An insect on a dead thing. Photograph by the Mrs.
I'm still not quite done with finals; a substantive post will have to wait a while yet. But because I've been musing a bit about travelling of late (and I have the added experience of having lived in a foreign country for an extended period of time), this passage from David Foster Wallace (via Andrew Sullivan struck home this morning. Disclaimer: I'm not sure just how fully I agree with this, but I've had an awkward moment or two when I've sort of forgotten my tourist status that cause me to give some serious thought to what Wallace is saying here.):
As I see it, it probably really is good for the soul to be a tourist, even if it’s only once in a while. Not good for the soul in a refreshing or enlivening way, though, but rather in a grim, steely-eyed, let’s-look-honestly-at-the-facts-and-find-some-way-to-deal-with-them way.
My personal experience has not been that traveling around the country is broadening or relaxing, or that radical changes in place and context have a salutary effect, but rather that intranational tourism is radically constricting, and humbling in the hardest way—hostile to my fantasy of being a real individual, of living somehow outside and above it all.
To be a mass tourist, for me, is to become a pure late-date American: alien, ignorant, greedy for something you cannot ever have, disappointed in a way you can never admit. It is to spoil, by way of sheer ontology, the very unspoiledness you are there to experience. It is to impose yourself on places that in all noneconomic ways would be better, realer, without you. It is, in lines and gridlock and transaction after transaction, to confront a dimension of yourself that is as inescapable as it is painful:
As a tourist, you become economically significant but existentially loathsome, an insect on a dead thing.