Reading and Walking

Walking, Reading, and Reading about Walking

Tag: walking

87. Henry David Thoreau, Walking

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There are many passages from Henry David Thoreau’s lecture Walking, published after his death in 1862, that show up in any survey of writing about walking. But there is a lot more going in in Thoreau’s text than those frequently quoted statements. Rather than being focused on walking, most of the text addresses another topic entirely: wildness. For Thoreau, the two go together: walking is a vehicle for experiencing wildness, by which he means, the natural world, or life beyond human society. In fact, the lecture begins with a short paragraph in which Thoreau states, “I wish to speak a word for Nature, for absolute freedom and wildness, as contrasted with a freedom and culture merely civil,—to regard man as an inhabitant, or a part and parcel of Nature, rather than a member of society” (35). The “extreme statement” (35) he intends to make begins with the idea that humans are natural rather than social or cultural. It doesn’t matter that such an idea is impossible; what’s important is Thoreau’s intention and, I think, the way it reflects his own love of the natural world and of solitude.

From that point Thoreau moves to one of those often-quoted passages, an attempt at an etymology of the word “sauntering.” He makes two suggestions. One is that “saunter” comes from medieval pilgrimages (pretended, according to Thoreau) to the Holy Land, from the idea that children would exclaim “There goes a Sainte-Terrer” when such people walked past. Strangely, Thoreau shifts to the present tense when he evaluates these pilgrimages: “They who never go to the Holy Land in their walks, as they pretend, are indeed mere idlers and vagabonds; but they who do go there are saunterers in the good sense, such as I mean” (35-36). I find the syntax of that sentence very strange, and I have a suspicion that Thoreau might prefer the “idlers and vagabonds” to those who would actually be walking to the Holy Land—or that he’s less interested in the notion of a religious pilgrimage than in one that leads into the woods, which is the site Thoreau really finds to be sacred. That’s the derivation he prefers, because “every walk is a sort of crusade, preached by some Peter the Hermit in us, to go forth and reconquer this Holy Land from the hands of the Infidels” (36). By “this Holy Land” Thoreau means Massachusetts, or Concord: the place he called home. And by “Infidels,” I am assuming he means those who do not or cannot appreciate the natural world of that place; that, in any case, is an opposition he develops through the lecture.

However, Thoreau also acknowledges that some people derive “saunter” from “sans terre, without land or a home, which, therefore, in the good sense, will mean, having no particular home, but equally at home everywhere” (36). This, he claims, “is the secret of successful sauntering”: “He who sits still in a house all the time may be the greatest vagrant of all; but the saunterer, in the good sense, is no more vagrant than the meandering river, which is all the while sedulously seeking the shortest course to the sea” (36). This derivation, although Thoreau prefers the first, has the benefits of lending itself to a metaphor taken from nature, and of distinguishing those who walk, or saunter, from those who stay at home, and who, despite their stationary quality, “may be the biggest vagrant of all.”

The first derivation, though, allows Thoreau to make this apparent self-criticism, although I think it’s actually an ironic critique of his audience, and his culture:

It is true, we are but faint-hearted crusaders, even the walkers, nowadays, who undertake no persevering, never-ending enterprises. Our expeditions are but tours, and come round again at evening to the old hearth-side from which we set out. Half the walk is but retracing our steps. We should go forth on the shortest walk, perchance, in the spirit of undying adventure, never to return,—prepared to send back our embalmed hearts only as relics to our desolate kingdoms. (36)

Thoreau wants to raise the stakes, as dramaturges say; he wants walkers to take risks and walks to mean something. But at the same time, the exaggeration here (“embalmed hearts”?) might suggest he’s not entirely serious. Such hyperbole continues through the first pages of the lecture, including this passage, which Deirdre Heddon and Cathy Turner describe as an example of “nineteenth-century chauvinism” (226): “If you are ready to leave father and mother, and brother and sister, and wife and child and friends, and never see them again,—if you have paid your debts, and made your will, and settled all your affairs, and are a free man, then you are ready for a walk” (36). The joke is on the reader, of course; Thoreau never married, lived alone, and had few if any domestic entanglements. He is asking his audience to do something he wouldn’t have to do and likely wouldn’t be able to imagine. As Ralph Waldo Emerson says in his biographical sketch of Thoreau, he was “the bachelor of thought and Nature” (9).

The self-conscious drama of the notion that one must treat any walk as a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, an experience likely to lead to one’s death, is (to me) sheer hyperbole, and the language in the following paragraphs supports that claim. Thoreau describes the pleasure he and his walking companion take 

in fancying ourselves knights of a new, or rather an old, order,—not Equestrians or Chevaliers, not Ritters or riders, but Walkers, a still more ancient and honorable class, I trust. The chivalric and heroic spirit which once belonged to the Rider seems now to reside in, or perchance to have subsided into, the Walker,—not the Knight, but the Walker Errant. He is a sort of fourth estate, outside of Church and State and People. (37)

Is Thoreau serious here? I don’t think so, although I could be wrong. Elsewhere in the essay he criticizes any interest in what are, for him, outmoded or inappropriate European ideas and idioms, and so his use of them here might suggest exaggeration. I keep thinking that he’s giving a lecture, that he has to engage his audience and interest them not only in what he wants to say, but in himself as a speaker. What better way to accomplish those goals than to begin by making oneself something of a figure of fun who is in on the joke?

At the same time, there is a serious side to the distinction he has been making, subtly, between those who walk and those who stay home:

We have felt that we almost alone hereabouts practised this noble art; though, to tell the truth, at least, if their own assertions are to be received, mo[s]t of my townsmen would fain walk sometimes, as I do, but they cannot. No wealth can buy the requisite leisure, freedom, and independence, which are the capital in this profession. It comes only by the grace of God. It requires a direct dispensation from Heaven to become a walker. You must be born into the family of Walkers. (37)

Again there is deliberate exaggeration here, but I think Thoreau is making a point. After all, his lack of domestic obligations; his self-imposed poverty; his friends and family, who supported his life and work (by paying his tax bills, for example); all of the factors of his life allowed him to spend hours every day going for long walks. Others, who had to work long hours as farmers or clerks, did not have that freedom.

Still, in this paragraph the butt of the Thoreau’s humour shifts from Thoreau himself to those who lack the leisure or disposition to walk:

Some of my townsmen, it is true, can remember and have described to me some walks which they took ten years ago, in which they were so blessed as to lose themselves for half an hour in the woods; but I know very well that they have confined themselves to the highway ever since, whatever pretensions they may make to belong to this select class. No doubt they were elevated for a moment as by the reminiscence of a previous state of existence, when even they were foresters and outlaws. (37)

The short period of the remembered walk (just half an hour), and the decision to “confine themselves to the highway” afterwards, and the allusion to Robin Hood, all suggest (to me) that Thoreau is having a bit of a laugh at his audience’s expense. After all, they are likely to be the kind of people who have to work and lack the leisure to wander around. They bought tickets to the lecture, after all.

Thoreau, in fact, acknowledges that he is both unusual and lucky in his need to walk and in his ability to do it:

I think that I cannot preserve my health and spirits, unless I spend four hours a day at least,—and it is commonly more than that,—sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields, absolutely free from all worldly engagements. You may safely say, A penny for your thoughts, or a thousand pounds. When sometimes I am reminded that the mechanics and shopkeepers stay in their shops not only all the forenoon, but all the afternoon too, sitting with crossed legs, so many of them,—as if the legs were made to sit upon, and not to stand or walk upon,—I think that they deserve some credit for not having all committed suicide long ago. (38)

Thoreau’s freedom to walk is also a necessity, and although it has led to poverty (for him there’s no difference between a penny and a thousand pounds, because he has neither), it has also helped him to preserve his “health and spirits.” In fact, he cannot understand how others, with jobs and obligations, manage to survive. He wonders why “there is not a general explosion heard up and down the street” every afternoon between four and five o’clock, a blast that would scatter “a legion of antiquated and house-bred notions and whims to the four winds for an airing,” and thus cure the evil of being confined “to shops and offices the whole day for weeks and months, ay, and years almost together” (39). Thoreau’s wonder is not confined to men working outside of the home: “How womankind, who are confined to the house still more than men, stand it I do not know,” he writes, but he suspects “that most of them do not stand it at all” (39). He remembers walking past houses on summer afternoons, houses whose occupants appear to be sleeping (39). He seems to be suggesting that they aren’t sleeping at all; perhaps they have gone out for a walk. It’s hard to say, though, what Thoreau means here, because he ends that paragraph with a paean to the architecture that doesn’t go to sleep itself, but which stands guard over the slumberers (40). The notion seems strange. What is more likely: sleeping or walking? Shouldn’t those women be walking? If they are sleeping, what does that say about Thoreau’s views on women?

Thoreau suggests that the walking he is describing has nothing to do with “taking exercise,” but “is itself the enterprise and adventure of the day. If you would get exercise, go in search of the springs of life” (40). Moreover, when one walks, one must think—ruminate—as Wordsworth, who famously wrote while walking, did (40). Being outside so much “will no doubt produce a certain roughness of character,” he admits, but the “natural remedy” for that roughness “is to be found in the proportion which the night bears to the day, the winter to the summer, thought to experience”:

There will be so much the more air and sunshine in our thoughts. The callous palms of the laborer are conversant with finer tissues of self-respect and heroism, whose touch thrills the heart, than the languid fingers of idleness. That is mere sentimentality that lies abed by day and thinks itself white, far from the tan and callus of experience. (41)

In other words, that “certain roughness of character,” far from being a vice, is a virtue. Given the choice between that roughness and “mere sentimentality,” Thoreau will choose roughness. I wonder if the figure who lies in bed during the day is a return to the female inhabitants of those silent houses whose occupants seem to be asleep; perhaps those women are actually sleeping, rather than walking, a suggestion which would support accusations of chauvinism.

As Heddon and Turner point out, Thoreau critiques domestic walking: “When we walk, we naturally go to the fields and woods: what would become of us, if we walked only in a garden or a mall?” (41). I don’t think it’s the domestic that Thoreau is rejecting as much as it is the notion of wild nature that he is advocating (although they necessarily go together). It’s not enough to walk in the woods, either; one must want to walk there, and one must be focused on the experience rather than thinking of other things:

I am alarmed when it happens that I have walked a mile into the woods bodily, without getting there in spirit. In my afternoon walk I would fain forget all my morning occupations and my obligations to society. But it sometimes happens that I cannot easily shake off the village. The thought of some work will run in my head, and I am not where my body is,—I am out of my senses. In my walks I would fain return to my senses. What business have I in the woods, if I am thinking of something out of the woods? I suspect myself, and cannot help a shudder, when I find myself so implicated even in what are called good works,—for this may sometimes happen. (42)

For Thoreau, walking is an experience of attention and flow—of being, in two ways, returned to his senses: to the sensory experience of the world, and to his right mind. The reason he rejects society and its obligations, here and elsewhere in the lecture, is that he seems to require that specific kind of walking experience, and even when he is thinking about “good works,” he is not present in his surroundings.

“My vicinity affords many good walks,” Thoreau continues, “and though for so many years I have walked almost every day, and sometimes for several days together, I have not exhausted them” (42). One might expect that Thoreau is interested in walking as an experience of place, in Yi-Fu Tuan’s sense of place as a location that one knows through experience, and he does, but he’s also interested in walking as an experience of space, of novelty and freshness:

An absolutely new prospect is a great happiness, and I can still get this on any afternoon. Two or three hours’ walking will carry me to as strange a country as I expect ever to see. A single farmhouse which I had not seen before is sometimes as good as the dominions of the King of Dahomey. There is in fact a sort of harmony discoverable between the capabilities of the landscape within a circle of ten miles’ radius, or the limits of an afternoon walk, and the threescore years and ten of a human life. It will never become quite familiar to you. (42)

That experience of space, as Thoreau’s Dahomey simile suggests, is related to processes of colonialism and empire, and yet, there is also something strangely local and perhaps almost domestic in the suggestion that seeing a previously unnoticed farmhouse is “as good as” African exploration. There is a sense here that Thoreau’s neighbourhood is so rich that he will never finish discovering new things in it—although, as Emerson suggests in his biographical sketch, those new things are more likely to be plants or birds than farmhouses (22-25). 

Indeed, Thoreau suggests his movements during a walk are like those of “the fox and the mink”: he moves “first along by the river, and then the brook, and then the meadow and the wood-side,” through a territory without human inhabitants. The animal imagery in this paragraph is applied to other aspects of “civilization and the abodes of man” as a way of minimizing their impact on the land: 

The farmers and their works are scarcely more obvious than woodchucks and their burrows. Man and his affairs, church and state and school, trade and commerce, and manufactures and agriculture, even politics, the most alarming of them all,—I am pleased to see how little space they occupy in the landscape. (43)

That what must have been a densely populated part of the United States could afford so much space without signs of human activity is a wonder, and perhaps Thoreau is exaggerating his experience. 

Or perhaps Thoreau sees few signs of human activity because he avoids travelling on roads:

Some do not walk at all; others walk in the highways; a few walk across lots. Roads are made for horses and men of business. I do not travel in them much, comparatively, because I am not in a hurry to get to any tavern or grocery or livery-stable or depot to which they lead. I am a good horse to travel, but not from choice a roadster. (44)

He is clearly one of those who “walk across lots,” and of no use to the “landscape-painter” who “uses the figures of men to mark a road”; that artist would not be able to use Thoreau’s figure because he is elsewhere (44). Walking “across lots” is a way to “walk out into a Nature such as the old prophets and poets, Menu, Moses, Homer, Chaucer, walked in” (44). That territory is not America, nor was it discovered by Columbus: “There is a truer account of it in mythology than in any history of America, so called, that I have seen” (45). The only roads Thoreau likes are those that “are nearly discontinued,” and he includes a poem about one of those, “The Old Marlborough Road,” in his text. 

Thoreau notes that most of the land in his vicinity is not private property, and so “the walker enjoys comparative freedom” (47). However, he imagines a very different future:

possibly the day will come when it will be partitioned off into so-called pleasure-grounds, in which a few will take a narrow and exclusive pleasure only,—when fences shall be multiplied, and man-traps and other engines invented to confine men to the public road, and walking over the surface of God’s earth shall be construed to mean trespassing on some gentleman’s grounds. To enjoy a thing exclusively is commonly to exclude yourself from the true enjoyment of it. Let us improve our opportunities, then, before the evil days come. (47-48)

Those days, as Ken Ilgunas and Matthew Anderson have pointed out, have arrived all over North America.

At this point, Thoreau begins shifting away from thinking about walking to thinking about nature, which for him primarily exists in the west—an expression of an American frontier thesis, I think, although he also makes arguments rooted in mythology (the importance of the setting sun) to defend his preference for that direction. The west is the direction of “the wilderness,” and he suggests that when he leaves the city, he is “withdrawing into the wilderness” (50). That is the American tendency, he suggests: “I must walk toward Oregon, and not toward Europe. And that way the nation is moving, and I may say that mankind progress[es] from east to west” (50). Here he rejects history and “the old World and its institutions” (51) in preference to the west, the territory of the sun, “the Great Western Pioneer whom the nations follow” (52). Others who “felt the westward tendency” include Columbus and the “man of the Old World” who travelled from Asia into Europe, with “[e]ach of his steps . . . marked by a new civilization superior to the preceding, by a greater power of development,” until he crosses the Atlantic Ocean and resumes his westward movement (52-53). He suggests that the climate in the United States may enable “man [to] grow to greater perfection intellectually as well as physically” under its influences—that, in fact, the North American landscape will create a new kind of human:

I trust that we shall be more imaginative, that our thoughts will be clearer, fresher, and more ethereal, as our sky,—our understanding more comprehensive and broader, like our plains,—our intellect generally on a grander scale, like our thunder and lightning, our rivers and mountains and forests,—and our hearts shall even correspond in breadth and depth and grandeur to our inland seas. (55-56)

I was surprised to read such an evocation to American exceptionalism in Thoreau, given that he refused to pay taxes in part because they supported a state that allowed human slavery, but he was of his time, as we all are, and he had a lecture audience to please.

There’s another reason for this apotheosis of the west in Thoreau’s discourse: “The West of which I speak is but another name for the Wild; and what I have been preparing to say is, that in Wildness is the preservation of the World” (57). “Give me a wildness whose glance no civilization can endure,” he writes (58). He notes that according to “[t]he African hunter Cummings” the skin of the eland “emits the most delicious perfume of trees and grass,” and he would like “every man” to be “so much a part and parcel of Nature, that his very person should thus sweetly advertise our senses of his presence, and remind us of those parts of Nature which he most haunts” (58-59). That odour would be preferable to “that which commonly exhales from the merchant’s or the scholar’s garments,” which is a smell “of dusty merchant’s exchanges and libraries” (59). “Life consists with wildness,” he contends. “The most alive is the wildest. Not yet subdued to man, its presence refreshes him. . . . Hope and the future for me are not in lawns and cultivated fields, not in towns and cities, but in the impervious and quaking swamps”—the wildest place, it seems, that Thoreau can imagine (60). “Give me the ocean, the desert or the wilderness!” he exclaims (61)—places, like the swamp, that are dreary (because they are frightening to civilized humans, or because they don’t conform to codes of visual beauty). And yet, the American economy depends on agriculture, which requires draining swamps (63-64). “The weapons with which he have gained our most important victories, which should be handed down as heirlooms from father to son, are not the sword and the lance,” he argues, “but the bushwhack, the turf-cutter, the spade, and the bog-hoe, rusted with the blood of many a meadow, and begrimed with the dust of many a hard-fought field” (64). 

“In Literature it is only the wild that attracts us,” Thoreau continues, suggesting that “it is the uncivilized free and wild thinking in ‘Hamlet’ and the “Iliad,’ in all the Scriptures and Mythologies, not learned in the schools, that delights us,” in the way that a wild duck “is more swift and beautiful than the tame” (64). He wonders where “the literature which gives expression to Nature” is (65):

He would be a poet who could impress the winds and streams into his service, to speak for him; who nailed words to their primitive senses, as farmers drive down stakes in the spring, which the frost has heaved; who derived his words as often as he used them,—transplanted them to his page with earth adhering to their roots; whose words were so true and fresh and natural that they would appear to expand like the buds at the approach of spring, though they lay half-smothered between two musty leaves in a library,—ay, to bloom and bear fruit there, after their kind, annually, for the faithful reader, in sympathy with surrounding Nature. (65-66)

Strangely, though, this evocation of “the literature which gives expression to Nature” is premised on figures of human domination of nature, particularly through agriculture. Would that literature necessarily be a hybrid between the human and the natural? In any case, it doesn’t exist: 

I do not know of any poetry to quote which adequately expresses this yearning for the Wild. Approached from this side, the best poetry is tame. I do not know where to find in any literature, ancient or modern, any account which contents me of that Nature with which even I am acquainted. (66)

The literature that comes closest seems to be Greek mythology, “the crop which the Old World bore before its soil was exhausted, before the fancy and imagination were affected with blight; and which it still bears, wherever its pristine vigor is unabated” (66).

“In short,” Thoreau continues, “all good things are wild and free”:

There is something in a strain of music, whether produced by an instrument or by the human voice,—take the sound of a bugle in a summer night, for instance,—which by its wildness, to speak without satire, reminds me of the cries emitted by wild beasts in their native forests. It is so much of their wildness as I can understand. Give me for my friends and neighbors wild men, not tame ones. The wildness of the savage is but a faint symbol of the awful ferity with which good men and lovers meet. (67-68)

The influence of Rousseau on Thoreau is obvious here. “Undoubtedly, all men are not equally fit subjects for civilization,” he writes, and just because some can be tamed, “this is no reason why the others should have their natures broken that they may be reduced to the same level” (69). Nature, he writes, is “this vast, savage, howling mother of ours,” and she possesses “such affection for her children, as the leopard; and yet we are so early weaned from her breast to society, to that culture which is exclusively an interaction of man on man” (71). It would be better, he continues, that “every man nor every part of a man” should be “cultivated, any more than I would have every acre of earth cultivated”: the greater part of the earth should remain “meadow and forest, not only serving an immediate use, but preparing a mould against a distant future, by the annual decay of the vegetation which it supports” (72). 

Thoreau then critiques the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, suggesting that a Society for the Diffusion of Useful Ignorance or “what we will call Beautiful Ignorance” would be more useful “in a higher sense,” because what is called knowledge is “often our positive ignorance, ignorance in our negative knowledge” (73). “A man’s ignorance sometimes is not only useful, but beautiful,—while his knowledge, so called, is oftentimes worse than useless, besides being ugly,” he argues. “Which is the best man to deal with,—he who knows nothing about a subject, and, what is extremely rare, knows that he knows nothing, or he who really knows something about it, but thinks that he knows all?” (74). That question suggests that Thoreau was a pioneer in the study of the Dunning-Kruger effect.

“My desire for knowledge is intermittent; but my desire to bathe my head in atmospheres unknown to my feet is perennial and constant,” Thoreau continues—a strange thing for someone interested in walking to say, it seems to me. “The highest that we can attain to is not Knowledge, but Sympathy with Intelligence,” he writes:

I do not know that this higher knowledge amounts to anything more definite than a novel and grand surprise on a sudden revelation of the insufficiency of all that we called Knowledge before,—a discovery that there are more things in heaven and earth than are dreamed of in our philosophy. It is the lighting up of the mist by the sun. (74)

The insistence on “sudden revelation” and on something beyond knowledge suggests something about Thoreau’s Romantic predisposition, I think.

Thoreau suggests that “almost all men feel an attraction drawing them to society,” but “few are attracted strongly to Nature” (76). For that reason, he considers most men “lower than the animals,” because they are incapable of appreciating “the beauty of the landscape” (76). “For my part,” he continues,

I feel that with regard to Nature I live a sort of border life, on the confines of a world into which I make occasional and transional and transient forays only, and my patriotism and allegiance to the State into whose territories I seem to retreat are those of a moss-trooper. Unto a life which I call natural I would gladly follow even a will-o’-the-wisp through bogs and sloughs unimaginable, but no moon nor fire-fly has shown me the causeway to it. Nature is a personality so vast and universal that we have never seen one of her features. (76)

At this point, he suddenly returns, in the middle of the paragraph, to walking:

The walker in the familiar fields which stretch around my native town sometimes finds himself in another land than is described in their owners’ deeds, as if it were in some far-away field on the confines of the actual Concord, where her jurisdiction ceases, and the idea which the word Concord suggests ceases to be suggested. (77)

What is that other land? Where did the reality described in the property deeds he refers to go? He gives an example:

I took a walk on Spaulding’s Farm the other afternoon. I saw the setting sun lighting up the opposite side of a stately pine wood. Its golden rays straggled into the aisles of the wood as into some noble hall. I was impressed as if some ancient and altogether admirable and shining family had settled there in that part of the land called Concord, unknown to me,—to whom the sun was servant,—who had not gone into society in the village,—who had not been called on. I saw their park, their pleasure-ground, beyond through the wood, in Spaulding’s cranberry-meadow. The pines furnished them with gables as they grew. Their house was not obvious, to vision; the trees grew through it. I do not know whether I heard the sounds of a suppressed hilarity or not. They seemed to recline on the sunbeams. They have sons and daughters. They are quite well. The farmer’s cart-path, which leads directly through their hall, does not in the least put them out,—as the muddy bottom of a pool is sometimes seen through the reflected skies. They never heard of Spaulding, and do not know that he is their neighbor,—notwithstanding that I heard him whistle as he drove his team through the house. Nothing can equal the serenity of their lives. Their coat of arms is simply a lichen. I saw it painted on the pines and oaks. Their attics were in the tops of the trees. They are of no politics. There was no noise of labor. I did not perceive that they were weaving or spinning. Yet I did detect, when the wind lulled and hearing was done away, the finest imaginable sweet musical hum,—as of a distant hive in May, which perchance was the sound of their thinking. They had no idle thoughts, and no one without could see their work, for their industry was not as in knots and excrescences embayed. (78)

Why does Thoreau imagine that the forest is the home of this family? Is that family a metaphor for the ecosystem of Spaulding’s farm? Or is he recording some mystical vision experienced while walking there? I don’t know. He states that he finds it hard to remember that family: “They fade irrevocably out of my mind even now while I speak and endeavor to recall them, and recollect myself” (78). Regardless, he concludes that “[i]f it were not for such families as this, I think I should move out of Concord” (78). Perhaps that family is a way of giving shape to the thoughts he has while walking. He suggests that “few and fewer thoughts visit each growing man from year to year, for the grove in our minds is laid waste,—sold to feed unnecessary fires of ambition, or sent to mill, and there is scarcely a twig left for them to breed on” (79).

“We hug the earth,—how rarely we mount! Methinks we might elevate ourselves a little more” (79). Those words lead into a literal description of climbing a tall white pine, which leads Thoreau to “discover new mountains on the horizon” which he had never seen before (79). At the top of the tree, he saw “the fertile flower of the white pine looking heavenward,” which he picked and took to show the villagers (80). “[N]ot one had ever seen the like before,” he writes, “but they wondered as at a star dropped down” (80). The moral of this fable seems to be the importance of attending to the natural world, but even more, the importance of allowing ourselves, or our imaginations, to soar.

“Above all, we cannot afford not to live in the present,” Thoreau writes. The past is without interest. “Unless our philosophy hears the cock crow in every barn-yard within our horizon, it is belated,” he continues, suggesting again the importance of attending to what is around us. That rooster’s philosophy, Thoreau states, “comes down to a more recent time than ours,” because he rises early and is “in the foremost rank of time” (80-81). The rooster’s crow “is an expression of the health and soundness of Nature, a brag for all the world,—healthiness as of a spring burst forth, a new fountain of the Muses, to celebrate this last instant of time. Where he lives no fugitive slave laws are past. Who has not betrayed his master many times since last he heard that note?” (81). So many things are combined in this description—Peter’s betrayal of Christ, the controversy over fugitive slave laws (with which Thoreau was concerned), “a new fountain of the Muses,” and I find it hard to understand how paying attention to the present moment brings all of them together. But “[t]he merit of this bird’s strain”—and, remember, he is still talking about attending to the present—“is in its freedom from plaintiveness,” its “pure morning joy” (81). When Thoreau hears a rooster crow, he states, “I think to myself, ‘There is one of us well, at any rate,’—and with a sudden gush return to my senses” (81). 

The next paragraph provides an example of attending to the senses while walking, and that example becomes what can only be described as an epiphany:

We had a remarkable sunset one day last November. I was walking in a meadow, the source of a small brook, when the sun at last, just before setting, after a cold gray day, reached a clear stratum in the horizon, and the softest, brightest morning sunlight fell on the dry grass and on the stems of the trees in the opposite horizon, and on the leaves of the shrub-oaks on the hill-side, while our shadows stretched long over the meadow eastward, as if we were the only motes in its beams. It was such a light as we could not have imagined a moment before, and the air also was so warm and serene that nothing was wanting to make a paradise of that meadow. (81-82)

This is an experience of paradoxes: warm air on a cold day, a sunrise at sunset, a slumbering meadow (it’s November, after all, and winter is quickly approaching) becoming “a paradise.” More importantly, Thoreau continues, “[w]hen we reflected that this was not a solitary phenomenon, never to happen again, but that it would happen forever and ever on an infinite number of evenings, and cheer and reassure the latest child that walked there, it was more glorious still” (82). How can that be? How can such a singular event be infinite? It seems impossible, but Thoreau is certain that it’s the case, even though it is, for him, clearly a special and unique experience: 

We walked in so pure and bright a light, gilding the withered grass and leaves, so softly and serenely bright, I thought I had never bathed in such a golden flood, without a ripple or a murmur to it. The west side of every wood and rising ground gleamed like the boundary of Elysium, and the sun on our backs seemed like a gentle herdsman driving us home at evening. (82)

This is the approach to the Holy Land, he suggests, returning to the place where he began:

So we saunter toward the Holy Land, till one day the sun shall shine more brightly than ever he has done, shall perchance shine into our minds and and light up our whole lives with a great awakening light, as warm and serene and golden as on a bank-side in autumn. (82)

Enlightenment is possible, it seems, if we walk long enough, and far enough, and it will take the form of the “great awakening light” of the sun.

Thoreau’s optimism at the end of the lecture is something of a surprise, given the discouragement he sometimes expresses, but it’s clear that for him walking is more than a way to experience nature—it is a path towards some kind of enlightenment. I was also surprised by the lecture’s circularity, but the way it circles back to the etymologies with which it began. In a way, I think the key to Walking is Thoreau’s brief introduction, where he suggests that he’s not interested in humans as social creatures, but as “part and parcel of Nature” (35). If that’s his starting point, then it’s not surprising that our enlightenment will be natural, experienced by walking in the sunshine. And if that’s his starting point, criticizing him for (jokingly, I suspect) suggesting that walkers need to abandon their friends and families misses the point. For Thoreau, those social and familial ties are unimportant; what is important is one’s experience of nature. He might well be wrong about that—and I think he is—but that suggestion is consistent with the rest of his argument. In the end, Thoreau was what he was–a nineteenth-century Romantic–and we can only take what we can from this odd text.

Works Cited

Anderson, Matthew Robert. “Why Canadians Need the ‘Right to Roam.’” The Conversation, 29 July 2018, https://theconversation.com/why-canadians-need-the-right-to-roam-100497.

Heddon, Deirdre, and Cathy Turner. “Walking Women: Shifting the Tales and Scales of Mobility.” Contemporary Theatre Review, vol. 22, no. 2, 2012, pp. 224-36.

Ilgunas, Ken. This Land Is Our Land: How We Lost the Right to Roam and How to Get It Back, Plume, 2018.

Thoreau, Henry David. Walking, 1863, Watchmaker 2010.

Tuan, Yi-Fu. Space and Place: The Perspective of Experience, University of Minnesota Press, 1977.

86. Erling Kagge, Walking: One Step at a Time

erling kagge

Ironically, I read about Erling Kagge’s Walking: One Step at a Time during our recent walking holiday, in a review essay by Michael Lapointe that concludes with some skepticism (to say the least) about the liberating or critical possibilities of walking. Lapointe’s skepticism is well-taken, but I wanted to follow up on his sources, so I ordered a copy of Kagge’s book, which was waiting for me when we returned home.

Walking: One Step at a Time is a collection of stories about and meditations on walking. Its fragmentary structure means that every summary of the text—every attempt at identifying what’s worth thinking about in it—is going to be very different. I found a couple of key themes during my reading, which would probably be different were I to read it again. One of those themes is the idea that walking is part of being human. “Placing one foot in front of the other, investigating and overcoming are intrinsic to our nature. Journeys of discovery are not something you start doing, but something you gradually stop doing,” Kagge writes (5). He is thinking about his grandmother, who, he says started to die the day she could no longer walk, and his daughter learning to walk and thereby explore her world. Although we all have different reasons for walking, it is “one of the most important things we do,” he writes (9). The book ends on a similar note, but on a grander evolutionary scale:

Homo sapiens didn’t invent bipedalism. It was the other way around. Australopithecus, our forefathers, had already been walking for over two million years when our particular species came into being. Everything that we do today, that which separates us from other species, can be traced back to our origins of walking. 

The ability to walk, to put one foot in front of the other, invented us. (157)

Certainly there are other defining elements of being human, and the ability to walk is by no means universal, but walking upright is one of the characteristics of our species.

Another theme is Kagge’s own walking; in a way, this book is a walking autobiography. Near the beginning of the book, he writes,

I have no idea how many walks I’ve been on. 

I’ve been on short walks; I’ve been on long walks. I’ve walked from villages and to cities. I’ve walked through the day and through the night, from lovers and to friends. I have walked in deep forests and over big mountains, across snow-covered plains and through urban jungles. I have walked bored and euphoric and I have tried to walk away from problems. I have walked in pain and in happiness. But no matter where and why, I have walked and walked. I have walked to the ends of the world—literally. 

All my walks have been different, but looking back I see one common denominator: inner silence. Walking and silence belong together. Silence is as abstract as walking is concrete. (8)

Not surprisingly, Kagge’s first book was called Silence. His suggestion that walking and silence go together indicates that he is primarily interested in walking alone; if he were walking with others, those walks would be defined by conversation rather than silence, I think.

Kagge is particularly interested in what happens when he walks, in his experience of walking, particularly the tricks he finds walking playing with his experience of time:

Everything moves more slowly when I walk, the world seems softer and for a short while I am not doing household chores, having meetings or reading manuscripts. A free man possesses time. The opinions, expectations and moods of family, colleagues and friends all become unimportant for a few minutes or a few hours. Walking, I become the centre of my own life, while completely forgetting myself shortly afterwards. (15)

“It is a truth universally acknowledged that one saves time travelling only two hours from one point to another instead of spending eight hours on the same journey,” he continues. “While this holds up mathematically, my experience is the opposite: time passes more quickly when I increase the speed of travel. My speed and time accelerate in parallel. It is as if the duration of a single hour becomes less than a clock-hour. When I am in a rush, I hardly pay attention to anything at all” (15). He compares driving to a mountain with walking to a mountain: “If you were to walk along the same route, however—spending an entire day instead of a half-hour, breathing more easily, listening, feeling the ground beneath your feet, exerting yourself—the day becomes something else entirely”—that is, something other than “one big blur”:

Little by little, the mountain looms up before you and your surroundings seem to grow larger. Becoming acquainted with these surroundings takes time. It’s like building a friendship. The mountain up ahead, which slowly changes as you draw closer, feels like an intimate friend by the time you’ve arrived. Your eyes, ears, nose, shoulders, stomach and legs speak to the mountain, and the mountain replies. Time stretches out, independent of minutes and hours. 

And this is precisely the secret held by all those who go on foot: life is prolonged when you walk. Walking expands time rather than collapses it. (16-17)

I’ve had similar experiences walking toward grain elevators (which indicate a town or village where I might be able to get a cold drink), but for me, it’s often an experience of frustration rather than anticipation—perhaps because I really want to get that cold drink and find a place to sit and rest. Kagge points out that in Robert Wilson’s performance piece, Walking, he and his audience take five hours to cross a Dutch island, Terschelling, a walk that typically would only take 45 minutes, and as a result, they become more aware of their surroundings; their slow speed alters their perceptions (77). “So much in our lives is fast-paced,” Kagge writes. “Walking is a slow undertaking. It is among the most radical things you can do” (19). Perhaps it’s that kind of claim that irritates Lapointe; however, it strikes me that the deliberate slowness of walking does interrupt our culture’s belief in efficiency and time management, and that therefore it is, or can be thought of, as a radical act.

Kagge is also interested in the cognitive effects of walking—the way it helps him think, and more generally, the connection between walking and thinking. “Walking sometimes means undertaking an inner voyage of discovery,” he writes. “You are shaped by buildings, faces, signs, weather and the atmosphere. . . . Walking as a combination of movement, humility, balance, curiosity, smell, sound, light and—if you walk far enough—longing. A feeling which reaches for something, without finding it” (28). Walking is both anarchic and ordering:

Walking, I can stop whenever I feel like it. Take a look around. And then continue on. It’s a small-scale anarchy: the thoughts that stream through my mind or the anxieties that I sense in my body shift and clear up as I walk. Chaos is king when I first strike out on my walk, but as I arrive, things have become more orderly, even when I haven’t given a thought to the chaos as I’ve walked along. (29)

Moreover, because walking involves the body, it becomes an opportunity for a kind of embodied cognition: 

The feet are in dialogue with your eyes, nose, arms, torso, and with your emotions, This dialogue often takes place so fast that the mind is unable to keep up. Our feet help us to proceed with precision. They can read the terrain, and also what hits them from underneath the soles; they process each impression, in order to take one step forward or one to the side. (58)

This leads Kagge to Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s contention, from The Phenomenology of Perception: “You think with your entire self” (74-75). According to Kagge, Merleau-Ponty 

started with the assumption that the body is not merely a collection of atoms made of flesh and bone. We are able to perceive and care for our memories and reflections with our toes, feet, legs, arms, stomachs, chests and shoulders. . . . Merleau-Ponty understood something that neurologists and psychologists have since begun to study: everything around us is something with which the whole of you and I are able to have a running dialogue. . . . When we see, smell and listen, we are—in order to understand our experience—using the information that has already been stored inside our bodies. (75)

The Phenomenology of Perception is on my reading list, and Kagge’s brief discussion of that text reaffirms my need to read it.

