A Philosophy of Walking
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“It is only ideas gained from walking that have any worth.” —Nietzsche
In A Philosophy of Walking, a bestseller in France, leading thinker Frédéric Gros charts the many different ways we get from A to B – the pilgrimage, the promenade, the protest march, the nature ramble – and reveals what they say about us.
Gros draws attention to other thinkers who also saw walking as something central to their practice. On his travels he ponders Thoreau’s eager seclusion in Walden Woods; the reason Rimbaud walked in a fury, while Nerval rambled to cure his melancholy. He shows us how Rousseau walked in order to think, while Nietzsche wandered the mountainside to write. In contrast, Kant marched through his hometown every day, exactly at the same hour, to escape the compulsion of thought. Brilliant and erudite, A Philosophy of Walking is an entertaining and insightful manifesto for putting one foot in front of the other.
From the Hardcover edition.
hatreds had subsided and the issues faded with time and lassitude, there would be the last walks, the crepuscular reveries. Although he had become an old man, he liked nothing so much as going for long walks, to kill the days. When there is really nothing left to do or believe, except to remember, walking helps retrieve the absolute simplicity of presence, beyond all hope, before any expectation. As described in the Confessions, the earliest walks were long, happy, sunsoaked trips, and of
as the path is well enough laid out and not too steep, you stop looking down, stop thinking altogether, and let your feet find the right places and avoid the pitfalls. On the walker’s side, there’s nothing left but an immense renunciation. The walk ends in a sort of dream, and the tread then gains in firmness and speed. As soon as you consent to stop thinking. After that, you can’t call it lightness because you no longer feel a thing: your legs are absorbed by the road and your mind floats
long walking staff (a thick iron-bound bamboo) in his hand, surrounded by followers dressed like him in hand-woven cotton cloths, not quite eighty of them. When they reached the sea forty-four days later, they numbered several thousand. As the days passed a routine became established: rise at six in the morning for prayers, meditation and chanting. Then, after ablutions and a meal, the procession would set off. Villages along the route took on a festive air; the roads were watered and scattered
exploitation of her millions. * As we shall see later, this expression, meaning roughly ‘truth-force’, designates a collective action undertaken in determined fashion but rejecting in advance any recourse to violence. † This term designates communal structures, organized around rules and principles based on his thought, that Gandhi had set up to further his work and train disciples. 25 Repetition Walking is dull, repetitive and monotonous. That is all too true. But for that
quest for better luck along meandering paths. People didn’t really walk along those garden paths: they danced. But Wordsworth took to the road like a poor man, for pleasure and not through necessity. To general astonishment, he claimed to derive ‘riches’ from the experience. Over and above these enormous cultural innovations (the long expedition, the beauty of landscape), his poetry is infused with a walking rhythm, steady, monotonous, unshowy. It soothes without wearying, like the murmur of