angry_disregard (angry_disregard) wrote,

Alain de Botton: The Art of Travel

On Anticipation
Eudaimonia as an aim of travel
The reality of travel is not what we anticipate.
Process of selection and simplification, emphasis, in anticipation and in memory...and in art.
"I had inadvertently brought myself to the island." ("When you pack your suitcase, you pack yourself.")

On Traveling Places

Metaphors implicit in the taking of an airplane or train. The retreating landscape. Flying over the clouds. Becoming infinitesimal.

Train dreaming...
"Journeys are the midwives of thought. Few places are more conducive to internal conversations than moving planes, ships or trains...Thinking improves when parts of the mind are given other tasks--charged with listening to music, for example, or following a line of trees. The music or the view distracts for a time that nervous, censorious, practical part of the mind which is inclined to shut down when it notices something difficult emerging in consciousness, and which runs scared of memories, longings, and introspective or original ideas, preferring instead the administrative and the impersonal...At the end of hours of train-dreaming, we may feel we have been returned to ourselves--that is, brought back into contact with emotions and ideas of importance to us. It is not necessarily at home that we best encounter our true selves."

200 years ago...outsider became seen as morally superior to the insider.

On the Exotic
Eugene Delacroix, Women of Algiers in Their Apartments, 1834
Attraction to places, to our "real" homeland, like Flaubert's attraction to Egypt.
(Eat, Pray, Love...match between our "word" and the "word" of a place)

On Curiosity

Making facts relevant and "life-enhancing."
Pernicious effect of guidebooks dictating what is appreciable and significant.
Our own guidebooks...what interests us.

"Curiosity might be pictured as being made up of chains of small questions extending outwards, sometimes over huge distances, from a central hub composed of a few blunt, large questions. In childhood we ask, "Why is there good and evil?" "How does nature work?" Why am I me?" If circumstances and temperament allow, we then build on these questions during adulthood, our curiosity encompassing more and more of the world until at some point we may reach that elusive stage where we are bored by nothing. The blunt large questions become connected to smaller, apparently esoteric ones."

The importance of "having the right question to ask of the world." In travel, being able to connect facts to this question.

"A danger of travel is that we may see things at the wrong time, before we have had an opportunity to build up the necessary receptivity, so that new information is as useless and fugitive as necklace beads without a chain."

On the Country and the City
What thought the radiance which was once so bright
Be now for ever taken from my sight,
    Though nothing can bring back the hour
Of splendor in the grass, of glory in the flower;
    We will grieve no, rather find
    Strength in what remains behind

Ode, Intimations of Immortality

Wordsworth: travels through nature as an antidote to city life

Nature can so inform
The mind that is within us, so impress
With quietness and beauty, and so feed
With lofty thoughts, that neither evil tongues,
Rash judgments, nor the sneers of selfish men,
Nor greetings where no kindness is, nor all
The dreary intercourse of daily life,
Shall e'er prevail against us, or disturb
Our cheerful faith that all which we behold
Is full of blessings.

Lines Written A Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey

Among people, we often adapt our attitudes and personalities according to the environment and expectations. But in nature, where no such expectations exist, we may be our most pure selves and are inspired to the virtues that persist undemandingly in nature.

"Spots of time" : Moments, especially from nature, that stay with us and offer in memory a respite from the daily concerns of life.

On the Sublime

'Pregnant with religion and poetry'

Sublime landscapes: "Beside these, man seems merely dust postponed; the sublime as an encounter--pleasurable, intoxicating, even--with human weakness in the face of the strength, age and size of the universe...

A landscape could arouse the sublime only when it suggested power--a power greater than that of humans, and threatening to them. Sublime places embodied a defiance to man's will...

They are vast, empty, often dark and apparently infinite because of the uniformity and and succession of their elements.

"What defies our will can provoke anger and resentment, but it may also arouse awe and respect. It depends on whether the obstacle appears noble in its defiance or squalid and insolent...We are humiliated by what is powerful and mean but awed by what is powerful and noble...a bull may arouse a feeling of the sublime, whereas a piranha cannot. It seems a matter of motives: we interpret the piranha's power as being vicious and predatory, and the bull's as guileless and impersonal.
    The behavior of others and our own flaws are prone to leave us feeling small. Humiliation is a perpetual risk in the world of me. It is not unusual for our will to be defied and our wishes frustrated. Sublime landscapes do no therefore introduce us to our inadequacy; rather, to touch on the crux of their appeal, they allow us to conceive of a familiar inadequacy in a new and more helpful way. Sublime places repeat in grand terms a lesson that ordinary life typically introduces viciously; that the universe is mightier than we are, that we are frail and temporary and have no alternative but to accept limitations on our will; that we must bow to necessities greater than ourselves. "

Sublime: sense of something greater than ourselves

On Eye-Opening Art
"A successful work will draw out the features capable of exciting a sense of beauty and interest in the spectator. It will foreground elements ordinarily lost in the mass of data, stabilize them and, once we are acquainted with them, prompt us imperceptibly to find them in the world about us--or, if we have already found them, lend us the confidence to give them weight in our lives. We will be like a person around whom a word has been mentioned on many occasions, but who only begins to hear it once he or she has learned its meaning. "

Van Gogh's faith in the eye-opening power of art.

Knowledge anchored in something...history?
Photography...painters began to capture something beyond "realism"

"Art cannot single-handedly create enthusiasm, nor does it arise from sentiments of which nonartists are devoid; it merely contributes to enthusiasm and guides us to be more conscious of feelings that we might previously have experienced only tentatively or hurriedly."

On Possessing Beauty

When we see something beautiful, we want to possess it. The camera is one way to do this. Or trying to imprint ourselves on it. Buying souvenirs.

Ruskin: "There was only one way to possess beauty properly, and that was by <i>understanding</i> it, by making oneself conscious of the factors responsible for it. And the most effective means of pursuing this conscious understanding was by attempting to describe the beautiful places through art, by writing about or drawing them, irrespective of whether one happened to have any talent for doing so."

Noticing rather than looking. Art, drawing, writing, forces us to notice.

"True possession of a scene is a matter of making a conscious effort to notice elements and understand their construction. We can see beauty well enough just by opening our eyes, but how long this beauty will survive in memory depends on how intentionally we have apprehended it. The camera blurs the distinction between noticing and looking, between seeing and possessing; it may give us the option of true knowledge, but it may also unwittingly make the effort of acquiring that knowledge seem superfluous. It suggests that we have done all the work simply by taking photographs, whereas proper eating of a place requires that we pose ourselves a series of questions. These are implicitly asked and answered in the process of sketching." Looking away too soon.

Asking these questions also leads us to understanding what we find beautiful, our aesthetic.

Ruskin: " We are all able to turn out adequate word paintings; our failure to do so is the result merely of our not asking ourselves enough questions and not being precise enough in analyzing what we have seen and felt."

On Habit
The traveling mindset: Receptive, we approach new places with humility. We carry with us no rigid ideas about what is or is not interesting.
Tags: art, paying attention, poetry, travel
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