Tuesday


The Russian formalist literary critic Viktor Shklovsky introduced the term “defamliarization” to indicate that function of literature and art which is to make the familiar strange in order to see that which is most common in a new light. It is not only art that serves this function. Science often serves in the capacity of defamiliarization and forces us to see familiar aspects of the world in new ways. Travel may be considered a personal form of defamiliarization. I touched on this earlier in Being the Other when I wrote:

“…the ignorant traveler bumbles through the business of ordinary life in a foreign country, though the business of ordinary life feels quite extraordinary. The extraordinariness of the everyday is another familiar feature of travel, and this can be expressed in ways that are both illuminating and embarrassing.”

If travel is a form of defamiliarization, then returning from travel constitutes a kind of refamiliarization. I often thought of this when returning from my earlier travels, when I would be away for a month at a time, as it always felt difficult to resume the mundane details of mundane life; even after the most spartan and ascetic travel — and if I described my early travel to you, I think you would agree that it was pretty spartan — one does not easily fit back into one’s life at home. Thus travel is not only a defamiliarization of the world, it is also a defamiliarization of oneself.

If that weren’t enough, travel also involves a process of defamiliarization with one’s own expectations for travel. A bus stop is not an auspicious place to be dropped off in a new and unfamiliar country, but it is likely that the traveler will find himself or herself unceremoniously dropped off at a bus stop or staggering out of train station and wondering what comes next. The important thing here is that this is precisely what is new: one doesn’t know what comes next.

The expectations that a new traveler has for a distant land — derived from a lifetime of travel posters, glossy brochures, full color magazine spreads, films of the exotic unknown, and travel memoirs both witty and insightful — are likely to be disappointed by the same infrastructure of industrialized civilization that makes international travel quick, convenient, affordable, and accessible. The disruption to one’s schedule by travel is reduced to a day of sitting on an airplane and being shuttled between various lines and waiting rooms and officials examining papers.

Upon arrival at one’s destination, one travels through the outlying industrial development that inevitably surround airports, and after this one is treated to a view of the extensive suburbs that have swelled all the cities of the industrial age. It may not be until the next day, when one emerges from one’s hotel after a night recovering from the previous day’s travel, that one comes to the historic center of an ancient city and finally begins to see the objects of touristic pilgrimage, which by now seem rather small and insignificant when surrounded by a metropolis that has but little relationship to one’s tourist intentions. The only place that I can recall that was immediately striking upon stepping out of the train station was Venice, and that was in 1989 — by now its character may well have changed.

The refamiliarization of returning home involves this same process in reverse order: one detaches and disentangles oneself from the landscape and the people and the way of life to which one has quickly become accustomed, and indeed even fond of — itself a painful process, as it often feels like a betrayal of oneself to leave that which one has sought and finally found, so that departure feels like exile rather than being the opposite of exile — and one passes by degrees back into the infrastructure of industrialized civilization, back from the countryside, into the center of a capital city, then through its suburbs and its outlying industrial districts until one at last arrives at the forlorn landscape of an airport, with its steel and glass buildings and its asphalt tarmac… the very picture of bleakness and desolation, if ever there was an uninviting spectacle welcome one on one’s journey “home” (which we must now put in scare quotes because the prospect of return no longer feels like home).

The airport, a waystation for touristic pilgrims, has all the anonymity and neutrality one would expect from a transient space not intended as a place for any kind of familiarity at all, but rather a place to make the transition from the familiar to the unfamiliar, or from the unfamiliar back to the familiar.

If the airport were not already enough of a shock, then there is the abrupt re-insertion into the matrix of ordinary life and work, the telephone ringing, errands to run, obligations to meet, and a life to be lived that no longer feels like one’s own.

Which is the more profoundly jarring and disturbing experience — defamiliarization or refamiliarization?

. . . . .

signature

. . . . .

Grand Strategy Annex

. . . . .

Advertisements

Monday


Frogner Park, one of my favorite places in Oslo.

In an earlier post from 2009 I called Oslo The Quiet City. Since that time, I had to retract that in the wake of the Breivik massacre and acknowledge that Oslo was no longer the quiet city. Just last week was the one year anniversary of the massacre, and there were of course many news stories and memorials. There are buildings in downtown Oslo surrounded by scaffolding, presumably to repair damage from the massive bomb blast that accompanied the massacre.

