Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Combining Travel Writing and Philosophy

The Painter and the Travel Writer

You looked to the words of Steinbeck and Least-Heat Moon.

I rubbed the oily hues deeper in my flesh.

Secretly studying poetry hiding as prose.

Looking to no one living – but one.

Masquerading in medicine.

Sleeping among the socialite donors.

Traveling across four seas to other cultures

Selling culture for convictions.

But I am writing now

and you take pictures.

There is still the stain of old hues on my right hand

and the ink of text on your left fingertips.

Many years ago, a childhood friend led me to see the depth of travel writing. He’s currently working toward his own graduate degree in English, though sometimes I believe he’d be happier just traveling and writing for publication. Although, who am I to judge, no matter what I do in life, I always find myself looking for something else. Even now, as I “live the dream”, I find my interests swaying elsewhere. Not necessarily for anything better, just different.

The last few years, I have found myself interested in books that find new ways to combine travel writing and philosophy. Pirsig did it fairly well in Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, Newsome did it from a more naïve perspective in Take Me with You, as did Least Heat-Moon in Blue Highways.

While it is not specifically geared toward the vein of travel writing, Purdue University offers a fairly new graduate program that combines English and Philosophy; the following is their description of the program:

The Purdue University Special Doctoral Program in English and Philosophy offers an interdisciplinary course of study on the graduate level leading to the Ph.D. degree. The program encourages the interplay between philosophy and literature currently animating discussions in such areas as social and critical theory, feminism, hermeneutics, narrative, semiotics, psychoanalysis, aesthetics, African-American studies, and cultural studies. In consultation with faculty, each student designs a plan of study to accommodate specific goals and interests. The program seeks to foster critical and independent thought while providing cohesive professional training.

What is the potential of this study? Is the Purdue program building writers or philosophers? Twentieth century writers that followed this type of path have largely been ignored in philosophy’s academic realm. Ayn Rand has probably had the greatest influence when it comes to combining philosophy and literature – but she is still rarely mentioned in college-level philosophy courses. Even the philosophical aspects of Kerouac’s “journeys” tend to be glossed over when formally studied in university English courses.

The philosophy I am most predisposed to pursue in both my life and work is the importance of knowledge from the perspective of travel. What manner can I best illuminate my understanding of these two concepts (philosophy & travel) – via writing or painting? Can I equally do both in a manner that is not wasteful of time or talent? Are there other examples I can explore to better understand my sense of direction? Are there others currently pursuing the same path? – DN

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hey North, I love travel books with a good mix of history and philosophy. Here is my all time favorite author who sadly is dead, but always worth the read from the 1980's. Try Bruce Chatwin's "In Patagonia" or "Anatomy of Restlessness: uncollected writings" they speak of similar things that you so enjoy. Smooches JNix