Sunday, September 14, 2008

Theroux on Luxury travel

Having just recently returned from a cruise liner trip down Alaska’s Inside Passage, it was very sobering to read Paul Theroux's admonition about luxury (In his book Ghost Train to the Eastern Star):
“Luxury is the enemy of observation, a costly indulgence that induces such a good feeling that you notice nothing. Luxury spoils and infantilizes you and prevents you from knowing the world. That is its purpose, the reason why luxury cruises and great hotels are full of fatheads who, when they express an opinion, seem as though they are from another planet.”


  1. Dude, I think Theroux is BSing here. Allow me to complete from memory, with some inaccuracies therefore, a beautiful line from Zen and the Art of MM.

    "The Buddha, the Godhead, resides quite as comfortably in the circuits of a digital computer or the gears of a cycle transmission as he does at the top of a mountain or in the petals of a flower. " Or in a luxury cruise yatch.

    "To think otherwise is to deMean the buddha. "

    There is this underlying false assumption that rich are fat heads and poor are not. In fact, the truth is exactly orthogonal. We are all just fat heads, including Theroux.

    There is nothing that can infantilize or numbs you if you are in control of yourself.


  2. Arvind,

    I think you are taking PT's statement too literally. (He is quite well off, and often admits that he is a fathead.)

    If we go strictly by Pirsig's line about demeaning Buddha, we can't say bad things about anything at all.

    Theroux's statements aren't really about the difference between the rich and the poor, they are more about the distinction between being a tourist and a traveler (though of course all such distinctions don't hold up in the end.)

    From my own experience, as well as from what I saw of a number of my fellow passengers, the infantilizing is quite real.

    I will post on that later.