Pacing stride for stride alongside literary amblers and thinkers such as Edgar Allan Poe, Andrâe Breton, H. G. Wells, Virginia Woolf, Jean Rhys, and Ray Bradbury, Beaumont explores the relationship between the metropolis and its pedestrian life.
... an erudite book that moves at a pace alternating between brisk and leisurely ... That knot of emotion and energy is a clue to the book’s approach to its subject, which is not walking as exercise or locomotion, but the more challenging territory of the politics and poetics of walking, primarily in cities, and as recounted in literature of the past two centuries ... Mr. Beaumont’s claim that 'walking became a self-conscious activity in the nineteenth century' is an exaggeration, but his writers all depict the existential angst created by drifting, vagrancy and getting lost in a modern urban labyrinth ... Like his prose, Mr. Beaumont’s mind is anything but pedestrian, and he moves in unpredictable directions. He is as attuned to matters of medicine and science, anthropology, economics, philosophy and psychology as he is to literature and the visual arts ... Mr. Beaumont uses the language of contemporary literary theory, but with none of the rebarbative jargon-mongering of others in the professoriate. His references to the usual suspects are never gratuitous, but always helpful in understanding the literary, historical, and psychological terrain he explores.
The essays in this volume predate Covid-19, some by several years, yet they offer an uncanny and haunting foreshadowing of our cities as they now appear to us ... This is a male-dominated book, but many of its most familiar subjects are given revelatory new interpretations.
... passionate, profoundly chaotic ... A breakthrough: The heroically cogitating, exquisitely sensitive, cruelly alienated solitary male consciousness is finally getting his due! Beaumont is at least a bit sheepish on this score. He nods at the stories that go missing in his narrative ... Beaumont is perfunctory on the more interesting and important questions about the takeover of public spaces ... He may worry about 'the marginalized,' but he rarely if ever cites or consults their work ... Even as Black artists have complicated, adopted, parodied the notion of flânerie, they are absent here — an omission that feels striking given Beaumont’s phosphorescent erudition (and his advanced case of quotomania). His book fairly buckles under its references to the great theorists of walking, the body, the city. All the usual suspects are present, although at times deployed strangely. Ray Bradbury is endowed with his own section while Walter Benjamin, as significant a figure imaginable where such subjects are concerned, hovers at the edges of scenes, solicitously holding up a tray of useful quotations ... What distinguishes Beaumont’s book, for its doggedly narrow focus, is how it mimics — in form, excess, annoyance — the very experience it extols, of moving through the city.