July 30, 2008

Expectation, Escape, and Equivalence

The temptations of a Moitessier, the sailor who refused completion of "the course," who took the race for a finish and turned it into a celebration of process; who steered away from the pre-determined destination that would be crowded with an expectant public ready to devour, and measure, and mark his experience like their very own Lindbergh. Moitessier abandoned all that, and much more, and chose instead his own way through the "oblivion" of the ocean and globe. That was 1968. No wonder the tiny street-theater "revolutions" by the students in some cities, no wonder the race-raging violence in others, when the choices seemed so murderously and stupidly dull and deadly on the (one) land, so fantastic, so absurd, so ego-driven on those alternate waters. Few can set sail, become Ishmael still aloft atop the mast of the devoured ship.

A century before, a French worker named Claude Genoux crossed the Atlantic. He left Marseilles and found the world. Not the romantic dream of oblivion, but the hard lines of global trade; the earth's matrix of markets and possibilities. Genoux sees enough, sees poetically enough, to know that there is no escape from the markets and no dimming of the dream of flight. The wander is all, and all is equivalent within it. As Jacques Ranciere describes his odyssey in Short Voyages:

"What he found was the boredom, the suffering and joy, the labour without poetry and the pleasures without refinement that the happenstance and wanderings of proletarian existences always come back to and always seek to escape. At the end of these adventures marked by equivalences -- a law of poetry, tourism, and commodities -- he has recognized the foundation of the universal equivalence: enclosure within the circle of the brutal efforts and pleasures of voiceless labour. A proletarian's hell that he seeks to flee all the way to the end of the world, where he finds it again exemplified int he figure of the free sailor on the high seas and the adventurous whale hunter. . . .

If he writes, he does so to pass from one condition to another, from someone who loads the paper to someone who lays out the pages, even someone who writes them. And he will not stop writing. Just as he refused to die in a bed in the hospice for aged workmen. Forty years after his return from the South Seas, once again a bootblack by trade, he will take off for a walk in the forest of Fountainbleau. Which is where, a few days later, his body will be found."