IOP Essay

English A1
Harold Seah In the Art of Travel, to what extent is de Botton influenced by the personalities brought up in the novel? TOPIC Alain de Botton is a notable non-fiction writer who covers mainly topics that would confound, at times, even the wisest people, and places the subject into relatable bite-sized portions for the average reader. His sixth book, The Art of Travel is no different. Published in 2002, it provides a remarkable perspective on traveling. As mentioned in chapter VII in the book (On Eye Opening Art), “We overlook certain places because nothing has ever prompted us to conceive of them as worthy of appreciation.” At this juncture of the book, Alain de Botton seems to be summarizing his objective in the writing of The Art of Travel. He wanted to show readers that traveling was so much more, or could be so much more, if only we‟d pause and see it from the universal standpoint, the perspective of a shared humanity, a point reinforced by the many references de Botton includes in his novel, ranging from Biblical Characters like Job, to scientists like Alexander von Humboldt and even fictional characters like Duc des Esseintes, featured in J.K. Huysman‟s novel, A Rebours. De Botton‟s integration of all these perspectives are seamless as they resmain relatable and surprisingly relevant. This is a huge plus for the readers of this novel, as it potrays the universality of traveling, and how the love or even just the idea and even the experience of travel transcends culture, that when we are in a foreign land, the things we notice as foreigners have a shared connection, that the human desire to discover unchartered or unfamiliar territory has been and continues to this day as a long-time infatuation with most things foreign from what we know. De Botton writes with remarkable consistency, preserving the narrative-journalistic writing style however at the same time making sure to keep the novel at a readable level, without being lost in his own thoughts without regard for the readers‟. He does this by constantly referring to a certain person in the past from whom he has been influenced by. However, in each of his essays, de Botton seems to be following this pattern: Own experience, experience of someone famous, how that experience holds true in his life, and finally, relaying

INDIVIDUAL ORAL PRESENTATION ESSAY this influence onto the reader‟s own impression of that topic. and how a mere sign made him notice that he was no longer in London. He writes that a mere “airport sign may tell [us] more than its designer had intended”. France. de Botton draws experiences from the likes of Gustav Flaubert (1821-1880). with an anecdote from his own treasure trove of experiences. is the high note of this section of the book as De Botton carries on his momentum of individuality and personalized opinion. As such. his place of origin. desires a means to escape from the claws of life as traditional French bourgeoisie. we shall be exploring the following chapters for which de Botton seems to be overly enthralled by the experiences of the different personalities: Chapter III (On the Exotic). In this essay. Arabs and . it is not surprising that de Botton would be caught in the trap of unoriginality or derived epiphany. subsequently becoming enthralled by the beauty of the Orient.” This is a key definition in this chapter and sadly. it is in de Botton‟s next paragraph whereby we see that there is a slight decline in the individuality and the profundity that was prominent in de Botton‟s perception of the previous two topics. In this chapter. As a young boy in Rouen. De Botton proceeds by presenting to the reader an anecdote of Flaubert‟s life. Chapter V (On the Country and City) and Chapter VII (On Eye-Opening Art). but rather a description used on the things or places that “succeed in suggesting…that the country…may… prove more congenial than [his] own to [his] temperaments and concerns. More often than not. He defines exotic as not just an adjective used to describe something that is different from what we have back in our respective home countries. The chapter commences as the previous two had begun. he seems to be caught up in the experiences of the personalities brought up in his novel. a French writer who paid scrupulous attention to art and style. He later receives an inheritance from his late father and sets on a journey with his companion Maxime du Camp to the Orient. The general feel of the novel so far is retained. In chapter III. comparing the camels. however. He draws a parallel between Flaubert‟s experiences in Alexandria and his own in Amsterdam. Anticipation and Travelling Places. de Botton brings up his experience in Amsterdam.

snobbery. while Flaubert has expressed his “intense longing” (quote deliberately misappropriated) to venture into the Middle East since the age of 18. he goes as far as imagining a day in the life of an apartment dweller in Amsterdam. While de Botton notes the differences in the paradigm shift between Flaubert‟s Alexandria and France. De Botton compares the “democratic scruffiness.” It seems to justify his comparison between himself and Flaubert. Alexandria or the Middle East was not simply a longing for superficial change. From “neat and tidy” to “chaos”.ESSAI DE LA PRESENTATION ORALE INDIVIDUELLE “guttural cries”. racism and pomposity. to “the most immodest freedom of conversation…even by the most virtuous and respectable women…without any idea of their being indecorous. was because they were so vastly different from his own. and de Botton‟s Amsterdam and London. with the architecture of Amsterdam. He writes. there seems to be a distinct lack of awareness of the difference in his own experiences of the exotic versus that of Flaubert‟s. Here. While de Botton notes simply the difference in the doorways of apartment buildings in Amsterdam compared to London and a desire to ride a bicycle and live in one of those “uniform apartment buildings”.” of Amsterdam with the “look of classical temples” that front doorways in London “are prone to ape”. De Botton on the other hand seems to be simply someone who sees a more desirable trait in a foreign land than back at home. smugness. he seems to suggest and even insist that the two are “analogous”. and from the repository of the most extreme prudery.” De Botton on the other hand notes the modesty of the design of the . that even modes of transportation differ by the species of animal. an absence of ostentatious buildings. While de Botton expresses a craving to live as the Dutch do in Amsterdam. For Flaubert. straight streets interspersed with small parks. but ignores that these “minute concerns” that Flaubert found meaning in. “Why fall in love with a place because it has trams and its people seldom have curtains in their homes? …To condemn ourselves for these minute concerns is to ignore how rich in meaning details may be. but rather a desire to understand a culture so vastly different from one‟s own. from conventional Napoleonic bourgeoisie society to the chaos of Egyptian life. and expressed his disdain for France since the age of 12.

