A Philosophy of Walking


Frédéric Gros teaches philosophy in France. The practice of philosophy does not require an advanced degree and an appointment at a respected university, as Gros has.  The first words–first sentence, first paragraph–of A Philosophy of Walking are “Walking is not a sport.”

Logically, you might take issue with that. For instance, in the early 20th century, when Herbert Welsh was advocating foot travel as the way to health, it had been only a few years since the heyday of Pedestrianism, according to the subtitle of a recent book, “When Watching People Walk was America’s Favorite Sport.

Gros means something like what I might have in mind if I wrote “Philosophy is not an academic discipline.”  The thinkers on Gros’s mind include Kant and Nietzsche, yes, but also poets–Nerval and Rimbaud–pilgrims and politicians such as Ghandi, and all-around free spirits such as Thoreau and Rouseau.

Like those walkers and writers, Gros’s work here is rangy and loose-limbed. He meanders, slowly, and repeats himself–three qualities that also describe the pedestrian pace he prefers. It’s not a sustained argument for a particular point of view; this is une philosophie, not la philosophie.

Like Twitter and facebook, Gros favors the style of the aperçu–the quick quip of illumination: “Presence is something that takes time.”  “The secret of monotony is that it constitutes a remedy for boredom.” “You have to walk a long way to relearn self-love.” “The illusion of speed is the belief that it saves time.” These aren’t steps in a proof; there is no Q.E.D. at the end. Right at the start, Gros observes what every walker knows.

When you walk for a long time, there comes a moment when you no longer know how many hours have passed, or how many more will be needed to get there; you feel on your shoulders the weight of the bare necessities, you tell yourself that’s quite enough–that really nothing more is needed to keep body and soul together–and you feel you could carry on like this days, for centuries.

And as I will be walking across a century, I will need that.