Kagge also argues that walking helps him (and others) think. He attributes the phrase “solvitur ambulando,” “it is solved by walking,” to Diogenes, not St. Augustine (86), and provides a list of people who have used walking as an aid to thinking: Darwin, Kierkegaard, Einstein, Steve Jobs, Thoreau (86-87). “When I walk my thoughts are set free,” he writes. “My blood circulates and, if I choose a faster pace, my body takes in more oxygen. My head clears” (87). As a result, he argues that one can actually walk away from one’s problems—or, at least, that he does:

I walk away from my problems. Not all of them, but as many as possible. Don’t we all? Some of my problems fade away as I walk. They might vanish within an hour, or a few days. Perhaps they weren’t as big as I had imagined? It’s often like that. Something that I view as problematic, that stirs me up, turns out not to be so troublesome or important, after all, once I have gained some distance from it. (109)

The idea that walking helps people think is relatively common, and psychologists have experimental data that suggest the connection isn’t just anecdotal.

Walking, for Kagge, is also about discomfort—but discomfort as something to be embraced rather than avoided. He reports that, in her book RAIN: Four Walks in English Weather, Melissa Harrison tells a story about her father, who encouraged her to rise above bad weather and exhaustion: that advice wasn’t meant to be “macho,” Kagge argues, but was “lovingly bestowed” in the hope that she “would have the chance to experience as many wonderful things in the wild as they themselves had. Our need for comfort not only implies that we avoid uncomfortable experiences but it also means that we lose out on many good ones” (96-97). He reflects on his expeditions to the Poles and to Mount Everest—Kagge is (at least sometimes) an epic or heroic walker, although he would probably reject such terms; he says that he was never a great athlete but able “to complete long walking trips on skis”—therefore skiing trips?—because he prepared well and he tried (155)—and the pleasure of making do with as little as possible, which could be considered an embracing of discomfort: 

It’s possible to leave behind a whole slew of habits when you go for a long hike. There is pleasure in considering what you actually need. In having to decide between the things that you must bring along and those that you only want to bring because they might constitute a comfort. I have the impression that most people underestimate the amount of time that they would be able to make do with nothing more than a sleeping bag, an extra warm jacket, a small pan, a stove, matches and enough food. If you say it’s impossible to survive with so little, and I say that it is possible, we are both probably right. (99)

Some of his greatest pleasures have involved getting warm after being cold (99). He also likes the way that long walks change his relation to the world: “If a walk lasts for many hours or days, it takes on a different character than one that lasts for only half an hour. Your dependence on external stimuli decreases, you are torn away from the expectations of others, and your walk takes on a more internal character” (119).

In fact, he enjoys walking until he has exhausted himself: 

What I like most of all is to walk until I nearly collapse. To sense the pleasure, the exhaustion and the absurdity of walking all blending together, until I can no longer tell what is what. My head changes. I don’t care what time it is, my head is devoid of all thought, and I become a part of the grass, the stones, the moss, the flowers and the horizon. (134-36)

Breaking himself down physically is “a nice change from everyday life”: “To concentrate and to be disrupted are not opposites. Both are always present to various degrees, but if you have been broken down, you no longer have the same strength to be disrupted” (136). Exhaustion changes his perception of his surroundings: “When my strength is reduced, I no longer have the resources to think about much, and that’s when the smells, the sounds and the ground seem to draw much closer to my experience. It’s as if my senses open to their surroundings. Nature is transformed” (136). “The longer I walk,” he continues, “the less I differentiate between my body, my mind and my surroundings. The external and internal worlds overlap. I am no longer an observer looking at nature, but the entirety of my body is involved” (137). This takes him back to Merleau-Ponty, I think, and the notion that one’s entire body is engaged in the thinking that happens during a walk. For my part, I don’t like walking until I’m exhausted, but I have noticed that sometimes, when I’m getting tired–in the second half of a long hike, for instance–my mind becomes quiet and the experience of the walk changes, becoming more meditative or sensory. There is a transformation, I think, similar to the one Kagge describes here.

Is Kagge’s book useful for my project? I’m not sure. The reminder about the importance of Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology was helpful, and the fact that Kagge is proudly an epic or heroic walker, interested in what happens during walks that cover long distances and take place over long durations, might be important if I ever do write an essay entitled “In Defence of Epic Walking.” His claims about the radical nature of walking, despite Lapointe’s skepticism about them, are probably worth exploring further. So yes, I think it was worth reading, and I’m happy I ran across Lapointe’s review essay, because I might not have learned about Walking: One Step at a Time otherwise.

Work Cited

Kagge, Erling. Walking: One Step at a Time, translated by Becky L. Crook, Pantheon, 2019.

Lapointe, Michael. “The Unbearable Smugness of Walking.” The Atlantic, August 2019, https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2019/08/how-walking-became-pedestrian-duncan-minshull-erling-kagge-walking/592792/. Accessed 4 August 2019.

55. Ernesto Pujol, Walking Art Practice: Reflections on Socially Engaged Paths

pujol

Ernesto Pujol is a site-specific performance artist, a walking artist, a social choreographer and an educator. He is also a mystic and a moralist; the book’s author biography notes that was trained in a Cistercian-Trappist cloister before going on to social work among the homeless and then graduate school. If you set out to find someone whose approach to walking was very different, even unsympathetic, to mine, Ernesto Pujol would be an excellent choice. I found his book hard to read for that reason. 

Pujol’s preface says this is “a hybrid book with art book elements and the personal content of a field journal,” which “may serve as a manifesto for artists who walk and a resource for performers—a performative walking manual,” made up of 68 reflections in three thematic sections (iii). Those three sections, “Walking Practice,” “Roadside Spiritualities,” and “Teaching Walking,” focus on what he does, the spiritual beliefs behind what he does, and how he works with others in his practice. The latter point is key to Pujol’s walking, because he believes that all art needs to be socially engaged practice, and that the goal of art is a cultural or spiritual or social transformation. “Without social transformation, traditionally defined art-making in a social context is nothing but the perversity of style,” he writes. “The socially transformative is the difference between a static product and a living product” (12). He’s not concerned with justifying walking as art, because art is only “an aesthetic tool to generate meaningful and transformative experience,” and his goal is “generating conscious experience,” using whatever tools are available (28). Walking is just one such tool: Pujol believes that “walking can be a transformative experiential component to creating ephemeral public art” (87).

In the book’s introduction, Pujol describes his working definition of what he does—in other words, of socially engaged, performative practice: it is “the site-specific embodiment of urgent social issues,” “through considered human gesture, such as conscious walking,” “ethically made and generously shared with a community,” “as a form of diagnostic, collective, poetic portrait,” “freely offered for aesthetic appreciation and meaningful reflection,” “ultimately seeking a socially transformative, cultural experience” (3). Walking is, by its nature, a performative practice: 

Walking as art practice is performative, even if this is unintended, because the moment a body wants or needs to walk and enters the space and flow of the public, joining the sited public, it becomes a public body, a body whose performing in society is watched by society, all the more as it seeks social agency. (28)

Moreover, for Pujol socially engaged art practice is not the gesture of a solitary body: “The performativity of the practice reclaims the full repertoire of individual and collective connections, currently reduced to the notion that connective change can only be triggered through informed group consumption, or the refusal to consume” (29). In other words, it is, and must be, a group activity; the artist’s role, it seems, is to lead people on walks. Such a socially engaged art practice is, by definition, performative: “It automatically turns its artist practitioners into public performers, whether they are skilled in performance or not” (29). And it is not easy: “choreographing people sensitively into and through the safe performativity of aestheticized gestures that support increased consciousness” is not “a simple form of making” but a “complex collective process” that “should not be fast-tracked” (30). 

There seems to be little room in Pujol’s version of walking art practice for solitary practitioners: the actual art work must be collaborative and involve the public. “I believe that walking as art practice, in terms of socially engaged art, radically changes the nature of art-making,” he writes, because it moves art-making outside the studio by engaging audiences (97). That kind of practice “signals the increasing freedom of artists that began with conceptual art”; both audience engagement and artistic freedom are democratizing, because they put “artists back into the commons through their common and uncommon skills” (97). In addition, “as the acquaintance between artists and audiences deepens through available, everyday, participatory, aesthetic, meaningful experiences, the need to make and experience art begins to shift from the artist to the community,” and the community will continue to make meaning long after the artist is gone, “because it is valuable to them” (97). At the same time, though, he notes that his walking art practice began as solitary walks. “A public art walking practice often begins with a private walking practice,” he writes, and so he encourages people to write their personal history of walking (47). His own walking began “as an embodied response to an undeclared American war,” the first Gulf War in 1990, and it became even more public during the invasion of Iraq. Like me, Pujol is walking in response to events and histories, although I find it difficult to make the connection between those events and the simple act of walking. It’s as if there is a missing piece in my sense of what I’m doing, or what I want to do, and for my own peace of mind, I need to locate it. In any case, Pujol suggests that such solitary walking can teach us how to walk, and how to walk with others: “The act teaches itself if we are mindful, if we study our steps and learn from them. We also learn how to walk by teaching others how to walk, by studying and learning from their steps. In this process, a walker becomes the walk. In the process, a mindful group of walkers is formed” (89).

Pujol says he’s not interested in “creating rigid rules for walking practice” (87), although I have to say that he does have a lot of rules and requirements for walking artists who would engage with the public. Presenting challenging social issues as an aesthetic experience requires empathy, persistence, and patience: “Social justice cannot be achieved without social healing” (30). That healing must begin with artists themselves. “The best way to engage a path is when the walker is already healed and capable of healing others,” he writes (21). In order to lead a walking group that needs healing, or entering a path that needs healing, “the lead walker should already have walked through healing” (21), or at least be “healed enough so that we have the ability to put our story away”—so that the walk isn’t about the artist, but the path or community (22). “Walking requires self-knowledge, even as walking increases our self-knowledge,” and we need to be aware of death, “the supreme test of our interior life placed in evidence,” and facing death requires self-knowledge (22). “How can a walker pretend to resolve anything along the way if the walker has left an unresolved life back home?” he asks. Moreover, while walking can help resolve personal issues, “that cannot be the way of a walking practice, because the private places an unfair extra burden on a public path that may already be burdened with issues” (21). “We should not walk out of balance. We should not depend on a walk, on a people and a landscape, to balance us,” he writes. “I must first do the work of balancing myself, achieving inner balance, long before I walk” (79). The artist, it seems, needs to be a paragon, willing to face death, healed of his or her personal traumas. It is a lot to ask. 

Pujol also rejects the idea of failure. Failed material practices result in “tons of waste dumped on Nature, by way of garbage and ensuing contamination,” but failure in socially engaged practice is unacceptable, because it means failing people (90). If one makes a mistake while making socially engaged art, one must make “a profusion of humble private and public apologies. However, the failure of an entire project to which life stories have been entrusted and on which the sustainable development of a community may depend, is not acceptable” (90). Again, this is a lot to ask from fallible humans. Perfection is not a reasonable standard for measuring performance.

Pujol also rejects art practices that focus on making things; the only art form that is acceptable is socially engaged performance. “We are experiencing the dawn of a post-art period,” he writes (94), a time when “art no longer embodies the visual currency of contemporary daily life” (94). Walking as art, however, “points us in the right direction for creative making in the 21st century” (94). “For me, the practice of creative walking, when performed within the more generous definition and context of culture, reclaims the original intention of all art-making, and its future” (95). “[W]e do not need more things; we need more awareness of things,” he concludes (95). And walking art—along with socially engaged performance more generally, I think—can, for Pujol, lead to such awareness. Walking in particular requires a change of identity, “from a passive, bored or distracted viewer” to “an intellectually, emotionally, and physically present participant, knowing and intuiting that this is the only way to fully perceive reality” (111). Apparently other art forms cannot engage people the way that participatory forms do. A lot of artists would vehemently disagree with Pujol on this point.

Questions of morality and ethics tend to dominate Pujol’s discussion of walking art practice:

There is no amoral gesture. There is no amoral step. All steps outside a studio are to be questioned. Those steps are either ethical or unethical. There is no making outside an ethical regard. If a site is threatened or endangered, contaminated or polluted, will a mapping artist-walker help it receive more attention that will lead to more protection? Sites have the right to make such demands. (11-12)

“Socially engaged practice has the right to make ethical demands of its aspiring practitioners,” he continues.” Those ethical demands are what makes the practice social”—and they lead to social transformation (12). He’s not interested in “feeding the celebrity persona of a walker who turns territories into spectacular stages” (12). Such celebrity is a myth—and a false one:

The only myth that a walking practice should support is the mythical qualities of place, which an artist-walker may experience to study, perform (witness), document, promote, and help protect. We need to understand once and for all that the ephemeral, mythical, public embodiment of people and place is not an entertaining spectacle but the mediated performativity of consciousness and so requires ethics. (12)

Pujol distrusts what Smith calls heroic walking—or at least heroic gestures made in public: 

I admire publicly heroic stands but believe in the greater sustainability of privately heroic practices. I believe in a multitude of short walks, in unassuming daily walks for countless reasons, from the pragmatic to the poetic. I value the acquisition of the humble habit of walking for every form of getting and gathering, for thinking and feeling something through, and for getting lost so as to be found. (13)

Perhaps he believes that long walks, as opposed to short ones, lead to celebrity, to the transformation of “territories into spectacular stages”? He also claims that the consumption of the stories of others can be “curated by ethics”; he defines “a moral imagination as the ability to imagine yourself in someone else’s shoes. An ethical imagination is the ability to imagine yourself wearing those shoes—inhabiting them—walking through the world as another person” (117). Aren’t those the same thing? Aren’t there limits to what an ethical or moral imagination can accomplish? Pujol thinks not: “Inhabiting and walking in someone else’s shoes begins to generate a radical imagination, that is, an imagination at its most productive, socially heroic and prophetic” (117). How is the imagination prophetic? This needs to be explained, but it isn’t.

As an immersive process, walking can evoke empathy, from experiencing and thereby understanding what others (human or non-human) experience, Pujol suggests (77). “Walking is punctuated with immersive experiences that can help walkers understand the violation of an environment that communicates its distress”; it also “confronts us with human architecture and inhabitants, whose way of life may be threatened, under seige, and with people who share their stories, actively seeking our empathy” (77). Because it generates empathy, “[t]here is a morality implicit in walking,” because we confront the world, seeing and listening firsthand, “placing ourselves within the reality of others,” connecting with others (77). “Selflessness is the first moral principle connected to walking, at the very foundation of walking” (77). A desire to witness, to experience with the senses, “is followed by empathy” and an ability “to better differentiate between good and bad conduct in a place” (77). However, while some can walk without being affected, without experiencing empathy, they are “only seeing what they wish to see through the harsh filter of rigid agendas”; he prefers “the permeable, evolving morality brought about by empathy for the most unexpected peoples and places” (77).

Walking is a central aspect of pilgrimage, and pilgrimage is one of the ways Pujol thinks about his practice. He is fascinated by religious processions and pilgrimages (84). He suggests that not walking during a pilgrimage poses the question of whether there was a pilgrimage at all (64). “If people are truly present at a site of pilgrimage, it may provide them with a psychic blueprint that produces existential scaffolding in reverse, like skin that finds a skeleton,” he writes. “The destination stands as their material reminder of who they are supposed to be, to keep becoming, and to forever remain” (65). However, Pujol’s primary model for walking is, perhaps not surprisingly, monastic. It is easier to “attain material detachment and some degree of consciousness”—his walking goals—“when one commits to a cloistered life with a flexible rule of silence that edits superfluous talk, a vow of celibacy supported by a celibate community’s friendships, voluntary aestheticized poverty, and a life behind protective garden walls, than trying to achieve these states in the world”; “conscious life in the world is harder than life in a monastery” (60). In monasteries, cloister walks are a devotional practice, with the cloister often being lined with images of the Way of the Cross (60). “This is a sheltered walk that meditates about a daring walk synonymous with taking on and carrying the so-called sins of others,” he contends. “It follows a notion of walking as cleansing, which requires the sight to see the burdens people carry invisibly through their walk. It constructs a collective healing walk through the sacrifice of the leading walker’s body” (60). This is clearly the model for his artistic practice. A cloister walk isn’t horizontal: its “true architecture lies below the surface: the vertical architecture of a bottomless well, or a topless mountain. The ‘farness’ of a cloister walk consists of psychic verticality” (61). Repetitive walking on the same path also opens up that vertical architecture (61). Walking can lead to the obliteration of the ego:

Walking can be about desiring and achieving a form of psychic death, in Western monastic terms, the death of the man or woman of the world, so that they can become empty vessels and the universe can finally begin to trickle or rush in, filling and overflowing them with the right contents for others to drink from. Sometimes, after such a journey, we remain forever journeying; journeying becomes our interior life and our public practice. (64)

“I invite performative walkers to consider a silent retreat in a monastery to experience this form; considered step, sustained slowness, and punctuating stillness as an ancient training which is not provided in contemporary art schooling,” he states (62).

Indeed, silence is central to Pujol’s walking practice. He encourages people to walk in silence, and suggests that “a group walk can be spoiled by a distracted walker or by a walker with a secret agenda, whose unfocused or disruptive behavior gradually begins to sabotage the movement, concentration, and experience of the rest” (104). Such a walker destroys the depth of the experience for the other walkers, and if that happens, he removes the walker from the walk: “I do not enable that narcissistic or troubled ego. I send the ego home” (104). “A walker is a gatekeeper,” he writes: 

of the gate to the bodies of walkers; of the gate to the heart of an ecology; of the gate to the heart of a village or town. . . . It is my responsibility not to let a human-made or natural landscape become the stage for destructive dynamics. A walk is an effort at seeing, listening, and pointing to what the landscape and its human and non-human communities need. (105)

Even if that disruptive individual needs healing, such healing “should never happen at the expense of a group or a path” (105). For Pujol, leading a silent group walk is a social service because “it creates the conditions for mindful perception, which is the foundation for a more grounded construction of human reality” (106). Silence as a methodology runs against our culture, sometimes evokes hatred from other pedestrians and from drivers (106). However, “[i]t is precisely because of this individual and collective cathartic potential that I value the experience of group walking in silence” (106). Walking in silence, he claims, “brings the gift of psychic rest, of resting from the job of voicing the ego. Silence is the key that opens the door to meditation, which leads to mindfulness. Silence is a strategy that both protects the walker, like armor, and creates an open space for the stories of others to enter and be listened to in silence” (106). In fact, a walker “may wish to remain in a healing silence long after the walk,” strengthening his or her true self (107). Again, however, he demands that everyone be silent: “Walkers seeking silence need to rein in the potentially destructive dynamic of spontaneous, sporadic, superficial chat along the way” (107-08). Along with silence comes slowness: “We cannot let our walking art practice be curated by speed. We cannot let our walking practice be dictated by fear of slowness” (127).

Christianity is not the only religious tradition from which Pujol draws. He writes of the Buddhist notion of Boddhisattva, “the enlightened body whose heightened awareness is manifested through the public gesture of walking individuals and groups toward increasing consciousness. . . . In this construction of a walker, the state of enlightenment is a state of pilgrimage, of constantly walking with new people” (59). “If illusions are the condition and language of humanity, let us use illusions to create conscious paths; let us perform the illusion of beautiful, wise walks that point at the reality of consciousness,” he writes (67). “Buddhist teachings invite us to walk on an unknown path with no promise of safety, but with thoughtful suggestions,” like “walk carefully without hurting what you find along a path,” because you may find yourself reincarnated into the thing you hurt (71). “The Buddhist walker is aware that he kills too, that every human step crushes plants and insects,” he continues. “The walker apologizes to them with each step, and in between steps” (71). “Walking is not a religion,” he acknowledges, “but for some it can be a form of worship within their religion, a kinetic religious practice, as walking meditation is for Buddhists” (76). “Walking can be the purest act of worship in the cult of life” (76). He also draws from Hinduism, or at least the tradition of the sadhus, itinerant mystics. When sadhus stop wandering in middle age, he believes, “a psychic wandering begins,” because “the road now lies within the former walker,” along with past destinations. “The older walker walks the memories of a lifetime,” and continues walking “to nonmaterial destinations” (70). “One is a walker forever, moving or not, because one has achieved detachment from everything, even from walking, because walking was never the end in itself,” he contends (70). Artists should study the history of spiritual reality and of religion, “as manifestations of our desire for survival,” and these should “inform all art training, all social practice and public performativity,” or else art practices will risk failing because they “will be limited by the prejudices of secular modernity” (84). Walking is also broadly theistic:

Walking witnesses the one or more gods according to the culture of the path and the place, from making Nature into god, to importing god from across an ocean. As a walker, I acknowledge sited versions of god as an expression of local, regional, and national culture over time. These versions range from the mythical to the scientific, no more and no less, as culture is to be respected. (78)

I don’t understand what a scientific god might look like; that seems to be an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms, although perhaps I’m wrong. Moreover, all of this spirituality and theism excludes people who are not believers; there are limits to Pujol’s democratic definition of walking, and some (atheists and agnostics and those who don’t incline to mystical thinking) are going to be left out.

Pujol also tends to speak of walking as if it were a singular practice, as if everyone who walks has (or ought to have) the same experience. For example, he writes that “[a] true walking practice sooner or later confronts us with love,” because everyone we have ever met emerges from deep memory to meet us, and if we are perceptive walkers, we will see them (23). As a result, all paths turn into a kind of lovers’ lane: “This is a pulsating threshold, a turning point in a walking practice. This is a path of love completely lined with once-loved individuals, where we remember everyone we have ever loved and been loved by, as a secret community of the wounded heart” (23). Confronting these memories leads to healing (23-24). It isn’t dying, it’s “walking profoundly” (24). Walking is transformative, and it brings about a coming together of “all-of-me,” “a healed unity” (7). “Brain and body become mind,” and therefore he is mindful; he walks mindfully (7). Walking also brings together dualities, such as humanity and Nature; walking “unifies the interiority of the walker, and walks it back to Nature, completing and reintegrating the walking, and thus, completing Nature” (7). The goal of art is and always was “to achieve greater consciousness” (92-93). “Perhaps it is time to transcend art in our efforts to reach consciousness,” he suggests (93). My question is, what if one’s walking practice doesn’t lead to such confrontations or transformations? What if it doesn’t achieve a greater consciousness? Is it then illegitimate? It seems that Pujol would argue that it would be.

Walking art can have many different purposes, however. It can be an attempt to recover human intimacy with the environment that has been lost, repairing a disconnection between human and non-human. It can be a way of bringing attention of outsiders to a threatened space. It can manifest a knowledge of a way of life or landscape that is in danger of being lost. It can help “to awaken the awareness of the psychic value of a site by revisiting and renewing its meaning, or by exposing how contemporary forces are trying to erase an important piece of history,” so that the site again becomes a destination, even if a contested one, “a place to walk to and through, through the excuse of art” (32). “A walker walks because the body needs to walk, to step forward, because the body needs to stand, to take a stand—to respond,” he writes.  “We walk as response, sometimes as the only possible, legal response, to the loss of humanity” (34). As a public art practice, walking can make little known stories and memories public, “revealing the human ideologies and experiences that have shaped a place” (56), he suggests, following Lucy Lippard’s The Lure of the Local. That process “is about artists as humble, entrusted students of place, as grounded scholars who walk the landscape as a library, giving up their personal reading preferences, allowing themselves to be led to unknown readings, ultimately pointing creatively to the many contradictory texts a place often contains” (56). An artist’s job isn’t to be an editor, he continues, but instead to generously voice “a public that is often without voice,” to craft “a careful reading by everyone for everyone out loud” (56). Walking can also help us “deconstruct the mistakes that have defined civilization and reintegrate into Nature” (“Nature” is always capitalized in this text); his practice is performing “from this holistic insight in society, no matter the abundance or lack of resources” (63). He believes that “Nature is not the background to the play of the human condition . . . there is no separation” between humans and nature (63).

Pujol often sees his art practice in metaphysical terms—and unfortunately (or not), I cannot follow him in that direction. In his second meditation, “Flowing Stillness,” he recalls how, in 2003, he and curator Saralyn Reece Hardy invited the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of Kansas homesteaders to revisit their ancestral landscape: “It was like walking on water across a vast green ocean. My body dissolved during that prairie walk. My mind experienced no envelope. I was everywhere, and everywhere was in me” (8). “We are dispersion,” he suggests: we emit scents, drop discarded skin cells and hair, produce waste. All of that is interesting, but then he becomes metaphysical: “Our evolving thoughts and feelings hover silently around us and beyond, a kind of tentacular energy field” (8). In addition, he writes,“[w]hen we walk, we are invisible motion in visible motion” (8). “We simply have to become aware of this invisible biological motion. We have to exteriorize that awareness” (8). (I honestly don’t know what that means.) “You need to give yourself permission to see all there is, visible and invisible,” he writes. “You need to give the universe permission to show you all there is, visible and invisible, because the universe will rarely force this on you” (73).  A walker who has experienced this enlightenment, “this new awareness,” can walk in any direction, listening to everyone and everything, embodying “the comprehensive methodology of full perception” (74).

He suggests that humanity created the notion of the past as permanent loss, and that North Americans may be the first culture to pretend to live without a past, which is true. “But in Nature, nothing is ever lost, and thus, past, present, and future are simultaneous,” he claims (19). “The cyclical nature of the planet and the universe means that we can walk this uninterrupted thread back to prior moments in the motion”—but this is beyond time, and therefore beyond language (19-20). It’s also beyond possibility, in my experience. How can we walk our way back into the past or forward into the future? For Pujol, 

the walker’s body can begin to achieve this if we decide to perceive in this way, step by step. . . . it takes a willingness to open our perception, followed by a conscious decision to sustain that perception, articulated out loud so the brain can hear it, and the body has permission to enact it, which opens a normally invisible door to the yet-unknown, which the walker needs to walk through. (20)

Pujol believes that we can walk with our ancestors, with walkers of tomorrow, that the flow of time “is in all directions” (37). “We walk with invisible others,” and our steps create the past and the future: “[t]he present is but the length of our step” (37). Because time is not linear, when he is walking Pujol becomes aware of past and future lives, or “embodiments,” which may lead us to “questioning our civilized beliefs” (41): “I have been walking, empty of thought, and fragments of past embodiments have unexpectedly flashed before me, as well as images of my next embodiment. I have been here before. I will be here again. I am walking through lives” (41).  For Pujol, “it is up to use to decide whether we are going to continue disregarding” the so-called impossible “as part of the explanation of a complex, visible and invisible greater reality, beyond the ideations that constitute human civilization,” or whether we will embrace it “as one more piece of the mystery that is rarely seen in the expanding universe” (41). All of this reminds me of Shirley MacLaine walking the Camino and discovering that she was an Egyptian princess (or whatever past life she encountered). Moreover, for Pujol “[w]e are complex energy forms not fully contained by moist mineral bodies. We are permeable fields of energy with undulating edges and tentacular wisps. We experience by moving and being moved” (68). Because we are fields of energy, “[h]uman experience can leave sited energetic residue as part of a former life attachment to place. The effects of intense experience can overflow from a body and leave an intangible rooted imprint, like an invisible footprint in the shadows” (68). That is the source of stories about ancestors, spirits, ghosts, visions, apparitions, hallucinations, hauntings, and poltergeists (68). Walking, he argues, is a way of perceiving such energy: “Some walkers are like Geiger counters, whether aware of unaware of their perceptual skills, of their ability to perceive such residue in various degrees” (68). I can’t help finding such notions ludicrous. We might have many strange experiences while walking—and I have had them too—but that doesn’t mean we need metaphysical explanations for them. Physiological ones work, too.  So do psychological ones. Occam’s Razor is my working heuristic: the simplest explanation is probably the correct one. The physiological and psychological explanations of the strange things that happen while walking are simpler than the mystical or metaphysical ones, and are therefore probably better.

The New-Agey ideas and language keep coming. Pujol also suggests that one can “see” without one’s eyes: “I have seen without eyes in unforgettable, ego-less sight moments. We cultivate them by walking, by seeing through the ankle and the knee, by seeing through the wrist and the elbow” (27). He advocates the cultivation of a state where the body is ahead of the brain, in which the brain sees the motion as purposeless, because “it is during those moments of not-knowing, of walking for no reason, of walking without reason, that our walking is at its most pure, at its most connected” (34). Such purity is “the essence of human connectivity, very close to the state of the animal—reclaimed” (34). In that state, “[o]ur steps are an unknown language being physically articulated,” until we “are found by understanding” (34). He listens to the pain of urban trees with his hands (39-40). “Magical thinking is not escapist childish fantasy,” he writes. “The magical is the language of Nature, filled with the complex webbing of myriad visible and invisible cyclical patterns, including the patterning of chaos, of chaotic patterns with a purpose” (66):

As a walker, I seek to enter this complex web so that I can walk in all directions and dimensions, even if I only seem to be walking along the pattern that we humans see. I have no words with which to accurately describe this walk, really. All verbal efforts are incomplete and embarrassing.

If magical language is the medium of fools, then foolishness is a requirement for walking. (66)

I can’t help thinking, though, that an awareness of the complex ecological web one walks through is not the same as magical thinking, and that a magical language (or foolishness) is not required to describe that web. Scientists set out to describe it, however incompletely, but Pujol (like Machen) appears to abhor science. 

Pujol believes that everything is One: “All paths lead to the reality of our Oneness with each other and all there was and is” (67). He says this (or something like it) many times. Walking appears to be a way of appreciating that mystical unity:  “I am the walker on the path, the dirt on the path, the air on the path, the sky above the path, the soil beneath the path, what grows along the path, what flies over the path, what swims by the path, what lies behind and waits ahead. I am the other walker I meet on the path. I am I and not I” (67).

Sometimes Pujol reveals himself to be a Romantic. He writes of the experience of seeing a grassy hill as individual blades of grass, “each one unique yet similar, same but different”: “It was the kind of walking experience that takes over the body; it halts your body and throws back your head to face the sky in a kind of walker’s ecstasy” (53). Afterwards, he seemed the same, outwardly, “but, inwardly, I was suddenly focused, more than ever before, so profoundly focused that this began to change me, to make me look for more such moments of full perception, seeing to sustain deep sight for all of life” (53). In the following meditation, he writes, “Reality is complex and mostly unknown. There is no time, or perhaps we could try to say something more comprehensible through a time-based language that cannot comprehend much outside linear time: that there are simultaneous renderings of time and timelessness” (54). “I walk through the veils of this mystery, catching glimpses as they part,” he continues (54): 

I do not know how others walk. I can only speak about how I try to walk, vulnerably, trying to explore what feels like the simultaneity of past, present and future invisible territories through psychic acuity. It may strike some as ridiculous, as stretching beyond believable grassroots scholarship. But this is an embarrassing practice, the lineage of the village’s witchy idiot, the town’s prophetic fool, and the city’s mad visionary. All those categories speak of a child-like, creative, critical outsider walking dreamland. Indeed, they are inexact elements found by the roadside. Nevertheless, they are experiential elements of subtle perceptions, as important to understanding the complexity of the human condition as seeking the exactitude of science. (55)

All of this Romanticism—I am convinced that’s the aesthetic or philosophical origin of the notion that reality is hidden by veils and, as Pujol suggests at one point, more readily accessible to children (36) or the mad—echoes Arthur Machen in a way that would shock occult psychogeographers, who tend to draw a line between their practices and Romantic ideas. 

Pujol also advocates “the performative invocation of the mythical as an effective tool for the public manifestation of people and place through pre-scientific ideologies, helping contemporary audiences to experience the desire for transcendence that past generations sought” (56). “Inhabiting myth can offer a transformative point of view that can unleash unknown psychic potential among participants,” he continues (56). “Manifesting and inhabiting the mythical in a public, durational group performance always challenges our abilities much more than experiencing the mundane,” and it “requires us to go an extra psychic mile,” sometimes requiring the extraordinary, which “is always remembered as greater than itself” (56-57). Unfortunately, Pujol does not give any examples of myths with that kind of transformative or transcendent power. In an odd echo of Smith, however, he suggests that, over time, if we commit to a walking practice, we will experience and understand “roadside signs and symbols” easily, “surrounded by the appearance of clear psychic signage and decoded mythical symbol, because that is how the true path of our life, of all life, of the entire universe flows consciously” (75). Again, he gives us no examples of that “psychic signage,” so it’s hard for me to understand what he’s talking about.

Perhaps my inability to tolerate Pujol’s mysticism (which I earned during my Baptist upbringing) makes me what he would describe as a cynic who should be excluded from socially engaged walking art practices:

True walking practice, enacted by vulnerable bodies willing to enter the unknown without weapons, disarmed of cynicism and only empowered by empathy, excludes cynical bodies. A vulnerable body seeks other bodies willing to become vulnerable with it, not as the surrendered raw material of public art, but as collaborators, partners, performers, volunteers, and audiences in a humble, strong practice. Socially engaged art practice is not about the author’s body but about all the participants’ bodies. All concerns as to whether a piece represents the state of the arts are replaced by whatever it takes to culturally reveal the state of the people. (29)

Pujol notes that he sometimes encounters negativity, cynicism, or a refusal to listen, and suggests that these are signs of “a closed culture that lacks curiosity, that has stopped growing” (110). “Walking practice is intrinsically sincere, because the path edits even the most insincere,” he writes.” The path takes care of itself. A true walking practice walks away from negativity. Every step is a gesture of hope. Daring steps dispel hopelessness” (110). “There is no way to sustain a walking practice but by harboring hope,” and hope requires sincerity, because it is “the true fuel of sustainability” (110). Of course, one can be sincere without believing in mystical ideas. Despite his claims to be open, I can’t help feeling that Pujol is actually quite closed.

When he discusses how to lead a walk, Pujol suggests that not leaving room for silence while leading a walk is a negative form of leadership. But leadership is sometimes crucial: 

Some walking projects require pedagogical leadership, particularly when the walkers are foreign to a landscape, or when the walkers have lost their connection to their landscape and need to reacquaint themselves with it through a walking artist who is trying to facilitate their experience of it anew. (121)

“Walking requires a methodology of generosity,” he writes, but “[a] walk’s leader must embrace authority. Otherwise a walking group can become fragmented and the walking experience can deteriorate quickly” (122). My sense is that Pujol struggles against his own prescriptiveness; he wants to be open, but he also wants the walks he leads to unfold in a particular way.

Is there anything valuable here for my research? Yes, there is. In his introduction, for example, he notes that in the contemporary West, there is no need to walk anywhere, and that walking is associated with poverty. “Yet,” he writes, “performative walking practice is now a form of contemporary public art precisely for these reasons—because, when a vital aspect of our humanity is at the point of being lost, artists take note. And artists are walking, everywhere” (1). This reminded me of the argument that contemporary artists work with obsolescent materials and processes. American experimental filmmaker Hollis Frampton, for instance, suggests that “no activity can become an art until its proper epoch has ended and it has dwindled, as an aid to gut survival, into total obsolescence.” (112) Is that why Smith refers to art walking as non-functional? Smith is making a distinction between walking to the corner store and walking for art, but in North America, or in Saskatchewan, unlike in Europe, I would assume, almost all walking is non-functional. I hadn’t made that connection until I read Pujol’s introduction.

Pujol also gestures towards phenomenological ideas. Artists want to give “the gift of full perception through immersion,” he suggests. “They seek to see, hear, smell, taste, touch, feel, think, and remember the forgotten, to experience something through our minds and bodies. To shiver in the woods, sweat in a jungle, and thirst through a desert. To see the visible and sense the invisible seeing us, fully experiencing through all our organs of perception—again” (2). Of course, he is making this argument in the context of his wider claim, that socially engaged walking is the only acceptable walking practice, but still, that gift of perception through immersion is available to artists as well as participants in walking events. However, Pujol’s notion of embodiment is more mystical than phenomenological: 

We are embodied. Everything, even what is disembodied, is expressed through the body. Even the immaterial is expressed through the material. The immaterial uses the illusion of the material to talk about what matters. . . . Mindful walking through the material world is one of the building blocks for consciousness of the immaterial. (70)

He also believes that the land has its own form of embodiment: “If we believe in the stored muscle memories of a body, we should be open to considering that these extraordinary moments are the stored memories of the body of a landscape” (69). I’ve heard others make similar suggestions, and as a metaphor I think the notion of the land having a memory can be quite powerful.

