Ibn Fattouma could be seen as a pilgrim rather than a tourist. Erik Cohen describes “the original, archaic pilgrimage” as “as the quest for the mythical land of pristine existence, of no evil or suffering, the primaeval centre from which man originally emerged, but eventually lost it,” (Cohen 182). Ibn Fattouma’s purpose seems similar in his quest for the land of Gebel which is described by his teacher as “the miracle of countries…perfection itself, incomparable perfection,” (Mahfouz 6). However, Cohen goes on to say that the difference between the archaic pilgrim and the modern tourist is that modern tourism is about “the gradual abandonment of the traditional, sacred image of the cosmos, and the awakening of interest in the culture, social life and natural environment of others,” (Cohen 182). Since Ibn Fattouma seems to be seeking a place outside of his cultural center and into the social life and natural environment of other cultures, he could be argued to be an existential tourist instead. As Issa Peters says, “The Journey o f Ibn Fattouma, therefore, is a kind of pilgrim's progress, but the pilgrim here is more of a social reformer than a religious believer impelled by an apocalyptic vision of the divine,” (World Literature Today).
Cohen describes an existential tourist as a traveler “who is fully committed to an ‘elective’ spiritual centre, i.e. one external to the mainstream of his native society and culture,” (Cohen 189). This seems to fit Ibn Fattouma’s idea of the land of Gebel. Instead of existing in his culture’s center, it is his elected centre. Along his journey Ibn Fattouma can also be seen to be an experimental and experiential tourist. In the land of Mashriq, Fattouma observes the culture without really participating in it – the way an experiential tourist would. Then when he’s in Halba Ibn Fattouma becomes more of an experimental traveler as he marries and gets a job there. But in his search for the land of Gebel, Ibn Fattouma is essentially an existential tourist. He is searching for the ideal. Cohen says that “The pilgrim or the existential tourist ‘ascends’ spiritually to the ideal centre, but he necessarily arrives at the geographical one,” and asks, “How does one handle the discrepancy?” (Cohen 196). However, in The Journey of Ibn Fattouma, the geographical centre is actually never described and one doesn’t know if it really lives up to the idealist expectations. This suggests that the land of Gebel is really just an allegory for the soul’s ideal centre.
Both Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises and Bowle’s The Sheltering Sky illustrate the different modes of travel discussed in Erik Cohen’s “A Phenomenology of Tourist Experiences” and deal with the issues Cohen asserts these different modes can present.
In The Sun Also Rises the main protagonist, Jake, is an expatriate who has “lost touch with the soil,” (Hemingway 120). He spends much of his time drinking although he does also work as a writer. Jake can be seen as an experiential or experimental tourist. In Paris, as the role of an expatriate, he would be said to align with the experimental form of travel. He is “lacking clearly defined priorities and ultimate commitments,” (Cohen 189). He does not conform to the centre of the American society, which at the time had prohibition and his centre has been lost because of World War I, which undermined all of his beliefs in morality and justice; he is now “endowed with a ‘decentralized personality,’” (Cohen 189). The problem addressed by both Hemingway and Cohen about the expatriates of the Lost Generation and the experimental tourist is that both can “easily become an ‘eternal seeker,’” (Cohen 195).
Jake can also be said to be an experiential traveler – he travels to Spain because he is “unable to lead an authentic life at home” (Cohen 187) and he attempts to “recapture meaning by a vicarious, essentially aesthetic, experience of the authenticity of the life of others,” (Cohen 187). His aficion – or passion for bullfights – is Jake’s search for meaning through the experience of the bullfighters. Through Pedro Romero’s authentic bullfighting ("Romero never made any contortions, always it was straight and pure and natural in line…The others twisted themselves like corkscrews ... to give a faked look of danger" (167-68)), Jake gets the aesthetic experience that the experiential tourist seeks. Jake is also drawn to this Spanish masochism because he views this as the authentic masculinity that he is lacking. Through being an aficionado, Jake thus experiences this authenticity, although only aesthetically. This of course does not give Jake’s life any more meaning, as the “authenticity of others may reassure and uplift the tourist, but does not provide a new meaning and guidance to his life,” (Cohen 188).
