How Bowles Succeeds in the Search for the Authentic and Objective
When I was a child, a dream of mine was to utilize my dad’s status as a state senator for a district in Orange County, California, to get a behind the scenes tour of Disneyland. I begged my Dad for days, since he had mentioned that he had that power. However, he wouldn’t budge on his stance that I could not take a backstage tour of the most Magical Place on Earth until I turned 18. His reasoning for this was that it would “ruin the magic” for me. This image, a place for children and an inappropriate space lurking just beneath it, exemplifies front-back dichotomy described in Dean MacCannell’s “Staged Authenticity: Arrangements of Social Space in Tourist Settings.” However, the typical front-back dichotomy is not what sprang to mind when reading Paul Bowles’s travel accounts in his book, Travels
. What is it about Bowles’s writings that blur the lines of authenticity? What in Bowles writing succeeds in recounting actual authentic, experience, as opposed to the travel narrator we encounter in earlier works, such as Mark Twain’s Innocents Abroad
In terms of Goffman’s six stage analysis of entering a social situation, Bowles goes through the six stages rather quickly, and is afforded perhaps the most important indicator of whether one will encounter a fully “authentic” experience or not: time. He seems to relay all information, rather than selecting it. In the chapter, No More Djinns, he does not shy away from relaying the truth of the scenario, even if it portrays his beloved Morocco in a negative way. For instance, he tells the story of how two policemen encountered a woman on the beach who was gathering food for her husband, “knocked her down and had a fine time with her.”(Bowles 66) He portrays the contrary nature of the truth, a three dimensional culture with strengths and weaknesses, instead of being something that must be “announced or revealed.” (MacCannel 594)
Perhaps Bowles finds authenticity in that he writes without hierarchizing what is authentic and what isn’t. Paul Bowles is a tourist and a traveller. Indeed, he mentions the longing for his own bed and comfy home, and laments the amount of time he has between now and that bed. We know he preferred Morocco over Western culture because of his personal life choices as much as his writing. It is only in the chapter, “Kif,” that he really articulates his contempt for Western culture. It is here that Bowles transcends the traditional tourist who would take to sightseeing, “a form of ritual respect for society” (MacCannell 589), meaning tourism absorbs many aspects of religion in the modern day. Bowles does not sight see in this sense, because he does not have respect for society, as clear in the chapter, “Kif.”
The authenticity of a non-western place is exemplified in Bowles’s writing because he does not idealize it. He writes about their obsession with Western culture, and does not portray Moroccans as perfectly happy with their life, and does not view their isolation from Westernized culture as a decision or choice, like Kerouac. For instance, when writing about romance in Moroccan culture, he describes arranged marriages as outdated but present, with generational attitudes shifting. The men bitterly say “there is no love in Morocco.” (Bowles) He does not otherize the country by clumping its history into one culture, and instead keeping in mind the evolution of their culture and its history, relaying that while many cultural aspects may satisfy the European in its foreignness, the presentation of the country actually lacks in authenticity, quoting how many Moroccans have mentioned, “this isn’t like the old days, everything is different now, since the war.” (66) Without provided his personal opinion as much as possible, he notes that while the French have abolished slavery in the region, “the institution still exists.” (Bowles 45)
He seems to accept the tourist as part of the scenery in Morocco, observing and analyzing them as another aspect of daily Moroccan life. As much as he talks negatively of the tourist stereotype, he also understands the economic perks of having a thriving tourism industry. Additionally, he takes into account the natural desire for authenticity evident in every tourist: “touristic value is enhanced by the fact that its southern border is non-existent and that there are whole regions as yet unseen by tourists of any nationality.” At the same time, however, he is not afraid to contradict himself, at other times observing that tourists seem wholly satisfied with their inauthentic experiences.
He is aware that the ultimate back door, stage six, is disintegrating and being replaced by new cultures. But the traditional, authentic culture is in many ways abolished. He notes that the Nationalists intend to make the country “less appealing to tourists.” He acknowledges that there are different authenticities, different truths to be revealed, depending on who is revealing it. For instance, the Berbers have a much different idea of what an authentic Moroccan experience is like than the Nationalists do.
Through Bowles’s emphasis and fascination with the landscape of Morocco and other cultural experiences, he exemplifies that the authentic does not usually require money. So, why do so many tourists pour money into tourist destinations, in which have become wholly inauthentic. Are they aware of this? Or do they value its convenience over the long, hard search for actual authenticity? Indeed, Bowles represents the authentic by going into detail about experiences that do not require money, what the tourism industry has yet to put a price on. He speaks extensively about the landscapes in Morocco, particularly the Sahara. He mentions the poor quality of the mass produced marijuana and paraphernalia in comparison to its original.
Bowles does not search for the authentic experience as much as he searches for truth. Truth, of course, is contradictory, abstract, and unclear. These vague lines between authentic and inauthentic don’t seem to concern Bowles, thereby absorbing all experiences. It is this method that is perhaps the closest to the authentic as an outsider may get.