Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Tristes Tropiques

I am currently reading 'Tristes Tropiques' by Claude Levi-Strauss. He says at the beginning of the book that he hates travelling and explorers. At about page 40 he explains why. He compares travel writers to spice traders who used to risk their lives to bring back peppercorns that courtiers of Henry IV of France would carry in little boxes and eat like sweets. He says: "the olfactory surprises they provided, since they were exquisitely hot on the tongue, added a new range of sense experience to a civilisation which had never suspected its own insipidity. We might say, then, that, through a twofold reversal, from these same lands our modern Marco Polos now bring back the moral spices of which our society feels an increasing need as it is conscious of sinking further into boredom, but that this time they take the form of photographs, books and travellers tales."

He goes on to say: "intentionally, or unintentionally, these modern seasonings are falsified. Not, of course, because they are of a purely psychological nature, but because, however honest the narrator may be, he cannot - since this is no longer possible - supply them in a genuine form. For us to be willing to accept them, memories have to be sorted and sifted; through a degree of manipulation which, in the most sincere writers, take place below the level of consciousness, actual experience is replaced by stereotypes.

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