Brett’s character can’t commit to anything and doesn’t seem to be sure of what she wants. She is an experimental tourist who is “in search of an in search of,” (Cohen 189). “The traveler in the ‘experimental mode engages in that authentic life, but refuses fully to commit himself to it; rather, he samples and compares the different alternatives, hoping eventually to discover on which will suit his particular needs and desires,” (Cohen 189). This is shown in her ambivalence towards men; she wanders from relationship to relationship just as she wanders from place to place. In the end when she leaves Pedro, she seems to “lose the faculty of making choices,” (Cohen 189) and to be unable to commit herself to one thing. The character of Brett again addressed the issue of the experiment tourist as an ‘eternal seeker.’
Robert Cohn’s reasons for travelling are seen as less authentic in The Sun Also Rises. He is still holds on to pre-war values of chivalry and honor but has felt alienated in society because of he was Jewish; especially when he attended Princeton. Cohn could at first be categorized as a recreational tourist since he doesn’t seem to be at first interested in the idea of authenticity – he wants to have an adventure like that of a book which was mostly fictionalized. Cohn is looked down upon by the other characters because he reminds the characters of the insecurity the feel about their search for the authentic that is missing in their lives and their absent value system. The characters in The Sun Also Rises represent the Lost Generation in many ways. The Lost Generation was full of ‘eternal seekers.’ The “inauthenticity of life in [their] own society, coupled with the ‘…reminder...of reality and authenticity elsewhere,’” (Cohen 188) fueled much of the Lost Generation to become expatriates in Europe. Travelers of the Lost Generation mostly fell into the experiential or experimental modes of tourism. Authenticity then must have been important for the Lost Generation who was trying to find meaning in the postwar world. The problem of commitment also seems to be a theme in The Sun Also Rises, as none of the characters seem to be able to stay grounded.
In The Sheltering Sky, Bowles presents us with Port and Kit. Both begin as experimental and experiential tourists – they consider themselves travelers not tourists. To them the difference was that “the traveler belonging no more to one place than the next, moves slowly, over periods of years,” as opposed to the tourist who has a specific time to get back home. This idea that Port and Kit don’t belong to any one place is typical of Cohen’s experimental tourist. Port and Kit definitely are “the more serious of the drifters, who, endowed with a decentralized personality’ and lacking clearly defined priorities and ultimate commitments, are pre-disposed to try out alternative life-ways in their quest for meaning,” (Cohen 189). They’re an example of “extreme cases (in which) the search itself may become a way of life, and the traveler an ‘eternal seeker’,” (Cohen 189). Because experimental tourism is concerned with an authenticity that cannot be found in the traveler’s own society, Port and Kit are also concerned with the authenticity of their experience – they travel further and further into the desert in search of something that hasn’t been westernized. Like the Lost Generation, Port and Kit feel their lives have lost meaning after the war (this time World War II).
In contrast to Port and Kit, is their companion, Tunner. Tunner considers himself a tourist and would probably fit in the category of a recreational traveler. Tunner experiences culture shock as the three travel further into the desert which is described by Cohen as when “the tourist, adhering to the ‘spirtual centre’ of his own society or culture, prefers its lifeways and though-patterns, and feels threatened and incommoded when presented with the different, unfamiliar ones of the host country,” (Cohen 197). Kit and Port, instead take on a more existential mode view – “they experience a ‘shock’ upon arrival at their ‘elected’ external centre…from the fact that this ‘centre’ is too much like home and hence does not correspond to their idealized image,” (Cohen 197). This shock pushes Port and Kit further into the desert to get away from any western ideals.
When Port dies he seems to go from being an experimental to an existential tourist. He becomes “fully committed to an ‘elective’ spiritual centre,” (Cohen 190). Although instead of committing to any society or culture, he commits to death or the abyss. Kit also turns into an existential tourist, in the more conventional way. After Port dies, she attaches herself to the spiritual centre of the natives of the desert. Cohen says of existential tourists that are “most deeply committed to a new ‘spiritual’ centre may attach themselves permanently to it and start a new life there by ‘submitting’ themselves completely to the culture or society based on an orientation to that centre: they will desire to ‘go native,” (Cohen 190). Kit does this by walking into the desert and submitting to the man on the camel. By doing these things she becomes “savage.” The questions that the existential tourist brings up – “is the ‘true’ life at the centre indeed commensurable to his high hope and expectations? Does it enable the traveler to live authentically, to achieve self-realization?” (Cohen 195) are not directly answered in The Sheltering Sky but Kit’s running away from Miss Ferry (and society) could lead one to guess that the “elective spiritual centre” is better than one’s native culture and ideals.
