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the geography of lost

 


There's the geography of maps, where the objects are a town, a river, a mountain, and then there is the subjective map, where the objects are all object-events: getting lost, coming home, being-in-a-strange-apartment. The subjective map has a very different scale - it measures not inches, miles, or kilometers, but uniqueness and repetitions. For instance, the geography of getting lost depends upon its position in the scale of encounters with a place - getting lost in the same place the second time is a harder thing to do, and eventually, if you keep coming back, you aren't lost at all and the lostness that you once experienced seems like a dream.

There is a vital connection between this dreaminess and adventure. Simmel wrote that adventure cuts itself off from normal life and is recalled as a kind of dream – but what kind? Lostness, I think, is the condition of adventure.
In ordinary life, we often talk about what we are “like”. If I lose, say, my wallet, I may say, I always leave it on the table. In so saying, I’m observing myself anthropologically – this is what the tribe of me is like. It has these rituals, these obsessions, these returning points. At the same time, there are rituals and obsessions I am not so aware of. There are people we know who fall in love, say, with a certain type. From outside, you recognize it. But from inside that lover’s illusion, as you might think it, there is all the difference in the world between x and y. How does this person’s radar pick out these loves? Freud speaks of “fate” in the love life. Of course, fates preside over other things beside the destinies of our libidos. La Bruyere, for instance, outlines the characteristic of a man who is always losing things, bumping into people, misreading signs, mistaking his own house for somebody else's and somebody else's for his own. We might think that this state of confusion, in the extreme, is evidence of some pathological disturbance of the brain. However, there are a number of habits one "falls" into in one's life, resolves not to continue with, and still - falls into again.
Simmel speaks of events and their meanings in themselves and in relationship to the whole of life. Which can also move in the other direction:
“Events which, regarded in themselves, representing simply their own meaning, may be similar to each other, may be, according to their relationship to the whole of life, extremely divergent.”
Simmel’s definition of adventure is on the basis of this relationship of the parts of life to the whole course of life:
“When, of two experiences, each of which offer contents that are not so different from one another, one is felt as an adventure, and the other isn’t – so it is that this difference of relationship to the whole of our live is that by which the one accrues this meaning that is denied to the other. And this is really the form of adventure on the most general level: that it falls out of the connections of life.”
That falling out of the Zusammenhange – the “hanging together” of our life isn’t to be confused, according to Simmel, with all unusual events. One shouldn’t confuse the odd moment with the adventure. Rather, adventure stands against the whole grain of our life. There is a thread that spans our lives – Simmel uses a vocabulary that returns us to the “spinning” of the fates – and unifies it. Adventure follows a different course:
“While it falls out of the connections of our life, it falls – as will be gradually explained – at the same time, within this movemen it becomes a foreign body [ein Fremdkörper]in our existence, which is somehow bound up with the center.
The exterior part [Ausserhalb] is, if even on a great and unusual detour, a form of the inner part. [Innerhalb].”
As always in Simmel, there is a lot of sexy suggestion here, which clouds one’s questions – especially about the latent conflict between a thread spanning a life and a center. One recognizes the logic of the supplement here – an excess in affirming a proposition has the effect of making it less clear, rather than more clear.
Simmel’s ‘proof’ of this theory about adventure is that, when we remember these mutations in our life, they seem dreamlike. Why would the memory set up an equivalence, as it were, between a dream and an adventure? Because it is responding to the logic of the exterior/interior binary. Dreams, which are so exterior to our waking life that we cannot see them as playing any causal role in that life, are so interior that we share them with nobody else. Introjected – Melanie Klein’s word – wasn’t available in 1912 for Simmel, but something similar is going on.
“The more “adventurous” an adventure is, the more purely it satisfies its concept, the “dreamier” it becomes in our memory. And so far does it often distance itself from the central point of the I and the course of the whole of life consolidated around it, that it is easy to think of an adventure as if somebody else had experienced it.”
These traits – which are expressed, Simmel says, in the sharpness of beginning and ending which defines the adventures in our life, as opposed to other episodes – make adventures an “island” in our life. These traits too call up another in the chain of signifiers that are suggested by the dream – that is, the artwork. Adventurers are like artists in that the adventure, like the artwork, lies both outside of and deep within the whole of a life. It lies outside of and deep within from the perspective of memory – while the perspective that unfolds during the course of the adventure is one of presentness – this is why the adventurer is deeply “unhistoric”. That present is neither caused by the past nor oriented towards the future.
Simmel’s adventure concept, as one can see, is akin to lostness. I’d suggest that the most characteristic lostness there is is being lost in a wood. The beginning of the Inferno casts its shadow precisely because the forest represents a certain alienness to human settlement. It is a tree settlement, a bushes settlement, something that arises without human thought or intention, but that is visibly a settlement, a matter of mutual interdependence, something that is, perhaps, beyond us. To be lost in the world is, partly, in my way of conceptualizing it, about giving ourselves up to the strange – and the stranger. The ultimate strangers are non-human coordinating communities – the community of the sea, the community of the mountains, the forests. These strangers are echoed in the strangers, the human ones, where adventure takes its course.
And the moral of all this is Miranda’s:
“O, wonder!
How many goodly creatures are there here!
How beauteous mankind is! O brave new world,

That has such people in't!”

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