Most people who know about Centre College know about The Art of Walking, an iconic CentreTerm course taught by H.W. Stodghill, Jr. and Adele H. Stodghill Professor of French and German Ken Keffer. The subject of JEOPARDY! clues and “Coolest College Class” rankings, The Art of Walking takes on a distinctly European context this January, when students will explore French and German locales rather than American ones.
CentreTerm is an intensive three-week term between traditional semesters that allows students and faculty to dive headlong into one specific subject in new and unexpected ways—in this case, by walking through areas of France and Germany surrounding Strasbourg, France, where the class will be based.
“It is thanks to Centre College that Art of Walking exists,” Keffer explains. “In 2002, we put in a new curriculum; the College opened up the winter term as a time for risk-taking and exploration.
“Without the permission to ‘try anything’ given by the President, the Dean and the Division Chairs,” he adds, “I would never have gotten the nerve to teach the obvious—the pleasures of walking.”
For Keffer, walking and the kind of nothingness it embodies is a fascinating intellectual topic.
“In a sense, walking is pre-doing, a kind of vacation from goals and objectives,” he explains.
Keffer will lead students through several different historical, artistic and philosophical walking tours. One excursion will trace the history of Strasbourg and another outing will follow the city’s various architectural styles and artistic movements. An excursion of particular note travels to Todtnauberg, Germany, to visit Martin Heidegger’s cabin retreat.
“This is a remote ski hut where Heidegger thought out many of his works,” Keffer explains. “Heidegger’s cabin is not unlike Thoreau’s; it is the material vestige of the flight from urbanization and the fulfillment of an agrarian program for village culture.”
As part of the course, students will read excerpts of Being and Time, of which Heidegger wrote portions during his stays in his mountain hut.
“I hope reading it turns my students’ world upside-down,” Keffer says. “After Heidegger, things are not the same. After Heidegger, walking isn’t the same, either.”
For Keffer, no matter where it takes place, Art of Walking is an ideal course for CentreTerm.
“Art of Walking asks students to stop focusing on constantly doing and concentrate more on simply experiencing,” he says. “It’s a different kind of intellectual atmosphere than the one they usually experience during longer terms.”
Keffer is particularly enthusiastic about the opportunity to explore and learn in this uniquely intense way with his students.
“I’m looking forward to going side by side with my students, facing the future,” he says. “I’m looking forward to looking forward.”
By Mariel Smith