Why you should read “The Art of Walking”, Rebecca Solnit’s cult book – Les Inrocks

This month of June, “The Art of Walking”, the book by feminist Rebecca Solnit is reissued by Editions de l’Olivier.

We should wonder about the reasons that have pushed so many authors for the past ten years to take walking as an obsessive, almost fetishized object of reflection. We no longer count the number of walkers-thinkers in our libraries who offer eulogies, treatises, philosophies of walking. As if she embodied the absolute virtue, at once moral, political, creative and sensual, which is lacking in our era undermined by the imperative of acceleration.

Published in 2000 in the United States, translated in 2004 by Actes Sud, reissued today by Editions de l’Olivier, Rebecca Solnit’s essay, The art of walking, prefigured, the first, this editorial investment in walking. Now recognized in France, since the translation of These men who explain life to me, who popularized the notion of “mansplaining“, or the recent one from his great book Memories of my non-existence, Rebecca Solnit gives the act of walking the status of an art in its own right. As if the primitive gesture of the biped secretly contained within itself a force, political and poetic, which goes beyond the simple fact of taking one step after another. More than a reflex or a necessity, walking is an art in that it summons our body and our mind, to animate them in unison. “Walking is a state where the mind, the body and the world respond to each other, a bit like three characters who finally begin to converse together, three notes which suddenly compose a chord”. she writes. “Walking allows us to inhabit our body and the world without letting ourselves be taken over by them.”

Stylistic hybridity

Nourished as much by historical knowledge as by artistic references, traversed as much by political motives as by intimate flights of fancy, extending in her own way a hybrid mode of writing embodied before her by another great figure of the American intellectual landscape, Susan Sontag , the reflection of Rebecca Solnit replaces the call of walking in the history of philosophy itself. In the confessions, Rousseau writes:“I can only meditate while walking; as soon as I stop, I no longer think, and my head goes only with my feet”. “You only write well with your feet”, increased in the following century Nietzsche. Søren Kierkegaard confirmed: “It was while walking that I had my most fruitful thoughts and I don’t know of any heavy thought that walking cannot dispel.”

In good company, Rebecca Solnit does not seek to theorize her approach to walking too much, preferring to leave it with permanent openings and gaps, where we randomly cross paths, rebels, poets, philosophers , pilgrims, wanderers who cross off-road… The opportunity to direct the steps of one’s meditation towards moving territories, to the rhythm of one’s thoughts, towards landscapes and nature, the streets of large cities, sheltering in their heart the breath of social revolutions and collective impulses, but also the silence of solitary and nocturnal wanderings…


In keeping with the march itself, Rebecca Solnit’s text alternates rhythms, without ever sticking to a straight line. The sinuosity of his text matches the fluidity of his mind. “The rhythm of walking somehow gives its rhythm to thought. Crossing a landscape leads to chains of ideas, stimulating new ones. The strange consonance thus created between inner and outer progress suggests that the mind, too, is a landscape to be crossed while walking (…) In this sense, the history of walking becomes the material history of thought”. she writes.

The beauty of his text is played out in the way he has of duplicating the idea of ​​movement in the very body of the story, which never stops taking detours, to surprise the reader. Never walking straight, he or she follows her in all her wanderings. Instead of a dry and rigid theoretical manifesto, the art of walking forms an invitation to drift of the body and the spirit, at the end of which a revelation can arise, to oneself and to the world. “A simple stroll through the streets of the neighborhood sometimes turns out to be as conducive to surprises, releases, clarifications of the trip as a journey around the world: walking is going very close and very far at the same time.”.

Rebecca Solnit: The art of walking (Editions de l’Olivier) translated from English (United States) by Oristelle Bonis, 394 p, 12 euros.

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Why you should read “The Art of Walking”, Rebecca Solnit’s cult book – Les Inrocks

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