Pujol notes that, because everything is constantly changing, walkers need to spend time walking particular paths, in different seasons, from different directions, and at different times of the day: “A walker knows that knowing a path is not merely walking it from beginning to end,” he writes (16). “A true walker knows that knowing a path requires walking that path in both directions, because things look totally different when seen from opposite directions, practically forming two distinct experiences through opposing views,” so that one path is actually two, and in every round trip, the end is the beginning and the beginning the end (16). But we also need to walk the path at night and during the day, “so that we see what dwells in the light and in the shadows,” but because light has a range, and shadow has a range, we must try to experience “what dwells in the soft and in the harsh light, on the edge of the shadows and in the deep shadows.” (16)“We must walk that path every month for many years, so that we experience birth and growth, peak and reproduction, illness and decay,” he suggests, “so that we see the cycles of life and death of the path. That is the truth path knowledge; that is true walking practice” (16). We must also talk with a path, speaking with mouth, hands, and feet; we must also listen with our bodies. Walking barefoot makes a walk into “a truly tactile walk,” in which we learn through the skin, experiencing the skin of the path (16). All of this reminds me of Nan Shepherd’s wonderful book, The Living Mountain; she spent years walking in the Cairngorms and as a result came to an intimate understanding of those mountains.

Pujol is also conscious of the potentially colonial aspects of certain types of walking. In his fourth meditation, “Decolonizing Walking,” he begins with the notion that every one of John James Audubon’s bird paintings—and Audubon walked great distances to collect his specimens—is a tombstone (11). That leads him to a discussion of colonialism: “The history of walking is contaminated by the pale, masculine virus of colonialism: by the fever of ‘discovery,’ of being ‘the first man’ to arrive and step into an ‘unknown’ territory” (11). This colonizing notion of walking erases Indigenous people in two ways: 

First, it erases them through the attribution of discovery as a mythical form of authorship, as if the heroic discoverers were authoring a new land. Second, the conquest, oppression, and eventual removal of the native peoples obliterates, so that those who follow in the discoverers’ footsteps find paupers, social nobodies considered subhuman, confirming the white myth of discovery. (11)

Pujol concludes by suggesting that non-humans also have ownership of territories, an idea that tends to be dismissed by “aggressive anthropocentrism” (11), but that still has value. In any case, Pujol is calling for a form of walking that abandons authorship and discovery, and I am also trying to find such a form of walking.

For Pujol, walking is a way of understanding the sacred. Like me, he believes the earth was in balance before industrial civilization began consuming and contaminating it: 

There was a time when everything and everyone was in balance. . . . I call that former perfect natural balance “the sacred.” The sacred is a secular term I apply to an ancient object or space that embodies or contains that former balance, which should be approached with reverence for the memory it evokes and the importance of its survival for our future. (78)

Pujol seeks “to walk the sacred,” to reinsert himself into that former balance: “But for that, the walker must be sacred, too. The walking entity must engage in the sacred. . . . the balance starts inside the balanced walker. My internal balance is what will connect to the external balance. These balances are but reflections of each other” (78-79). This is where I part company with Pujol: I think that balance is gone and although the land’s sacredness can sometimes be apprehended, we cannot insert ourselves into a balance that has been disturbed or destroyed.

Pujol argues that walking is political, at least potentially. “As we walk, we hope to harvest information that leads to knowledge, processed as wisdom,” he writes. “We hope to be free, exercising our right to walk, demanding more rights. We hope for safety, and walk away from violence toward refuge and rehoming” (110-11). “Walking is a new form of radicalism because it not only fights and resists the neo-fascism that fears globalism, but it challenges the urban bubble of embittered liberalism that enables our disunited states of polarization,” he writes. “Sincerity disarms polarities and contributes to unity” (111). The problem is, of course, that Pujol is denying conflict here. Polarization exists for a reason: some people want to do things, like destroy the planet, that others want to resist. Disagreements are going to exist in any human community, and the oneness or unity Pujol seeks is, in my opinion, not possible. His mysticism stands in the way of his political engagement. Nonetheless, Pujol is convinced that art is just a visual language for addressing issues (112). In fighting for justice, he does not wear metaphorical armour, or carry metaphorical weapons, because armour “ultimately suffocates the capacity to listen,” and weapons harden the heart (112), “[A] forgiving heart” is the greatest weapon, he suggests, and his performances are “invitations to collectively disarm gradually, catching glimpses of a just society, experiencing that society one project at a time” (113).

Pujol also addresses questions about the aesthetics of walking, questions I need to think about carefully. “For me,” he writes, “aesthetics are not a contaminated envelope or straightjacket (sic). They exist somewhere in-between welcoming points of safe entry into a work and acts of generosity” (114). (Note the way that his concern with ethics—with generosity—muddies his concern with aesthetics.) He asks what one looks like while walking? Does one wear a costume or uniform? 

Is it a costume that you created as the skin of this gesture? Is it a uniform constructed as an expression of your identity in the world, which you wear every day of your life? Alternatively, is it a secret uniform to reveal your true identity, perhaps seldom revealed in the world, which you are selectively willing to reveal during a performance? (114)

Wearing “nothing special” is still a uniform—“the uniform of the unnoticed, the result of a decision to walk mostly unnoticed,” which is “mostly a white experience” (114). Walking unnoticed is not automatically humble; it can be thoughtless or an avoidance of responsibility (because being unnoticed means not being bothered by people) (115). “Yet, some sites demand our courage, in the form of our visibility, to be seen to be engaged, to model engagement, if not the prophetic,” he writes (115). “If walking is an art practice, then, I inevitably wonder about recognizable elements of form” (115). He asks,

what is your form? Does it have a skin? Are you interested in aesthetics? What are your aesthetics? Or do you distrust and even reject aesthetic qualities? If you are eliminating all aesthetic traits from your work, then, what are you giving the viewer? Play? Does relating to play rather than relating to beauty replace aesthetics in your work? What makes the viewer approach your work from a distance? What welcomes the viewer into your work? What helps the viewer to remain inside your work? Is there a sensory difference between recruitment and engagement? (115)

But these aesthetic questions are merely preliminary to ethical questions about generosity: “Where is your generosity? What are the visual components of your generosity? Can you reconsider beauty as an act of generosity? If not, then, please do not forget that you need to give” (115). Despite the slide from aesthetics into ethics, I need to think about these questions; when I walk, I tend to wear practical things, because the walking itself can be so difficult that I have no extra energy for elements of costume. Perhaps that’s okay, but perhaps it isn’t. I think about these questions and never quite reach an answer; I’m afraid that I’m caught up in what Smith might describe as a functionalist trap.

In the book, Pujol lays out his particular socially engaged strategy, which could be useful for socially engaged or collective walks. He begins by downplaying notions of originality:

 Walking belongs to everyone. I do not own walking. No one artist owns walking. Just because one artist has walked “successfully” does not mean that walking has been “done” and should not be funded and performed, again and again. Walking is not about the modernist myth of originality. (9)

Everyone walks, which is what a) eliminates the myth of originality and b) makes walking as art so hard, “because it dwells outside the notion of artistic talent and crafty skill” (9). Of course, everyone is not able to walk—a strange blindness for an artist who is so concerned with the ethics of his practice. Pujol believes that the best way to walk is with “a known gatekeeper or stakeholder who can introduce an artist to all the human and non-human inhabitants of that path”: “I cannot stress enough the importance of a walking facilitator, of someone who invites the walker to walk. This facilitator entrusts with the mysterious responsibility of walking their landscape, translating it for us before the walk or during a first walking experience” (9). 

Once one has been invited to walk, Pujol suggests a path the project can follow. First comes research (reading, conversation, interviews, walking, “focus groups,” and “charrettes” (stakeholder meetings to figure out solutions to problems), which leads to a project proposal (30). Next, there needs to be free public readings of the project proposal, and project promotion, with audiences including potential funders, institutional partners, community gatekeepers and stakeholders. An advisory board needs to be recruited to help in the continuing process of refining the project. Next comes “[a] detail-oriented, accountable, public production third stage, negotiating access permits and safety, recruiting and training performers, docents, volunteers, and documentarians” (30). The project’s enactment “through a complex, durational staging,” with “non-invasive documentation” is the fourth stage (31). After that come evaluations, conversations and meetings about the event, lectures, an exit report, and “farewell correspondence” (31). Finally, the artist must “the people and the site years later in order to follow-up responsibly, because we become bonded by deep experience” (31). He stresses that this is not a complete or definitive list, but a socially engaged artist needs to cover these bases (31). It’s a tremendous amount of work, but it must be rewarding for Pujol, or he wouldn’t do it. Despite all this planning, however, “a walk ultimately curates itself, which is to say that a walk always surprises us with unintended results and no results, or with nothing new” (87). He also suggests that “all walkers should consider writing about walking, because paths give us a vocabulary, verbal and nonverbal, literary and physical, which eventually amounts to a holistic language, to the generous language of walking” (135).

There are valuable ideas here, and important questions, but overall this book might be an example of the kind of Romantic or New Age walking Smith rejects. And, as I suggested at the beginning of this summary, Pujol’s mysticism doesn’t work for me at all. That doesn’t mean it might not work for others, however. If you tend towards mystical thinking and like to walk, you might get a great deal out of Walking Art Practice: Reflections on Socially Engaged Paths. And if you think that socially engaged art practice is the only kind of practice artists should engage with, then you will find support in Pujol’s book. However, if you question Pujol’s assumptions, you will likely find this a frustrating read.

Work Cited

Frampton, Hollis. Circles of Confusion: Film/Photography/Video Texts 1968-1980, Visual Studies Workshop Press, 1983.

Machen, Arthur. The London Adventure or the Art of Wandering, Martin Secker, 1924.

Pujol, Ernesto. Walking Art Practice: Reflections on Socially Engaged Paths, Triarchy, 2018.

Smith, Phil. Walking’s New Movement: Opportunities, Decelerations and Beautiful Obstacles in the Performances, Politics, Philosophies and Spaces of Contemporary Radical Walking, Triarchy, 2015.

53. Clare Qualmann and Claire Hind, eds., Ways to Wander

ways to wander

Ways to Wander is a collection of 54 different sets of suggestions, reflections, instructions, or scores about walking, created by 54 different walkers. It also contains an introduction by Carl Lavery and copies of e-mails between the two editors. All of this material is assembled randomly, and I think that was deliberate. The list of contributors at the end of the book gives contact information and web addresses for all of the contributors, which is helpful information. The book isn’t paginated, which suggests (to me) that its intent is more artistic than scholarly.

Let me start with Lavery’s introduction, which isn’t where the book begins. (I’m straightening out this book, at least a little, in this summary; I hope nobody minds.) Lavery begins by likening a walk to a performance score (indeed, what I’ve called “instructions” as I’ve taken notes perhaps ought to have been described as scores):

there is no simple method for walking or indeed for describing a walk. Like a performance score, a walk is an open-ended phenomenon, no knows in advance what will present itself or who you might mean. The meaning is in the doing, properly performative then, which is to say, self-generating, contingent, improvisatory, light-footed and rooted in the everyday. It is also unexpected. ([9])

Like performances, walks also risk failing; there’s always the possibility that a walk won’t amount to very much ([10]). Chance is important—Lavery cites Robert Walser’s story “The Walk” on that score. The comparison between walking and a score organizes his discussion of the scores, or instructions, presented in this book.

When I read Phil Smith’s Walking’s New Movement, I was a little concerned by what I took to be a demand that walking be collaborative and relational. Lavery doesn’t agree. He notes that some of his walking friends, including Deirdre Heddon and Wrights & Sites, walk with others, but says that he prefers to walk alone:

Though fully aware that my gender and “ablebodiedness” assign me a special privilege, I walk in order to think, to engage in a kind of embodied thinking, to let an idea, like a landscape, unfold. . . .There is nothing exclusive or regulatory in this strategy. Other users will doubtless have different ideas and practices of engagement ([11])

Lavery prefers to walk alone because he finds it conducive to thinking; he cites Kant, Benjamin, Nietzche, and Solnit on this point ([11]). However, these days he thinks of walking and thinking “in terms of a creative process of ruination, which troubles normative notions of the archive” ([12]). He compares that “process of ruination” to Derrida’s notion of “archive fever,” noting that Derrida described that fever as an “infinity of evil” because it tries to impose an order on the past that transcends the fictions of memory. Archive fever sets out to fix the past, whereas walking is “an act of necessary negation” because one step follows the next, and one’s previous steps are typically forgotten ([12-13]). Lavery suggests that it makes sense “to celebrate walking as an act of perpetual and incessant ruination, an instance of a secret that refuses, stubbornly, to reveal itself” ([13]). That secret could be a catalyst for imagining, looking ahead and affirming the future, “which is tantamount to affirming the impersonal flux and flow of a time that we can never inhabit fully or know” ([13]). 

Lavery notes that his article, “25 Instructions for Performance in Cities,” was a stimulus for this book ([14])—everyone seems to cite that article, which means I need to read it. Those instructions, or scores, bring him back to the place where he started:

To perform a score is not to perform in the name of truth, as if one were somehow concerned with idealising a perfect, self-contained actualisation of the original instruction; rather, it is to affirm the necessity of betrayal and the ineluctable reality of failure. In this way, through the necessary ruination of the instruction, the performed score, like the walk, is a guardian of the secret. It realises that the footprints it leaves are a kind of wreckage, an act of creative destruction that has the generosity to foreclose in advance its own will to truth, to temper its own archive fever, and to leave a space for ghosts of the future to come, those spectres who are always still to arrive but yet are strangely already here. ([14])

I’m not sure what Lavery means by the last words of that final sentence—the part about the “ghosts of the future”—but the notion of walking as a form of creative destruction, of footprints as wreckage, is interesting. Often my feet leave no footprints behind at all—if I’m walking on gravel or pavement or dry ground—and I often think of the traces I leave behind as more or less entirely imaginary. However, my walks are not scored—ever. I wonder if that means they aren’t performative at all. That is something I am going to have to think about.

Next, I want to think about the e-mails between the editors that are included here. In the first, Claire Hind praises Rebecca Solnit’s book Wanderlust and suggests “if there is ever a pilgrimage then it is the walk that slips between Ludus (serious play) and Paidia (free play)—which Roger Caillois talks about in his book Man, Play and Games” ([4]). I haven’t read Caillois, but I’m surprised that Hind praises Solnit’s book, given Smith’s critique of its romanticism and literariness. Clearly there are many ways of thinking about walking, and Smith’s version isn’t the only one. The second e-mail sees Clare Qualmann recalling childhood walks in Cornwall and comparing them to her artistic practice of walking in urban spaces ([24]). They are very different forms of walking, and it’s hard for Qualmann to make connections between them. In the third, Claire Hind thinks about the word “wander” in the context of performing and walking and a response to the book they have assembled ([36]). In the fourth, Clare Qualmann notes her affection for following instructions and in “the combination of structure and freedom that rule-based works give me” ([58]). That’s not surprising, since many of the works included here are rule-based. The suggestion that rule-based works combine structure and freedom is interesting. My garden is rule-based—all of the plants included must be native to Saskatchewan—but within that rule there is a tremendous amount of freedom as to what goes where and why. (Most of my reasons are what Smith would call “functional”: I put plants that like shade in the shade, and plants that like sun in the sun). I had not thought much about rule-based walking works, though, which is what the majority of the 54 contributions here are.

Now to those 54 contributions. I’ve left them numbered, because that’s how they appear in the book:

  1. Roger Bygott, “River Rural; River Urban”: Bygott suggests identifying some significant point of a river in an urban area, and then walking to the source and returning; then doing the same, from the city to the river’s mouth and back, taking notes and reflecting, thinking about “how the journey of the river changed as you walked along it” and “how your journey changed as you walked along it” ([2]).
  2. Debbie Kent, “Feeling and Touching: a tactile-kinaesthetic walk”: Kent calls upon the reader to feel the ground beneath our feet; then experiment with walking on different surfaces (soft, hard, slippery, bumpy), or touching the surfaces we see (touch everything, or take samples), and thinking about how long our skin holds the memory of what it touched; or try imagining the feel of everything you see, checking for accuracy by touching something. “With practice,” she writes, “perhaps your brain will start directly converting the visual to the tactile and you can feel the landscape on your skin without thinking” ([3]).
  3. Ranulph Glanville: he suggests wandering is a metaphor for the creative process; one arrives at a place without knowing that place was there when starting out ([5]).
  4. Romany Reagan: she describes a walk in Abney Park Cemetery in London, a place where she goes to think ([6]).
  5. Townley and Bradby: these collaborators present a game for two players, using mobile phones, in which walkers head off in different directions by make the same turns/pauses/resumptions etc. The leader lets the follower know of changes in direction or pauses by sending text messages ([7]).
  6. Alison Lloyd, “I Cannot See the Summit from Here”: Lloyd describes a walk in the Scottish Highlands in which she felt she discovered and owned the landscape, following the map’s contours, which she calls “contour walking” ([8]).
  7. Bronwyn Preece and her daughter, Similkameen O’Rourke, “Off-the-Grid Walking cARTography”: This piece is a collaborative poem written by mother and daughter, and it includes instructions for writing such a poem together over the course of a 24-kilometre walk on a gravel road ([15]).
  8. Alexander “Twig” Champion: Champion presents a meditation on walking in circles, particularly around an object with some personal importance ([16]).
  9. Helen Frosi’s contribution is a poem about walking ([18]).
  10. Simon Pope, “The Underpass”: Pope gives instructions for using one of London’s “multi-exit” pedestrian underpasses to generate a random walk ([19]).
  11. Lizzie Phelps, “Maternity Leaves”: Phelps presents instructions for taking a walk with a young child, walks that are performances, and reflects on having a child has changed her practice ([20]).
  12. Clare Qualmann, “Perambulator”: Qualmann gives suggestions for creating a “Perambulator Parade” to identify places that are difficult for stroller use—a performance that sets out to make a small, local change. I wonder if this is the kind of work Smith is referring to when he criticizes localism—it seems possible ([21]).
  13. David Prescott-Steed, “Walking in Drains”: in Melbourne, Australia, there is a vast network of underwater drains for stormwater runoff; Prescott-Steed likes to walk in them as “a way for me to transgress the rigid structures of the city that routinely discipline our bodies, in turn shaping how we communicate with each other” ([22]), and he suggests a game in which one speaks into a storm sewer, because someone might be passing by below ([22]).
  14. Robin Smith, “Notes to the novice pedestrian”: Smith gives instructions for walking in a city for someone who has never done that before ([23]).
  15. Andrew Brown presents instructions for walking on water: you just have to imagine that it’s an inch deep ([25]).
  16. Bridget Sheridan, “Following Forgotten Footprints”: Sheridan offers instructions for returning to a place where you walked as a child, and then creating a new walk in response ([26]).
  17. Misha Myers: she instructs readers on how to make a journey from home to some special place nearby ([27]).
  18. Neil Callaghan and Simone Kenyon, “Step-By-Step”: these collaborators challenge readers to walk with eyes closed, to walk slowly, to walk backwards, and to walk while imitating someone else’s gait ([28]).
  19. Tom Hall, “City Centre”: Hall, a geographer, gives instructions for walking away from and towards the city centre, watching for signs of the direction you are taking from the cityscape ([29]).
  20. Helen Stratford and Idit Elia Nathan, “Play the City Now or Never!”: this piece is a die that can be cut out and assembled that will, when rolled, issue random instructions for things to do while walking, actions that will make the walk fresh or strange ([30]).
  21. Annie Lloyd, “Walking with my Dog”: this piece is a description, in the form of instructions, for walking in the park with her late dog ([31]).
  22. Phil Smith: he presents a series of instructions for making walking strange, or making walking into a performance; I wondered, as I read them, if this piece is an example of Smith’s mythogeography in action ([32]).
  23. Jess Allen, “Long Shore Drift”: Allen issues instructions for a walk in which the reader carries a stone from one beach to another, in homage to Richard Long’s Crossing Stones ([33]).
  24. Barbara Lounder, “Walker”: Nova Scotia artist Lounder offers three approaches for walking, using the word “walker” as a starting point ([34]).
  25. Marie-Anne Lerjen, “The Closer Walk”: Lerjen gives instructions for walking close to fences, walls, hedges, buildings, without touching them ([35]).
  26. Vinko Nino Jaeger, “Walking Ideas”: Jaeger offers five different ideas about walking and art, including “Walk a poem/tale” and “Walk the gravitational force” ([37]).
  27. Karen McCoy, “Folding Paper Listening Trumpet”: McCoy gives instructions for assembling and using a paper listening trumpet (included on the facing page), which may give its user the ability “to hear and see in alternative ways,” and can be used as “a device for locating minute visual phenomena” by looking through the large end. “In experiencing sound as geographical, the process is one of assembling sound into an aural picture of the landscape or urbanspace,” she writes. The listening/viewing trumpet is intended as a way to cultivate awareness of what is around us ([38]).
  28. Blake Morris: he givesinstructions for using Google Maps to generate a walk, by walking to the pin Google drops on your town, city, or neighbourhood ([40])—except Google Maps doesn’t seem to do that anymore? It doesn’t on my phone, anyway. 
  29. Nick Tobier, “The Best of All Possible Places”: Detroit artist Tobier issues instructions—or mock instructions?—for finding “the best of all possible places” by walking south from a transit station for 15 minutes ([42]).
  30. Thomas Bolton, “The A-Game”: Bolton makes suggestions for walking major highways (not expressways) in London ([43]).
  31. Chance Marshall, “A Walk for Seaton Carew Beach in Hartlepool at Low Tide”: Marshall gives instructions for walking along a beach and helping a group of sea-coalers shovel sea-coal into their trucks ([44]); sea-coalers, according to Wikipedia, are men who collect coal that washes ashore. That would explain why Marshall asks readers to carry a shovel with them on this walk.
  32. Penny Newell, “How to Wander Lonely as a Cloud”: Newell presents a poem, intended for performance, about clouds ([45]).
  33. walkwalkwalk, “Chip Walk”: the three collaborators in walkwalkwalk (Gail Burton, Serena Korda, and Clare Qualmann) present readers with a game that involves walking from one chip shop to the next until full or exhausted ([46]).
  34. Gary Winters and Claire Hind, “Walking With Limited Longevity & A Bottle of Soap Bubbles”: these collaborators offer instructions for a walk that involves blowing soap bubbles and following them as they move ([47]).
  35. Carl Lavery, “Walking in a Gallery”: Lavery’s piece gives instructions for watching Douglas Gordon’s installation 24 Hour Psycho (a version of the Hitchcock film that slows it down so that it runs for 24 hours rather than the original 109 minutes), instructions that include going away for a walk ([48]).
  36. Bram Arnold, “Transecting”: Arnold issues instructions for drawing a line on a map between two points and then walking that line, transecting its “social, historical and personal archives,” along with suggestions about documenting this activity ([49]).
  37. Chris Green, “Radically Walking”: Green gives instructions for taking back public space (space that has become, or feels, private) by walking together with others in a group ([50]).
  38. Jane Fox, “For the River Valley”: Fox presents a poem (apparently made collaboratively with students ) that issues instructions for walking through a river valley ([51]).
  39. Matthew Reason, “Perhaps we are like stones”: Reason offers what is either instructions for or a description of a walk in Yorkshire with a group of fine arts students ([52]).
  40. Molly Mullen, “On the Maunga”: this piece is a bilingual (English/Maori) inviting readers to walk on a mountain ([53]).
  41. Cecilia Lagerström and Helena Kågemark, “In One Step”: the collaborators give instructions for walking slowly, very slowly, one step at a time, with attention ([54]).
  42. Chris Mollon, “Intertidal Walking”: in a poem, Mollon presents instructions for a long walk before and after low tide ([55]).
  43. Vanessa Grasse: she offers instructions for watching people and movement—“The space is performing for you,” she suggests; for walking between two things; for following things; and for reorienting your whole body “to observe and reframe what you see” ([56]).
  44. Emma Cocker: this work is a call to pay attention to the decisions one makes while walking, rather than allowing those decisions to become automatic and thoughtless ([57]).
  45. Kris Darby, “The city as a site of performative possibilities”: Darby presents six walking games, two each for groups, pairs, and individuals ([60]).
  46. Kerstin Kussmaul, “Wolf Trot”: Kussmaul presents instructions for a dance she calls “wolf trotting” and scores to use for this movement ([61])—this piece is interesting, because it separates the terms “instruction” and “score” quite clearly.
  47. Steve Fossey, “Love at First (Site)”: Fossey offers instructions for a walk in which you imagine falling in love, and an invitation to share those moments, or the fictions you construct about them, with Fossey by e-mail ([62]).
  48. Tobias Grice: this piece gives instructions for a walk in which you bounce a tennis ball against various surfaces, allowing it to dictate (somewhat) your pace and direction ([63]).
  49. Charlie Fox, “Waylaid Walking”: Fox offers instructions for a walk in which you see objects, attend to the thoughts they “conjure,” write those thoughts down, and then, after the walk is over, thread those words together to create a longer text ([64]).
  50. Isabel Mosely, “Psithurism”: this piece is a description of, or instructions for, three walks, each of which takes place in a specific, and unnamed, urban environment ([65]).
  51. Linda Rae Dornan, “A Certain History”: Dornan gives instructions for a walk, with repeated demands to document what you see in writing in a notebook, or by drawing them ([66])—the text is arranged in a figure eight, so that it continues indefinitely or infinitely.
  52. Wrights & Sites, “Nostalgic and Pre-Nostalgic Drifts”: this piece is made of instructions (reprinted from the Exeter Mis-Guide) for revisiting scenes from your past (houses you lived in, places you had a memorable conversation or kissed), and marking them with chalk or a wreath ([67]).
  53. Mark Hunter, “Welcome to. . .”: Hunter presents detailed instructions for a guided walk led by someone who knows little about the location where the walk occurs; as a performance it requires the performer to spend a day interviewing people, collecting stories, histories, facts, whatever, and presenting the results in an alternative to the “official” guided tour ([68]).
  54. Claire Hind, “Ways to Reflect”: Hind offers instructions for interpreting or reflecting on walks, using specific theoretical approaches; by researching the histories of a place you photographed; and by making visual connections between 12 different memories by drawing lines between them ([69]).

I realize that by reading this book in this way, cover to cover, I have not read it properly. The back cover copy, in fact, invites readers to put it in their backpacks and refer to it while walking, or to use it in creative workshops, or to treat each page as visual art or poetry (I haven’t mentioned the creativity involved in many of the layouts, although at the same time sometimes those complex layouts make it hard for me to read the text). I might carry this book with me on some walks, as a way of shaking up the dull routines I sometimes feel I fall into, and certainly the range of activities and suggestions and scores and instructions presented here gives a clear sense of the richness of contemporary art walking. At the same time, though, there is a slightness to some of the offerings, which makes me wonder if this book is an example of the kind of work Smith criticizes in Walking’s New Movement, and if it is the reason he is calling for a much more politically radical and engaged form of walking. I don’t know. There is a rich culture of walking art in the UK, and trying to piece it together from here, a long ways away–to figure out who likes what kind of work and who doesn’t, or what kind of work is important and what kind isn’t–is a little like being a Sovietologist during the Cold War, trying to figure out what’s happening in the Politburo by reading the classified ads in Pravda. But that’s my hunch, anyway: I think that Smith wants to inject some of the political energy he sees in psychogeography into the kinds of disparate practices on display in Ways to Wander. I will have to read more to find out for sure.

Work Cited

Clare Qualmann and Claire Hind, eds., Ways to Wander, Triarchy, 2015.

Smith, Phil. Walking’s New Movement: Opportunities, Decelerations and Beautiful Obstacles in the Performances, Politics, Philosophies and Spaces of Contemporary Radical Walking, Triarchy, 2015.

42. Simon Coleman, “Accidental Pilgrims: Passions and Ambiguities of Travel to Christian Shrines in Europe”

accidental pilgrims

In the group of essays recently sent my way by Matthew Anderson were a couple by Simon Coleman. You may recall him as the co-editor of Reframing Pilgrimage: Cultures in Motion, the anthology of essays on pilgrimage and motion I read last week. He is, Matthew tells me, a very influential writer on pilgrimage and currently the Chancellor Jackman Professor in the Department for the Study of Religion at the University of Toronto. In this article, Coleman begins with a funny anecdote about supporters of the far-right political party UKIP mistaking Westminster Cathedral for a mosque. Coleman enjoys the joke, but he draws a serious conclusion from it: religious spaces are “deeply ambiguous” (72). “Capacious and complex buildings such as Westminster Cathedral–simultaneously a tourist site, the mother church for English and Welsh Catholicism, and a shrine housing saints’ relics–operate in a multicultural, multi religious milieu,” he writes. For that reason, “it cannot be assumed that regular citizens will have any idea how to read their architectural or liturgical signs in ways that art and ecclesiastical authorities would recognize as accurate” (72). I am embarrassed to admit that I’m one of those people who struggles to understand cathedrals; pretty much all I know came from the guided audio-tour I rented when I walked around in the cathedral in León, Spain, although I always visit cathedrals when I’m in Europe. There aren’t many ancient cathedrals in Canada, after all, and the stonework and architecture and engineering in cathedrals are pretty remarkable. Despite my lack of knowledge, though, I’d like to think I could distinguish between a cathedral and a mosque!

Religious tourism–pilgrimage by another name–is big business, Coleman points out. In Europe, it generates $18 billion in economic activity every year, and some 300 million people travel to a religious site in that continent. However, “we clearly need a more precise idea of how people understand (and misunderstand) these shrines and other religious spaces, just as close ethnographic observation is likely to imply that we should be wary of making sharp distinctions between pilgrims and tourists” (72). That caution is repeated throughout what I’ve been reading, and I would agree that the division isn’t clear-cut. When I walked the Camino Francés, I considered other walkers (and, grudgingly, cyclists) to be pilgrims, while those who flew to Santiago de Compostela were mere tourists. I’m sure that’s not an uncommon division for walkers on the Camino to make. However, when I got to Santiago de Compostela and rested for a few days, I felt myself becoming a tourist. My clothes were clean, I wasn’t walking (well, except here and there around the city), and I was taking in the sites and even buying souvenirs (tasteful ones, of course). It wasn’t until I started walking again, to Finisterre and then Muxia, that I reclaimed my identity as a pilgrim. My point is that the two apparently opposed identities are actually rather fluid, although given the powerful effect the walk had on me, I wonder what people who fly directly to that city and take a cab to the cathedral actually get from the experience. Something, I’m sure, or they wouldn’t do it. But what?

In any case, Coleman states his main argument very clearly in this essay:

we need a much more subtle and multifaceted appreciation of how much pilgrimage and tourism to Christian sites interact with other forms of mobility. In particular, the latter might include streams of migration that have, for instance, long marked–and made–the European cultural landscape and that are currently producing a crisis of identity. (72)

The travel Coleman traces in this paper “must be seen as complex, combining a mixture of motives and influences, both planned and unplanned” (72), and his intent is “to highlight and explore such complexity by demonstrating how religious tourism exists alongside, and indeed often intersects with, other forms of mobility, particularly though not exclusively in major, urban, religious contexts” (72).

Coleman distinguishes between tourism and pilgrimage: “it is conventional to see tourism as an exercise of leisure and free time or as an expression of preference,” he writes. “By contrast, pilgrimage carries connotations of subjecting oneself to the rigors and disciplines of religious regimes of authority, tracing routes formed by the sacred landscapes of a given tradition” (72). If this definition of pilgrimage is accurate, then the walks I make in Canada are not pilgrimages, because they are idiosyncratic, not subject to any discipline at all, and not part of any tradition at all. I might be appropriating the form of pilgrimage, but if that definition holds, I couldn’t be inventing pilgrimages of my own.

Migration, he continues, is different from either tourism or pilgrimage: it “ranges from the strategic progress of economic entrepreneurs to the forced mobilities of refugees, but is normally perceived as a very different activity than those other two forms of movement” (73). That’s very true, and I often think of how my walking is privileged in comparison to those who walk to Europe from Afghanistan or Syria or Iraq, or even those who walk across the Canadian border in inadequate clothing in winter. That sense of privilege is one of the reasons I’m not interested in the European Peace Walk, which follows a route from Budapest to Trieste. While wealthy tourists (or pilgrims) are encouraged to walk in Austria and Croatia and Slovenia, penniless migrants are held in camps and behind fenced borders patrolled by soldiers and dogs. I couldn’t accept facing, or flaunting, my privilege as the holder of a Canadian passport in that way. It would make me sick.

So, tourism, pilgrimage, and migration are typically considered to be separate things. “I wish to question such assumptions,” Coleman writes, “by indicating how tourism, pilgrimage, and migration can merge and intersect in unexpected, accidental ways, prompting negotiations over forms of access and exclusion at different scales and contexts of operation, from those of the local shrine to those at the borders of the nation-state” (73). One way to examine those intersections is through the cathedral, which, “as it currently functions in European urban space, may provide a laboratory for the burgeoning if ambiguous forms of pilgrimage and religious tourism that we are seeing in many parts of the continent” by “providing both spectacular public architecture and multivalent, capacious spaces, in which numerous roles can be enacted serially or simultaneously” (74), such as in my own experience in Santiago de Compostela. The cathedral “provides the perfect place for what I call ‘accidental pilgrims’–travelers whose relationship to Christianity is often unclear, or whose roles even within the same journey may shift between that of pilgrim, tourist, and migrant” (74). Pilgrimage in these terms,” he writes, “is just one more element of a more complex mixture of identities and mobilities within the moral geography of Europe” (74).

Coleman offers examples of situations where emigrants return home from their adopted countries for their summer holidays, a time that coincides with annual celebrations or festivals (75). One such site is the pilgrimage shrine of Medjugorge, in Bosnia and Herzegovina, which attracts visitors with a variety of motivations, from Europe and elsewhere, combining pilgrimage, tourism, and visits to the “home” country (75-76).

The increasing number of people who travel to Christian shrines, festivals, journeys, and heritage attractions in Europe, fascinates Coleman. “Such developments have occurred at a time when activities at the congregational level have often declined,” he writes. “More visiting does not mean an increased interest in religion per se, but it does expose people to religious themes and activities in a vicarious sense” (76). The Camino de Santiago is a prime example and a successful model, in terms of the numbers of visitors or pilgrims who participate, and Coleman notes that it is being emulated by pilgrimages elsewhere in the world (76-77). “Arguably, this tale of success for the Santiago pilgrimage has emerged not only form mixing religion and heritage, but also from fostering flexibility and ambiguity of engagement,” he writes (77). Travellers can walk, cycle, or drive; some see themselves as Christians, others as being more broadly spiritual, and still others (like me) have no faith at all (77). The Camino de Santiago welcomes them all.

From here, Coleman shifts to a discussion of–what else?–the work of Victor and Edith Turner, particularly their notions of liminal space, set apart from everyday space, and communitas, in which “everyday statuses were temporarily stripped away, allowing pilgrims to bond with each other directly, without intervening hierarchies” (78). I have to say that I experienced both of those on the Camino Francés, although that doesn’t mean that there weren’t conflicts along the path as well, particularly between walkers and (grumble grumble) cyclists. However, as Coleman points out,

Subsequent scholarship has often criticized this picture of pilgrimage, with some justification, as being overly idealized and ignoring the conflicting interests among pilgrims, as well as potential clashes between those who administer and those who attend sites. However, critics have also oversimplified the picture of pilgrimage provided by the Turners. The latter understood, for instance, that some of the same impulses that had promoted contemporary pilgrimage were also behind the growth of tourism, given the democratization of mobility and the growth of leisure time in many parts of the world. In addition, they argued that pilgrimage was a phenomenon that could be understood in relation to much larger historical trends. . . . Thus they indicated that pilgrimage has long been associated with forms of mobility that have not been exclusively religious, and indeed that it must be seen as an intrinsic part of the wider political economy of historical, as well as contemporary, periods in the West. (78)

He re-emphasizes the notion that pilgrim and tourist are shifting and connected identities: “both of these roles involve the person shifting between structured and unstructured activity, temporality, and experience” (79). In fact, he continues, “sometimes the division of roles and types of experience can actually be split three ways between pilgrim, tourist, and migrant” (79). In addition, the “structural divisions” of “forms of spatial practice” between “liminal and non-liminal, sacred and secular, cannot be maintained” (79). “As a consequence, it is useful to try to understand pilgrimage shrines through theoretical perspectives that are not drawn from the analysis of religion per se” (79). The urban cathedral, then, is “not only a place of worship, but also . . . a place that enables urban movement through the forms of flexibility (and accidental confluences) that I have been emphasizing,” Coleman writes (79).