The weather was beautiful, so my sister and I ate an an open air restaurant in Frogner Park; here you can see my thirty dollar hamburger and my sister’s thirty dollar bowl of mussel soup.

I returned to one of my favorite places in Oslo, Frogner Park, with its sculptural program of all the diversity of the human condition executed by Guxtav Vigeland. Vigeland could have said, as Walt Whitman said, I am large, I contain multitudes. And multitudes had turned out on this sunny day. While the pleasant weather brought out significant numbers to Frogner Park, it remained a relatively quiet place, and the crowds rarely compromised the peace and tranquility of the park. Here I could once again think of Oslo as the quiet city.

Many people were enjoying the sunshine at Frogner Park.

Seen from close up, Vigeland’s central monument at Frogner Park reveals the human struggle in all its petty intimacy, with one person climbing over another in striving to reach the top. Because of our inalienable position within the human condition, this is what it always looks like to us — very personal and visceral. We do not have the luxury of standing back and viewing it all from a distance because we are part of it. The companion monument, located nearby but less visited, called The Circle of Life, has a rather different character. Here the figures are intertwined as in the central monolith, but gracefully, and there is no striving for the top, only the equilibrium state of a closed and finite but unbounded loop.

Vigeland’s central monument at Frogner Park: seen from a distance, the human struggle that it represents has none of the petty character that we know so well from personal experience, and which Vigeland represented so well in his sculpture.

The local guide at the Urnes stave church, in discussing the wooden carvings on the exterior of the church, took pains to point out that the largest figures in that delicate interweaving of figures are mammals — not reptiles or dragons, as one might assume from the Viking fondness for representing ferocity through dragon’s heads. He also pointed out that the figures in the carving, while all struggling with each other, are all alive. None has yet triumphed, and none has yet died. The same could be said of Vigeland’s monolith, and the softened representation of the struggle of life as it appears in The Circle of Life. The carvings at Urnes lie somewhere in between the naked struggle of Vigeland’s monolith and the graceful torus of The Circle of Life — a medieval evocation of the struggle and interdependence of life.

. . . . .

signature

. . . . .

Grand Strategy Annex

. . . . .

Sunday


My limited time in Norway has caught up with me and now I have to leave my aunt’s house in Sand and drive across the country in order to be in Oslo in time to catch my flight out. Because of Norway’s difficult terrain, overland travel is time consuming even in an age of cars and highways. While it is possible to come to Sand without taking a car overland — one can fly into Stavanger and take the fast boat, for example, which takes two or three hours — but if you want to see sights in rural Norway (like stave churches, for example) you need to have a car. At least, it helps to have a car.

Vøringfossen, one of the most impressive waterfalls in Norway.

On the drive from Sand to Geilo I stopped at the waterfall at Vøringfossen, which is right next to the road and therefore an easy stop. In a land of many waterfalls, Vøringfossen is among the most impressive, falling down a sheer cliff in a view that cannot be captured by any camera. I tried many different ways of taking a picture that might give some sense of the falls, but I was not successful.

Some perspective on Vøringfossen to put the previous picture in a human context.

Leaving the west coast of Norway and driving inland, the weather rapidly improved, and the overcast and steady rain of the coast gave way to fewer clouds and more sun.

. . . . .

signature

. . . . .

Grand Strategy Annex

. . . . .

Saturday


The present church at Jelsa was built around an earlier stave church.

Not far from Sand i Ryfylke, and also in Suldal, is the small town of Jelsa. Despite the fact that I have visited Sand many times, I have never before been to Jelsa, so my aunt and my sister and I piled into our rental car and drove over to the next town. It was a nice day for a drive in Suldal.

The interior of the early modern church at Jelsa.

Jelsa has a remarkable early modern church, which is a wonderful example of wooden vernacular ecclesiastical architecture. In an earlier post, Vernacular Culture in Hardanger, I mentioned how the Church Law of 1851 was used as a pretext to tear down many stave churches as being too small. There once was a stave church at Jelsa, but it did not fall victim to the Church Law of 1851. Apparently economic and demographic growth came earlier to Jelsa, and a newer (and larger) wooden church was built around the old stave church in 1647 — about the same time that Hålandstunet was being painted. These events suggest a level of relative prosperity in 17th century Suldal.

