Walking

How many of us end up walking for miles everyday just to think, reflect, or allow our minds to relax into thought; shaking off the melancholy that grips us in a dark mood after troubling news, or from listening to various  melancholy tracks or the abyssal music of Black Metal? There is a long history of walking in thought and literature, one could gather a complete Book of Walking from collecting such fragments…

All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking.

—Fredrich Nietzsche

In August 1992, when the dog days were drawing to an end, I set off to walk the county of Suffolk, in the hope of dispelling the emptiness that takes hold of me whenever I have completed a long stint of work.

—W.G. Sebald, The Rings of Saturn

He didn’t leave the apartment until months after his sister’s marriage, transforming himself as it were from a sitter into a walker. In his best moments he would walk from the Kohlmarkt to the Twentieth District and from there to the Twenty-first through Leopoldstadt and back to the First, strolling for hours back and forth in the First until he couldn’t walk any farther. In the country he was virtually paralyzed. There he would barely walk a few steps to the woods. The country bores me, he said again and again. Glenn is right to call me the pavement walker, said Wertheimer, I only walk on pavement, I don’t walk in the country, it’s awfully boring and I stay in the hut.

—Thomas Bernhard, . The Loser: A Novel

Without considering this background of the city which became a decisive experience for the young Benjamin one can hardly understand why the flaneur became the key figure in his writings. The extent to which this strolling determined the pace of his thinking was perhaps most clearly revealed in the peculiarities of his gait, which Max Rychner described as “at once advancing and tarrying, a strange mixture of both.” It was the walk of a flaneur, and it was so striking because, like the dandy and the snob, the flaneur had his home in the nineteenth century, an age of security in which children of upper-middle-class families were assured of an income without having to work, so that they had no reason to hurry. And just as the city taught Benjamin flanerie, the nineteenth century’s secret style of walking and thinking, it naturally aroused in him a feeling for French literature as well, and this almost irrevocably estranged him from normal German intellectual life.

—Walter Benjamin, Illuminations

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