Tourism as existential self-understanding

“I confess that I have never understood why so many people’s idea of a fun vacation is to don flip-flops and sunglasses and crawl through maddening traffic to loud, hot, crowded tourist venues in order to sample a ‘local flavor’ that is by definition ruined by the presence of tourists. . . . As I see it, it probably really is good for the soul to be a tourist, even if it’s only once in a while. Not good for the soul in a refreshing or enlivening way, though, but rather in a grim, steely-eyed, let’s-look-honestly-at-the-facts-and-find-some-way-to-deal-with-them way. My personal experience has not been that traveling around the country is broadening or relaxing, or that radical changes in place and context have a salutary effect, but rather that intranational tourism is radically constricting, and humbling in the hardest way—hostile to my fantasy of being a true individual, of living somehow outside and above it all. . . . To be a mass tourist, for me, is to become a pure late-date American: alien, ignorant, greedy for something you cannot ever have, disappointed in a way you can never admit. It is to spoil, by way of sheer ontology, the very unspoiledness you are there to experience. It is to impose yourself on places that in all non-economic ways would be better, realer, without you. It is, in lines and gridlock and transaction after transaction, to confront a dimension of yourself that is as inescapable as it is painful: As a tourist, you become economically significant but existentially loathsome, an insect on a dead thing.”

—David Foster Wallace, Consider the Lobster and Other Essays (New York: Little, Brown and Company, 2006), 240.


Unknown said…
Speak for yourself, Wallace, is my response.

I'm one of the most icognito tourists you'll ever meet. Invariably any country I've ever been to I'm assumed to be local. Oh, wait, they've all been in western Europe.
Unknown said…
I am hoping that as increased fuel prices continue to limit travel people will turn to local pilgrimages, preferably to be actually on foot. I am starting to experiment with this (see here). Arthur Paul Boers reminds us that leisurely, comfortable travel is a modern phenomenon. Here's to back-aching, foot-blistering holidays! . . . that may actually be meaningful.