from wandering to getting lost

Categories and concepts are fuzzy by nature. This fact of life is imprinted on any well-trained social scientist but seems in a constant battle with an equally ingrained striving for the unambiguous. Too fuzzy, doesn’t make sense, too clear cut, false by definition. Finding one’s way between this rock and a hard place, maybe better thought of as wandering about the space between them without being knocked out when running into one or the other (which is unavoidable, the running into I mean), is enjoyable to some, and thus actively pursued, even though its ‘pleasures’ include confusion, anguish, despair and other ‘unpleasures’, and the risk of being knocked out is real.

I am one of those, be it within the safe confines of thinking through my pedestrian hobby. That thinking has taken me to and across the borders of the conceptual space of pedestrian pursuits, where it merges into disciplines like climbing and dance. It included brooding over the the hold of one’s purpose for practicing it over what it is, feels like, offers. And it reflected on the interrelatedness of some basic ‘properties’ or ‘dimensions’ like speed and inner versus outward focus, and what extremes like not moving at all show us about the pedestrian activities of walking and running.

Words, a poor tool compared to more sensual ways of communicating. Enjoy 2Chellos exploring the conceptual space of their trade;

Here I want to focus on yet another of those dimensions, one not yet mentioned in any of my previous ramblings: wayfinding versus its opposite pole of getting lost. Despite the obvious affinity between pedestrianism and getting somewhere specific (in the end), immersing oneself in an environment, adopting an exploring mindset, seems closer to the getting lost pole of the continuum.

Piggybacking again on one of Maria Popova‘s insightful reviews: Rebecca Solnit refers to Walter Benjamin, of flâneur fame, and what he describes as the art of straying, the…art of recognizing the role of the unforeseen…of collaborating with chance, and that requires a conscious choice of getting lost, to surrender to geography. Easier said than done. Surrender means loss of control, scary business. Solnit rightly says:

The word “lost” comes from the Old Norse los, meaning the disbanding of an army, and this origin suggests soldiers falling out of formation to go home, a truce with the wide world. I worry now that many people never disband their armies, never go beyond what they know. Advertising, alarmist news, technology, incessant busyness, and the design of public and private space conspire to make it so.

Having said that, the wayfinding pole of the continuum doesn’t mean the lack of an exploring mindset. It all depends. A quote from walking guru Thoreau, taken from another of Popova’s reviews:

I have met with but one or two persons in the course of my life who understood the art of Walking, that is, of taking walks — who had a genius, so to speak, for sauntering, which word is beautifully derived “from idle people who roved about the country, in the Middle Ages, and asked charity, under pretense of going a la Sainte Terre, to the Holy Land, till the children exclaimed, “There goes a Sainte-Terrer,” a Saunterer, a Holy-Lander. They who never go to the Holy Land in their walks, as they pretend, are indeed mere idlers and vagabonds; but they who do go there are saunterers in the good sense, such as I mean. Some, however, would derive the word from sans terre, without land or a home, which, therefore, in the good sense, will mean, having no particular home, but equally at home everywhere. For this is the secret of successful sauntering. He who sits still in a house all the time may be the greatest vagrant of all; but the saunterer, in the good sense, is no more vagrant than the meandering river, which is all the while sedulously seeking the shortest course to the sea.

As is often the case, the extremes of a dimension have lots of similarities, in a weird way seem mirror images of each other, a circle often better represents the concept of dimension than a line, ‘Dimension’, a concept as fuzzy as any.

I plead guilty, name dropping and intellectual posturing, not a pretty sight, may another bit of sound atone for my sins, what better than the blues to illustrate the circular nature of many dimensions:


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