Pilgrimages as Representations of Spatial Complexity

Pradeep A. Dhillon
University of Illinois
Urabana-Champaign, Illinois, USA

( ) Contemplating an intricately woven Kashmiri shawl might well help solve the problem of meaning. However, it is unlikely that such a solution would come from decoding encrypted messages or hidden pictures. The idea rather is to move between all the individual detailswhile holding them together to make a design. In this essay I will take up the difficulties presented for thinking about meaning in relation to spatial environments. Philosophers, following theories of space-time in physics, make a distinction between absolute and egocentric space in thinking about spatial regions. A problematic distinction no doubt but still one that is useful. This is not a way of thinking about different regions but rather different ways of representing the same spatial region. Aboslute space is difficult to think about because it requires that the theorist remove him or herself from his particular environment while remaining a subject within that very world. Egocentric representations of spatial regions rely on narratives which can become so particular as to suggest entirely different spatial regions. The study of pilgrimage is useful, I will argue, to find a way to negotiate the problem of representation in thinking about space. That different cultures developed the practice of pilgrimage suggests a persistence in the awareness of the significance of spatial complexity in the making of meaning for the self as well as the difficulties of representing such complexity. Furthermore, a discussion of the problem of the representation of spatial regions should go some way towards explaining the linkage between aesthetics and ethics in narrative meaning.

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