Coleman turns to the work of cultural geographers Karen Franck and Quentin Stevens, who write about tight versus loose spaces in cities (79). Tight spaces are defined by surveillance and constraining behavioural norms, whereas loose spaces provide opportunities for exploration, discovery, and unregulated, spontaneous, and even risky behaviour (79). “Loose spaces allow for the chance encounter or spontaneous event,” Coleman writes, “and are most likely to emerge in cities, where free access to a variety of public open spaces combines with anonymity among strangers, diversity of persons, and fluidity of meaning” (79). Loose spaces, he continues, “express well the tensions and complexities around and within cathedrals–and some other shrines–as multipurpose spaces of behavioural fragmentation, translation, adjacency, and articulation” (79). Cathedrals combine flexibility and rigidity, sometimes at the same time, and sometimes serially. A mass might be happening, for instance, while tourists wander around listening (like me) to the guided audio-tour. “Pilgrimage in this kind of space,” Coleman concludes,

is not confined to the set-apart zone of the liminal and it is not isolated from other activities. Nor is the pilgrimage-tourism spectrum the only relevant behavioural and motivation index along which movement to and within cathedrals should be measured, given the salience of other forms of mobility, including migration. Thus Christian shrines are not irrelevant to a continent that is often simplistically labeled secular, nor is their influence only religious or confined merely to the diversions of heritage tourism. They can still rouse passion—often because of, rather than in spite of, their ideological and ritual ambiguities. (80)

I’m sure that Coleman’s take on cathedrals is accurate, although in walking pilgrimages, as I have experienced them, the destination is often less important than the journey. Even if some of the walks I have made shouldn’t be considered pilgrimages–and I’m still thinking about what the connection between walking and pilgrimage might be–often my arrival at the destination has been an anticlimax. When I reached the mouth of the Grand River when I walked through the Haldimand Tract, I found myself on a private beach lined with cottages. It was important to finish the walk, and I was happy, but the contours of the place of my arrival weren’t that important. Arriving at the cathedral in Bath, the terminus of the Cotswolds Way, was also less important than the journey there. The same goes for my arrival in Wood Mountain last summer. On the other hand, I was quite moved when I reached Santiago de Compostela. Perhaps it was the length of the latter journey, and its emotional and physical difficulty, that made my arrival so powerful? At the same time, though, I have to admit that getting to Santiago de Compostela was much less affecting than the long walk I had just completed.

I’m sure it wasn’t Coleman’s intent, but his essay has left me wondering about destinations and journeys, and about what a pilgrimage is or might be. That definition is important, but the more I read, and the more perspectives on the question I encounter, the less clear the definition becomes. Pilgrimage is a contested term, and the definition Coleman offers at the beginning of this paper, one I would have been happy to settle for, turns out to be one he calls into question in his argument. Perhaps I should abandon the notion of pilgrimage altogether when I think about my walks, especially the ones I make in Saskatchewan, but at the same time there is some kind of relationship. Those walks enable me to experience, in a limited way, what some would describe as the sacredness of the land, and that might be their connection to pilgrimage. I’m still not sure. At this point, I don’t have to be.

Work Cited

Coleman, Simon. “Accidental Pilgrims: Passions and Ambiguities of Travel to Christian Shrines in Europe.” Brown Journal of World Affairs, vol. 22, no. 1, 2015, pp. 71-81.

27. Michel de Certeau, The Practice of Everyday Life

de certeau

My productivity has diminished lately, partly because it’s that time of the semester when other tasks, like marking, take up much of my time, and partly because it’s that time of the winter when I’m particularly exhausted and anxious for spring to arrive. The winters here are long, and this one has been very cold, and I haven’t been able to walk at all because of an injured tendon in my foot. “These injuries take a long time to heal,” my podiatrist said, and he was right. So perhaps this wasn’t the best time to tackle Michel de Certeau’s abstruse theoretical text, The Practice of Everyday Life. It had to be done, though, since I’ve been accepted to a conference in Ireland, and the paper I will give is supposed to draw on de Certeau’s discussion of space, place, and walking. I’d read his chapter on walking in the city before, but that was years ago, and I had forgotten what he had to say about it. Besides, I hadn’t read the theoretical framework in which that chapter is situated and felt that I needed to do that work. So here I am, two weeks later, sorting through my notes and trying to figure out what to say about this difficult, poetic, and insightful book—or at least the sections that I read, since I stopped reading after the chapters on walking and on place, since those are my primary interests for this project. I have to warn you: The Practice of Everyday Life is a complex book, and in trying to track those complexities, this post is going to be quite long—perhaps longer than anyone might care to read. It’s actually more than complex: it is by turns insightful and confusing, and the repetitiveness of this summary reflects the repetitiveness of de Certeau’s text. After all, the fourth or fifth time he says something, it might be (and sometimes is) significantly different from the first iteration, and I want to make sure I track those subtle (or not-so-subtle) shifts in his argument.

In the preface to the English translation, de Certeau states that he is interested in “a science of the relationship that links everyday pursuits to particular circumstances” (ix). Those “everyday pursuits” include things like shopping, cooking, and walking, and de Certeau sets himself the next-to-impossible task of considering the circumstances in which such activities in all of their variety and complexity function as forms of ideological or political resistance. But those activities constitute more than just forms of resistance: “only in the local network of labor and recreation can one grasp how, within a grid of socio-economic constraints, these pursuits unfailingly establish relational tactics (a struggle for life), artistic creations (an aesthetic), and autonomous initiatives (an ethic)” (ix). De Certeau’s goal for this book, he continues, is to assist readers in uncovering for themselves “their own tactics, their own creations, and their own initiatives” (ix). In other words, de Certeau writes in his lengthy general introduction, he wants “to indicate pathways for further research” (xi). In order to achieve that goal, it will be necessary for “everyday practices, ‘ways of operating’ or doing things” to “no longer appear as merely the obscure background of social activity,” and for “a body of theoretical questions, methods, categories, and perspectives, by penetrating this obscurity,” to “make it possible to articulate them” (xi). De Certeau isn’t interested in those who produce cultural products, but rather in those who use or consume them (and thereby produce culture in a different way). “The purpose of this work,” he writes, 

is to make explicit the systems of operational combination (les combinatoires d’opérations) which also compose a “culture,” and to bring to light the models of action characteristic of users whose status as the dominated element in society (a status that does not mean that they are passive or docile) is concealed by the euphemistic term “consumers.” (xi-xii)

“Everyday life invents itself by poaching in countless ways on the property of others,” de Certeau continues, and it’s this poaching that seems to particularly interest him, especially in his later discussion of the perruque or wig, a form of resistance in which workers use company time and/or resources to do things for themselves (25-26).

The Practice of Everyday Life grew out of a study of popular culture, and three aspects of de Certeau’s research into that area, he writes, are important. First, he’s interested in usage or consumption—what a cultural consumer “makes” or “does” while consuming cultural products. Such making or doing is a production, but it is a hidden one, “because it is scattered over areas defined and occupied by systems of ‘production’ (television, urban development, commerce, etc.) and because the steadily increasing expansion of these systems no longer leaves ‘consumers’ any place in which they can indicate what they make or do with the products of these systems” (xii). The consumption of cultural products is devious and dispersed; it is everywhere; and it manifests itself “through its ways of using the products imposed by a dominant economic order” (xii-xiii). What is necessary is an analysis of the manipulation of such products by users who are not their makers, in order to “gauge the difference or similarity between the production of the image and the secondary production hidden in the process of its utilization” (xiii).

For de Certeau, the model of this “secondary production” is language—particularly the distinction semioticians make between langue, the entire complex of vocabulary and rules of grammar, and parole, individual acts of enunciation or speech. The construction of such utterances “operates within the field of the linguistic system; it effects an appropriation, or reappropriation, of language by its speakers; it presents a present relative to at time and place; and it posits a contract with the other (the interlocutor) in a network of places and relations” (xiii). Those four characteristics of the speech act (which de Certeau derives from the semiotician Émile Benveniste) can be found in many places, including walking (xiii). The parallel between the use of cultural products and speech suggests, he continues, that users make “innumerable and infinitesimal transformations of and within the dominant cultural economy in order to adapt it to their own interests and their own rules. We must determine the procedures, bases, effects, and possibilities of this collective activity” (xiii-xiv).

De Certeau’s also intends to investigate the “miniscule” and “quotidian” resistances to power and discipline that are constituted by these uses of cultural products, the “ways of operating” that “form the counterpart,” for consumers, “of the mute processes that organize the establishment of socioeconomic order” (xiv). According to de Certeau, “These ‘ways of operating’ constitute the innumerable practices by means of which users reappropriate the space organized by techniques of sociocultural production” (xiv). The goal of this aspect of de Certeau’s research is “to perceive and analyze the microbe-like operations proliferating within technocratic structures and deflecting their functioning by means of a multitude of ‘tactics’ articulated in the details of life,” and “to bring to light the clandestine forms taken by the dispersed, tactical, and makeshift creativity of groups or individuals already caught in these nets of ‘discipline.’ Pushed to their ideal limits, these procedures and ruses of consumers compose the network of an antidiscipline which is the subject of this book” (xiv-xv). If you note the influence of Michel Foucault here, you are correct; in some ways, de Certeau is an enthusiastic (if sometimes incorrect) disciple of Foucault’s work, and The Practice of Everyday Life would be unimaginable without the theoretical framework Foucault provides in his writing.

In addition, de Certeau wants to look at the formal structures of these practices of consumption in order to uncover their logic through two kinds of investigations: “The first, more descriptive in nature, has concerned certain ways of making that were selected according to their value for the strategy of the analysis, and with a view to obtaining fairly differentiated variants,” including “practices related to urban spaces,” such as (perhaps) walking (xv). The second sort of investigation looks at a range of writing by sociologists and linguists that elaborates a theory of such practices (xv-xvi). It’s really the first kind of investigation that interests me, but I did read (at least some of) the chapters in which de Certeau examines and critiques potential theoretical models for the kind of research he wants to conduct. 

These three determinations, he continues, “make possible an exploration of the cultural field” that sets out “to situate the types of operations characterizing consumption in the framework of an economy, and to discern in these practices of appropriation indexes of the creativity that flourishes at the very point where practice ceases to have its own language” (xvi-xvii). This “cultural activity of the non-producers”—in other words of those who consume cultural products (and de Certeau’s definition of cultural products seems to be fairly broad)—is “an activity that is unsigned, unreadable, and unsymbolized,” yet it “remains the only one possible for all those who nevertheless buy and pay for the showy products through which a productivist economy articulates itself” (xvii). Those non-producers are marginal to that “productivist economy,” and yet their marginality is now universal (xvii). That universal marginality, however, doesn’t mean that consumers are homogenous; there are differences between the ways members of different groups respond creatively to cultural products (xvii). For de Certeau, “culture articulates conflicts and alternately legitimizes, displaces, or controls the superior force”—that is, the force (or forces) aligned with the production of those cultural products, the dominant economic order or “productivist economy” (xvii). “It develops an atmosphere of tensions, and often of violence, for which it provides symbolic balances, contracts of compatibility and compromises, all more or less temporary,” he continues. “The tactics of consumption, the ingenious ways in which the weak make use of the strong, thus lend a political dimension to everyday practices” (xvii). So, although de Certeau doesn’t use the word “resistance” here (yet), his language suggests that resistance is precisely what he intends to explore.

All of that—consumer production—is de Certeau’s first topic or theme. His second is the tactics of practice (xvii). He intends to diversify the overly simplistic relationship between consumers and the mechanisms of production in relation to three concerns: “the search for a problematics that could articulate the material collected; the description of a limited number of practices (reading, talking, walking, dwelling, cooking, etc.) considered to be particularly significant; and the extension of the analysis of these everyday operations to scientific fields apparently governed by another kind of logic” (xviii). He is interested, he writes, in the “‘indirect’ or ‘errant’ trajectories” produced through the signifying practices of consumers—note the shift in language, from production to signification—which “trace out the ruses of other interests and desires that are neither determined nor captured by the systems in which they develop” (xviii). The word “trajectory” here suggests movement, but for de Certeau it also suggests “a plane projection, a flattening out. It is a transcription” or a graph, “a line which can be reversed (i.e., read in both directions)—and therefore, for de Certeau, a reduction (xviii-xix). Because “trajectory” suggests a reductive process, de Certeau intends to use the words “tactics” and “strategies” instead (xix).

Those two words—“tactics” and “strategies”—constitute the primary binary opposition which organizes de Certeau’s thinking in The Practice of Everyday Life. Strategies, to speak crudely (which de Certeau never does), belong to power:

I call a “strategy” the calculus of force-relationships which becomes possible when a subject of will and power (a proprietor, an enterprise, a city, a scientific institution) can be isolated from an “environment.” A strategy assumes a place that can be circumscribed as proper (propre) and thus serve as the basis for generating relations with an exterior distinct from it (competitors, adversaries, “clientèles,” “targets,” or “objects” of research). Political, economic, and scientific rationality has been constructed on this strategic model. (xix)

A tactic, on the other hand, refers to “a calculus which cannot count on a ‘proper’ (a spatial or institutional localization), nor thus on a borderline distinguishing the other as a visible totality. The place of a tactic belongs to the other” (xix). Tactics are thus linked to resistances to power. (A note here suggests that Pierre Bourdieu’s Outline of a Theory of Practice is the source of this distinction—yet another reason I need to read that book.) But more than just resistances to power, tactics use the strategies of the other as vehicles for resistance:

A tactic insinuates itself into the other’s place, fragmentarily, without taking it over in its entirety, without being able to keep it at a distance. It has at its disposal no base where it can capitalize on its advantages, prepare its expansions, and secure independence with respect to circumstances. The “proper” is a victory of space over time. On the contrary, because it does not have a place, a tactic depends on time—it is always on the watch for opportunities that must be seized “on the wing.” Whatever it wins, it does not keep. It must constantly manipulate events in order to turn them into “opportunities.” The weak must continually turn to their own ends forces alien to them. This is achieved in the propitious moments when they are able to combine heterogenous elements (thus, in the supermarket, the housewife confronts heterogenous and mobile data—what she has in the refrigerator, the tastes, appetites, and moods of her guests, the best buys and their possible combinations with what she already has on hand at home, etc.); the intellectual synthesis of these given elements takes the form, however, not of a discourse, but of the decision itself, the act and manner in which the opportunity is “seized.” (xix)

Tactics show how intelligence is inseparable from “the everyday struggles and pleasures it articulates” (xx), while “strategies . . . conceal beneath objective calculations their connection with the power that sustains them from within the stronghold of its own ‘proper’ place or institution” (xx).

These quotations lead me to make two comments. First, de Certeau isn’t interested in discourses but in practices; later, he talks about how difficult it is to write about practices (something I don’t quite understand, since people do it all the time). Second, while it’s true that de Certeau doesn’t use the word “resistance” here, the military overtones of his language—“seized,” “base,” “victory”—suggest a struggle between “strategies” and “tactics,” with one representing forces with significant capital and political power, and the other representing forces mounting a sort of guerrilla struggle against the former. That makes de Certeau’s example—“the housewife” shopping for a dinner party—hard to understand as an example of resistance. A person at a supermarket is certainly navigating or negotiating “heterogenous and mobile data,” but is that kind of navigation or negotiation necessarily resistance to the power that organizes that supermarket and the networks of corporate power in which it is situated? I’m not convinced. Maybe it’s a poor example, or maybe I’ve misunderstood de Certeau on the question of resistance, or maybe he actually does see resistance in practices or activities as banal as “talking, reading, moving about, shopping, cooking, etc.” (xix). These activities, he argues, “are tactical in character,” as are, “more generally, many ‘ways of operating’: victories of the ‘weak’ over the ‘strong’ (whether the strength be that of powerful people or the violence of things or of an imposed order, etc.), clever tricks, knowing how to get away with things, ‘hunter’s cunning,’ maneuvers, polymorphic simulations, joyful discoveries, poetic as well as warlike” (xix). So finding a bargain at the supermarket, if it’s a case of getting away with something or making a joyful discovery, would be resistance to power, according to de Certeau. (I am still wondering, though, what he means by “the violence of things.” What “things”? How are they violent? The point is not developed and remains unclear. Clearly I’m missing something.)

For de Certeau, reading is an example of “everyday practices that produce without capitalizing, that is, without taking control over time” (xx). Although our society encourages “a hypertrophic development of reading” (maybe in the 1970s, but not today, if my students are to be believed), but reading itself is not passive: “the act of reading has on the contrary all the characteristics of a silent production: the drift across the page, the metamorphosis of the text effected by the wandering eyes of the reader, the improvisation and expectation of meanings inferred from a few words, leaps over written spaces in an ephemeral dance” (xxi). The reader, however, “cannot protect himself against the erosion of time,” because “while reading, he forgets himself and he forgets what he has read”; the reader thus “insinuates into another person’s text the ruses of pleasure and appropriation” (xxi). Readers, like renters, make changes to spaces they do not own, as do speakers and pedestrians. In the streets, pedestrians “fill with the forests of their desires of desires and goals” (xxi). In fact, any users of “social codes” turn those codes “into metaphors and ellipses of their own quests,” according to de Certeau (xxi-xxii). He is particularly interested in the uses of space, cooking, and “the many ways of establishing a kind of reliability within the situations imposed on an individual, that is, of making it possible to live in them by reintroducing into them the plural mobility of goals and desires—an art of manipulating and enjoying” (xxii). Any practice that involves the manipulation of an imposed situation, and the production of pleasure through such a manipulation, is thus a subtle (perhaps very subtle indeed) form of resistance and the production of a practice defined by mobility, goals, and desires.

De Certeau describes “the status of the individual in technical systems”—the kinds of systems of power he associates with power (xxiii), and this description gives a clearer sense of the kind of resistance he sees as possible within those “technical systems”:

the involvement of the subject diminishes in proportion to the technocratic expansion of these systems. Increasingly constrained, yet less and less concerned with these vast frameworks, the individual detaches himself from them without being able to escape them and can henceforth only try to outwit them, to pull tricks on them, to rediscover, within an electronicized and computerized megalopolis, the “art” of the hunters and rural folk of earlier days. The fragmentation of the social fabric today lends a political dimension to the problem of the subject. (xxiii-xxiv)

The only possibilities of resistance that are available to individual subjects within the totalized systems of power de Certeau imagines here are tricks, dodges, and ruses—no other opportunities seem to exist in the “vast frameworks” that contain us. This argument explains how everyday practices like shopping or reading or walking might be considered resistance. Such resistances may change very little, but according to de Certeau, they are all that is available now.

The introduction to The Practice of Everyday Life, then, establishes de Certeau’s distinction between strategies and tactics and explains what he means by resistances to power. The first chapter of the book begins elsewhere—in the “cleavage” between science (which seems to mean knowledge more broadly—I think the translation is faulty here) and everyday life which “organizes modernity” (6). That division separates modernity “into scientific and dominant islands set off against the background of practice ‘resistances’ and symbolizations that cannot be reduced to thought” (6). Two figures have been charged with the task of mediating between society—which I think means “everyday life” here—and “a body of knowledge”: the Expert, who “introduces his speciality into the wider and more complex arena of socio-political decisions,” transmuting competence into “social authority,” and the Philosopher, who “re-establishes the relevance of general questions to a particular technique (mathematics, logic, psychiatry, history, etc.),” causing “ordinary questions” to “become a skeptical principle in a technical field” (6-7). Philosophers seem to be conduits for “ordinary questions” to enter scientific discourse, whereas Experts seem to lend their knowledge to institutions of power. For de Certeau, the Expert is more common in today’s society, replacing the Philosopher, but the Expert’s translation of competence into authority has a cost: the more authority the Expert has, the less competence he (or she) possesses, “up to the point where his fund of competence is exhausted, like the energy necessary to put a mobile into movement” (7). That, de Certeau argues, is the “paradox of authority: a knowledge is ascribed to it and this knowledge is precisely what it lacks where it is exercised” (8). I’m not sure if that statement is insightful or cynical, but de Certeau is certain of it’s validity; he suggests that authority “is indissociable from an ‘abuse of knowledge,’” and that there is a “social law that divests the individual or his competence in order to establish (or re-establish) the capital of a collective competence, that is, of a common verisimilitude” (8). Experts, according to de Certeau, cannot limit themselves to talking about things they know, and so they pronounce “on the basis of the place” that their specialties have won for them (8)—a place that gives them the authority to speak. This “overproduction of authority leads to the devaluation of authority, since one always gets more in exchange for an equal or inferior amount of competence” (8). In other words the Expert “confuses social place with technical discourse”; in other words, the Expert is the victim (or perpetrator?) of a mistaken identity (8).

De Certeau argues that Wittgenstein’s “rigorous examination of ordinary language” constitutes “a radical critique of the Expert,” and of the Philosopher as Expert (9). Wittgenstein—whose work I have never read, and so I cannot judge the validity of de Certeau’s argument here—conducts a double combat: “he combats the professionalization of philosophy, that is, its reduction to the technical (i.e., positivist) discourse of a speciality” on the one hand, rejecting “the purifying process that, by eliminating the ordinary use of language (everyday language), makes it possible for science to produce and master an artificial language” (10), while at the same time, he “combats the rashness of metaphysics and the impatience of ethics, which are always led to subsume the rules of correct use and to pay with the meaninglessness of some statements for the authority of their discourse on the language of common experiences” (10). Wittgenstein, de Certeau continues, “attacks the presumption that leads philosophy to proceed ‘as if’ it gave meaning to ordinary use, and to suppose that it has its own place from which it can reflect on the everyday” (10-11). There is no such place of mastery for philosophers in relation to language, however, because ordinary language “encompasses every discourse, even if human experiences cannot be reduced to what it can say about them” (11). “The analyzing discourse and the analyzed ‘object’ are in the same situation,” de Certeau argues:

both are organized by the practical activity with which they are concerned, both are determined by rules they neither establish nor see clearly, equally scattered in differentiated ways of working (Wittgenstein wanted his work itself to be composed only of fragments), inscribed in a texture in which each can by turns “appeal” to the other, cite it and refer to it. There is a continual exchange of distinct places. Philosophical or scientific privilege disappears into the ordinary. This disappearance has as its corollary the invalidation of truths. From what privileged place could they be signified? There will thus be facts that are no longer truths. The inflation of the latter is controlled, if not shut off, by the criticism of the places of authority in which facts are converted into truths. Detecting them by their mixture of meaninglessness and power, Wittgenstein attempts to reduce these truths to linguistic facts and to that which, in these facts, refers to an ineffable or “mystical” exteriority of language. (11)

Such an exteriority is “mystical” because it does not exist: we cannot leave language to find some other place from which to interpret language. Therefore, de Certeau continues, there are “no separate groups of false interpretations and true interpretations, but only illusory interpretations, since in short there is no way out, the fact remains that that we are foreigners on this inside—but there is no outside. Thus we constantly ‘run up against the limits’ of ordinary language” (13-14). For de Certeau, “Wittgenstein’s fragmented and rigorous body of work seems to provide a philosophical blueprint for a contemporary science of the ordinary,” because it recognizes that there is no position outside of what is being studied to guarantee the truth of that study, and “as a theoretical hypothesis,” this model must be compared with other “human sciences” such as sociology, ethnology, history, and what they contribute “to the knowledge of ordinary culture” (14). 

De Certeau’s second chapter begins with the idea that stories about miracles are instances of a popular use of religion, which modifies the functioning of a religion (17-18). “More generally,” he continues, a way of using imposed systems”—like the miraculous stories he describes—“constitutes the resistance to the historical law of a state of affairs and its dogmatic legitimations”:

A practice of the order constructed by others redistributes its space; it creates at least a certain play in that order, a space for maneuvers of unequal forces and for utopian points of reference. That is where the opacity of a “popular” culture could be said to manifest itself—a dark rock that refuses all assimilation. (18)

Such “ways of using” are tactics of “the subtle, stubborn, resistant activity of groups which, since they lack their own space, have to get along in a network of already established forces and representations,” de Certeau continues, and the skill required in such resistances are those of “ceaselessly recreating opacities and ambiguities—spaces of darkness and trickery—in the universe of technocratic transparency, a skill that disappears into them and reappears again, taking no responsibility for the administration of a totality” (18). That, at least, is de Certeau’s hypothesis (18), and it is inspired, as he suggests in the book’s introduction, by the “problematics of enunciation” in linguistics (19). A speech act, he claims, “cannot be parted from its circumstances,” which distinguishes such enunciations from “discourses, the data that can most easily be grasped, recorded, transported and examined in secure places” (20). Those enunciations or speech acts, then, are aligned with popular culture or everyday life, and those discourses are aligned with institutions of power or totalizing authority. 

According to de Certeau, “the complex geography of social ruses” (22) can be found in games, in the stories people tell about games, and in tales and legends, both in their form and content, and in the tactics they reveal (22-24). The tropes employed in those tales and legends “inscribe in ordinary language the ruses, displacements, ellipses, etc., that scientific reason has eliminated from operational discourses in order to constitute ‘proper’ meanings,” but such figures of speech are “ruses” or “the memory of a culture”; they are “tricks” that “characterize a popular art of speaking” (24). “With these examples of terrains on which one can locate the specific modalities of ‘enunciative’ practices (manipulations of imposed spaces, tactics relative to particular situations),”

the possibility is opened up of analyzing the immense field of an “art of practice” differing from the models that (in theory) reign from top to bottom in a culture certified by education (from the universities to the elementary schools), models that all postulate the constitution of a space of their own (a scientific space or a blank page to be written on), independent of speakers and circumstances, in which they can construct a system based on rules ensuring the system’s production, repetition, and verification. (24)

That art of practice is clearly resistant to the system based on “imposed spaces” and on the “rules” that ensure its continued “production, repetition, and verification.” Perhaps, de Certeau suggests, that art of practice can be analyzed by resorting to its very own procedures, which would enable us to “revise our views on both its definition as ‘popular’ and our position as observers” (24). 

By this point, I was eager for a concrete example that would bring de Certeau’s theorizing down to earth, and he provides one: la perruque, the wig, a form of resistance in which workers use company time and/or resources to do things for themselves:

In the very place where the machine he must serve reigns supreme, he cunningly takes pleasure in finding a way to create gratuitous products whose sole purpose is to signify his own capabilities through his work and to confirm his solidarity with other workers or his family through spending his time in this way. (25-26)

Practices like la perruque are penalized or ignored, including by those who study popular culture (26). Nevertheless, they suggest an alternative economy, one based on gifts and tricks, that exists within the larger economy, in its margins or interstices (27). This leads de Certeau to make a call for action:

Let us try to make a perruque in the economic system whose rules and hierarchies are repeated, as always, in scientific institutions. In the area of scientific research (which defines the current order of knowledge), working with its machines and making use of its scraps, we can divert the time owed to the institutions; we can make textual objects that signify an art and solidarities; we can play the game of free exchange, even if it is penalized by bosses and colleagues when they are not willing to “turn a blind eye” on it; we can create networks of connivances and sleights of hand; we can exchange gifts; and in these ways we can subvert the law that, in the scientific factory, puts work at the service of the machine and, by a similar logic, progressively destroys the requirement of creation and the “obligation to give.” (27-28)

To be honest, I’m not entirely sure of what this means, or how to take the workers’ tactic of la perruque and apply it to the academy, “the scientific factory” of which de Certeau speaks. The “scientific factory” where I work and study may be about to go on strike, but that isn’t what de Certeau is talking about. And although our research tends to be given away—at least to the journals where it is published—I doubt that’s his point, either. What might it mean to “make textual objects that signify an art and solidarities”? I just don’t know. But de Certeau believes that such “everyday tactics” would be essential to transforming research into popular culture: they would enable such researchers “to practice an ‘ordinary’ art, to find oneself in the common situation, and to make a kind of perruque of writing itself” (28). The notion of the perruque is interesting and suggestive, but I’m left wondering what one might make of it in the context of research.

De Certeau begins the following chapter with la perruque, claiming that it is “infiltrating itself everywhere and becoming more and more common” (29). Moreover, la perruque “is only one case among all the practices which introduce artistic tricks and competitions of accomplices into a system that reproduces and partitions through work or leisure” (29). “Although they remain dependant upon the possibilities offered by circumstances,” de Certeau continues,

these transverse tactics do not obey the law of the place, for they are not defined or identified by it. In this respect, they are not any more localizable than the technocratic (and scriptural) strategies that seek to create places in conformity with abstract models. But what distinguishes them at the same time concerns the types of operations and the role of spaces: strategies are able to produce, tabulate, and impose these spaces, when those operations take place, whereas tactics can only use, manipulate, and divert those spaces. (29-30)

Strategies of power, de Certeau argues, possess spaces they can impose on ordinary people, and tactics of resistance are limited to using (in different ways) such imposed spaces against those strategies. What matters, for that reason, are “the operational schemas” (30) of resistant actions:

Just as in literature one differentiates “styles” or ways of writing, one can distinguish “ways of operating”—ways of walking, reading, producing, speaking, etc. These styles of action intervene in a field which regulates them at a first level (for example, at the level of the factory system), but they introduce into it a way of turning it to their advantage that obeys other rules and constitutes something like a second level interwoven into the first (for instance, la perruque). These “ways of operating” are similar to “instructions for use,” and they create a certain play in the machine through a stratification of different and interfering kinds of functioning. (30)

For de Certeau, “it is precisely a matter of recognizing in these ‘uses’ ‘actions’ (in the military sense of the word) that have their own formality and inventiveness and that discreetly organize the multiform labor of consumption” (30). At this point, I found myself hungering for an example again, and again, de Certeau provides one: we need to ask what consumers make of the television programs they watch, or the magazines and newspapers they read, or the urban spaces they inhabit: what do they do with them? (31). Those products—what “the consumer-sphinx” makes out of the cultural objects he or she consumes—are 

scattered in the graphs of televised, urbanistic, and commercial production. They are all the less visible because the networks framing them are becoming more and more tightly woven, flexible, and totalitarian. They are thus protean in form, blending in with their surroundings, and liable to disappear into the colonizing organizations whose products leave no room where the consumers can mark their activity. (31)

And yet, by describing these consumers as sphinxes, de Certeau is suggesting that whatever riddles they produce will be impossible to interpret—which might be the reason he offers so few examples: not just because he is setting out to construct a theory of such production, but because examples of that production would be impossible to understand. Nevertheless, he reasserts the claim that the consumption of cultural products is a form of production, and that this form of production is “characterized by its ruses, its fragmentation (the effect of the circumstances), its poaching, its clandestine nature, its tireless but quiet activity, in short by its quasi-invisibility, since it shows itself not in its own products (where would it place them?) but in an art of using those imposed on it” (31).

At this point, de Certeau returns to the claim that linguistic enunciation is a model of the characteristics of acts of cultural consumption, even in practices (like walking) that involve “non-linguistic systems” (33). I’m not sure why he feels compelled to do so: as a metaphor or analogy, this claim seems reasonable, and it’s clear from his use of the word “hypothesis” (33) that de Certeau doesn’t intend to take it further. Consumers are “[u]nrecognized producers, poets of their own affairs, trailblazers in jungles of functionalist rationality,” he argues, and they “trace ‘indeterminate trajectories’ that are apparently meaningless, since they do not cohere with the constructed, written, and prefabricated space through which they move. They are sentences that remain unpredictable within the space ordered by the organizing techniques of systems” (34). Indeed, he continues, consumers “use as their material the vocabularies of established languages,” but “although they remain within the framework of prescribed syntaxes (the temporal modes of schedules, paradigmatic organizations of places, etc.), these ‘traverses’ remain heterogenous to the systems they infiltrate and in which they sketch out the guileful ruses of different interests and desires” (34). The activities of these consumers are like “waves that flow in everywhere,” and they “circulate without being seen, discernible only through the objects they move about and erode. The practices of consumption are the ghosts of the society that carries their name. Like the ‘spirits’ of former times, they constitute the multiform and occult postulate of productive activity” (35). No wonder he doesn’t provide many examples of these practices, given their ghostly and evanescent nature.

De Certeau acknowledges that his use of the word “trajectory” to “suggest a temporal movement through space” is insufficient, “precisely because a trajectory is drawn, and time and movement are thus reduced to a line that can be seized as a whole by the eye and read in a single moment, as one projects onto a map the path taken by someone walking through a city” (35). That flattening out might be useful, but it is reductive, because “it transforms the temporal articulation of places into a spatial sequence of points” (35). That reduction is a serious problem, and therefore he returns to the distinction between strategies and tactics, which “appears to provide a more adequate initial schema”:

I call a strategy the calculation (or manipulation) of power relationships that becomes possible as soon as a subject with will and power (a business, an army, a city, a scientific institution) can be isolated. It postulates a place that can be delimited as its own and serve as a base from which relations with an exteriority composed of targets or threats (customers or competitors, enemies, the country surrounding the city, objectives and objects of research, etc.) can be managed. (35-36)

I realize that de Certeau is repeating himself, but because I am wondering whether such repetitions are identical or whether they contain important differences, I am going to trace them in this immanent reading. You never know—he might add something significant in one iteration or another, or take something significant away. If he does, I want to know that.

Strategy, de Certeau continues, is about distinguishing the place of one’s own power and will from “a world bewitched by the invisible powers of the Other” (36), and there are important effects that accompany this break “between a place appropriated as one’s own and its other” (36). This break is a triumph of place over time; it is a mastery of places through a panoptic practice that transforms “foreign forces into objects that can be observed and measured” and therefore controlled; and it sustains and determines a specific type of knowledge through the power to provide oneself with one’s own place (36). I want to point out here de Certeau’s regular and incorrect elision of the differences between “panoptic” and “panoramic” or even “optic.” A panoptic practice internalizes surveillance in the subject of that surveillance, so that even if the surveillance isn’t happening (or if the subject can’t be certain that he or she is under surveillance), the subject will still behave according to the rules set by the group carrying out the surveillance. It isn’t just a practice of looking or seeing. De Certeau makes this mistake consistently, which leaves me wondering how well he has read the work of Michel Foucault, where the notion of panopticism is elaborated (particularly in his magisterial book, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison). It might seem like a small point, and maybe it is, but in his chapters on Foucault and Bourdieu, that mistake makes me wonder whether he isn’t making similar mistakes in his analysis of the latter’s writing.

In contrast to strategy, “a tactic is a calculated action determined by the absence of a proper locus”:

No delimitation of an exteriority, then, provides it with the condition necessary for autonomy. The space of a tactic is the space of the other. Thus it must play on and with a terrain imposed on it and organized by the law of a foreign power. It does not have the means to keep to itself, at a distance, in a position of withdrawal, foresight, and self-collection. . . . It does not, therefore, have the options of planning general strategy and viewing the adversary as a whole within a [distinct], visible, and objectifiable space. It operates in isolated actions, blow by blow. It takes advantage of “opportunities” and depends on them, being without any base where it could stockpile its winnings, build up its own position, and plan raids. What it wins it cannot keep. This nowhere gives a tactic mobility, to be sure, but a mobility that must accept the chance offerings of the moment, and seize on the wing the possibilities that offer themselves at any given moment. It must vigilantly make sure of the cracks that particular conjunctions open in the surveillance of the proprietary powers. It poaches in them. It creates surprises in them. It can be where it is least expected. It is a guileful ruse. (36-37)

“In short, a tactic is an art of the weak,” de Certeau concludes (37), and what consumers do with the things they consume constitute tactics, because those consumers lack power in comparison to the systems in which the things they consume originate (38). 

