Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Travelling in the Land of the Sublime

Let us start with a definition.  Something that is sublime can be astoundingly beautiful or grand, or in another meaning it can be something that is outstanding or extreme.  My dictionary gives a third meaning viz., something of the highest moral or spiritual worth, in short something exalted.  Of the three definitions, it's the second one that grabs me as it, to my mind at least, can be grasped by all tourists in this world.  Something outstanding or extreme.  Well, let's take going on a trip to either the Arctic or Antarctic regions; climbing up the side of a volcano - one can make such trips up Vesuvius and Etna under the watchful eye of skilled guides; climbing any mountain at all give me personally a feeling of awe before the sublime; more obviously visiting the great waterfalls of the world - Niagara Falls or the Victoria Falls.  There are, needless to say, many other sublime places to go than the ones I have mentioned here.  Today people seem to like extremes - I have even met some people who say they love extreme sports.  Why I have gone with this particular meaning is because something that is astoundingly beautiful or grand may be more subjective.  What is astounding beauty anyway?  Something astoundingly grand or big we can get our heads around alright, but the first part of this definition is still rather too vague and subjective.  Yes, today, we know extremes when we meet them, whether in weather or in people.  So much by way of introduction.  Now let me return to my last entry on De Botton's travel book.

For his journey into the sublime De Botton travels to the Sinai Desert and he brings with him the works of two great figures from literature and the Bible respectively, namely Edmund Burke and Job.  Our author begins by quoting Pascal and how small he felt in comparison with the huge extent of infinite space, and then tells us that he set out to visit Sinai "in order to be made to feel small".  Hence immediately we are being led into a feeling of awe for the sublime, and hence my beginning with an appropriate definition of our word.

De Botton quotes Burke because he had disabused the common mind of the confusion of beauty with sublime.  For him they were not interchangeable words at all.  Sublimity, he said, had to do with a feeling of weakness before the strength and power of nature.  No meadow or patch of ground suffused in sun or bunch of daffodils could excite the feeling of sublimity; it would of course create a feeling of beauty in the onlooker. 

Then the question arises as to why we should seek the sublime?  Why should we want to have this experience of feeling weak and powerless and small?  De Botton informs us that Sinai gives way to "a featureless, baking gravel pan described by the Bedouins as 'El Tih', or the desert of the Wandering." (Op.cit., 161) and then, to my mind at least gives an insight into how the imaginative idea of a god or of God (my words here) might have arisen historically:

Because what is mightier than man has traditionally been called God; it does not seem unusual to start thinking of a deity in the Sinai.  The mountains and valleys spontaneously suggest that the planet was built by something other than our own hands, than a force greater than we could gather, long before we were born... (Ibid., 169)

And so the deity or God becomes associated with vast open spaces or sheer sublime encounters.  At this juncture De Botton begins to ponder the question of innocent suffering or evil in the world, a topic I have discussed many times in these pages so I won't delay on that particular topic here, except to point out that the author of the Biblical book of Job has God answer from the heights and depths of the planet - mountains and oceans - so that Job may experience his smallness and insignificance before the might and power of a God who created all.  De Botton becomes almost a little preachy here, but we forgive him because he enraptures us with the beauty of his prose and his passion for his ideas:

If we spend time in them [the vast spaces of nature], they may help us to accept more graciously the great unfathomable events that molest our lives and will inevitably return us to dust. (Ibid., 179)

Then our author brings us to Provence and, needless to say, his guide this time is the magnificent artist Vincent van Gogh.  This chapter was exceedingly moving and I was quite enraptured by it.  De Botton calls this experience that of eye opening art.  Artists teach us to renew or senses because they teach us to see the world anew; to see the smallest and most insignificant things in a new light.  They teach us to see small details which we miss; even big details which we overlook because we are so blind to beauty in our workaday world - so caught up as we are in our own little private worlds.  That's one of the functions of art, to my mind at least, to call us out from our own little private worlds and to engage with beauty (even sublimity when captured) beyond the walls of our small selves.  Here's an interesting fact about Van Gogh: for fifteen months up until May 1889 the artist produced approximately 200 paintings, 100 drawings and 200 letters - a period generally agreed to have been his greatest.  He had read voraciously the French authors Balzac, Flaubert, Zola and Maupassant and these writers opened his eyes to psychology and to society in general.  They had taught him to see in a certain way.  Now he was to teach the world to see the world anew from his own unique artist's perspective.

