Veronica Mars: Take the Long Way Home

No surprise: Veronica Mars: The Movie plays to the strengths of the franchise: Veronica’s chronically conflicted convictions, Keith’s ever-watchful eye, Logan’s inability to avoid controversy, the stability of Wallace, Mac, and Piz, and the loyal support of its fans. Full disclosure: I am one of the 91,585 Kickstarter backers of this movie, I watched it three times in as many days, I am a card-carrying Marshmallow, so spoilers and gushing abound below.

Veronica and Logan take the long way home.
Veronica and Logan take the long way home.

So, when the day comes to settle down,
Who’s to blame if you’re not around?
— Supertramp, “Take the Long Way Home”

Though the movie is fully enjoyable to the non-fan, there are plenty of nods to the nerds: the ever-charming Leo’s mention of Veronica’s supposed stint in the FBI, a reference to the trailer for the un-filmed fourth season of the show in which Veronica joins the FBI after college; the New York street musician playing The Dandy Warhols’ “We Used to Be Friends” as Veronica and Piz leave the NPR studio; a squeaky clean Weevil getting caught up in a seedy subplot; Piz getting in another dig at Matchbox 20’s “solo” Rob Thomas; sleepy-dog Clemmons claims that Neptune High has been boring since Veronica graduated; Corny pitches Veronica his homemade wallets, which of course he’s making a killing from on Etsy; when Veronica takes too long to return with drinks, the insinuation that she may have joined a cult arises; Piz and Veronica’s sextape resurfaces at the reunion, revamping both the salaciousness scandals of her Hearst College days and the relentless backstabbing of her high-school years. Not a single on-screen mention of Lilly Kane. Though she is mentioned in the script, the scene is shortened in the movie. Her absolute absence feels stronger than a brief cameo would have.

Veronica Mars

“I find it almost impossible to imagine Veronica Mars played by anyone other than Kristen Bell,” writes Rob Thomas (2006, p. 6), and he’d be hard-pressed to find someone who disagrees. The studio didn’t want Bell, but Thomas fought to keep her. “Had we lost that argument, there would be no show…” (p. 6). Her craftiness carries the movie as it did three seasons of the show. Movie critic Peter Travers (2014) writes, “Plot has never been the attraction in Veronica Mars… [I]t’s how she thinks that draws us in…” (p. 73).

The mystery in the movie is familiar ground for Veronica Mars: a single night of bad decisions buried by a long, elaborate cover-up that includes obsession, blackmail, and murder. As the golden-voiced Cliff would say, “I like this case, it’s tawdry.” Veronica’s unearthing the truth requires the usual hi-tech tools and toys, ill-gotten gadgets and police files, and the help of both friends and enemies. The prescient premise of Neptune, California, “a town without a middle class,” provides just enough social structure and economic disparity to guarantee what criminologists call an anomic ethics: The have-nots will do whatever is necessary to get theirs with no evident moral dilemma (Rosenfeld & Messner, 1997). This conflict view includes the local sheriff’s department, which having never been the beacon of legality has now found a way to leverage its place in the gaping space between the socioeconomic classes.

With such a gulf between the two classes and constant reminders of that gulf, crime is a political concept in Neptune, by definition in place to keep the privileged protected from the poor (see Bonger, 1969 and Vold, 1958). The sheriff’s department, now run by Don Lamb’s more inept younger brother Dan, mediates the disparity by offering protection and service, “to the highest bidder,” as Keith Mars puts it.

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Speaking of, one of the main aspects of the movie that I appreciate as a fan of the show is the consistency with which the characters are handled. Keith is still Keith, the protective father and righteous citizen we all know and love. Gia was present on the plot’s night in question, but she maintains her presence as mildly annoying but harmless. Though he was there as well, Dick is still Dick: aloof but innocent. Vinnie Van Lowe is mixed-up in the mayhem—of course—but not in a way that implicates him as anything other than sleazy as ever. Lamb is just like his brother—only worse. The bad guy is not a character from the show (expertly played by Martin Starr, who played Roman in Rob Thomas’s short-lived but well-worthy Party Down), so we don’t have to hate anyone we already adore from the original series.