This distinction is so important to de Certeau that he returns to it again in order to offer a clarification:

strategies are actions which, thanks to the establishment of a place of power (the property of a proper), elaborate theoretical places (systems and totalizing discourses) capable of articulating an ensemble of physical places in which those forces are distributed. They combine these three types of places and seek to master each by means of the others. They thus privilege spatial relationships. At the very lease they attempt to reduce temporal relations to spatial ones through the analytical attribution of a proper place to each particular element and through the combinatory organization of the movements specific to units or groups of units. The model was military before it became ‘scientific.’ (38)

Tactics, on the other hand,

are procedures that gain validity in relation to the pertinence they lend to time—to the circumstances which the precise instant of an intervention transforms into a favorable situation, to the rapidity of the movements that change the organization of a space, to the relations among successive moments in an action, to the possible intersections of durations and heterogenous rhythms, etc. (38)

Strategy, then, is about the establishment of a place; tactics are about using time and the opportunities time presents as well as the “play” that time “introduces into the foundations of power” (38-39). These “two ways of acting can be distinguished according to whether they bet on place or on time” (39). For de Certeau, tactics can be fruitfully compared to some Freudian ideas, particularly the return of the repressed, metaphors, condensations, and metonymies, all of which “are the indexes of consumption and of the interplay of forces” which “depend on a problematics of enunciation” (39).

“Dwelling, moving about, speaking, reading, shopping, and cooking are activities that seem to correspond to the characteristics of tactical ruses and surprises,” de Certeau suggests, because these practices constitute “clever tricks of the ‘weak’ within the order established by the ‘strong’” and are “an art of putting one over on the adversary on his own turf” (40). These practices are nondiscursive, they are part of “a memory without language” that exists, among other places, on “the streets of our great cities,” streets which are the subject of the chapter of this book that is, for me, the most important. More importantly, though, these “clever tricks” are becoming a dominant force. According to de Certeau,

it seems that the generalization and expansion of technocratic rationality have created, between the links of the system, a fragmentation and explosive growth of these practices which were formerly regulated by stable local units. Tactics are more and more frequently going off their tracks. Cut loose from the traditional communities that circumscribed their functioning, they have begun to wander everywhere in a space which is becoming at once more homogenous and more extensive. Consumers are transformed into immigrants. The system in which they move about is too vast to be able to fix them in place, but too constraining for them ever to be able to escape from it and go into exile elsewhere. There is no longer an elsewhere. Because of this, the “strategic” model is also transformed, as it is defeated by its own success: it was by definition based on the definition of a “proper” distinct from everything else; but now that “proper” has become the whole. (40)

This paradox—the notion that strategy has been defeated by its own success—is perhaps a typical movement in 1970s French philosophy or theory, but for de Certeau, it’s clear that strategy needed something outside of itself in order to define itself, and now that it has become totalized and occupies all space, because that necessary “elsewhere” has disappeared, tactics in turn have become omnipresent. I find myself wondering how accurate this account might be; as with much of the rest of this book, de Certeau is making an assertion here without providing evidence. 

The second part of The Practice of Everyday Life is about theories of tactical practices, particularly the work of Foucault and Bourdieu. It begins, however, with a reflection on the procedures on which everyday practices depend—the “schemas of operations and of technical manipulations” (43) that constitute those everyday practices. According to de Certeau, it is possible, if not to define those procedures, then at least to clarify the way they operate relative to discourse or ideology or what Bourdieu calls the habitus. The chapters in this part of the book are a critique of the attempts made by Foucault and Bourdieu to describe the way procedures operate. “Tactics in discourse can . . . be the formal indicator of tactics that have no discourse,” de Certeau writes, and those tactics without discourse are the everyday practices that interest him. “Moreover, the ways of thinking embedded in ways of operating constitute a strange—and massive—case of the relations between practices and theories” (45). This statement seems to represent one of the reasons de Certeau wants to investigate theories about practices.

He begins with Foucault, particularly Discipline and Punish, which he suggests enacts the rhetorical figure of chiasmus, or reversal and substitution: “the place occupied by the reformist projects of the late eighteenth century has been ‘colonized,’ ‘vampirized,’ by the disciplinary procedures that subsequently organize the social space” (45), and “a political technology of the body” wins out, in Foucault’s account, “over the elaboration of a body of doctrine” (46). Foucault comes to this conclusion through what de Certeau describes as a “surgical operation”: “starting out from a proliferating contemporary system—a judicial and scientific technology—and tracing it back through history, isolating from the whole body the cancerous growth that has invaded it, and explaining its current functioning by its genesis over the two preceding centuries” (47). However, de Certeau argues that it is impossible “to reduce the functioning of a society to a dominant type of procedures” (48). There are always practices of resistance, a “multifarious and silent ‘reserve’ of procedures that we should look for in ‘consumer’ practices” (48). In other words, he writes, “[b]eneath what one might call the ‘monotheistic’ privilege that panoptic apparatuses have won for themselves, a ‘polytheismof scattered practices survives, dominated by not erased by the triumphal success of one of their number” (48). 

From here, de Certeau turns to Bourdieu, particularly his book Outline of a Theory of Practice, which he calls “an interdisciplinary operation” that shifts from one genre to another: “from ethnology to sociology” (51). That interdisciplinarity—the confrontations Bourdieu stages between two disciplines—troubles de Certeau: 

These confrontations are supposed to provide a mutual epistemological elucidation: they labor to bring their implicit foundations to light—the ambition and the myth of knowledge. But perhaps what is at stake is different and has to do rather with the otherness introduced by the move through which a discipline turns toward the darkness that surrounds and precedes it—not in order to eliminate it, but because it is inexpungeable and determining? In that case theory would involve an effort on the part of a science to think through its relation to this exteriority and not be satisfied with correcting its rules of production or determining the limits of its validity. (51)

However, de Certeau isn’t sure that’s “the path that Bourdieu’s discourse takes” (51). I honestly don’t understand de Certeau’s objection to what he calls the insertion of “the ‘ethnological’ exception into an empty space in the sociological system” (52). I do understand that Bourdieu’s book brings together an anthropological study of a community in North Africa with theory of how societies function: for de Certeau, that bringing together results in “a twofold deception”: “[w]ith its synthetic tables, scientific method conceals the operation of withdrawal and power that makes them possible,” whereas “practitioners necessarily do not reveal the practical difference created among these ‘data’ by the operations that make use of them” and “thus they collaborate in the production of general tabulations which conceal their tactics from the observer” (53). What is the objection being stated here? I don’t get it, but it’s a fundamental part of de Certeau’s objection to Bourdieu’s work.

Bourdieu’s interest is in strategies, apparently, and not tactics. He argues (according to de Certeau) that strategies involve “‘implicit principles’ or postulates” which are undefined and therefore create “margins of tolerance and the possibility of setting one against the other” (53), as well as “‘explicit rules’ that “are accompanied by a limit that inverts them,” so that every use of these rules must “take into account the possibility of this threatening—because linked to the contingencies of life—rebound against it” (53-54). According to de Certeau, Bourdieu discerns a number of “essential procedures” in strategies. They are polytheistic: “the same thing has uses and properties that vary according to the arrangements into which it enters” (54). They involve substitutability: “a thing is always replaceable by another, because of the affinity of each with the others within the totality that the thing represents” (54). They use euphemism: “one must hide the fact that actions conflict with the dichotomies and antinomies represented by the symbolic system. Ritual actions furnish the model for ‘euphemism’ by combining contraries” (54). And while they are based on analogy, because “[t]hey are camouflaged transgressions, inserted metaphors and, precisely in that measure, they become acceptable, taken as legitimate since they respect the distinctions established by language even as they undermine them” (54-55). 

For de Certeau, two characteristics limit this account of strategies to the characteristics of the community Bourdieu studied, rather than being generally applicable. First, Bourdieu “always presupposes a twofold link between these practices and a proper place (a patrimony), on the one hand, and a collective principle of administration (the family, the group) on the other”—a “double postulate” that may not hold (55). Second, “[t]he use of the term ‘strategy’ is no less limited,” because in Bourdieu’s account, the people making use of those strategies are ignorant of what they are doing and cannot therefore form strategic intentions (55-56). In other words, Bourdieu is claiming that the culture of the people he studied is both coherent and unconscious, which is an impossibility: “The unconsciousness of the group studied was the price that had to be paid (the price it had to pay) for its coherence. A society could be a system only without knowing it” (56). Okay, but de Certeau has described his own society in the same way, as a totalizing system. What’s the difference? How is it that his critique of Bourdieu doesn’t also apply to his own work? 

De Certeau also argues that Bourdieu’s account of society requires it to be stable and unchanging: “As in the traditional image of primitive or peasant societies, nothing moves, there is no history other than that written on them by an alien order” (57-58). Moreover, while the habitus ends up providing “the basis for explaining a society in relationship to structures,” that same habitus, in order to be stable, “must be unverifiable, invisible” (58). Again, coming from someone who generally eschews concrete examples, this is a surprising criticism. Bourdieu, de Certeau continues, is interested in how practices are generated, not how they are produced, but his theory is a circle, moving from structures (a constructed model) to the habitus (an assumed reality) to strategies and conjunctures (interpretations of observed facts) (58). For de Certeau, the habitus thus becomes a totalizing dogma. “Bourdieu’s texts are fascinating in their analyses and aggressive in their theory,” de Certeau writes. “They are full of contrasts. Scrupulously examining practices and their logic . . . the texts finally reduce them to a mystical reality, the habitus, which is to bring them under the law of reproduction,” so that “subtle descriptions” of tactics “suddenly give way to violently imposed truths, as if the complexity so lucidly examined required the brutal counterpart of a dogmatic reason” (59). The habitus, de Certeau concludes, is a fetish (60). I’m rather surprised by this critique, since I’ve mostly heard that Bourdieu’s concept of habitus is useful, and I will perhaps return to it after I read Outline of a Theory of Practice to see if de Certeau’s criticisms make sense. I can’t tell right now, of course, whether he’s on the money or not, since Outline of a Theory of Practice is, for me, an undiscovered country at this point.

De Certeau isn’t finished with either Foucault or Bourdieu yet, however. His next chapter, “The Arts of Theory,” focuses on the problem of theories that deal, perhaps not unlike his own, with practices rather than discourses:

A particular problem arises when, instead of being a discourse on other discourses, as is usually the case, theory has to advance over an area where there are no longer any discourses. There is a sudden unevenness of terrain: the ground on which verbal language rests begins to fail. The theorizing operation finds itself at the limits of the terrain where it normally functions, like an automobile at the edge of a cliff. Beyond and below lies the ocean. (61)

I think this is lovely writing, but as de Certeau goes on to point out, theories of non-discursive practices are common: “since Kant every theoretical effort has had to give a more or less direct explanation of its relationship to this non-discursive activity, to this immense ‘remainder’ constituted by the part of human experience that has not been tamed and symbolized in language” (61). In this chapter, de Certeau wants to think about how theory manages to do that, “[b]y what brilliant strokes or through what ruses” (62).

The work of Foucault and Bourdieu, de Certeau argues, share a “theorizing operation” that “consists of two moments”: “first, cut out; then turn over. First an ‘ethnological’ isolation; then a logical inversion” (62). The first move isolates certain practices from “an undefined fabric” (Foucault’s disciplinary procedures, Bourdieu’s strategies) in such a way that the isolated part metonymically represents the whole (62). “The second move turns over the unit thus cut out,” de Certeau continues. “At first obscure, silent, and remote, the unit is inverted to become the element that illuminates theory and sustains discourse” (63). So the notion of disciplinary techniques, on the one hand, and the habitus, on the other, become keys to explaining everything (63). But this operation presents us with a problem: “by assuming that this isolated element has a metonymic value, and by thus passing over other practices, it forgets those that guarantee its own construction” (63). 

The problem of theorizing “‘know-how’ without a discourse” (65) is another difficulty. Such know-how “is composed of multiple but untamed operativities”:

 This proliferation does not obey the law of discourse, but rather that of production, the ultimate value of physiocratic and later capitalist economics. It thus challenges scientific writing’s privilege of organizing production. It alternately exacerbates and stimulates the technicians of language. It claims to conquer and annex not contemptible practices, but ‘ingenious,’ ‘complex,’ and ‘effective’ forms of knowledge. (65)

As I parse those sentences, I find myself confused as to the referents of the pronouns, particularly the multiple uses of “it.” The proliferation (of practices) is what challenges scientific writing, but is that proliferation the same thing that “stimulates the technicians of language”? But isn’t it scientific writing that “claims to conquer and annex” those forms of knowledge? What is happening here? Is this a clumsy translation or is de Certeau himself responsible? I’m not sure. In any case, there are two moves in scientific writing’s attempt at conquering and annexing practical forms of knowledge: description, which “depends on narrativity,” and “perfection,” which “aims at a technical optimization” (65-66). Through these moves, “the position of the ‘arts’ is fixed, neighboring on but out of the field of science” (66). Well, does description really depend on narrativity? And who actually hopes to achieve perfection? Again, I’m at a loss.

And yet, if I am to finish thinking about this chapter, I must forge on. Art, for de Certeau, is “a kind of knowledge that operates outside the enlightened discourse which it lacks. More importantly, this know-how surpasses, in its complexity, enlightened science” (66). That’s a huge claim to make, and (not surprisingly) de Certeau does not substantiate it. Instead, he moves on:

The “everyday” arts no more “form” a new product than they have their own language. They “make do” (bricolent). But through the reorganization and hierarchization of knowledge according to the criterion of productivity, these arts come to represent a standard, because of their operativity, and an avant-garde, because of their ‘experimental and manouvrier” subtlety. (66)

The arts—and it’s important to note that this term seems to include fine art practices along with more practical manual activities—are outside of scientific languages and represent “an absolute of the power of operating (an efficiency which, unmoored from discourse, nevertheless reflects is productivist ideal) and a reserve of knowledge one can inventory in shops or in the countryside” (66). One place these arts end up being represented is in nineteenth-century realistic fiction and other stories, which results in practical knowledge becoming aestheticized, although it is supposedly not self-conscious because it is non-discursive in its own right (70). It is only in Kant, de Certeau argues, particularly the Critique of Judgement, that theory and practice become related again (72-74). 

De Certeau has one more chapter on theory—this time, the theory of narrativity and the need to recognize its scientific legitimacy—but I’m going to skip ahead to the chapters that actually interest me and are the reason I took on this book: the chapters on spatial practices, including the widely anthologized (and important, for my work) chapter “Walking in the City.” De Certeau begins that chapter with a panoramic view of the streets of New York from the 110th floor of the World Trade Center. He compares that view to the walkers in the city below, “whose bodies follow the thicks and thins of an urban ‘text’ they write without being able to read it”:

These practitioners make use of spaces that cannot be seen; their knowledge of them is as blind as that of lovers in each other’s arms. The paths that correspond in this intertwining, unrecognized poems in which each body is an element signed by many others, elude legibility. It is as though the practices organizing a bustling city were characterized by their blindness. The networks of these moving, intersecting writing compose a manifold story that has neither author nor spectator, shaped out of fragments of trajectories and alterations of spaces: in relation to representations, it remains daily and infinitely other. (93)

The conceit here is that the footprints of these walkers are visible, as if they constituted writing that the walkers themselves cannot see. Of course, footprints are not really visible to anyone, and the walkers are no more blind to what they are doing than is the person on the 110th floor of the World Trade Center, who is too high up to see individual walkers in any case. The notion that pedestrians make writing with their feet is lovely, but it must be acknowledged that it is a fantasy, that those footprints are imaginary and that the walkers actually do know what they are doing and where they are going. The only blind walkers are the ones who have visual impairments, and they know where they are going, too. 

De Certeau’s goal in this chapter is “to locate the practices that are foreign to the ‘geometrical’ or ‘geographical’ space of visual, panoptic, or theoretical constructions” (93). “These practices of space refer to a specific form of operations (‘ways of operating’), to ‘another spatiality’ (an ‘anthropological,’ poetic and mythic experience of space), and to an opaque and blind mobility characteristic of the bustling city. A migrational, or metaphorical, city thus slips into the clear text of the planned and readable city” (93). Ah, now the point of the walkers who are blind to the text they write becomes clear: the readable city is the city of the grid (he’s writing about New York, after all), the city of urban planners, the city of systems and power, and that city is being juxtaposed against another, one constructed through practices, including walking, that are both quotidian and “infinitely other” (93) to that planned and systematized city. 

For de Certeau, “[t]he ‘city’ founded by utopian and urbanistic discourse is defined by the possibility of a threefold operation” (94). First, the city must produce its own space through a “rational organization” that must “repress all the physical, mental and political pollutions that would compromise it” (94). Second, 

the substitution of a nowhen, or of a synchronic system, for the indeterminable and stubborn resistances offered by traditions: univocal scientific strategies, made possible by the flattening out of all the data in a plane projection, must replace the the tactics of users who take advantage of ‘opportunities’ and who, through these trap-events, these lapses in visibility, reproduce the opacities of history everywhere. (94)

Finally, “the creation of a universal and anonymous subject which is the city itself” (94). In this city/subject, “all the functions and predicates that were previously scattered and assigned to many different real subjects—groups, associations, or individuals” become attributed to it, and the city “thus provides a way of conceiving and constructing space on the basis of a finite number of stable, isolatable, and interconnected properties” (94). The city founded by that discourse is, as the word “utopian” suggests, impossible, and yet it would be the triumph of planning and systematizing, a perfect urban machine. De Certeau continues to describe this impossible city:

On the one hand, there is a differentiation and redistribution of the parts and functions of the city, as a result of inversions, displacements, accumulations, etc.; on the other there is a rejection of everything that is not capable of being dealt with in this way and so constitutes the ‘waste products’ of a functionalist administration (abnormality, deviance, illness, death, etc.). To be sure, progress allows an increasing number of these waste products to be reintroduced into administrative circuits and transforms even deficiencies (in health, security, etc.) into ways of making the networks of order denser. But in reality, it repeatedly produces effects contrary to those at which it aims: the profit system generates a loss which, in the multiple forms of wretchedness and poverty outside the system and of waste inside it, constantly turns production into ‘expenditure.’ Moreover, the rationalization of the city leads to its mythification in strategic discourses, which are calculations based on the hypothesis or the necessity of its destruction in order to arrive at a final decision. Finally, the functionalist organization, by privileging progress (i.e., time), causes the condition of its own possibility—space itself—to be forgotten; space thus becomes the blind spot in a scientific and political technology. This is the way in which the Concept-city functions: a place of transformations and appropriations, the object of various kinds of interference but also a subject that is constantly enriched by new attributes, it is simultaneously the machinery and the hero of modernity. (94-95)

That is the (impossible) vision of the modern, functionalist city, “a totalizing and almost mythical landmark for socioeconomic and political strategies” (95). Such a city exists only in discourse. In reality, “urban life increasingly permits the re-emergence of the element that the urbanistic project excluded” (95):

The language of power is in itself ‘urbanizing,’ but the city is left prey to contradictory movements that counterbalance and combine themselves outside the reach of panoptic power. The city becomes the dominant theme in political legends, but it is no longer a field of programmed and regulated operations. Beneath the discourses that ideologize the city, the ruses and combinations that have no readable identity proliferate; without points where one can take hold of them, without rational transparency, they are impossible to administer. (95)

The “Concept-city is decaying,” because there is an “illness affecting both the rationality that founded it and its professionals” (95). In other words, the utopian, functionalist cities are deteriorating “along with the procedures that organized them” (95).

What is that illness? De Certeau suggests that instead of “remaining within the field of a discourse that upholds its privilege by inverting its content”—a swipe at Foucault and Bourdieu—“one can try another path”:

one can analyze the microbe-like, singular and plural practices which an urbanistic system was supposed to administer or suppress, but which have outlived its decay; one can follow the swarming activity of these procedures that, far from being regulated or eliminated by panoptic administration, have reinforced themselves in a proliferating illegitimacy, developed and insinuated themselves into the networks of surveillance, and combined in accord with unreadable but stable tactics to the point of constituting everyday regulations and surreptitious creativities that are merely concealed by the frantic mechanisms and discourses of the observational organization. (96)

In other words, one can study the tactics of resistance, instead of the strategies of power. And so de Certeau asks, “what spatial practices correspond, in the area where discipline is manipulated, to these apparatuses that produce a disciplinary space?” (96). This, he continues, is an important question, because “spatial practices in fact secretly structure the determining conditions of social life” (96). De Certeau’s intention, he writes, is to answer that question:  “to follow out a few of these multiform, [resistant], tricky and stubborn procedures that elude discipline without being outside the field in which it is exercised, and which should lead us into a theory of everyday practices, of lived space, of the disquieting familiarity of the city” (96).

That analysis begins with walking, with footsteps, as a fundamental form of resistance to the apparatuses that produce disciplinary space: 

They are myriad, but do not compose a series. They cannot be counted because each unit has a qualitative character: a style of tactile apprehension and kinesthetic appropriation. Their swarming mass is an innumerable collection of singularities. Their intertwined paths give their shape to spaces. They weave places together. . . . [Pedestrian movements] are not localized; is is rather that they spatialize. (97)

Any attempt to map out or trace the paths or trajectories of pedestrians would miss the point by grasping “only a relic set in the nowhen of a surface projection” (97). Such “fixations,” de Certeau continues, “constitute procedures for forgetting. The trace left behind is substituted for the practice” (97). The way to proceed, then, is to somehow find a way of examining “the operations of walking” themselves, the specific “way of being in the world” they are part of, rather than the relics of their existence (97).

Not surprising, given his earlier use of this analogy, de Certeau suggests that “[t]he act of walking is to the urban system what the speech act is to language or to the statements uttered” (97):

At the most elementary level, it has a triple ‘enunciative’ function: it is a process of appropriation of the topographical system on the part of the pedestrian (just as the speaker appropriates and takes on the language); it is a spatial acting-out of the place (just as the speech act is an acoustic acting-out of language); and it implies relations among differentiated positions, that is, among pragmatic “contracts” in the form of movements (just as verbal enunciation is an “allocution,” “posits another opposite” the speaker and puts contracts between interlocutors into action). (97-98)

Walking is therefore “a space of enunciation” (98), and considered from that definition, “the pedestrian speech act has three characteristics which distinguish it at the outset from the spatial system: the present, the discrete, the ‘phatic’” (98). By spatial system, de Certeau seems to be referring to the system or order represented by the Concept-city, although I could be wrong about that. He begins with the first point, “the present”: 

if it is true that a spatial order organizes an ensemble of possibilities (e.g., by a place in which one can move) and interdictions (e.g., by a wall that prevents one from going further), then the walker actualizes some of these possibilities. In that way, he makes them exist as well as emerge. But he also moves them about and he invents others, since the crossing, drifting away, or improvisation of walking privilege, transform or abandon spatial elements. (98)

I find myself wondering if the words “drifting away” are a reference to the Situationist dérive, something of which de Certeau had to be aware. In any case, de Certeau suggests that “the walker transforms each spatial signifier into something else,” the way that Charlie Chaplin “multiplies the possibilities of his cane” (98). “And,” he continues,

if on the one hand he actualizes only a few of the possibilities fixed by the constructed order (he goes only here and not there), on the other he increases the number of possibilities (for example, by creating shortcuts and detours) and prohibitions (for example, he forbids himself to take paths generally considered accessible or even obligatory. He thus makes a selection. (98)

This leads to de Certeau’s second point: a pedestrian “creates a discreteness, whether by making choices among the signifiers of the spatial ‘language’ or by displacing them through the use he makes of them. He condemns certain places to inertia or disappearance and composes with others ‘spatial turns of phrase’ that are ‘rare,’ ‘accidental,’ or illegitimate. But that already leads into a rhetoric of walking” (98-99). Finally, the “phatic” aspect of walking refers to “the function . . . of terms that initiate, maintain, or interrupt contact, such as ‘hello,’ ‘well, well,’ etc.” (99):

Walking, which alternately follows a path and has followers, creates a mobile organicity in the environment, a sequence of phatic topoi. And if it is true that the phatic function, which is an effort to ensure communication, is already characteristic of the language of talking birds . . . it is not surprising that it also gambols, goes on all fours, dances, and walks about, with a light or heavy step, like a series of “hellos” in an echoing labyrinth, anterior or parallel to informative speech. (99)

Once again, I am left dumbfounded by de Certeau. What does he mean by referring to “talking birds”? How did we get there from walking? How is any of this related to the alleged phatic function of walking? I am confused, although the reference to singing in these sentences might help to clarify his point:

Walking affirms, suspects, tries out, transgresses, respects, etc. the trajectories it “speaks.” All the modalities sing a part in this chorus, ranging from step to step, stepping in through proportions, sequences, and intensities which vary according to the time, the path taken and the walker. These enunciatory operations are of an unlimited diversity. (99)

When I first read these words, I thought that de Certeau’s affirmation of walking’s complexity was an argument against attempting to reduce the pedestrian’s steps “to their graphic trail” by tracing them on a map (99). Now, though, I wonder if the reference to singing picks up on the earlier reference to birds. Maybe it doesn’t. I don’t know.

The next section of the essay is called “Walking rhetorics,” and its discussion was anticipated by de Certeau’s earlier reference to “a rhetoric of walking” (99). “The walking of passers-by offers a series of turns (tours) and detours that can be compared to ‘turns of phrase’ or ‘stylistic figures,’” de Certeau begins. “There is a rhetoric of walking. The art of ‘turning’ phrases finds an equivalent in the art of composing a path (tourner un parcours)” (100). The art of walking, he continues, “implies and combines styles and uses” (100). Here, “style” refers to a linguistic structure that is individualized, where as “use” “defines the social phenomenon through which a system of communication manifests itself in actual fact; it refers to a norm” (100). In other words, walking combines linguistic terms that would typically be considered to be opposites. “Style and use both have to do with a ‘way of operating’ (of speaking, walking, etc.), but style involves a peculiar processing of the symbolic, while use refers to elements of a code,” de Certeau writes. “They intersect to form a style of use, a way of being and a way of operating” (100). 

The notion that “the ‘tropes’ catalogued by rhetoric furnish models and hypotheses for the analysis of ways of appropriating places”—through walking, apparently—is supported by “[t]wo postulates” (100). First, de Certeau is assuming that “the practices of space also correspond to the manipulations of the basic elements of a constructed order,” and second, he is assuming “that they are, like the tropes in rhetoric, deviations relative to a sort of ‘literal meaning’ defined by the urbanistic system” (100). Given those postulates, he continues, there would be “a homology between verbal figures and the figures of walking” (100). The metaphor of rhetoric leads de Certeau back to the distinction between the system of language and the individual utterance:

the geometrical space of urbanists and architects seems to have the status of the “proper meaning” constructed by grammarians and linguists in order to have a normal and normative level to which they can compare the drifting of “figurative” language. In reality, this faceless “proper” meaning (ce ‘propre’ sans figure) cannot be found in current use, whether verbal or pedestrian; it is merely the fiction produced by a use that is also particular, the metalinguistic use of science that distinguishes itself by that very distinction. (100)

“The long poem of walking,” de Certeau continues,

manipulates spatial organizations, no matter how panoptic they may be: it is neither foreign to them (it can take place only within them) nor in conformity with them (it does not receive its identity from them). It creates shadows and ambiguities within them. It inserts its multitudinous references and citations into them (social models, cultural mores, personal factors). Within them it is itself the effect of successive encounters and occasions that constantly alter it and make it the other’s blazon: in other words, it is like a peddler, carrying something surprising, transverse or attractive compared with the usual choice. These diverse aspects provide the basis of a rhetoric. The can even be said to define it. (101)

Would specific ways of walking then correspond to specific rhetorical figures? De Certeau suggests that the “two pedestrian figures” of synecdoche (naming a part rather than the whole) and asyndeton (suppressing linking words, like conjunctions and adverbs) are common in walking—or at least in talking about walking: de Certeau elides the difference between walking as a practice and discourses about walking here by talking about how these figures might be used in “the narration of a trajectory” (101). So one might refer to a hill instead of a the park in which that hill is situated (synecdoche), or one might skip over or omit parts of a walk (asyndeton), (101) but one would do this in narration—in discourse—rather than in practice.

According to de Certeau, synecdoche and asyndeton are related:

Synecdoche expands a spatial element in order to make it play the role of a “more” (a totality) and take its place. . . . Asyndeton, by elision, creates a ‘less,’ opens gaps in the spatial continuum, and retains only selected parts of it that amount almost to relics. Synecdoche replaces totalities by fragments (a less in the place of a more); asyndeton disconnects them by eliminating the conjunctive or the consecutive (nothing in place of something). Synecdoche makes more dense: it amplifies the detail and miniaturizes the whole. Asyndeton cuts out: it undoes continuity and undercuts its plausibility. A space treated in this way and shaped by practices is transformed into enlarged singularities and separate islands. Through these swellings, shrinkings, and fragmentations, that is, through these rhetorical operations a spatial phrasing of an analogical (composed of juxtaposed citations) and elliptical (made of gaps, lapses, and allusions) type is created. For the technological system of a coherent and totalizing space that is “linked” and simultaneous, the figures of pedestrian rhetoric substitute trajectories that have a mythical structure, at least if one understands by “myth” a discourse relative to the place/nowhere (or origin) of concrete existence, a story jerry-built out of elements taken from common sayings, an allusive and fragmentary story whose gaps mesh with the social practices it symbolizes. (101-02)

Once again, I am confused: is de Certeau talking about walking, or about stories about walking? Is a walk a story if that story is not articulated in discourse? Is narration a metaphor for walking, or is it a literal narration?

Perhaps rather than discussing walking or narrating, de Certeau is merely asserting a parallel between them: the beginning of the next section of the chapter, “Myths: what ‘make things go,” begins by asserting a parallelism between walking, discourse, and dreams: “If there is a parallelism, it is not only because enunciation is dominant in these three areas, but also because its discursive (verbalized, dreamed, or walked) development is organized as a relation between the place from which it proceeds (an origin) and the nowhere it produces (a way of ‘going by’)” (103). The problem, of course, is that walking is not discourse; it is a non-discursive practice, and so to claim that walking has a discursive development is therefore a problem. I’m not convinced, then, that what de Certeau is offering here can be anything more than a comparison, parallel, or analogy. There may be similarities between walking, dreaming, and narrating, but there is one central difference: walking isn’t a discourse. That difference is being elided in de Certeau’s argument.

Nevertheless, de Certeau’s next assertion is quite provocative and potentially productive. “To walk is to lack a place,” he begins:

The moving about that the city multiplies and concentrates makes the city itself an immense social experience lacking a place—an experience that is, to be sure, broken up into countless tiny deportations (displacements and walks), compensated for by the relationships and intersections of these exoduses that intertwine and create an urban fabric, and placed under the sign of what ought to be, ultimately, the place but is only a name, the City. The identity furnished by this place is all the more symbolic (named) because, in spite of the inequality of its citizens’ positions and profits, there is only a pullulation of passer-by, a network of residences temporarily appropriated by pedestrian traffic, a shuffling among pretenses of the proper, a universe of rented spaces haunted by a nowhere or by dreamed-of places. (103)

De Certeau doesn’t define the terms “space” and “place” until a subsequent chapter, but it’s important to note here that, as Tim Cresswell points out, he reverses the typical usage—in English, or in geographical discourse, or both—of those two terms: “Confusingly, for geographers, Certeau uses space and place in a way that stands the normal distinction on its head. To Certeau, place is the empty grid over which practice occurs while space is what is created by practice” (Cresswell 70). So, when de Certeau refers to “place” in this quotation, he ought to be interpreted as meaning “space.” Confusing, right? What he seems to be saying, then, is that the City—the utopian, totalizing, systematized entity he defined earlier in this chapter—ought to be a space, but “is only a name.” To walk is to lack a space, but the spaceless city consists only of the movements of its residents. There is a strange circularity to this argument, but it seems clear (I think) that de Certeau is arguing that the City doesn’t exist in reality, that it is actually made up of the movements of its citizens. What particularly interests me is the suggestion that the countless walks made by people in an urban space “intertwine and create an urban fabric” (103). I find myself wondering if the “fabric” of any place, urban or rural, might not be made up by the movements of its inhabitants.

From here, de Certeau begins to discuss the role of proper names in the absent City, and the relationship that exists “between the direction of a walk (le sens de la marche) and the meaning of words (le sens des mots),” a relationship that situates “two sorts of apparently contrary movements, one extrovert (to walk is to go outside), the other introvert (a mobility under the stability of the signifier)” (103). I’m not convinced that de Certeau is talking about actual walking any more; perhaps in this chapter “walk” has come to stand in for any movement in an urban space? In any case, de Certeau is asserting a direct connection between place names and walking:

Linking acts and footsteps, opening meanings and directions, these words operate in the name of an emptying-out and a wearing-away of their primary role. They become liberated spaces that can be occupied. A rich indetermination gives them, by means of a semantic rarefaction, the function of articulating a second, poetic geography on top of the geography of the literal, forbidden or permitted meaning. They insinuate other routes into the functionalist and historical order of movement. . . . People are put in motion by the remaining relics of meaning, and sometimes by their waste products, the inverted remainders of great ambitions. Things that amount to nothing, or almost nothing, symbolize and orient walkers’ steps: names that have ceased precisely to be “proper.” (105)

Why is de Certeau making such a big thing out of place names? He suggests that 

they make habitable or believable the place that they clothe with a word (by emptying themselves of their classifying power, they acquire that of ‘permitting’ something else); they recall or suggest phantoms (the dead who are supposed to have disappeared) that still move about, concealed in gestures and in bodies in motion; and by altering functionalist identity by detaching themselves from it, they create in the place itself that erosion or nowhere that the law of the other carves out within it. (105)

So somehow place names, like the practice of walking, function as a form of resistance to power; they are examples of “‘local authorities’” or “superstitions,” “rich silences and wordless stories,” and so tend to be replaced by numbers (106). Walking about, and travelling generally, come to “substitute for the legends that used to open up space to something different” (107). There is some connection, therefore, between place names, stories, and walking as forms of resistance.

In fact, de Certeau describes walking as a form of exile, and suggests that it produces “precisely the body of legends that is currently lacking in one’s own vicinity; it is a fiction, which moreover has the double characteristic, like dreams or pedestrian rhetoric, of being the effect of displacements and condensations” (107). Again we see a slippage between walking as a non-discursive practice, on the one hand, and discourse, on the other. Such legends—stories, more generally—are “practices that invent spaces” (107):

From this point of view, their contents remain revelatory, and still more so is the principle that organizes them. Stories about places are makeshift things. They are composed with the world’s debris. Even the literary form and the actantial schema of “superstitions” correspond to stable models whose structures and combinations have often been analyzed over the past thirty years, the materials (all the rhetorical details of their “manifestation”) are furnished with leftovers from nominations, taxonomies, heroic or comic predicates, etc., that is, by fragments of scattered semantic places. These heterogenous and even contrary elements fill the homogenous form of the story. (107)

Stories about places (or spaces—note that de Certeau’s use of these terms is not consistent, at least not at this point, despite Cresswell’s analysis), as well as walking, are thus “spatial practices” that offer resistance to “the constructed order”: “The surface of this order is everywhere punched and torn apart by ellipses, drifts, and leaks of meaning; it is a sieve-order” (107). “The dispersion of stories points to the dispersion of the memorable as well,” he continues, describing memory as “a sort of anti-museum” that is not “localizable” (108). Rather, fragments of memory “come out in legends. Objects and words also have hollow places in which a past sleeps, as in the everyday acts of walking, eating, going to bed, in which ancient revolutions slumber” (108). The memories de Certeau is talking about here seem to be memories of what used to be in a particular place but is no longer there. Those memories—de Certeau’s word for them is “demonstratives”—“indicate the invisible identities of the visible,” and “it is the very definition of a place . . . that it is composed by these series of displacements and effects among the fragmented strata that form it and that it plays on these moving layers” (108). Such memories lead to places being haunted: “There is no place that is not haunted by many different spirits hidden there in silence, spirits one can ‘invoke’ or not” (108). I wonder if de Certeau would apply this logic to rural as well as urban places. After all, isn’t rural Saskatchewan haunted by the ghosts of the bison, of the grassland, of the ecosystem that was mostly destroyed in the first 50 years of settlement?

