Paradox: searches for paradise

Where would you rather be? On a spacecraft heading towards a lifeless moon or planet or aboard a bouncing raft constructed as in ancient times? An unabashed romantic. But, complete escape is impossible though the very attempt has its infectious delights.Thor Heyerdahl was the anti-hero seeking existential authenticity. A rejection of every known ethos in favor of his own idiosyncratic subjective pathology. An overly subjective and bourgeois rebelliousness. But compelling. Not everyone gets to build a papyrus boat beneath the pyramids of Giza.   He was a dauntless sailor who could not sail. He was a fugitive from modernity. Yet, what he proved with his queer, seagoing rafts may have been as relevant to the problems of space travel and ecological issues as it was to ancient history. …

---Gauguin. Women of Tahiti. 1891.Read More:

In looking backward, Thor Heyerdahl was astonishingly up to date. In circling the globe with primitive vessels, he gave us, paradoxically, a glimpse of the future. He also, at that time, did a great deal in publicizing the doleful fact that we are poisoning our oceans and turning the seas around us into lethal sinks of pollution. Both of these important achievements were incidental benefits of ventures that were scorned as quixotic or suicidal, or both. Before his epic Kon-Tiki expedition in 1947, Heyerdahl was repeatedly warned he was foolishly risking his own life, and the lives of five Scandinavian shipmates, by attempting to cross the Pacific in a balsa raft.

Donald P. Ryan:Heyerdahl built the Kon-Tiki and named it after the pre-Inca sun god. The 18-by-45-foot deck was made of nine balsa trunks lashed with hemp rope. A 29-foot A-frame mast held a 15-by-18-foot mainsail and a topsail. The raft also had a mizzen sail and a long steering oar at the stern. A small cabin and some of the deck were made of bamboo. No metal was used in the construction. Kon-Tiki had a few concessions to contemporary life: radio, life raft and modern food. Heyerdahl said the purpose of the voyage was only to test the raft: "We were not making it to prove that we had once been Indians ourselves." Huge Pacific swells regularly broke across the raft's flat surface but did not swamp it. The journey covered 4,300 nautical miles in 101 days (averaging 42½ miles a day). The raft suffered no real damage until it landed on the reef in the Tuamotu Islands on Aug. 7. Read More:

Likewise, before he embraked on the Ra I in 1969, he was solemnly assured by qualified experts that papyrus, the reed from which his boat was made, would disintegrate after a few weeks at sea, just as it did in experimental tubs. Heyerdahl, of course, proved that these forecasts,proffered with vast certitude, were false. His Ra II, a papyrus craft built by Aymara Indians from Lake Titicaca triumphantly completed the 3,270 mile Atlantic crossing in fifty-seven days.

---Thor didn’t quit after just one wild journey. In 1969, he went to Egypt to build a papyrus boat, Ra, based on ancient Egyptian drawings, and set off to cross the Atlantic. Again, he set out to prove a theory: that people have crossed the Atlantic for ages, in whatever crafts they had available. After a few weeks at sea, Ra took on water and had to be abandoned. But Thor was not deterred. He built the new, improved Ra II, using a different type of reed. In 1971, he set off from Morocco again, this time landing successfully at Barbados. --- Read More:

Heyerdahl proved that vessels made of balsa and papyrus were seaworthy, and that even a crew of landlubbers could survive on them in oceanic voyages. It suggested that similar trips could have recurred in remote times. Whatever his own beliefs, Heyerdahl never claimed that his ocean voyages themselves proved any more than this. Still, others have cited his feats as proof of the “diffusionist” theory: that civilization had essentially a single source in the ancient Near East, from which it spread like the widening circle of water stirred by a pebble tossed into a pond.

---Critics claim that Thor Heyerdahl's views were wrong and that his archaeological and research methods left much to be desired. He countered that his many expeditions, backed up by the artefacts which he had found scattered throughout Polynesia, proved his case. He said the world's oceans should be treated as one vast highway. That was how, he claimed, that ancient civilisations saw them. Modern people, he said, should be more ready to think in ancient terms. --- Read More:

For Heyerdahl, his dazzling acclaim as an author- over 60 million books sold- was a mixed blessing. Among scholars he was suspect for the seriousness of his purpose was obscured by his celebrity. The press cast him as a carefree Sinbad cavorting on strange floating objects, summoning up slithery spirits from the vasty deep. This obscured a whole dimension of his personality; his brooding melancholy and his profound distrust of the modern era. He showed that people exaggerated the difficulty of crossing the ocean on what seemed like a primitive vessel. The African tribesman who built his Ra I didn’t even know that the ocean was salty, and Heyerdahl claimed a personal mistrust on boats made of wood or metal which he considered risky, preferring something unsinkable like balsa or papyrus.

