Modernist perambulations through time and space: From Enlightened walking to crawling, stalking, modelling and street-walking

by Anne Fuchs

18 Oct 2016
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Full text posted to Journal of the British Academy, volume 4, pp. 197-219.

Abstract: Analysing diverse modes of walking across a wide range of texts from the Enlightenment period and beyond, this article explores how the practice of walking was discovered by philosophers, educators and writers as a rich discursive trope that stood for competing notions of the morally good life. The discussion proceeds to then investigate how psychological, philosophical and moral interpretations of bad practices of walking in particular resurface in texts by Franz Kafka, Thomas Mann and the interwar writer Irmgard Keun. It is argued that literary modernism transformed walking from an Enlightenment trope signifying progress into the embodiment of moral and epistemological ambivalence. In this process, walking becomes an expression of the disconcerting experience of modernity. The paper concludes with a discussion of walking as a gendered performance: while the male walkers in the modernist texts under discussion suffer from a bad gait that leads to ruination, the new figure of the flâneuse manages to engage in pleasurable walking by abandoning the Enlightenment legacy of the good gait.

Keywords: modes of walking, discursive trope, Enlightenment discourse, modernism, modernity, moral and epistemological ambivalence, gender, flâneuse.

Lecture in Modern Languages, read 19 May 2016.

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