In the Old Days tourism didnt exist. Gypsies, Tinkers
and other true nomads even now roam about their worlds at will,
but no one would therefore think of calling them «tourists».
Tourism is an invention of the 19th century-a period
of history which sometimes seems to have stretched out to unnatural
length. In many ways, we are still living
in the 19th century.
The tourist seeks out Culture because -in our world-culture
has disappeared into the maw of the Spectacle culture has been
torn down and replaced with a Mall or a talkshow- because
our education is nothing but a preparation for a lifetime of work
and consumption-because we ourselves have ceased to create. Even
though tourists appear to be physically present in Nature or Culture,
in effect one might call them ghosts haunting ruins, lacking all
bodily presence. They're not really there,
but rather move through a mindscape,
an abstraction («Nature», «Culture»), collecting
images rather than experience. All too frequently their vacations
are taken in the midst of other peoples' misery and even add to
Recently several people were assassinated in Egypt
just for being tourists. Behold .... the Future. Tourism
and terrorism:-just what is the difference?
Of the three archaic reasons for travel
- call them «war», «trade», and
«pilgrimage» - which one gave birth to tourism? Some
would automatically answer that it must be pilgrimage. The pilgrim
goes «there» to see, the pilgrim normally brings
back some souvenir; the pilgrim takes «time off» from
daily life; the pilgrim has nonmaterial goals. In this way, the
pilgrim foreshadows the tourist.
But the pilgrim undergoes a shift of consciousness,
and for the pilgrim that shift is real. Pilgrimage is a
form of initiation, and initiation is an opening to other forms
We can detect something of the real difference between
pilgrim and tourist, however, by comparing their effects on the
places they visit. Changes in a place-a city, a shrine, a forest-may
be subtle, but at least they can be observed. The state of the
soul may be a matter for conjecture, but perhaps we can
say something about the state of the social.
Pilgrimage sites like Mecca may serve as great bazaars
for trade and they may even serve as centers of production, (like
the silk industry of Benares) - but their primary «product»
is baraka or maria. These words (one Arabic, one Polynesian)
are usually translated as «blessing», but they also
carry a freight of other meanings.
The wandering dervish who sleeps at a shrine in order
to dream of a dead saint (one of the «People of the Tombs»)
seeks initiation or advancement on the spiritual path, a mother
who brings a sick child to Lourdes seeks healing; a childless
woman in Morocco hopes the Marabout will
make her fertile if she ties a rag to the
old tree growing out of the grave; the traveller to Mecca yearns
for the very center of the Faith, and as the caravans come within
sight of the Holy City the hajji calls out «Labbaïka
Allabumma!» «I am here, O Lord!»
All these motives are summed up by the word baraka,
which sometimes seems to be a palpable substance, measurable
in terms of increased charisma or «luck». The shrine
produces baraka. And the pilgrim takes it away. But blessing
is a product of the Imagination-and thus no matter how many pilgrims
take it away there's always more. In fact, the more they take,
the more blessing the shrine can produce (because a popular
shrine grows with every answered prayer).
To say that baraka is «imaginal» is not to call it «unreal». It's real enough to those who feel it. But spiritual goods do not follow the rules of supply and demand like material goods. The more demand for spiritual goods, the more supply. The production of baraka is infinite.
By contrast, the tourist desires not baraka but cultural
pilgrim we might say - leaves the «secular space» of
home and travels to the «sacred space» of the shrine
in order to experience the difference between
secular and sacred. But this difference remains intangible, subtle,
invisible to the «profane» gaze, spiritual, imaginal.
Cultural difference however is measurable, apparent, visible,
material, economic, social.
The imagination of the capitalist «first world»
is exhausted. It cannot imagine anything different.
So the tourist leaves the homogenous space
of «home» for the heterogenous space of «foreign
climes» not to receive a «blessing» but simply
to admire the picturesque, the
mere view or snapshot of difference, to see the difference.
The tourist consumes difference.
But the production of cultural difference is not
infinite. It is not «merely» imaginal. It is rooted
in language, landscape, architecture, custom, taste, smell. It
is very physical. The more it is used up or taken away, the less
remains. The social can produce just so much «meaning»,
just so much difference. Once it's gone, it's gone.