Wordsworth had lived in the Lake District for the most part. We learn later that de Botton is referring to a cloud that was drifting overhead. At a time when there was significant rural-urban migration. as nothing has ever prompted them to “conceive them as worth of [their] appreciation. In Chapter V. de Botton describes his journey into the Lake District. Nature to him was the “necessary antidote to the evils of the city. away from “that turbulent world…of men and things”. Wordsworth was keen to remain in the countryside. powerless against the strong “westerly wind”. to the extent that de Botton seems to be trying to “ape” the profundity of Flaubert‟s Middle Eastern expedition by comparing it to his own vacation across the North Sea. at the same time from British poet. He admires the cloud‟s origins and its movement across various . aptly drawing inspiration.INDIVIDUAL ORAL PRESENTATION ESSAY “comfortable but not grand” building. with the elementary rhyme scheme. and de Botton is correct to point out the profundity in his poems given that Wordsworth was one of the first to value nature in preference to the urban metropolis. While de Botton does deserve credit for continuing in his objective to help reader‟s see the things that they would normally overlook. and had used the scenery around him as inspiration for his poetry which therefore revolved around the beauty of nature. this chapter lends to a desperation of sorts.” De Botton affirms Wordsworth‟s opinion on nature. While readers may gain a slight empathy for de Botton‟s realization of the healing powers of nature on the human soul. admiring the beauty of nature and condemning the urban environment as one that fostered a “family of life-destroying emotions”. ruining the book thus far. He seems to be deriving relief from a “vast object” that caught his attention in the Lake District. The differences as to the architecture of London and Amsterdam pale in comparison. William Wordsworth (1770-1850). Wordsworth‟s poems are simple and memorable. citing the “relief” he derived from nature upon reaching the Lake District.” he seems overly caught up in the concept of his objective and thus. it does seem a tad forced. Flaubert‟s infatuation with the Middle East hardly consisted of minute concerns but of the great differences between the order of his origins and the disorder of his locale.

while that of others awakens our competitiveness and envy…[therefore] objects that after all have no conscious concerns…it would seem… can neither encourage nor censor particular behaviours…yet an inanimate object may…have the power to suggest certain values to us…and…act as inspirations to virtue. For some reason. This lacks the originality and individuality that is so prominent in other sections of the book. and finds meaning in the journey that the cloud is traveling on. unable to come up with an individualist perspective on “City and Countryside”. a mountain or any other form of nature render one any less likely to experience „enmities and low desires‟ than proximity to crowded streets?” The question already seems to already be answered by Wordsworth and his allegation that the city created a “crowded. but rather he seems to be using Wordsworth as a kind of substantiation for his inspiration. He asks “why would proximity to a cataract. Here. De Botton actually has a promising beginning to this chapter. with the mention of the blond hair that he finds stuck to his headboard at the hotel. de Botton finds a calmness of sorts as he follows the cloud with his eyes. merely finding evidence for Wordsworth‟s claim. de Botton does not seem to be simply validating the claims of Wordsworth. shared a . only to restate the conclusion: “The company of certain people may excite our generosity and sensitivity. De Botton sadly continues this trend as he begins his rhetoric in point 6.ESSAI DE LA PRESENTATION ORALE INDIVIDUELLE terrain. that caused an inability to concentrate. then the marshes and oil refineries…mutinous North Sea Waves”. He reflects on the implications of the blond hair. and therefore a mere repetition that serves no purpose. and seems to find the need to quote Wordsworth at this point. that a previous traveler had left part of himself/herself behind and for that moment. That is not to say that de Botton is completely off target in this chapter. De Botton in trying to find the answer to this question in his own travels seems to be reinventing the wheel. and de Botton seems to be deriving too much from Wordsworth at this point. anxious sphere” where it seemed harder than on an “isolated homestead to begin sincere relationships with others”. “over the fields of Essex.” This simple restatement of the conclusion already reached seems to be a redundancy.

