McCandless, a.k.a. “Alexander Supertramp,” was the subject of the 2007 film, Into the Wild, which comprises a fictionalized retelling of the his travels around the United States. He would ultimately head north towards the Alaskan wilderness. If Emerson or Whitman are the Yankee Oracles of Democracy, a figure like Alexander Supertramp is their capital-‘M’ Muse. Supertramp is Dean Moriarty. But his image may be copyrighted.
A close reading of the above linked Wikipedia article around this photo reveals that a great deal of care has gone into the study of the origin and context of the photo itself. For instance, it is noted that the film containing the negative of this image was recovered undeveloped inside a camera inside the bus (pictured). But even from this single snapshot the density of possible questions explodes dramatically: the basic W’s– who, what, where, why, when, (and how)? The film does an excellent job of hanging flesh on these bones, but there is a great deal more opened up. The choices Penn & Krakauer have made in their various tellings of McCandless’ story. What was written by whom? With McCandless/Supertramp/Krakauer/Penn there is something of a triangle of authorship similar to that of Socrates/Plato/Cornford in that edition of The Republic. Also, there is the question of temporal organization of the film– in chapters and flashbacks– what might have been crucially lost or gained in the translation of this narrative across genres and media?
According to the Wikipedia article, which features the above photo, Supertramp’s death was first widely reported by Jon Krakauer in a 1993 article in Outside Magazine. Later that article would be expanded into a novel (also by Krakauer) and the novel adapted into a film by Sean Penn with an Alt Rock soundtrack by Eddie Vedder, front-man for the band, Pearl Jam.
This quotation from Byron, along with a brooding string duet open the film:
There is a pleasure in the pathless woods;
There is a rapture on the lonely shore;
There is society, where none intrudes,
By the deep sea, and music in its roar:
I love not man the less, but Nature more. . .
This project will wind up being more than a blog or collage. For example, I think by pointing to such a specific instance of poetry invites even more questions, particularly when juxtaposed with the image of the young McCandless relaxing by his coffin. Juxtaposed again with the final entry Supertramp makes in his book in the film:
Happiness only real when shared
In the space between these two points of text an arc begins to emerge in our imaginations. McCandless/Supertramp/Krakauer/Penn trace an individual’s philosophical orientation from something of a Transcendental to something of a Pragmatic bent over the course of the journal/portrait/novel/biopic.
This entry is the prologue to ignorance. Ignorance is not the absence of a line to connect the dots, here, ignorance is the willful imagination into existence of an emptiness to surround every point in the constellation of data encountered. This is focused ignorance. Ignorance as a philosophical exercise. Exquisite ignorance, quaffed delicately by a connoisseur of ignorance. Ignorance of generations. Ignorance of suffering and pain. Ignorance of history and ignorance of fiction, Ignorance, in fact, of ignorance itself. And so on.
The text which will be the figure about which I drape my satin ignorance: Experience and Education by John Dewey. My hope is that I’ll be able to get all the bloviating done up front, and so keep it to a controlled, minimal level. I’ll count this second entry as a success in that regard, and chop-chop, now back to work, creating a sleek critique as a flying machine hovering more or less at the whim of atmospheric conditions, but with a certain buoyancy, pitch, yaw and some means of charting a course.
Hopefully, my copy of the book will arrive in the mail soon, so I’ll be able to dig right in.