Nietzsche walked compulsively. Rousseau, who crossed the Alps on foot, said that his office was his trails. Thoreau ceaselessly roamed the lands around Lake Walden, where he exiled himself from the world for two years, exercising the relationship with nature that shaped his philosophy of life.
Walking seems to be at the root of the inspiration of thinkers. If walking is one of humanity’s most natural acts, the relationship between the flow of thought and walking is less obvious. One of the most beautiful books about this relationship is “Walking, a philosophy”, by the French philosophy professor Frédéric Gros, which received a new translation and was re-released by Editora Ubu. The book scrutinizes and expands on the wanderings of a handful of philosophers and writers for whom walking was part of the creative process, either as an inspiration or as a catalyst for their reflections.
Since I first read it a few years ago, “Walking…” it seems to open new mental windows with each visit. More than narrating the relationship between thought and walking, Gros leads us to reflect on the many forms of walking, from the medieval pilgrim to the English poets, from the great mountaineers to the solitary wanderers, including the political marches of Gandhi, which touched India. against the folly of British imperialism. Each hiker finds his rhythm and his purpose.
In “Merlin”, Catalan series that was successful in Brazil, The Philosophy teacher he christened his class “peripatetics”, an allusion to the method of the Greek philosophers, who supposedly walked while teaching their pupils. Perhaps the image is a caricature. Gros suggests that the word may have more to do with a place in Aristotle’s lyceum –the peripatos– than with a teaching method.
Kant was a different case. The German philosopher relied on the predictability of routine to produce. The people of Konigsberg were amused to see him every day walking at the same time, along the same path, after teaching, eating with friends, and taking a short nap. Gros’s conclusion is that the monument to Kant’s work was precisely built like this, day by day, methodically and concentratedly, one step at a time.
Baudelaire could not have been left out. The most popular of all flâneurs appears as a revolutionary, challenging consumerism and utilitarianism, the values of the nascent modern world, with his walk and his poetry. In another memorable book, “All that is solid melts into air”, Marhsall Bermann repositions Baudelaire, in fact, as one of the pioneers of modernity. In the midst of Paris’ transformation, with its boulevards making their way through the medieval fabric, Baudelaire is the poet who embraces the change that threatens him – and yet delights in the “bath of the crowd”. That is being modern.
Women have space in this walk, like Jane Austen, herself a focused walker, who made her characters walk miles through the moors soaked But it is Virginia Woolf who has one of the most expressive texts on the delight of walking. In her book “Mrs. Dalloway”, the character leaves the house to buy flowers and discovers the pleasure of immersing herself in the city – there “was everything she loved. London, life, this moment in June”. It is difficult to be more eloquent about the sensory emotion of walking.
The book does not mention any Brazilians, but the Brazilian chronicle might not have existed without walking. João do Rio was one of our most iconic walkers-chroniclers, at the beginning of the 20th century, conjecturing about urban changes in the recently opened av. Central (then Av. Rio Branco) but also about cockfights, terreiros, conversations on the trams, prostitutes, the pier and everything that made Rio the great scene of Brazilian urbanity. It is worth reading the booklet “A Rua”, by Edições Barbatana, in which the carioca dandy sings a true ode to urban life, which has what is possibly one of the best openings of a text: “Eu amo a rua”.
Inspired by philosophers who grapple with the big questions of life, love and death, as they walk, I find myself thinking about our everyday lives, about the millions of people who leave their homes, walking to school, to catch the bus, to go to work every day.
Do we have time on these daily journeys to open ourselves up to the city’s surprises and philosophize a little? I think so. Our streets are not Parisian boulevards and we are not strolling aimlessly, but I think it is possible to reserve a few more minutes on some routes to be able to explore the city during a normal day. Who knows, maybe the short walk back home can generate a happy surprise, a transforming thought or at least, in Baudelaire’s way, the pleasure of being alive while getting lost in the hubbub of the city and the crowd?
LINK PRESENT: Did you like this text? Subscriber can release five free accesses of any link per day. Just click the blue F below.