I’ve been everywhere man

Wayfaring; Wanderlust; Exile

Hakim Bey aka Peter Lamborn Wilson, famous for TAZ’s and Pirate Utopias has an interesting lecture entitled “The Art Of Sufi Travel”, which is worthwhile, if nothing, for its exegesis of medieval Sufi travel. In the lecture Wilson proposes that the physical meanderings of the dervish are akin to the [psychogeographic] locomation of Sufi poetry and literature and demands similar exegetic treatment. He discusses the works of medieval Islamic travellers such as Nasir Khusraw, Ibn Batuta and Ibn Khaldun. Though straying into weird occultist tangents on occassion and peppered with factual errors (the Ka’aba is not a black stone, is not a black temple), it is despite its suspect mysticism* an intriguing lecture; especially for those of us with dispositions given to whimsy, romance and adventure. Most notably, towards the end, Wison bemoans the demise of wanderlust and the wayfaring spirit, citing Nietzsche’s final ramblings and Rimbaud’s Abyssinian excursions, during which the two figures experienced a heightened. blazened consciousness followed by consuming madness–as the last of the great European travellers before modernism destroyed the traveller forever…or at least ’til it was resurrected with an extreme makeover via postmodern technoculture.

Wilson seems to have overlooked 19th and 20th century colonial travellers. Indeed, Wilfred Thesiger, obscure compatriot of T.E. Lawrence, is a veritable emblem of wanderlust. His account of his travels through the Empty Quarter with the Bedouin is a compendious illustration of Bedu life at the eve of its demise. Thesiger’s curiosity, the quintessential capital of the colonial adventurer (much like medieval Muslim imperialists and their conquistadors counterparts) is evinced in his detailed observations of desert topography. Though, like a true wayfarer, his narrative writhes with a compelling existential restlessness; and therefore makes for a deeeeelightful read.
Wilfred Thesiger’s obituary in the Guardian.

I have been occupied with Naipaul’s travel narrative, Among the Believers: An Islamic Journey, of late; in specific the section of the book pertaining to Pakistan. The title seemingly connotes a sort of fraternity with the “Believers”, but as one flips through the pages of this book, Naipaul’s patronizing illustration of the characters he encounters, suggests a sense of claustrophobia; of being stuck, caught ‘among the believers.’ Naipaul is not a curious traveller insomuch that he ‘seeks’ something in his travel like Wilson’s prototypal Sufi wanderer or Thesiger or Lawrence; instead, he is an educated, informed traveller like colonial travellers, amused by the queerness of his hosts, observing them for the sensibility of his vantage perspective. Perhaps, not the best nonfiction prose I have read, Naipaul does, however, possess the flair of a distinguished, seasoned writer which comes through vividly. The narrative swells with evocative imagery intertwined with historical exposition, pivoting on the perplexing interplay of Islam and modernity. From the irascible band of lawyers and “letter-writers” loitering outside courts to the interior Sindh excursion, Among the Believers, despite its faults, offers many memorable snapshots of Pakistan at the eve of Zia’s regime: perpetual exiles.The characters seem caricaturesque at times, given to Naipaul’s taxonomy, but they are more or less an accurate portrayal, especially in capacity of a travelogue. Besides, one is likely to encounter the same populating Naipaul’s book in the streets of Karachi, in government offices, courts and mosques of Pakistan. It saddens me to say but Pakistan is inhabited by a lot of ‘papier-mache men’ to use Conrad’s term.
Further: The New York Times Review of Naipaul’s book, bearing the horrid titled ‘In Search of Islam’.

To be continued.


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