Over the centuries perhaps a given sacred place attracted
millions of pilgrims - and yet somehow despite all the gazing
and admiring and praying and souvenirbuying, this place
retained its meaning.
And now-after 20 or 30 years of tourism-that
meaning has been lost. Where did it go? How did this happen?
Tourism's real roots do not lie in pilgrimage (or
even in «fair» trade), but in war.
Rape and pillage were the original forms
of tourism, or rather, the first tourists followed directly in
the wake of war, like human vultures picking over battlefield
carnage for imaginary booty - for images.
Tourism arose as a symptom of an Imperialism
that was total - economic,
political, and spiritual.
What's really amazing is that so few
tourists have been murdered by such a meagre
handful of terrorists. Perhaps a secret complicity exists between
these mirrorimage foes. Both are displaced people, cut loose
from all mooring, drifting in a sea of images. The terrorist act
exists only in the image of the act without CNN,
there survives only a spasm of meaningless cruelty. And the tourist's
act exists only in the images of that act, the snapshots and souvenirs;
otherwise nothing remains but the dunning letters of creditcard
companies and a residue of «free mileage» from some
foundering airline. The terrorist and the tourist are perhaps
the most alienated of all the products of postimperial capitalism.
An abyss of images separates them from the objects of their desire.
In a strange way they are twins.
Nothing ever really touches the life of the tourist.
Every act of the tourist is mediated.
Anyone who's ever witnessed a phalanx
of Americans or a busload of Japanese advancing on some ruin or
ritual must have noticed that even their collective gaze is mediated
by the medium of the camera's multifaceted eye, and that
the multiplicity of cameras, videocams, and recorders forms a
complex of shiny clicking scales in an armor of pure mediation.
Nothing organic penetrates this insectoid carapace which serves
as both protective critic and predatory mandible, snapping up
images, images, images. At its most extreme this mediation takes
the form of the guided tour, in which every image is interpreted
by a licensed expert, a psychopomp or guide of the Dead,
a virtual Virgil in the Inferno of meaninglessness-a minor functionary
of the Central Discourse and its metaphysics of appropriation-a
pimp of fleshless ecstasies.
The real place of the tourist is not the site of
the exotic, but rather the noplace place (literally the
«utopia») of median space, liminal space, inbetween
space - the space of travel itself, the industrial abstraction
of the airport, or the machinedimension of plane or bus.
So the tourist and the terrorist-those twin ghosts
of the airports of abstraction-suffer an identical hunger for
the authentic. But the authentic recedes whenever they approach it. Cameras and guns
stand in the way of that moment of love
which is the hidden dream of every terrorist
and tourist. To their secret misery, all they can do is destroy.
The tourist destroys meaning, and the terrorist destroys the tourist.
Tourism is the apotheosis and quintessence
of «Commodity Fetishism.» It is the ultimate Cargo Cult
- the worship of «goods» that will never
arrive, because they have been exalted,
raised to glory, deified, worshipped and absorbed, all on the
plane of pure spirit, beyond the stench of mortality (or morality).
You buy tourism you get nothing but images.
Tourism, like Virtual Reality, is a form of Gnosis, of bodyhatred
and bodytranscendence. The ultimate tourist «trip»
will take place in Cyberspace,
and it will be
a trip to paranirvana
in the comfort of your
The modest goal of this little book is to address
the individual traveler who has decided to resist tourism.
Even though we may find it impossible in the end
to «purify» ourselves and our travel from every last
taint and trace of tourism, we still feel that improvement may
Not only do we disdain tourism for its vulgarity
and its injustice, and therefore wish to avoid any contamination
(conscious or unconscious) by its viral virulency we also
lavish to understand travel as an act of reciprocity rather
than alienation. In other words, we don't wish merely to avoid
the negativities of tourism, but even more to achieve positive
travel, which we envision as a productive and mutually enhancing
relation between self and other, guest and host a form of
crosscultural synergy in which the whole exceeds
the sum of parts.
We'd like to know if travel can be carried out according
to a secret economy of baraka, whereby not only the shrine but
also the pilgrims themselves have «blessings» to bestow.