In the midst of describing the diversionary tourist category, Erik Cohen poses an interesting question: “Which one of these two modes [recreational or diversionary] is the prevalent one?” He also notes that this question cannot be answered without contemplating how deeply modern man is alienated. In the majority of the books we have read the protagonists are tourists in the diversionary mode, but can we generalize that to mean that most tourists travel in the diversionary mode?
Even the title character in Daisy Miller, who in a way falls into the recreational category, is at her very core, diversionary. Referring back to the article, Cohen presents this idea that tourists can be classified based on their adherence to a ‘centre’, which is a type of spiritual core. The centre, as he defines it, is where a person finds meaningfulness in their human experience. Though Daisy’s centre appears to align with the typical values of an American girl, her experience (especially her tragic death) show that her centre was more of a façade than a real entity. At the end it is clear that she really did love Winterborne and wished that she had not been so stubborn to her centre, showing that her centre was really unstable in the first place. One fault in Cohen’s classification system though, is that he states that the diversionary travelers will experience pleasure, and that the traveling experience will make the travelers everyday life more endurable. However, this is almost never true in the novels that we read. Though they may arrive looking for a diversion, an escape from reality, their findings often threaten their happiness and well-being. Even though in the introduction section of his essay Cohen states that tourism has to be temporary in order for it to work and so that they can return to their everyday lives, it seems that in most of the travel fictions the main characters are almost never able to return to their normal lives, even after only a short time (such as Aschenbach in Death in Venice).
More obvious diversionary tourists are featured in On The Road and Death In Venice. Dean is the perfect example of the centre-less tourist, traveling from place to place, not searching for meaning but simply distracting himself from reality. His experience is a perpetual version of the diversionary tourist mode, and he becomes addicted to the relief (escape) that new places afford him. In Death In Venice, Aschenbach also travels as a means to escape the tedious daily routine that seems to be both taking a toll on his health and speeding up the aging process. He slips so deeply into this escapism that he cannot return to his normal life, there is nothing for him but to die alone in Venice, which he does. Many more of the novels we have read portray the diversionary travel mode such as The Sheltering Sky, The Sun Also Rises, and The Comfort of Strangers. It is interesting, and causes speculation that the majority of the aforementioned books end in death yet Cohen suggests in his article that this type of trip makes alienation more endurable.
The protagonists in Daisy Miller, On The Road, Death in Venice, and The Comfort Of Strangers all qualify as somewhat centre-less, diversionary tourists, yet none of their journeys really divert their attention from the mostly unpleasant realities of their own lives. Why are there so many diversionary tourists in the novels we have been reading? And how can we use that information to address the question or which type of travel is more prevalent? Perhaps part of the reason so many of these protagonists are alienated is a reflection that many of these writers were alienated themselves, a typical plight of artists and intellectuals. As we talked about earlier this semester, it is inevitable that a writers own feelings, emotions, and concerns appear in their writing. So while the plethora of examples of alienated, diversionary tourists in the literature that we have read seems to imply that this type of travel is prevalent, there may be a sufficient bias because of the writers common characteristics. Therefore contrary to intuition, great writers may not provide the best social commentary.
In The Comfort of Strangers, Ian McEwan uses symbolism and irony to embellish and explain the central themes in his novel. Ultimately these literary devices and the interplay between them foreshadow the ultimate plight of the novels two protagonists: Mary and Colin. Many of these symbols and irony are related to the idea of place and tourism. The fact that the novel ends in death shows that there is a dangerous side to tourism, especially when the travelers are naïve.