Does it feel that your life’s become a catastrophe?
Oh, it has to be for you to grow, boy.
When you look through the years and see what you could
Have been oh, what might have been,
If you’d had more time.
— Supertramp, “Take the Long Way Home”

Veronica Mars: The Thousand-Dollar Tan LineUpon first viewing, I didn’t understand why Rob Thomas insisted that the characters all end up about where they started ten years ago as opposed to having things go in an entirely new direction. As it turns out, a sequel had already been penned, but its story-line requires everything in Neptune be back to “normal.” The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line (Vintage, 2014), which was released today, picks up where the movie leaves off. Veronica is back in Neptune, plans for a big-shot New York lawyer gig scrapped for a return to the sun and sin of Southern California:

Now it’s spring break, and college students descend on Neptune, transforming the beaches and boardwalks into a frenzied, week-long rave. When a girl disappears from a party, Veronica is called in to investigate. But this is no simple missing person’s case; the house the girl vanished from belongs to a man with serious criminal ties, and soon Veronica is plunged into a dangerous underworld of drugs and organized crime. And when a major break in the investigation has a shocking connection to Veronica’s past, the case hits closer to home than she ever imagined.

“In writing an ongoing fictional creature I’m tugged in a couple different directions,” writes Rob Thomas (2006). “There’s the part of me that thinks Veronica should… get past her pettiness. She should learn how to forgive. The other part of me wants to keep her complicated. Difficult. Testy” (p. 148). Some writers and directors have a theme they tend to stick with throughout their work. Darren Aronofsky tells stories of obsession David Cronenberg’s films revolve around the body or the grotesque. Aaron Sorkin writes shows about the inner-workings behind the scenes. If I had to pick a theme for Rob Thomas, it would be getting pulled back in. His characters—Logan, Weevil, and especially Veronica—are always trying to escape their nature or their social milieus. Fortunately for us, they just can’t seem to stay away from trouble.

References:

Bonger, William. (1969). Criminality and Economic Conditions. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press.

Davies, Rich & Hodgson, Roger. (1979). Take the Long Way Home [Recorded by Supertramp]. Breakfast in America [LP]. Santa Monica, CA: A&M Records.

Rosenfeld R. & Messner, S. F. (1997). Markets, Morality, and an Institutional-Anomie Theory of Crime. In N. Passas & R. Agnew (Eds.), The Future of Anomie Theory (pp. 207-224). Boston: Northeastern University Press.

Thomas, Rob (Ed.). (2006). Neptune Noir: Unauthorized Investigations into Veronica Mars. Benbella Books.

Thomas, Rob & Graham, Jennifer. (2014). Veronica Mars: The Thousand-Dollar Tan Line. New York: Vintage.

Travers, Peter. (2014, March 27). Kick-Start or Die! Rolling Stone, 1205, 73-74.

Vold, George B. (1958). Theoretical Criminology. New York: Oxford University Press.

Mixed Metonymies: Mechanization and Culture

Meanings are malleable. Words bend and break under the stress of unintended use, abuse, or overuse. Like machine parts pushed past their limits, cogs stripped bare of their teeth, the language we use wears out, weakening the culture that carries it and our knowledge thereof.

Charles Babbage's wheel work.

Aldous Huxley (1970) writes, “In the days before machinery men and women who wanted to amuse themselves were compelled, in their humble way, to be artists. Now they sit still and permit professionals to entertain them by the aid of machinery” (p. 11). We use metaphors and metonymies of the machine to explain everything from individual bodies  and brains to society and the cosmos (see Lakoff, 1993; Raunig, 2010; Wilden, 1972). Aristotle used many anthropomorphic ideas to describe natural occurrences, but the technology of the time, needing constant human intervention, offered little in the way of metaphors for the mind. Since then, we have compared the human mind to the clock, the steam engine, the radio, the radar, and the computer (Vroon, 1987). Machines, engines, motors—these are visible, tangible things. The mechanizations we need to watch are the ones we can’t see. As Bettina Knapp (1989) writes, “…machines increasingly cut people off from nature in general and from their own  nature, in particular” (p. 28).