Before the Age of the Commodity, we know, there was
an Age of the Gift, of reciprocity, of giving and receiving. We
learned this from the tales of certain travelers, who found remnants
of the world of the Gift among certain tribes, in the form of
potlach or ritual exchange, and recorded their observations of
such strange practises.
Not long ago there still existed a custom among South
Sea islanders of travelling vast distances by outrigger canoe,
without compass or sextant, in order to exchange valuable and
useless presents (ceremonial artobjects rich in mana)
from island to island in a complex pattern of overlapping
We suspect that even though travel in the modern
world seems to have been taken over by the Commodity - even though
the networks of convivial reciprocity seem to have vanished
from the map - even though tourism seems to have triumphed
- even so - we continue to suspect that other pathways still
persist, other tracks, unofficial, not noted on the map, perhaps
even «secret»- pathways still linked to the possibility
of an economy of the Gift, smugglers' routes for freespirits,
known only to the geomantic guerillas of the art of travel.
As a matter of fact, we don't just «suspect»
it. We know it. We know there exists an art of travel.
Perhaps the greatest and subtlest practitioners of
the art of travel were the sufis, the mystics of Islam. Before
the age of passports, immunisations, airlines and other impediments
to free travel, the sufis wandered footloose in a world where
borders tended to be more permeable than nowadays, thanks to the
transnationalism of Islam and the cultural unity of Dar
al-Islam, the Islamic world.
The great medieval Moslem travelers, like Ibn Battuta
and Naser Khusraw, have left accounts of vast journies - Persia
to Egypt, or even Morocco to China-which never set foot outside
a landscape of deserts, camels, caravanserais, bazaars, and piety.
spoke Arabic, however badly, and Islamic culture permeated the
remotest backwaters, however superficially. Reading the tales
of Sinbad the sailor (from the 1001 Nights)
gives us the impression of a world where
even the terra incognita was still despite all marvels
and oddities - somehow familiar, somehow Islamic.
Within this unity, which was not yet a
uniformity, the sufis formed a special class of travelers. Not
warriors, not merchants, and not quite ordinary pilgrims either,
the dervishes represent a spiritualization of pure nomadism.
According to the Koran, God's Wide Earth and everything
in it are «sacred». not only as divine creations but also
because the material world is full of «waymarks» or
signs of divine reality, Moreover, Islam itself s is born between
two journies, Mohammad's hijra or
«Flight» from Mecca to Medina, and his hajj,
or return voyage. The hajj is the movement
toward the origin and center for every Moslem even today, and
the annual Pilgrimage has played a vital role not just in the
religious unity of Islam but also in its cultural unity.
Mohammad himself exemplifies every kind of
travel in Islam: - his youth with the Meccan caravans of Summer
and Winter, as a merchant; his campaigns as a warrior his triumph
as a humble pilgrim. Although an urban leader he is also the prophet
of the Bedouin and himself a kind of nomad, a «sojourner» - an «orphan». From this perspective travel
can almost be seen as a sacrament. Every
religion sanctifies travel to some degree, but Islam is virtually
unimaginable without it.
The Prophet said, «Seek knowledge, even as far as China». From the beginning Islam lifts travel above all «mundane» utilitarianism and gives it an epistemological or even gnostic dimension. «The jewel that never leaves the mine is never polished», says the sufi Saadi. To «educate» is to «lead outside», to give the pupil a perspective beyond parochiality and mere subjectivity.
Some sufis may have done all their traveling in the
Imaginal World of archetypal dreams and visions, but vast numbers
of them took the Prophet's exhortations quite literally. Even
today dervishes wander over the entire Islamic world-but as late
as the 19th century they wandered in veritable hordes, hundreds
or even thousands at a time, and covered vast distances. All in
search of knowledge.
Unofficially there existed two basic types of wandering
sufi: the «gentlemanscholar» type, and the mendicant
dervish. The former category includes Ibn Battuta (who collected
sufi initiations the way some occidental gentlemen once collected
masonic degrees); and on a much more serious level - the
«Greatest Shaykh» Ibn Arabi, who meandered slowly through
the 13th century from his native Spain, across North Africa through
Egypt to Mecca, and finally to Damascus.
