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Texts in Motion: walking and literature

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Organizer: Amber Bal

Co-Organizer: Paige Tierney

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Across geographical regions and throughout history, walking has served as a deeply meaningful form of movement. Aristotle’s founding of the peripatetic school in 335 BC and the long tradition of walking in Buddhist meditation are among the most ancient examples of intertwining walking with thought. Literary and artistic traditions around the world have also testified to the richness of this relationship through their continual recourse to walking as a means of understanding one’s environment and one’s place in the world. This seminar seeks to facilitate exchanges on literary and cinematic depictions of walking, ambling, and other kinds of on-foot exploration. Rebecca Solnit defines walking as “a state in which the mind, the body, and the world are aligned.” Departing from this appraisal, we invite proposals that attend to such alignments and tensions in works that center on walking and related forms of movement. While among the most ancient forms of human mobility, walking continually surfaces as a valuable method for apprehending shifting, or emerging, contemporary spaces. The figure of the individual walker is as multifaceted as the act and context of walking itself: be it the dandy, the foreigner, the weary traveler, or the adventurer. The versatile perspectives provided by ambling through different terrains are evidenced by walking’s pivotal role in the nature-writing of Henry David Thoreau and John Muir in the Anglophone world and Jean-Jacques Rousseau in the French tradition. Likewise, urban ambulation and its related literature has offered a keen perspective on the evolution of modern cities. Charles Baudelaire in Paris, Virginia Woolf in London, and Franz Hessel in Berlin represent only a few of the many writers whose work was profoundly shaped by wandering the streets of major metropolises. As an intrinsically physical act, walking also highlights how experiences are necessarily mediated by bodies that sense and respond to their surroundings, thus calling attention to how disability, race, and gender may affect encounters with different environments. La Randonée de Samba Diouf “educated” French colonial officers on the “indigenous mind” and William Henry Hudson’ s The Purple Land “reveals” the Uruguayan landscape through its dynamic trajectory. From the individual to the collective, walking has also played a key role in political and religious movements from Gandhi’s Dandi March, to Selma-Montgomery, and Mai ‘68. Additionally, John Steinbeck and Louis-Ferdinand Céline record their wartime marches in Once There Was A War and Voyage au bout de la nuit.  We encourage a wide range of submissions that focus on texts, authors, or literary movements set in various environments—from urban centers and rural landscapes to peripheral or liminal spaces. Papers may draw on movement-related domains such as affect theory, environmental studies/ecocriticism, disability studies, body theory or phenomenology.

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