Review: A Philosophy of Walking by Frédéric Gros

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A bestseller in France since its publication in 2009, Frédéric Gros’, A Philosophy of Walking has recently been released as an English translation by Verso, billed as an “insightful manifesto” on walking. The book charts Gros’ reflections on walking, but also considers walking as a practice in the lives of great thinkers such as Nietzsche, Rousseau, Thoreau and Rimbaud. Following on the coat tails of the recent renaissance in walking as a critical and literary subject, this book steps into the growing “genre” of literary walking, represented by the writings of Rebecca Solnit, Merlin Coverley, Robert Macfarlane, W.G. Sebald, which have been very well received by readers over the past few decades.

Publishers know the popularity of this type of writing, but the reasons behind this genre as a cultural phenomenon have been given very little serious consideration. It is perhaps to give credence to a critical examination of walking as a literary trope, and philosophic mode, that I turned to Gros’ book. In it I hoped to find in it both the rambling poetics of W.G. Sebald, but also an analytical framework which would illuminate why discussing the act of walking is important. But, while titled “a philosophy”, I found the book more a dawdle than a march. Its prose limp and saccharine, often repetitive, and overall a waste of time. This might sound overly harsh, but the tautological style of this book often makes it exasperating to read. To give a good example, Gros writes,  Continue reading “Review: A Philosophy of Walking by Frédéric Gros”

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East London on Film Festival (June, 2014)

 

In June 2014, I curated and co-hosted a small film festival at Birkbeck Cinema, in collaboration with the Birkbeck Institute of the Moving Image and the Derek Jarman Lab.

The festival, ‘East London on Film’, arose from a number of conversations and my own research into the filmic history of East London, and the representation of particularly Stratford, in light of the recent Olympic Games and the rapid subsequent redevelopments around Hackney Wick.

Many of the films we were able to show came from independent filmmakers, using film as a documentary tool, but also as a political and personal response to the sweeping changes with the Olympic park brought. We screened Hilary Powell’s important film ‘The Games’, parodying past Olympic films such as Leni Riefenstahl’s ‘Olympia’. But also Saint Etienne and Paul Kelly’s ‘What Have You Done Today, Mervyn Day?’, part of their London Trilogy; alongside a short film by Birkbeck student and filmmaker Sally Mumby-Croft, featuring Iain Sinclair. We were able also, to compare these recent films with older representations of the East London landscape in flux, including Barney Platts-Mills’ fantastic ‘Bronco Bullfrog’ (1969), and Lorenza Mazzetti’s post-war ‘Together’ (1955), which was part of the Free Cinema collective set up by Lindsey Anderson.

For the second day of the festival, we were able to look closely at an important pair of documentaries. The first, ‘Vince, Paul, Lawrence and Richard’, broadcast by the BBC, considered the lives of four young children in Stepney in 1971, and the impact of the area on their futures.  While the second, a filmic response to this initial documentary by artists Chris Dorley-Brown, revisited the boys featured in the BBC Documentary and critiqued the ethics and role of documentary, not only in these children’s lives, but also in the wider historical representation of East London. It was fantastic to have Chris Dorley-Brown at the festival to discuss his film, and his wider photographic ‘Re-Shoots’ series, considering the elements of time-travel and the photographic moment. The short film above, was filmed and edited by Jeongmin Kang and Fiona Baihui at the Derek Jarman Lab, featuring Chris in discussion with Bruce Eadie, who co-organised the festival.

I have lots of people to thank for helping me curate and put on this festival, firstly the Derek Jarman Lab and key people like Bartek Dziadosz, Jeongmin Kang, Fiona Baihui, Alistair Dunlop, and of course Bruce Eadie. I have to thank all the filmmakers who were involved, Hilary Powell, Sally Mumby-Croft and of course Chris Dorley-Brown. Also, everyone at Birkbeck, particularly Sarah Joshi, for all her help.

St Clement’s Hospital, Mile End

Imperceptibly, the day had begun drawing to a close as Austerlitz talked, and the light was already fading when we left the house in Alderney Street together to walk a little way out of town, along the Mile End Road to the large Tower Hamlets cemetery, which is surrounded by a tall, dark brick wall and, like the adjoining complex of St. Clement’s Hospital, according to a remark made by Austerlitz in passing, was one of the scenes of this phase of his story… ”  (W. G. Sebald – Austerlitz)

 

St Clement’s Hospital Booklet

 

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