After Vincenz Serrano sent me the syllable of his class on walking at Ateneo, I asked him, if I’m going to read just one book on the list of references on walking, which is it? He replied, Rebecca Solnit’s A History of Walking.

The ebook has been sitting in my computer for god knows how long so I’m glad I now have a very good reason to start reading it.

In the book, at least where I am right now, Rebecca criticizes Thoreau (who introduced me to walking) along with the entire canon of walking literature. Rebecca argues that the Western walking literature is basically a sausage party that fetishizes rural walking with nature as object. And then she introduces alternative forms of walking, which are less motivated by a desire to romanticize nature and which women have also participated in. One of these forms is urban walking, a “messier” way to walk but one that was not bound to the moralizing tendencies of nature and rural walks.

Highlights I can use in the Buhian essay

Walking as pilgrimage (78)

A path is a prior interpretation of the best way to traverse a landscape, and to follow a route is to accept an interpretation, or to stalk your predecessors on it as scholars and trackers and pilgrims do. To walk the same way is to reiterate something deep; to move through the same space the same way is a means of becoming the same person, thinking the same thoughts.

Why narrative and walking come together (81–82)

Like the stations of the cross, the labyrinth and maze offer up stories we can walk into to inhabit bodily, stories we trace with our feet as well as our eyes. There is a resemblance not only between these symbolically invested structures but between every path and every story. Part of what makes roads, trails, and paths so unique as built structures is that they cannot be perceived as a whole all at once by a sendentary onlooker. They unfold in time as one travels along them, just as a story does as one listens or reads, and a hairpin turn is like a plot twist, a steep ascent a building of suspense to the view at the summit, a fork in the road an introduction of a new storyline, arrival the end of the story.

Just as writing allows one to read the words of someone who is absent, so roads make it possible to trace the route of the absent. Roads are a record of those who have gone before, and to follow them is to follow people who are no longer there.

To write is to carve a new path through the terrain of the imagination, or to point out new features on a familiar route. To read is to travel through that terrain with the author as guide—a guide one may not always agree with or trust, but who can at least be counted upon to take one somewhere.

Songlines as tools of navigation (82)

The songlines of Australia’s aboriginal peoples are the most famous examples conflating landscape and narrative. The songlines are tools of navigation across the deep desert, while the landscape is a mnemonic device for remembering the stories: in other words, the story is a map, the landscape a narrative.

==Ang mga tula ay mapa, ang

Why we need to connect the products of the mind with space (82)

The workings of the mind and the spirit are hard to imagine, as is the nature of time—so we tend to metaphorize all these intangibles as physical objects located in space. Thus our relationship to them becomes physical and spatial: we move toward or away from them.

Place, walking, and memory (86)

There is a very practical sense in which to trace even an imaginary route is to trace the spirit or thought of what passed there before. At its most casual, this retracing allows unsought memories of events to return as one encounters the sites of those events. At its most formal it is a means of memorizing.

Memory, like the mind and time, is unimaginable without physical dimensions; to imagine it as a physical place is to make it into a landscape in which its contents are located, and what has location can be approached. That is to say, if memory is imagined as a real space—a place, theater, library—then the act of remembering is imagined as a real act, that is, as a physical act: as walking.

To walk the same route again can mean to think the same thoughts again, as though thoughts and ideas were indeed fixed objects in a landscape one need only know how to travel through. In this way, walking is reading, even when both the walking and reading are imaginary, and the landscape of the memory becomes a text.

Books that resemble walks

But if the book has eclipsed the memory palace as a repository of information, it has retained some of its pattern. In other words, if there are walks that resemble books, there are also books that resemble walks and use the “reading” activity of walking to describe a world. The greatest example is Dante’s Divine Comedy, in which the three realms of the soul after death are explored by Dante, guided by Virgil.



Solnit, R. (2001). Wanderlust: A History of Walking. Penguin Books.