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May 16, 2005

The guide and the explorer concept

Follow-up to Spirit and the virtuality of concepts and their personae from Transversality - Robert O'Toole

Thinking about my lost friend, I realised something important about myself, and about one of the impulses that could be a powerful driver behind events in the world.

I discovered something in me that is much more powerful than I had expected – a trait that perhaps determines the choices that I make, my actions, the things and people that I value.

There were many reasons why my friend was so great. But one thing, at least right now, stands out from the rest. The world was to her a constant source of wonderment, of fascination. She had the kind of mind and attitude to the world that is increasingly rare. Disturbingly rare. She had a way of just experiencing things as they were, and of always seeing something bright and sparkling. Certainly she was someone who had grown up in a world without special effects, in a world from which Hollywood was barred. And then in England, being an alien (in fact she said that she felt foreign everywhere), so much was genuinely new and strange. But her inquisitiveness was never just the effect of a lack of belonging, of always being abroad. It was a powerful and genuine trait in her way of living. A way that could exist anywhere, that could connect with anyone.

This to me is the most important trait in others. It is something that attracts me to people: my wife the infant school teacher, Ted the travel writer, Gilles and Felix the philosophers, Kate who writes strange songs from all kinds of odd sources, and Mari the adventurer. And perhaps it is why I like foreigners in England more than I like the English, even more than the eccentric English (and their fake difference). Deliberately leaving one's own culture, the place of mundane sense. What an amazing thing to do.

So why am I still here, in England, in Coventry? Strangely, even as a child, I would fantasise about aliens and ghosts. Not in a menacing or confrontational way, but rather as friends. I still often wonder what it would be like if some historical figure were to be sitting next to me now, looking in amazement as I explain the glowing moving screen covered in text and images in front of us. Or how it would be to tell Thesiger about the Iraq war, or T.E. Lawrence about modern sports bikes. I have these strange ideas all the time. You see the trait that I value in others is the wonderment and openness of the traveller, the explorer. But what I like myself is to be the guide, to be the one who leads the other to those experiences. Now I know that one thing that I have lost with my friend is someone who really appreciated me for doing that. But I've lost even more. This concept of being 'the guide' also implies a care and a knowledge of the place through which the guiding is happening. I have lost any reason to care about, to know what is valuable, in my world.

So the concept that I have discovered is this. The pairing of guide and explorer is a powerful one. But not in the obvious way. It is the guide and their territory that benefits, that makes sense and value by bringing the explorer into it. Maybe it is this 'guide' that drives adventure, exploration, deterritorialization.