I am always quoting that no two people see the same thing in exactly the same way.  There are as many takes on the world as there are people it.  I also quote quite regularly the fact that we see the world not as it is but rather as we are.  We all bring our own optic to our own way of seeing.  How can we see except with our own eye?  Van Gogh felt that he had trained his eye to see what was essential to reality that many of the realists before him had omitted.  An artist must, as it were, choose to leave out this or that or to show this or that in his work :

Bad art might thus be defines as a series of bad choices about what to show and what to leave out.  And leaving the essential out was precisely Van Gogh's complaint against most of the artists who had painted southern France until his own day. (Ibid., 193)

This chapter is well worth reading many times over and I certainly have not grasped it all as I should wish.  I shall return to it later when I eventually get around to discussing aesthetics in these posts.

In the final chapters of this stimulating book De Botton travels to the London Docklands and revisits Madrid, Amsterdam and Barbados with the eye of a sketcher, this time in the company of John Ruskin, the famous Victorian art and literature critic.  What an exemplary guide Ruskin proves to be, too.  Ruskin believed, as he expressed it, that we can possess the beauty of places that we travel through.  Essentially we could do this by attempting to sketch what we see about us. De Botton reminds his viewers or readers that we should not at all be too concerned with how good or bad our sketches are.  Rather, what is important is that we teach ourselves how to look anew at things.  By sketching what we see in front of us, however badly or well, we train our eyes to see anew.  Ruskin often became distressed at how seldom people noticed details; at how people could walk through a whole market - he gives the example of Clare Market - and come out the other side not one bit wiser.  He used say to his students:  "Now, remember, gentlemen, that I have not been trying to teach you to draw, only to see." (Quoted ibid., 222)  Again this chapter is worth revisiting as I feel I have not done it too much justice.

I shall finish discussing this book with the following aphorism which an old teacher of mine never failed repeating: "There are none so blind as those that fail to see."  Let us try to see things anew this coming year.

Happy New Year to any readers of this piece out there.  May you all see your lives anew and consequently be revivified.

Above I have uploaded a copy of Vincent Van Gogh's painting Night Café. I was stunned by the amount of paintings he created. He was fascinated with everything, especially the landscape with his unique powerful cypresses. Hence I thought something difference from his brush might awaken something else in me. Why not the night café?

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Dallying with De Botton

For today's post I'm still processing the insights I gained from Alain De Botton's wee book  The Art of Travel.  In chapter 5, suitably called "On The Country and the City" he tours The Lake District (Cumbria) in the company of the quintessential nature poet - Romantic poet - William Wordsworth (1770-1850).  I found this chapter least satisfying in this book, probably because in the last 25 years or so I have steadily gone off Wordsworth, whom I have progressively found far too sugary and saccharine for my delicate constitution.  Likewise, I found his life story singularly unriveting, probably because I became so interested in his partner in crime - Samuel Taylor Coleridge whom I found fascinating because of his unorthodoxy in all the areas of his life and a great poet as well.  Therefore, I am singularly biased and admit this prejudice before I start this contribution.

However, De Botton regales us with interesting facts.  Here's a hard fact on demography:  In 1700, 17% of the population of England and Wales lived in a town; in 1850 it was 50%, and by 1900, 75%.  These are important statistics because they represent that great migration from rural to urban setting that was the result of the great Industrial revolution.  Our two friends Wordsworth and Coleridge lived during the height of this migration.  They helped launch the Romantic Age in English literature with their wonderfully new and energetic 1798 joint publication, Lyrical Ballads.

During his journey De Botton immerses himself in reading Wordsworth's famous Prelude which is a semi-autobiographical poem of his early years which the poet revised and expanded a number of times. The work was posthumously titled and published, prior to which it was generally known as the poem "to Coleridge". Wordsworth would become England's Poet Laureate from 1843 until his death in 1850.  That Wordsworth was the quintessential nature poet goes without saying:

And almost every day, he went on a long walk in the mountains or along the lakeshores.  He was unbothered by the rain, which, as he admitted, tended to fall in The Lake District 'with a vigour and perseverance that may remind the disappointed traveller of those deluges of rain which fall along the Abyssinian mountains for the annual supply of the Nile.'  His acquaintance Thomas de Quincey estimated that Wordsworth had walked 175,000 to 180,000 miles in his life.  (De Botton, 134)

