Monday, 5 September 2011

On The Aesthetics of Urban Walking and Writing

A beautiful essay on walking and the city by Phillip Lopate, via the NYC non-fiction blog/webiste "Tell Mr. Beller a Story", featuring some interesting observations on writting and walking amongst other points…

Around this time I began to appreciate the performance art of pedestrianism. Each New Yorker can seem like a minor character who has honed his or her persona into a sharp, three-second cameo. You have only an instant to catch the passerby's unique gesture or telltale accessory: a cough, hair primping, insouciant drawing on a cigarette, nubby red scarf, words muttered under the breath, eyebrow squinched in doubt. Diane Arbus used to say that in that split-second of passing someone, she looked for the flaw. I would say I look for the self-dramatizing element. How often you see perfectly sane people walking along grimacing to themselves, giggling, or wincing at some memory. Once, I passed a man in a three-piece suit who let out a sigh as intimate as if he had been sitting on the toilet. The expression worn on the street is perhaps more unconscious, therefore truer, than at work or at love. The crowded streets bring out, on the one hand, a pure self-absorption unembarrassed by witnesses; on the other hand, a secret conviction that one is being watched by Higher Powers, the anxious eyes of pedestrians all seeming to ask: Oh Lord, why hast Thou forsaken me?

Phillip Lopate, 2004

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