Mechanization Takes CommandIn Mechanization Takes Command: A Contribution to Anonymous History (University of Minnesota Press, 2013), originally published in 1948, Sigfried Giedion attempts to elucidate the cause of this splitting from our nature, the break between thought and feeling in modern society. The culprit according to Giedion? Mechanization. He uses a typological approach, moving chronologically through each of his categories: springs (movement), means (hand, key, assembly line), agriculture (gardening, bread-making, meat production), household (chair, table, furniture, feminism, refrigeration), and bath (steam, shower). This provides a matrix of mechanization (time vs type) that creates a fresh view across this “anonymous history.”

In spite of the machines, interesting people are still central to the story. Giedion follows how the in-house feminism of Catherine Beecher and “curtailed drudgery and improved organization” (p. 512) lead to the further mechanization of the home. He illustrates how Charles Babbage informed Frederick Taylor’s time studies, scientific management, and the division of labor of Taylor and Henry Ford, the inventors of modern industrialization.

“More perhaps than machinery,” writes John Kenneth Galbraith (1967), “massive and complex business organizations are the tangible manifestation of advanced technology” (p. 19). Institutions, bureaucracies, organizations like organisms led to the globalization of the machine: processors, keyboards, harddrives, screens, spreadsheets, websites, databases, fiber optic cables, satellites, wireless clouds bulging gray with data… Paul Virilio (1995) shortens the term “cyberspace” from its imaginary original form “cybernetic space-time” (p. 140), the extending of which evokes the ultimate mechanical prosthesis of the mind, a planet-spanning, command-control system to end all such systems.

The usually glum Huxley (1970) has his high notes: “Giving leisure and wealth, machines make general culture possible. There can be no doubt that many people, who would otherwise have longed in vain, are now permitted, thanks to machinery, to satisfy their longing for culture” (p. 11). From tilling machines to networked screens, our technology curates our culture. Like the precision workings of cogs and gears, let us be mindful of the language we use to describe it.

References:

Galbraith, John Kenneth. (1967; 2007). The New Industrial State. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Giedion, Sigfried. (1948; 2014). Mechanization Takes Command: A Contribution to Anonymous History. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

Huxley, Aldous. (1970). America and the Future: An Essay. Austin, TX: Jenkins Publishing Company.

Knapp, Bettina. (1989). Machine, Metaphor, and the Writer: A Jungian View. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press.

Lakoff, George. (1993). The Contemporary Theory of Metaphor. In Andrew Ortony (Ed.), Metaphor and Thought (pp. 202–251). Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.

Raunig, Gerald. (2010). A Thousand Machines: A Concise Philosophy of the Machine as Social Movement. New York: Semiotext(e).

Virilio, Paul. (1995). The Art of the Motor. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

Vroon, P. A. (1987). Man-Machine Analogs and Theoretical Mainstreams in Psychology. In W. J. Baker, M. E. Hyland, H. van Rappard, & A.W. Staats (Eds.), Current Issues in Theoretical Psychology (pp. 393–141). New York: North-Holland.

Wilden, Anthony. (1972). System and Structure: Essays in Communication and Exchange. London: Tavistock.

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Babbage wheel-work image from James Gleick‘s The Information (New York: Pantheon, 2011, p. 97).

What Means These ‘Zines?

I started all of this writing stuff making zines in junior high school. It would be difficult to overstate how much that experienced shaped who I have become. While the means of production and the channels of distribution have changed since my days at the copy shop, there are still some zines circulating. Here are a few of the standouts I’ve gotten recently.

Andy Jenkins: Poof!