---"This is Gauguin's ultimate masterpiece - if all the Gauguins in the world, except one, were to be evaporated (perish the thought!), this would be the one to preserve. He claimed that he did not think of the long title until the work was finished, but he is known to have been creative with the truth. The picture is so superbly organized into three "scoops" - a circle to right and to left, and a great oval in the center - that I cannot but believe he had his questions in mind from the start. I am often tempted to forget that these are questions, and to think that he is suggesting answers, but there are no answers here; there are three fundamental questions, posed visually. "On the right (Where do we come from?), we see the baby, and three young women - those who are closest to that eternal mystery. In the center, Gauguin meditates on what we are. Here are two women, talking about destiny (or so he described them), a man looking puzzled and half-aggressive, and in the middle, a youth plucking the fruit of experience. This has nothing to do, I feel sure, with the Garden of Eden; it is humanity's innocent and natural desire to live and to search for more life. A child eats the fruit, overlooked by the remote presence of an idol - emblem of our need for the spiritual. There are women (one mysteriously curled up into a shell), and there are animals with whom we share the world: a goat, a cat, and kittens. In the final section (Where are we going?), a beautiful young woman broods, and an old woman prepares to die. Her pallor and gray hair tell us so, but the message is underscored by the presence of a strange white bird. I once described it as "a mutated puffin," and I do not think I can do better. It is Gauguin's symbol of the afterlife,...---Read More:

His career can be seen as a series of attempted escapes from the pervasive prison of the modern world, beginning in 1937 when he decided to live as a stone-age man in Polynesia; a vow to abandon bourgeois comforts for the Stone Age. He believed that for the last five thousand years the brain has made little or no progress, other than altering the environment  and without a plan. Ultimately, it was the man himself who was fascinating. He was a throwback to the extinct breed of explorers such as Burton, Livingstone, Scott and Shackleton. Like them. he went his own way with no vast bureaucracy to cosset him. He was the anti-astronaut. But, at the same time was Heyerdahl’s life just a misdirected quest for authenticity? An extremely high-end version of the yuppie in exotic fabrics bribing a sherpa to schlep him up a mountain. Archetype for guy adventure films like Hangover.  What Joshua Glenn would call a triumph of fake authenticity. Glenn: So, is there any such thing as authenticity? No, there isn’t. To Baudrillard, whenever “authenticity” is evoked, we are already in the world of the fake. Hermenaut suggests the following update: Whenever “authenticity” is evoked, we are actually in the world of fake authenticity. Although Italians do open restaurants, there is no such thing as an authentic Italian restaurant. Although history, nature, race, and class are very real and very much with us, there is no such thing as an authentic past, an authentic outdoors, nor an

hentic non-white/middle-class style of life. … “Authenticity” is a reality-label from the art world, and as such it cannot be fixed to anything living and vital. For that matter, it’s even difficult to describe a piece of art as “authentic” in the sense of “not fake”  .Read More:

---Before Gauguin brought his work in Tahiti to a close, he shifted from his symbolist pictorial agenda in order to focus on the beauty and serene virtues of the native women. In this painting, he depended on sculpturally modeled forms, gesture, and facial expression to vivify the sentiments he had used to describe the "Tahitian Eve": "very subtle, very knowing in her naïveté" and at the same time "still capable of walking around naked without shame." These two figures first appear in the artist's monumental frieze Faa Iheihe (Tahitian Pastoral) of 1898 (Tate, London) and again in the even larger Rupe, Rupe of 1899 (Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow), which he composed for the upcoming Exposition Universelle of 1900. Source: Paul Gauguin: Two Tahitian Women (49.58.1) | Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History | The Metropolitan Museum of Art---


Dr. Martin Rundkvist: Thor Heyerdahl could not accept the idea of independent inventions, of convergent cultural evolution. His thinking wasn’t just diffusionistic on the small-to-middle scale. Every one of his boat trips revolved around hyperdiffusionism, being designed to show that it was possible, more specifically regarding the package of ideas that we call state civilisation. And that’s where he went wrong. Instead of searching for evidence that diffusion had taken place (e.g. Egyptian pottery in Mexico), he spent his life “testing” whether the needed sea travel could have taken place in antiquity. This is still apparent even in his last book, “The Hunt for Odin”, where he goes back to some euhemeristic ideas of Snorri Sturluson and argues that a real person named Odin brought civilisation to Scandinavia from the Middle East. Thor Heyerdahl’s forays into archaeology were pseudoscience because he had a single favourite model that he refused to let go of. But he also displayed another typical trait among pseudoarchaeologists: hostility against mainstream academia. With Heyerdahl, we are looking at a man with a great many honorary doctorates, but no university degree. He was unwilling to work within the confines of science with its peer review, its debates and its career structure, and he got a lot done beyond that world. But while many Norwegians celebrate him as a national hero and a conqueror of the seas, one whose memorial museum is (tellingly) located a stone’s throw from the Viking Ship Hall in Oslo, scientific archaeology and ethnography and biology have all but forgotten him. Read More:

Related Posts

This entry was posted in Feature Article, Ideas/Opinion, Modern Arts/Craft and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>