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A Philosophy of Walking

“A long walk, Gros suggests, allows us to commune with the sublime.” – New York Times
It is only ideas gained from walking that have any worth.
— Nietzsche

By walking, you escape from the very idea of identity, the temptation to be someone, to have a name and a history ... The freedom in walking lies in not being anyone; for the walking body has no history, it is just an eddy in the stream of immemorial life.

In A Philosophy of Walking, a bestseller in France, leading thinker Frédéric Gros charts the many different ways we get from A to B—the pilgrimage, the promenade, the protest march, the nature ramble—and reveals what they say about us.

Gros draws attention to other thinkers who also saw walking as something central to their practice. On his travels he ponders Thoreau's eager seclusion in Walden Woods; the reason Rimbaud walked in a fury, while Nerval rambled to cure his melancholy. He shows us how Rousseau walked in order to think, while Nietzsche wandered the mountainside to write. In contrast, Kant marched through his hometown every day, exactly at the same hour, to escape the compulsion of thought.

Brilliant and erudite, A Philosophy of Walking is an entertaining and insightful manifesto for putting one foot in front of the other.

Reviews

  • “A passionate affirmation of the simple life, and joy in simple things. And it’s beautifully written: clear, simple, precise.”
  • “Poignant life-stories ... are interspersed with the author's own meditations on walking... In the way a landscape is gradually absorbed by the long-distance rambler they steadily build into an insistent exhortation: get up, get out and walk!”
  • “Life-affirming stuff.”
  • “Impressive.”
  • “Philosopher Gros ponders walking, that most mundane mode of transportation or exercise, elevating it to its rightful place in inspiring creativity, evoking freedom, and quieting a troubled soul.”
  • “This elegant book inspires consideration of an oft-overlooked subject.”
  • “Frédéric Gros asks why so many of our most productive writers and philosophers – Rousseau, Kant, Rimbaud, Robert Louis Stevenson, Nietzsche, Jack Kerouac – have also been indefatigable walkers … there are certain magical things that happen on the trail, and Gros is familiar with them. He thinks like a hiker.”
  • “An admirable little book which will delight even the most sedentary.”
  • “An unclassifiable book in which ideas are illuminated by the bright light of the morning.”
  • “Resolving to take more walks in the new year might sound like promising to take more naps – choosing idleness over work. But a lot of clever people don’t see it that way [...] Frédéric Gros asks why so many of our most productive writers and philosophers – Rousseau, Kant, Rimbaud, Robert Louis Stevenson, Nietzsche, Jack Kerouac – have also been indefatigable walkers.”
  • “This short, simple and profound book... will be read and re-read.”
  • “Unpretentious and refreshing.”
  • “A long walk, Gros suggests, allows us to commune with the sublime.”
  • “Celebrates the liberation of the mind that comes with walking, especially in natural areas: I hike, therefore, I am.”

Blog

  • "A Situationist ethnography has its own distinct methods" - an extract from The Beach Beneath the Street

    The below is an extract from The Beach Beneath the Street: The Everyday Life and Glorious Times of the Situationist International by McKenzie Wark - currently 50% off on our website as part of our Political Guide to Walking.


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  • Immanuel Kant the, errrr, Walker?

    Immanuel ‘the Königsberg clock’ Kant was renowned for his strict (and rather austere) daily routines. Having been born in Königsberg in 1724, he never left the small German city, dying there in 1804 aged 79 never having once gone further than the city’s limits. Yet despite his somewhat limited empirical knowledge of the world, the intellectual founder of the German Enlightenment had a lifelong passion for knowledge of all kinds. He gained much of his insight  into the world outside of Königsberg from his walks through the docks where he would discuss philosophy, politics, science and travel with Scottish merchants and tradesmen.

    In the second of our extracts from A Philosophy of Walking, (the first one is here) Frederic Gros reflects upon the influence of walking for Kant’s life and thought. Following this, we have a short excerpt from a conversation between the great German playwright Heiner Müller and filmmaker, theorist and writer Alexander Kluge which shows that Kant’s daily life was perhaps a little less puritanical than often assumed, and that his passion for walking allowed him to indulge in more *ahem* exotic pursuits.

     

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  • "The Passion for Escape – Rimbaud" an extract from Frédéric Gros' A Philosophy of Walking

    As part of our week of walking we bring you an exclusive extract from Frédéric Gros' celebrated A Philosophy of Walking. Mixing fascinating vignettes on famous walkers (from Kant's regular-as-clockwork rambles about Königsberg to Neitzsche's mountain trails) and the author's own meditations on walking, A Philosophy of Walking is an entertaining and insightful manifesto for putting one foot in front of the other. Now out in paperback, this book features on our Guide to Political Walking - all the books featured are 50% off until Friday 1st May! 

    In this extract, Gros discusses Rimbaud's famous teenage treks across Paris and the influence work had on the great poet.



    I can’t give you an address to reply to this, for I don’t know personally where I may find myself dragged next, or by what routes, on the way to where, or why, or how!

    Arthur Rimbaud, Letter from Aden, 5 May 1884

    Verlaine called him ‘the man with soles of wind’. The man himself, when still very young, had described himself thus: ‘I’m a pedestrian, nothing more.’ Rimbaud walked throughout his life. 
Obstinately, with passion. Between the ages of fifteen and seventeen, he walked to reach great cities: the Paris of literary hopes, to become known in Parnassian circles, to meet poets like himself, desperately lonely and longing to be loved (read his poems). To Brussels, to pursue a career in journalism. Between twenty and twenty-four, he several times tried the route to the South, returning home for the winter. Preparation for travel ... There were incessant shuttles between Mediterranean ports (Marseille or Genoa) and Charleville; walking towards the sun. And from the age of twenty-five until his death, desert roads.

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