I envy Wordsworth his closeness to nature and indeed his marvellous fitness.  He felt the very pulse of the divine in nature that abounded about him.  He wrote about butterflies, cuckoos, skylarks, daisies, daffodils, celandines, cocks, hens, nightingales, hills, streams, clouds, birds eggs and so on and so forth.  Of these observed facts De Botton tells us that

They were not haphazard articulations of pleasure.  behind them lay a well developed philosophy of nature, which - infusing all of Wordsworth's work - made an original and, in the history of Western thought, hugely influential claim about our requirements for happiness and the origins of our unhappiness.  The poet proposed that Nature, which he took to comprise, among other elements, birds, streams, daffodils and sheep, was an indispensable corrective to the psychological damage inflicted by life in the city.  (Ibid., 136)

Critics saw this as rather puerile and 'namby-pamby' in the words of the great Lord Byron.  In other terms, sickeningly sentimental or schmaltzy or sugary or saccharine as I have said above.  However, Wordsworth did not despair of the critics as he believed far too much in mother nature.  I remember at college how we used to have discussions as to whether he was a pantheist, that is, a person who believed in nature as if it were God, or whether he might have been a panentheist, a believer in a God who revealed himself quintessentially in and through nature.  These questions were or are, to my mind now, stupid and silly questions that are rather meaningless.  It is enough for me now to know that this wonderful human being believed in the redemptive and healing powers of nature - almost at the modern self-help level to superimpose an anachronism, but I think the reader will catch my meaning.

After 1830 Wordsworth became virtually the guru of poetry and the lauder supreme of nature's wonderful gifts.  His new approach to poetry by writing in the language of the ordinary countryman and woman was definitely a hit with the populace.  In fact, in 1843 he was appointed Poet Laureate, because he was held universally in such high esteem.  By the time of the poet's death in 1850 (by which time as we've pointed out about, half of the population of England and Wales lived in big towns and cities.) serious opinion agreed with his suggestion that regular travel through nature was an antidote to the evils of the city.

I remember reading Lines written a few miles above Tintern Abbey several times at school and college.  It's a wonderful poem to reflect upon when considering the Wordsworthian creed or belief in the redemptive and healing power of nature.  I shan't quote it here, but I would like to advert to what De Botton calls the nearest Wordsworth came to giving voice to an academic account of his philosophy of Nature:

'A great Poet... ought to a certain degree to rectify men's feelings... to render their feelings more sane, pure and permanent, in short, more consonant with nature.'  (Quoted ibid., 148)

In every natural landscape, Wordsworth found instances of sanity, purity and permanence.  What he would make of the destruction wrought by earthquakes and tsunamis and volcanoes I don't know.  They did not enter his ken, alas.  His world was possibly, too Romantic, to admit of too much evil or evil of too great or deep or horrific a degree.

However, one thing is sure and that is that Wordsworth taught whole generations to see nature with new eyes, with new depths, with a new and renewing vision.

If his poems can be accused of being 'namby-pamby' and to insult the machismo of Lord Byron and many other critics since, to modern humankind they can prove to be a veritable force for good, for healing the heart and soul of modern humankind by opening our eyes to the healing and renovating powers of nature.  They can bring us to a depth often lacking in this often sadly too superficial world.  That there may be sugar on the surface of the pie in no way takes away from its sustenance for the soul if not the body.

Above I have uploaded one of the many portraits of William Wordsworth. Unfortunately I failed to find out its author.

The Curious Nose

I remember when I was a first year student in secondary school having a very young teacher for science who informed us that we should all develop "a curious nose."  Curiosity is one of the greatest motives in the pursuit of knowledge.  What naturalist or scientist has ever not been curious?  Curiosity stands to reason in that profession.  Likewise, any good teacher, writer or psychologist will likewise be curious.  Needless to say the good traveller, according to De Botton, will needs be curious.

And so our author begins chapter four, entitled "On Curiosity" with an account of a trip to Madrid with a book of the great scientist and explorer Alexander von Humboldt as a vade-me-cum.  Alexander von Humboldt ( 1769 – 1859) was a German naturalist and explorer whose quantitative work on botanical geography was foundational to the field of biogeography. Between 1799 and 1804, Humboldt travelled to Latin America, exploring and describing it in a manner generally considered to be a modern scientific point of view for the first time.  As a consequence of these and other explorations, von Humboldt described many geographical features and species of life that were hitherto unknown to Europeans, and indeed many species of plant and animal life as well as geographical features were named after him.  To see a list of these hit the following link: AvH List.  De Botton comments on the achievements of this great genius thus:

