Delight Springs

Friday, July 10, 2015

Whitman and Proust

6:30/5:39, 72/95. Podcast
Birthday of Calvin and Proust. Two more disparate human types would be hard to yoke. One championing our Total Depravity, claiming infants enter the world already damned; the other luxuriating in the sensual subjective experience of memory and longing. I have no use at all for the TULIP-planter. But Proust, despite our popular image of him tucked away writing in his cork-lined chamber, was actually a peripatetic. There are passages in Memory of Things Past that illustrate the accuracy of a quote the brainpicker featured yesterday:
Walking at our own pace creates an unadulterated feedback loop between the rhythm of our bodies and our mental state that we cannot experience as easily when we’re jogging at the gym, steering a car, biking, or during any other kind of locomotion. When we stroll, the pace of our feet naturally vacillates with our moods and the cadence of our inner speech; at the same time, we can actively change the pace of our thoughts by deliberately walking more briskly or by slowing down.
Because we don’t have to devote much conscious effort to the act of walking, our attention is free to wander—to overlay the world before us with a parade of images from the mind’s theatre. This is precisely the kind of mental state that studies have linked to innovative ideas and strokes of insight...
Perhaps the most profound relationship between walking, thinking, and writing reveals itself at the end of a stroll, back at the desk. There, it becomes apparent that writing and walking are extremely similar feats, equal parts physical and mental. When we choose a path through a city or forest, our brain must survey the surrounding environment, construct a mental map of the world, settle on a way forward, and translate that plan into a series of footsteps. Likewise, writing forces the brain to review its own landscape, plot a course through that mental terrain, and transcribe the resulting trail of thoughts by guiding the hands. Walking organizes the world around us; writing organizes our thoughts. How walking helps us think.
That was in the New Yorker last September, as was an insightful Adam Gopnik essay/review [correction: earlier & in the podcast I confused Gopnik with Remnick... can't tell your New Yorker players without a scorecard] of the more recent and self-appointed French philosopher of walking I've been ridiculing, Frederic Gros. It didn't change my mind about Professor Gros being an unfortunate and misleading spokesman for my favorite non-spectatorial pastime. Gopnik draws the correct contrast between walking as an escape into solitude, away from a robust sense of self, versus walking as connection, walking as much toward an identity as away. Walt Whitman is the paradigmatic exemplar of the latter. I'm wondering if Gros's sensibility, in this regard, is more Proustian. Or is Proust's more Whitmanesque? And how do they all relate to the first French philosopher of walking, Michel de Montaigne, who said "my thoughts sleep if I sit still"?

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