Perambulating the Village: Henry David Thoreau and the Politics of “Walking”
In 1851, Henry David Thoreau took part in the “perambulation” of Concord, a tedious experience in which walking was paired with surveying and had in itself an administrative and official function. Instead of opening new prospects, walking became an experience of spatial and political confinement. This chapter shows how Thoreau’s “Walking” can be read as an effort to reclaim the act of walking by delineating a spatiality free from the constraints of the perambulation. A complex and confusing essay, “Walking” reads as a series of contradictory postures that blur Thoreau’s position within the community of the village—and the nation. Using Rancière’s notion of “the distribution of the sensible,” I suggest that the unpredictability of Thoreau’s essay is the basis of its political import.