One or two people have drawn my attention to a new book titled A Philosophy of Walking by Frédéric Gros, who turns out to be French. I admit I haven’t read it yet, but it seems to cover the usual suspects: Rousseau, Kant, Nietzsche, Rimbaud, Thoreau, et al. I gather Gros is part of a school of French philosophers (I’d guess de Certeau is top dog among them) who are interested in “le quotidien,” i.e. the philosophy of daily life rather than of grand universal themes (though ultimately I don't doubt that these turn out to be the same); and I suppose walking is about as quotidian as it gets.
However, even though I haven’t read the book as yet (I will, trust me) I have read a very winning article in the Guardian by Carole Cadwalladr, who was sent over to France to go walking with Gros, and interview him. It seems to have been a jolly occasion. Gros seems modest and willing to be amused. He talks about "la joie de la marche" and how his teenage children have grown out of it. Cadwalladr seems feisty and genuinely amusing, and I suspect she makes Gros sound a bit more fun that he actually is.
She writes, 'I am looking forward to going more slowly. Though I am worried about my footwear. I am wearing Nike trainers. Are they too sporting? Gros seems as if he might be more of a leather brogues sort of man. He makes a jibe at those who try to commodify walking and sell it back to us as "trekking". Who insist on "incredible socks". And special trousers with too many pockets.’
Well, those who know me will be aware that I have a certain amount of scorn for those people who go for an afternoon’s walk in the countryside and dress as though they’re crossing the steppes. But oh my, what a riot of mirth this apparently harmless topic has caused in the Guardian comments section:
Celtiberico says, of Gros, “He sounds like someone whose walking is restricted to an hour or two in a city park, then - walking across Spain taught me the very significant role of having ‘incredible socks,’ and there is nothing wrong at all with having a couple of extra pockets on your trousers, so that you do not give yourself abraded skin by overstuffing the hip pockets.”
Rochdalelass says, “You're right. What sort of idiot doesn't wear proper supportive walking boots when crossing open moorland and open countryside proper? He'd be complaining after two minutes with twisted ankles and tender soles. ”
But LeslieButler begs to differ “Oh Come on! ‘Proper supportive boots’ were only invented a few decades ago, and mostly get used for strolls around the park as consumerist statements. Yes they can help a bit, but the great trekkers and pioneers of history tramped moor and mountain in flat shoes or sandles (sic) or less. It's a matter of what you're used to.’
The debate continues. You can read the terrific Carole Cadwalladr piece here: