Dante’s Inferno provides us with what is perhaps the most apt picture of tourism to date. More specifically, it is in the first layer of Hell, Limbo, that Dante depicts the circumstances that contextualize tourism and the individual who undertakes it, i.e. the tourist.
Like the unbaptized and virtuous Pagans whose torture is the inability to imagine something greater than their rational minds can conceive, the tourist never ventures beyond the predetermined image of the places they visit. The tourist deals only in images, whether it is the image of the Grand Canyon that was promised to him by the travel agent, or the image he must make of it (by snapping a picture) in order for it to become real. The tourist cannot know the mystery or grandeur of the Grand Canyon as it stretches across the horizon, she can only seen it in comparison to the image she was promised. If what she sees before does not match the image, then she is disappointed. The terrain labeled the “Grand Canyon” simply does not exist for her. Likewise, we are lead to see the function of photography for the tourist. Far from a trafficker of experiences or adventures, the tourist deals only in images, her experiences only becomes real when they are reproduced. It is here that we may see the tourist’s world as a shadow world….
You co-create the space in which you travel. Time works similarity. That is to say time and space are both negotiations. Existential morphology, then, is at the heart of travel, or, at least it is “at the heart” of that which we are attempting to conceptualize when we use the term “travel”.
Leaving aside that people, like cities, can be heartless we shall turn our gaze to this morphology, or, more particularly, the modes that can be undertaken by “travelers”. The term “traveler” is in scare marks so as to indicate how the word itself is caught up in assumptions, implications, directionalities that form a momentum which carries us to a place that we may not necessarily have chosen or even want to be at. Stated plainly, a traveler is a someone. Being, or playing rather, that someone, that character, may in fact prevent us from being something more pleasing, erotic, satisfying….
The space between traveler and self is a site for negotiation, evasion, and creation. Like all good negotiations we have something that is wanted and provided we know what we want we should not be afraid to bribe, strong-arm, or coerce our way to it. The battleground for this negotiation is our mentality, the currency is our imagination. So, refuse the label “traveler”, construct a no-name name. While it is tempting to use the word “traveler” it is far too impoverished a concept to help us move through time and space. (Plus, it may helpful to keep in mind that part of the term’s bankruptcy can be witnessed in the unseemly connotations that are attached to the people who use that term uncritically.) Clearly, we are not even interested in “tourist” either. But that is not to say we are not interested in “tourism”, or “traveling”. We are. We want it all. We are psychic mercenaries, and as such we are free to ransack any sociological category for tools to help us move through time and space.
Holy Pilgrims, Anthropologists, Monkeywrenchers, Graffiti artists, Thieves, Hashish Connoisseurs, Sex fiends, Science fiction writers… We assume these roles through time and space. Their ends are our ends, but ours ends is not theirs.
Christian Greer is the author of the free book Endroit: The Art Of Traveling. Download it here.