Wednesday, September 11, 2013

The Purpose of Travel

         Black Rainbow puts forward some interesting new developments for our discussion of travel, especially in chapters seven and eight. To begin, we have tossed around methods, means, and even the results of travel, and Calvino left us at the climax of Invisible Cities with a reason to do so, but the question of why we do it—what innate compulsion drives us to become mobile—has been left undisturbed. Wendt, I believe, attempts to give at least one answer to spark this discourse in chapter seven within the labyrinth scene between our protagonist and literary antagonists. Our “hero” is bound to a chair and given the cinematic experience of the villains' monologue to suspend the action in a state of high tension before continuing on the valiant quest. This pseudo-dramatic trope, however, allows our protagonist to answer the questions of why his quest (or traveling, to stay relevant) persists. He admits to the reader that he “played true to the stereotype of the hero” (96) as an explanation for his actions in the scene, while the Keeper warns that “[h]is epic adventure is just continuing . . . ” (97). Extended out into the book, it is a tantalizing thought that sets up a perspective not unfamiliar to us. Wendt offers that perhaps that familiarity with the hero's quest, the desire of being the lead role in our own epic, drives us to seek, to explore, to “continue” on with the plot of our stories, moving from set to set and plot to plot. Our travel is character development, a means of affirming that we “may yet prove to be a true hero” (97). The Keeper explains to his cohort Miss Ratched the subjectivity of our experience, that “[i]n this story we are the heroes,” raising the point that our epic is our own. Perhaps this scenario is a matter of art imitating life, but the reverse—given its due time to ingrain itself into our society—is not an impossibility. There surely must be some wayfarers who travel solely to tell stories of where they have been.
         Story-telling, however, also recurs in the following chapter when our self-proclaimed epic hero arrives at the next threshold in his quest. Here he meets the “wizard storyteller,” one who has studied and practiced the oral tradition quite literally. After an introduction, a dinner, and a Freudian-esque scene of stroking and handling daggers, the reader gets an insight into our wizard's practiced art, parsed through the narration of our protagonist. Immediately, the scene conjures images of Calvino's conversations. Our masterful storyteller Marco Polo and the captivated yet skeptic Kublai Khan experience the same story. The female Polo recounts a folk-tale of sorts regarding a woman constantly in motion, passing through door to door, room to room, threshold to threshold with hopes and expectation for what lies beyond. We have, however, our protagonist's disturbance with the seeming lack of detail within the story. He yearns for the perverse details: the character descriptions, the emotions, the insignificant characters, the reasons, the answers. He wishes to experience as if he had been in the story himself. Meanwhile, the message of which, that “all doors are about other doors” (108) boldly capitalized and set apart on the page to underscore an obviousness our listener seemingly fails to grasp immediately, insists that the traveling our “searcher” (101) is doing himself—ironically following disembodied instructions on sheets of paper, rather than searching on his own—is a fruitless, idealistic task. The lessons learned in traveling, exemplified by the folk-tale, are of no use to those who have learned them too late, and at this point in the story, they serve no use in cautioning the listeners either, and what is left is a large, resounding emptiness in the answer for why travel should even be attempted. Is travel even guided by our desires or are we simply following less-explicit directions? Is there anything to be gained of traveling, or is it an exercise of a freedom we may or may not enjoy simply to generate fodder for storytellers?
          I am choosing the believe that Wendt will both address and weigh in on these questions by the conclusion of the plot, but I won't hold my breath. For now, however, it only sheds doubt on whether our excursion as a class into the near abstractions of travel are even relevant or meaningful. 

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