A Philosophy of Walking By Frédéric Gros - book review
Saturday 26 April 2014
Books about walking are boring. Lovers of Wainwright’s pictorial works on the peaks and lakes may disagree but pinning a walk down to words is usually more field guide than philosophy, and rarely is it art. And when it is – Laurie Lee, Kerouac, Wordsworth – it’s the diversions from the walk that provide interest, something that the author Frédéric Gros admits. Yet this philosophy professor’s book on the subject has sold more than 40,000 copies in France; it is far from pedestrian.
A good walk is not only the best cure for boredom but is the key to genius. It is, Gros maintains, the secret behind the outpourings of the world’s greatest minds. We learn how everyone from Kant, to Nietzsche, Rousseau to Rimbaud has been utterly reliant on their ability to put one foot in front of the other as an act of creation.
Walking gets the mind moving. You can’t think, says Gros, “shackled” to a desk. Wordsworth’s office was his garden, where “he used rhythmic body movements to help find the right lines”. Kant was a dogmatic walker, taking a daily constitutional around town at the same time, rain or shine. This, he believed, helped him produce the requisite number of words each day. Nietzsche, meanwhile, was an indefatigable wanderer, taken to long, steep hikes fuelled by little food, the better to soothe his stomach.
Is this physiologically symbolic of their philosophies? Gros isn’t simplistic enough to suggest so but in walking through the day-to-day existence of poets and thinkers, he shows that mile and poetic meter, pace and philosophical formulas are inexorably intertwined. Baudelaire goes in for surrealist sauntering, a stop-start city walker who snatches at stolen images, whereas “Wordsworth’s well-tuned verse and Rousseau’s musical prose is precisely that deep unhurried breathing, that gentleness of rhythm” that matched their rural ramblings.
Nietzsche, we learn, was most productive after abandoning university for the open road, while Rousseau’s “natural man” was born from the solitude of walking. A walk can be an act of obsessive madness (Rimbaud as good as walked himself to amputation), or an epic act of protest, as with Gandhi’s salt-tax marches.
This quintessentially French book should seduce our island of walkers, hikers and right-of-way-vindicated ramblers, dismissing the idea of a walk as “an obstacle between here and there”, and celebrating it instead as a vital step towards really living.
Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challengeTV
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Saudi preacher who 'raped and tortured' his five -year-old daughter to death is released after paying 'blood money'
- 2 The awkward moment Sarah Palin raised $25,000 for Hillary Clinton's election campaign
- 3 Ball pool for adults opens in London
- 4 Amal Clooney gives excellent response to fashion question at European Court of Human Rights
- 5 Baldness could soon be treated using stem cells, scientists hope
Heavy metal producer's corpse to be mutilated by models as per his dying wish
Game of Thrones, season 5: Grey Worm actor Jacob Anderson is all for more male nudity – as long as he can keep his clothes on
Martin Scorsese 'in shock' after death on set of new film Silence
Sia apologises for 'Elastic Heart' music video that sees Shia LaBeouf wrestle 12-year-old Maddie Ziegler
The secret joke hidden in Silence of the Lambs' most famous line
9 reasons Greece's experiment with the radical left is doomed to failure
'We would evict Queen from Buckingham Palace and allocate her council house,' say Greens
Have we reached 'peak food'? Shortages loom as global production rates slow
Greece elections: Syriza and EU on collision course after election win for left-wing party
British grandmother Lindsay Sandiford faces execution by firing squad in Indonesia
Liberal Democrat minister defends comments suggesting immigration causes pub closures