Ibn Arabi actually left accounts of his search for
saints and adventures on the road, which could be pieced together
voluminous writings to form a kind of rihla or
«travel text» (a recognised genre of Islamic literature)
or autobiography. Ordinary scholars travelled in search of rare
texts on theology or jurisprudence, but Ibn Arabi sought only
the highest secrets of esotericism and the loftiest «openings»
into the world of divine illumination, for him every «journey
to the outer horizons» was also a «journey to the inner
horizons» of spiritual psychology and gnosis.
On the visions he experienced in Mecca alone he wrote
a 12volume work (The Meccan Revelations),
and he has also left us precious sketches
of hundreds of his contemporaries, from the greatest philosophers
of the age to humble dervishes and «madmen», anonymous
women saints and «Hidden Masters». Ibn Arabi enjoyed
a special relation with Khezr, the immortal and unknown prophet,
the «Green Man», who sometimes appears to wandering
sufis in distress, to rescue them from the desert, or to initiate
them. Khezr, in a sense, can be called the patron saint of the
travelling dervishes - and the prototype. (He first appears in
the Koran as a mysterious wanderer and companion of Moses in the
Christianity once included a few orders of wandering
mendicants (in fact St. Francis organised one after meeting with
dervishes in the Holy Land, who may have bestowed upon him a «cloak
of initiation» - the famous patchwork robe he was wearing
when he returned to Italy) - but Islam spawned dozens, perhaps
hundreds of such orders.
As Sufism crystallised from the loose spontaneity
of early days to an institution with rules and grades, «travel
for knowledge» was also regularised and organised. Elaborate
handbooks of duties for dervishes were produced which included
methods for turning travel into a very specific form of meditation.
The whole Sufi «path» itself was symbolised in terms
of intentional travel.
In some cases itineraries were fixed (e.g.,the Hajj);
other involved waiting for «signs» to appear, coincidences,
intuitions, «adventures» such as those which inspired
the travels of the Arthurian knights. Some orders limited the
time spent in any one place to 40 days; others made a rule
of never sleeping twice in the same place. The strict orders,
such as the Naqshbandis, turned travel into a kind of fullt~me
choreography, in which every movement was preordained and
designed to enhance consciousness.
By contrast, the more heterodox orders (such as the
Qalandars) adopted a «rule» of total spontaneity and
abandon -«permanent unemployment» as one of them called
it - an insouciance of bohemian proportions - a«droppingout» at once both scandalous and completely traditional.
Colorfully dressed, carrying their begging bowls, axes, and standards,
addicted to music and dance, carefree and cheerful (sometimes
to the point of «blameworthiness»!), orders such as
the Nematollahis of 19th century Persia grew to proportions that
alarmed both sultans and theologians - many dervishes were executed
for «heresy». Today the true Qalandars survive mostly
in India, where their lapses from orthodoxy include a fondness
for hemp and a sincere hatred of work. Some are charlatans, some
are simply bums - but a suprizing number of them seem to be people
of attainment .... how can I put it? .... people of selfrealization,
marked by a distinct aura of grace, or baraka.
All the different types of sub travel we've described
are united by certain shared vital structural forces. One such
force might be called a «magical» worldview, a sense
of life that rejects the «merely» random for a reality
of signs and wonders, of meaningful coincidences and «unveilings».
As anyone who's ever tried it will testify, intentional travel
immediately opens one up to this «magical» influence.
A psychologist might explain this phenomenon (either
with awe or with reductionist disdain) as «subjective»
; while the pious believer would take it quite literally.
From the sun point of view neither interpretation rules out the
other, nor suffices in itself, to explain away the marvels of
the Path. In sufism, the «objective» and the «subjective»
are not considered opposites, but complements. From the point of view of the two-dimensional
thinker (whether scientific or religious) such paradoxology smacks
of the forbidden.
Another force underlying all forms of intentional
travel can be described by the Arabic word adab. On one
level adab simply means «good manners» and in the case
of travel these manners are based on the ancient customs of desert
nomads, for whom both wandering and hospitality are sacred acts.