One of the reoccurring symbols in The Comfort of Strangers is the map. Mary and Colin are constantly relying on maps to avoid getting lost but for some reason the maps are not particularly helpful because they are either too generalized or too specific. Additionally, some of these maps are fragmented into sections which “unfortunately” do not overlap. In the same way that Mary and Colin found “it was easy […] to get lost as they walked from one page to another,” (20) they also found it easy to lose themselves in their surroundings. By this, I mean that their common sense seemed to disappear. Additionally, they were incredibly unassuming and foolish with regard to Robert and Caroline and completely unresponsive to all of the signs pointing to danger.
Another symbol in the novel is the camera. At the end of the novel, we learn the significance of photography: Robert has been stalking Colin since his arrival, taking pictures from hidden vantage points. This is revealed when Caroline shows Mary the collage of all of the pictures of Colin. Before this, however, Cameras are mentioned several times, especially their frequency (around the necks of approximately 2/3 of all the male tourists). Also, Mary recalls in the middle of the night that there was a picture of Colin hanging in Robert and Caroline’s house. If Mary and Colin had been more cautious and thoughtful about the meaning of that one photo before whimsically choosing to return, maybe Colin would not have been murdered. The lost meaning of the photo on Mary and Colin is another example of their foolishness and naïveté.
The dark irony that lies beneath the symbolism is also present on a more obvious level. Exemplary of this more obvious type of irony in the novel is the title. Taken at face value, the idea that there is a comfort in strangers seems to imply that their encounters with strangers will be a positive experience, perhaps offering some sort of benefit for them. This is far from the truth; their encounter with Robert and Caroline is nothing short of a chilling encounter as the novel ends in blood being spread across Colin’s lips and Mary being poisoned (though, unlike Colin, she survives).
Much of their foolishness seems to be rooted in their mentality that everything is always okay because they are on vacation. They are less perceptive of danger and seem to accredit everything strange solely to place. They put themselves in danger, and make themselves susceptible victims. On a rather basic level, this story contains a real moral similar to the anecdote that most of us learn as young children: do not get into the car of the strange man, even if he offers you candy. This world is a crazy place full of crazy people and it is dangerous to forget that.
After reading the articles for this week, I was particularly interested with this sort of restless American spirit that was described and all of the inventions and consequences from that feeling. James Agee wrote in his piece, "the American people - worked up in their blood a species of restiveness...we are restive entirely for the sake of restiveness. Whatever we may think, we move for no better reason than for the plain, unvarnished hell of it." I completely agree with this statement by Agee, that Americans travel and move around just for the reason that there isn't anything better to do. This is why we take road trips and visit friends in other cities and take paid vacations and have destination weddings. But I am also interested in how these things, including leisure travel and motels and diners have been created out of this need to travel.
One of the most interesting things for me while reading these pieces is the idea of the cabin court, where people could just stay in a small house or shack and park their car next to their temporary home. It is the first version of the modern day motel. While motels today have a seedy sort of image in general, back then, they were attractive for travelers. John Jakle wrote, "the cabin camps and cottage courts attracted not only travelers who had previously camped, but many who otherwise stopped only at hotels." He goes on to say that few hotels were actually convenient for automobile travelers, as they were more centered by the railroads. Motels back then were cheap comparatively and still are today, which is just another convenience for travelers. Hence the birth of the motel culture during an American road trip.
From the birth of road trips and American's taking paid vacation time also came diners and gas stations along high ways, which are all still prevalent today. Even driving down a modern high way there are rest stops with McDonald's and local restaurants, information booths for travelers, bathrooms and motels in which one can spend the night. Also created from this need to travel, particularly in the past ten years or so are the birth of destination weddings and websites like Expedia and Cheaptickets. All of which can be used to plan a full on trip - from car rentals, hotels and flights. There are also companies like Hertz and Avis where travelers can rent cars at once location and drop them off at another.
Furthermore, I used to work at a travel agency and destination weddings, despite the economy are very popular for young couples. They want to travel to another place to get married purely for the experience and like Agee said just for the "unvarnished hell of it". This idea of leisure travel has grown since the early 20th century - from cabin courts to motels, from diners to fast food restaurants, now to destination weddings and travel websites and shows no sign of stopping anytime soon. Americans just like to travel and have had that travel mind set imprinted upon them throughout recent history.