In the summer of 1799, this 29 year old German set sail from the Spanish port of La Caruna...on a voyage of exploration of the South American continent... Humboldt was to be away from Europe for five years.  On his return, he settled in Paris and over the next twenty years published a thirty volume account of his travels...He transformed the state of knowledge and travelled 15,000 kilometres around the northern coastlines and interior (of South America) and, on the way, collected 1,600 plants and identified 600 new species.  He redrew the map of South America...and he gave the first account of the rubber and cinchona trees... (De Botton, 104-106)

This gives one just a taste of what he did, as he also achieved so much else.  Our friend Humboldt was a sort of Renaissance man.  Charles Darwin even learnt large swathes of his work by heart because it was so good.

While our scientist here was a great collector of facts and a really brilliant observer of nature, De Botton goes on to quote Nietzsche who had an interesting take on facts and items of knowledge.  On the one hands facts can be cold and clinical (my words) - what Nietzsche calls the academic facts of the explorer or scientist.  This he praises as somewhat more than worthwhile as it advances the knowledge of mankind.  However, he also pointed out that civilised humans likes their facts also to be 'life-enhancing.'  Here is what De Botton has to say with respect to this distinction:

[Nietzsche] distinguished between collecting facts like an explorer or academic and using already well-known facts for the sake of inner, psychological enrichment...  The real challenge was to use facts to enhance 'life.'  (Ibid., 112)

In the work of Nietzsche we find suggested a second kind of tourism to that of von Humboldt viz., a type of tourism by which we can learn how our own society and our own identity have been formed by the past.  In this way we can acquire a sense of belonging and a sense of continuity.  Our author stresses the fact that for the learned scientist and explorer the question had been, "Why are there regional variations in nature?"  Then for the traveller called Alain De Botton or any of us on our trip to Madrid, when standing, say, outside the Iglesia de San Francisco El Grande, the question might be, "Why have people felt the need to build churches?" or even, "Why do we worship God."  (See ibid., 124)

I'll finish this post with a quotation from von Humboldt himself nearing the end of his long life:

People often say that I'm curious about too many things at once: botany, astronomy, comparative anatomy.  But can you really forbid a man from harbouring a desire to know and embrace everything which surrounds him?  (Quoted ibid., 125)

This rhetorical question needs no answer - obviously!


To be continued.

Above I have placed a copy of a portrait of Humboldt when he was 37 years of age by Friedrich Georg Weitsch, 1806

Monday, December 29, 2008

Learning to See the World Anew

Once again let me begin by saying that of all the positive benefits of meditation, perhaps the primary one is that of learning to become aware of everything that's going on around you at any particular time.  This post is a continuation of my last one and, like it, it is inspired by my reading of Alain de Botton's wonderful wee book on travel, viz., The Art of Travel (Penguin, 2003)

De Botton's book is essentially about awareness, about being awake to all that is going on around you.  He argues that we are, in fact, travelling all the time.  The implications of his thoughts are that we do not have to spend much money on our holidays at all - all we have to do is learn to see the world with new eyes; learn to hear the world with new ears; learn to feel the world with more attentive hands; learn to taste the world with more awakened taste buds and finally learn to smell the world with a new nose finely attuned to the myriads of smells and odours around us.  These last words are mine, of course, not his.  However, I think the reader of these comments will get my point. 

Chapters three and four which constitute section two of this book explore our motives for travel and deal with the exotic and curiosity.  De Botton brings the French novelist  Gustave Flaubert (1821 – 1880) and the German naturalist and explorerAlexander von Humboldt (1769-1859)with him for guides on the way to deal respectively with both topics.

The first of these two authors was quite Rabelaisian in tone.  As a boy of twelve, Flaubert's cherished wish, De Botton tells us, was to become a camel driver in Egypt and lose his virginity in a harem.  Needless to say, we are not surprised when we hear that the young Flaubert was often bored and that he contracted a wide variety of venereal diseases including syphilis during his lifetime.  He also fantasized (when he was only 15) about killing the mayor of Rouen where he was born and where lived most of his life.  Also, while reading Rabelais, he wanted to fart loudly enough so that all Rouen could hear.  The young Flaubert was to visit the following exotic places (1849-1850): he went on a long journey to the Middle East, visiting Greece and Egypt. In Beirut he contracted syphilis. He spent five weeks in Constantinople in 1850. After 1850, Flaubert lived in Croisset with occasional visits to Paris and England, where he had a mistress. He visited Carthage in 1858 to conduct research for one of his novels.  So, our man was well accustomed to travelling.  Writing back to his mother from Alexandria, he states with enthusiasm that he "gulped down a whole bellyful of colours, like a donkey filling himself with hay." (De Botton, 75)

