I found the word “Pathology” in the preface by Hans Ulrich Obrist to the Portuguese edition of Caminhadas com Robert Walser, published in 2019 by BCF Editores (trad. Bernardo Ferro). Obrist explains that the term was coined by the Swiss sociologist Lucius Burckhardt, in the 1980s, “to fix through language the unique science of walking”. The word “does not exactly express an aesthetic appreciation of the surroundings with which one contacts through the act of walking, but rather the reciprocal interaction of the landscape and the walker”, says Obrist.
At the window, watch the neighbors walk around the garden. Respecting habits and using a grass spot is marked by the circles they usually draw when walking. They are ellipses made with their vague steps: ladies with their dogs, alone men who stop in front of the trees before continuing, children always with the same clearing, who build buildings from young leaves and the grass is dry and flat, for example. The city garden is nobody’s and belongs to everyone. At the window, it is clear that people who appropriate him as if they were feeling on a very hot day: they go far to skate, or they play rackets, or they commit suicide in the sun, or dogs pass.
I do not know if it is people who walk dogs, if dogs walk their owners: human beings follow us and print a trail guided by the instinct of their pets. They go, unlike animals, oblivious to the path and the people they encounter. They seem to have been the dogs that took them for a walk, giving them a few minutes of rest, in which they abstract themselves from life and worries.
The garden changes those who inhabit it and changes as they walk: they steal flowers, pluck branches, plant pine trees left over from Christmas, draw paths with their steps, which afterwards the sun dries leaving the confused trail of their occupation, as in a record that many people had signed on top of each other. Lake frogs croak during the night. It is best heard when there is no wind, or getting close. If we whistle or clap, we shut up for a moment, it seems that they are trying to understand what we said to them, and then they resume their song, which resembles the tanger of an orchestra of out-of-tune coras.
“Robert goes ahead of me along the narrow alleys, fast as a leprechaun, without an overcoat and with his umbrella rolled up. It seems to have sniffed something. I don’t interrupt you; I just follow him like a lamb. ” (p. 57) The speaker is Carl Seelig who “for twenty years accompanied the Swiss writer Robert Walser on some of his daily walks”. Seelig’s prose is meteorological, without emphasis, it has the soft precision of a watercolorist. The landscape is sometimes cold and inhospitable, the roads you walk with Walser are sometimes long and icy. The word “overcoat” reappears more than usual in books in the middle climates (and this book fits in the pocket of an overcoat). Walkers stop and warm up with coffee and cigarettes, walk to get warm. Seelig follows Walser like a lamb and Walser walks like a dog, sniffs here and there, being fascinated by what he finds, or not, talking or not.
In Walks with Robert Walser it seems that one of the hikers is the landscape and the other the stroller who walks in it: Seelig walks through Walser, not a man, but a place, a road.
Walking as an indication of belonging to a place, a sign that one is a part of and is admitted: no one walks in the garden with less ease than the sick and the unsuitable in the neighborhood. It seems that Nature belongs to everyone, but it is more of some than of others. The sad neighbor walks as if fleeing the trees and the wind, revealing the garden as a cage and not as an open road, a place planted by the human hand and not a place left to the exercise of freedom. The circular design of the space, surrounded by buildings that watch over him, is, in view of the path of the patient through the grass, not an open field, but a panoptic whose windows all watch the cripple who, at fifty, still lives with his parents . The black and old caretaker also looks over his shoulder when he approaches the flower beds to throw away bags of dry leaves.
Perhaps Walser’s alienation was the anesthesia that allowed him to sniff the street like a stray dog or the self-conscience of the old Cape Verdean caretaker is an indication of his perception that leisure, the wind in the leaves of poplars, the croaking of frogs, the green grass, they are not there for everyone.
Who interacts with what during the walk? Is this interaction a relationship between the stroller and the landscape or between his place in the world and the space-time occupied by him while walking, not a nobody’s land, but a political place? No hike is free. When we go out on the street, we take our face and our position in the order of things. Or it is necessary that the landscape soaks us, makes us forget that position, covers us with a veil, if that is possible, and that we walk as null subjects, and not as people with size, color and height. I see the occupants of the window garden on their hygienic walks as if watching fugitives. They ran away from home, from boredom, from despair, from the capital, from their life. But I see them from the window, I don’t dare down there, I don’t interact, I don’t share their courage. I am alive, like them, but not enough to lose myself in the garden, to forget my face.