De Botton too notices the . his desire “to help other people to „see‟ it” and possibly in his faith in the “eye-opening power of art” that inspires de Botton the most. de Botton begins the chapter on a promising note. a Dutch post-impressionist who had a lasting impact on the art world. In Chapter VII. and in doing so. Wordsworth would seem more of a kindred spirit that the originator of this chapter. However. much unlike the dull. On Eye Opening Art. Vincent van Gogh is most well known for his revolutionary artistic license where he uses bright contrasting colours in his paintings. We sense a kind of individualistic approach that de Bot ton possesses for the most part and it seems that he would continue his search for beauty and artistic quality with originality. Vincent van Gogh (18531890). Once again. albeit post-mortem. for which he gives the example of olive trees and how we might find something to appreciate in noticing the “silver in their leaves or the structure in their branches”. the mere trace of another person can have such a profound impression on him. This could have been used as the substantiating point for de Botton‟s treatise on life in the countryside. in the countryside. trying to find beauty where others had not. complementary colours used in many of the renowned painters at the time. as de Botton ventures to find beauty in traveling. This juxtaposition between city and countryside can be further built upon with Wordsworth‟s experiences of the city and the countryside. influences De Botton. he does acknowledge his resolve to notice the eye-opening.INDIVIDUAL ORAL PRESENTATION ESSAY kind of bond with de Botton. De Botton embarks on a similar journey in Provence to see what van Gogh saw and hopefully to gain a similar epiphany on art and beauty. It is in van Gogh‟s ability to appreciate the things that others at the time would not have perceived as “worthy of appreciation”. It is here that de Botton seems to be merely rehashing the realizations of van Gogh in the 19th century. De Botton seems to go about his quest in this chapter by placing himself in the shoes of van Gogh. that in the city. to witness the ordinary from a new perspective. where it is too “crowded” and he too “anxious” to notice others amidst the competition. telling readers how he too is plagued by the inability to change one‟s tastes and preferences in regards to one‟s aesthetic preferences.

he might be seeing the olive trees quite differently from van Gogh and therefore de Botton. de Botton seems to be greatly inspired by van Gogh‟s eye-opening art. seeing things as van Gogh would have seen it. and a symbol of unconventionality. De Botton seems adamant in his opinion and certainly acts with disdain against anyone who disagreed. He describes. in this chapter. Overall. in that in his own mind. The individuality and originality. and while acknowledging that this observation was borrowed from van Gogh himself. . tousle-haired woman”. however.” It is in this unexpected transition that de Botton seems to be directly applying van Gogh‟s observations onto his own. almost mockingly. looking at things with a perspective that was no longer unique. de Botton simply adheres to van Gogh‟s observations and like the classical painters. de Botton seems to have had his eyes “attuned” to the “colours that had dominated van Gogh‟s canvases. after telling the tale of van Gogh and his characteristic use of bold primary colours. rather than gaining a personal epiphany from the sights surrounding him. as a result of van Gogh‟s eye-opening realization. It seems at this point that de Botton was a tad perturbed by people who did not completely agree with van Gogh‟s perspective on things. as van Gogh did. as though the attack was personal. while de Botton seems to extol van Gogh‟s abandonment of the traditional classical style. The Australian man‟s opinion could very well have been an eye-opening one. and relays to readers how this 113 year-old realization can still be eye-opening even till this day. Previously bored and unable to “detect the charm” oft ascribed to Provence. de Botton seems to continue venturing in Provence. De Botton also seemed a tad irritated when an Australian man commented on how he could not see the resemblance between the olive trees and van Gogh‟s Olive Trees with the Alpilles in the Background (1889). seems to take the back seat from here on as de Botton merely states how he recognizes van Gogh‟s genius in noticing the minute details that made something so beautiful.ESSAI DE LA PRESENTATION ORALE INDIVIDUELLE way that cypresses move in the wind. It is ironic therefore. cannot see beauty for themselves. the man‟s companion as a “small. and his quest to find beauty in things that others would not have conceived to be worthy of appreciation.

full of insight and imagery. while de Botton writes remarkably well. . in a book or a gallery. perfect for the armchair traveler. de Botton merely shows readers how the work of van Gogh can provide an eye-opening perspective.INDIVIDUAL ORAL PRESENTATION ESSAY rather than providing a new outlook on this century-old opinion. with a characteristic individualistic tone throughout most of the novel. In conclusion. the Art of Travel remains an excellent book. De Botton can get too caught up in his influences and inspirations that he seems to forget his main objective in writing the Art of Travel. the praise is whittled away by the pitfalls in the abovementioned chapters. On the whole however. but fails to convince readers as to if he gained any personal experience different from what he would have gained looking at the works of van Gogh.