Flaubert had been driven to rage in France  by the bourgeoisie which he saw as a repository of extreme prudery, snobbery, smugness, racism and pomposity.  No better man than Flaubert to disabuse these silly people of such vices.  He loved the sheer chaos, visual and auditory, of Alexandria, and De Botton regales us with some wonderful quotations from this author which shows his wonderful style - so practised in "le mot juste,"  a phrase we will always associate with our man. (see ibid., 78-100)  Flaubert despised order which he saw as a sort of Bourgeois imposition on the natural chaos of nature.  Some order, of course, was necessary but the prudish bourgeois went far too far.  Flaubert noted the pissing and shitting donkeys, even a gentleman pissing in the corner of a café in Alexandria.  I quite subscribe to this description of Flaubert's beliefs according to De Botton:

Central to Flaubert's philosophy was the belief that we are not simply spiritual creatures, but also pissing and shitting ones and that we should integrate the ramifications of this blunt idea into our view of the world: "I can't believe that our body, composed as it is of mud and shit and equipped with instincts lower than those of the pig or the crab-louse, contains anything pure and immaterial."... Which wasn't to say that we were without higher dimensions.  It was just that the prudery and self-righteousness of the age aroused in Flaubert a desire to remind others of mankind's impurities.  (Ibid., 87)

Flaubert, according to De Botton, rejoiced in life's duality, something I have been writing about for some time in these pages, though I have called that duality the tension of opposites or the polarity of opposites and how both are always intermixed in reality, that we are never, or even things are never, either totally one or the other.  Examples of duality according to both the author and the one he quotes are: shit-mind, death-life, sexuality-purity and madness-sanity.  I have also calls these polarities continua between two poles and that it's the movement backwards and forwards between the poles that is essentially the nature of reality as we experience it. (see ibid., 87)

I loved this wee insight into Flaubert's motives for writing: "I'm obsessed with inventing stories for people I come across." (Quoted ibid., 90).  Then De Botton gives a beautiful account in Flaubert's words of one of his most human of sexual encounters with an Egyptian woman. (see ibid., 93).  This man spent nine months in Egypt and began to wear local clothing and with his command of the Egyptian language was often mistaken for a native.  Indeed, Flaubert then is an excellent if not the quintessential traveller.  He, we are told never considered himself a Frenchman.  Rather he considered himself a creature of the world.  He even proposed a new way of ascribing nationality: not according to the country one was born in or to which one's family belonged, but according to the places to which one was attracted.  This reminds me of the well-known quip from Socrates, who when asked where he came from did not reply that he was from Athens but rather from the world.


To be continued.

Above I have uploaded a copy of the famous painting of Gustave Flaubert by Eugene Giraud.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Learning to Appreciate the Senses

I suppose if meditation does anything for me is that it helps me wake up to my senses.  Commonly, we admit that there are five senses, but a friend who is a Occupational Therapist tells me that there are seven of them.  (OTs list some seven senses, adding the vestibular or balancing sense and the proprioceptive or kinaesthetic sense to the common list of five, though on some research I find, not too surprisingly, that there are also the sense of pain, the sense of temperature and certain other internal senses.)  However, here, for the purposes of this post, I refer to the common senses of hearing, seeing, smelling, touching and tasting.

Learning to See: 

How often have you travelled the same route to work and never really noticed this particular beautiful shop facade or that particular beautiful little park.  In other words, we block out a lot of things from our consciousness due to our taking care with our driving (a practice much to be advocated indeed if you use a car) or our daydreaming or our preoccupations with our cares and worries.  I remember an old teacher I once had always quoting the following quip: "None so blind as those who fail to see."  In other words there are a lot of things we fail to see.  In like manner with the other senses, too.  There are also a lot of things we fail to hear; that we fail to smell; that we fail to touch and indeed fail to taste.  And so meditation can awaken us from our self-preoccupation, from our "egocentric slumbers" if I may rewrite a famous phrase from Kant. (Kant had sad famously that the Scottish philosopher David Hume had awoken him his "dogmatic slumber" with his new emphasis on empiricism, that is testing the validity of everything through the senses.)