In this sense the dervish shares both the privileges and the responsibilities
of the guest.
Bedouin hospitality is a clear survival of the primordial
economy of the Gift - a relation of reciprocity. The wanderer
must be taken in (the dervish must be fed) - but thereby the wanderer
assumes a role prescribed by ancient custom - and must give back
something to the host. For the bedouin this relation is almost
a form of clientage: - the breaking of bread and sharing of salt
constitute a sort of kinship. Gratitude is not a sufficient response
to such generosity. The traveler must consent to a temporary adoption
-anything less would offend against adab.
Islamic society retains at least a sentimental attachment
to these rules, and thus creates a special niche for the dervish,
that of the fulltime guest. The dervish returns the gifts
of society with the gift of baraka. In ordinary pilgrimage the
traveler receives baraka from a place, but the dervish
reverses the flow and brings baraka to a place. The sufi
may think of himself (or herself) as a permanent pilgrim - but
to the ordinary stayathome people of the mundane world
the sufi is a kind of perambulatory shrine.
Now tourism in its very structure breaks the reciprocity
of host and guest. In English, a «host» may have either
guests or parasites. The tourist is a parasite for
no amount of money can pay for hospitality. The true traveler
is a guest and thus serves a very real function, even today,
in societies where the ideals of hospitality have not yet faded
from the «collective mentality». To be a host, in such
societies, is a meritorious act. Therefore, to be a guest
is also to give merit.
The modern traveler who grasps the simple spirit
of this relation will be forgiven many lapses in the intricate
ritual of adab (how many cups of coffee? Where to put one's feet?
How to be entertaining? How to show gratitude? etc.) peculiar
to a specific culture. And if one bothers to master a few of the
traditional forms of adab, and to deploy them with heartfelt sincerity,
then both guest and host will gain more than they put into the
relation and this more is the unmistakable sign of the
presence of the Gift.
Another level of meaning of the word adab
connects it with culture (since culture can be seen as
the sum of all manners and customs); in modern usage the Department
of «Arts and Letters» at a University would be called
Adabiyyat. To have adab in this sense is to be «polished»
(like that welltraveled gem) - but this has nothing necessarily
to do with «fine arts» or literacy or being a cityslicker or even being «cultured». It is a matter
of the «heart».
«Adab» is sometimes given as a oneword
definition of schism. But insincere manners (ta 'arof in
Persian) and insincere culture alike are shunned by the sufi
- «There is no ta'arof in Tasssawuf [Sufism]»,
as the dervishes say; ..Darvishi» is an adjectival
synonym for informality, the laidback quality of the people
of Heart - and for spontaneous adab, so to speak.
The true guest and host never make an obvious effort to fulfil
the «rules» of reciprocity - they may follow the ritual
scrupulously, or they many bend the forms creatively, but in either
case they will give their actions a depth of sincerity that manifests
as natural grace. Adab is a kind of love.
A complement of this «technique» (or «Zen»)
of human relations can be found in the sufi manner of relating
to the world in general. The «mundane» world - of social
deceit and negativity, of usurious emotions inauthentic consciousness
(«mauvaise conscience»), boorishness, illwill,
inattention, blind reaction, false spectacle, empty discourse,
etc. etc.-all this no longer holds any interest for the traveling
dervish. But those who say that the dervish has abandoned «this
world» «God's Wide Earth» - would be mistaken.
The dervish is not a Gnostic Dualist who hates the
biosphere (which certainly includes the imagination and
the emotions, as well as «matter» itself). The early
Moslem ascetics certainly closed themselves off from everything.
When Rabiah, the woman saint of Basra, was urged to come out of
her house and «witness the wonders of God's creation»,
she replied, «Come into the
house and see them», i.e., come into the heart of contemplation
of the oneness which is above the manyness of reality. «Contraction»
are both sufi terms for spiritual states.
Rabiah was manifesting Contraction: a kind of sacred melancholia
which has been metaphorized as the «Caravan of Winter»,
of return to Mecca (the center, the heart), of inferiority, and
of ascesis or selfdenial. She was not a worldhating Dualist,
nor even a moralistic fleshhating puritan. She was simply manifesting
a certain specific kind of grace.