The first issue of Andy Jenkins’ Bend zine I got was #7, which came in the mail over 25 years ago. That issue changed my own preset limits of what a zine could be, of what a page could represent, of what could be done with pens, scissors, glue-sticks, and a copy machine. His layouts burst onto the page in ways not even the magazines he made at the time did. There’s something about the constraints inherent in this medium that makes some people shine.

Bend #22: RejectedAndy hasn’t stopped innovating though. His last few zines buck the traditional two-page spread layout of magazines for a more stacked-and-jumbled approach. It’s a schema that works well for issue #22’s theme: rejected work. Bend: Rejected (Bend Press, 2014) consists of Andy’s rejected design and written pieces between 2010 and 2014 for such clients as Beats by Dre, Lakai Footwear, Jackass, Girl Skateboards, Hundreds, Fourstar, and Moneyball, among others. It’s a collection of case studies of how great work can still not fit a client’s needs or just fall short of expectations. No two copies of Bend #22 are the same. Each one has a different set of rejected work and includes an original drawing by Andy (mine is pictured above).

Gareth's Tips on Sucks-Less WritingGareth’s Tips on Sucks-Less Writing (Sparks of Fire Press, 2013), an excerpt from Gareth Branwyn‘s forthcoming book, Cyborg Like Me, and Other Tales of Art, Eros, and Embedded Systems (Sparks of Fire Press, 2014), is a handy guide for writers of all kinds. First compiled one the eve of blogging craze 15 years ago, Gareth has continued to update his tips in the meantime. Because of its ever-updating status, he calls it “a work in perpetual beta.”

The subtitle to Gareth’s Tips is “Or, Everything I Know About Writing, I Boosted from Other Writers and Editors.” Having compiled a couple of my own sets of writing guidelines, I can totally relate. Gareth taps wordsmiths and editor-types like Mark Frauenfelder (bOING bOING, WIRED, MAKE, etc.), Mike Gunderoy (Factsheet Five), Rudy Rucker (duh), Anne Lamott (Bird by Bird), Connie Hale (Sin and Syntax), and Warren Ellis’s gonzo Transmetropolitan protagonist, Spider Jerusalem (pictured on the cover). Gareth’s also been doing this word-thing hisdamnself for over 30 years (at Mondo 2000, WIRED, MAKE, and bOING bOING—when it was still a print zine!), so he knows there are no rigid rules for writing, but that there is a lot of advice floating around—some of which can help guide you to better prose. Gareth’s Tips brings together some of the best.

Mckenzie Wark zineV. Vale’s McKenzie Wark zine (RE: Search, 2014) is the 48-page transcript of an interview between the two conducted in late 2012. Wark was visiting Berkeley and Vale invited him over for tea. The zine comes with two hand-screened prints – one yellow, one pink. Wark is on one side and Abby the cat, who also inserted herself in the interview, is on the back. Perhaps a bit a head of me, Vale and Wark got into punk early on, Wark at age 12 in Australia. From there he got into the rave scene and the hacking underground. Vale follows the thread through these interests to the future, theming the interview with the question, “Where is all this going, and how do we keep our bearings and our punk outlook and philosophy?” If anyone can follow that line of questioning to fruitful answers with experience and erudition, it’s McKenzie Wark.

So this site and all the things attached follow from my own thread of punk and D.I.Y. print work. I do still love a good zine though. There’s something to the physicality of the pages in your hand and the focus on those pages that pixels on screens don’t afford. I hope the committed few continue to make them and new minds and hands pick up the practice.