Who have taught us to see the world differently? So many indeed.  But once again, it is salutary to realise that there are as many ways of seeing the world as there are people in it.  However, the practical and pragmatic among us will realise that they all intersect at some very obviously and commonly accepted pictures of reality that we all accept - otherwise the workaday world would grind to a halt in chaos.  Be that as it may, we need some others to call us back to a deeper awareness of different levels of reality as it were.  I'm referring here to philosophers, writers, artists of all kinds, theologians, scientists of all varieties and visionaries in general who see the world through different optics as it were.

For the past few days I have been reading a lovely little book by Alain de Botton which one of my brothers bought me for Christmas, namely The Art of travel (Penguin, 2003).  I have read two or three of his other books already and have discussed them in these pages hitherto.  However, this is a travel book with a difference - one that teaches us to journey anew, to travel not to seek the rare and wonderful, but rather to travel by opening up all our senses, even if we only ever travelled 5Km down the road.  That reminds me of the well-known story, once again about Kant, namely that he had never travelled more than 40 miles outside Königsburg, yet from reading he had an extremely detailed knowledge of other places around the world, to the point that he could fool people who had visited some place into thinking that he had visited there too.

In my younger days I used travel more than I do now.  I remember travelling with many different friends, some of whom used drive me mad because they wanted to take in so much in this or that city.  They were often so rushed and so preoccupied that they failed to take in the little things around them.  This is what de Botton is about in this book, teaching himself to be very much an awakened traveller, one who is aware of all that is going on around him.  I've been to many cities and sure it's nice to take in the cathedrals, castles and churches and famous galleries and other public buildings, but I've often found that walking about, say in the Jardin du Luxembourg and then sitting and reading for an hour or two on a seat in that wonderful park is a very rich occupation indeed as one can learn much by looking about one, observing, watching the people go by, observing how people interact and how they smile and then meditatively closing one's eyes and breathing in the very breath of life.  Travelling is all about awareness, not about how much one sees - it is essentially about how one sees what one actually does end up seeing.

De Botton starts with that potent question, "Where should we travel?"  I suppose the Irish of the Celtic Tiger years, a phenomenon now just a rotting carcass, would have been travellers to the fashionable lands of the sun.  Perhaps many of them travelled because it was trendy and fashionable to do so, to sport a tan and to visit places only those with money could.  Again a poor reason to travel.  Our author argues, instead, that we should journey for one reason only - that is, in search of happiness.  I'd rewrite that myself by saying that we should travel in search of self and that the destination does not matter at all.  What really matters is how we make the journey, how open we are to all the life has to offer around us.

De Botton brings a novel called A Rebours by J-K Huysmans as his guide for the first part of this little book.  The effete and misanthropic hero of this novel is an aristocrat called le Duc des Esseintes who really feared travelling and all the discomfiture he'd have to put up with.  For the Duke reality must always have been disappointing.  This impossible hero remained in his villa and surrounded himself with a series of objects which facilitated the finest aspect of travel namely its anticipation. He had the itineraries of the major shipping companies  framed on his bedroom walls and even had an aquarium filled with seaweed to give him the sense of travelling by sea.  As our author says, "Des Esseintes concluded, in Huysmans's words, that 'the imagination could provide a more-than-adequate substitute for the vulgar reality of actual experience.' " (The Art of Travel, 27) 

In the section called "On Travelling Places" De Botton brings the French poet Charles Baudelaire(1821 - 1867) and the wonderful American artist Edward Hopper (1882 –1967) along as guides.  He writes about such an unlikely place as the service station and the more likely ones of airport, plane and train. Our author tells us that Baudelaire represents a new poetry of transience or a 'poésie des départs, or a poésie des salles d'attente.' (Ibid., 35 where De Botton is here quoting T.S. Eliot).  In this section our author turns to one of my favourite themes, mentioned many times in these posts, namely, our very smallness and insignificance in the scheme of things.  Another good lesson taught us by travelling:

And to think that all along, hidden from our sight, our lives were this small: the world we live in but almost never see; the way we must appear to the hawk and to the gods.  (Ibid., 41)

Then our author covers the themes of loneliness, solitude and even alienation in travelling and how this, then, is seen in the works of Baudelaire and Hopper respectively.

(De Botton has introduced me to the work of Hopper whom I'm reading up on and I'm looking at as many representations there are of his paintings on the web.  For this gift I am extremely thankful)


To be continued

Above "Automat" by Edward Hopper, 1927.