Monday, October 07, 2013

Running With the Pack

Mark Rowlands is that rare beast a Welsh philosopher. Born in Newport, raised in Cwmbran, he now teaches and writes in Miami. Rowlands first gained attention for his adroit application of philosophy to pop culture. In his books The Philospher at the End of the Universe (2003) and Everything I Know I Learned from TV (2005), science-fiction films and television programmes came under his scrutiny. This kind of pop philosophy has actually become quite fashionable over recent years, and has helped to rid the discipline of its often rarefied and rather stuffy image. More recently, though, Rowlands has been writing about what it is to be human in relation to animals. His interest in the subject was aroused when he bought and then raised Brenin (Welsh for king) - a wolf. They must have different pet shop laws in America. His subsequent book, based upon his relationship with Brenin, The Philospher and the Wolf (2008), was a big success. You can even detect its influence in this recent Money Supermarket advert.

In his latest work, Running With the Pack, Rowlands attempts to answer the question: why do we run? For him it has to be about more than just keeping fit, setting goals or gaining a sense of achievement. What we learn is that Rowlands values play and doing things that have intrinsic, rather than measurable, material value. You can run for a sense of freedom and joy, too. This book is structured around the author's attempt to run the Miami marathon for which, due to injury, he is wholly ill-prepared. He reflects on other runs made during his lifetime, usually with his dogs, in various countries so that the book also serves as a memoir and a meditation on ageing and mortality. He even includes an account of a boyhood gallop up Mynydd Maen, a local peak near his childhood home. The prose in Running With the Pack is always engaging and at times quite lyrical. As with the best kinds of philosophical writing he avoids ambiguity and waffle, making it an easily navigable and thoroughly absorbing read. I've enjoyed everything I've previously read by Mark Rowlands and his high literary and philosophical standards are maintained here. Running With the Pack is published by Granta.