The remarkable ceiling of church at Jelsa is painted like the night sky — except that it includes the sun as well as the moon.

I particularly liked the ceiling of the Jelsa church, which is painted as a night sky, except that both the sun and the moon appear together on the ceiling — something one would never see under ordinary conditions of observational astronomy. Of course, one sees the sun and the moon together in the sky on a regular basis, but when we see this the sky is bright from the light of the sun, and not he dark blue of the night sky bespeckled with stars. One can suppose that this was mere astronomical eclecticism, perhaps the result of painterly enthusiasm and poetic license, or one can try to read a message into this paradoxical painting (e.g., Is this a veiled reference to Olber’s paradox?). Paradoxical painting is a favorite topic of theoretical exegesis (think of Foucault writing about Goya’s Las Meninas), but on this particular day I find myself quite without any theory to explain the ceiling (certainly an exception to the rule — I am rarely without a theory), so you must come up with your own and take responsibility for the interpretation.

It was a nice day for a drive around Suldal.

But now that I am thinking about both Jesla and Hålandstunet and the relative prosperity they represent, I am tempted to do some further research, as this sort of early modern efflorescence deserves an explanation, so I think that there is a potential theory here, though it may turn out to be as simple as the fact that a wandering painter was available in the area at that time, and was willing to paint for room and board. The local guide from the Ryfylke Museum, who was present at both Jesla and Hålandstunet (open on successive days, like a museum circuit), mentioned the name of the painter who did the interior of the Jelsa church. I didn’t think to ask if there was any relationship between these two examples of mid-seventeenth century painting in Suldal. It would be worth looking into.

. . . . .

. . . . .

signature

. . . . .

Grand Strategy Annex

. . . . .

Friday


A room with a view at Hålandstunet, Suldal.

In Vernacular Culture in Hardanger I mentioned that many local folk museums throughout Norway maintain traditional buildings in situ, and today I visited one of these. Hålandstunet is an assemblage of three buildings in Suldal probably less than a half hour’s drive from Sand. Until the farm was purchased by the museum, it had been in the same family since 1570. The oldest of the buildings dates from the 17th century, with traditional Norwegian rose painting — rosemåling — dating to about 1650. The later manor house dates from 1836, and looks quite spacious and comfortable for the time.

Sitting on a bench in the Hålandstunet manor house.

I have long regarded in situ works of art to be the “holy grail” of aesthetic tourism, and my own aesthetic pilgrimages have often been organized around seeing particular works of art that still remain in their original context, like the late medieval St. Wolfgang altarpiece by Michael Pacher. Seeking out in situ works of art often means going to considerable trouble to find the truly great examples, and then to make one’s way to their sometimes obscure homes. It is, at least, significantly less convenient than touring through an art museum in middle of an easily accessed major city, where such art treasures are usually collected. Yet I find that the effort is repaid with interest, as the journey to an isolated work of art usually reveals something about the circumstances and the history of that work. In other words, it is worth the trouble.

Traditional rose painting at Hålandstunet from about 1650.

At Hålandstunet we have the vernacular culture equivalent of high culture art in situ — the whole of Hålandstunet, with its carved and painted implements of the ordinary business of life in pre-industrialized Norway, is a tribute to the usually nameless folk artists who decorated their lives with whatever was ready to hand. This is folk art in situ. It would not be right to call this a utilitarian art; it is, in a sense, the antithesis of “pop art.” Precisely because the implements of the ordinary business of life were not mass produced, they were of considerable value and often followed a person through life — and probably they followed a family through generations. Heirlooms are not always or only jewels; a sturdy copper kettle may have been an heirloom.

While the house was being restored, a 16th century Bible was found in the walls of the house; this is not on display here, though, but is kept elsewhere.

The countryside of Scandinavia is rich in such vernacular architecture. Many of these structures have been incorporated into open air museums, such as that I saw at Utne in Hardanger, but quite a few are still to be found dotting the countryside. Sometimes when you drive around the back roads of Norway you come upon an ancient structure by chance, and it is obviously been sitting for hundreds of years upon the same spot. A few of these unmoved, unchanged treasures have been carefully curated by museums and are open to the public. Hålandstunet is among these.