The wandering dervish however manifests a state more
typical of Islam in its most exuberant energies. He indeed seeks
Expansion, spiritual joy based on the sheer multiplicity of the
divine generosity in material creation. (Ibn Arabi has an amusing
«proof» that this world
is the best world
- for, if it were not, then
God would be ungenerous - which is absurd. Q.E.D.) In order to
appreciate the multiple waymarks of the Wide Earth precisely as
the unfolding of this generosity, the sufi cultivates what might
be called the theophanic gaze : - the opening of the «Eye
of the Heart» to the experience of certain places, objects
people, events as locations of the «shining-through»
of divine Light.
The dervish travels, so to speak, both in the material
world and in the «World of Imagination» simultaneously.
But for the eye of the heart these worlds interpenetrate at certain
points. One might say that they mutually reveal or «unveil»
each other. Ultimately, they are «one»-and only our
state of tranced inattention, our mundane consciousness, prevents
us from experiencing this «deep» identity at every moment.
The purpose of intentional travel, with its «adventures»
and its uprooting of habits, is to shake loose the dervish from
all the tranceeffects of ordinariness. Travel, in other
words, is meant to induce a certain state of consciousness or
«spiritual state» - that of Expansion.
For the wanderer, each person one meets might act
as an «angel», each shrine one visits may unlock some
initiatic dream, each experience of Nature may vibrate with the
presence of some «spirit of place». Indeed, even the
mundane and ordinary may suddenly be seen as numinous (as in the
great travel haiku of the Japanese Zen poet Basho) - a face in
the crowd at a railway station, crows on telephone wires, sunlight
in a puddle....
Obviously one doesn't need to travel to experience
this state. But travel can be used - that is, an art of travel
can be acquired - to maximise the chances for attaining such a
state. It is a moving meditation, like the Taoist martial
arts. The Caravan of Summer moved outward, out of Mecca,
to the rich trading lands of Syria and Yemen. Likewise the dervish
is «moving out» (it's always «moving day»),
heading forth, taking off, on «perpetual holiday» as
one poet expressed it, with an open Heart, an attentive eye (and
other senses), and a yearning for Meaning, a thirst for knowledge.
One must remain alert, since anything might suddenly unveil
itself as a sign. This sounds like a kind of «paranoia»
- although «metanoia» might be a better term
and indeed one finds «madmen» amongst the dervishes,
«attracted ones», overpowered by divine influxions,
lost in the Light. In the Orient the insane are often cared for
and admired as helpless saints, because «mental illness»
may sometimes appear as a symptom of too much holiness rather
than too little «reason». Hemp's popularity amongst
the dervishes can be attributed to its power to induce a kind
of intuitive attentiveness which constitutes a controllable insanity:
- herbal metanoia. But travel in itself can intoxicate the heart
with the beauty of theophanic presence. It's a question of practise
- the polishing of the jewel - removal
of moss from the rolling stone.
In the old days (which are still going on in some
remote parts of the East) Islam thought of itself as a whole world,
a wide world, a space with great latitude within which Islam embraced
the whole of society and nature. This latitude appeared on the
social level as tolerance. There
was room enough, even for such marginal groups as mad wandering
dervishes. Sufism itself or at least its austere orthodox
and «sober» aspect-occupied a central position in the
cultural discourse. «Everyone» understood intentional
travel by analogy with the Hail - everyone understood
the dervishes, even if they disapproved.
Nowadays however Islam views itself as a partial
world, surrounded by unbelief and hostility, and suffering internal
ruptures of every sort. Since the 19th century Islam has lost
its global consciousness and sense of its own wideness and completeness.
No longer therefore can Islam easily find a place for every marginalized
individual and group within a pattern of tolerance and social
order. The dervishes now appear as an intolerable
difference in society. Every Moslem must
now be the same, united against all outsiders, and struck from
the same prototype. Of course Moslems have always «imitated»
the Prophet and viewed his image as the norm - and this has acted
as a powerful unifying force for style and substance within Dar
alIslam. But «nowadays» the puritans and reformers
have forgotten that this «imitation» was not directed
only at an earlymedieval Meccan merchant named Mohammad
but also at the insan alkamil (the «Perfect
Man» or «Universal Human»), an ideal of inclusion
rather than exclusion, an ideal of integral culture,
not an attitude of purity in peril, not xenophobia disguised
as piety, not totalitarianism, not reaction.
