By Christopher Caldwell
First published in the Financial Times, 30 December 2011
Resolving to take more walks in the new year might sound like promising to take more naps – choosing idleness over work. But a lot of clever people don’t see it that way. One of the better books I read in 2011 was Marcher: Une philosophie (The philosophy of walking), by Frédéric Gros, a Parisian professor and an editor of the papers of Michel Foucault. Mr Gros asks why so many of our most productive writers and philosophers – Rousseau, Kant, Rimbaud, Robert Louis Stevenson, Nietzsche, Jack Kerouac – have also been indefatigable walkers.
The short answer is that those mothers who advise that “a good, brisk walk will clear your head!” are right. When you walk, you leave certain of the burdens of daily life behind, but you pick up others. Walking shows certain commonsensical-looking things to be unfounded and certain improbable-looking things to be true. That is what writers of genius do.