Posted by: glue | January 8, 2009

Tourist Theoros

Walter Benjamin, in his final letter to Adorno, identified the source of his theory of (the impoverishment of) experience.



“There is no reason to conceal from you the fact that the roots of my ‘theory of experience’ can be traced back to a childhood memory. My parents would go on walks with us, as a matter of course, wherever we spent the summer months. There would always be two or three of us children together. But it is my brother I am thinking of here. After we had visited one or other of the obligatory places around Freundenstadt, Wengen or Schreiberhau, my brother used to say, ‘Now we can say we’ve been there.’ This remark imprinted itself unforgettably on my mind” (May 7, 1940). Cited in Martin Jay, Songs of Experience.

Jay mentions the attraction of magical names (Freundenstadt = City of Joy), which also recommends this anecdote in our context.  That the experience in question was that of “tourist” marks the example as part of the project to restore the function of theoria for an Internet public sphere.  Theoria was a group of elders or trusted citizens of a community dispatched to ascertain the facts of a situation.  Solon participated as a theoros representing Athens in a visit to Egypt.  The Magi constituted a theoria.  This practice combined theory and tourism, and Benjamin’s punctum making tourism the emblem of impoverished experience shows that “tourism” is an institution in need of an heuretic upgrade.

A related point is that Benjamin’s  testimony is another example of mystory: how a childhood experience (event) persists in memory to become an organizing pattern guiding career creativity. The prototype is Einstein’s compass (illustrating Gerald Holton’s insight into the image of wide scope found in the oeuvre of productive people across the spectrum of vocations and fields). Composing avatar draws upon this ur-pattern, which is why the first step in a pedagogy of becoming image is to compose a mystory.

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