When a copper kettle is expensive and difficult to obtain, it becomes an heirloom and stays within a family.

As much as I enjoy open air museums, as with the treasures of high culture art found in (relatively) remote backwaters, I find that it is worth the trip to find those surviving instances of vernacular art still in situ. When you travel to Hålandstunet you must travel more or less the same path taken since 1570 when the first residents arrived, and when you look out the windows you see the same view that the original residents saw. That is worth something. There is much to be learned from the lives of the original inhabitants that are exhibited in the artifacts they left behind. The less disturbed these traces, the more there is to learn. This is not “original intent” but what might be called original disposition.

. . . . .

. . . . .

signature

. . . . .

Grand Strategy Annex

. . . . .

Thursday


I have long wanted to go swimming in the fjord at Sand. In previous visits I have even packed a wetsuit with me so that if the opportunity arose, I could go. Well, I didn’t use my wetsuit before, but today I wish I had brought it with me this time. While yesterday was a nice day, today was an absolutely gorgeous day, with blue skies from horizon to horizon and the sun warming the rain-soaked Norwegian ground. It would be accurate to say that it felt hot in Sand today, and there aren’t many hot days in Norway.

Although I didn’t go swimming, I did at least take my shoes off and walked in the surf at the little “beach” in Sand. I wasn’t the only one there. The sun brought people out, and there were a few young children swimming in the waters of the fjord — apparently oblivious to the glacial runoff that feeds the fjords and keeps them cold under most circumstances. I say “under most circumstances” since my sister tells me that when she spent a summer here ten years ago there were several weeks of hot weather and she went swimming in the fjord. Needless to say, I am jealous.

. . . . .

Thursday is Komledag! I’ll be down at the Fargariet cafe in Sand to get my share of Komle.

. . . . .

signature

. . . . .

Grand Strategy Annex

. . . . .

Wednesday


Sand i Ryfylke

Three years ago when I was last in Sand i Ryfylke, in September 2009, I posted about The Charms of Small Town Norway. I have not returned to Sand, and am once again experiencing the charms of small town Norway. And in contrast to the several days of rain on the drive to get to Sand, it was a pleasant day here, with some clouds but also many sun breaks. When the sun comes out, it is warm.

I cannot say enough good things about Norwegian strawberries; I think these are the best strawberries I have had. Earlier, in our drive to Sand, children came around to the windows of each car at ferry landings and sold local berries. I bought a container of strawberries for 40 kroner and enjoyed them immensely. Since then we have had more strawberries along the way. The berries here are very sweet and tasty; the strawberries have a texture like a ripe pear, nothing like the big berries that are hard and white inside. The ripe berries here are red to the center.

The charms of small town Norway change but little over time, just as I remarked about the pause in history one feels at Urnes. Urnes, and Solvorn across the fjord, are small towns not unlike Sand. History has been paused at Sand and Urnes and Solvorn. The perennial pleasures of good food and good company hold pride of place.

The center of Sand

Sand is my home away from home. While it is ruinously expensive to come to Norway, this is my seventh visit, and as I remarked in an earlier post, it has now been almost a quarter century since my first trip to Europe and to Norway and to Sand. This gives me a certain perspective both on my experiences and upon this place that I have visited more than any other with the exception of my home and places in Oregon that I frequent. (But we usually grant an exception for home, do we not?) I suspect that the only streets that I know better than Sand are those of Portland.

Enjoying the charms of small town Norway in Sand i Ryfylke

What is a home? If it is a place to which you return, then Norway and Sand must also be included among my homes. (Whether or not the Norwegians want to count me as one of their own is another question.)

. . . . .

signature

. . . . .

Grand Strategy Annex

. . . . .

