Motives: On Curiosity
“Instead of bringing back sixteen thousand new plant species, we might return from our journeys with a collection of small, unfeted but life-enhancing thoughts” (111).
In this chapter, de Botton contrasts his own lethargy in Madrid with the insatiable curiosity of a German explorer, Alexander von Humboldt. Von Humboldt’s biography (or one of them) is entitled What May Be Accomplished in a Lifetime, which indicates how active his South American explorations were, leading to discoveries in the fields of geology, botany, physics, anthropology, and more. For today’s curious traveler, do facts merely overwhelm or distract? The author quotes Nietzsche:
“Nietzsche also proposed a second kind of tourism, whereby we may learn how our societies and identities have been formed by the past and so acquire a sense of continuity and belonging… He can gaze at old buildings and feel ‘the happiness of knowing that he is not wholly accidental and arbitrary but grown out of a past as its heir, flower and fruit, and that his existence is thus excused and indeed justified’” (110).
But to acquire “a sense of continuity and belonging,” the curious traveler might prefer to venture no further than a lazy vineyard, sip slowly, and enjoy the thought that one’s existence is “excused and justified.”
See De Botton’s thoughts on landscape, the country versus the city