Thursday, 5 November 2009

Yet more Wanderlust

I'm about a third of the way through Rebecca Solnit's Wanderlust: A History of Walking. It's an interesting book, extremely readable but at the same time very educational. I'm currently reading about William Wordsworth, whose walking pedigree I was unfamiliar with, yet whose exploits Solnit deem worthy of an entire chapter (she goes as far as describing him as "the figure to whom posterity looks in tracing the history of walking in the landscape").

Among the more interesting things I've learned so far are that there's very strong evidence to suggest that it's not our consciousness that sets us apart from other animals but our ability to walk on two legs, a feat that freed our hands to do things other animals couldn't and encouraged our brains to develop (although I'm not sure where the kangaroos fit into this theory), and that galleries where originally places not for displaying art collections but for walking when the weather was inclement. "The gallery eventually became a place for displaying paintings," writes Solnit, "and though museum galleries are still a place where people stroll, the strolling is no longer the point."

On the negative side, Solnit loses points for misspelling the Tokaido (she refers to Hiroshige's Fifty-three Views on the Tokuida Road, which she describes as "a road movie from when roads were for walkers and movies were woodblock prints"), and for using the term Situationism, which anyone familiar with Situationist thought knows is a no-no (or as Guy Debord put it, "There is no such thing as situationism, which would mean a doctrine for interpreting existing conditions. The notion of situationism is obviously devised by antisituationists."). On the other hand, that Hiroshige and Debord (and yes, Werner Herzog) are mentioned at all is indicative of the scope and flavour of Wanderlust.

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