In the essay “Street Haunting,” published in 1927, Virginia Woolf describes nighttime walks through London as a kind of escape from the self. A city dweller, drawn to the “irresponsibility which darkness and lamplight bestow,” takes to the street to join the “vast republican army of anonymous trampers.” Woolf goes on, “The shell-like covering which our souls have excreted to house themselves, to make for themselves a shape distinct from others, is broken, and there is left of all these wrinkles and roughness a central oyster of perceptiveness, an enormous eye.” For Woolf, this is a matter not merely of voyeurism but of empathy: the street-haunter cherishes the “illusion,” nourished by rambling, “that one is not tethered to a single mind, but can put on briefly for a few minutes the bodies and minds of others.”

The rambler Woolf describes is estranged enough to observe from a distance and compassionate enough…

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