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Bewildered Travel

The Sacred Quest for Confusion

Frederick J. Ruf

Publication Year: 2012

Why do we travel? Ostensibly an act of leisure, travel finds us thrusting ourselves into jets flying miles above the earth, only to endure dislocations of time and space, foods and languages foreign to our body and mind, and encounters with strangers on whom we must suddenly depend. Travel is not merely a break from routine; it is its antithesis, a voluntary trading in of the security one feels at home for unpredictability and confusion. In Bewildered Travel Frederick Ruf argues that this confusion, which we might think of simply as a necessary evil, is in fact the very thing we are seeking when we leave home.

Ruf relates this quest for confusion to our religious behavior. Citing William James, who defined the religious as what enables us to "front life," Ruf contends that the search for bewilderment allows us to point our craft into the wind and sail headlong into the storm rather than flee from it. This view challenges the Eliadean tradition that stresses religious ritual as a shield against the world’s chaos. Ruf sees our departures from the familiar as a crucial component in a spiritual life, reminding us of the central role of pilgrimage in religion.

In addition to his own revealing experiences as a traveler, Ruf presents the reader with the journeys of a large and diverse assortment of notable Americans, including Henry Miller, Paul Bowles, Mark Twain, Mary Oliver, and Walt Whitman. These accounts take us from the Middle East to the Philippines, India to Nicaragua, Mexico to Morocco--and, in one threatening instance, simply to the edge of the author’s own neighborhood. "What gives value to travel is fear," wrote Camus. This book illustrates the truth of that statement.

Published by: University of Virginia Press

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. 1-6


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pp. vii-viii

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Acknowledgments, Quote

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pp. ix-xii

To say this book was years in the making is no exaggeration. It began when I boarded a TWA flight for the Netherlands in August 1968, and it only ends now arbitrarily. I’ve spoken with a lot of people about travel in those decades, so this list of names is partial and inadequate, but it is, more or less, chronological: ...

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pp. 1-4

As I was finishing this book, was mugged. It was nothing terrible, a two-inch bruise on my upper arm was the only physical effect. The teenager who robbed me shouted that his friend had a gun, which caused the strongest emotional effects, fear and intimidation. ...

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1. Love of Ruptures

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pp. 5-33

I was once in Agra, in India, and walking not far from my small hotel, the deep crimson of the Red Fort looming less than a quarter mile away. I’d only been in Agra for a few hours, and I wanted to get a feel for the place. Ahead I saw a crowd of people, and I walked over to see what they found so compelling. ...

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2. Commerce with the Ancients

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pp. 34-54

I’d had discussions with a lot of people about my notion that we travel in order to become confused before I realized why the idea was so unconvincing to some. It is perfectly obvious to most of us why we travel, and confusion has nothing to do with it. ...

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3. The Pilgrim’s Progress

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pp. 55-80

There’s something about the huge cruise ships, anchored out in the harbor, that makes some insistent on drawing a firm line between “tourists” (on the ship) and “travelers” (in the streets). The ships are so aggressively modern, so sleek, so gleaming that they seem a Hollywood version of the affluent world, ...

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4. The Ride of Passage

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pp. 81-106

“The road is before us!” Walt Whitman proclaims in “Song of the Open Road,” asking us to drop everything in an endless journey: “The long brown path before me leading wherever I choose.”1 Whitman’s poem—in fact, all of his work—establishes the model for an American attitude toward travel. ...

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5. Holy Strangers

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pp. 107-142

I once pointed to someone walking past my house and asked a three-year-old friend of my daughter’s who it was. “The stranger,” she said with an ominous tone. Our culture is fascinated and obsessed with “strangers.” We warn our children about strangers, insisting at a very early age that they distrust them. ...

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6. Guides for the Perplexed

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pp. 143-159

I was in Matanzas, Cuba, in an urban neighborhood of cement row-houses nearly flush against the narrow street. We had been through this part of the city several times, racing in Lied’s wired-together East German Lada, but I knew I would never be able to find my way in—or out—on my own. ...

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7. Street People

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pp. 160-192

I returned to the Netherlands twenty-eight years after first going there as an exchange student, seeing the same orange roofs as the plane approached landing, driving past the same flat fields, reading signs written in a language that was open where all others but English are closed to me. ...


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pp. 193-198


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pp. 199-202


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pp. 203-210

Further Reading

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pp. 223-224

E-ISBN-13: 9780813934266
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813926674

Page Count: 224
Publication Year: 2012