Minor Cinema, Critical Regionalism, and the post-Western – Neil Campbell

‘The Big Lebowski’ (1998)

“What I call Ideas are images that make one think.” -1-

According to Jacques Derrida, “cinema is the art of ghosts, a battle of phantoms, it’s the art of letting ghosts come back”, a progressive art since, “ghosts are part of the future and … the modern technology of images like cinematography … enhances the power of ghosts and their ability to haunt us”. For Derrida, we must “learn to live with ghosts … To live otherwise and better … more justly. But with them … [as] a politics of memory, of inheritance, and of generations” (Derrida 2000: xvii-xviii). These latter words indicate the reach of this idea and the responsibility to past, present and future; towards what Gilles Deleuze called the formation of “the people to come”; a definition of community and region unscripted or fixed by the past or by systematic representations. Given the history of the American West, its expansionism and legacy of conquest, we might see post-Westerns (that is films of the modern West) as potential sites where such a “politics” might be traced, back into the past and forward to the future, functioning in between such poles and yet responsible to both, interested in, as yet unformed, peoples and communities. Continue reading


critical regionalism and photography

Photography and place are intimately connected.  The regional is crucial to so much photographic practice, particularly in relation to the American West (my concern here). Thinking about photography and place, about the regional within the image is a dimension easily overlooked:

‘Ultimately, Photography is subversive not when it frightens, repels, or even stigmatizes, but when it is pensive, when it thinks’ (Barthes 1993.:38)

Bakhtin shared with another key thinker, Roland Barthes, a dislike of the reductive and an interest in the plural and the multiple.  Barthes wrote of ‘a desperate resistance to any reductive system’ (Barthes  1993:8). He is troubled by photography’s contradictions and attempts to work through them in Camera Lucida (1980), which recognizes that, for example, photographs are ‘the absolute Particular’ and ‘the sovereign Contingency’, with every image  ‘ballasted by the contingency of which it is the weightless, transparent envelope’ (ibid.:5).  They purport to show the world as it is, to point the finger, as he puts it, at ‘this’ or ‘that’, and yet there is more, for ‘photographs are signs which don’t take, which turn, as milk does.  Whatever it grants to vision and whatever its manner, a photograph is always invisible: it is not it that we see’ (ibid.:6).  Every image ‘curdles’, to pursue Barthes’ image, goes off into something else, something different and ‘beyond’ the immediate reference point of the first sight, and something ‘invisible’ is implied. 

The ‘particular’ nature of the photograph can suggest ‘contingency’ too, since ‘the object speaks, it induces us, vaguely, to think … reflect, suggest [..] a meaning – a different meaning from the literal one. Ultimately, Photography is subversive not when it frightens, repels, or even stigmatizes, but when it is pensive, when it thinks’ (ibid.:38).  Thus, out of and through the apparently fixed (reduced) frame of the motionless photographic image that only shows what is in front of the lens, comes other voices (‘the object speaks’) that encourage reflection, suggestion and thought.

Homage to Robert Frank, 2011 (Neil Campbell)

Barthes implies, however, that photography was often unthinking or ‘unary’ when it ‘transforms “reality” without doubling it, without making it vacillate … [with] no duality, no indirection, no disturbance’ (Barthes 1993:41).  Thus the ‘unary’ image is an image without disturbance, with ‘no punctum’ and so no shock, only able to ‘shout’ not to ‘wound’, and thus tending to the ‘banal’ with an emphasis upon ‘unity of composition’ (ibid.).  For Barthes, the ‘punctum’ was in the ‘detail’ whose ‘presence changes my reading’ by interruption, puncturing the system of representation, skewing the ‘frame’ until the image is no longer ‘docile’ (ibid.:49), but active in the mind of the viewer, shifting the ‘unary’ towards the ‘dialogical’ (or ‘doubling’, as Barthes has called it) through the ‘power of expansion’ (ibid.:45). As an anti-reductive element, the effect of the punctum is to represent the ‘second sight’ of the photographer – the actual fact of ‘being there’ to take the image and to set in train the dynamic relations between viewer and viewed (ibid.:47). As Barthes states, ‘the reading of the punctum … is at once brief and active’ and yet in the photograph ‘everything is given, without provoking the desire for or even the possibility of a rhetorical expansion’, suggesting that the image is always a closed field, contained within its frame.  Of course, in a material sense it is, since the image is single, hemmed in by the edges of the frame, capturing an event, moment, person or object in time, in space, and so the ‘rhetorical expansion’ cannot take place within the actual image itself, as with the written page that simply moves on and adds more words for the reader to follow.  But Barthes’ argument suggests that despite the photograph’s apparent ‘intense immobility’ (ibid.:49), it has the capacity nonetheless to ‘move’ the viewer in a number of ways.  Firstly, because the image, he writes, ‘worked within me’ ‘when the photograph is no longer in front of me and I think back on it’ (ibid.: 53), touching the viewer as ‘affective consciousness’ (ibid.:55), and secondly, because the punctum ‘is an addition: it is what I add to the photograph and what is nonetheless already there’ (ibid.).  This ‘work’, ‘affectiveness’ and ‘addition’ combine to create what Barthes terms ‘the presence (the dynamics) of this blind field’, where the ‘blind field’ is that which exists in an image once the punctum engages our senses, and ‘constantly doubles our partial vision’, shattering the apparent motionlessness of the photograph, unfreezing it by suggesting all that exists in relation to and beyond the singular, first (partial) sight.  Barthes argues that the punctum ‘takes the spectator outside its frame, and it is there that it animates me’ as a ‘subtle beyond’, a space in which the ‘dynamics’ of the image, which by its very material, physical nature is static, are created from the interaction and dialogue of the spectator and the photograph (ibid.:57-9).

