Notes from the Underground

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I tolerate this century, but I don't enjoy it.

All of the ephemera that is far too trivial to be bothered with elsewhere on this site or, depending on your point of view, a meta-commentary on it. This ephemera includes, but is not limited to art, music and literature. Most of the content here will be discussed in terms that are as abstract as possible, reality being a singularly overrated concept.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

I was struck by this article on the rise of non-places:

"Auge laments the rise of spaces like airports and freeways and rest areas that are decoupled from the world around them, places that could be anywhere and everywhere, but are actually nowhere. For Auge, these spaces seem to signal the end of borders, of locality, and of the old sense of identity rooted in place and time. The non-places are devoid of relationships and have 'no room for history unless it has been transformed into an element of spectacle.' ... the phrase 'non-places' is creeping into the lexicon, because it taps directly into a fear we all have: That the world is becoming ever more homogenized and globalized, and soon it won’t matter where we go because the world will consist only of non-places. As Paul Theroux wrote in the New York Times a few years ago, the 'contraction of space on a shrinking planet suggests a time, not far off, when there will be no remoteness: nowhere to become lost, nothing to be discovered, no escape, no palpable concept of distance, no peculiarity of dress—frightening thoughts for a traveler.'"

The non-place is a familiar concept; transient spaces designed in a mass-produced manner. Airports, hotels, business parks, motorways, service stations all fit into the model. One of the reasons why I think Ballard was the greatest English author of the second half of the twentieth century is that he adapted the emphasis English novels had tended to put on place for an age where the idea of place was being erased. It's also interesting to note that the provincialism of the Victorian novel emerged precisely at the point that rail transport was beginning the erosion of regional difference. I was thinking of this concept, when I came across this anti-tourism manifesto:

"As the world has become smaller so its wonders have diminished. There is nothing amazing about the Great Wall of China, the Taj Mahal, or the Pyramids of Egypt. They are as banal and familiar as the face of a Cornflakes Packet. Consequently the true unknown frontiers lie elsewhere.

The duty of the traveller therefore is to open up new zones of experience. In our over explored world these must of necessity be wastelands, black holes, and grim urban blackspots: all the places which, ordinarily, people choose to avoid. The only true voyagers, therefore, are anti- tourists. Following this logic we declare that:

  • The anti-tourist does not visit places that are in any way desirable.
  • The anti-tourist eschews comfort.
  • The anti-tourist embraces hunger and hallucinations and shit hotels.
  • The anti-tourist seeks locked doors and demolished buildings.
  • The anti-tourist scorns the bluster and bravado of the daredevil, who attempts to penetrate danger zones such as Afghanistan. The only thing that lies behind this is vanity and a desire to brag.
  • The anti-tourist travels at the wrong time of year.
  • The anti-tourist prefers dead things to living ones.
  • The anti-tourist is humble and seeks invisibility.
  • The anti-tourist is interested only in hidden histories, in delightful obscurities, in bad art.
  • The anti-tourist believes beauty is in the street.
  • The anti-tourist holds that whatever travel does, it rarely broadens the mind.
  • The anti-tourist values disorientation over enlightenment.

I sometimes think tourism is an attempt to recapture the idea of a sense of place. Cities like Venice have long been described as ossified mausoleums (incidentally, aspects of the above read rather like the Futurist Manifesto, which in itself was prompted by Italy having become a large museum for tourism) but in having been trapped like a fly in amber they retain the sense of individual difference that would otherwise have been lost. The issue is not the banality of the familiar, it is the anomie of the non-place.


posted by Richard 7:17 PM