– A History of Walking –
By Rebecca Solnit.
The Disembodiment of Everyday Life.
From the elimination of the physical effort of walking to the sensorimotor loss induced by the first fast transport, we have finally achieved states bordering on sensory deprivation, writes Paul Virilio. The loss of the thrills of the old voyage is now compensated by the showing of a film on a central screen.
Bodies are not obsolete by any objective standard, but they increasingly are perceived as too slow, frail, and unreliable for our expecatations and desires- as parcels to be transported by mechanical means (though of course many steep, rough or narrow spaces can only be traversed on foot, and many remote parts of the world can’t be reached by any other means, it takes a built environment, with tracks, graded roads, landing strips and energy sources, to accomodate motor transport. A body regarded as adequate to cross continents, like John Muir’s or Wiliam Wordsworth’s or Peace Pilgrim’s, is experienced very differently than a body inadequate to go out for the evening under its own power.
It is the unaugmented body that is rare now, and that body has begun to atrophy as both a muscular and a sensory organism. The world is no longer on the scale of our bodies, but on that of our machines, ad many need – or think they need – the machines to navigate that space quickly enough. The decline of walking is about the lack of space in which to walk, but it is also about the lack of time- the disappearance of that musing, unstructured space in which so much thinking, courting, daydreaming and seeing has transpired.
It was the exertion, not the production, tht was the point of the treadmill. Throughout most of human history and outside the first world nowadays, food has been relatively scarce and physical exertion abundant; only when the status of these two things is reversed does “exercise” make sense. That muscles have become status symbols signifies that most jobs no longer call upon bodily strength: like tans, they are an aesthetic of the obsolete.
The gym is the interior space that compensates for the disappearance of outside and a stopgap measure in the erosion of bodies. The gym is a factory for the production of muscles or of fitness.
And whereas the industrial revolution’s bodies had to adapt to the machins, with terrible consequences of pain, injury and deformity, exercise machines are adapted to the body. While exertion for work is about how the body shapes the world, exertion for exercise is about how the body shapes the world. Bodily labor here happens the first time around as productive labor and the second as leisuretime consumption. The deepest sign of transformation is not merely that this activity is no longer productivem but that the straining of the muscles may not be useful or used for any practical purpose.
The body that used to have the status of a work animal now has the status of a pet: it does not provide real transport, instead, the body is exercised as one might walk a dog. Thus the body, a recreational rather than utilitarian entity, doesn’t work, but works out. On the treadmill, walking is no longer contemplating, courting or exploring. Walking is the alternate movement of the lower limbs.
That was an awesome read.