A photo of a cutout of a real plane, by me
I had to go to the loo and I found The Art Of Travel by Alain De Botton, it has worked out quite serendipitously. The first chapter is called ‘On Anticipation’. He quotes an old Dutchman saying ‘I must have been suffering from some mental aberration to have rejected the visions of my obedient imagination and to have believed like any old ninny that it was necessary, interesting and useful to travel abroad.’ So he unpacked his bags and stayed home.
Indeed, travel is often uncomfortable. De Botton mentions this gap between narrative (or brochure) and reality, how hours of jostling on a train and worrying about a million mundane things gets condensed into ‘he travelled to London’. Then how even the most picturesque Barbados beach can be spoiled by a fight over who gets the bigger creme brule, human mood that is.
It’s interesting because he’s exploring travel as a perceptual device, and he’s exploring it from the viewpoint of a deeply mediated primate. That is, De Botton experiences travel from the brochure on out, rather than as a sort of fact of life. So to, do I, to a degree. Thumbing through a guidebook and wondering why the bus takes so long and what I ate. For this particular generation of ‘city kids’, we often come from the media back to the reality and wonder why the two don’t fit.
Artificial To Natural
I think one of the more interesting ways to divide things is into Artificial and Natural. As in, at one point we were cast out of an Eden of God’s curation and we are now curating our own Eden, made from technology and economy and ultimately cumulating in Artificial Intelligence and perfect information. That is, control over chaos and, ultimately, sickness, death and suffering. The God’s Eden is metaphorical, but it can also refer to our early evolution, whereby we experienced everything as subdued monkeys or rats, living in the moment intrinsically, by virtue of limited brain capacity. That is, at one point in evolution we were children and we lived by natures laws but now we’re adults and we make our own. Perhaps more accurately, teenagers.
At this point, in 2010, I have one toe in the Artificial world and I think it’s a foothold. So we expect these curated experiences, for the toilet to flush, for things to start on time, for our cells not to become cancerous and begin multiplying uncontrollably. For nothing to pierce this veil of illusion and consensual hallucination. And so, in language, the raw code of this illusion, we condense things down to Twitter level. In art we simplify experience into photographs.
If we are inclined to forget how much there is in the world besides that which we anticipate, then works of art are perhaps a little to blame, for in them we find the same process of simplification or selection at work as in the imagination. Artistic accounts involve severe abbreviations of what reality will force upon us.
A story-teller who provided us with such a profusion of details would rapidly grow maddening. Unfortunately, life itself often subscribes to this mode of story-telling, wearing us with repetitions, misleading emphases and inconsequential plotlines.
For the longest time I haven’t travelled because I didn’t get it. I could get a much more rarefied perception by researching or asking myself about something rather than dunking myself in the soup of experience and hoping to glean something with my teeth open, like a baleen whale. And so I haven’t. This is actually the first time I’ve actually stepped outside of the Internet and the country I’m in of my own volition. On one level it’s because I have to get the effa out of here, but on another I am extremely curious about reality, unmediated and uncurated. De Botton never gets into whether this is enlightening on not. Perhaps I’ll see. I suppose I could just stay home and read the next chapter.