Friday, June 06, 2014

He Told Me to Walk This Way

Mark Kingwell:

Even if one were inclined to agree with Gros’s vision of aimless walking—he is also against special shoes, clothing, and those pointed staffs that "are on sale to give walkers the appearance of improbable skiers"—he is awfully normative about the whole business. His demand for aimless, noncompetitive walking is just as judgmental and insistent as any other, and may sail closer to self-contradiction than most. You’re not doing aimlessness right! Walk this way!

There are two things I find interesting about this topic. One, the fact that there are apparently several books, all current, about the supposed "philosophy" of walking. This is a review of a new one from a French author. (Shanna, who enjoys tormenting me with emailed links to things I might have otherwise been mercifully ignorant of, had already alerted me to his existence.) Wayne Curtis, of course, has been an object of mockery here for a while now over his installment essays from his forthcoming book on the topic. Phil Oliver is working on one of his own. And a couple years ago, I read a book that grounded Thoreau's philosophy in his habit of "sauntering", which is a cooler, more exclusive way of walking. Honestly, how much unique is there to say about the "history" and "philosophy" of putting one foot in front of the other?

And two, the fact that the topic seems to lend itself quite naturally to ridiculous levels of signaling. The excerpt above could have been included in any of my own posts about the aforementioned Mr. Curtis, who seems unable to let his topic stand on its own two feet without leaning on the crutch of competitive status-seeking. Perhaps this is only to be expected. With very little to say for itself, walking as a purposeful philosophy has to rely on defining itself by contrast to what it is not, i.e., people who walk in the wrong places while thinking the wrong thoughts, people who only use it as an instrumental method of transport. The only way to make an utterly quotidian subject special is to invent a corpus of insights available only to the initiates.

Kingwell himself, though able to spot the speck in Gros's eye, showed himself last year to be susceptible to the very same tendency to tell people they're "doing X wrong". Is there any escape from the circle of signaling?