Travel

Delving into Deleuze again while writing about cinema reminded me about travel. Deleuze had very similar views about travel to mine - he didn't like it. There's a lovely passage in a book of short essays he wrote towards the end of his life that explains why he felt this way. It's linked also to the nature of knowledge and knowing, and its relationship to life.

Academics' lives are seldom interesting. They travel of course, but they travel by hot air, by taking part in things like conferences and discussions, by talking, endlessly talking. Intellectuals are wonderfully cultivated, they have views on everything. I'm not an intellectual, because I can't supply views like that, I've got no stock of views to draw on. What I know, I know only from something I'm actually working on, and if I come back to something a few years later, I have to learn everything all over again. It's really good not having any view or idea about this or that point. We don't suffer these days from any lack of communication, but rather from all the forces making us say things when we've nothing much to say. Traveling is going somewhere else to say something and coming back to say something else. Unless one doesn't come back, and settles down in the other place. So I'm not very keen on traveling; you shouldn't move around too much, or you'll stifle becomings.

The idea of becoming or becomings is an interesting one. It means to genuinely be changed by something, and to have it changed by you in return, at the same time. To become something else. For example if you collaborate with somebody, you can assume that the outcome will be something you both agree on, or you can each do your own bits independently. Neither of those would represent a becoming. A collaboration where true becoming would take place would involve the outcome being something that neither part expected, produced by the constant process of taking each other's contribution and inflecting it in their own way.

Travel makes this sort of thing very difficult, despite all the platitudes about it broadening the mind and introducing new experiences. Like the production of any work of art, true becoming or creativity requires a prolonged getting to know something, which is really the antithesis of what travel is about i.e. to always be moving on. Nomads are sometimes considered to be the ultimate travellers, but those who have studied them realised pretty quickly that nomads move not for a change but to keep the same way of life (the land they are on or supply of hunting stock is run down, so they move the same form of life on to the next place and start again). Much travel is the same, it's not that people want a change but rather that they want to keep the same way of life, with a constantly refreshed stock of 'sights and sounds'. Like the serial monogamist for whom the next conquest is always the greener grass on the other side of the fence - repeating the same activity over and over again, with a constant supply of fresh victims.

Tourism generally lays waste to the places it touches. Some way of life is steamrolled by the way of life of the incessant travellers who come by for a look. Today thousands of students finish high school and jet off on 'gap years' to lay waste to various exotic locations and bars. Sometimes these gap years run to a decade. A desperate desire to be somewhere else.

Packing, unpacking, being stuffed into a thin tube of several hundred coughing and spluttering fellow travellers with only a few inches of leg room. Hooray. A life is like a work of art, you need to do extensive, slow and patient work to get enough of a grasp of the singularities and potentials of any place before you can start to truly live in it. And those potentialities and singularities are never exhausted. There really is a world in each grain of sand.

The same applies to holidays, for me. I'm not that person who can't wait to 'get away', I'm that person whose greatest pleasure is in getting back. I love to be at home. Unashamedly.

The final words to Samuel Beckett.

We don't travel, as far as I know, for the pleasure of travelling; we're dumb, but not that dumb.

Comments

  1. Nick, I cannot tell you how happy I am reading your post. I have never been able to explain to anyone why I do not like travelling. I nearly fell out with a good friend because of an argument about travelling broadening the mind. That is not to say that I do not enjoy different places. My ideal holiday would be going to the same place every year, where I do not have to spend the first week finding out where the bakery is, or where the walks are. Really, it would be a bit like home from home, and I could then be happy at arriving there, as happy as i would be at arriving back here again. A place where I can say hello to at least some people because I have got to know them over the years.

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