For my part, I travel not to go anywhere, but to go. I travel for travel's sake. The great affair is to move. ROBERT LOUIS STEVENSON

Saturday, 24 April 2010

The Way, The Word And The World: The Language Of Walking

The history of walking is an unwritten, secret history whose fragments can be found in a thousand unemphatic passages in books, as well as in songs, streets, and almost everyone's adventures. REBECCA SOLNIT Wanderlust.

Thoreau once wrote somewhere that walking inevitably leads to other subjects. He was right. The subject of walking itself is a vast one, but the paths upon which it takes you circumscribe the whole physical and mental world.

One of my favourite books on walking, and, I think, one of the best and most eclectic ever written on the subject, is Rebecca Solnit's Wanderlust: A History Of Walking. This book crosses so many boundaries, it's uncategorisable. Walking's the theme, but it encompasses so much else - poetry, philosophy, anatomy, history, religion, politics, psychogeography, mountaineering, landscape gardening, personal confession. All the things you encounter while walking. And consider while walking.

Solnit believes the culture of walking has evolved out of the disembodiment of everyday life resulting from automobilisation and suburbanisation. She also uncovers a long historical association between walking and philosophising. When walking, she says, the mind, the body and the world come into alignment. She points to a strong sympathy between writing and walking, between language and the path: Language is like a road; it cannot be perceived all at once because it unfolds in time, whether heard or read.

The photo below shows some of my 'walking book' shelves. The books assembled there are wide-ranging in their scope, 'fragments' of a 'secret history'. For walking is the starting point for a thousand byways, a thousand ideas, a thousand connections. There are all sorts of subjects here - social history, landscape history, nature writing, travel, adventure and exploration, farming and agriculture, autobiography, mythology. All these things are written into the landscapes and mindscapes through which we walk...

8 comments:

George said...

Another wonderful posting, SW, and what a great book! The title, "Wanderlust," says is all, doesn't it -- a lust for wandering. Oddly enough, I was reading some passages in the book just last night, having returned from a memorable day of hiking around an island near my home. It's a book that yields new treasures with each reading, and your your fine critique was equally rewarding.

pilgrimpace said...

Thanks for this. An excellent book and a real treat to be able to browse your bookshelf!

Andy

The Solitary Walker said...

George - just come across this quote from Richard Long in the Solnit book: 'A walk expresses space and freedom and the knowledge of it can live in the imagination of anyone, and that is another space too.'

Borrow anything you want, Andy - though I'm not sure how that works virtually..!

George said...

Having a passion for travel and thought, as well as walking, I also like this quote from Solnit: "Exploring the world is one of the best ways of exploring the mind, and walking travels both terrains." Thanks again.

gleaner said...

I think I'll have a virtual browse too! I will have a search at the library or bookstore for Rebecca Solnit's book - I have no walking books in my collection but a couple may sit well beside my small collection of hermit books.

fireweedmeadow said...

Ms. Solnit's book has been in the "to read" pile on my desk for over a month now. After reading this post, I'm looking forward to it even more. But with sprng finally upon us, my time has been spent walking rather than reading; to everything its season!

The Solitary Walker said...

Bella - Solnit has written another excellent book on Ireland called 'A Book Of Migrations'.

Fireweed - thanks for your comment and welcome to the blog. I've had a look at your own blog which I really like. Walking and reading: what would we do without them?

am said...

Hard to believe that it was last April that I wrote down the title of Rebecca Solnit's book, and to realize how much of my time since last spring has been consumed by my new/old job. The piece of paper with the title on it is still sitting at my art table. This is a good reminder. Thanks so much!