The important thing about such memories is that they remain silent (108): “Places are fragmentary and inward-turning histories, pasts that others are not allowed to read, accumulated times that can be unfolded but like stories held in reserve, remaining in an enigmatic state, symbolizations encysted in the pain or pleasure of the body” (108). I know de Certeau is primarily interested in pleasure as a form of resistance, but “encysted” suggests pain, rather than pleasure.

In the final section of this chapter, de Certeau turns to childhood memories of places. “The memorable is that which can be dreamed about a place,” he writes, arguing that such places are palimpsests, “already linked to the absence that structures it as existence” (109). He has used imagery throughout this chapter that suggests places are palimpsests, and he is clearly interested in layers of memories as part of what defines places as forms of resistance, compared to the unstratified definitions of place that are characteristic of the City-concept and its monological discourses. He goes so far as to claim that our experience of space is ultimately a “decisive and originary experience, that of the child’s differentiation from the mother’s body” (109). “This relationship of oneself to oneself”—he seems to be referring to that “joyful and silent experience of childhood” which defines that process of differentiation from the mother—“governs the internal alternations of the place (the relations among its strata) or the pedestrian unfolding of the stories accumulated in a place (moving about the city and travelling),” he contends (110). “The childhood experience that determines spatial practices later develops its effects, proliferates, floods private and public spaces, undoes their readable surfaces, and creates within the planned city a ‘metaphorical’ or mobile city” (110). De Certeau’s theoretical touchstone here has shifted from Foucault to Lacan, and I’m not well-versed in poststructuralist psychoanalysis, so I find this conclusion difficult to understand. Is de Certeau suggesting that the resistant experience of the city is somehow similar to a child before its entry into the Symbolic Order? I wish I could tell. Do I have to put Lacan’s Écrits on my reading list in order to understand this chapter? Perhaps.

De Certeau’s next chapter compares train travel to walking. Traveling by train is a “travelling incarceration,” an experience of immobility in which the passenger is trapped within a “bubble of panoptic and classifying power, a module of imprisonment that makes possible the production of an order, a closed and autonomous insularity—that is what can traverse space and make itself independent of local roots” (111). The same could be said, I suppose, of travelling by plane. I’m not interested in either mode of transportation, so I skipped ahead to the next chapter, “Spatial Stories.” “Every story is a travel story—a spatial practice,” de Certeau begins (115). Such stories “are not satisfied with displacing” what de Certeau calls “pedestrian enunciations and rhetorics” and “transposing them into the field of language” (116). “In reality,” he continues, “they organize walks. They make the journey, before or during the time the feet perform it” (116). Again there is a curious slippage between walking as a non-discursive practice (or traveling as a non-discursive practice?) and discourse. What does it mean to claim that stories make the journey before it is performed by the pedestrian’s feet? I don’t understand.

By the time I reached this point in de Certeau’s book, I was wondering if he was going to begin distinguishing, in a clear way, between place and space, in the way that Cresswell suggests. The answer, happily, is yes: a place

is the order (of whatever kind) in accord with which elements are distributed in relationships of coexistence. It thus excludes the possibility of two things being in the same location. . . . The law of the “proper’ rules in the place: the elements taken into consideration are beside one another, each situated in its own “proper” and distinct location, a location it defines. A place is thus an instantaneous configuration of positions. It implies an indication of stability. (117)

Cresswell suggests, as I’ve said, that de Certeau uses “place” the way that geographers use “space”—as “a more abstract concept than place” that lacks human investments and attachments (Cresswell 15-16). What I notice, though, about de Certeau’s definition of place is that it is (or seems to be) aligned with strategies and power and the Concept-city: it is ruled by “[t]he law of the ‘proper.’” Moreover, de Certeau’s notion of place is of something that is stable and clearly defined, which might make it closer to the geographer’s use of “place.” Space, on the other hand, is quite different:

A space exists when one takes into consideration vectors of direction, velocities, and time variables. Thus space is composed of intersections of mobile elements. It is in a sense actuated by the ensemble of movements deployed within it. Space occurs as the effect produced by the operations that orient it, situate it, temporalize it, and make it function in a polyvalent unity of conflictual programs and contractual proximities. On this view, in relation to place, space is like the word when it is spoken, that is, when it is caught in the ambiguity of actualization, transformed into a term dependant upon many different conventions, situated as the act of a present (or of a time), and modified by the transformations caused by successive contexts. In contradistinction to the place, it has thus none of the univocity or stability of a “proper.” (117)

What strikes me about this description is not its relationship to the geographer’s notion of “place,” but rather the way that space, for de Certeau, aligns with tactics, utterances, and practices of resistance to power. In fact, the emphasis on mobility might align de Certeau’s version of space with, say, Yi-Fu Tuan’s definition of this term, which involves mobility, at least potentially. In fact, so far de Certeau’s definitions of space and place are connected to the primary binaries that organize this book, rather than related to the way geographers use these terms.

And then—isn’t it important to pay attention to de Certeau’s repetitions?—there is this summary, which makes things much clearer:

In short, space is a practiced place. Thus the street geometrically defined by urban planning is transformed into a space by walkers. In the same way, an act of reading is the space produced by the practice of a particular place: a written text, i.e., a place constituted by a system of signs. (117)

Finally, Cresswell’s explication of de Certeau’s version of space and place makes sense: for Cresswell, and for Tuan, place would be a practiced space, a space that contains stories and memories and, although de Certeau would never say this, meaning and human attachment (see Cresswell 16). And, following this moment of clarity, de Certeau refers to Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s distinctions between “‘geometrical’ space,” which geographers would call space, and “‘anthropological’ space,” which geographers would call place—not that de Certeau is necessarily citing Merleau-Ponty with approval. “In our examination of the daily practices that articulate that experience,” de Certeau writes,

the opposition between “place” and “space” will rather refer to two sorts of determinations in stories: the first, a determination through objects that are ultimately reducible to the being-there of something dead, the law of a “place” . . . the second, a determination through operations which, when they attributed to a stone, tree, or human being, specify “spaces” by the actions of historical subjects. (118)

Place, for de Certeau (space, for geographers) is, unlike space (place, for geographers), dead, because it has no history and no movement—nothing human or anthropological, in other words: only the law of its own configuration. “Between these two determinations,” he continues,

there are passages back and forth, such as the putting to death (or putting into a landscape) of heroes who transgress frontiers and who, guilty of an offense against the law of the place, best provide its restoration with their tombs; or again, on the contrary, the awakening of inert objects (a table, a forest, a person that plays a certain role in the environment) which, emerging from their stability, transform the place where they lay motionless into the foreignness of their own space. (118)

Such “passages” are the reason I am reading this book and the subject of my current research. How does space become place? For de Certeau, the answer seems to be through stories: that would be the reason for his reference to “heroes” and for his description of “inert objects” coming to life. Narration is the key to that transformation, then: space becomes place—and I’m using those terms the way geographers do, not the way de Certeau does—when stories can be told about it. 

Indeed, stories are key to such transformations. They “carry out a labor that constantly transforms places into spaces or spaces into places,” de Certeau writes. “They also organize the play of changing relationships between places and spaces” (118). The forms such play might take are “numberless, fanning out in a spectrum reaching from the putting in place of an immobile and stone-like order . . . to the accelerated succession of actions that multiply spaces” (118). Again one sees the relationship between these terms and the larger binaries that organize de Certeau’s thinking in this book, and I’m really not convinced that his use of these terms (even in reverse) can simply be mapped onto the way geographers use them, but there is some overlap, I think, and perhaps that’s good enough.

The next section of the chapter, “Tours and maps,” distinguishes between stories (a tour, for de Certeau, is a narrative) and descriptions (a map is a visual description). These terms represent “[t]wo poles of experience,” one belonging to “‘ordinary’ culture”—that would be narrative or “tours”—and the other, “maps,” to “scientific discourse” (119). But there appears to be a spectrum between those two poles: “From this angle, we can compare the combination of “tours” and “maps” in everyday stories with the manner in which, over the past five centuries, they have been interlaced and then slowly dissociated in literary and scientific representations of space” (120). Stories about places are clearly aligned with tactics, as de Certeau has defined that term: they are “composed of fragments drawn from earlier stories and fitted together in makeshift fashion (bricolés). In this sense, they shed light on the formation of myths, since they also have the function of founding and articulating spaces” (122-23). The fundamental question, for de Certeau,

is the partition of space that structures it. Everything refers in fact to this differentiation which makes possible the isolation and interplay of distinct spaces. From the distinction that separates a subject from its exteriority to the distinctions that localize objects, from the home (constituted on the basis of the wall) to the journey (constituted on the basis of a geographical “elsewhere” or a cosmological “beyond”), from the functioning of the urban network to that of the rural landscape, there is no spatiality that is not organized by the determination of frontiers. (123)

Stories, de Certeau argues, play a decisive role in the creation of frontiers; they have a “distributive power” and “performative force,” and as a result they establish spaces (123). Where stories are disappearing, he continues,

there is a loss of space: deprived of narrations (as one sees it happen in both the city and the countryside), the group or individual regresses toward the disquieting, fatalistic experience of a formless, indistinct, and nocturnal totality. By considering the role of stories in delimitation, one can see that the primary function is to authorize the establishment, displacement or transcendence of limits, and as a consequence, to set in opposition, within the closed field of discourse, two movements that intersect (setting and transgressing limits) in such a way as to make the story a sort of “crossword” decoding stencil (a dynamic partitioning of space) whose essential narrative figures seem to be the frontier and the bridge. (123)

Frontiers and bridges—objects that set and transgress limits—are the “essential narrative figures” of the way stories construct spaces; the frontier defines a legitimate space, and the bridge defines that space’s “(alien) exteriority” (126). 

But for de Certeau stories also “found” spaces, and “[t]his founding is precisely the primary role of the story. It opens a legitimate theater for practical actions”—social actions, that is, which are both “dangerous and contingent” because they are aligned with tactics, it seems, against strategies (125). A founding story is fragmented and heterogenous; it is miniaturized, because it includes family stories and autobiographies; and it is polyvalent, “because the mixing together of so many micro-stories gives them functions that change according to the groups in which they circulate” (125). For de Certeau, the way founding stories relate to frontiers seems to be their most important function: “A narrative activity, even if it is multiform and no longer unitary, thus continues to develop where frontiers and relations with space abroad are concerned. Fragmented and disseminated, it is continually concerned with marking out boundaries” (125). But frontiers are not simply boundaries. For de Certeau, frontiers are paradoxical: “created by contacts, the points of differentiation between two bodies are also their common points. Conjunction and disjunction are inseparable in them” (127). In other words, frontiers or boundaries mark differences, but they are also points where those different spaces touch, perhaps even where exchanges between them are possible. “What the map cuts up, the story cuts across,” de Certeau states, suggesting the way that narration can create connections as well as borders. And, finally, in case it wasn’t already clear, “in this focalizing enunciation”—and remember the importance of the word “enunciation” in this book as a term that is aligned with tactics of resistance—“space appears once more as a practiced place” (130).

And with the end of that chapter, I stopped reading. The rest of The Practice of Everyday Life is focused on language, particularly reading as a form of tactics, and on belief—not topics that are related to my current work. As my supervisors have told me, the point of reading for comprehensive examinations is to focus on what is related to one’s project. Did reading The Practice of Everyday Life make a contribution to my research? Yes, it did. As confusing and sometimes frustrating as de Certeau’s poetic prose and associative style of argument can be, the notion of walking as a form of resistance is useful to my work, as are the notion of haunted places and the distinction between space and place that de Certeau works out in the chapter on “Spatial Stories.” In fact, that chapter might have been the most important part of this book for me—surprisingly more important than the chapter on walking in the city—and that suggests how important it is to read beyond what I might think will be important. Yes, I realize that by skipping the chapters on reading and belief I might be missing out on other valuable insights, but I can always come back to The Practice of Everyday Life later on. Besides, as I’m sure you will agree, this summary is quite long enough as it is. The Practice of Everyday Life is going to play an important part in the conference paper I am about to write on space and place in walking pilgrimages, and that’s reason enough to have read it.

Works Cited

Cresswell, Tim. Place: An Introduction. 2nd edition. Wiley Blackwell, 2015.

de Certeau, Michel. The Practice of Everyday Life. Translated by Steven F. Rendall, U of California P, 1984.

Tuan, Yi-Fu. Space and Place: The Perspective of Experience. U of Minnesota P, 1977.

26. Tim Cresswell, In Place/Out of Place: Geography, Ideology, and Transgression

in place out of place

I wasn’t planning on reading this one–yes, I’ve strayed from my list again–but Tim Cresswell referred to it in his book on place, and I realized that there’s a connection between walking and transgression. When I was walking to Wood Mountain last summer, the looks I usually got from passing motorists—their facial expressions typically registered shock and surprise—suggested that walking in Saskatchewan is transgressive. So too did the reaction of some boys who were admiring each other’s bicycles when I trudged into the village of Mossbank after a long, hot day of walking. “My mom says that guy’s a hitchhiker,” one of them said. There was disgust in his voice, no doubt an echo of his mother’s tone, and I quickly imagined their conversation: “Mom, what’s that guy doing walking on the road?” “Son, he’s a hitchhiker.” Never mind that I was walking against the traffic, not with it, and that I wasn’t trying to thumb a ride: I was walking on a highway in Saskatchewan, and that must have meant I was a hitchhiker, or something even worse—a transient, a vagrant, a bum. I thought I would try to correct that impression. I called out, “no, boys, I’m walking, I’m not hitchhiking.” They were having none of that. They hopped on their bikes and rode along behind me, crying “hitchhiker! hitchhiker!” the way a New England Puritan might have shouted “blasphemer!” I was out of place, and I was being reminded of it. For those boys—or their mothers—I was out of place walking on the road. I was transgressing the rule that highways are for motor vehicles. So, when I picked up Cresswell’s book in the library, I remembered that episode and realized I would have to read it.

And so I did—but not all of it. For once, I took my supervisors’ advice, and “skinned” the book, reading just the introductory and concluding chapters: the theoretical parts. The main part of the book—Cresswell’s studies of graffiti artists in New York City, the occupations of Stonehenge by so-called “hippies,” and the peace camp established by women at the U.S. Air Force base at Greenham Common to protest the presence of nuclear weapons there—I decided I could skip. As interesting as those examples might be, my reading list isn’t getting any smaller, and I haven’t been very productive in the past two weeks, so I’d better get cracking.

Not surprisingly, some of the discussion of place in this book echoes the one in Place: An Introduction, but not entirely. For example, Cresswell suggests that the way geographers use the term “place” is similar to Henri Lefebvre’s term “social space” (1), which suggests that I might need to read Lefebvre’s The Production of Space. There is a relationship between spatial divisions of various kinds and ideology and power (1). Cresswell emphasizes the importance of Pierre Bourdieu in thinking about the ideological and political implications of place and/or space—unfortunately for me, in this book Cresswell doesn’t necessarily distinguish between these two terms, and making a distinction between space and place is important for my own research. “Spatial structures structure representations of the world as they are held in a taken-for-granted way,” he writes, explaining Bourdieu’s argument in Outline of a Theory of Practice. “But value and meaning are not inherent in any space or place—indeed they must be created, reproduced, and defended from heresy” (9). That claim is the first theme Cresswell explores in this book.

The second theme of the book is transgression. “Just as it is the case that space and place are used to structure a normative world”—in other words, just as spatial divisions reproduce power relations and ideologies—“they are also used (intentionally or otherwise) to question that normative world,” Cresswell writes (9). That questioning often takes the form of transgression:

Transgression, I shall argue, serves to foreground the mapping of ideology onto space and place, and thus the margins can tell us something about “normality.” I am also interested in thinking through the implications of transgression as a form of politics. (9)

Cresswell’s method is to focus on examples of transgression. “My approach is to examine situations where things appear to be wrong, those times when we become aware of our immediate environment,” he writes. “One way to illustrate the relation between place and behavior is to look at those behaviors that are judged as inappropriate in a particular location—literally as actions out of place” (10). When those out-of-place actions transpire, “the everyday, commonsense relationships between place and behavior become obvious and underlined,” and “the always already existing normative geography” of that place is revealed (10). “In other words,” he continues,

transgressive acts prompt reactions that reveal that which was previously considered natural and commonsense. The moment of transgression marks the shift from the unspoken unquestioned power of place over taken-for-granted behavior to an official orthodoxy concerning what is proper as opposed to what is not proper—that which is in place to that which is out of place. (10)

Here Cresswell is anticipating his discussion in the book’s second chapter of Bourdieu’s notion of doxa and the way that revealing ideological positions that are taken for granted forces an explicit defence of those positions.

Places, Cresswell suggests in his second chapter, are “centers of meaning”: they are neither completely ideological or socially constructed, nor are they purely material or spatial or geographic (13). “Places are duplicitous in that they cannot be reduced to the concrete or the ‘merely ideological’; rather they display an uneasy and fluid tension between them,” he writes (13). Places are sometimes metaphorically equated with texts, a metaphor that is useful, according to Cresswell, if we remember that texts can be read in multiple ways, despite the fact that some readings are encouraged more than others. “We can thus talk of a hierarchy of readings, with favored, normal, accepted readings and discouraged, heretical, abnormal readings—dominant readings and subordinate readings,” he argues (13). This claim leads to the concept of ideology. Cresswell follows sociologist Göran Therborn in his division of ideology into three levels: it defines, first, what exists and does not exist; second, what is good, just, and appropriate, and what is none of those things; and third, what is possible and what is impossible (14). “It is my claim here that place plays a role in the constitution of ideology at all three levels,” Cresswell writes. “In general, though, I shall concentrate on the role of place at the second mode of interpellation—the definition of what is good, just, appropriate, and so on” (14). Ideologies, he continues, are important “because they affect what people do”; they aren’t just sets of ideas, but rather they are ideas “that influence and guide actions” (16). For that reason, there is a relation between ideologies and places, because places also force people to relate beliefs to actions. “People read places by acting in them,” Cresswell contends. “Our actions in place are evidence of our preferred reading” (16). Moreover, “[p]lace is produced by practice that adheres to (ideological) beliefs that produce it in a way that makes them appear natural, self-evident, and commonsense” (16). Places are therefore “active forces in the reproduction of norms—in the definition of appropriate practice. Place constitutes our beliefs about what is appropriate as much as it is constituted by them” (16). “Meaning is invoked in space through the practice of people who act according to their interpretations of space,” Cresswell argues, and in turn that space “gives their actions meaning. This is a fluid process that changes over time. Any given set of interpretations of space can be and have been overthrown historically” (17).

Cresswell then reviews crude theories of ideology and indicates his preference for the more sophisticated theory of hegemony, the notion that a group cannot dominate unless it claims common sense as its own (18). This idea, he suggests, is expressed by Antonio Gramsci, Raymond Williams, and Bourdieu—although I am certain that there are nuanced differences between the claims these writers make about hegemony. Cresswell seems to find Bourdieu’s description of hegemony the most persuasive. Bourdieu sees ideology in terms of limits, according to Cresswell. Those limits are called “doxa” (18-19). When the fit between one’s objective position and one’s subjective beliefs is almost perfect, then experience becomes doxa: the social world comes to appear self-evident and without alternatives (19). There is no conflict in when experience becomes doxa, because people “aspire to that which fits with what their objective position allows” (19). In Cresswell’s summary of Bourdieu’s argument, “the commonsense world of doxa is the key to the most ineradicable adherence to the established order, while the questioning of doxa is one of the most fundamental and effective forms of struggle” (20). That’s because questioning doxa forces the dominant group to defend in an explicit way the limits which the doxa has internalized, and that defence turns those limits into boundaries or barriers which can be seen and then, potentially, removed or overcome (20). 

Transgression is one way that doxa can be made explicit and therefore questioned, according to Cresswell:

It is hard to tell what is considered normal without the example of something abnormal. Transgression, and the reaction to it, underlines those values that are considered correct and appropriate. By studying the margins of what is allowed we come to understand more about the center—the core—of what is considered right and proper. Transgression is also important in itself as an example of possible tactics for resistance to established norms. No hegemonic structure is ever complete, and it is always important to study the ways in which hegemonies are contested in everyday life. (21)

Transgression is often defined in geographical or spatial terms, Cresswell notes (21); we may have to experience a geographical transgression before we realize that there even was a boundary in the first place (22). 

Cresswell is clear to distinguish between transgression and resistance. Resistance implies an intention, a “purposeful action directed against some disliked entity with the intention of changing it or lessening its effect” (22). Transgression, in contrast, isn’t defined by the intentions of its actors by according to the results of their actions: “To have transgressed in this project means to have been judged to have crossed some line that was not meant to have been crossed. The crossing of the line may or may not have been intended” (23). “Transgression is judged by those who react to it,” Cresswell argues, “while resistance rests on the intentions of the actor(s)” (23). However, there is some crossover between resistance and transgression. “Some acts of resistance . . . are judged as transgression,” he writes. “Similarly some actions judged as constituting transgression are intended by the actors and thus also constitute resistance. . . . Intentional transgression is a form of resistance that creates a response from the establishment—an act that draws the lines on a battlefield and defines the terrain on which contestation occurs” (23). 

Transgression, Cresswell concludes, is important because “it breaks from ‘normality’ and causes a questioning of that which was previously considered ‘natural,’ ‘assumed,’ and ‘taken for granted’”:

Transgressions appear to be “against nature”; they disrupt the patterns and processes of normality and offend the subtle myths of consensus. These deviations from the dominant ideological norms serve to confuse and disorientate. In doing so they temporarily reveal the historical and mutable nature of that which is usually considered “the way things are.” The way the world is defined, categorized, segmented, and classified is rendered problematic. Such provocations result in highly charged attempts to diffuse the challenge presented by the transgressors. (26)

I’m not sure that my transgression last summer—my action of walking down a highway—necessarily resulted in an attempt to diffuse—or defuse—the challenge that walking down a highway presented. On the other hand, maybe it did. It certainly offended the way the world was defined and classified for some people. Highways are only for motor vehicles, and that’s “the way things are”—that is how most of us in this province would see the world. Other uses of a public thoroughfare are transgressive. Maybe that’s why I was identified as a hitchhiker, then—as a way to contain the challenge that walking in Saskatchewan presents to the common sense notion of what roads are for. Or maybe I’m reading too much into that experience, although I think it’s pretty clear that it was a transgression of a sort.

Like his introduction, Cresswell’s conclusion spans two chapters. He begins by thinking about what his three case studies suggest about the importance of attending to the ideological relationship to place:

The geographical ordering of society is founded on a multitude of acts of boundary making—of territorialization—whose ambiguity is to simultaneously open up the possibilities for transgression. In order to fully understand the range of a society’s geographical values, it is enlightening to map out geographical deviance and transgressions. By concentrating on the marginal and the “low,” the “other,” we achieve a novel perspective upon its central workings. The geographical classification of society and culture is constantly structured in relation to the unacceptable, the other, the dirty. (149)

To return to my Mossbank reception, I was certainly understood as unacceptable and dirty (of course, after several days of walking, I actually was dirty). I was also, perhaps, to paraphrase Cresswell, a marginal, grotesque, and extraordinary phenomenon, and therefore I played a role in defining what is considered normal: “The center could not exist without the margin” (149). 

According to Cresswell, his case studies present two principal lessons: “One concerns the way place is implicated in the creation and maintenance of ideological beliefs; the other is about the uses and limits of transgression as a way of challenging and transforming these beliefs. The former is a lesson in continuity and the latter a lesson in change” (150). Why, he asks, is place “such a powerful container of social power?” (150). And what is it about place “that makes it an effective signifier of ideological values?” (150). Asking such questions is an attempt “to link the literature on ‘society and space’ with the tradition in geography of closely examining the nature of place (151). Space and place, he argues, “are such fundamental categories of experience that the power to specify the meanings of places and expectations of behavior in them is great indeed” (152). Space and place are primary forms of classification, and as they are classified, they become doxa: definitions as to the behaviours that are appropriate in specific spaces and places are powerful and unstated, and they are recognized not discursively—indeed, to recognize doxa discursively is to acknowledge their existence—but practically and experientially (and perhaps even phenomenologically) (152). One set of classifications is differentiation: the distinction between “us” and “them” through which people create themselves as subjects (153). Differentiation, Cresswell writes, is “a characteristic mechanism by which ideological values are transmitted” (153), and places are “fundamental creators of difference” (154):

It is possible to be inside a place or outside a place. Outsiders are not to be trusted; insiders know the rules and obey them. . . . An outsider is not just someone literally from another location but someone who is existentially removed from the milieu of “our” place—someone who doesn’t know the rules. (154)

Obviously, walking on a highway marked me as an outsider—as someone who doesn’t know the rule that highways are only for driving on.

Cresswell also considers the connection between place and practice, drawing upon Raymond Williams’s term “structure of feeling” and Bourdieu’s “habitus” as ways of considering the social as flux and movement and experience, as ways to connect theory and practice (155-56). Ideology consists of ideas related to practices; places connect the mental to the material in a similar way, “as our actions in them constitute interpretations” (157). For Cresswell, there is a link between ideology and place—a parallel or homology—that is present in the metaphor of places as texts—as objects of interpretation. “The interpretation of a place is, in everyday life, a practical interpretation,” he writes. “Our beliefs about place are usually indistinguishable from actions in place. Ideology seeks to link the concrete and the abstract. What better way than through place?” (157-58). 

Finally, places often appear to be natural. “An ideology that seeks to conceal its own historical roots uses the physical naturalness of place to make claims about the essential nature of place and forgets the social realm,” Cresswell writes. “An ideology emphasizes the realm of nature and conceals the realm of social relations” (160). Because the materiality of place gives it an aura of “nature,” “place can thus be offered as justification for particular views of what is good, just, and appropriate” (161). 

In summary, then, because they are forms of classification and differentiation, places and spaces have ideological functions (161). The same is true because places and spaces connect beliefs or interpretations with “the material context of our lives” and the actions we take in those material contexts (161). And because places and spaces appear to be natural, they can be used as justifications “for particular views of what is good, just, and appropriate” (161). For these reasons, Cresswell writes, place “plays an important role in the creation and continuation of ideological beliefs” (161). However, he continues, ideologies “are also challenged, resisted, and transgressed, leading to revisions, adaptations, and denunciations” (162). Places and spaces play roles in these resistances as well, as Cresswell’s case studies suggest. “[M]aking space a means of control is to simultaneously make it a site of meaningful resistance,” he argues at the beginning of his final chapter. “[T]he qualities of space and place that make them good strategic tools of power simultaneously make them ripe for resistance in highly visible and often outrageous ways,” he continues. “The creation of property leads to the existence of trespass. The notion of ‘in place’ is logically related to the possibility of being ‘out of place’” (164). When people act “out of place,” their behaviour suggests new interpretations of place—and, indeed, rewrite those places as well, so that “[t]he consumption of place becomes the production of place” (165). This idea leads to the central question he wants to explore in his final chapter: “To what degree can transgression provide a blueprint—a dress rehearsal—for radical change?” (165).

To begin to answer this question, Cresswell returns to the uses and limits of transgression:

Transgression, as I have defined it, depends on the preexistence of some form of spatial ordering. Forms of transgression owe their efficacy to types of space, place, and territory. Transgressions do not form their own orders. Boundaries are critiqued, not replaced. This observation is symptomatic of a bigger question—the question of construction versus deconstruction, creation versus critique. Resistance, deconstruction, criticism—all of these are reactions, hostages to wider events and topographies of power. Temporally they always come second or third. Transgression has limits. Constant transgression is permanent chaos. (166)

“Yet,” he continues, “within transgression lie the seeds of new spatial orderings” (166). What kinds of transgressions suggest the possibilities of these “new spatial orderings”? Art is one area. Cresswell explores the photography (and performance) of British artist Ingrid Pollard, who uses her own body in photographs and collage works to ask questions about the racialized assumptions British people make about their rural landscapes (especially the landscapes of the Lake District) (167-69). He also discusses the work of Krzysztof Wodiczko, an artist who projects images onto the walls of public buildings, memorials, and monuments, attacking them with symbols in order to jar our consciousness and make “the familiar (and thus unnoticed) strange and worthy of attention” (169). He also looks at the graphics and demonstrations of ACT-UP, and at the demolition of the Vendôme Column during the Paris Commune, as examples of transgression and resistance (170-74). 

All of these examples, Cresswell suggests, display “the power of transgression” (175). The result of these transgressions is to question existing spaces and places, and to suggest alternatives (175); such transgressions are political acts which “divert and manipulate the power of established geographies” (175). “While this is a source of strength,” Cresswell argues,

it is also transgression’s main limit. Transgression’s efficacy lies in the power of the established boundaries and spaces that it so heretically subverts. It is also limited by this established geography; it is always in reaction to topographies of power. (175)

“The power of transgression lies in its ability to reveal topographies of power that surround us,” he continues. “The limits to transgression lie in the fact that it is not enough to constantly deconstruct and destabilize” (176). There is a need to move beyond transgression, he suggests, “to the possibilities of social transformation” (176). But, he asks, “[w]hat happens when transgression becomes permanent?” (176). “The new social spaces that result from the transgression of old social spaces will themselves become old social spaces pregnant with the possibility of transgression,” he concludes, undercutting what he describes as “a utopian dream” of social transformation (176). It’s a surprisingly downbeat ending to the book—a case of “meet the new boss, same as the old boss,” or perhaps more appropriately, “meet the new place—same as the old place.”

So, was reading (at least part of ) In Place/Out of Place worthwhile? Yes, I think so. It didn’t help me to keep working on the distinction between space and place, although in his references Cresswell points towards other writers who do think through that question. But his discussion of Ingrid Pollard’s work was very important for me. I had heard about her photography, but for the first time I began thinking about it in relation to my own work. And In Place/Out of Place helped me to consider walking as a transgressive act in a more thorough and rigorous way. So I’ve come away from this book with a new set of things to read and think about—and that’s the point of doing this work, isn’t it?

Works Cited

Cresswell, Tim. In Place/Out of Place: Geography, Ideology, and Transgression. U of Minnesota P, 1996.

23. Tim Ingold and Jo Lee Vergunst, editors, Ways of Walking: Ethnography and Practice on Foot

ways of walking

You might be surprised to read this—at least as surprised as I am writing it—but while I was reading Ways of Walking: Ethnography and Practice on Foot, an interdisciplinary collection of essays on walking edited by Tim Ingold and Jo Lee Vergunst, I realized for the first time just how rich the subject of walking actually is. Walking goes in all directions (pardon the pun), according to these essays, from the way that hunting and gathering people walk, to walking as an aesthetic practice, to the so-called “Munro-baggers,” who aim to climb as many mountains in Scotland as they possibly can. Walking by itself—even without the other aspects of my research—is an important field of inquiry, and even though I’ve been thinking about the subject for over a year, it was only this week, with this book, that I came to realize the scope of what I’m doing. I’m both relieved and terrified by that realization.

The first chapter of Ways of Walking is essentially an introduction by the volume’s editors that includes a short essay on walking as well as remarks on the importance of the essays they have chosen. Walking, like talking, is a quintessential feature of “what we take to be a human form of life,” Ingold and Vergunst write at the outset. “Our principal contention is that walking is a profoundly social activity: that in their timings, rhythms and inflections, the feet respond as much as does the voice to the presence and activity of others,” they continue. “Social relations, we maintain, are not enacted in situ but are paced out along the ground” (1). This statement, they contend, follows in the footsteps (the walking puns are unavoidable) of Marcel Mauss, whose 1934 essay “Techniques of the Body” made him the first to suggest walking as a serious topic for ethnographic study (1). Like the French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, Mauss was interested in the social formation of body techniques (1), but unlike his predecessor, Bourdieu put his notion of habitus “firmly in the space of the body’s active engagement in its surroundings, in the ‘practical mastery’ of everyday tasks involving characteristic postures and gestures, or a particular bodily hexis” (2). A way of walking, for Bourdieu, doesn’t just express thoughts and feelings imparted “through an education in cultural precepts and proprieties,” Ingold and Vergunst write; a way of walking is “itself a way of thinking and of feeling through which, in the practice of pedestrian movement, these cultural forms are continually generated” (2). Oh dear, I thought when I read these words. I’m going to have to add Bourdieu’s discussion of habitus, found in his book Outline of a Theory of Practice, to my reading list. (I really need to put together a revised reading list that leaves out some things and adds others.)

According to Ingold and Vergunst, “to think and feel is not to set up a relation of external contact or correspondence between subjective states of mind and objectively given conditions of the material world, but rather to make one’s way through a world-in-formation, in a movement that is both rhythmically resonant with the movements of others around us—whose journeys we share or whose paths we cross—and open-ended, having neither a point of origin nor any final destination” (2). We not only walk because we are social beings, they continue, but we are social beings because we walk:

That walking is social may seem obvious, although it is all the more remarkable, in this light, that social scientists have devoted so little attention to it. However, to hold—as we do—that social life is walked is to make a far stronger claim, namely for the rooting of the social in the actual ground of lived experience, where the earth we tread interfaces with the air we breathe. It is along this ground, and not in some ethereal realm of discursively constructed significance, over and above the material world, that lives are paced out in their mutual relations. Thus careful, ethnographic analysis of walking, we suggest, can help us rethink what being social actually means. (2)

Ingold and Vergunst are making a gigantic claim here, and if you know anything about French theory and philosophy of the past 50 years, you will have picked up on the way they are arguing against the suggestion that social life is constructed in discourse, and instead arguing that it is corporeal or even phenomenological. “Walking is not just what a body does,” they write; “it is what a body is” (2). Their aim, they continue, is “to embed our ideas of the social and the symbolic within the immediate day-to-day activities that bind practice and representation, doing, thinking and talking, and to show that everything takes place, in one way or another, on the move” (3). The contributors to this book “share an ambition to pay attention to the experiences of tactile, feet-first, engagement with the world” (3). So, for Ingold and Vergunst, the key themes of this book are movement, tactile engagement, rootedness, and the everyday—and those themes are explored through a variety of perspectives on the relatively commonplace activity of walking as conducted by a variety of different individuals and groups, in many different contexts, and drawing upon a surprising number of walking techniques.

As is always the case in collections of essays, I found some more useful or relevant than others, so I’m not going to discuss every single one in this summary. The collection begins with discussions of walking among traditional groups of hunter-gatherers, which suggest just how different both the styles of walking of those groups are from the styles of walking that are characteristic of Western (post)modernity, and how different their relationships to land are as well. In “Before a Step Too Far: Walking with Batek Hunter-Gatherers in the Forests of Pahang, Malaysia,” Lye Tuck-Po explores an apparent paradox in the walking practices of the Batek people: 

On the one hand, the Batek are confident and even proud of their ability to make their way around the forest. . . . On the other hand, listening to Batek talk about their emotions, what is most commonly voiced is fear . . . of specific dangers in the forests, and of particular kinds of walking experiences—giving the impression that fear is everywhere around and even inside them as well. How, then, can we reconcile these expressions of fear and confidence? (21)

“Walking is one of the primary means for interacting with the forest, but it also engenders an awareness of its dangers,” Lye continues. “Where walking takes the body forward, fear draws it back, and it is this tug between opposing directions of movement that characterizes the practices of hunting and gathering” (21)—at least among the Batek, that is. This analysis “implies a disjunction between body and mind, knowing and fearing, self and environment, and coming and going,” Lye writes, but she notes that such a disjunction may be false (21-22).

