Romance and Backpaking: The feeling of returning to nature in postmodernism


The lockdowns and restrictive measures implemented by various countries around the world has obviously resulted in a limitation to movement and, above all, to our daily space, now reduced to the four walls of our homes. The direct experience of this necessary constriction generates feelings and considerations about our relationship with space. Here are some of mine.

A new situation of living space:

Throughout the course of history, man has progressively appropriated the territory by giving it an economic value. The side effects of this process are many (since ancient times, inequalities; only recently, climate change, etc.).
Progress has thus led to an extension of the space accessible to everyone, but also to its commercialisation in all aspects, from the exploitation of its resources to the classic tourist holiday.
Freedom of movement can be said to be a defining aspect of our society: we can fly to the other side of the world in just 12 hours. In a certain sense, therefore, space is no longer measured in kilometres or miles, but in money. It is in fact on the basis of the cost of the ticket that a destination is (or is not) reachable. It is no longer distances that act as obstacles, but our ‘pockets’.
The current situation also leads us to make further space-related observations, this time on nature and the environment.
Last year’s images from NASA and ESA, comparing various geographical areas of the globe, from India to the Po Valley, showed a clear decrease in air pollution following the restrictive measures taken by various governments.

The problems exposed here suggest that, over the years, man’s desire has been to detach himself from nature, rather than to seek a deeper and more harmonious connection with it. What can philosophy teach us about this?

The search for a better relationship between man, space and nature began more than two hundred years ago with Romanticism:

Man has always been an integral part of nature (despite constantly trying to rise above it) and throughout history various philosophical schools have tried to interpret this connection. In this short article, we will focus on a philosophical current that can easily be traced back to our times.

Born in Germany and England at the end of the 18th century during a period marked, like the present one, by changes and revolutions driven by great faith in technology, Romanticism developed in the artistic and philosophical spheres at the beginning of the following century. This current had a different attitude from that of the Enlightenment, which led to the two great revolutions of the time (the Industrial Revolution and the French Revolution). The Romantics in fact substituted sentiment for reason (the fulcrum of Enlightenment thinking), which had failed to provide an effective explanation for what was happening at the time. They therefore move from the objectivism of reason to the subjectivism of irrationality, thus expressing the unease of the intellectual (which today we could say of all men) who is constantly confronted with the daily experience of distance, between the love of perfection seen as a perennial goal, and a problematic and imperfect present from which it is not possible to escape. This experience leads to the production of the famous German state of mind called ‘Sehnsucht’. From a purely philosophical point of view, there is a revival of the mechanistic models of Spinoza and the organic finalist models of Leibniz. The image of Romantic nature is thus a synthesis of these two models: a Spinoza-style infinity and a Leibniz-style finalism. Nature is portrayed as infinite but unitary, driven by a polar force in constant movement. It is this force that points us to man’s thought and will (it is no coincidence that Nietzsche placed his Zarathustra in the midst of nature) for perfect harmony with the universe. An expression of God, nature is seen as a source of truth and man identifies with it and immerses himself in it in search of peace.

In spite of the great sensitivity that dwelled in the minds of the intellectuals of the time, mankind then proceeded along a very different path: that of estrangement from nature in favour of the elevation of man. I close the topic of Romanticism by summarising that it is only in observing nature and seeking the feeling it can offer through its vistas that we can truly understand our role, grow on an individual level and finally arrive at a practical truth that provides the understanding we all seek.

Romanticism 2.0, Backpacking:

As scholars teach us, our age has been marked by pollution and the destruction of natural habitats. Does this mean that the feeling of ‘romance’ no longer exists? Or has it survived in other forms? As is often the case, there is no single answer. One plausible answer, however, is backpacking.

Very popular in northern Europe and, in recent times, also in Italy, backpacking is a manifestation that has become a phenomenon, a way of travelling, backpacking and off to discover the unknown. Predominantly widespread among young people, it concerns anyone who feels the need to stop for a while and get away from the alienation that our western society leads us to experience through its races and its dynamics. A completely different way of understanding travel compared to the common modern holiday, an old way of getting to know the spaces and places of our world is now back in vogue. The impetus behind this change of course is curiosity and a spirit of adventure. It is a way of travelling with a deliberately limited budget, breaking down the invisible barriers created by money, favouring the authenticity and naturalness of the experience.
Backpacking is an answer through travel, a way to re-establish a connection with nature through getting to know it through direct experience and exploring what we might call “the infinite-infinite”. The search for personal growth and then returning to the world one had abandoned, but experiencing it with new eyes and awareness.

It is precisely at a time like the present, which will in many ways be a new starting point, that it makes sense to talk about this, so that in the near future, when we are ready to start again, we can also consider this road as a school for new experiences. As much as it relates to travelling, backpacking can also become – as it was for Romanticism – a key to interpreting the world. Travelling is part of life itself, a way of expressing oneself and living away from the superfluities of consumption. The pace slows down, as it is essential to abandon oneself to the flow of time that the place visited requires. This type of journey is not aimed at conquering the space visited, at “I have been here”, but at a deep understanding between the traveller from afar and the place visited. The most important aspect of backpacking is the connection with the indigenous nature of the place, which, however, is transformed into an absolute nature, as from the knowledge of the outside one can get to know the inside of oneself better. Man through this experience grows himself, because just like in Romanticism he loses himself in order to find himself again, understanding that he is actually part of the world, an inhabitant of it, and that he represents a small but very important part of it in order to be able to create that harmony which is indispensable for the continuous existence of both.

In conclusion, the drama that we are all experiencing can lead us to make considerations about our way of understanding space and nature, given that in the last year (for the most part) we have been banned and confined exclusively to our respective homes. Now, more than ever, we want to get out and (re)discover our wonderful world.
And, let’s face it, taking off and discovering the world always has an air of romance about it.

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