THE QUEST FOR TRADITION :: Diario di un viaggio :: by Carlotta De Sanctis
My last journey, perhaps more than any other, put me in a position to reflect on the widespread desire to seek out that which is most typical, original and traditional in the place we are visiting. In all likelihood, the very choice to visit a country such as Myanmar can be considered partially in line with the common attempt to grasp the essence of that which has not yet been explored, seen and touched. This, in turn, is connected with the unconscious desire to come home with a suitcase full of stories that have an aura of the exotic, the characteristic and the spectacular, arousing interest in a group of listeners and guaranteeing the storyteller a certain social success. Now, the charm and the adventure that existed in travel stories, romanticised by the presence of atypical characters in more or less incredible stories, have been somehow ousted by stories of the spontaneous traveller, which are certainly less colourful but more accessible, and above all within the reach of the common man. Given the abstraction of the concept of the “unexplored”, the opportunity to reach the most remote corners of the planet, which has been exponentially simplified in the last 20 years, has transformed what was a rather protracted process of research and encounter to seemingly limitless access to different places and cultures. The simplification of this process has therefore brought about the possibility of greater mobility (almost exclusively reserved for Western populations), connected, in many cases, with a dizzying reduction in the time available to dedicate to the discovery of a place. Furthermore, this new travel formula is often associated with the growing demand to seek out what people believe to be typical and traditional situations, involving, now more than ever before, a paradox in the real possibility of dedicating ourselves to interacting with a new context. Connected to the incoherence of this attitude is the desire to preserve many societies as they are, in order to benefit from them when a need is felt for something that is perceived as more authentic, because of its diversity. In some cases, the will to preserve, a topic widely debated within anthropological studies, involves a violent attempt to preserve certain situations against the process of change inherent over time. What is often found is therefore a depletion of spontaneity in favour of a dramatization intended to meet the needs of the occasional traveller. So, rather than trying to imprison the time of others, it would be interesting to reflect on our own use of this dimension. In so doing, rather than looking for gimmicks and solutions for speeding up the process of experiencing a typical situation or element, we could humbly open ourselves up to the idea that access to determined customary dynamics, to small corners that resist the urbanisation process, to rituals that have not succumbed to the charm of the economic market and continue to be repeated according to logic far removed from the concept of sales and accumulating wealth, requires passion, predisposition and, not least, a certain amount of time. Obviously, this reflection can not represent on its own the solution to the complex social, cultural and economic dynamics intrinsic to the globalisation process. Nevertheless, it could provide a first step in the attempt to shift the focus of the experience of travel to a different qualitative level on an interpersonal exchange level. In travel, like in research and art, the interest in a given place, subject or debate requires an extensive time period that necessitates not only an accumulation of relevant experience and knowledge, but also a real path during which the subject itself alters the perspective. Reducing and simplifying research methods, it is clear that what was previously a cumulative path has now in many cases been condensed to the acquisition of factual data, often reduced to mere stereotype, in the absence of a different outlook, becoming a simple, facilitated orientation system. Reconsidering the temporal dimension in exchange and observation not only allows us to defend ourselves against vague conclusions, but also, at the same time, to rediscover that spontaneity that at a first glance seems lost in others and in ourselves. At that point, the story could also regain its colour and that dimension of being a unique and personal experience, which the standardisation of travel seems to have compressed. As I was writing this text, I stumbled upon a new Italian publication of a famous Turkish novel: ‘The Time Regulation Institute’ by Ahmet Hamdi Tanpınar. In this work, the author sarcastically paraphrases human desire to control and organise the things that proceed independently of their will, and therefore the attempt to possess and regulate time. What Tanpınar proposes is a parody of modernity in Istanbul at the turn of the century, symbolised by a grotesque attempt to create institutes, such as that for the regulation of clocks, which could organise that which evaded rational control. Considering the quality of the temporal dimension, in my opinion, allows us to reflect and take into consideration the real consequences of a particular form of time management. Rescaling the few weeks of researching the exotic into a more humble holiday experience, without any pretension of an intimate understanding of complex dynamics, could restore greater dignity to the concept of travel, which requires a different period and mental predisposition. The interest, fascination and wonder of a more genuine and less arrogant exchange in our quest for a spectacular story could stop us from merely reproducing clichés, regaining a revelatory experience not only of others but, above all, of ourselves.
Myanmar 2015 – Photo by Carlotta De Sanctis