"The human being is this night, this empty nothing, that contains everything in its simplicity"- H
Lynn Sharon Schwartz’s contestation for literal travel is placed in juxtaposition, throughout “Not now, Traveler” with the preference of (fictional, and allegorical) literary manifestations. The myriad complaints: a Sicilian coast “excessively picturesque,” “parodic,” or the blame ascribed to Orkos for not providing opportunity to feature her conversational skills—symptom a narcissistic exteriorization of the subject’s aggressivity
, in the psychoanalytic sense. Upon first read, I found the attitude of the author to be extremely off-putting. An edification of a desire to return home while abroad ‘to sink into my chair’- is attempted, but felt like an show of an inner-monologue of a ‘literary’ who was blessed with the opportunity to travel, but simply refused to acknowledge it as such. Consider, the logic boded, in a somewhat Marxist sentimentality, seeing is no longer enough. I have a more pressing reason for being where I am, and that reason has to do with work. My identity hasn’t gotten weaker with age; my attachment to the daily life of work is stronger
— Schwartz’s attributes personal productivity, writing, with stasis (12).
Schwartz’s Orkos anecdote, material prompt for allegory, employs descriptors as “sagging trees,” “ghost town,” “trifle, mangy looking” beach (2). Fellow hotel guests become spectral forms bereft of their physical presence and discourse “shadowy shapes rising forks to their mouths and murmuring” (2-4). Perhaps Schwartz’s confrontation with the darkness of her room functions in the text via
the poetics of analogy. If this is indeed the case, the semantic may be of epistemological concern, for instance, the fear the author’s vocation thwarted by the figurative negation or concealment of the stanza’s [It. ‘room’] content. The efficacy of darkness, posited as such, operates around what Derrida qualifies ‘the primary metaphor in the history of Western Metaphysics’ as being ‘a photological one’ (Writing and Differance). Wherein the submission of Being to the existent reverberates in the privileging of light (knowledge, truth) and darkness (self-concealment) (Writing and Difference). The concealment of the room’s interior signaled the loss of knowledge-‘puzzlement the negation of the subject (the author).
Schwartz’s introspect- “Orkos, the endless dark, the unknown, the isolation, the helplessness: the nightmare of travel in its purest form. Now I knew what I dreaded” – beholds this experience within the light day. The identification of ‘dread’ posits confrontation of her ‘subjectivity’ by the philosophical tenets of existentialism (also seen in the recurrent ‘return’ of Camus’ concept of travel). Even more, Schwartz’s notion, ‘the nightmare of travel in its purest form’ borrows from Hegelian dialect,
The human being is this night, this empty nothing, that contains everything in its simplicity—an unending wealth of many presentations, images, of which none happens to occur to him—or which are not present. This night, the inner of nature, that exists here— pure self—in phantasmagorical presentations, is night all around it, here shoots a bloody head—there another white shape, suddenly here before it, and just so disappears. One catches sight of this night when one looks human beings in the eye—into a night that becomes awful, it suspends the night of the world here in an opposition. In this night being has returned.
(cf. the Realphilosophie
manuscript of 1805–06)
The Hegelian conceptualization of the ‘subject’ explicated as such, accords the seemingly contradictory qualities, ‘emptiness’ and ‘containing everything.’ I found the notion of ‘emptiness’ recurrent in Schwartz’s prose. Two examples of this being the prefatory remark, ‘You can’t just empty the contents of your head on the page, to get started, you need a subject” and the advice ‘empty your head’ given by her ill friend, the poet (preface).
For me, the message of Schwartz’s discourse is figured in the author’s adjectival impute of Orkos with “a nowhere place” (2). This rhetorical assignment is in effect a pleonasm for utopia
, which etymologically signifies the negative co-operation of ou ‘not’ + topos ‘place.’ Considered as an interrogative adverb, the ‘where’ of ‘nowhere,’ perhaps signals the quest the ‘lost twin’ Schwartz’s “ideal reader” (19). Answering the question ‘where’ for the traveler precipitates travel, moreover the identification of the ‘subject’ as a traveler. Being as such, perhaps ‘where’ operates as a marker for the meta-travel narrative, the implicit discourse, the ‘call’ to travel, which the ‘subject’ is responsible. Consider, “Where was I, not literally, but in relation to reality as I understood it? And, more important, why? Where was the rest of the world and all of its people?” (3). Ripe with allusion, one being Camus’s notion of the beginning consciousness of the Absurd whereupon its spark is signaled by question, the why arises (Myth of Sysiphus).
The latent connection between the utopian fantasy and the ‘ideal reader’ or lack thereof is further verified by the author’s mention of the cabby’s reaction to her book—‘I never heard from him’ (12). As such, Schwartz’s travel polemic examples the ‘subject’s’ displacement when contextualized by travel, which allows for an introspective re-troping of subjection’s relation to the work, the home.