Tuesday, January 28, 2014
Afloat with "The Traveller" : Of Voyages, Ships and Seas
All to say that our own first voyage out in this series found us talking, in nautical terms, of many things -
Of shoes - and ships - and sealing wax -
Of cabbages - and kings -
And why the sea is boiling hot -
- but also, in a somewhat more practical vein, navigating our way through a number of individual and group exercises designed to shed poetic light on the workings of metaphor and generate insight into the relationship between freedom and voyaging. As we did this work, the etymological powers-that-be were busily getting on with their own unpacking: revealing the roots of the word 'voyage' to lie in the actual provisions (like food and money) that one takes on a long and arduous and (frequently) perilous journey; leaving us somewhat 'at sea' - that is, in a state of uncertainty or perplexity - with their announcement that the 'glamour' we associate with those dashing transatlantic cruises of yesteryear is, in fact, a very close cousin of that dry and unbending stickler for rules, 'grammar.' Delving back to a time before 'glamour' and 'grammar' went their separate ways, we saw how their shared denotation of 'scholarly learning' connoted, in those medieval times, all the magic and enchantment and casting of spells that we today associate more with a glitzy on-board romance than with the present subjunctive.
Forsaking the exigencies of the latter in favour of pragmatist philosopher William James' (1842-1910) somewhat more alluring concept of 'corporeal grammar,' we considered the difference between our bodies at home and our bodies en voyage. From the moment we are born, James argued, our bodies become encoded by and conditioned to a specific habitat, creating within us a range of habitual corporeal responses, prompting us to become creatures of habit more likely to seek out those encounters between self and environment that are recurring, hence familiar, than unexpected, hence jarring. Over time, a kind of bodily grammar - complete with its prescribed associations and requisite rules - sets in. We become corporeally able and re-actively 'correct': at one with our environment just so long as that environment remains consistent, does not significantly change.
Which is precisely the point where vitalist phenomenologist and sensuous travel writer Alphonso Lingis (b. 1933) steps in: urging us to shake up that corporeal grammar of ours; suggesting that a voyage to foreign climes is the perfect way to get the ball rolling. Travel, as Lingis argues, "bursts our world wide-open". In the process, we not only begin to "see with new eyes" à la Marcel Proust. We also shatter those affective circuits of which our body has become composed, and through which the passé and composé of our respective corporeal grammars just seem to end up inevitably together. Not only are we discovering new landscapes as we voyage into the unfamiliar; our bodies themselves become new landscapes, jarred into a reconfigured topography as the shock of the unknown makes us anew. To Andre Gide's admonition that we cannot discover new oceans unless we have the courage to lose sight of the shore, we add gonzo journalist Hunter S. Thompson's insistence that, rather than arriving at our final destination in a "pretty and well preserved body," the proof of a life well lived lies in "skidding in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming: 'Wow! What a Ride!'"
If this latter reflection provides a fitting segue into next session's exploration of the tensions between home and away, those taking part in this session were left in no doubt that travelling - whether physically or philosophically - is not for the faint of heart. All to say, we worked hard. But then, given 'travel''s etymological origins - travail, as in 'work', and before that, 'an instrument of torture' (!) - what else would you expect? Sincere thanks go out to our existing members for bringing their friends along to give wwp a trial run, and we welcome all those who will be joining us as new members in 2014.
at 6:15 PM