the adventurer

If you look up the sociology of adventure, you will soon find that there is little or none. Astonishingly, it seems to hold no interest, in itself, for the sociologist. With one exception – a classic essay by Simmel. When, otherwise, the subject comes up, the sociologist views adventure in the same spirit as the tourist agency: as a category in the leisure field, requiring a guide, hotel accomodations, showers at the end of it, cameras, and flights to and fro.

This is all the more astonishing in that adventurers certainly have existed. Adventurers brought down the Inca empire. Adventurers founded the Jamestown colony. Legitimists called Napoleon an adventurer for good reason – the same thing could be said for Garibaldi. So why the lack of interest? Perhaps it is because adventure, from the serious social science point of view, seems to have the irritating ability to turn the monumental into the ludicrous: it is continually shaking hands with the Commandantore. And, for the social scientist, there is a line: the truth must, in the end, be serious. It simply can’t be ludicrous. That would be an insult to all the founding positivist family.

The adventurer, the politician, the artist, the scholar/virtuoso – they are all types that appear in the Renaissance. They are related insofar as they all have complex and conflicting relationships with the system of patronage.

Of them all, the adventurer is the hardest, perhaps, to grasp, since it is difficult to say just what his object is. The politician aims at power, the artist at art, the virtuoso at knowledge, and the adventurer at experience – yet that seems much too vast and vague an object (although why it is vaster and vaguer than knowledge or power is a good question). Michael Nerlich, a literary critic, observes in The Ideology of Adventure that adventure is first used as an economic term: "Godfrey's selection of examples of aventure in his Dictionnaire de l’ancienne langue francaise is, to be sure, one-sided, but it is of particular interest to us because his examples are almost exclusively of legal or economic meanings, with the first examples going all the way back to the late thirteenth century. Alongside the meaning of “output, earnings, income” ... the word aventure also occurs with the meaning of ‘catch, booty or harvest...” And later ... “Despite all the theories about ‘eventus, etc., I believe that this is the original meaning, sicne it is difficult to see why an ad-ventura would have had to be invented when eventus already covered the meaning.”

Nechlin gives us this meaning with the note that it is controversial, and seems to infuriate some medievalists, who do not like the idea that the adventure of the knight on his quest is a thing of booty. In the same way, Kierkegaard strenuously objects to Moliere’s Dom Juan being endebted – dealing with money is, to Kierkegaard, a fall from the infinite adventure of seduction.

In a future post, we are going to analyse Simmel’s essay on adventure, in which, we think, certain ... interesting choices are made in the contrast between normality – the real world, of labor – and the island world of adventure.


Anonymous said…
well, there's roleplaying games.
northanger said…
roger said…
North, nice song! The voice of the singer has a soft but distinct resemblence to Biggie's.

Which is a totally positive thing for me.