Saturday, July 21, 2007

Desire Lines

The world is full of things that need names and don't have them (Douglas Adams created a small lexicon of them, The Meaning Of Liff). As one who walks rather a lot (see many a previous post), I'd always counted among those nameless things the unofficial, unacknowledged - and, frustratingly, unmapped - paths beaten by generations of people and/or animals taking, usually, the shortest or easiest route from A to B. Now I discover they have a name! I find this deeply pleasing, for some reason.
I wonder, though, if another kind of paths have a name - the curving, meandering ones that are especially abundant on scrubby downland and are anything but the shortest route from A to B. Or perhaps these wayward markings are the true desire lines, topologising the crooked timber of humanity, out of which nothing straight was ever made...
Anyway, that headline should ensure plenty of hits.

19 comments:

  1. Yes, having some involvement in managing common land up here in Northumberland, very familiar with "paths of desire", often they are problematic as they may take people through areas that it is best for them not to go e.g. across a golf course or through the centre of the Tern breeding colony. Altering desire is a whole area of path and route planning for us sometimes.

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  2. That's interesting, Grocer - but how do you go about altering desire? Put obstacles in the way? Put up notices? Or are there more positive methods, encouraging other routes, etc? I imagine it's a losing battle...

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  4. Maybe we could broaden this to a philosophical/anthropological treatise where those who follow the main roads between known fixed points are known as Desirables while those ill-willed individuals who veer off into the surrounding areas of mystery are frowned upon as, logically enough, Undesirables. All contact with the Undesirables frowned upon by the those who follow the path of greatest efficiency.

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  5. Yes the Undesirables are the ones following their desires, the Desirables following a grid... But what I like is the way the marks of spontaneous wayward human movement on a landscape are called by such an exalting name as Desire Lines, even though the term seems to have been coined by planners, who clearly regard them as more of a nuisance than anything.

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  6. The challenge for the planners would then seem to be to eradicate desire from the human situation.

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  7. I often took circuitious routes to get to my place of previous employment merely to postpone my arrival, as it wasn't an enjoyaple place to work. Meandering paths are enjoyable for that reason. They prolong the journey, indicative that for many the journey is more desirable than the destination. How about "lines of avoidance", or in a more positive light "lines of appreciation".

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  8. This also ties in with the theme of anti-connectivity. Before cell-phones, being in-transit was a chance for harried businessmen to disconnect from the network and enjoy uninterruptible solitude. For some, for whom being out of the loop is equivalent to nonexistence, this was unacceptable, and so the world of ubiquitous connectivity was born.

    But lovers of solitude and dis-connectedness will continue to follow the lines of appreciation.

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  9. The path to work could be the Line of Despair; to the shops the Line of Convenience; the bookies the line of Thwarted Aspirations; the pub the Line of Liquid Consolation; the hashish dealers the Line of Increased Mental Volume, or perhaps the Line of Decreased Verbal Capacity or even the Line of Paranoid Self-Containment; the voting registrar the Line of Democratic Illusion...

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  10. So much of our linguistic inventiveness went into seafaring rather than the land. So we are left with little more than "path" or "footpath" these days whereas I'd guess that other languages have a richer repertoire. Words like "coasting" or "scudding" suggest a pleasant meander to me, where the pleasure is in the journey rather than the goal, but of course they're nautical.

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  11. To add another type of walking line, remember Bruce Chatwin's book "Song Lines"?

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  12. Yes of course - good point Susan - and Mark, you're so right about the impoverished vocabulary for landlubberly movement - seems we are a watery nation. We haven't even got an equivalent for the French flaner...

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  13. Glad to hear you're a fellow walker, Nige - it's not chance that pilgrimage associated travel with revelation; and often pilgrims would approach the destination (e.g. Durham) on foot, out of 'humility', but also perhaps a sense of the irreducible simplicity of covering ground on your own feet.

    i sometimes ponder the psychological & spiritual echoes & affinities of our physiological set-up, e.g. having a vertical spine & two legs, also it's remarkably cost-effective (in terms of calories & sensed effort). Even lazy fat people can sedately cover a lot ground if they just keep going.

    Very Beckettian, walking. i wrote an odd sort of short story called 'Walking', i think to do with this notion of perseverance and being contained within your own parameters but simultaneously advancing, the feet like compass points measuring one's part in being, on this Earth.

    Interesting line in one of Frank Herbert's Dune books, where the Bene Gesserit 'witches' are watching their to-be Head walk through a garden, and one notes, disapprovingly, "she takes the line of least resistance."

    It is human to have desires that will not be confined within the merely biological & expedient; to not take the path of least resistance.

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  14. Everyone loves cricket and golf so how about, for the straight paths, mcgraths, and for the wiggly ones, warnies. Or, tiger lines for the straight, and monty lines for the more jigglywiggly.

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  15. We've been here before while your ftp thingie was broken...

    Before the Roman came to Rye or out to Severn strode,
    The rolling English drunkard made the rolling English road.

    ... but I still want to know what a baggonet is.

    incidentally what on earth were you carrying while (?)interviewing David Cameron. Looked like you had a trussed llama in your bag.

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  16. You're mistaking me for Bryan, David. And yes it was a trussed llama. Don't ask why...

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  17. .. but you are all forgetting the succint addage.."despair is the line of least resistance"

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