Bewildered Travel

Bewildered Travel: The Sacred Quest for Confusion

Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    Bewildered Travel
    Book Description:

    Why do we travel? Ostensibly an act of leisure, travel finds us thrusting ourselves into jets flying miles above the earth, only to endure dislocations of time and space, foods and languages foreign to our body and mind, and encounters with strangers on whom we must suddenly depend. Travel is not merely a break from routine; it is its antithesis, a voluntary trading in of the security one feels at home for unpredictability and confusion. InBewildered TravelFrederick Ruf argues that this confusion, which we might think of simply as a necessary evil, is in fact the very thing we are seeking when we leave home.

    Ruf relates this quest for confusion to our religious behavior. Citing William James, who defined the religious as what enables us to "front life," Ruf contends that the search for bewilderment allows us to point our craft into the wind and sail headlong into the storm rather than flee from it. This view challenges the Eliadean tradition that stresses religious ritual as a shield against the world's chaos. Ruf sees our departures from the familiar as a crucial component in a spiritual life, reminding us of the central role of pilgrimage in religion.

    In addition to his own revealing experiences as a traveler, Ruf presents the reader with the journeys of a large and diverse assortment of notable Americans, including Henry Miller, Paul Bowles, Mark Twain, Mary Oliver, and Walt Whitman. These accounts take us from the Middle East to the Philippines, India to Nicaragua, Mexico to Morocco--and, in one threatening instance, simply to the edge of the author's own neighborhood. "What gives value to travel is fear," wrote Camus. This book illustrates the truth of that statement.

    eISBN: 978-0-8139-3426-6
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-4)

    AS I WAS FINISHING THIS BOOK, I WAS MUGGED. IT WAS nothing terrible, a two-inch bruise on my upper arm was the only physical effect. The teenager who robbed me shouted that his friend had a gun, which caused the strongest emotional effects, fear and intimidation. I surrendered what he wanted, my cell phone and some cash. I offered no resistance when he hit me several times, just bending to shield my head. I surrendered any ability to question, to object, to challenge, to resist. I became a victim. But as such things go, it was a mild incident. He...

  5. ONE Love of Ruptures
    (pp. 5-33)

    I WAS ONCE IN AGRA, IN INDIA, AND WALKING NOT FAR FROM my small hotel, the deep crimson of the Red Fort looming less than a quarter mile away. I’d only been in Agra for a few hours, and I wanted to get a feel for the place. Ahead I saw a crowd of people, and I walked over to see what they found so compelling. I easily looked through the people to what was on the ground in the center of the crowd—a woman with no hands and no feet, trying to eat. The light from that sight...

  6. TWO Commerce with the Ancients
    (pp. 34-54)

    I’D HAD DISCUSSIONS WITH A LOT OF PEOPLE ABOUT MY NOTION that we travel in order to become confused before I realized why the idea was so unconvincing to some. It is perfectly obvious to most of us why we travel, and confusion has nothing to do with it. We travel to learn, to broaden our minds, to lessen our provinciality, to become cultivated. Travel, in fact, has the precise opposite of confusion as its aim; travel enlightens, it educates.

    Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, for instance, declares: “I shall never forget the delightful feelings awakened within me on approaching Venice, and...

  7. THREE The Pilgrim’s Progress
    (pp. 55-80)

    THERE’S SOMETHING ABOUT THE HUGE CRUISE SHIPS, ANCHORED out in the harbor, that makes some insistent on drawing a firm line between “tourists” (on the ship) and “travelers” (in the streets). The ships are so aggressively modern, so sleek, so gleaming that they seem a Hollywood version of the affluent world, being shown on the dirty screen of a developing nation’s coast. It is a cliché of writing on travel, as well as of being a traveler, that there is a vast difference between being a mere tourist, on one of those ships (or any equivalent—on a tour bus,...

  8. FOUR The Ride of Passage
    (pp. 81-106)

    “THE ROAD IS BEFORE US!” WALT WHITMAN PROCLAIMS IN “SONG of the Open Road,” asking us to drop everything in an endless journey: “The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.”¹ Whitman’s poem—in fact, all of his work—establishes the model for an American attitude toward travel. It is an attitude that is not oriented around an end to be gained, but is a neverending movement, expansive, restless, and difficult. We can see the attitude in Henry Miller, in Paul Bowles, in Mark Twain, and in many contemporary travelers and writers—Alphonso Lingis, Diane Johnson, Mary Morris,...

  9. FIVE Holy Strangers
    (pp. 107-142)

    I ONCE POINTED TO SOMEONE WALKING PAST MY HOUSE AND asked a three-year-old friend of my daughter’s who it was. “The stranger,” she said with an ominous tone. Our culture is fascinated and obsessed with “strangers.” We warn our children about strangers, insisting at a very early age that they distrust them. Sexual predator, kidnapper, thief—one might think we lived on the frontier, our security and safety constantly in peril. The Neighborhood Watch is vigilant, fortunately, and we’re glad that there are retired folks on the block, sitting by the curtains, just keeping an eye on things while we’re...

  10. SIX Guides for the Perplexed
    (pp. 143-159)

    I WAS IN MATANZAS, CUBA, IN AN URBAN NEIGHBORHOOD OF cement row-houses nearly flush against the narrow street. We had been through this part of the city several times, racing in Lied’s wired-together East German Lada, but I knew I would never be able to find my way in—or out—on my own. There were so many turns down streets solidly lined with identical one-story buildings, and my eyes could not pick out the distinctions that residents would recognize instantly. There were resorts a dozen miles outside the city—“sun, sand, blue-green water and everything that goes with it,”...

  11. SEVEN Street People
    (pp. 160-192)

    I RETURNED TO THE NETHERLANDS TWENTY-EIGHT YEARS AFTER first going there as an exchange student, seeing the same orange roofs as the plane approached landing, driving past the same flat fields, reading signs written in a language that was open where all others but English are closed to me. It was a sense both of going and of going back. There is no place I feel more at home than the Netherlands due to that year’s residence. The very color of the bricks, the width of the bicycle paths, the contents of a living room glimpsed through a window are...

  12. Notes
    (pp. 193-198)
  13. Bibliography
    (pp. 199-202)
  14. Index
    (pp. 203-210)
  15. Back Matter
    (pp. 211-212)