Saturday, August 29, 2009

Reflections on Travel

1. What does it mean to travel? Specifically, what does it mean to travel to a place for the sake of its newness, for the pure experience of being there? What does it mean to seek out a thing in a different location? What does our sojourn do for mind and world?

2. The dead germans tell us that “inquiry is guided beforehand by what is sought.” Our desire to investigate a thing has at its roots a notion of what that thing is or at least what it might be like. These notions may not be explicit, but they provide a grid on which to place our future experiences. These sometimes implicit orientations and expectations are unsettled or undermined by what we take to be the truth of our experience. But often our activity of taking this meaning to be “the truth of our experience” is a dialectical adjustment of the old expectations that this so called truth has replaced. This adjustment brings a change in our expectations, which in turn alters the possibilities for our experience. If they were merely the first term in an ongoing hermeneutic process, our initial preconceptions would not be more problematic than those of anyone else. But the movement of life often forces us to suspend this process, leaving in its place an at least partially calcified receptivity to experiences. Thus, it is just as important for us to investigate our prior conceptions as it is to fend off the elements of life that limit new acts of perception.

3. The difference between expectation and experience is often distinctly perceived in the context of travel, in the distance between home and destination. Our ideas about places are woven out of endless currents of information. When these are places that we have yet to visit, we tend to take the phenomenon of “seeing for one’s self” as the test against which we measure our conceptions. “I hear that Fiji is such and such. I guess I will see it for myself.” Or “I can’t wait to see the the old church that I have read so much about.” The distant world is given over to us largely through media and other accounts. Since all accounts frame the world and all frames commit acts of emphasis and exclusion, we are prone to think of visiting a place as a kind of frame removal. This is why we take the accounts of those who have “been there” as more authoritative than those who merely convey secondary sources.

4. It is also why we endeavor to visit places that interest us. But in visiting, we often overlook what is often most apparent at home, that there is no such thing as frame removal. We experience all things from the frame that is our perception. If we do not condition our perceptions, we could travel to an entirely new place but remain in our usual world of meanings. We can visit a place in the sense of going without being there.

1 comment:

natrylmystic said...

I think this idea of frames is interesting in the sense that the tourist is obligated in many ways to return from their travel with a literal framing of their perceptions: photos. The photograph, while compelling for lots of reasons, is a kind of resistance to frame removal when traveling. It also can lead to a kind of fetishizing of the visual aspects of the excursion, trumping the other kinds of sensory experience.

I once read an essay by Alice Walker that encouraged the traveler to go without her camera. This seems like a productive possibility.