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November 19, 2012

Much of what we experience as travelers is mired in the imaginary

“What [tourists] bring to New Guinea, reinforced by the travel brochures, is clearly imaginary, that is, it is not based on any real assessment of the New Guineans, but is rather a projection from Western consciousness, with the reminder that the only way to explore the real is through one’s symbolic system. The tourists say that the indigenous people do not think about tomorrow, that they are “primitive,” that their lifeway is “so opposite to that of Europe,” all of which suggests the image of the happy savage and the natural man, close to nature, not yet burdened by the oppressions of European civilization. The New Guineans, in turn, in their sing-sings and performances put on for the tourists, do not display their real, but rather the New Guinean performance mirrors for the Europeans what the tourists desire. This mirroring is not a condition conducive to learning. According to Lacan, it does not work well in psychoanalysis and cannot lead to understanding of other cultures in tourism, because one never penetrates from the imaginary to the symbolic. The Europeans cannot progress to a more realistic appreciation of the New Guineans, because the Other reflected back to them is their own imaginary projection. They are trapped in a loop, in never-ending reflections from multiple mirrors.
–Edward M. Bruner, “Transformation of Self in Tourism,” Annals of Tourism Research, Vol. 18, No. 2 (1991)

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Category: Travel Quote of the Day


2 Responses to “Much of what we experience as travelers is mired in the imaginary”

  1. Roger Says:

    This quote is rather interesting to me because my first trip ever overseas was to Papua New Guinea, back in 1984. It was with a group of about 30 American college students, and for most of us this was our first trip abroad. I know we made some mistakes, but I believe our preparation before the trip set the right mindset, which was to be sensitive, respectful, and to learn to speak pidgin. The thing is, when you travel abroad, it helps to perhaps gradually integrate your way into the culture. We started out meeting with people who weren’t too different than ourselves and got grounded. Then, meet people who were more different. It wasn’t perfect, but I think it was a decent transition, and above all, I think the whole trip was positive and worthwhile. It definitely taught me a lot and drew me to more and more travel.

  2. DEK Says:

    Nothing sucks the romance and fun out of travel quite like the academic study of tourism.

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