Ted Simon and the art of deterritorialization
Writing about web page http://www.jupitalia.com
I recieved an email from Ted Simon this morning containing a long essay summarizing his findings on the economic, political and social developments that he observed during and subsequent to his recent RTW bike trip. Ted is a great travel writer, author of the biggest selling 'man on a bike sees world' book Jupiter's Travels, definitely the best of its genre, and a trully great consideration of the state of the world in 1973.
At the moment, Ted is trying to bring together the findings from his most recent trip (completed last year, at the age of 72 – sorry Ted, had to mention that). The essay that he posted is in many ways alarming. It concerns the effects that the growing poverty gap, urbanization, communications and political extremism (on all sides) have had since the Seventies. His message is that things have actually got much worse and much more dangerous, which considering that younger people like me look back at the days of Vietnam and the Cold War as being the danger we survived, is deeply worrying. In many ways Jupiter's Travels itself contains some answers to these issues.
It is the accumulative effect of every individuals in their own personal states of loss and confusion that takes us to this great danger. Both the poor disenfranchised and the wealthy powerful contribute in their own unpredictable way. These people are deterritorialized. As the numbers of poor people now connected to this deterritorialization increases, the potential for crisis emerging out of their interactions is escalated. Meanwhile the wealthy (of America) become increasingly able to make near random whim driven choices that have huge effects for the rest of the world. Here he expresses the way in which the wanderer, the refugee is forced to stand back from their own fate:
I looked at myself in the same light, as a monkey given my life to play with, prodding it, trying to stretch it into different shapes, dropping it and pcking it up again, suspecting always that it must have some use and meaning, tantalized and frustrated by it but always unable to make any sense of it.
In Jupiter's Travels, Ted explored how becoming deterritorialized requires an appropriate ethics of exploration. He learnt this the hard way by seeing the effects he could have as a stranger on a bike arriving in an isolated location. Near the start of the journey, in Tunis this caused trouble. And this trouble follows Ted along. But he learns how to be a stranger, an outsider, and at the same time how to fit in. Always when riding a motorcycle one must adapt to the road.
Crossing Africa, with its deserts and borders, was a miracle of good fortune. South America required perserverance in the face of military police. And India only possible through this mastery of this deterritorialization:
I was astonished by my confidence with strangers. Often I was able to talk to them immediately as though we had always known each other. For a long time I had been training myself to want nothing from others; to accept what was offered but to avoid expectation. I was far from perfect, but even the beginnings I had made were richly rewarding. I could feel that people appreciated my presence and even drew some strength from it, and in turn the feeling strengthened me. There were the beginnings of the growth of power and I was determined to persue it.