Tuesday, 26 August 2014

What has happened to the art of wandering?

It is often I see the creative arts as a kind of wandering – wandering outside the margins of  convention, allowing for direction to be formed en-route rather than pre-supposed. To wander, could be seen as, perhaps surprisingly, to claim a kind of freedom. It allows the environment one experiences to be installed with a kind of subjective richness, as in the case of Yeat’s ‘Wandering Aengus’ who reaches  the climax of ‘The Golden apples of the sun’. Here the associations of human and natural richness blend to give language, a process seemingly hinting back to the Romantic tradition – a tradition especially popular in the environs of England such as the Lake district in the 1700 and 1800’s where Wordsworth’s wanderings inspired much of his work. Yet, in another sense. It is ironic that this wandering is often overlooked.  People often allude excitedly to Wordsworth’s poem ‘Daffodils’ which is actually titled according to its first line ‘I wandered lonely as a cloud.’ This line could be seen as immediately more moving and momentous than any daffodil – blending the human with the landscape, offering wandering as an opportunity to feel the sublime.

It could be seen today however, that wandering is a dying art. This is a society terse with time pressure, urbanity and expectation. We allow thus to dictate routine seemingly as strictly as codes of the past, the routine of academic practice, for example – school, then college, then university – has now come to be associated with creativity, is the path for writers, journalists, artists. There is a set path to follow, so to speak, from which people are frightened to diverge.

I can perceive that there is an extent of fear involved, especially within writing as a practice – often accompanied by the notion ‘you are doing it wrong.’ It seems perfectly acceptable for the reader to grace the countryside, book in hand, but the artist is regarded as almost threatening – as if taking the surrounding landscape and manipulating it to point. I believe that writing is: 1) a much more beautiful process than that and 2) not just inspired by clichéd walks in the countryside, if creativity is a form of wandering, then the physical wandering can encompass any environment. After all, it was Dickens’ wanderings round London before and after he would visit his father in a Southwark prison which inspired much of his work.

For in wandering, the senses are greeted with a plethora of potential – it is to experience and appreciate the unknown, we see great good in places unexpected, and also the dubious depths of society we would perhaps typically avoid. Wandering even through a city centre can hold much more artistic potential than had one been there simply to fulfil a task – like to buy a certain product. It is the prescription that walking should have use or be avoided which has seemingly bred an unhealthiness in creative culture. Even today, those who wander may be termed ‘delinquent’ or misled’. Rather, perhaps they are searching for the start of a new lead.

To wander is not always aimless either, but part of unfolding ones aims. It transforms the need to ‘get out’ and experience fresh the textures of existence, which is valuable in itself. It sets up its own paradox – a richness from poverty, take the Beat generation of 1960’s America and later  England whose creative output was significantly inspired by their lives as wanderers or ‘bums’. As in the work of Jack Kerouac and William Burroughs for example, there is a wonderful freedom, a nervous energy to the prose, striking a key difference from the literary modes of previous. Allen Ginsberg, as evident in his epic poem ‘Howl’ took inspiration from the angry throb of the streets, the accumulative anger of the supermarkets. Appreciating this art of wandering and observing is life-affirming – it turns the failed shopping expedition,  missing the bus, even the mundane experiences like walking to work, into an experience, for example, the taking of detour on the way to work just to see some street you’ve never seen before, is a little like opening another alley in the mind. Potential can be scraped from anywhere, often the most unexpected places.

Therefore, this could be seen as a cry outside the margins – a cry not to reclaim wandering, as that implies limiting it, but to appreciate it. There is nothing wrong with simply observing what it is to live, experience for experiences sake. The holiday could be seen as a product of that psyche – an immersion in a different experience. To wander therefore, is not necessarily to be misled – as Tolkein phrased it – ‘not all those who wander are lost’. To wander is to expose oneself – in a way which can be both positive and negative  to the different textures of existence. It can oft be a simple pleasure.

Purpose is a path we have often come to prescribe, thus perhaps it is a show of artistic impulse not to re-allign it, but to defy it. To wander is to wonder – and surely that is an incredible thing.