The discipline of walking as it relates to art should not be mistaken for a leisure activity. Take, for example, walking as a flâneur or as a pilgrim, or going out for a promenade, for in each of these pursuits there are goals: the flâneur sets out into the city streets to investigate or procrastinate; the pilgrim ambles toward the holy land for the sake of a blessing; an evening stroller seeks digestive benefits as well as social interaction, whether walking with a companion or encountering neighbours along the road. In all cases, there are ends to be gained.
You thought you’d mastered this “walking” thing way back in your toddler years, did you? Well, yes, it’s once again time for professional thinkers to tell you how you’re making a complete mess of things.
Regular readers know that I’m a bit of a connoisseur of this genre. For nearly a decade now, I’ve been taking note of essays which turn the basic act of putting one foot in front of another into yet another status-seeking activity. At this point, I feel like a veteran teacher of middle-school social studies bracing myself for another year’s crop of derivative essays about the importance of MLK, Jr. There’s hardly any new ways to make fun of this silly conceit, let alone write about it. In this case, I will just note that Kaag and Froderberg’s attempt to infuse walking with a Kantian sensibility comes up against the same problem that students of Buddhist meditation encounter: Who is it that desires to stop desiring? Isn’t the effort to empty the mind and purify the soul still a goal-oriented activity? Isn’t this just another attempt to elevate oneself above the humdrum world and all the benighted cretins that populate it? You don’t need to walk in the right location at the right pace with the right frame of mind to realize the absurd egotism of this pursuit; in fact, as those meditation students know, you can realize it while sitting on your ass.