In our post yesterday, we hung the blame for the collapse of poetry, which is surely one of the salient features of our time, on academia. This is way too easy. Perhaps the blame should be fixed, rather, on the end of walking.
Most adult Americans do not notice the landscape in terms of walking. But those of us who don’t own cars (LI is of that miserable number) have a keen sense of the difficulties thrown up by roads. Absurdly, a system that theoretically shunts people from one place to another at speeds that were impossible before the twentieth century also creates a prison. This prison, like all prisons, simply by containing certain spaces renders them unfit for human habitation. It erects areas the passage of which is forbidden on pain of death. The walker is hemmed into certain areas and certain routes, not because these routes are naturally difficult – mountains and jungles and such – but because they are humanly convenient – concrete, asphalt, and lots of metal hurling about at bonecrunching speeds.
Ben Jacks, in the Spring, 2004 issue of the Journal of Architectural Education, penned a brief for walking: “Re-imagining Walking: four practices.” Re-imagining might be a portentous word for what, to LI, is simply getting to the grocery store without a bicycle. Before we re-imagine walking, we might want to imagine not-walking. We all know the beneficial consequences of being On the Road. Freedom, for one. The concrete embodiment of the bill of Rights is getting in your car and traveling two thousand miles, alone. Recipe here depends, crucially, on having the right selection of CDs, mixed with a certain random selection of radio stations along the route. At no point is listening to news or talk radio allowed – although Gospel is. We have done this – we do drive. We like driving.
But the death of the walker’s landscapes, obesity, and the withering away of poetry – these , too, might be aspects of the hegemonic transportation grid that we’ve tattooed on the hide of the continent.
Jack'S essay mentions Francesco Careri, an Italian situationist whose stalker’s manifesto is here.
Here’s a sample graf:
“Perceiving the discarded territories, in completing such a route, between that which is secure, quotidian, and that which is uncertain, generates a sense of dislocation, a state of apprehension. This altered state induces a perceptual intensification unexpectedly giving the space a meaning, making "everywhere" a place for discovery, or instead a dreaded place for an undesirable encounter. The gaze becomes penetrating, the ear becomes keen to every sound.”
We’ve recently been around an infant, a little boy. A friend’s kid. The boy showed, from the first, a desire to stand like we’ve never seen in a baby before. He learned to walk early, and does well at it. He likes to stumble through a room, he likes wandering after his Mom, he likes being given a mission – getting his shoes, for instance. Although he fastens on any shoes he finds in his path. Walking is obviously part of a very intense, sensual experience, inseparable, in infancy, from the explosions in the neural pathways, the REM sleep, the marvelous mineral of the tooth, etc., etc. Yet we know that, in all probability, by the time this boy is forty, the walking will be gone. That is, the bliss of it, or the utility of it.
For LI’s money, the best modern walker-artist is Iain Sinclair, the man who walked around the London Orbital. He invented a phrase for how he works: psychogeography. Although Sinclair doesn’t make the connection himself (that I’m aware of), he is the latest in a fugue tradition that Deleuze identified in Mille Plateaux (the ‘schizo out for a walk” section) and that Ian Hacking studied as Mad Travelers. Hacking’s book (Mad Travelers) has been reissued as a Harvard U. paperback. This is from the UVa Press site, which originally published it:
"It all began one morning last July when we noticed a young man of twenty-six crying in his bed in Dr. Pitre's ward. He had just come from a long journey on foot and was exhausted, but that was not the cause of his tears. He wept because he could not prevent himself from departing on a trip when the need took him; he deserted family, work, and daily life to walk as fast as he could, straight ahead, sometimes doing 70 kilometers a day on foot, until in the end he would be arrested for vagrancy and thrown in prison.
Thus begins the recorded case history of Albert Dadas, a native of France's Bordeaux region and the first diagnosed mad traveler, or fuguer. An occasional employee of a local gas company, Dadas suffered from a strange compulsion that led him to travel obsessively, often without identification, not knowing who he was or why he traveled. He became notorious for his extraordinary expeditions to such far-reaching spots as Algeria, Moscow, and Constantinople. Medical reports of Dadas set off at the time of a small epidemic of compulsive mad voyagers, the epicenter of which was Bordeaux, but which soon spread throughout France to Italy, Germany, and Russia.”
Hacking's book is becoming one of those philosophic texts that artists digest in their own bizarre ways -- like Deleuze's work.