Tuesday


Utne in Hardanger

The status of folk culture (or, if you prefer, vernacular culture) in the Scandinavian countries is perhaps unique in Europe, and is one of the features of life in Scandinavia that stands out in contrast to continental Europe. After the Scandinavian countries enriched themselves through plunder and trade during the Viking era, in the wake Christianization the economic structure changed dramatically. On the one hand, there was no longer any influx of booty from raids on defenseless communities; on the other hand, there was greater political unity, centralization, and administrative rationalization that perhaps contributed to the standard of life throughout the region. While the organization of Scandinavia according to the model of feudal agriculturalism practiced elsewhere in Europe may have had benefits in terms of social stability, the climate of Scandinavia was not conducive to agricultural wealth. This was especially true in Norway, where agriculture is largely confined to narrow strips of land between the fjord and the base of the mountains, and the growing season is quite short.

Traditional boat houses in Utne

I suspect that the marginal agricultural production of Norway meant that there was enough to survive, but not enough to thrive during the long period of settled agriculturalism. Norway remained “backward” — a backwater of Europe economically and culturally — until its rapid industrialization at the end of the nineteenth century and the beginning of the twentieth century. During the thousand years or so of Norway’s backwardness — the stagnant period from about 900 to 1900 AD — the region was not known for its production of high culture. There is little art and literature that survives, in the sense of consciously produced art and literature intended for an elite audience. There was no Norwegian Dante, although we know that poetry was a prized art among the Vikings — unfortunately, but little has come down to us (and none that has come down to us was recorded contemporaneously). The literature that does remain is primarily the sagas written in Iceland, and I think these are correctly interpreted not as the efflorescence of Christianized agricultural civilization but rather as the final afterglow of Viking civilization. (If you want an argument for this, take Huizinga’s thesis from The Autumn of the Middle Ages and apply it, mutatis mutandis, to the autumn of the Viking age in Norway.)

Inside an old house in the open air section of the Hardanger Folk Museum

While post-Viking Scandinavia produced little in the way of high culture, it produced instead a remarkable efflorescence of vernacular culture. Of course we know that all regions of Europe have their folk cultures, some of them highly valued and some of them less so, and all have their traditional national costumes, but I can’t think of anywhere else in Europe where this popular culture has been so pervasive and so much a part of the life of the people, and has continued to play a significant role in the life of the people following industrialization and the introduction of high culture from continental Europe (with the possible exception of Eastern Europe, which was also considered “backward”). But the preservation of folk culture in Scandinavia was a rocky and difficult road, and by no means unopposed.

A snow shoe for horses in the Hardanger Folk Museum

The forces of change — and therefore the forces of tension and conflict over tradition — began with the first stirrings of the industrial revolution, when institutional forces competed both to preserve Norwegian traditions and to establish in its place a culture based on the model of continental Europe. The Society for the Preservation of Ancient Norwegian Monuments (in Norwegian this is Fortidsminneforeningen) was first founded (under a different name) in 1844; this organization sought to buy and to protect traditional Norwegian buildings. Yet in 1851 the Norwegian government passed the Church Law that provided for a minimum size for local churches, and which was employed as a pretext to tear down the greater number of remaining stave churches at that time. There were once hundreds of stave churches in Norway; now there are 28.

A traditional house in the Hardanger Folk Museum

One of the most vigorous expressions of vernacular culture in Norway was in music and dance. The relative isolation of communities due to the geographical structure of Norway meant that music and dance, like local costumes, varied from region to region. On the Handanger fjord, a particular kind of violin came into use, called the Hardanger fiddle (hardingfele in Norwegian). The violin as we know it in its classical form has its distinctive tone color from a strong overtone series; the Hardanger fiddle achieves an even stronger overtone series through the addition of four strings below the bowed strings, which vibrate in harmony with the bowed strings. Thus the distinctive tone color of the violin is done one better by the Hardanger fiddle.

Hardanger fiddles in the Hardanger Folk Museum

In the nineteenth century, when institutional and bureaucratic forces in Norway were seeking the kind of unity and bureaucratic centralization found in continental European states, efforts were made to eliminate traditional music and dance from local church ceremonies. The music of the Hardanger fiddle was denounced as “the Devil’s music” because it was said to contribute to drunkenness, license, and riotous living. Churches in Norway were ordered to conform their musical program to “classical European musical ideals,” while the folk music of Hardanger played on the Hardanger fiddle was considered dangerous because of its “rhythmic variation and ambiguous tonality.” In a world in which serialism in music is already dated, this objection may seem difficult to understand, but it was deadly serious at the time.

