Suggested reading by Steve:
•Production of Space - Henri Lefebvre
•The Situationist City
DOUBLE SYNOPSIS/COMPARATIVE ANALYSIS
Reimagining Walking is an essay which appeared in an issue of the Journal of Architectural Education in 2004. It explores the simple, human act of walking within the context of modern/postmodern society. Ben Jacks argues that the act of walking in the contemporary landscape, in the face of technological advancements that seek to limit our physical exertion and speed up the pace of life, has become an act of subversion and rebellion.
Even though contemporary society, through its technology and devices, imagines a future where walking from one place to another could well fade into obsolescence, Jacks argues that walking as an activity persists, and speaks to the essence of what it is to be human, to have a body (or specifically an abled body).
Citing various authors, artists and cultural texts, from the mid-19th century to the present day, Jacks defends the importance of walking as essential in order to understand, relate to, belong to, connect with and design within the world we inhabit intellectually, spiritually and physically. Jacks identifies four walking practices: Sighting, Measuring, Reading and Merging that challenge current conceptions of the activity of walking, and how such practices are of value to spatial and architectural design.
He goes on to draw connections between walking and perceptions of beauty, mindful awareness, justice and aisthesis: a perception using all the senses and other less sensorial impressions. He encourages us, in the face of progressive modernity, to take an holistic approach to sensing, quantifying and interacting with our environment; and that employing the “fiercely human” and subversive act of walking is a means to that end.
Speed is an article that appeared in M/C Journal: A Journal of Media and Culture, Volume 3, Issue 3 published in June 2000. The article appears to be a summary of a research paper which outlines some interpretations and thoughts on the concept of speed, within the context of contemporary western society. The author cites a number of written works, followed by his personal thoughts on the matter. Although the brevity of the article alludes to a more substantial text, curiously no links are provided to the full research paper.
Ward touches on various concepts of speed citing views from James Gleick, author of Faster: The Acceleration of Just About Everything, Milan Kundera’s book Slowness and The Futurist Movement’s manifesto. In modern and postmodern society speed (of travel, of production, of communication) is a goal we aspire to yet struggle and suffer to maintain. We desire speed precisely because it supersedes the limitations of the human body: speed is non-corporeal, metaphysical, an ecstatic experience.
He follows up with his own opinion that there is no better way to experience speed than by riding a motorbike faster than the legal speed limit, closing with a comparatively in depth (given the short length of the article) look at Formula 1 racing where speed, and perceived risk-taking to achieve that end, is desired and worshipped. Given the extra attention given to the subject of Formula 1 one can surmise that Ward is a fan of racing himself.
Although the texts I’ve looked at sit on opposite sides of the speed spectrum there is a great deal of overlap in the content. For example, it is impossible to talk about the fastness of riding a motorcycle over the speed limit without first making a comparison to something that is decidedly not fast, such as a human being walking.
I find it fascinating that the human body moving through space unaided is viewed as inferior, impotent, lacking. It seems we only choose to employ walking/running as a necessity to cover the shortest of distances, for recreation or for our physical wellbeing. We are programmed to take the path of least resistance and any physical exertion seems to qualify as resistance. If a faster and/or easier option exists, it is expected that one should always take that option.
The elevator, not the stairs. By car, not on foot. Send an email, don’t write a letter.
This way of thinking can be expanded to cover so many aspects of our lives. Today, using the unaided body to move through space is a choice we make, whereas historically it was the only option we had.
Both articles suggest that the amount of time it might take one to get from A to B also has a direct effect on how we experience and interact with the places we move through, as well as affecting us physically and psychologically. With the increased pace of life in contemporary society the incidence of modern ailments such as burnout has also increased. I think this speaks to the incompatibility of the speed of modern life with our human inclinations.
In Ward’s article speed is linked to ecstasy and the non-corporeal. Speed is a way to go beyond the body. Conversely the act walking in Jacks’ article is very much about a grounding of the psyche and very much an in-body experience.
This interest in slowness (or lack of speed) is something I see myself drawn to in both the personal and creative aspects of my life. I would like to explore the notion that doing anything slowly can be a subversive and rebellious act and therefore a form of protest against the unrelenting speed of modern life. I’d like to find a way in my practice to reclaim and celebrate slowness; to take time, rather than letting time take us.
• Jacks, Ben. “Reimagining Walking.” Journal of Architectural Education, vol. 57, no. 3, 2004, pp. 5–9., doi:10.1162/104648804772745193.
• Brian Ward. "Speed." M/C: A Journal of Media and Culture 3.3 (2000). <http://www.api-network.com/mc/0006/speed.php>.