That Which Rolls: Bicycles and the Future

“If I am asked to explain why I learned the bicycle,” writes Frances E. Willard in her 1895 book How I Learned to Ride the Bicycle, “I should say I did it as an act of grace, if not of actual religion” (p. 73). I grew up riding bicycles, so I often take the fun and freedom they afford for granted. Having seen several adults squeal with childlike glee after riding a bike for the first time in years or the first time ever, I am reminded of my own love for what Alfred Jarry called “that which rolls.” Willard continues,

The cardinal doctrine laid down by my physician was, ‘Live out of doors and take congenial exercise;’ but from the day when, at sixteen years of age, I was enwrapped in the long skirts that impeded every footstep, I have detested walking and felt with a certain noble disdain that the conventions of life had cut me off from what in the freedom of my prairie home had been one of life’s sweetest joys (p. 73-74).

Willard was president of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union and didn’t learn to ride a bicycle until the age of 53. Like most of the things she tackled in her life (e.g., women’s suffrage, politics, education, etc.), she took it as a challenge. As she so boldly puts it, “She who succeeds in gaining the mastery of the bicycle will gain the mastery of life.” Bikes can empower the weakest of spirit and liberate the most muddled of minds.

BikenomicsIn Bikenomics: How Bicycling Can Save the Economy (Microcosm, 2013), Elly Blue argues that they can also fix the recession. Starting with the myth that cyclists don’t pay for roads and motorists do. Car drivers pay for about half of the paved infrastructure in the U.S. The other half comes from everyone, regardless of our choice of vehicle. Blue lives and rides in “bike friendly” Portland, Oregon, where its growing citizenry is able to pay higher rents because they don’t have to own or drive cars. I lived in Portland for a year myself, and it’s a great town to ride in. Out of the cities I’ve lived in since getting rid of my last car in 1998 (e.g., Seattle, WA, San Francisco, CA, San Diego, CA, Flagstaff, AZ, Athens, GA, Austin, TX, Chicago, IL), it’s easily one of the most comfortable. That makes a big difference.

A quick aside: I used scare quotes around the term “bike friendly” above because it’s one of those phrases that gets tossed around during urban mayoral elections and the like by people who don’t ride bikes. I hear it regularly here in Chicago. The friendliness of your city to bicycles is not about how many miles of bike lane your roads contain. It’s about how  your city’s cyclists are treated while on those roads. With that said, Portland is way ahead of most cities in this respect.

Blue concludes Bikenomics with a re-envisioning of the future as seen through increasing trends in bicycle use. From global warming and access during power outages to general health and safety, she makes a strong case for the bicycle as the best choice for getting around. As David Byrne (2009) puts it in his Bicycle Diaries, “Strangely, the recent economic downturn might be a great opportunity. Sustainability, public transport, and bike lanes aren’t scoffed at anymore” (p. 40). Here’s hoping that sentiment continues to spread.

The Bike DeconstructedIf you’re looking for a close-up view of the machine itself, Richard Hallett’s The Bike Deconstructed: A Grand Tour of the Modern Bicycle (Princeton Architectural Press, 2014) breaks it down to the last bolt and bracket. As the former editor of RoadCyclingUK.com, Hallett knows his shifters. I’m learning and will continue to learn from Hallett’s thorough guide being relatively new to anything outside of a BMX set-up. As Isabel Marks (1901) once put it, “to the ardent cyclist no side of the sport is devoid of interest…” (p. 5). If you need to know more about the mechanical minutia of your rig or just love to geek out on gears and gadgets, this book is perfect for both.

As the sticker goes, cars run on money and make us fat; bikes run on fat and save us money. Exercise is essential, and our technologies tend to sway us away from getting enough. “The bicycle…” Frances E. Willard concludes, “will ere long come within the reach of all. Therefore, in obedience to the laws of health, I learned to ride. I also wanted to help women to a wider world, for I hold that the more interests women and men have in common, in thought, word, and deed, the happier will it be for the home” (p. 74). Everything is better with bicycles.

References:

Blue, Elly. (2013). Bikenomics: How Bicycling Can Save the Economy. Portland, OR: Microcosm.

Brotchie, Alastair (2011). Alfred Jarry: A Pataphysical Life. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press.

Byrne, David. (2009). Bicycle Diaries. New York: Viking.