The dervish is persecuted nowadays in most of the
Islamic world. Puritanism always embraces the most atrocious aspects
of modernism in its crusade to strip the Faith of «medieval
accretions» such as popular sufism. And surely the way of
the wandering dervish cannot thrive in a world of airplanes and
oilwells, of nationalist/chauvinist hostilities (and thus
of impenetrable borders), and of a puritanism which suspects
all difference as a threat. This puritanism has triumphed not
only in the East, but rather closer to home as well. It is seen
in the «time discipline» of modern tooLate-Capitalism,
and in the porous rigidity of consumerist hyperconformity, as
well as in the bigoted reaction and sexhysteria of the «Christian
Right». Where in all this can we find room for the poetic
(and parasitic!) life of Aimless Wandering
- the life of Chuang Tzu (who coined this
slogan) and his Taoist progeny - the life of Saint Francis and
his shoeless devotees - the life of (for example) Nur All Shah
Isfahani, a 19th century sufi poet who was executed in Iran for
the awful heresy of meanderingdervishism?
Here is the flip side of the «problem of tourism»:
-the problem of the disappearance of «aimless
wandering». Possibly the two are
directly related, so that the more tourism becomes possible, the
more dervishism becomes impossible. In fact, we might well ask
if this little essay on the delightful life of the dervish possesses
the least bit of relevance for the contemporary world. Can this
knowledge help us to overcome tourism,
even within our own consciousness and life? Or is it merely an
exercize in nostalgia for lost possibilities - a futile indulgence
Well, yes and no. Sure, I confess I'm hopelessly
romantic about the form of the dervish life, to the extent
that for a while I turned my back on the mundane world and followed
it myself. Because of course, it hasn't really disappeared. Decadent
yes - but not gone forever. What little I know about travel I
learned in those few years - I owe a debt to «medieval accretions»
I can never pay - and I'll never regret my «escapism»
for a single moment. BUT - I don't consider the form of
dervishism to be the answer to the «problem of tourism.»
The form has lost most of its efficacy. There's no point
in trying to «preserve» it (as if it were a pickle,
or a lab specimen)-there's nothing quite so pathetic as mere «survival».
But: beneath the charming outer forms of dervishism
lies the conceptual matrix, so to speak, which we've called intentional
travel. On this point we should suffer no embarrassment about «nostalgia».
We have asked ourselves whether or not we desire
a means to discover the art of travel,
whether we want and will to
overcome «the inner tourist», the false consciousness
which screens us from the experience of the Wide World's waymarks.
The way of the dervish (or of the Taoist, the Franciscan, etc.)
interests us - finally - only to the extent that it can provide
us with a key - not THE Key, perhaps - but . . . . a key. And
of course - it does.
One fundamental key to success in Travel is of course
attentiveness. We call it «paying attention» in English & «prêter
attention» in French (in Arabic, however, one gives
attention) suggesting that we're as stingy with our attentiveness
as we are with our money. Quite often it seems that no one
is «paying attention», that everyone is hoarding
their consciousness - what? saving it for a rainy day?-and damping
down the fires of awareness lest all available fuel be consumed
in a single holocaust of unbearable knowing.
This model of consciousness seems suspiciously «Capitalist»
however - as if indeed our attention were a limited resource,
once spent forever irrecoverable. A usury of perception now appears: - we demand
interest on our paymentofattention, as if it were
a loan rather than an expense. Or as if our consciousness were
threatened by an entropic «heatdeath», against
which the best defense must consist of a dull mediocre trancestate
of grudging halfattention - a miserliness of psychic resources - a refusalto notice the
unexpected or to savour the miraculousness of the ordinary - a lack of generosity.
