Tuesday, July 27, 2010

unfolding the phenomenon

What is it to walk? This may be a sensible place to start. While I cannot undertake a detailed description (or close phenomenology) here, a few very general points can be made about the activity:
(a) Walking involves lifting and propelling. The body is taken up and thrust forward by its own energy and ongoing momentum.
(b) Walking entails rolling. From the heels to the ball and toes of the foot, sending us forward (bodily) but also backwards (to the heel) again. In fact, the word “walk” harks back in Old English to “wealcan,” to roll, and “wealcian,” to roll up.
(c) Thus, there is a circularity at work in the walk. This aspect is one that we can grasp as well when pedaling a bicycle, an action that resembles ambulation in certain respects.
(d) Walking involves carrying and self-conveyance. It is, in other words, a form of self-transport. Walking carries us to distant people and places, making them near. But we are also “carried away” in two other corporeal ways: first, by the sights, sounds and smells that we encounter and that direct us toward and through them. The elements in the atmosphere, for example, or the mood—as in the weather or a song—frequently bear and guide us. Secondly, we are carried by the places we walk and that hold us. We might note that the term “place” relates to “plat” (meaning broad or flat, as in “Plato,” who himself possessed broad shoulders and could certainly hold his own). That is, we are supported by the paths, trails or markings we follow in the wild or the side-walks, alleys, and promenades we plod in the city.
(e) Walking generates bodily rhythms and relies on repetition. As we shall see, this is a source of the musical aspects of the practice, too.
(f) Walking can be described as re-frequented falling. We teeter or lurch forward and then catch and collect ourselves before losing complete balance. Watch toddlers and older folks when they walk. They are ever in danger of falling.
(g) Through walking, we bring that which is far-away into the “near-sphere”. In other words, we take a “there” and bring it “here”. In the process, walking helps to constitute, connect and commemorate geographical places.
(h) There is often a precariousness and vulnerability to the act of walking. We are exposed not only to the elements and to sounds or sights around us but to vehicles and potentially other “predators”.
More to follow . . .


  1. One of the things I particularly enjoy about walking is independence. I do not need anything (not a bike, car, bus...) or anyone, besides myself, to walk. Knowing that I have self-mobility is very powerful.

  2. I thought your remark on "self-conveyance" was really interesting! I've noticed that people also convey 'themselves' (vis. their mood, confidence, or general energy-of-presence) in their walk, and because of this, there is a kind of language and sociology in the walk (a kind of sub-genre of body language, I suppose) - if you walk too aggressively towards someone in certain inappropriate places/situations, then it might come off as 'rounding on that person', or if you are in the wrong area alone at night, a timid walk conveys the message to a scoundrel 'this person is a weak target'.

    You also mentioned that walking brings us to what you called the "near-sphere". I think that could be read as a really interesting phenomenological insight! Walking puts us in the moment. I wonder if walking, in bringing us "here", has any connection to the self-conveyance I mentioned above [viz. the connection between bringing us to (or connecting us with) the moment, and projecting our 'energy-of-presence' in that moment; (and others being able to perceive and interpret that energy in that moment)].

    Really looking forward to more posts, and am super-psyched for your book!

    -- Autonomous Loop Enabling Xenobot

  3. Thanks for the thoughtful comments. I'm still trying to get the hang of this blogging stuff. Trying to figure out formatting and all.

    More on the freedom (and democratic dimensions) generated by walking later as well as some more phenomenological reflections.

  4. These are interesting blogs Dr. Mac as I have spent the entire summer walking in a wide array of environments often thinking of you and this project. The previous post is striking, the "energy of presence" very well put. Deb