Hallett, Richard. (2014). The Bike Deconstructed: A Grand Tour of the Modern Bicycle. Princeton, NJ: Princeton Architectural Press.

Marks, Isabel. (1901/2013). Fancy Cycling. Oxford, UK: Old House Books.

Willard, Frances, E. (1895/1991). How I Learned to Ride the Bicycle: Reflections of an Influential 19th Century Woman. Sunnyvale, CA: Fair Oaks Publishing.

A Looming Resonance: Black Metal Books

The threshold at the edge of a subculture is often difficult to discern. The unaware and the well-versed can be sitting right next to each other, unbeknownst to the other’s knowledge, or lack thereof, until that threshold is breached. Every few years a percentage of the population learns about the violence in the Norwegian black metal scene of the 1990s, endlessly annoying those who’d already crossed that threshold. It’s a story that’s been told over and over but only incrementally ripples through the culture at large, like a rock blown to bits before it drops into a lake.

Photo by Peter Beste from True Norwegian Black Metal.

And why not tell it again? Once one gets past the tabloid terror, the music is as mesmerizing as it is menacing, the bands look as hilarious as they do horrendous, and the genre has a rich history that reaches back over 30 years.

Black MetalNo matter. Writer Dayal Patterson has done the impossible: His Black Metal: The Evolution of the Cult (Feral House, 2013) is a literal encyclopedia of the dark genre that is not only perfect for the clueless but also essential for the connoisseur. If you know about black metal’s tumultuous beginnings from Lords of Chaos (also from Feral House; 2003), then let Patterson fill in the blanks. At nearly 500 pages, this is the definitive source of information on all things black metal, from the roots (Venom, Celtic Frost, Bathory, Mercyful Fate) through each country’s heavy weights (Poland’s Behemoth and Graveland; Greece’s Rotting Christ; Sweden’s Watain, Dissection, and Marduk; and of course Norway’s Darkthrone, Emperor, Burzum, Gorgoroth, and four chapters on the mighty Mayhem) to post-black metal (Lifelover, Alcest, Wolves in the Throne Room). Patterson truly leaves no cross unturned.

Black MetalThough it’s been thoroughly documented above and elsewhere, Black Metal: Beyond the Darkness (Black Dog, 2012) manages to bring something new to the literature on black metal. The oddities include a brief piece by Nicola Masciandaro on black metal theory, a brief oral history of American black metal, the ubiquitous Hunter Hunt-Hendrix on transcendentalism, an essay by Diamuid Hester on black metal in American writing, rare interviews with such people as Andee Connors of Aquarius Records and the tUMULt label (Weakling, Leviathan, etc.), John Hirst music manager of HMV retail stores, Adam Wright of experimental American label Crucial Blast, who’ve released some of my favorites over the past few years, including records from Gnaw Their Tongues and a harrowing three-disc release from Light. There are also essays on ‘zines (by no less than Jon “Metalion” Kristiansen of Slayer ‘zine), art (by Jerome Lefevre), those wacky, illegible logos (by Christophe Szpajdel), the look (by Nick Richardson), and the design (by Trine + Kim Design). The book also includes a selected yet extensive black metal discography. This one might be a bit much for the new or uninitiated, but it’s essential for the hardcore helvete enthusiast.

True Norwegian Black MetalIf you’re just looking for a coffee-table book full of big, scary pictures to frighten visitors to your couch, it gets no better than Peter Beste‘s True Norwegian Black Metal (Vice, 2008). This huge (11 x 14), hardback book is full of beautifully disturbing images. Peter Beste’s work here, and in his new book on Houston rap scene, is reminiscent of Glen E. Friedman‘s classic photos of the early American hardcore and hip-hop scenes. See Darkthrone’s Fenriz rocking out in his room playing records, waiting for the train, and riding the train; see Frost of Satyricon and 1349 posing in front of various churches; see Kvitrafn of Wardruna roaming Oslo, Norway (above); see Gorgoroth, 1349, and Ragnarok playing live, and the aftermath of many such shows; and see lots of cold-ass trees, mountains, and dead animals, among other such lovely horrors. It’s black, white, and red all over.

