Up and Down the Streets of the Western Metropolis

Andrea Baldi (Italian)

The seminar addresses the representation of walking in Western cultures. Rooted in the everyday, in ordinary gestures, the experience of walking is pivotal to the shaping of our experience of place. Strolling relates to our most immediate way of staying in the world, examining and describing it. In the wake of modernity, the new urban subjects have fashioned walking as a style of apprehension and appropriation of their surroundings. Through their “rhetoric of walking,” their choices of itineraries, passers-by devise their own maps of the city, appropriating its spaces. As it constitutes a primary way of relating to others and perceiving the environment around us, walking is a recurrent motif in literary and cinematic texts. Since antiquity, this practice has been prominently recorded in literature as a paradigm of a dynamic relationship with the outside world, often leading to detachment from the mundane sphere, and prompting reflection and introspection. Such observation of our living space is culturally encoded and, with its shifts and transformations in the course of time, reflects changing attitudes and customs, highly influenced by social and economic factors. Walking through the city is also, and foremost, codified by gender, as demonstrated by the various models of flânerie, in which the gender identity of the passer-by shapes the observation of urban space. Walking sets in motion essential processes regarding reflection, knowledge, and writing. It is, ultimately, a call to participation in the world, as well as a process of cognitive discovery, moving from the outside to the inside. In the seminar we will explore these fascinating issues, analyzing an array of captivating literary and visual texts. Thus, we will raise and ponder questions about our own experience of walking in the metropolis.

Course Number: 
01:090:101 section 01 index 05792