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:
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 David Remnick essay/review of the more recent French philosopher of walking I’ve been ridiculing. It didn’t change my mind about Professor Gros being an unfortunate and misleading spokesman for my favorite non-spectatorial pastime. Remnick 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?
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