I have just returned to Berlin from my two week spring break and break from thinking about all things school-related, including this blog—for which, I might yet again say my apologies for being a negligent blog parent. This post I mistakenly thought was a free post a while back, but I like the topic of it and so I’m attempting to rewrite it.
Anyway, if anyone has been following my posts, I wrote before about how I was going to go to Istanbul for spring break. And, I did go to Istanbul for spring break. When I was in the city, though, I began to notice how much of a tourist I had to be if I were only going to be there for a week. Seeing the Aya Sofia and the Blue Mosque, these were things you had to do in Istanbul—these are the cornerstones of travel conversation for anyone who has been to Turkey, or that’s how they’re presented. I couldn’t visit New York and not see Ellis Island, I couldn’t visit Berlin and not go to the top of the TV Tower. But, as I’ve lived in New York and now live in Berlin, I have not visited either of these attractions. So, what makes these attractions and not cultural activities? I think it comes in the fact that they are so ingrained in travel discourse and so overrun with visitors every single day that their value as cultural icons is negated by the fact that the only people who actually are culturally Istanbullus (residents of Istanbul) or New Yawkahs at these places are only there because of visitors.
Venice, Italy is one of the most improbable places I have ever visited. It is unbelievably beautiful and one cannot help constantly questioning, as my mother (from New Orleans) did, “How does this place exist? How is it still above water?” It certainly has managed to stay afloat for a very long time. The opposite of a city on a grid, Venice’s labyrinthine streets wind around the canals as if in an attempt to cause dizziness, but there is an odd order to it. Perhaps its small size aids an illusion of purposeful city planning, but we always felt at least slightly lost until we somehow ended up at our intended destination. J.B. Jackson generalizes the organization (planned or accidental) of towns and cities in the article “The Stranger’s Path.” I will not pretend to grasp his concept of the Stranger’s Path well enough to confidently apply it cities I know well (and there are certainly several I know better than Venice – I was there for only two nights). He does pay thoughtful attention to Venice in particular. Jackson acknowledges Piazza San Marco (St. Mark's Square), albeit slightly reluctantly, noting that despite its undeniable
beauty and social utility… it seems… that those who hold it up as the prototype of all civic (traffic-free) centers are not always aware of what makes it what it is. The piazza is not an area carved out of a residential district; its animation comes not from the art monuments which surround it; on the contrary, it is enclosed on three sides by a maze of streets and alleys whose function is almost exactly that of the Path. (27)
Often the best way to get around Venice is to wander. Aside from expensive gondola travel and the water cabs/busses that escort tourists around the city’s periphery, pedestrian traffic dominates Venetian transportation. The locals are friendly (in Italian) and the words “Piazza San Marco” are printed on buildings with arrows pointing in various directions. When we wanted to find it from our hotel, we essentially set off with the notion that we would find the famous plaza eventually. It was as if we were rats in a complex maze that featured a seemingly infinite number of possible paths to our destination. The tourist nodes were abundant. We followed signs, stopped for snacks, made a few purchases in Venetian glass and Italian leather shops. I photographed the signs, graffiti, food, and what appeared to be a McDonalds constructed before the Common Era. We eventually made our way to the bustling San Marco. The architecture was magnificent and the view of the Grand Canal was breathtaking, as well as fitting with Jackson’s entry/exit node along the Path being a point of arrival for commerce, locals, and tourists. The hoards of people were outnumbered only by the pigeons. Our long walk through Venice at least had the illusion of being a Stranger’s Path, leading us to this wonderful, crowded place. Jackson expresses frustration that, “the Mediterranean plaza… was never intended to serve… as a place of business” (27). Well, I’m pretty sure the café where we ended up sitting in order to take in the site charged more than we were even willing to pay. Still, the busy square started (or ended) with a vibrant body of water, was a seemingly unavoidable spot for transients to end up, and truly exuded vitality. Maybe Venice is made up of various Stanger’s Paths – I have yet to experience another city that enticed movement in such a mysteriously roundabout, yet purposeful manner.
For my Art of Travel, Spring 08 blog post about Venice, click on my photos or here: http://www.placeandliterature.com/node/6772
For my company's video channel based in L.A.'s version of Venice, Italy, Venice Beach, click here: www.venicethemenace.com