|One of my favourite places to walk; copyright mine.|
I am trying to read Frédéric Gros’s A Philosophy of Walking. I found it in a Chapters, reading the blurb:
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.
Many others have written their books solely from their reading of other books, so that many books exude the stuffy odour of libraries. By what does one judge a book? By its smell (and even more, as we shall see, by its cadence). Its smell: far too many books have the fusty odour of reading rooms or desks. Lightless rooms, poorly ventilated. The air circulates badly between the shelves and becomes saturated with the scent of mildew, the slow decomposition of paper, ink undergoing chemical change. […] Other books breathe a livelier air; the bracing air of outdoors, the wind of high mountains […]. These books breathe. They are not overloaded, saturated, with dead, vain erudition.He is parroting Nietzsche here, but these ideas are not Nietzsche’s alone. In a later chapter, he describes the sorts of book which he likes, to which I’m sure he aspires:
Writing ought to be this: testimony to a wordless, living experience. Not the commentary on another book, not the exegesis of another text. The book as witness … but witness in the sense of the baton in a relay race.* Thus does the book, born out of experience, refer to that experience. Books are not to teach us how to live (that is the sad task of lesson-givers), but to make us want to live, to live differently: to find in ourselves the possibility of life, its principle.
I do like walking, though I do it less than I ought to; I understand Gros’s joy in leg muscles and trails and trees and rocks and scents carried on the fresh air. And I think while walking, to be sure; but, as everyone does—as Gros must do to—I carry conversations, culture, society with me when I walk, and when I get back it is to take part in the conversation again. Sometimes I find a walk necessary to free myself from the terms another person has set on the discussion, but that is in the service of coming back to the discussion. And, indeed, life experience can improve walking, can enrich the literary and philosophical traditions one has learned. But there is not the split that Gros suggests: without a personal engagement in the world, indeed citation and reference might be vain parroting, but that engagement need not be solitary, and without community you cannot open yourself to correction, to further learning, to others' experiences. And so I found A Philosophy of Walking a disappointment.
Again, I have not yet finished the book. If I find more worth discussing, I’ll come back.
*The footnote given reads thus: “The French word témoin, meaning witness, has the subsidiary meaning of baton passed between runners in a relay race [translator’s note].”