“A sense of direction,” it seems, is what all of us are looking for these days. We live in a world that has made self-consciousness and self-interest our primary preoccupations. As a result, we spend most our lives in a state very near disorientation, simply moving from one place or person to the next without any impetus to our movement other than desire and whimsy. As a result, each of us tries to locate ourselves in a variety of ways, through adopting the structure of the traditional American family, through dedication to business interests, even through constantly running from distraction to distraction.
Gideon Lewis-Kraus's search for “a sense of direction” took him around the world and back again, literally. In his disaffection with life in the United States, he decided to move to Germany. There he fell in among other young people with a similar disaffection for life in their home countries and pursued the pleasures of the new art and literature scene, which included visits to secret raves and bizarre performance-arts, the indulges of the young and bored. With a friend, he decided to walk the Camino de Santiago, the famous medieval pilgrimage route in Spain.
The meaning and motion he discovered on the Camino led him to other pilgrimages, one in Japan and the other in the Ukraine. In his pilgrimage among pilgrimages, Lewis-Kraus begins to acquire “a sense of direction.” He brings himself to confront the underlying factors in his strained relationship with his father, a gay rabbi, and the mangled relationships he has had with others throughout his life. Most importantly, he begins to come to terms and to form a relationship with himself.
I recommend this book primarily as a simultaneously humorous and intelligent meditation on the existential state of modern man. The most important feature of the directionlessness of modern man, what is really at the root of his simultaneously self-love and self-hatred coupled with boredom, is his sense of the absence of God. The attentive reader is constantly painfully aware of this absence throughout this book, which gives such a reader a unique perspective. It seems that even as Lewis-Kraus, and all of us through him, craves meaning, direction, and purpose, he actively avoids it in his active avoidance of anything that might bring him closer to God: the pilgrim masses in Spain, the sutra-reading in the temples in Japan, the fasting and prayer in the Ukraine.
Lewis-Kraus's story is perhaps best summarized as the tragic reality of Nietzsche's proclamation of the death of God: the Overman will not arise from the ashes, only a lonely and bored, hypercritical generation of selfish self-haters, looking for “a sense of direction” but never able to see what is right under their noses.