Just past all of the big pictures are a bunch of clippings from various publications, fliers, and letters chronicling the bloody rise of this scene. Editor Johan Kugelberg did an excellent job of editing together what could have been a pile of complete chaos. From the black-and-white pages of Metalion’s Slayer ‘zine to Kerrang‘s hyped coverage of Varg Vikernes’ trial, as well as a makeshift Mayhem photo album, it’s a nice little archive of artifacts from the very early days of what has become a global cult interest several times over.

So, if you’ve yet to venture into the darkness that is black metal or if you’re already wearing the paint, there are plenty of new guides to help you on your way.

These Books Were Made for Walking

For what might seem a most mundane human activity, walking has quite a body of literature. Even being such a normal, everyday act, it’s a theme that never wears out. As Karen O’Rourke (2013) puts it, “…contemporary artists have returned time and again to the walking motif, discovering that, no matter how many times it has been done, it is never done” (p. xvii). Are they making too much of putting one foot in front of the other, or is walking always already much more than that?

You’re walking
and you don’t always realize it
but you’re always
falling.
With each step,
you fall
slightly
forward
and then
catch yourself
from falling.
Over
and
over,
you’re falling
and then you catch yourself from
falling.
And this is how you can be walking
and falling
at the same time.
— Laurie Anderson, “Walking and Falling”

The Art of WalkingIn The Art of Walking: A Field Guide (Black Dog, 2013) edited by David Evans, artists are shown contextualizing and recontextualizing the act of walking, sometimes by taking it outside its everyday context, sometimes by drastically changing that context. Evans’ colorful book covers Jan Estep’s Searching for Ludwig Wittgenstein, Ingrid Pollard’s Wordsworth Heritage (homage to the inventor of the modern walk), Richard Long’s A Line Made by Walking, beautiful marches, weird shoes, paint drippings, mobile shelters, high wires, GPS units, various maps, and even walking dogs. It’s part art book, part documentation, and part field guide to the possibilities of both.

What makes a collection like this work is great photographs, and The Art of Walking is full of them. Nearly 200 photos of walks and works illustrate the wide-ranging art of the bipedal and peripatetic. It’s a worthy addition to the growing literature on walking as an artistic and political practice.

In her own history of walking, Rebecca Solnit (2000) writes,  “Walking allows us to be in our bodies and in the world without being made busy by them… Walking is a mode of making the world as well as being in it” (p. 27; p. 5). She continues,

Walking still covers the ground between cars and buildings and the short distances within the latter, but walking as a cultural activity, as a pleasure, as travel, as a way of getting around, is fading, and with it goes an ancient and profound relationship between body, world, and imagination (p. 250).

Walking and MappingIn Walking and Mapping: Artists as Cartographers (MIT Press, 2013), Karen O’Rourke explores not only the relationship between walking, body, world, and art but also walking and design. Using protocol as a trope through which to illuminate the differences between top-down planning and bottom-up development, O’Rourke breaks new ground between them. For example, paved sidewalks are predictions, attempts at restricting the walks of the future (top-down). Trails are of the past, worn by many previous walks (bottom-up). Maps are metaphors and often represent a bit of both, as well as the relationship(s) between body and world.

Making the workaday weird is one of the central challenges of art. Walking can be artistic, political, practical, or just a last resort for getting from one point to another. No matter our intentions, we walk this way to make our world and to make our way in it.

References:

Anderson, Laurie. (1982). Walking and Falling. On Big Science [LP]. New York: Warner Bros.

Evans, David. (2013). The Art of Walking: A Field Guide. London: Black Dog Publishing.

O’Rourke, Karen. (2013). Walking and Mapping: Artists as Cartographers. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Solnit, Rebecca. (2000). Wanderlust: A History of Walking. New York: Penguin.