Incomprehensible monuments of otherness


Rob Horning considers the experience of travel as a way out of consumer culture @ The New Inquiry. It has become harder to escape feeling like a tourist. Part of this is because cities are becoming more indistinguishable. In his essay “The City in the Age of Touristic Reproduction” philosopher Boris Groys notes how the local distinctions that once made foreign destinations exotic — the architectural or culinary peculiarities, the unique monuments, the cultural idiosyncrasies — have all become exportable signifiers, rapidly transmissible around the globe. This dissemination of local ideas, Groys argues, establishes a worldwide uniform city in places that were once distinct. This new global city has no particular prototype; it derives from no universally embraced ideal of what cities should be but instead derives from a capitalist logic of distributing novelties so that they can be conveniently consumed. Cities become a consistent pap of jumbled motifs imported from everywhere else. Culture shock becomes nostalgic. If we want it, a cocoon of familiarity and convenience awaits us wherever we go.

So when I travel, I have various rationalizations to distract me from it and from the inescapable truth that I am a tourist on vacation. One of these is to adopt the Situationist strategy of the dérive, which reconceives aimless walks as what Debord, in Introduction to a Critique of Urban Geography, labeled psychogeography: “the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment, consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behavior of individuals.”

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