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Journey to the End of the Night

Disillusion and Derangement among the Senses

Andrew Irving

The journey returns us to shared originary meanings of experience, trial, and travel, wherein ex signifies “out of,” while peira means “attempt, trial, test” and possesses the same root per as the Germanic fahr (“to travel”). The experience of traveling to an unfamiliar place often retains the character of a testing out, and exposes a flux of unfamiliar perceptions and sensations. Accordingly, this article uses Louis-Ferdinand Céline's journey from Europe to Africa to America, as recounted in his novel, Journey to the End of the Night, published in 1932, to explore some of the varying modes of corporeal experience and aesthetic appreciation that arise through travel and movement. It suggests that these constitute their own distinct types of knowledge and understanding. Inevitably, this raises important epistemological questions about how we know and understand the world, in that the initial impressions and provisional misunderstandings of transitory encounters are dismissed once the traveler, or anthropologist, gains a greater in-depth knowledge and understanding of the environment through longer-term dwelling. However, is there something to be gained: different perspectives and modes of knowing that emerge at the beginning, middle, and end of the journey?

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Senses of Spatial Equilibrium and the Journey

Confounded, Discomposed, Recomposed

Andrew Irving

This special issue of Journeys brings together writers whose origins and research expeditions lie in different parts of the world (United Kingdom, Germany, India, Africa, Japan and the Caribbean) to explore the relationship between different kinds of movement (walking, voyaging, bus-tours, animal-tracking) and the accompanying transformations in body and perception that emerge when journeying near and far from home. Journeys are indelibly associated with movement through lands and across seas, but like songs and stories, they also are works of composition, sometimes carefully crafted, other times improvised, often unique, and frequently unfinished. Although a journey, like any other work of composition, unfolds over time and can be thought to have a narrative structure of beginning, middle, and end, it is likely to contain many unstructured moments: unexpected detours, various contingencies and chance encounters, moments of social and cultural disorientation, and unresolved questions that are neither planned nor initiated by the author. Journeys, therefore, can often take us into strange “inner” places. Perhaps then we might say that journeys involve a process of discomposition, an unravelling and disordering of habitual thoughts, perceptions, feelings, and normative presuppositions, which are made explicit in the face of new lands and may become temporarily reconstituted amid the diversity of people one encounters there.

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Andrew Irving, Christine McCourt, Kirk Simpson, Jeffrey Lambe and Roberta McDonnell

Guide to Imagework: Imagination-based Research Methods (ASA Research Methods in Social Anthropology Series). By Iain R. Edgar. London and New York: Routledge, 2004, paperback, xii + 161 pages, £18.99. ISBN: 0 415 23538 3.

Birth on the Threshold: Childbirth and Modernity in South India. By C. Van Hollen. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003, 310 pages, £14.95. ISBN 0-520-22359-4.

Why Did They Kill? Cambodia in the Shadow of Genocide. By Alexander Laban Hinton. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004, paperback, 382 pages, £12.95. ISBN: 0-520-24179-7.

Life and Words: Violence and the Descent into the Ordinary. By Veena Das. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007, paperback, 296 pages, £12.95. ISBN: 978-0-520-24745-1.

Anthropology Beyond Culture. By R. G. Fox and B. J. King (eds), Oxford and New York: Berg (Wenner-Gren International Symposium Series), 2002, 306 pp. incl. refs, £17.99. ISBN: 1 8593 524X / 1 85973 529 0.