot. The book begins in Madrid, when he goes out for a walk after an emotionally complicated period of his lifeand ends in Granada, in the summer of 1981, when after a walk that becomes a “founding moment” he decides that literature has to be his way of being in the world.

The revolution of the flâneusesAnna Maria Church

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This essay cracks the image of the flâneur as the dandy who wandered around Paris in the 19th century, open to stimuli and the “flaneuses” are vindicated”. The philologist Anna María Iglesia reveals that women also acted as “uncomfortable” walkers even though they were invisible, directly underestimated or considered suspicious.

“To the woman who is in the street she was considered a prostitute while the man observes for pleasure or for consumption. Women are considered objects, not subjects”, the author tells RNE. A way of being present in the urban space and claiming their own voice, which connects with the current feminist wave that puts on the table the right to occupy the streets, to look without being seen or to walk safely alone. In this historical journey, Iglesia includes numerous writers and activists such as Luisa Carnés or Flora Tristán as an example of the will to break.

of walking on iceWerner Herzog

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The German filmmaker Werner Herzog is a declared globetrotter, but his greatest odyssey was undertaken in the winter of 1974 as an act of love and a kind of initiation path of self-knowledge.

The director of Fitzcarralado left alone, walking from Munich to Paris, where Lotte Eisner, historian and film critic, was waiting for him. The titanic effort would serve, according to Herzog, to keep alive his great friend, seriously ill. The filmmaker documents everything he sees: forests, storms, snow, deserted villages and uninhabited towns.

The story is made up of reflections on cold solitude, on the myth of the journey as a heroic pilgrimage, and offers continuity with his cinematographic work where it allows us to peek at the origin of his creative process. As a curiosity, the Spanish director Pablo Maqueda has emulated Herzog’s pilgrimage on foot in his documentary Dear Werner. A tribute to the path and the walker.

London OrbitalIan Sinclair

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Poet, writer and filmmakerSinclair has been roaming the streets of his hometown for 40 years, London, as a way of understanding the heartbeat of the city in a metaphysical sense to denounce the ravages of capitalism.

London Orbital collects his visually documented wanderings, in which he travels through spaces of a grayish London suburb with bizarre locations “full of ghosts” such as the old house of Bram Stoker. Places that he claims as legitimate for nostalgia so that the cities are not destroyed, swallowed up by the abandonment of the center by their longtime neighbors.

Sinclair, apostle of modern psychogeography, denounces that urban areas have become “places without a soul” at the expense of macroprojects such as the M25 motorway that bypasses the British capital. These are the details that today’s observer brings to light in his aimless walks.

WalkWilliam Hazlitt and Robert Louis Stevenson

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In the prologue, the writer Juan Marqués already marks the steps: “If walking is a distinguished, bourgeois, idle, elegant entertainment…, walking is rather something instinctive, natural, wild. Walking is a civil rite, and walking is an animal act. Walking is something social, and walking something rather wild, even if it is through the streets of a city (…) Walking is something that is decisively related to independence and freedom”.

A jewel published by Nórdica that collects the visions in essay form by Hazlitt and Stevenson, with illustrations by Juan Palomino, about the art of walking, admiring the landscape, discovering new and bizarre places, plus the impact caused by the experience in body and soul.

William Hazlitt (1778-1830) is considered one of the most important literary critics in England, while the adventurous desire of Robert Louis Stevenson (1850–1894). led him to light the classic The island of the treasure.

the art of walkingKarl Gottlob Schelle

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the art of walkingthe work of the German philosopher Karl Gottlob Schelle (1777-1825), is a humorous treatise that It teaches us to orient ourselves in our daily walks. And he warns the clueless: it is not just about learning to opt for the steep slope or the flat, but about adapting the route and company to our moods. Because, beyond the physical effort, the walk is the wandering of the eye that flies over the cosmos and that has the gift of making everything flow in us, reads the synopsis of the book published for the first time in Spanish in 2014.

Gottlob Schelle was one of the promoters of “popular philosophy” in Germany and a personal friend of Kant with whom he corresponded for years. The philosopher published, among others, the essay about joy in the same line of introspection.

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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