The Art of Walking – Lyon (France) – October 10-12, 2013

full name / name of organization: 
Klaus Benesch, LMU/University of Munich (Germany) & François Specq, ENS de Lyon/CNRS (France)

The Art of Walking: Pedestrian Mobility in Literature, Philosophy, and the Arts from the Eighteenth to the Twenty-First Century

International Conference – École Normale Supérieure de Lyon, October 10-12, 2013

Organizers: Klaus Benesch (LMU Munich) and François Specq (École Normale Supérieure de Lyon, CNRS LIRE)

Walking is one of man's fundamental modes of relating to the environment, of creating a sense of place and space. In the modern period, this human practice has also become a literary theme, a genre or mode of writing as much as a form of movement in space. Hence it can be said to represent a twofold mediation between man and the world at large: the corporeal movement in space and time, and the reflection of that movement in literature and the arts. It is from this double perspective that we seek to explore how walking has been turned into both an aesthetic project and a form of 'mobile' thinking, from John Gay to Paul Auster, from Wordsworth and Thoreau to Richard Long and Harriet Tarlo, from Rousseau to Rimbaud and André Breton.

We are looking for papers that engage the conceptual, cultural, textual, and visual dimensions of walking. Contributions may deal with how walking has become an aesthetic program, a form of reflection or a complex, frequently ambivalent metaphor; they may also discuss walking in light of its historical, ideological, aesthetic, philosophical, and poetical implications, or investigate two or more of these aspects jointly. Or they may ask how one can delineate the semantic field of 'walking,' which may evoke, among others, the notions of 'rambling,' 'sauntering,' 'roaming,' 'hiking,' or 'perambulating,' but also of the Aristotelian 'peripatetic' and, following Baudelaire and Walter Benjamin, of the "flâneur." What are the values attached to these practices? How does walking enhance our knowledge of a specific place or environment? Are there differences between walking in 'nature' and walking in an urban environment? To what extent has walking reinforced or, perhaps, questioned the distinction between the rural and the urban? If major texts in this tradition, such as Rousseau's Reveries of a Solitary Walker and Wordsworth's The Excursion, focus on the countryside, walking is not only, nor even primarily, a rural phenomenon, but is also typical of urban modernity. How has walking as a literary genre evolved throughout the modern period, and, how, following its heyday during the Romantic period, has it been redefined in connection to modernist issues? To what extent does the aesthetics of the ordinary and of chance, which seem to be associated with walking, relate to aspects of postmodern nomadology? Is walking gendered?

We also encourage approaches that are not limited to either cultural or literary history, but conjoin poetological, phenomenological, and philosophical aspects of walking. Put another way, while analyzing representations and practices of walking, we are equally interested in studying instances of (inter)textuality and cross-disciplinary fertilization. For example, how is the activity of walking related to literary genres: are aesthetic depictions or representations of walking intrinsically narrative or poetical? The various links between walking and writing or reading, the connection between walking and creativity, or the diverse 'textual transcriptions' of walking might also be considered. Furthermore, the complex temporality of walking, next to its relation to space, is also crucial. This temporality is usually marked by an 'intensified' temporal awareness, which is antithetical to the modern emphasis on speed as a symbol of modernity, and which privileges a sense of place over that of space. One may also think of the connection or analogy between the rhythm of walking and that of a poetic text (as in the notion of 'foot,' traditionally the basic unit of poetic scansion). In all of these different senses, walking encapsulates both the physical and spiritual dimensions of human existence; it thus turns into an important cultural symbol, a site where the outside world meets with the intimate realm of human reflection and creativity.

We encourage submissions from scholars in a variety of fields and disciplines. Interdisciplinary approaches are especially welcome.

Proposals for 20-minute papers (title and 200-word summary) should be sent to both Klaus Benesch and François Specq, by email before April 15, 2013.