Friday, March 28, 2014

Mind-walking and the death of the infantile tourist

Virtual Mirroring by Anhish Lohorung

Modernity and cyber-tourism
The tourist is the quintessential ideal type of global modernities: as a pilgrim to foreign lands for religious or consumerist sublimation, or a banal visitor to the hyper-real sites of Disneyworld, (s)he toys with realities and experiences that organised systems of leisure produce, modify or discard. I would contend that scholars who highlighted that, for the elites, (mass) tourism as a social practice vulgarises consumption (Urry 1995), communicate with those who suggest that touring is a return to childhood imaginaries of play that enrich personal knowledge of the social world (Dann 1989). The background of discovering ‘authenticity’ (in new places and cultures) is certainly part of both formulas here, but I am less interested in discovery and more focused on the retrieval or recovery of the authentic, for reasons I outline below.  

We would expect authenticity to oppose industrial progress here, but this is not necessarily the case. Note that the idea of control of such anomic milieus is a constant in these theses: the tourist transgressor is, in effect, part of (post)modern imaginaries of surveillance that, instead of destroying pleasure, they amplify it tenfold. Consuming a place, its culture and people as objects, involve performance in public, which, when repeated in various locales, might end up producing new versions of Self or identity. However, these days such consumptions are de facto split into virtual and terrestrial (‘real’): tourists perform ‘on location’, in visited places, but may also consume place and culture online first or only, as cyber-tourists (Prideaux 2002). The cyber-sphere is a post-industrial site of pleasure for all, defying distance or temporal constraints. Yet, the split between the virtual and the terrestrial may even revise or reinstate conceptions of elite, authentic or vulgar consumption, with various consequences.

The death of tourist childhood
What could these consequences be? The datum of anomic touring (or ‘tourist anomie’) is anything but exceptional (though, under certain conditions, it may become so). Notably, it seems that its fundamental principles always reinstate a Freudian civilizational order, in which personality development (maturation) or subjective regression are a dead certainty: tourists transgress and learn through their experiential journeys. Nevertheless, I would suggest that contemporary splits between terrestrial and cyber-journeys might also upset this traditional Freudian order. Where once upon a time ‘tourist play’ served to  save or restore one’s childhood utopia, cyber-touring legitimates a Cartesian split that discards needs and satisfies desires through instant inner journeys or ‘mind-travel’. Cyber-tourism allows for a peculiar maturation of the subject-tourist, who now has to perform in a global public spheres and who is scrutinised for his/her choices and actions by diverse gazes (individual, corporate, collective-native).

Perhaps we should replace Freud’s conclusions (closer to Dann’s (1989) original thesis) with those of an iconoclastic Lacanian theorist to reconsider this phenomenon. In A Child is Being Killed, Serge Leclaire argued that ‘in order to achieve full selfhood we must all repeatedly and endlessly kill the phantasmatic image of ourselves installed in us by our parents. Thus, ‘“primary narcissism”, a projection of the child our parents wanted’ (Leclaire 1998: 35, 54), gives way to infantile Self-murder as a process of maturation – an inner journey to making one’s Self whole, independently from their primary carers (parents). Cyber-touring deviates from terrestrial touring in this respect, allowing space for the production of the mature tourist Self in public.

One may subsequently ask: if infanticide is part of the cyber-tourist’s journey, how come and tourist phantasmagorias continue to appeal to utopian worlds of perfection? And if part of this tourist utopianism appeals to sharing, solidarity, family, neo-nomadism and the likes, is the tourist child truly dead or it continues to haunt postmodernity’s Arcades?

Dann, G.M.S. (1977) ‘Anomie, ego-enhancement and tourism’, Annals of Tourism Research, 4: 184-94.
Dann, G.M.S. (1989) ‘The tourist as child: Some reflections’, Cahiers du Tourisme, Serie C, No. 135. Aix-en-Provence: CHET.
Leclaire S. (1998) A Child is Being Killed. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.
Prideaux, B. (2002) ‘The cybertourist’, in G.M.S. Dann (ed.) The Tourist as a Metaphor of the Social World, Wallingford: CABI.
Urry, J. (1995) Consuming Places. London: Routledge.

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