To determine whether that disjunction is true or not, Lye explores what walking in a tropical rainforest actually entails. First of all, one needs to follow a path or a route (23). But that path or route, for the Batek people, is typically improvised: the desired harvest of fruit or nuts may not materialize, or other opportunities to harvest may appear (24). Nevertheless, forest expeditions among the Batek follow a pattern. First, they walk to the farthest point in the forest using a series of shortcuts. Then they begin to search for and harvest food, which necessitates many detours, while slowly moving back in the direction of their camp. During such walks, “a complex suite of bodily performances is involved,” Lye writes:

Along the way, we were . . . observing, monitoring, remembering, listening, touching, crouching, and climbing. . . . in addition to stepping on the ground, wading across rivers, pushing vegetation aside, cutting fruit-laden boughs, eating the fruits, navigating the way, orienting ourselves to the camp, the Tahan River, and the stands of fruit trees, and, of course, talking and discussing the fruit harvest. We might have looked ahead most of the time . . . but we were also scanning the tree-tops . . . and looking sideways and backwards . . . for signs of fruits and the fauna associated with them. (25)

In the thick forest, the trails are not always easy to remember, and members of the group stop to discuss their path—among other subjects—continually. “Talking and walking are inseparable,” Lye suggests; “[i]f walking creates the path and if walking itself is an act of sociality, then can the path have any meaning without the stories of the people using it?” (26). In other words, paths are social phenomena and remembered in relation to social events (26). Moreover, walking is rarely a linear movement. Instead, it is cyclical—a process of going out and returning, even if the group is relocating its camp. “Moving forward in time and space is also about moving back—to old camps and pathways, the past, and history,” Lye suggests (26).

Paths in the forest are unstable, muddy, and marked by pits and dips concealed in the vegetation. “Stepping on Batek paths means dealing with the ecology of these paths, such as the slopes and the profusion of roots and vines that grew over and across them,” Lye writes (28). There are also visual constraints on the forest walkers, because one can rarely see more than 10 metres in any direction. In addition, the environment changes constantly, with new plant growth and new obstructions (such as fallen trees). The frequent rain also makes for muddy and slippery paths, adding a layer of difficulty. “Batek and other forest dwellers adapt by being hyper-alert to sound shifts and changes,” Lye writes (28). They also regard walking as a commonplace activity and laugh at outsiders, like Lye, who have difficulty (28). Indeed, Lye discusses the difficulty of walking in the forest at length, comparing her travails with the competence of the Batek, who made her walk with the children, at the front of the line, so they could keep their eyes on her progress.

In the stories the Batek tell, they reveal their few, deeply embedded, fears, Lye writes: fears of tigers, strangers, violence, floods, and falling trees. “What is the effect of fear on walking practices?” Lye asks. The answer is that the opposition between fear and confidence illusory:

Confidence means having trust in the ability to get a job done. It is the result of knowledge and improvisation: trying out variations, experimenting, informed by knowledge of what worked last time. Fear comes from having a realistic appreciation of what doesn’t work and is therefore also born of knowledge. Having confidence does not negate fearfulness; a confident person is one who is sufficiently fearful to be cognizant of potential danger and what to do should it arise. (32)

This question is, for me, far less interesting than Lye’s discussion of walking techniques among the Batek, the variety of ways they move through the forest, and I think Ingold and Vergunst would agree with me: they suggest that it is through the variety of “bodily performances” that constitute walking for the Batek, “along the way, that their knowledge is forged” (5). 

Knowledge and movement is central to the next essay: Allice Legat’s “Walking Stories: Leaving Footprints,” which explores walking among the Tłı̨chǫ people of Canada’s Northwest Territories. Legat describes her essay’s purpose at the outset:

I will consider walking as the experience that binds narrative to the acquisition of personal knowledge. Walking, then, validates the reality of the past in the present and in so doing, continually re-establishes the relation between place, story, and all the beings who use the locale. When walking a person can become intimate with a locale, creating situations in which one can grow intellectually while travelling trails under the guidance of predecessors who have both followed and left footprints. (35)

For the Tłı̨chǫ, there are clear relations between oral narratives and place: for them, to be knowledgeable involves gaining experience by working and listening to those who have more skill, including by walking with such people. But there are other ways to learn for the Tłı̨chǫ, including through dreams and visions (35-36). For the most part, though, one learns “during activities with, and in the presence of, others” (36). “For the Tłı̨chǫ,” Legat writes,

significant components include human as well as non-human beings, implying that learning is always situated and guided, even if there are no humans around. What I call “guided learning,” for the Tłı̨chǫ, entails a combination of receiving information—through hearing stories and travelling trails while carrying out tasks at particular locales. Information, then, is not to be extracted as the content of the story, but is the story itself, namely the happenings and occurrences that are related and fit together. The stories tell of places as they are associated with political and social endeavours. (36)

Stories are knowledge, then, and they are also related to specific places to which the Tłı̨chǫ have relations—relations which begin when children first hear stories about them:

Most stories have been heard many times before travelling to the sites named and experiencing them directly. Through visiting, walking and performing tasks at a locale individuals both take something of the place with them and leave a bit of themselves. In so doing, individuals add their narrative to that of others while refining the deeper levels of their perception. (36)

Stories reside in places along trails, and the names of those places serve as mneumonic devices for the stories that convey knowledge. According to Legat, though, “the period between listening to stories and walking them marks an in-between phase of learning during which people who have heard ‘talk’ do not yet know the ‘truth’ or reality of a narrative” (36-37). Walking, then, is a guarantor of narrative truth. It is also rarely linear; Tłı̨chǫ walks tend to be circular, a movement to a place and then a return from that place.

For the Tłı̨chǫ, the land is a living entity with powers, and it needs to be shown respect. One way to show that respect is by “paying the land,” leaving a useful item behind, particularly at places known to have supernatural power. “I have never known any Tłı̨chǫ travellers to pass these places without stopping and showing respect,” Legat writes (37), and to show respect to a place is connected to telling stories about it:

This often entails walking around the location to determine if all is as it was, and tidying burials if there are any in the vicinity. Individuals who have visited the place before tell the stories that dwell in the location to those who are travelling with them, and a “picnic”—which usually includes feeding predecessors by putting favoured foot in the fire—is enjoyed before continuing the journey. The process allows everyone to know the place and the story a little better. These actions validate the story in the present while maintaining relations with predecessors who continue to be attached to Tłı̨chǫ places. (37)

When travellers return from such places, they share their experience with others through stories. “Elders often respond by telling stories that clarify, enhance or add to them,” Legat writes. “Listeners grow and change as they are drawn to the places, walking through the footprints of others through their minds as they are drawn down the trails once again” (37). Moreover, she continues, “[f]or the Tłı̨chǫ, predecessors’ footprints are embedded in places and trails that continue to be used and travelled. Thus the stories they think with are steeped with detailed and accurate accounts of trails and locales. These stories form the basis for building one’s perception of reality” (37). Adults constantly tell stories, especially to children, so that “they can grow from the place they call home, eventually travelling trails and walking locales where they can experience the stories for themselves” (37):

Tłı̨chǫ individuals, then, are forever listening to stories whose truth is subsequently validated through experience. Retelling the story in light of this experience, the teller builds on the original by incorporating her or his own occurrences and happenings. Once one has gained personal knowledge, one tells one’s own stories and eventually leaves one’s own footprints for the future. (37-38)

Tłı̨chǫ elders encourage people to learn from places and to use “stories to think with” when they face new situations: “They use stories to structure the contexts within which their juniors perceive new experiences” (38). 

Footprints and knowledge are interchangeable for the Tłı̨chǫ. Listening to stories is important for the future, not only as a way to recognize the knowledge of one’s ancestors, but also to validate the truth of that knowledge and then perform a task (38). Moreover, stories are connected to the phenomenological experience of walking and of the land itself:

Listening to stories and following the footprints of those who are more knowledgeable allows one to think by drawing on philosophical understanding and practical knowledge that originated in the past. This is a perspective that encourages everyone to acknowledge that there is much to learn. It also provides people with an understanding of the importance of walking and observing—watching for the unexpected—while thinking about all that dwells within the land. Children are taught to watch as they grow to adulthood. As they walk, they are to think about what they smell, see, feel, always looking behind them to see how the trail will look on their return trip. (39)

The Tłı̨chǫ walk slowly, not hurrying, which leads to being disconnected from their surroundings.  Attention is of paramount importance, and attention requires slow forms of movement. Indeed, one of the stories Legat hears during her fieldwork is about how children were taught to hurry when they were in residential school—an alien form of movement for the Tłı̨chǫ children.

The Tłı̨chǫ people Legat lived and worked with frequently discussed the importance of the relationship between stories, walking the land, experiencing places, and knowledge, and they spent a lot of time and energy finding opportunities to share stories with those who were younger or less aware than themselves (40):

Adults are constantly telling ‘old time stories’ as well as stories of what they have seen and experienced. They also tell of when, where and how they experienced the stories that came from ancient times, or ‘when the world was new.’ Adults continually encourage those younger or less experienced than themselves to walk the land, to experience the truth of the stories for themselves, and to share what they experience—including what they saw, heard and felt, and with whom (including non-human beings) they shared the experience. Telling a series of stories is, inevitably, the most appropriate way to proceed. (40)

But stories need to be confirmed through walking, preferably walking with someone who has walked that path before and knows about the events and the place. That walking is part of becoming more knowledgeable:

Tłı̨chǫ individuals are encouraged to “walk the land” so that they can experience and validate information in the stories that reside in and grow from places. Through listening to narratives and walking with one’s predecessors, the process of guided learning is continuous. It provides individuals with the information and knowledge necessary to keep life going, and to maintain harmonious relations by showing respect to all entities that dwell within the land. Furthermore, the Tłı̨chǫ understand that one always has more to learn, more stories to experience and, therefore, more places to walk. Individuals learn that the world is in constant change and that they must remain flexible and willing to think about new and unexpected situations. (46-47)

Following the footprints of one’s predecessors is not necessarily meant in a literal sense. Rather, it means that 

the wayfarer’s movement should be at once knowledgeable, task-oriented and attentive to relations with other beings in the environment through which it passes. . . . [F]ollowing footprints is about gaining knowledge through action and the ability to use that knowledge. Individuals who walk the land are respected because they have experience, the interpretation of which is based on continual social interaction. (47)

According to Legat, personal knowledge is produced when the story and one’s experience converge in a narration. While the focus of the story remains the same, the story itself can change, depending on whom it is being shared with. “In the telling, the stories reach out to other individuals, drawing them back down the trail, back to the places where individuals can experience the stories for themselves,” Legat writes. “Thus, individuals grow outward at the same time as they become rooted within the several locales of Tłı̨chǫ country” (47). All Tłı̨chǫ people are encourage to grow through the knowledge they have been offered by their parents, grandparents, and others. “In other words,” Legat continues, “being knowledgeable is the culmination of listening to stories and following footprints. This provides the foundation for leaving one’s own footprints for future generations” (47). 

In “The Dilemmas of Walking: A Comparative View,” Thomas Widlok examines two very different walking (or travelling) practices: those of the so-called “confluencers,” who aim to visit confluences, points where latitude and longitude meet; and the Akhoe Hai//om people of northern Namibia. Widlok engaged in “itinerant participant observation” with the confluencers (52), but I’m more interested in the Akhoe Hai//om people and what their experiences have to say about the place where I live. “Like other ‘San’ groups,” Widlok writes, the Akhoe Hai//om people “move more or less regularly within a land that they consider to be theirs but which has been appropriated by other groups” (54). Today, most Akhoe Hai//om have a semi-permanent residence from which they make visits to other places, although sometimes they will also move their home base as well (54). Widlok makes two points about this movement: first, “visits and moves are not only intended to get to a certain place, with a certain resource or a relative living there, but also and at least as often, are a means to get away. Social disruption and conflict of any kind, including the attempt to avoid conflict, are common motives for trying to leave” (54). Like the Batek and the Tłı̨chǫ, Akhoe Hai//om movements are rarely linear, and they often underline the circularity of their movements by leaving a hut or some possessions behind when they leave a place as material place-holders which promise their return (58). Moreover, their frequent movements back and forth testify to a commitment to more than one place, sometimes stretching out their movements in time to the point where they appear to be co-present in two places and moving in two directions (58). Moreover, the Akhoe Hai//om stress their autonomy when moving from one place to another (58).

The confluencers, in contrast, are not unlike explorers; they share some of the colonial or imperial ambitions to get to a place before others, occupy it, and make it “tame” (54). Moreover, the grid of latitude and longitude that interests the confluencers is not abstract or innocent. Rather, that grid “has informed how colonial forces organized space, delimited the land and divided,” Widlok writes. “Local boundaries were either not known or understood, or were deliberately disregarded in the colonial ordering of space” (58). That imposition of a grid was manifest in Saskatchewan as well, and just like this place, in Namibia the grid is marked on the land in the form of roads and fences which separate “private” from “communal” land, or national parks from farms. “Once markers such as roads and fences are constructed on the mapped ground they gain a force of their own,” Widlok continues, “spawning new divisions oriented with regard to these ‘given’ features” (58-59). The South African government constructed roads to both open up land (for the deployment of soldiers) and to close it off (by restricting the movements of others) during the struggle against apartheid, and today in Namibia people are expected to use roads instead of crossing farms by using footpaths: “Anyone found crossing a privately owned farm is suspected of slaughtering or stealing livestock, of introducing diseases and of making unlawful use of the land,” and such trespassers are frequently shot (59). 

“Road makers,” Widlok writes, “not only want to keep people from their land, they also want to control access to places more generally”:

If a road leads to a place—a farm homestead for instance—anyone using that road had better be invited or welcome by the owner of the place. Being the first to make a road is not necessarily tantamount to opening up space, it may also be a means to close it. (59)

The Akhoe Hai//om, in contrast, have neither the opportunity nor the power to restrict the movements of others:

Their main concerns are potential conflicts and dilemmas arising from the restrictive behaviour of farmers. Often they have to ask themselves whether they should take the road or a short cut with the possible danger of being shot at. (59)

Widlock notes the importance of paths to the Akhoe Hai//om, and the complexity of their use of paths:

Foraging nearly always entails some degree of trail blazing in that, since food sources are quickly depleted next to a path, it usually pays to venture a little further. . . . On the other hand established paths not only make walking easier and save the trouble of constantly having to orient oneself, they also lead to resources with seasonal reliability such as water sources, termite mounds or groves of trees. These paths are not deliberately cut but rather emerge as a consequence of regular use. Moreover, at least in some cases, the regular movement also generates the reason for using these paths, through a process that involves the unwitting cooperation of humans, animals and plants. (59-60)

On the other hand, Widlok continues, “[r]oads follow the intention to regulate movement, to open up access for those following the road, and at the same time to close it to others and to bar other areas next to the road from trespass” (60). However, in an environment where so many people are pedestrians, “there is a limit to the degree of control that road-makers can exert over people’s movements” (60).

The differences between the way the Akhoe Hai//om and the farmers think about the land is related to their very different uses of it—both their ways of living and their ways of looking at the world:

For the Akhoe Hai//om at least part of the answer is to be found in foraging as their erstwhile dominant mode of subsistence. With no livestock to steal and no fields that could be destroyed, Akhoe Hai//om have been fairly relaxed about anyone crossing their land or leaving a path. In hunting animals that move, gathering plants that provide edible roots and collecting nuts and berries, it pays both to roam widely and to leave well-trodden paths. . . . Unlike farmers who guard their enclosed fields and herds against outsiders, among hunter-gatherers everyone is free to go whatever way they will, whether this means following in the footsteps of others or striking out in unorthodox directions. So long as population densities remained fairly low, forager groups were open to seasonal or other visits by neighbouring groups who wanted or needed to make use of local resources and who might also bring other resources and trade items from neighbouring regions. In sum, with a fairly abundant resource base and social relations based on mutual assistance and equal rights of access, the path-dilemma of walking lost its relevance in practice, except perhaps in times of severe food shortage. (60-61)

When powerful colonizing groups arrived seeking exclusive access to the land, however, things changed dramatically. During colonial times, the Akhoe Hai//om and other “San” groups were hunted and killed; today there are frequent clashes between “San” and landowners and accusations of cattle theft, and “various degrees of force are being used to compel ‘San’ to use official roads and resettlement sites” (61). All of this echoes the history of Saskatchewan, as well as its present: the imposition of a grid on the land, the enclosure of that land, the threat of trespassing charges (or violence) to maintain control of that land. Those parallels interested me much more than Widlok’s discussion of the confluencers, as odd as their activities are.

Pernille Gooch discusses the walking practices of the Van Gujjars, a pastoral group in the Himalayas of India, in “Feet Following Hooves.” The Van Gujjars are just one of the pastoral communities who have historically walked “the altitudes of the Himalayas with their herds in accordance with the changing seasons,” and they continue to do so: men, women, and children walk in the forests with their herds of milk buffaloes (67). “The walk goes through a terrain intimately known and consisting of movements and places apprehended through an embodied knowledge possessed by people as well as animals,” Gooch writes. “It is a use of the body brought into being through a common history where movement has always been undertaken on foot at the rear of the herd as part of the great pastoral migrations through the region” (67). Today, however, those movements are hindered by “physical and discursive” barriers in the landscape, demonstrating the politicization of that landscape, “where the power over movement and the apprehension of space in the landscape is, to a great extent, dictated by policies originating in other places” (67). As a result, the seasonal migrations of the Van Gujjars are under threat.

According to Gooch, the buffalo cows of the Van Gujjars know the routes taken by the community: they walk at the front, and the people follow. “The Van Gujjars thus see their buffaloes as agents in the walk and not as objects to be moved,” Gooch writes, comparing the buffaloes to goats she herded in Sweden, who follow their herder (70). Because of the size of the buffaloes, the Van Gujjars often have to follow main routes, which have become busy highways in recent decades, which is dangerous for both people and animals. That danger is one restriction on their freedom of movement. Another restriction is the attempt by authorities, since the colonial period, to control buffalo nomadism. “The result was that the forest areas, both in the summer and winter pastures, were divided up between individual heads of households as permits to keep a specified number of animals within a delimited area,” Gooch writes. “After independence the Indian forest department continued with this policy. Van Gujjar movements are thus now restricted to particular migration routes during specified periods and their winter and summer grazing is tied to delimited areas of the forest” (72). Despite these restrictions, the Van Gujjars still make use of the freedom of movement they have left (72).

Gooch argues that the Van Gujjars’ nomadic way of life involves more skill than sedentary farmers require, because the Van Gujjars need to control their animals when they are on the move. “[S]uch mastery is situated within a life-world,” Gooch writes. “Successful pastoralism demands a strong feeling of understanding between herders and the animals they herd, tantamount to a shared world-view, whereby the world can be perceived through the senses of the animals in question” (73). This shared world-view is reflected in the Van Gujjars’ style or technique of walking: they make long but very slow strides, and take frequent pauses (73). It is also reflected in their habit of travel. The buffalo herders begin their walking early in the morning, while the children and (usually) women follow with pack animals and possessions later in the day, moving more quickly, so that everyone arrives at the same place at the same time (75).This way of life is now under threat:

The Indian administration has put up more and more hindrances to pastoral nomadism, both as actual barriers on the routes of transhumance and as laws and regulations, the latter often physically manifested in the former. The traditional campsites in state forest[s] are now encroached upon by other people, making it difficult to find fodder. Often the Van Gujjars have to buy it from local farmers at exorbitant prices. Tents made from a sheet of black plastic give little shelter from the rain or during nights of freezing cold. The walk goes through what the Van Gujjars often perceive as a hostile landscape. (75)

For the Van Gujjars, the landscape becomes ambiguous; they are caught between theirn own narratives, “ingrained in the practical use of the landscape,” and “the discourses of power that come to regulate that usage,” Gooch writes. Their pastoral walking practices are “everywhere hampered by barriers set up by the discourses of power” (78). “There is thus a political dimension to the continuance of the walk, a resistance by moving feet and hooves,” Gooch contends. “But being forced to live in a constant state of revolt against the norm of sedentism is exhausting for people whose understanding of the world is grounded in moving through forests and hills on the yearly rounds of transhumance” (79). 

I know that anthropology and ethnography have a bad reputation these days, but the ethnographies of the Batek, Tłı̨chǫ, Akhoe Hai//om, and Van Gujjars collected in Ways of Walking suggest two important issues related to my research. First, different groups of people have different relations to land, which is an obvious point, but one worth making. Certainly tribal or traditional peoples, whether they are hunters and gatherers or pastoralists, have markedly different ways of thinking about land than those of us in (post)modern, Western societies. But more importantly for my research is the way that these groups also have different styles or techniques of walking. This idea came up in the essay by Tim Ingold that I read last weekend, but it is reaffirmed by the ethnographies included in this book, and it’s something I hadn’t thought about before.

Kenneth R. Olwig’s “Performing on the Landscape versus Doing Landscape: Perambulatory Practice, Sight and the Sense of Belonging” considers landscape in two senses. The first, he writes, “is concerned with the landscape of earth, fields, pastures, country and ground,” involving “binocular vision, movement, and knowledge gained from a coordinated use of the senses in carrying out various tasks” and “engenders a sense of belonging that generates landscape as the place of dwelling and doing in the body politic of a community” (81). The second, “the landscape of space,” “derives primarily from a monocular perspective that is fixed and distant from the body” and “constructs a feeling of possession and staged performance in a hierarchical social space” (81). I would have called that first sense “land” rather than “landscape,” because the latter term suggests to me a visual or aesthetic response to the land as scenery—something suggested in a quotation from Yi-Fu Tuan’s Topophilia: A Study of Environmental Perception, Attitudes, and Values, a text to which Olwig refers: 

The meaning of scene or scenery has suffered the least change. The scene is the stage, originally of the Greek or Roman theater. A second meaning, now the most widely accepted, is that of a landscape or view, a picturesque scene, or the pictorial representation of a landscape. . . . Scenery and landscape are now nearly synonymous. . . . The difference is that landscape, in its original sense, referred to the real world, not to the world of art and make-believe. (Tuan 133)

The scenic landscape, or the land perceived pictorially, is related to maps. According to Olwig, “The techniques of perspective drawing were derived, in large measure, from the techniques of cartography, and hence also from the techniques of the cadastral property map” (83). The difference between pictorial representations of landscape, and cartographic representations of landscape, is that “maps tend to have a perpendicular projection, focusing directly downward,” while pictorial representations have a different “angle of projection,” typically from the side (83). Olwig takes the relationship between the word “scene” and the theatre seriously, suggesting that for the landowner, gardens and agricultural fields, or recreation and labour, “are performed, as in a theatre” (83). 

In the first sense of landscape, the land “is shaped in large measure by doing, and apprehended through the use of two eyes”:

Nowhere is this mode of apprehension more evident than in the practice of walking. The walker experiences the material depth of the proximate environment through binocular vision and through the effect of motion parallax created by the blurring of near objects in contrast to those further away. The touched, smelled and heard proximate material world is thereby woven into the walker’s sensory field, leading him or her to experience the landscape as a topological realm of contiguous places. (84)

In the second sense of landscape, however, the land is viewed from a stationary perspective that emanates from a central point; for the painter, “the walker is an object occupying a fixed location frozen in abstract Newtonian space” (84). In this second sense of the term, Olwig writes,

the viewer is positioned at a given location and uses only the singular perspective of one eye. . . . The eye, moreover, is fixed in space and time. . . . When painting with one eye closed, squinting over your thumb, you flatten out the world so that you can better block it onto your canvas, while simultaneously distancing yourself form the proximate environment in which depth perception depends upon binocular vision. Once the landscape has been thus flattened and distanced, it can be disaggregated into objects located within the geometries of a one-eyed perspectival framework, thereby recreating an illusion of the depth that was lost when you closed one of your eyes. (84)

The second sense of landscape is the dominant one today, although the older one still lurks in dictionaries, if not in our lived experiences (85). Historically, Olwig continues, “the feeling of belonging to the land through movement is as old as the activity of hunters and gatherers in tracking game and finding edible materials along habitual paths woven by the inhabitants of a familiar habitat, or in the exploration of a new one,” activities that are very close to those of pastoralists like the Van Gujjars as well. “[I]t is through this activity,” Olwig writes, “that many of our earliest senses of belonging in relation to landscape have their origin” (85). For me, though, the question is whether walking in our contemporary moment can begin a process of recovering landscape in the first sense Olwig discusses, and whether it is possible to move away from a mere visual or pictorial understanding of the land. I think, or perhaps hope, that it’s possible—Olwig’s reference to the 1932 mass trespass on Kinder Scout in Derbyshire suggests as much (89)—but I would need to do more research into this topic before I would be comfortable making such an argument. (Yes, I’m adding researching that topic to my swollen to-do list.)

In “Taking a Trip and Taking Care in Everyday Life,” Jo Lee Vergunst begins by listing the three purposes of the essay: first, to add “grounded” experiences to the Romantic guide-book representations of walks, “and in so doing to explore ethnographically the ways that walking happens in the city and the countryside in north-east Scotland” (106); second, “to conceptualize the environmental relations of the walker in a way that brings out the mobile and mutually-embedding relations of walking” (106); and third, to think about “the idea of ‘everydayness’ as a way of sensing and knowing the environment” as well as “the emotionality of the everyday” (106). Vergunst sets out to explore these themes through a detailed look “at how everyday walking takes place, paying particular attention to some of the slips, trips and mistakes that can happen” (108). Those errors and accidents, Vergunst continues, “involve a rather different kind of knowledge, a ‘becoming-aware,’” which “is characteristic of everyday walking” (108). In practical terms, Vergunst goes hill-walking with people near Aberdeen, watches how they walk, and talks to them about their experience of walking.

First, though, Vergunst discusses what the word “everyday” means (108-09), drawing on anthropologist Michael Taussig’s explanation of this term. “[W]hat sort of sense is constitutive of this everydayness?” Taussig asks:

Surely this sense includes much that is not sense so much as sensuousness, an embodied and somewhat automatic “knowledge” that functions like peripheral vision, not studied contemplation, a knowledge that is imageric and sensate rather than ideational; as such it not only challenges practically all critical practice, across the board, of academic disciplines but is a knowledge that lies as much in the objects and spaces of observation as in the body and mind of the observer. What’s more, this sense has an activist, constructivist bent; not so much contemplative as it is caught in medias res working on, making anew, amalgamating, acting and reacting. (141-42)

There is a lot going on in this quotation, which Vergunst doesn’t reproduce in full, but the notion of distinguishing the sensual from the studied is important to Vergunst’s desire to separate idealized Romantic walking from what actually happens when people walk—including their slips, trips, and falls. “While environments produce surprises and mishaps, I argue that these can be at the very heart of walking in a way that actually constitutes ‘the everyday,’” Vergunst writes.

Vergunst’s discussion of what happens when walkers slip and trip leads to a consideration of the actual environment in which walking occurs—particularly in the Scottish highlands—and a distinction between “surfaces,” which are relatively flat and smooth, and “textures,” which are not:

The qualities I have emphasized so far are those of protrusion or flatness, stickiness, roughness or smoothness, felt according to the conditions of the feet and the judgement of the eyes. They are textures. Unlike surfaces, textures do not clearly separate what is above from what is below as the person moves along. They are rather experienced relationally, through the degree and kind of friction caused by contact in movement between two substances. (114)

Walking is an interaction between the walker and this textured environment, an interaction which “affords or hinters various kinds of movement” (114). Moreover, texture implies a tactility that “can engender specifically everyday or non-contemplative forms of environmental knowledge” (114). In other words, we learn about the specific aspects of our environment as we walk through it and experience its various textures. Walking on (and off) paths in Scotland with other people engenders social relationships, even if only the warning to others to “take care” (114-15, 117), although the physical effort (especially when walking uphill) and need to concentrate on the task of walking often leads to silence among walkers (116). “The way to walk through a textural environment is carefully: one must take care,” Vergunst writes (115):

Footsteps are the primary means by which walkers take care. . . . [E]ach footstep produces a distinctive relationship through which the walker comes to know something of his or her textural environment. In the reactions of the feet and the body to what is found, we see how taking care happens physically: the adjustments and readjustments of balance, of walking technique and of apparel such as clothing. (115)

More than just the individual footstep is involved, however; the walker performs a “generalized attentiveness that relates to the rhythm of walking” (115). That rhythm, however, is not necessarily regular or evenly timed. Rather, “the rhythm of walking took its lead and its tempo from the environment of which it was part,” Vergunst notes. “In a path of contrasts and unevenness, the rhythm of the body in its movement was precisely attuned to the continuation of movement up the path” (116). From the French philosopher Henri Lefebvre, Vergunst derives the idea that rhythm is not mere repetition, but rather that it allows for the possibility of variety, that it is “continually answerable to perturbations in the conditions of the task as it unfolds” (116). No two steps in a textured, variegated environment, in other words, are exactly the same (116).

Vergunst also asks how finding or losing the way might be a sensuous activity, and what they might reveal about the skills involved in moving around (117). Losing the way is not the same as getting lost, because it suggests that there is a route to follow (117). Vergunst distinguishes between walking in three different environments. Urban walking is often unscripted and improvisational, for instance, and there is a long tradition of dérives and other forms of improvisational walking in cities (117-18). Walkers in rural parts of the Scottish lowlands, on the other hand, have more limited possibilities for taking alternative routes than either urban or hill walkers, partly because of the prevalence of marked paths in those areas and the multiplicity of possible routes one could take. In the lowlands, “the problem lies more in finding a way in the first place than in choosing between options or taking care not to get lost” (118). Hill walkers can choose routes partly according to the physical terrain, but also partly according to the paths that already exist, themselves produced by previous walkers, and alongside the freedom to choose or create routes in the hills comes a much greater possibility of getting lost, which suggests the importance of way-finding and map-reading skills for hill walkers (118). Losing the way, Vergunst suggests, may not be that much different from tripping or slipping: all three are experiences of “a disconnection or a disjunction from one’s surroundings” (119).

Emotions, particularly fear, can in retrospect form part of the joy walkers experience, “in the pleasure of hardship overcome or learnt from” (120). “To inquire into the emotionality of the everyday,” Vergunst writes,

is to ask how these forms of sensuousness engender feeling. If walking is understood to be a relational and textural activity, then where, in experiential terms, is the emotion? To confine it to the body is, after all to fall back on the very distancing of body from environment that is antithetical to everyday living. (120-21)

Here, Vergunst is following Taussig’s suggestion that everyday knowledge—and emotion could be one of those forms of everyday knowledge—“lies as much in the objects and spaces of observation as in the body and mind of the observer” (142). How, though, is it possible for spaces or objects which are inanimate to experience emotion? Isn’t emotion an experience that’s restricted to certain animate beings? Certainly one’s environment can be conducive to emotional experiences, but does that mean it participates in those experiences? And are emotions experienced only by the body, or is the mind involved? 

I don’t want to leave Vergunst’s discussion on such a negative note, however. What I appreciate about that essay is is detailed–granular, to use the term that’s currently in vogue–discussion of walking and the various textures through which one walks. That detail reminds me of my own walks and the different kinds of surfaces and textures I have encountered. I would like to pay such close attention to walking–something I could learn from ethnographers who themselves have studied the method of “thick description” that anthropologist Clifford Geertz famously advocates.

Cultural geographer Tim Edensor considers his experience of walking through derelict industrial sites in “Walking Through Ruins.” “While such sites are frequently vilified as despondent realms, spaces of waste and blights on the landscape,” Edensor writes,

they support a range of human activities and a plethora of non-human life forms, as well as offering aesthetic, somatic and historical experiences at variance to the often over-coded, themed spaces of urban renewal. They are thus able to talk back to these apparently seamless processes of regeneration and provide spaces within which counter-aesthetics and alternative memories might emerge. Different encounters with objects and materiality, peculiar sensations and ineffable impressions may be experienced. Accordingly, I will highlight how travelling by foot through an industrial ruin or derelict site opens up walking to critical speculation and offers a diversity of distinct experiences which defamiliarize the encounter between feet and world. (123)

First, Edensor examines “the possibilities for improvisational walking offered by the industrial ruin, and the ways in which impediments to linear passage and the presence of danger simultaneously defamiliarize space and enervate the walking body” (123). Indeed, as Ingold and Vergunst point out in the book’s introduction, walking in an industrial ruin is not unlike walking in a rainforest: “it would not be far-fetched to regard the ruin as the rainforest’s urban equivalent” (10). Second, Edensor explores “the sensual characteristics engendered by strolling through ruins, drawing attention to the encounter with the ruin’s peculiar affordances and unusual materialities, productive of a range of sensory experiences that coerce the walking body into unfamiliar states” (123). Third, he thinks about “how walking through a ruin involves a particular way of looking at the environment passed through and how this invites speculation about the characteristics of walking and vision” (123). Finally, he interrogates “the much-mooted metaphorical relationship between walking and narration, suggesting that such parallels are overdrawn. The illegible, fragmented experience of passage through a ruin suggests that walking is not usually amenable to authoritative representation” (123).

Before discussing these topics, however, Edensor thinks about the ways in which walking is typically constrained in urban environments—by CCTV surveillance, which identifies things that are considered to be out of place in such spaces, but more importantly by “an internalization of performative conventions among pedestrians themselves,” conventions that govern where and how we may walk, “including preferred techniques, styles of comportment and bearing, and disposition to the surroundings” (125). Other walkers punish deviations from normative modes of walking with disapproving glares and comments, but pedestrians also monitor themselves, “through an embodied self-awareness which delimits the range of potential manoeuvres, gestures and styles” (125). Silly walking is one thing in Monty Python, but quite another on an urban sidewalk. Moreover, in Western cities, pedestrians often follow signposted routes, which is yet another way one’s movements are restricted (125). I think such routes are more common in Europe, though, than in North America, and Edensor might want to be more specific about them. In sum,

In accordance with such assumptions and conventions, outsiders are identified, barriers maintained, notions of property upheld and single-purpose spaces produced. However, irrespective of the prevalence of walking norms, certain alternative realms emerge. (125-26)

Those alternative realms include interstitial and indeterminate spaces outside of the productive structures of the city—particularly industrial ruins (126).

“In contrast to the deliberate channelling of movement in the regulated city,” Edensor writes, 

the physical structure of ruins invites and constrains walking in a distinctive fashion. Under conditions of continuous decay, material structures and routeways are not distributed according to an ordering scheme but emerge according to happenstance. This means that instead of moving towards objects and objectives, those present in ruins tend to walk contingently and improvisationally, their multiple manoeuvres, moods, gestures and rhythms belying any sense of walking as a singular practice. This contingent improvisation is particularly evident because the historical organization of any industrial site required the very opposite, namely the hierarchical, sequential arrangement of space in accordance with the demands of production lines—an intense regulation that scrutinized the movement of bodies, subjecting them to strict regulation and confining their movements across space and time. (127)

Routes are erased or blocked in ruins, and other paths are open because of the collapse of walls or doors, so these sites “often resemble labyrinths in which path-making is arbitrary and open to multiple options” (127). Walkers can follow their own “curiosities, potential channels of movement, tempting surfaces and gradients, and peculiar impulses’ (127). Moreover, rather than limiting the types of available movements, the disarrayed affordances of the ruin prompt the body to stoop, crouch, climb, slither, leap, swerve and pick its way to avoid lurking hazards. Walking cannot follow a regular rhythmic gait because of the variability of the surface underfoot and the uneven textures that force high and either small or extended steps. It is often impossible to progress in an uninterrupted, purposive fashion towards a predetermined destination. (127)

“The constantly evolving anti-structure of the ruin contrasts with the supervised linearity which determines much movement through the city,” Edensor suggests, and despite signs warning of penalties for trespassing, he has encountered little surveillance of any kind in the ruins. Instead, in his experience,

the proprietary codes of walking performance that constrain expression and dramatic improvisation are irrelevant in a space largely devoid of human presence. There are no social impediments to movement, no temporal limits on the appropriate time to be spent there, and no need to adhere to the self-conscious monitoring of one’s own body in a city of surveillant onlookers. All these elements allow visitors to ruins to walk without being regulated by others. We can stop for long periods, dawdle or run, with no objective at all. (128)

Ruins are thus conducive to expressive or playful movement; they are “unsupervised playgrounds” in which visitors can perform feats of balance, agility and bravery (128). Unlike officially designated playgrounds, “which limit the range of permissible practices to ‘appropriate’ and largely risk-free activities,” ruins, however dangerous they may be, “allow a return to a less self-conscious engagement with space and materials without purposive planning or a view to utility” (129).

