"They-Are-The-Tourists-I-Am-Not" And All The Modes In Between
The motivation of the traveler meditates between pleasure-seeking recreation and an exploration of personal identity. While leisure is most commonly associated with European adventures, analogous to the Italian and Spanish voyages Kit frequently remarks she would rather have gone on, that interpretation is not exclusive. Leisure encompasses a variety of definitions, including what Cohen references, “as a mechanism which recharges the batteries of weary modern man, refreshes and restitutes him so he is able again to return to the wear and tear of ‘serious’ living.” While the conventional archetype for such behavior exists in swanky cafés, it is not confined to them. If leisure, as Cohen makes the claim, can also be the simple period of relaxation and refreshment many individuals indulge in, that indulgence can occur, not solely in posh Europe, but also in the depths of the Sahara.
Prior to Port’s onset illness, Kit finds herself unintentionally traveling about in preciously this pleasure-seeking manner. She habitually confines herself to her bedroom, as filthy and unglamorous, as it may be, engaging in this semi-conscious relaxation. While we understand that her hermitage is a necessary psychological seclusion to consider her blunders and presumably seek escape from them, on the surface it appears that she is experiencing the recreational mode
of travel. She is fulfilling this mold by essentially “getting away,” because it is clear that there are things she is attempting to ‘get away from’; if this were not the case, than she “may find no need for travel,” than she presumably, “would have stayed home.”
The interesting element that Port throws into the mix is that he, like Boorstin, possesses a “they-are-the-tourists-I-am-not” attitude. Though he travels with a great deal of luggage, was at one point attached to his passport, and continually rejects the native propositions for tea, he still carries an air of superiority over his companions; asserting that he is in search of anything but the “trivial, superficial, frivolous pursuit” of the tourist. Kit on the other hand, was never concerned with such designations, but following Port’s death, found herself in a deviation even further from anything Port was ever able to attain.
In this sense, through her transformation she embodied the experimental mode
of tourism, engaging “in a quest for an alternative” lifestyle that began after her submergence from African waters and resurfacing, free of societal constraints and conceptualized time. Cohen summarizes the process that Kit underwent by comparing it to that of the assumed modern man, stating that, “the individual would become ‘deviant’…or seen as ‘retreating’, opting-out, or escaping the duties imposed upon him by his society.” These can be reflected through Kit’s shedding of Western dress, disengagement of time, and liberation from conventional society. In her sought out search for pure identity, both internally and externally she plunged further into the touristic experience and entered into the existential mode
From the opening pages of The Sheltering Sky
, it is evident that the existential mode has always been prevalent. While this mode of examination is the only accurate method of reflecting on the novel as a whole, each mode of travel is important and quite essential to our understanding of it. Port ended and began by meditation through the subconscious; his refusal, even in his final moments to, “fully…commit himself to,” to either medium, and in essence, to either location, demonstrates this sort of existential existence. Similarly Kit embodied this concept towards the end of the novel when she submersed herself in native life and allowed “the search itself” to “become a way of life.” Both she and Port existed in “tourist space” and acted in obscure manners while being unaware of their “craving for authenticity”. This craving, and the actions that followed it, provide the justification for their “touristic condition” and reflects their “absurd human condition.” This novel is truly about the human condition; it is an exploration not only through the Sahara, but also through the mind, in actuality, through many minds. And by examining it in this fashion, we are able to take away some sort of understanding of that subconscious psychological journey.
Paul Bowles, The Sheltering Sky
Erik Cohen’s “A Phenomenology of Tourist Experiences