The New Atlantis » GPS and the End of the Road

One of the better essays I’ve read this year. I ended up browswing the site and Instapapering a bunch of other stuff. (via)

It is another paradox of [On the Road and Huckleberry Finn] that the supposed escape from civilization in large part consists of escape to civilization, or at least to its lesser-known boroughs. In each case, their travels are set against the grandeur of the natural world, but the scenes of their adventures are composed of unknown people in unfamiliar places. The “promise of every cobbled alley” is wrapped up in the possibility of the stranger — more fully, the chance encounter with the mysterious stranger in the enchanted place.

Seen in the right way, what the two novels show us is not the virtue of quitting civilization, but the freedom that comes from finding our own way through a world that is not of our own making.


Go to a city and find your way to somewhere new; take a walk or a drive through the streets of Washington, D.C., and you will begin to feel how it is a different place from Austin or San Francisco or Paris or New Orleans — how your possibilities for action are different and so too your possibilities for being.

The New Atlantis » GPS and the End of the Road

The better part of my work on media is actually somewhat like a safe-cracker’s. I don’t know what’s inside; maybe it’s nothing. I just sit down and start to work. I grope, I listen, I test, I accept and discard; I try out different sequences — until the tumblers fall and the doors spring open.

The Baroque is that style which deliberately exhausts (or tries to exhaust) its possibilities and borders on its own caricature.

There are two ways of walking through a wood. The first is to try one of several routes (so as to get out of the wood as fast as possible, say, or to reach the house of grandmother, Tom Thumb, or Hansel and Gretel); the second is to walk so as to discover what the wood is like and find out why some paths are accessible and others are not. Similarly, there are two ways of going through a narrative text.

To Invigorate Literary Mind, Start Moving Literary Feet

Through childhood I hiked, roamed, tirelessly explored the countryside: neighboring farms, a treasure trove of old barns, abandoned houses and forbidden properties of all kinds, some of them presumably dangerous, like cisterns and wells covered with loose boards.

These activities are intimately bound up with storytelling, for always there’s a ghost-self, a “fictitious” self, in such settings. For this reason I believe that any form of art is a species of exploration and transgression.

To Invigorate Literary Mind, Start Moving Literary Feet

In which a metaphor is discerned

I’ve just started reading the so-far excellent The Lost City of Z, about exploration in the Amazon jungle. The central character was a member of the Royal Geographic Society, and the author goes to the London headquarters to do some research…

In a corridor of the Royal Geographic Society’s building, I noticed on the wall a gigantic seventeenth-century map of the globe. On the margins were sea monsters and dragons. For ages, cartographers had no means of knowing what existed on most of the earth. And more often than not these gaps were filled in with fantastical kingdoms and beasts, as if the make-believe, no matter how terrifying, were less frightening than the truly unknown.

As in maps, so in life.

In a section later in the book (that I also interpret more broadly to relate to bold striking-forth and unknown futures in Life), another explorer describes the typical reactions he got to his plans:

There were the Prudent, who said: “This is an extraordinarily foolish thing to do.” There were the Wise, who said: “This is an extraordinarily foolish thing to do; but at least you will know better next time.” There were the Very Wise, who said: “This is a foolish thing to do, but not nearly so foolish as it sounds.”