“Besides liberating bodily movements, ruins can offer strange and disruptive spaces in which to walk,” Edensor contends. Ruins violate “the usual, common-sense boundaries that inform us about the nature of a place—between inside and outside, past and present, rural and urban, natural and cultural” (129). An industrial ruin is therefore

a defamiliarized space in which modes of passage are improvisatory, uninformed by conventions, continually disrupted and expressive. Instead of a self-contained bodily comportment, with fixed stride, steady gait and minimal gestures which limit interaction with the environment, objects and other people, the body is inadvertently coaxed into a more flamboyant and expressive style, awakening performative possibilities beyond those to which it has become habituated. Both the material characteristics of the ruin and the absence of forms of surveillance and social pressures permit ways of walking that foster an extension of bodily experience and expression by contrast to the largely constrained disposition of the urban pedestrian. This defamiliarization is further brought out by the strange sensualities of the ruin. (129-30)

The sensual properties of industrial ruins tend to “counterbalance an emphasis in the literature on the narration of walking as an experience through which the world is looked at and represented” (130). Such accounts “present a curiously disembodied view of what is an intensely somatic experience” and “neglect the fuller sensual experience that walking affords” (130). That claim might be true, but the argument would be much stronger with examples of such disembodied descriptions of walking.

According to Edensor, place impresses itself upon the body, particularly the pedestrian body: “its affordances are inevitably created out of the relationship between its physical and material qualities on the one hand and the social and subjective experience of walking on the other, along with the cultural precepts through which the practice is interpreted” (131). Compared to the controlled places of the city, in a ruined space 

the body is enlivened and challenged by a wealth of multi-sensual effects—including smells, sounds and tactilities—which thwart any distancing manoeuvres that prioritize the visual. I suggest that the affective experiences and expressive activities that centre upon ruins are made possible and pleasurable because they take place in a space replete with rich and unfamiliar affordances. (132)

Such affordances include textures, form, weight, consistency, states of decay, and redistributed material and matter (132). Ruins, however, are not the only places where walkers can experience the effect of place. After a few days of long-distance walking in Scotland, Edensor reports, “a deeper, non-cognitive, sensual form of appreciation developed for the terrain traversed, experienced through the feet and legs, promoting and adaptation to the environment through a heightened sense of corporeal balance” (132). 

Walking in ordinary (that is, regulated) urban spaces leads to the sense of vision becoming dominant, and other forms of sensory experience becoming marginalized (134). Ruins, however,

violate disciplinary aesthetic schemes in which objects are carefully situated, difference is domesticated and contained, ‘clutter’ which might complicate sight-lines and passage is continuously removed, and the bright and the smooth are maintained. . . . The scene is one of disorder, disarray and the mingling of usually unlike categories of things. (134)

This “material excess” is “initially disturbing to habituated aesthetic sensibilities,” but it becomes an encounter with “an alternative aesthetics, one which rebukes the seamlessness of much urban design and opens out heterodox possibilities for appreciating beauty and form” (134). Moreover, this encounter leads to a blending of vision with other senses, and a recognition that there is no reason for vision to be our dominant sense (135). “Looking, in such an environment, is particularly multi-sensual, inextricably embedded in the work of all the other senses in the body’s interaction with its surroundings,” Edensor contends (135). I haven’t walked around the kind of industrial ruin Edensor has experienced—they are relatively uncommon in Saskatchewan—so I can’t comment on the multiple senses that such walking engages, but I am curious about whether the long-distance walking he has done in Scotland led to a similar sensory experience. Perhaps Edensor has written about other forms of walking and their effect on the senses; I will have to look. It’s certainly been my experience that walking engages multiple senses and tends to make vision less important, but I would be curious to learn whether my experience is representative.

Finally, Edensor addresses the assumption that walking is like a narrative. In such narratives, he contends, “walkers in the city are held heroically to inscribe their presence and meanings on space. . . . But by foregrounding the metaphor of walking as narrative inscription, the affective, sensual dimensions of walking are apt to disappear” (136). This claim makes me wonder what Edensor makes of accounts of rural walking, but perhaps he is addressing the genealogy of urban walking from the Dadaists and Surrealists to the Situationists and psychogeographers. In any case, he claims that walking narratives are colonizing manoeuvres: they

assert an authoritative understanding of the land. Through walking, the expert confidently discerns cultural traces in the landscape, and charts its ‘natural history’ along with other ‘key features’ which mark the space traversed, so that otherness—whether natural, cultural, or historical—may be ‘known.’ These walking narratives not only identify preferred ways of understanding space in the realm of the other; they also map numerous routes through which walkers may orient themselves to their surroundings. (136)

Such authoritative assurances, however, are not necessarily part of narratives about walking; again, this argument would be stronger with specific examples instead of sweeping generalizations. Walking can constitute “a narrative technique to defamiliarize the spectacular, regulated, commodified space of the city,” Edensor acknowledges, but surrealist or psychogeographic accounts of walking, such as Iain Sinclair’s Lights Out for the Territory, “curiously decentre corporeal, sensual interaction with the material world” (136). 

Moreover, narrative accounts of walking “typically create the illusion of linear progress through sequential time: this or that feature is passed, discussed, and then the next, and so on until the end of the walk” (136). “Yet while there may be a clear beginning and end,” Edensor continues, “the temporal experience of walking is usually far from a flow of successive, episodic events” (136). Rather, “[w]alking is suffused with a kaleidoscope of intermingling thoughts, experiences and sensations, so that the character of a walk is continually shifting” (136). “In its quest for an orderly account, narrative cannot effectively capture the momentary impressions confronted, the peculiar evanescent atmospheres, the rhythms, immanent sensations and physical effects of walking,” Edensor writes (137). My reaction to this claim was that Edensor hasn’t been reading the right narratives about walking. There are many narratives about walking that do not attempt to present orderly, linear accounts of experiences, including modern or postmodern texts like Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, James Joyce’s Ulysses, William Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, or W.G. Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn. In fact, I would suggest that Edensor is constructing a straw argument here rather than actually confronting the richness of writing about walking—and not just walking in ruins, either. Eventually, he admits as much: “Stories that are fragmented, non-linear, impressionistic and contingent are better suited than traditional linear narratives to the experience of walking in ruins” (137). Such fragmented narratives are better suited to representing any experience of walking than a traditional linear narrative, whether ruins are involved or not.

In any case, that’s not Edensor’s only objection to narratives of walking. Privileging narration, he contends, consigns 

its immanent, embodied sensual characteristics to secondary importance, for the story effaces the physical interaction with space and its sense-making techniques are usually mobilized only in post-hoc, reflexive conceptualization. Words can but feebly allude to sensations and the selective content of an account can refer to no more than a tiny proportion of what is experienced. Tell stories we may do—although their impact typically depends upon the skill of the teller—but we should be aware of their partiality and their peculiar tendency to underestimate temporal, spatial, and somatic experience. (138)

Well, of course a story’s impact depends on the skill of the teller, and of course stories are partial—which either means incomplete, here, or limited to the experience of the walker (or narrator). I don’t think that’s news. It would be interesting to know how walkers ought to communicate their experience to others, if not through narrative. Are other forms of writing appropriate? Is poetry perhaps better suited to temporal and somatic experience? Or ought one turn to other art forms? Edensor’s essay is illustrated with photographs of ruins—does that mean photography is the appropriate medium? Doesn’t that unavoidably end up privileging vision? Isn’t any medium or literary form unlikely to be able to capture all aspects of a walk—or, to be honest, of any experience? Does that mean we ought to forget about trying to make art about experience, however partial or incomplete such art might be? I would say no—in fact, I would suggest that nobody expects any representation of an experience to convey all of the sensory, temporal, or spatial aspects of that experience, including representations about walking. To think that such total representations are possible is to delude oneself.

There are still more essays in this anthology, but I have touched on the ones that spoke to me and that seemed most central to my research concerns. What I learned from reading this anthology, as I suggested at the beginning of this summary, is the breadth and complexity of walking as an interdisciplinary field of inquiry. After all, the authors represented here include anthropologists, landscape architects, geographers, educators and artists. There are many directions my research could take, and many writers whose work I could read. I feel like I am at the beginning of a long journey by foot, a journey which will be mostly uphill. I know from experience, though, that the hills will get easier to climb as I keep walking. That’s a lesson walking has taught me, and one that’s surprisingly applicable to graduate school. 

Works Cited

Geertz, Clifford. The Interpretation of Cultures. Basic, 1973.

Ingold, Tim, and Jo Lee Vergunst, eds. Ways of Walking: Ethnography and Practice on Foot. 2008. Routledge, 2016.

Taussig, Michael. “Tactility and Distraction.” The Nervous System, Routledge, 1992, pp. 141-48.

Tuan, Yi-Fu. Topophilia: A Study of Environmental Perception, Attitudes, and Values. Prentice-Hall, 1974.

22. Tim Ingold, “Culture on the Ground: The World Perceived Through the Feet”

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Yesterday I started reading a collection of essays edited by Tim Ingold and Jo Lee Vergunst on walking, but I got sidetracked by a reference to this essay in that book’s introduction. Why not turn to that essay, I asked myself, before carrying on with the book? And so here I am, quickly writing a summary of another article before going to meet friends and watch the Super Bowl.

Ingold begins with an epigraph from Balzac’s essay on walking—an essay which apparently has yet to be translated into English: 

Is it not truly extraordinary to realise that ever since men have walked, no-one has ever asked why they walk, how they walk, whether they walk, whether they might walk better, what they achieve by walking, whether they might not have the means to regulate, change or analyse their walk: questions that bear on all the systems of philosophy, psychology and politics with which the world is so preoccupied? (315)

These are very much the questions that preoccupy Ingold in this essay, although he acknowledges that he has more questions than answers (330). That’s fine; my sense is that many of the questions Ingold asks are likely to be extraordinarily difficult to answer—if they can be answered at all.

“Culture on the Ground: The World Perceived Through the Feet” is divided into sections. The first section discusses the way we have come to see our heads and hands as more important than our feet. Ingold begins with nineteenth-century evolutionary biologists and anthropologists—Darwin, Huxley, and Tylor—and their theories about how humans came to walk upright, and how that movement accounts for the differences between our feet and those of other primates. For Darwin, walking upright liberated our hands to use tools—an idea that Ingold traces back to the ancient Greeks. Standing on our feet, our arms and hands “become answerable to the call of reason” (318), and this understanding of the human body leads to its physical division into upper and lower parts: “Whereas the feet, impelled by biomechanical necessity, undergird and propel the body within the natural world, the hands are free to deliver the intelligent designs or conceptions of the mind upon it” (318). T.H. Huxley, however, noted that in cultures where people do not wear shoes, people use their feet in extraordinary ways, and he suggested that shoes and boots imprisoned our feet, constricting their freedom of movement, and blunting their sense of touch (319). Edward Tylor agreed; he suggested that shoes and boots shaped our feet by restricting them (319). These observations lead to the main questions Ingold wants to ask: 

Is the conventional division of labour between the hands and feet, then, as ‘natural’ as Darwin and his contemporaries made it out to be? Could it not be, at least in some measure, a result of the mapping, onto the human body, of a peculiarly modern discourse about the triumph of intelligence over instinct, and about the human domination of nature? And could not the technology of footwear be understood, again in some measure, as an effort to convert the imagined superiority of hands over feet, corresponding respectively to intelligence and instinct, or to reason and nature, into an experienced reality? (321)

“In what follows,” Ingold continues,

I shall argue that the mechanization of footwork was part and parcel of a wider suite of changes that accompanied the onset of modernity—in modalities of travel and transport, in the education of posture and gesture, in the evaluation of the senses, and in the architecture of the built environment—all of which conspired to lend practical and experiential weight to an imagined separation between the activities of a mind at rest and a body in transit, between the space of social and cultural life and the ground upon which that life is materially engaged. (321)

So those are the questions Ingold intends to explore, and that is a brief summary of the argument he will make in addressing them.

Next, Ingold thinks about the history of travel in Europe. Beginning in the eighteenth century, travel became distinguished from walking: walkers did not travel, at least not very far, and travellers did not walk, or at least they walked as little as possible, preferring horses or carriages, even though neither was much faster nor more comfortable than walking. “”Travel was an activity of the well-to-do, who could afford such things,” Ingold writes. “They considered walking to be tedious and commonplace, a view that lingers in the residual connotations of the word ‘pedestrian.’ If they had to walk, they would do their best to blot the experience from their memories, and to erase it from their accounts” (321)—that is, the accounts they wrote of their journeys. The difficulty of travel had to be endured for the sole purpose of reaching a destination: “What mattered was the knowledge to be gained on arriving there” (321-22). So Samuel Johnson, in his journal of travelling to the Hebrides in Scotland, describes the views from specific places, rather than explaining how he got to those places:

For men like Johnson, a trip or tour would consist of a series of such destinations. Were the experience of place-to-place movement to intrude over much into conscious awareness, they warned, observations could be biased, memories distorted, and above all, we might be distracted from noticing salient features of the landscape around us. . . . Only when the mind is at rest, no longer jolted and jarred by the physical displacements of its bodily housing, can it operate properly. As long as it is in between one point of observation and another, it is effectively disabled. (322)

These remarks remind me of the distinctions Yi-Fu Tuan draws between space and place; places are what tends to be considered important, while space is simply what one moves through between places. 

In the eighteenth century, Ingold continues, “[t]he embodied experience of pedestrian movement was, as it were, pushed into the wings, in order to make way for a more detached and speculative contemplation. Walking was for the poor, the criminal, the young and above all, the ignorant” (322). It was only in the nineteenth century when, following the examples of the poets William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, people of leisure began to be interested in walking as an end in itself, outside of the landscaped garden or gallery (322). Yet such walking tours depended on the development of public transportation, which carried people to the scenery in which they wanted to walk. The alternative of sitting down was therefore always available, and “the most enthusiastic of peripatetics, even while extolling the physical and intellectual benefits of walking, did so from the comfortable vantage point of a society thoroughly accustomed to the chair” (323). The same phenomenon occurs today: who in their right mind would walk to Grasslands National Park, for example, to hike across the native prairie, when it’s possible to drive there in just a few hours? 

Chairs and boots, together, “establish a technological foundation for the separation of thought from action and of mind from body—that is for the fundamental groundlessness so characteristic of modern metropolitan dwelling,” Ingold writes (323). Most people in the world squat to rest, but in the West, we sit in chairs. “It seems that the chair has blocked the development of the normal capacity of the human being to squat,” Ingold continues, “just as the boot has blocked the development of the prehensile functions of the foot” (324). Moreover, the way of walking that is typical in Western cultures—an upright posture and a gait with long, measured strides and straight legs—originates with the ancient Greeks (324). Ingold compares this modes of walking in Europe and in traditional Japanese culture: Europeans walk from the hips while keeping the legs as straight as possible, while Japanese people walked form the knees while minimizing the movement of the hips, resulting in a kind of shuffle that is effective on rough or hilly terrain, and which produces a lowered centre of gravity that reduces the risk of tripping or falling (325). That shuffling gait is also ergonomically consistent with the traditional Japanese technique of carrying heavy loads suspended from a long pole resting athwart the shoulder. Japanese anthropologist Junzo Kawada traces these differences, Ingold notes, and relates them to traditional styles of dancing, ways of working, and practices of child rearing (325). “All in all, Japanese posture and gesture seem to be strongly and positively oriented towards the ground, in striking contrast to European efforts to rise above it,” Ingold suggests (325).

The introduction of paved streets in eighteenth-century Europe also changed the way Europeans walked. Pedestrians no longer had to pick their way along potholed, cobbled, or rutted streets, littered with filth and excrement. Instead, paved streets “offered pedestrians a street surface that was smooth and uniform, regularly cleaned, free from clutter and properly lit,” as well as “open and straight, creating a fitting environment for what was considered the proper exercise of the higher faculty of vision—to see and be seen” (326). From here, Ingold shifts to a discussion of sociologist Erving Goffman’s work on walking in the late twentieth century. “What Goffman shows us, through his study, is that walking down a city street is an intrinsically social activity,” Ingold writes. “Its sociality does not hover above the practice itself, in some ethereal realm of ideas and discourse, but is rather immanent in the way a person’s movements—his or her step, gait, direction and pace—are continually responsive to the movements of others in the immediate environment” (328). We look ahead, but we also look down to check for obstructions—especially women, perhaps because they wear (or tended to wear in the 1970s, when Goffman was studying walking) high-heeled shoes, and children (328). Children, in fact, are the real walkers in contemporary society; most of those who walk are under 15 years of age (329). At this moment in the text, Ingold summarizes his argument, which has gotten somewhat diffuse:

the reduction of pedestrian experience that has perhaps reached its peak in the present era of the car, is the culmination of a trend that was already established with the boot’s mechanization of the foot, the proliferation of the chair, and the advent of destination-oriented travel. (329)

Moreover, boots leave no tracks on a paved surface, which speaks volumes about the way people in contemporary Western societies occupy space:

People, as they walk the streets, leave no trace of their movements, no record of their having passed by. It is as if they had never been. There is, then, the same detachment, of persons from the ground, that runs as I have shown like a leitmotif through the recent history of western societies. It appears that people, in their daily lives, merely skim the surface of a world that has been previously mapped out and constructed for them to occupy, rather than contributing through their movements to its ongoing formation. To inhabit the modern city is to dwell in an environment that is already built. But whereas the builder is a manual labourer, the dweller is a foot-slogger. And the environment, built by human hands, should ideally remain unscathed by the footwork of dwelling. To the extent that the feet do leave a mark—as when pedestrians take short cuts across the grass verges of roads, in cities designed for motorists—they are said to deface the environment, not to enhance it, much as a modern topographic map is said to be defaced by the itineraries of travel drawn upon it. This kind of thing is typically regarded by urban planners and municipal authorities as a threat to established order and a subversion of authority. Green spaces are for looking at, not for walking on; reserved for visual contemplation rather than for exploration on foot. The surfaces you can walk on are those that remain untouched and unmarked by your presence. (329)

According to Ingold, “the corresponding elevation of head over heels as the locus of creative intelligence” that is suggested by our society’s groundlessness is “deeply embedded in the structures of public life in western societies,” as well as having spilled over into the “mainstream thinking in the disciplines of anthropology, psychology, and biology” (330). Here Ingold reviews the three thematic areas into which this overspill has occurred. The first concerns the perception of the environment, the second the history of technology, and the third the formation of the landscape. Ingold asks what the effect of overturning prevailing assumptions and of adopting a fundamental orientation toward the ground might be. “What new terrain would be opened up?” (330). 

First, regarding the perception of the environment, Ingold notes that the Western tradition “has consistently ranked the senses of vision and hearing over the contact sense of touch” (330). “[A] more literally grounded approach to perception should help to restore touch to its proper place in the balance of the senses,” he continues. “For it is surely through our feet, in contact with the ground (albeit mediated by footwear), that we are most fundamentally and continually ‘in touch’ with our surroundings” (330). Studies of haptic perception, he notes, have focused on how we touch with our hands: 

The challenge is to discover special properties of pedestrian touch that might distinguish it from the manual modality. Is it really the case for example, as intuition suggests, that what we feel with our hands, and through the soles of our feet, are necessarily related as figure and ground? In other words, is the ground we walk on also, and inevitably, a ground against which things “stand out” as foci of attention, or can it be a focus in itself? What difference does it make that pedestrian touch carries the weight of the body rather than the weight of the object? And how does the feel of a surface differ, depending on whether the organ of touch is brought down at successive spots, as in walking, or allowed to wrap around or slide over it, as can be done with the fingers and palm of the hand? (330)

These are interesting questions, and my experience as a walker might suggest at least one preliminary answer. Different surfaces register very differently during a long walk: the hardness of pavement, while its smoothness is initially beguiling, soon becomes painful to walk on, compared to the softness of a dirt track or trail. In other words, we definitely do touch the ground with our feet, even feet that are encased in hiking boots. Ingold is suggesting, however, that more work needs to be done to explore these questions fully, rather than relying on such anecdotal responses.

“The bias of head over heels influences the psychology of environmental perception in one other way,” Ingold continues:

We have already seen how the practices of destination-oriented travel encouraged the belief that knowledge is built up not along paths of pedestrian movement but through the accumulation of observations taken from successive points of rest. Thus we tend to imagine that things are perceived from a stationary platform, as if we were sitting on a chair with our legs and feet out of action. To perceive a thing from different angles, it is supposed that we might turn it around in our hands, or perform an equivalent computational operation in our minds. But in real life, for the most part, we do not perceive things from a single vantage point, but rather by walking around them. (331)

Here Ingold refers to the work of ecological psychologist James Gibson, who noted that our visual perception always takes place along a continuous itinerary of movement (331). (Gibson is also one of the fathers of embodied cognition, according to my reading on that subject.) “But if perception is thus a function of movement,” Ingold continues, 

then what we perceive must, at least in part, depend on how we move. Locomotion, not cognition, must be the starting point for the study of perceptual activity. Or more strictly, cognition should not be set off from locomotion, along the lines of a division between head and heels, since walking is itself a form of circumambulatory knowing. (331)

This recognition, Ingold continues, opens up a new area of inquiry, one concerned with “the ways in which our knowledge of the environment is altered by techniques of footwork and by the many and varied devices that we attach to the feet in order to enhance their effectiveness in specific tasks and conditions” (331).

Ingold’s second theme is the history of technology. Here he returns to the notion that our hands are superior to our feet; in the classic, dualistic view of humanity, we are in nature from the waist down, while our hands and arms “impress the mind’s intelligent designs upon the surface of nature form above” (332). From this point of view, the foot is itself a force of nature rather than of human agency:

Men have made history with their hands; they have mastered nature and brought it under control. And the nature thus controlled includes the foot, increasingly regulated and disciplined in the course of history by the hand-made technology of boots and shoes. (332)

For Ingold, overturning this bias of head over heels also means getting rid of the dualism that underpins that bias (332):

Rather than supposing that the hand operates on nature while the feet move in it, I would prefer to say that both hands and feet, augmented by tools, gloves and footwear, mediate a historical engagement of the human organism, in its entirety, with the world around it. For surely we walk, just as we talk, write and use tools, with the whole body. Moreover, in walking, the foot—even the boot-clad foot of western civilization—does not really describe a mechanical oscillation like the tip of a pendulum. Thus its movements, continually and fluently responsive to an ongoing perceptual monitoring of the ground ahead, are never quite the same from one step to the next. Rhythmic rather than metronomic, what they beat out is not a metric of constant intervals but a pattern of lived time and space. It is in the very ‘tuning’ of movement in response to the ever-changing conditions of an unfolding task that the skill of walking, as that of any other bodily technique, ultimately resides. (332)

Walking is a highly intelligent activity, Ingold continues, but its intelligence “is distributed throughout the entire field of relations comprised by the presence of the human being in the inhabited world” (332).

That discussion leads to Ingold’s third them: the formation of the landscape. For Ingold, “the forms of the landscape—like the identities and capacities of its human inhabitants—are not imposed upon a material substrate,” as in conventional accounts of the historical transformation of nature, in which the land is “supposed to present itself as a palimpsest for the inscription of cultural form” (333). Instead, he argues, the forms of the landscape “emerge as condensations or crystallizations of activity within a relational field”:

As people, in the course of their everyday lives, make their way by foot around a familiar terrain, so its paths, textures and contours, variable through the seasons, are incorporated into their own embodied capacities of movement, awareness and response—or into what Gaston Bachelard calls their “muscular consciousness.” But conversely, these pedestrian movements thread a tangled network of personalized trails through the landscape itself. Through walking, in short, landscapes are woven into life, and lives are woven into the landscape, in a process that is continuous and never-ending. (333)

Bachelard’s book The Poetics of Space is on my reading list, and the reference from it here might suggest I should read it sooner rather than later.

What does Ingold mean by suggesting that landscapes are woven into life, and lives into the landscape? His example is footprints:

pedestrian activities can mark the landscape. When the same paths are repeatedly trodden, especially by heavy boots, the consequences can be quite dramatic, amounting in places to severe erosion. Surfaces are indeed transformed. But these are surfaces in the world, not the surface of the world. Indeed strictly speaking, the world has no surface. Human beings live in the world, not on it, and as beings in the world the historical transformations they effect are part and parcel of the world’s transformation of itself. (333)

Ingold lives in Aberdeen, Scotland, and given the importance of footpaths in the U.K., he would likely have direct experience of the ways that the land is transformed by our feet. Footpaths need to be used—the must be walked on—or they will disappear. And footpaths that are overused often become rutted and muddy, or even braided, as walkers look for ways to keep their feet dry. Moreover, the use of the metaphor of weaving suggests his discussion of textiles in his later book Lines, which I read last week.

In his conclusion, Ingold returns to Darwin, Huxley, and Tylor. Is the wearing of footwear the reason for the variance of human feet in different cultures? Scientific evidence suggests that the feet of people who do not wear shoes or boots are formed differently from the feet of those who do (334). Even the simplest footwear rearranges the bones of our feet (334). So European, or Western, feet are peculiar, because we wear shoes. However, our gait is also peculiar—even though that upright, striding gait has been universalized by anthropologists (335). In fact, “with their oddly formed feet and eccentric gait,” Westernized men and women are exceptions, rather than the rule (335):

It is not just that people around the world walk in all sorts of ways, depending on the surface and contours of the ground, the shoes they are wearing (if any), the weather, and a host of other factors including culturally specific expectations concerning the postures considered proper for people of different age, gender and rank. They also use their feet for sundry other purposes such as climbing, running, leaping, holding things down, picking them up, and even going about on all fours. (335)

There is no such thing as a natural way of walking, in other words, and the Western ideal of posture and walking are both practically unattainable outside of a laboratory—even though that’s where most systematic studies of bipedal locomotion have been conducted (335). Those studies attempt to reveal an essence of human walking, but in truth there is no essence: “For the experimental subjects of gait analysis already bring with them, incorporated into their very bodies, the experience of architecture, dress, footwear and baggage drawn from life outside the laboratory” (335). We cannot, Ingold continues,

attribute bipedality to human nature, or to culture, or to some combination of the two. Rather, human capacities to walk, and to use their feet in countless other ways, emerge through processes of development, as properties of the systems of relations set up through the placement of the growing human organism within a richly textured environmental context. (336)

For Ingold, this means that there is no standard form of the human foot, apart from the forms it actually takes as we walk in different ways. “Two points of capital importance follow,” he writes:

First, an explanation of the evolution of bipedality has to be an account of the ways in which the developmental systems through which it emerges are reproduced and transformed over time. And second, by way of their activities, their disciplines and their histories, people throughout history have played—and continue to play—an active role in this evolutionary process, by shaping the conditions under which their successors learn the arts of footwork. Thus the evolution of bipedality continues, even as we go about our business on two feet. We have been drawn, in sum, to an entirely new view of evolution, a view that grounds human beings within the continuum of life, and that situates the history of their embodied skills within the unfolding of that continuum. (336)

The only way to study the techniques of the body when the technology of footwear is already implicated in our ideas of the body and its evolution, Ingold concludes, would be to imagine a world without footwear: “For our earliest ancestors did not stride out upon the land with heavy boots, but made their way within it lightly, dextrously, and mostly barefoot” (337).

Ingold’s essay suggests just how complex and rich the study of walking can be. I’m not particularly interested in gait analysis, or the differences between the feet of humans and those of other primates, but the range of topics Ingold discusses here indicates the many different directions my research could take. I’m particularly interested in the notion that different cultures walk in different ways. In this part of the world, when the sidewalks are covered in winter ice, we are advised not to walk with our usual upright stride, but to instead imitate penguins, putting our centre of gravity over each foot and not bringing our feet heels-first down on the ground. Walking the way we normally do leads to slipping and falling. I wonder how other cultures, aside from the traditional Japanese culture Ingold discusses, walk, and whether European or Western styles of walking have become another example of colonialism—if they have destroyed other modes of walking. I’m also interested in the notion that our feet make the landscape, even though that’s hard to imagine in this place, where walkers are confined to roads, at least outside of the city. When I think about the footsteps I leave behind when I’m walking, I’m almost always speaking of imaginary footsteps, since the surfaces on which I walk are typically paved or covered with gravel. In fact, I’m usually surprised when my feet leave a mark. In the introduction to Ways of Walking, the book I was reading yesterday, Ingold and Vergunst suggest that roads tend to be associated with the form of living on the land they refer to as occupation, while the paths made by one’s feet are part of the way of living they call habitation (12-14). Occupation is characteristic of colonial powers, and habitation is characteristic of the traditional societies that are colonized. That might suggest that walking on roads is, as I’ve been told, a form of colonialism. However, I wonder if the opposite argument could be made: is appropriating a road intended for vehicles and walking on it not perhaps a way of reacting against the forces of occupation and colonization? I hope so. At least, that’s the response I would make to such a critique—at least, that’s the response I would make at this point in my research. The more I read, the better that response is likely to become. And now, it’s time to drive—not walk, because I’ve injured a tendon in my foot and have been told that walking is out of the question until it heals—to meet my friends and watch the Super Bowl.

Works Cited

Ingold, Tim. “Culture on the Ground: The World Perceived Through the Feet.” Journal of Material Culture, vol. 9, no. 3, 2004, pp. 315-40. DOI: 10.1177/1359183504046896.

Ingold, Tim, and Jo Lee Vergunst. Ways of Walking: Ethnography and Practice on Foot. 2008. Routledge, 2016.

21. Sharanya, “A Manifesto to Decolonize Walking: Approximate Steps

sharanya.jpg

 

I was having trouble deciding what to begin reading this afternoon. I know what I ought to start to read—something difficult and philosophical and theoretical—but I’m not really in the mood for another book. There was one article left in the “general theory and methodology” section of my reading list, and I decided to take a look at it. That article turned out to be of little use, but in the same journal I ran across Sharanya’s manifesto, and from the title, decided that it was something I should read.

Sharanya, or Sharanya M, as her blog states, is a teacher and researcher with a PhD in drama from the University of Exeter. She is also a walking artist based in Delhi, India. Her article begins with an assertion of the necessity to acknowledge “the genealogies and cultural practices that have been influential in shaping contemporary walking practices”:

The very endeavour of a grand narrative of history of walking that does not explicitly site itself—whether in Europe or elsewhere—indicates and reproduces the familiar reliance upon the non-specificity of site as referring to the hegemony of the “West,” across academic and popular literature. (85)

Among the texts that she suggests reproduce that hegemony are Rebecca Solnit’s Wanderlust, Merlin Coverley’s The Art of Wandering, and Frédéric Gros’s A Philosophy of Walking—all texts I’ve read and written about on this blog. “Walking as a form of performance ethnography, however, demands an attention to the rituals of the particular,” Sharanya continues. “Walking is influenced not just by where one walks, and who one is, but also by what factors one chooses to situate in the matrix of influence” (85). Moreover, Sharanya argues, “working through the baggage of heritage—architectural, social and cultural—calls for an examination of more local forms of pedestrianism” (85). In her description of her attempts to make psychogeographic dérives in Delhi, she notes that those attempts at following the examples of Situationist walks through Paris didn’t work out, and that apparent failure led to this manifesto.  

“Social identities are partly created and named through signifiers, many of which are architectural, in the realm of the urban public,” Sharanya continues, “and are accessed through pedestrian encounters with them” (85). This approach to walking is somewhat limited—it only applies to urban walks and it is only concerned with the social identities that are created through place—but any approach to any specific practice is going to be limited by its practitioner’s interests, which might be Sharanya’s point. “A call to decolonize walking involves the recognition of, and response to, dominant forms of modernity in the urban everyday, such as architectural heritage”—she seems to be particularly interested in colonial British architecture in Indian cities—“the invisibility/hypervisibility of minority bodies in the street and the dominance of walking narratives from European and American cities” (85-86). Above all, decolonizing walking practices means naming the “hegemonic modes of knowledge-production” in particular spaces, which will necessitate rereading the juxtaposition between modernity and coloniality from a consciousness of race, gender, and sexuality, and to examine the emergence and development of those categories as well. Here Sharanya refers to an article by Gurminder K. Bhambra that discusses an essay on the connection between modernity and colonialism by Anibal Quijano—something I’ll take a look at. For Sharanya, decolonizing walking is an attempt to recast the politics of walking practices through a consciousness of race, gender, and sexuality as categories (86). There’s no question that one needs to think about walking in terms of those categories; I am quite aware that my ability to walk is different from the ability of others whose identities are different from mine.

Sharanya also argues that attention needs to be paid to specific urban forms. The limitations involved in reinscribing new forms of walking within older forms, such as Baudelaire’s (and Benjamin’s) flâneur, “are revealed quickly when one encounters the postcolonial body/city dialectic, which is itself new epistemological ground for walking discourse to be engaged with” (86). That dialectic—the place of the body, and the body in its place—Sharanya calls “locus of enunciation,” following an article by Walter D. Mignolo on epistemology and colonial difference. That article is another discovery I’ll read some other time. “Our walks are created by our loci of enunciation: the you/as, and the you/in,” Sharanya continues. “Find your focus as you articulate it” (86). I’m not sure what that command means, but it seems to be a call for an awareness of both who one is, in all of the complexity of one’s identity, and of where one walks. In addition, one needs to attend to the “temporal details of walking”: “the type of walk the rhythm and pace of the walk; the walk as an exploration; the walk as an experiment; the walk as an accumulation of chance-happenings; the walk as affective discourse. These are just elements of the walk, and must be gathered alongside urban politics—not just over ‘there’ in a strange land, but also ‘here,’ in a place that is familiar” (86). Sharanya praises Cathy Turner’s account of walking in Bangalore both for its richness of detail and for its approximation and incompleteness, qualities she believes are central both to the documentation of walking and to walks themselves (88). What Turner’s notes regarding her walks suggest, Sharanya writes, is “that which cannot be assimilated into text, yet remains a crucial part of the performance (text). Making visible the process of narrativizing the walk in retrospect is crucial to decolonial practices, as it reveals the construction of the locus of enunciation” (88). The short article ends with a description of the page of photographs it contains. Those photos of signs in Delhi are, Sharanya suggests, “a partially legible map of my walks, and an approximate imprint of an attempt to decolonize the form of the walk” (88).

I’ve been told that my walks in Saskatchewan are inevitably colonial. That’s because I am a white settler walking on the land, and therefore I will be understood as being a colonist inspecting the property. That’s why Sharanya’s title grabbed my attention: I want my walking practice to be decolonial, not colonial, and so I am interested in anything that might suggest ways to do that. Sharanya’s manifesto might suggest that, by paying attention to my own locus of enunciation, by being aware of both who I am and where I am, I might be able to address such critiques directly. Her praise of Turner’s poetic notes suggests that it is not impossible, at least from her perspective, for a white person’s walk to be understood as decolonial, although it must be emphasized that while India is a postcolonial country, Canada is not, and the land where I walk in this province is subject to a treaty that has been deliberately misunderstood, as Sheldon Krasowski argues in his recent book. I know my research is fraught with difficulty, and it may be completely misunderstood, but I still believe it it worth carrying on with it. Sharanya’s reminder regarding the locus of enunciation is important, and it’s one I will heed.

Works Cited

Bhambra, Gurminder K. “Postcolonial and Decolonial Dialogues.” Postcolonial Studies, vol. 17, no. 2, 2014, pp. 115-21. DOI: 10.1080/13688790.2014.966414.

Krasowski, Sheldon. No Surrender: The Land Remains Indigenous. U of Regina P, 2019.

Mignolo, Walter D. “I Am Where I Think: Epistemology and the Colonial Difference.” Journal of Latin American Cultural Studies, vol. 8, no. 2, 1999, pp. 235-45. DOI: 10.1080/13569329909361962.

Quijano, Anibal. “Coloniality and Modernity/Rationality.” Cultural Studies vol. 21, no. 2-3, 2007, pp. 168-78. DOI: 10.1080/09502380601164353.

Sharanya. “A Manifesto to Decolonize Walking: Approximate Steps.” Performance Research: A Journal of the Performing Arts, vol. 22, no. 3, 2017, pp. 85-88. DOI:10.1080/13528165.2017.1348596.