But what if we treated our perceptions as gifts rather
than payments? What if we gave our attention instead of
According to the law of reciprocity, the gift is returned with
a gift - there is no expenditure, no scarcity, no debt against
Capital, no penury, no punishment for giving our attention away,
and no end to the potentiality of attentiveness.
Our consciousness is not a commodity, nor is it a
contractual agreement between the Cartesian ego and the abyss
of Nothingness, nor is it simply a function of some meatmachine
with a limited warranty. True, eventually we wear out and break.
In a certain sense the hoarding of our energies makes sense-we
«save» ourselves for the truly important moments, the
breakthroughs, the «peak experiences».
But if we picture ourselves as shallow coinpurses
- if we barricade the «doors of perception» like fearful
peasants at the howling of boreal wolves - if we never «pay
attention» - how will we recognise the approach and advent
of those precious moments, those openings?
We need a model of cognition that emphasises the
«magic» of reciprocity: - to give attention
is to receive attention, as if the universe in some mysterious
way responds to our cognition with an influx of effortless grace.
If we convinced ourselves that attentiveness follows a rule of
«synergy» rather than a law of depletion, we might begin
to overcome in ourselves the banal mundanity of quotidian inattention,
and open ourselves to «higher states.»
In any case, the fact remains that unless we learn
to cultivate such states, travel will never amount to more than
tourism. And for those of us who are not already adepts at the
Zen of travel, the cultivation of these states does indeed demand
an initial expenditure of energy. We have inhibitions to repress,
hesitations to conquer, habits of introversion or bookishness
to break, anxieties to sublimate. Our thirdrate stayathome
consciousness seems safe and cozy compared to the dangers and
discomforts of the Road with its eternal novelty, its constant
demands on our attention. «Fear of freedom» poisons
our unconscious, despite our conscious desire for freedom
in travel. The art we're seeking seldom occurs as a natural talent.
It must be cultivated practised perfected. We
must summon up the will for intentional travel.
It's a truism to complain that difference is disappearing
from the world - and it's true, too. But it's sometimes amazing
to discover how resilient and organic the different can be. Even
in America, land of Malls and tv's, regional differences not only
survive but mutate and thrive in the interstices, in the
cracks that criss-cross the monolith, beneath the notice of the
Media Gaze, invisible even to the local bourgeoisie. If all the
world is becoming onedimensional, we need to look between
I think of travel as fractal in nature. It
takes place off the mapastext, outside the official
Consensus, like those hidden and embedded patterns that nestle
within the infinite bifurcations of nonlinear equations
in the strange world of chaos mathematics. In truth the world
has not been completely mapped, because people and their everyday
lives have been excluded from the map, or treated as «faceless
statistics», or forgotten. In the fractal dimensions of unofficial
reality all human beings - and even a great many «places»
- remain unique and different. «Pure» and «unspoiled»?
Maybe not. Maybe nobody and nowhere was ever really pure. Purity
is a willothewisp, and perhaps even a dangerous
form of totalitarianism. Life is gloriously impure. Life drifts.
In the 1950's the French Situationists developed
a technique for travel which they called the derive, the
«drift.» They were disgusted with themselves for never
leaving the usual ruts and pathways of their habitdriven
lives; they realised they'd never even seen Paris. They began
to carry out structureless random expeditions through the city,
hiking or sauntering by day, drinking by night, opening up their
own tight little world into a terra incognita of slums, suburbs,
gardens, and adventures. They became revolutionary versions of
Baudelaire's famous flaneur, the idle stroller, the displaced
subject of urban capitalism. Their aimless wandering became insurrectionary
And now, something remains possible - aimless wandering, the sacred drift. Travel cannot
be confined to the permissable (and deadening) gaze of the tourist,
for whom the whole world is inert, a lump of picturesqueness,
waiting to be consumed - because the whole question of permission
is an illusion. We can issue our own travel permits. We can allow
ourselves to participate, to experience the world as a living
relation not as a themepark. We carry within ourselves the hearts
of travelers, and we don't need any experts to define and limit
our morethanfractal complexities, to «interpret»
for us, to «guide» us, to mediate our experience for
us, to sell us back the images of our desires.
The sacred drift is born again. Keep it secret.
first published by
french title: voyage intentionnel