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A Critic's Challenge to Travelers

 I've reread Irving Babbitt's "Rousseau and Romanticism" a couple times. It was a good choice.

Sometimes I wonder if books are a waste of time. When you are done with all that eyeball-fatique, and 10,000 words have been scanned into one eyeball and then have flown out the other eyeball just as quickly, you are left wondering what difference it makes to you?

What has been retained, what has had an impact on your life?

He wasn't writing about the philosophy of travel, but here is quote from the book that certainly pertains to travelers.

"...but to take these wanderings seriously is to engage in a sort of endless pilgrimage in the void. The romanticist is constantly yielding to the “spell” of this or the “lure” of that, or the “call” of some other thing. But when the wonder and strangeness that he is chasing are overtaken, they at once cease to be wondrous and strange, while the gleam is already dancing over some other object on the distant horizon. For nothing is in itself romantic, it is only imagining that makes it so. Romanticism is the pursuit of the element of illusion in things for its own sake."

My goodness, that hits a little too close to home. He is describing what could be metaphorically described as 'channel surfing with gasoline.'

He is challenging the romantic and the romantic traveler. What answer do we really have? This issue seldom comes up in the travel blogosphere/vlogosphere. If if does come up, it is only 'in passing,' and then is chuckled at and quickly dismissed.

I couldn't find the photograph of converging powerlines in the desert. But that brings up a point: with all the time spent on photography in the travel world, why do so few of the photographs 'tell a story', as good photographs are said to do?

There is at least one thoughtful video on this subject, although writing would be a better medium than video for ideas.


XXXXX said…

We are all to some degree a combination of hunter/sailor vs farmer. But that is still a surface level understanding of our nature.

When we look at the earliest evidence of what it means to be human, back to about 12,000 years BC, our earliest archeological evidence and shortly after that the earliest writings which were written into stone, man has looked to the heavens and saw the power of the sun and sky and envisioned it as a god. A real thing. All religious thinking is a further demonstration of this same tendency no matter if it involves the notion of a god or not. It is all romanticism.

Humans think symbolically. Nothing is seen for what it is but is seen for what is imagined. What is imagined is believed to be true. However, this ability to imagine has been the driving force of all our inventions and the ideas which led to create a system of justice and political organization. Ideas are ideals and are never actually achievable. They are wrapped in metaphor, symbol, and archetype.

All that is the cause of romantic thinking. Even the ancient philosophers knew this. They called them representations as the notion of romantic thinking hadn't been invented yet.

So....what to do.

One ceases chasing what is exterior to oneself. The real quest is an internal one. Instead of assuming one's perceptions and one's thoughts are valid and True, one starts looking at how we seem to be put together as a species. Animals. The most successful predators to ever have inhabited the planet. Can it be that our romantic inventions, our symbolic thinking, our flawed perceptions are actually the cause of our ability to survive so successfully?

Many are afraid this type of thinking leads to nihilism and depression. Perhaps this is a stage one must go through as previously believed imaginations die and there is nothing to immediately replace them. So many refuse the journey. They would rather stay in their imaginations. After all, there one can create any kind of a world and enjoy living in the fantasy. They chase rainbows till they die.

Perhaps ultimately we simply substitute a new imagination for the old. Who the hell knows. I certainly fall in this category.

In ancient times, the Ideas of freedom and equality did not exist. Slavery was never questioned, even by the intelligentsia. Witness the prevalence of these ideals in our current world. It seems there is a driving force upwards (in spite of all the flaws.)

All due to our ability to imagine and one could argue these are ultimately romantic notions. So should we abandon the goal because of it?

I think not.

Is it possible for a thinking human being to have no imagined world at all? I don't think so.

For what would we be? Dogs eating dogs.


My goodness, you went wild on us, George. (grin) I don't know how to get started on responding to your comment. "The real quest is an internal one." But internal chimeras evaporate when when we come up against other people or physical constraints.
XXXXX said…

I tried to talk about too many things. Subjectivism is a big topic. I'm not familiar with the book you're reading. I just wanted to put in a good word for the human imagination which is at the root of the matter. I agree with your last comment.