As a soldier, I felt like a real master. I drove tanks in the desert and I carried a big assault rifle when in the city. One day, as I walked the streets of Jerusalem, believing myself to be the biblical King David, my eyes met those of a young Arab lady in a long white dress standing on the rooftop of her house. There she stood, erect and proud. She stared at me, and then sang lovely Arabic tunes that captured my mind and heart. I stared back at her, a gorgeous beauty with the voice of an angel, and fell in love on the spot. Her song, I promptly concluded, was far more piercing than any of my bullets.
At this point Captain Swan stunned his men with his own innovative plan. He argued that their voyaging along the Mexican coast had brought nothing but disappointment and it was pointless continuing. Instead, they would cross the Pacific and “go into the East-Indies.” He conjured the glory days of Drake and Cavendish, who successfully passed that way, but even so he had a struggle. Two-thirds of his men did not believe it possible. “Such was their ignorance,” wrote Dampier, that they were convinced “he would carry them out of the world.”
Preston, Diana and Michael. A Pirate of Exquisite Mind: Explorer, Naturalist, and Buccaneer: The Life of William Dampier. New York: Walker & Company, 2004.
These two wildly different accounts of voyages through time have between them one theme in common: the temporary ascent of assumptions and guesses over real knowledge.
William Dampier, who set out in life a sailor, precedes James Cook, Charles Darwin, and others in his gourmandizing, navigating, observing, suffering, swashbuckling, writing triple circumnavigation of the earth under 17th Century sail.
In the life movie, as it were, Tuvia Tenenbom appears to have embarked upon his life’s journey as one who might have believed a superstitious misstep would have carried him out of the world:
But then, on one wintry cold day, I got my hands on all kinds of books and pictures and found out that I’ve been lied to. Our “Jewish” black clothes made me look frighteningly similar to the non-Jewish Polish nobles and Austrian bourgeois of a century or two ago; our community’s glorification of virgins was more in line with the thinking in Islamic societies; and the way my rabbis prevented me from engaging with sexuality in any capacity — “Thou shalt never look at females,” they always reminded me — seemed more rooted in Catholicism than in Judaism.
True to my nature as a representative of God, I consulted with heaven and left the ultra-Orthodox fold.
By the time Tenenbom publishes in today’s Forward, he has become a much more cognizant and sophisticated navigator, rather like Dampier in his day, but in this age, he has stumbled across a similar ignorance and misguidance. However, where Dampier’s men could be called “out of the loop” and innocent of emerging knowledge about the world and the mapping of continents, islands, currents, and winds, Tenenbom’s anti-Semitic and Israel-hating acquaintance appear to have been corralled, lied to, programmed, and seduced: they have lost their clues to what is real and what is not and would appear today to be made to live in Orwell’s worst nightmare: intellectually poisoned and too easily maneuvered, they have been “carried out of the world” — the world that includes worlds with authentic histories, including their own ethnolinguistic legacies — as cognizant and knowledgeable free agents in their own right.
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