May 15, 2012

Passage as travel

Let's begin to clarify some notions. I have introduced the idea of traveling into an instance of unreality, such as the fictional world of a movie, or a dream. The use of 'traveling' is highly metaphorical, of course: if you travel, that means a change in location, usually going from some origin location to a fairly distant destination location; and the act of traveling itself typically takes time. Obviously, in the normal use of 'traveling', both the origin and the destination locations are places in the real world, to be reached by some means of transport. Another element of the meaning of 'traveling' has to do with what one experiences: broadly speaking, you're widening your horizon, see new and unfamiliar places, strange customs (strange, that is, to you, not to the people in the places you visit).

The trips I have illustrated in my recent series of posts can be metaphorically described as 'traveling' into an unreal world, because some of these meaning elements still apply: there is an origin location and a destination location, which is removed and distant. The process of passage itself doesn't take much time, but the trip as a whole occupies a span of time during which the passenger cannot interact with the origin location any more. There are strange and unusual things going on at the destination location, making for a new and stimulating experience. (That's the point, after all, of using passage as a dramatic device in fiction. The movies from which I have extracted some excerpts for demonstration all rely on passage to get some central plot lines going.)

There's an important difference, too. The distance between the origin and the destination is not a spatial difference, as the distance between two places in the real world is. Rather, it's the gap between the real world and an unreal world — the difference (however it is conceived) between reality and fiction, or reality and dreams, reality and memories, and so on. I have used the term 'metaphysical apartness' before: just as the metaphorical use of 'passage' and 'trip', that term also suggests some kind of gap or distance — and the gap or distance is taken to be metaphysical, that is, to be described in terms of reality and unreality (metaphysics being the study of what, in general, makes up reality).

Describing something as a journey adds another important element: it suggests a continuous, linear structure. There is a departure (possibly some preparation before), then there are the events of the trip itself, including the actual travel, the arrival at the destination location, the events there, and then in reverse the trip back with its final arrival at the origin. All these events typically form a continuous process with an ordered structure. Even more important, this structure is tied to the experience of a traveler: it only makes sense to bring events in that order with reference to someone who undergoes the process. Without a traveler from whose point of view there is a time-ordered series of events, there is no such thing as a journey.

In all the illustrations I've given, the perspective of the passenger (one or more characters in the movie) is crucial. That is why the plot usually follows the perspective of the character who undertakes the journey very closely. The only deviation from this principle is the technique I have called 'shifted transfer'.

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