More traditional Hardanger fiddles in the Hardanger Folk Museum

The two quotes in the above paragraph were taken from a display about the legendary Handanger fiddler Ole Olsen Fyske that I read in the Hardanger Folk Museum in Utne. In addition to its collection of traditional local buildings — a collection that is the legacy of the Society for the Preservation of Ancient Norwegian Monuments and the movement it fostered to preserve folk culture — the Hardanger Folk Museum has collections of traditional musical instruments, including several Hardanger fiddles dating to the 17th century, which one can easily imagine being played by some vernacular Paganini. The collection also includes textiles and folk costumes, and there is an archive of folk music from the region.

And yet more Hardanger fiddles…

In other posts I have mentioned my enjoyment of open air museums, which are particular plentiful in Scandinavia. In addition to entire structures being preserved in museum settings, there are also entire farms that have been preserved in situ. Many local museums supervise such preservation efforts within their district.

. . . . .

Inside the Hardanger Folk Museum they have recreated a traditional Hardanger “bridal voyage” on a boat with the wedding couple, family, and a fiddler in the back to provide the music. This theme is the subject of a famous painting, “Brudeferden i Hardanger.” (see below)

. . . . .

Brudeferd i Hardanger of 1848 ilustrates the traditional bridal voyage. There is also a silent Norwegian film from 1926 on the same theme.

. . . . .

signature

. . . . .

Grand Strategy Annex

. . . . .

Monday


The Urnes Stave church — the sun came out briefly as we crossed the fjord from Solvorn to Urnes, though the rest of the day was overcast or raining.

Even if you know what to look for, it is quite difficult to pick out the Urnes stave church from across the fjord at Solvorn, where a small ferry departs each hour on the hour to take tourists and a few cars and bicycles across Sognefjord over to the Urnes side (also spelled “Ornes”). Once across, you walk up the hill to the top of the village, and there sits the Urnes stave church among trees and the cultivated hillsides, just as it has been sitting for more then 800 years. This is the second time I have been to Urnes, and I was unable to see the stave church from across the fjord; perhaps if I had had binoculars I would have seen it, but it melds into the landscape from which it came.

Looking back to Solvorn from the top of the hill at Urnes, standing next to this ancient wooden structure, little changed from when it was built — Urnes is thought to be the oldest of the surviving stave churches, with timbers dating from 1129-1130 (thanks to dedrochronology) — it is very easy to imagine the villagers are Solvorn getting into the wooden boats, rowing across the fjord, and walking up the hill to attend services in their ancient church. We often hear the phrase “time stands still” — at Urnes, you can stand still along with time for a few moments. Here, history has been paused.

In so saying that history is paused at Urnes I am reminded of a passage from Rembrandt and Spinoza by Leo Balet, which I quoted previously in Capturing the Moment:

“In those of his portraits where the portrayed is not acting, but just resting, pausing, we get the feeling that the resting continues, that it is a resting with duration, a resting, thus, in time; in those pictures we are closer to life than in the portraits where just the breaking off of the action makes us so vividly aware that his whole action was make-believe.”

Leo Balet, Rembrandt and Spinoza, p. 184

Balet here frames his thesis in terms of portraiture, but the same might be said of a photograph or a sculpture — or even of a place that changes but little over the years. Urnes is such a place, and, in fact, there are many such places in Norway. Yesterday in A Wittgensteinian Pilgrimage I noted how Wittgenstein’s correspondents in Skjolden often closed their letters with, “All is as before here” (“Her er det som før”). in Skjolden, too, time is paused.

Similarly, the busyness of the world appears to us as mere make-believe when seen from the perennial perspective of unchanging continuity in time. Our hurried and harassed lives seem mindless and perhaps a bit comical when compared to forms of life that endure — or, to put it otherwise, compared to modes of life that enjoy historical viability.

I have elsewhere defined historical viability as the ability of an existent to endure in existence by changing as the world changes; now I realize that the world changes in different ways at different times and places, so that historical viability is a local phenomenon that is subject to conditions closely similar to natural selection — existents are selected for historical viability not by being “better” or “higher” or “superior” or “perfect,” but by being the most suited to their environment. In the present context, “environment” should be understood as the temporal or historical environment of a historical existent — with this in mind, a more subtle form of the principle of historical viability begins to emerge.

