Hungry Ghosts

Paul Connerton

A kind of revelation came to the anthropologist Marcel Mauss when he was in hospital in New York. He wondered where previously he had seen girls walking the way his nurses walked. At last he remembered that he had seen walking like this at the cinema. Returning to France, he realised how common this gait had become, especially in Paris: American walking fashions had arrived in France, thanks to the cinema. From this nucleus of an idea Mauss generalised further. The position of the arms and hands while walking, he noticed, form a social or group idiosyncrasy. He claimed always to be able to recognise a girl who had been raised in a convent, for in general she would walk with her fists closed; and his friend Curt Sachs, an expert on the world history of dance, could recognise the gait of an Englishman or a Frenchman from a long distance. Mauss concluded that there is an education in walking.

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