The proponents for why we should be walking (and Solnit and Careri can certainly be counted among the first of their ranks) extol the act for its ethical, political and environmental implications: walking as a defense of free time against the dark arts of technology, walking (as the urban and environmental conservationists claim) as a practice that will get us out of air conditioned cars and away from computers so that we can begin to live together “in the whole world rather than in interiors built up against it.” Walking that will cause us to remember to remember the world around us, to take some time to smell the roses and rivers and historic buildings and thus begin to care about what happens to them. And for these advocates there is no better or more important time to walk than now, when the processes of globalization, the ascendancy of car culture, and the ubiquity of cheap communication technology are increasingly alienating us from our environments, our neighbors, and ourselves. Both histories are written in such a way that they place the reader at the end of the historic road, hand off a baton, and say, now it’s your turn, walk, you’re our last and only hope.
But in taking such an untempered romantic, nostalgic, and somewhat regressive stance towards walking and its relationship to technological progress, these writers fail to encompass the complexity of the issue in ways that contemporary art and literature of walking has. The narrator of Sergio Chejfec’s recent novel My Two Worlds sums up the dominant discourse on walking when he writes, “Even before I could understand it with any certainty, in all likelihood I sensed that the main argument in favor of walking was its pace; it was optimal for observation and thought, and furthermore it was the corporeal experience with the best syntax to accompany one in life.”
This statement sounds remarkably similar to Solnit’s when she writes, “I know these things have their uses, and use them—a truck, a computer, a modem—myself, but I fear their false urgency, their call to speed…I like walking because it is slow and I suspect that the mind, like the feet, works at about three miles an hour. If this is so, then modern life is moving faster than the speed of thought, or thoughtfulness.”
Many of my favorite writers and thinkers have extolled the virtues of walking. I like the idea of it, it’s true. But alas, if I am honest with myself, the peregrinator’s progress is not conducive to the kind of thinking I like best. For some reason, I much prefer driving on long, lonely highways, and if I do go walking, preferably in the woods, I inevitably settle down before too long in a comfortable spot and stay there. Hiking for the sake of hiking smacks too much of striving, accomplishment, that good old Protestant busy-busy-busy bullshit. No, I just like to wander aimlessly at a disjointed pace. Hey, wait, am I talking about walking or life in general?