Seeing for himself

Ross finds the immediacy of experience that his journeys allow him similar to the ‘unmediated’ wisdom of ‘primitive’ cultures.

In this passage from one of his philosophically inclined books Ross argues that the human being of “machine civilization” [p. 89] is hard-pressed to grasp the strong connection to the animal world the way “primitive” cultures can. Even a new, popular  interest in animals, as witnessed in a recent boom in “animal and wildlife books and films” [p. 90], cannot impart the deep insight into the mystery of animal existence that Ross claims he gained through a face-to-face encounter with an elephant in the African wilderness: “I thought neither of shooting nor of filming. I was just paralyzed by the power and majesty of this unearthly animal.”

As so often when Ross waxes philosophical, the nature of the mystery embodied by the elephant remains vague. What is clear, however, is his rhetoric of unmediated experience as a path towards insight, and how it flatters his own brand of one-man-band travel journalism. He doesn’t claim to possess academic erudition or very sophisticated writing or filmmaking skills, but mainly a knack for “seeing for himself” and providing lively impressions of places and situations. The obvious contradiction within Ross’s position expressed here is that not only does he himself belong to the “machine civilization” he critiques, but he even works within the same mass culture of books and films whose ‘mediation’ of experience he says can’t be trusted to offer genuine insight.

Joachim Schätz

Colin Ross. [Excerpt from] Die Angst vor dem Leben. In: Der Wille der Welt: eine Reise zu sich selbst. 1. Aufl. Leipzig: F.A. Brockhaus; 1932, p. 89–92.

Topic: Profession: reporter
Case: Oceania-Asia trip 1928-30

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