Wednesday, 27 July 2011

Bright tomorrow…

Only one book in the post today, the new edition of Rousseau's Reveries of the Solitary Walker, translated by Russell Goulbourne (translators are important).

I'm a walker, though not often a solitary one: my friends are all walkers too. Rousseau's piece is a classic in the walker-philosopher tradition: I'd add the promeneur movement and their friends, like Perec. In English, there's a group around the psychogeographer Iain Sinclair: men (always) who attempt to recuperate unofficial history, culture and city growth through the slow, subjective accumulation of observation via walking.

There's a tentative split visible: Rousseau's walking is an aid to self-analysis. He's interested in impressions, epistemology (the study of knowledge) and self-development. In a sense, the Reveries are in at the start of the self-help movement, one I deeply distrust as narcissistic and apolitical, though there's a perfectly good argument that Romanticism, by challenging rationalism and objectivity, is radical on another plane. The promeneurs seem to straddle the divide: by keenly observing the currents and zephyrs of a city's everyday (quotidien), they privilege personal insight and refuse objective analysis, but at the same time, their attention is  focused outwardly, rather than using the walk to look inwards. The psychogeographers are much more political, sometimes with a capital 'P': what they see is the imposition of values and priorities from the top, ignoring Raymond Williams's assertion that 'Culture is Ordinary'.

Interestingly, pop music is interested in the possibilities of walking too. Here are a couple of relevant tracks (and what a rich term for a song that is):

And some top quality Northern Soul:

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