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More than walking

When we found out that we could organise walks, rather than a formal evening with panel discussions and speakers, a spring of collective energy opened up. How can we organise Nights of Philosophy that are stress-free, not just during the event but also throughout the process organising? How can we work make a space of care, working together in a way that inspires us, rather than adding another thing to our eternally growing to-do-lists? Walking together provided -an always tentative- response to those concerns. And because we are so excited about exploring different ways of learning and being together, other than the traditional classroom or auditorium, working with Nights of Philosophy – at least for me – is always fun.  

In our audition for Neuhaus, where time and space was limited and we couldn’t walk with the jury members, we instead took our pens and pencils for a walk on a large sheet of paper that covered the table. While one of us talked, the others drew intuitively. It was almost like a trance, we were moving together, adding to each others’ words and lines. Rebecca Solnit, in Wanderlust, writes that “walking, ideally, is a state in which the mind, the body, and the world are aligned, as though they were three characters finally in conversation together, three notes suddenly making a chord.”

“Walking is losing time to make space”, Francesco Careri’s motto for walking as an aesthetic practice, proves true every time. My experience of walking-reading-thinking, both during the Polderwalk and the recent Nighthoek, is that I mostly don’t think. Not consciously, or without intent. I just am. I am aware of my surroundings, respond to it with my body – one foot in front of the other, falling, stepping. My body becomes a membrane, the world seeps in, I flow out, become larger, breathe. Falling, stepping. My mind expands, becomes the sky. A thought passes like a cloud, I let it pass. Some time lost, mind space gained.

It is another kind of thinking than what I do behind my desk. Less controlled, less pressing. Thoughts present themselves, I respond to them like the way my feet respond to the earth. In talking while walking, too, I feel that these conversations are often more responsive, embodied, becoming with each other. Agency emerges in the ability to respond (response-ability). You never know where it leads: “‘With’ demands works, speculative invention, and ontological risks… [and] [n]o one knows how to do that in advance of coming together in compositions” (Haraway cited in Walking methodologies in more than human worlds, ed. Stephanie Springgay and Sarah Truman, p.137).

Walking is more about sensing and responding than about distances covered. Alice Tarbuck describes Nan Shepherd’s writing and walking in a reflection on walking, bodies, and ableism:

Shepherd, although she celebrates the vast spaces of the mountains, does not lionise walking as an end in itself. The important thing, for her, is not the miles walked, the exhilaration of reaching the summit, the feeling of having conquered something. Rather, Shepherd understands walking as a means of facilitating other forms of sensory engagement with the world. Shepherd seeks to de-centre the ascent of mountains as their primary attraction, referring to her engagement with the Cairngorms as ‘a meditation not a manifesto … a pilgrimage and not an attack’. (…) She swims in the lochs, feels the grass under her bare feet, the hardness of rocks, the heat of the sun. She celebrates the skin as an organ of exploration, and touch as a powerful means of understanding the world (in On Bodies, An Anthology, p. 20)

Walking can be more than walking. It is often just a way of getting from a to b, something we hardly pay attention to – that is, if our able bodies do not hurt and allow us to forget them, allow us to forget our movements. But walking can also be a way of being (together), of becoming with our environment and with our minds. It can invite an enlarged, embodied, consciousness in a more-than-human world. And “walking exists on a spectrum from the purely physical to the purely imaginative” (Alec Finlay via Alice Tarbuck, p. 23) – it can, but does not have to, include vast stretches of land and physical activity. We can use our bodies and our senses in so many ways. We can touch, feel, lie down and be horizontal, together, like we did with Yoojin Lee during Nighthoek. We can listen, flow, glide, swim. We can smell, roll, get smelly. We can move together in ways we couldn’t imagine before. In the months to come, we are starting to explore our senses in different ways. During our next walk we might get to know the city through our tongues. Will you move with us?

While we don’t update our blog very regularly, we are active on instagram and post images, reflections and invitations there: http://instagram/nights_of_philosophy

Our recent Nighthoek walk: https://www.facebook.com/events/2324831767805636/

The Neuhaus Curriculum at Het Nieuwe Instituut of which we’ll be part: https://neuhaus.hetnieuweinstituut.nl/

References on walking

  • Careri, F. (2017). Walkscapes: walking as an aesthetic practice. (S. Piccolo, Trans.). Ames: Culicidae Architectural Press.
  • Solnit, R. (2001). Wanderlust: A history of Walking. New York: Penguin Books.
  • Springgay, S., & Truman, S. E. (2018). Walking Methodologies in a More-than-Human World : WalkingLab.
  • Tarbuck, A. (n.d.). (2018) Walking. In On Bodies: An Anthology (pp. 17–24). London: 3 of cups press.

Walking during Nighthoek, collectively flowing through the landscape, using the rope as activation device. (more on activation devices in Springgay & Truman, 2018; photo by Catherine)

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Post-post Post

Although we have been working around, through, and with the term “post-anthropocene” for some months now, it still happens regularly that one of us asks: wait, why is our theme “post”-anthropocene again, instead of just “anthropocene”?

Although the prefix ‘post’ seems to specify a period after an event, it is rarely used to just indicate a historic period. Post-modernism, for example, is a critique, a way of thinking that did not so much come after modernism, as coincided with, responded to, and existed simultaneously with it. Postmodern architecture, too, does not proclaim the end of modernism, but uses it as inspiration, alongside other historical movements and buildings. It is impossible to draw a clear line between the two: they are entangled and sometimes even start to look the same. Post-truth politics similarly does not point at a period after truth but specifies a politics in which (reference to) truth is no longer primarily important. Post-capitalism is concerned with thinking of alternatives, acting on a situation in which capitalism has existed (and still does).

We use ‘post’ in ‘post-anthropocene’ in an attempt to acknowledge our condition, yet to think beyond, around and through it: to find ways to act after the (continuing) event of The Anthropocene. This geological epoch, declared in 2016 by the International Geological Congress, acknowledges the tremendous and often irreversible effects that humans have on (life on) planet Earth.

We are in it. We’re implicated, entangled, situated, up to our necks and muddling through. In fact, the geographers who proclaim this new epoch, say that we have been living in the anthropocene since the 1950s. For most of us, that means that we have been ‘in it’  for all our lives. To think that we could jump beyond this situation, and start something new altogether, would be absurd. Like post-colonialism does not deny that the past and present implications of colonialism, we do not proclaim that we are ‘past’ the anthropocene (‘the anthropocene – that was so 2016’).

The anthropocene has been proclaimed a historical and scientific fact, but to us it is a matter of concern. Even if it’s called a ‘geological epoch’, we still need ways to think and act. It is not distant but enmeshed with our everyday lives, our everyday ecologies. With this prefix ‘post’ we look for ways to go about ‘in catastrophic times’*.

*Borrowing this phrase from Isabelle Stengers, In Catastrophic Times (pdf)

The Guardian on the declaration of the Anthropocene (link)

Bruno Latour on Matters of Concern (pdf)

Also worth the read, a recent interview with Bruno Latour in the New York Times (on post-truth, among other things) (link)

On the prefix ‘post’ (in Dutch) (link)