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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