In what amounted to only a brief sleep, I had a dream that I’d already had many times while awake. I dreamt that I’d been very lost. Today, ‘lost’ might mean being thirty miles away from home without a GPS or wi-fi. In the ancient world, to be lost not only meant to wonder if one would ever make it home but to wonder, upon that very slim chance, if it was even worth it to come back. Time would have rendered everything that made it ‘home’ completely foreign.
Men wishing to visit exotic new places were not even sure how big the world was—if it was indeed limitless, or if their travels would pit them right at the edge of heaven or hell (if the earth was flat, who was to say one couldn’t walk right off the edge and into another world?).
Travel needed to be thought about with a great deal of courage and pragmatism. For one setting out into the world, one had to trust their resources and powers of perception if they even had plans to come back. One had to calculate the harmony of the winds and seasons and weigh them against the temperaments of foreign cultures and bonds made through great effort and much learned, and sometimes, much lost.
Men taking to the open sea, leaving wives and children behind, were obligated to live for that very hope of return, even if it meant dealing with great deals of change. But to those with no ties but cultural ties, ties of bloodline and heritage, being lost to one place is to be found to another.
In my particular dream, I set out into the world and became so incredibly lost that I was forced to wander and wonder for 100 years. Why did this strange fantasy keep occurring to me? Why did it color my dreams with images of such investment toward this all-consuming, life-long project, this simple but very heavy act of returning?
And I realized that this was just it—this word ‘project.’ This very thing we call ‘life’ is something we perceive to have linearity. Not only do we see it as having the linearity that exists between birth and death, but there is a linearity that begins from some quite remote moment and reaches toward a sense of purpose or a goal.
I will not bother asking what the purpose is, for I cannot suggest anything like an accretive purpose for mankind or even an individual purpose. But what we do know is that everyone seeks to fulfill a purpose of some kind, but the question is, where do these varied purposes come from? Some want to get rich or make good art or raise children or accomplish all of these at once. Some want to make their parents happy or serve their country or destroy their country.
In all of these things, there is a sense of investment in a project that is bigger than the individual undertaking it. We are wrapped up in and living in narratives not of our own making. The stories that make up our world will either see themselves lived out through us or we can make our own new stories through them.
Perhaps this is why I had become so obsessed—if at first only subconsciously—with being lost. It represents the most refined example and highest summit of what it means to invest oneself in a project. Being lost is the biggest project of all. The project is not simply survival—one could clumsily refine every other sense of ‘project’ to a sole drive like will to survive or will to life. Rather, when one is lost, the project is to forsake the biggest change, to forsake nature’s most violent act against man, which is not death, but this—to destroy his sense of knowledge. When a man finds himself alone on the shores of a distant island with no promise of ever being seen again or when a man wanders through the wilderness on some foreign continent, unsure as to what direction he is going or if his home even exists or if his family has not moved on altogether to a new place, all of his learning is either burned up by the circumstances or thrown into that inevitable journey.
By throwing what little knowledge one is even capable of acquiring in this great stretch of life into a simple yet heavy project such as returning, absolutely everything that doesn’t matter is trampled into the muds and dusts of time.
The artist is like one who sets out on a very far voyage from which he may never return. But the artist’s sense of ‘return’ does not belong to a home that can be located within the artist’s life. The artist loses himself and seeks to return to a place that has escaped man altogether—to a place that may never have existed or which is so primordial that it only leaves some trace of itself in our minds and keeps passing through us in a never-ending inheritance.
The artist is not doing something so different from everyone else, and yet no one sees it. The artist’s project lies so adjacent to the projects of the world around him that their very foreign variables would appear to pose a threat to convention—few would like to admit that the strangeness of the world is not entirely strange, or far too related to what they consider normal.
Most surfaces of the earth have been explored and exploited. There are very few places to get lost anymore (even when a man is lost today, he knows where it is that he is lost, at least in some general sense). It is no longer really possible to be geographically lost to the degree that ancient man could.
But it is still possible to get lost in other ways. Think about the very concept of being ‘lost’ and what makes up its essence. It is to be plunged into the unfamiliar. The narratives that make up today’s world, though varied, numerous and contradictory, are familiar. Perhaps the only way that one can be lost today is to travel so far from the narratives of culture that one finds oneself in completely foreign territory, which one never thought one’s mind could reach. To be lost today does not necessarily have anything to do with even moving an inch. One can become lost while one is completely still. It is a perceptual loss.
‘Loss’ has often become a synonym for a kind of despair or the absence of something good. But that is the only to have lost something else. Once you yourself are lost, it would seem that you lost the entire world (or at least, the world you knew).
To seek a new voyage is to accept or embrace the fact that you might get completely lost and will have to dwell in that place of loss. Is it so strange to view the artist as someone who willingly accepts that voyage into the loss of the world they know, so that they might find or be found in a new territory altogether?