Recently, I ordered Rebecca Solnit’s “Wanderlust” on Amazon, which, in retrospect, seems a violation of the book’s instruction to walk in the world, where you can “find what you don’t know you are looking for.” It was February in New York, and I had been existing in what Solnit calls “a series of interiors—home, car, gym, office, shops.” (Minus the gym, naturally). I read her book with dreams of roaming. In it, she traces walking’s relationship to culture and politics, studying the ambles of poets, philosophers, revolutionaries, and, in a remarkable chapter, women fighting for the right to wander and muse as men do, without hoop skirts or scandal. If walking supplies “the unpredictable incidents . . . that add up to a life,” Solnit writes, anyone dissuaded from it is denied a “vast portion of their humanity.”
Yet “Wanderlust” is also a requiem for walking, a practice slowly excised by our era’s “anxiety to produce.” Things have only gotten gloomier since 2000, when Solnit published the book; she had yet to meet the contemporary walker, who, if anything like me, returns from a stroll having encountered not “new thoughts and possibilities” but the familiar app-strewn landscape of her smartphone. When Solnit writes that travel is becoming “less important than arrival,” she is referring to vehicles and computers, which deliver things like her book to my door without the delight of happening upon them outside. But she might also have been describing Instagram, which, though meant to channel experience and adventure, supplies no journey between images posted for public affirmation. Is it possible for wanderlust to be its own reward? Solnit describes walking, in our time, as “the scenic route through a half-abandoned landscape of ideas and experiences.” To walk, she writes, is to take a “subversive detour.” That may still be the case. The subversion, though, might lie in telling no one else about it.
More Info: newyorker.com