Monday, September 21, 2009
The Absurd Traveler
We like to travel. We like to experience new things, to see new places… but it was only recently that we thought about the absurd elements of travel.
First, to set the stage… You can come to discover the absurd – that life is essentially meaningless – in a number of ways. One way, is when you begin to question the value of your routines. So, you get up and go to work every day. Monday turns into Tuesday and then Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and on and on. Then you ask “Why?” And then the absurd suggests itself. (Albert Camus called these episodes “intimations of the absurd” – as when you become keenly aware of your own inevitable death.)
The absurd, as we’ve pointed out, is that essential confrontation between a mind that seeks meaning and coherence against the opaque and irrationality of the greater universe.
Much of what passes for society is a mask to disguise the true absurd nature of our existence. The routines of our daily existence are screens to cover the meaningless nature of it all. We lose ourselves in these routines – the going to work, the coming home, the meals, the sleep and then the cycle starts all over again…. And again and again….
Travel brings out the absurd, we find, because it destroys – at least for awhile – the screens of routine. It is especially true when you travel to a new place, where you truly feel alien.
In our line of work, we find ourselves traveling to very unfamiliar locations on occasion… We have ridden camels in the deserts of the Arabian peninsula… rode horses across the pampas of Argentina… and elephants in the Pink City of Jaipur, India… We have walked the Great Wall of China and gazed in the reflecting pools of the Taj Mahal…
In all these experiences, one can’t help but wonder about the world and our small place in it. We feel truly as a stranger in a strange land. In these places, we are ignorant of the language and the cities are mysteries. It is, in microcosm, what we all must feel when we contemplate the larger universe and galaxies far from our own.
When you look upon the Andes, or contemplate the vastness of the desert and the canopy of stars above your head, you can’t help but feel small. The summers rolls into autumn, which become winter and gives way to spring… and on and on whether you are here or not. The mountains and rivers have been here long before you and will be here long after you. They are breathtakingly beautiful… but there is also this subtext of indifference that reminds you of the absurd. Your own mortality and transience is as clear as day.
Somehow, this makes it easier to accept. The affairs of men seem quite meaningless against such timelessness. At the same time, though, it takes some courage to accept the absurd head-on, without the need to hide it behind routine or create other means to dilute its stark power.
Yet accepting the absurd does not mean retreating into a shell. It means one lives all the more passionately because of its short span. A life is but the time after birth and before death. When viewed against time as measured by the mountains and rivers and deserts, it is but the blink of an eye.
As Camus wrote, “there are only rocks, the flesh, stars and those truths which the hand can touch.” All else is mere hypothesis. The absurd man chooses to live with what is real, what he can touch.
The traveler, then, in his quest for new experiences and new vistas is another living example of the absurd man.
When we visited the Taj Mahal in India, we stayed at the Oberoi Amarvilas, one of the finest hotels in all the world. It urged its guests toward the absurd perspective, though, with a promotional video played in the rooms that uses the song by FC/Kahuna called “Kayling.” The key verse says: “Don’t think about all those things you fear and just be glad to be here…”
Indeed, just be glad to be here…
Posted by Inigo Montoya at 10:32 PM