. . . . .

Solvorn, across the fjord from Urnes.

. . . . .

signature

. . . . .

Grand Strategy Annex

. . . . .

Sunday


A couple of days ago in describing my pilgrimage to Kinn I suggested that the phenomenon of pilgrimage is a Wittgensteinian “form of life,” and as a form of life we may understand it better if we confine ourselves to the material infrastructure while setting aside the formal superstructure that surrounds the form of life we call pilgrimage. But in a fine-grained account of pilgrimage we must distinguish between those forms of pilgrimage that, when taking the long view of the big picture, become conflated.

As I attempted to show, in different ways, in Epistemic Orders of Magnitude and P or not-P, both la longue durée and the fine-grained view have their place in our epistemic development — respectively, and roughly, they represent the non-constructive and the constructive perspectives on experience — and we ought to be equally diligent in exploring the consequences of each perspective, since we have something important to learn from each.

I tried to suggest a similarly comprehensive synthesis yesterday in A Meditation upon the Petroglyphs of Ausevik, when remarking that an extrapolation of a personal philosophy of history, when drawn out to a sufficient extent coincides with the history of the world entire. In other words, non-constructivism represents the furthest reach of constructivist thought, which immediately suggests the contrary perspective, i.e., that constructivism represents the furthest reach of non-constructive thought. Constructivism is non-constructivism in extremis; non-construtivism is constructivism in extremis. To translate this once again into historico-personal terms, the history of the world entire coincides with an intimately personal philosophy of history when the former is extrapolated to the greatest extent of its possible scope.

In a fine-grained account of pilgrimage (in contradistinction to pilgrimage understood in outline, in the context of la longue durée), at the level of personal experience that is constructive because every detail is of necessity immediately exhibited in intuition and nothing whatsoever is demonstrated, we can distinguish many forms of pilgrimage. There are religious pilgrimages, such as the Sunnivaleia, there are personal pilgrimages, such as my pilgrimage to Kinn, there are aesthetic pilgrimages, such as when the custom dictated the young gentlemen of good families and fortune would take the “Grand Tour” of Europe, there are political pilgrimages, as when a candidate for office visits a politically significant place — and there are even philosophical pilgrimages. I have previously made some minor philosophical pilgrimages, as when I sought out Kierkegaard’s grave in Copenhagen and similarly visited Schopenhauer’s grave in Frankfurt. Today I made another philosophical pilgrimage, by visiting the small town of Skjolden, where Wittgenstein spent time working on the ideas that would later becomes the Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus.

In the letters that Wittgenstein subsequently exchanged with his acquaintances in Skjolden (which have, of course, been published along with the rest of his correspondence), the people of Skjolden almost always close their letters by observing that Skjolden is as it always was and ever will be, essentially unchanged in the passage of time. I wrote about this previously in The Charms of Small Town Norway. It seems to be true that life changes very slowly, almost imperceptibly, in the fjord country of Norway, as life always changes slowly in isolated, mountainous regions the world over. The peoples who retreat from the onrushing advance of civilization to the margins of the world where they will not be bothered, are not the kind of peoples who wish to indulge in change for the sake of change. It is this latter attitude that typifies industrial-technological civilization, which is still largely confined to the regions of the world fully given over to agricultural civilization. The margins of the world before industrialization largely coincide with the margins of the world after industrialization.

Wittgenstein, I think, left little impact upon Skjolden. He didn’t make waves, as it were, and didn’t want to make waves. Life in Skjolden is probably little changed in essentials from when Wittgenstein isolated himself in a small, bare hut at the end of a fjord in order to think and write about logic. I think that Wittgenstein would have liked this — or, at least, that he would have preferred this near absence of influence. The fjords are unchanged since Wittgenstein lived here, even if life has been modernized, and they still provide a refuge for those who would seek a world largely untouched by what Wittgenstein in his later years would call, “the main current of European and American civilization,” from which he felt profoundly alienated.

. . . . .

signature

. . . . .

Grand Strategy Annex

. . . . .

%d bloggers like this: