Narrating the Walking Experience during the French Lockdown

Luca Greco | September 1, 2020 | Leave a Comment Download as PDF

Marie Docher, Paris, April 2020 – Photo courtesy Marie Dorcher © 2020

On 30 March 2020, I created a Facebook group called ‘Narrating walking at the time of Covid-19’:

Photo courtesy Luca Greco © 2020

At this time, we lived in France, as in many other countries around the world, a lockdown. Our travel possibilities were drastically limited from 17 March to 10 May, the date when the lockdown gradually began to be eased. During this time, if we wanted to go out, we had to specify our reasons using a lockdown permission form. Walking was limited to within one kilometer of home, for one hour, and, if not conducted alone, uniquely with the person who shared our life and / our apartment. As I said in presenting the group, the idea was to give to everyone the possibility to tell a story about their locomotive experience, where our bodies had the unique chance of going outside our homes. 

Photo courtesy Rebecca Agnes "il grande mondo laggiù, Berlin April 2020" © 2020

The development of one’s own sensitive and sensory abilities is part of a political project that Jacques Rancière (2013) calls the “aesthetic revolution” referring in this way to Karl Marx’s Economic and Philosophic Manuscripts. To take the time to walk, to develop a consciousness of our sensations, and to write about what one feels is part of this aesthetic revolution. Walking and writing about this locomotive experience in such a peculiar context allows us to resubjective ourselves, to adopt a reflexive posture and think about what we are living in this particular moment. In this perspective, narratives and walking practices can be approached as emancipatory devices in that they create an “other space”, a heterotopia (Foucault 1986), despite and because of social constraints. Walking in the context of the lockdown decompartmentalizes the imagination. It gives rise to an imaginary space in which the echoes of the revolts of this winter against the neoliberal reforms of the government resonate in the mind of the author of this post and become dramatically relevant as s/he writes :

Imaginer de marcher et de retrouver les pas de celles et de 
Imagine to walk and to follow  the footsteps of those 
ceux qui ont manifesté cet hiver. 
who demonstrated this winter. 
Imaginer les rues de Paris encore traversées par les marches 
Imagine the streets of Paris still crossed by the marches 
des manifestants. 
of demonstrators.

Photo courtesy Rebecca Agnes "il grande mondo laggiù, Berlin April 2020" © 2020

Walking has a strong capacity to exceed the body itself triggering imagination, thinking, and inspiration (Solnit, 2001). We could think of narratives and walking practices as two faces of the same coin and intertwined into a vertiginous spiral: completing the lockdown permission allows walking, walking produces texts about the lived experience, and writing allows rethinking of walking practices and contextualizing them in a larger context. The intertwining between walking and narratives, or artistic and political practice, is not new. As some artistic performances or political actions witness, walking can be approached as a free profit activity, an experience in which social alliances are constructed, or an occasion for self-discovery. Walking, in our case, is irreducibly connected to, and produces, public and shareable narratives with comments. It is deeply connected to a strong consciousness of our movements during walking and to a possible infraction of the order because of the lockdown context. 

The author of the post I reproduce here gives us a story in which he shares some impressions about the effects of lockdown on his body:

Ce n’est pas si simple. C’est à ce moment précis que je sens à quel
It is not so easy. It is at this precise moment that I feel how
point – sans marcher tous les jours comme je le veux – mon intérieur
much — without walking every day     as    I want — my interior 
– s’est rétrécit. Comme un fruit qui s’est desséché au soleil, la 
– has shrunk. Like a fruit that has dried out in the sun, the 
peau est tannée, craquelée et la vie encore tapie dans le fruit est 
skin is tanned, cracked and the life still lurking in the fruit is
déshydratée par le manque d’air journalier du fruit que je suis.
dehydrated by the daily lack of air of the fruit I am. 
je marcherais encore quelques heures pour me remplir à nouveau de 
I would walk again a few more hours to fill myself again with 
vie, d’eau comme notre planète qui a besoin de retrouver 
life, with water, like our planet, which needs to find  
à nouveau son oxygène pour ne pas crever…
again its oxygen  so as not to die…

In this text, the author recounts some perceptions and sensations lived during the walk around his home. His text comprises three movements. Beginning from the observation on the effects produced by the absence of a daily walking routine on his body, the walker smoothly slides to a second movement in which he compares himself to a fruit that is drying out and cracking. The transition from a spectator posture—in which he admits the difficulty of the current situation he is living in or the writing process in which he is engaged—to a scene in which he is depicted as a fruit is accomplished. The final movement opens for a sort of possible rebirth thanks to the walking practice and, apparently, a return to human agency. The verbalization of the process unveils a possible emergency. The need to continue to walk is approached as the condition for a possible rebirth of the author, like water is seen as a regenerating resource for the Earth in the context of the global warming. The analogy in the text introduces a holistic and global perspective. The micro detail of the walking practice and of the French health crisis is connected to the climate change emergency. The body as a metaphor of the world.

To take the time to walk and write about this experience could open new ways to perceive the world, our bodies, and the temporality of our daily practices. Walking and writing are in this way irreducibly intermeshed, as politics and art are. Walking is both the topic and the context of the narrative, and narrative is the symbolic space of the re-enactment of walking, an opportunity to make of our living experiences an aesthetic and a political resource. The nature of these narratives, as strongly dependent on lockdown context, reveals a paradox. If the lockdown represents some obvious social constraints on the circulation of citizens, speech practices can be approached as a possibility for re-subjectivation. It is in this sense that walking and writing are political and aesthetic. They are practices through which one can feel the emergence of a consciousness of a new state, of a new body, a desire to write and to share with a moving and in progress community. In the context of lockdown and the easing of lockdown, in which rallies and political gatherings are still forbidden, to write about what we experience, and to walk with texts on our backs—is to make of our bodies and our texts sites of political and artistic performance, a walk and a text of one’s own.

Photo courtesy Luca Greco © 2020

References

Foucault, M. (1986) “Of Other Spaces”. In Diacritics, 16 (1): 22–27
Rancière, J. (2013) The Politics of Aesthetics, London: Bloomsbury Academic
Solnit, R. (2001). Wanderlust. A history of walking. New York, NY: Penguin

Luca Greco is full professor of sociolinguistics at the University of Lorraine, France. His publications cover a large array of domains: gender and language, performance and performativity, social interaction and categorization. 
Luca Greco's website here.

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