Barthes’ term punctum relates very closely to an earlier essay ‘The Third Meaning’ (1970) in which he explains beyond the levels of ‘information/communication’ and ‘symbolic/signification’ there exists a ‘third meaning – evident, erratic, obstinate’ which ‘cannot be conflated’ and ‘exceeds’ the ‘referential motif’ of the image itself and ‘compels an interrogative reading’ (Barthes 1979:53).  He also calls this ‘third meaning’ ‘obtuse’, ‘the one “too many”, the supplement that my intellection cannot succeed in absorbing, at once persistent and fleeting, smooth and elusive’ (ibid.:54).  As Ann Jefferson writes, it ‘bursts out of the frame’ (in Hirschkop and Shepherd 1989:172) thereby aligning Barthes punctum with Bakhtin’s carnival:

It has something derisory about it: opening out into the infinity of language, it can come through as limited in the eyes of analytic reason; it belongs to the family of pun, buffoonery, useless expenditure.  Indifferent to moral or aesthetic categories (the trivial, the futile, the false, the pastiche), it is on the side of the carnival (Barthes 1979:55).

Suddenly, the photographic text over-flows the ‘real’ frame becoming more than its ‘obvious meaning’: ‘It sets the reader in motion, casts him loose; in short, it launches him into carnival’ (Jefferson in Hirschkop and Shepherd 1989: 173). Photographic ‘thirding’, as we might term it, to borrow a word from Edward Soja (1996), can be seen ‘as an accent, the very form of an emergence, of a fold (a crease even)’ acting as ‘a counter-narrative’ (Barthes 1979:62-3) ‘to counter the doxa and open up representations’ (Jefferson 173).

Introducing Psychogeography


We are indebted to Emma Smith – Masters student at the University of Derby – for this excellent interpretation of the term ‘psychogeography’


‘Psychogeography could set for itself the study of the precise laws and specific effects of the geographical environment consciously organized or not, on the emotions and behaviour of individuals.’[1]

Guy Debord "Psychogeographique"

[2] The term psychogeography is traced back to the Situationist International group headed by Guy-Ernest Debord in the 1950’s.  It seems that whichever pathway one undertakes to find a fixed meaning, Debord’s quote materialises.  This definition is fundamental to the concept of psychogeography as a framework for theoretical approaches, and provides researchers from multi-disciplinary fields  a variety of directions to explore.  As theories concerning identity are constantly developing, this particular connection between the individual and an environment is crucial.  It is impossible to have a subject removed from an environment, therefore be it urban, rural, or even suburban, familiar or newly discovered; an individual responds to the surrounding landscape and consequently develops new characteristics to their identity.  Notions of conflicts and relationships in general between a person and the environment are apparent in much earlier texts such as Mary Wollestonecraft’s  A Short Residence in Sweden whose travel writing genre combines personal reflection with a critique of society and industry in a geographical context.  Her letters relay this connection, ‘The view of this wild coast, as we sailed along it, afforded me to a continual subject for meditation.’[3] Here it is clear that the landscape not only performed the role of muse, but also prompted the possibility of self-reflection for an individual.  Writers on psychogeography such as Merlin Coverley also claim that this understanding of psychogeography is apparent in many earlier writers such as Thomas deQuincey  which is entirely plausible due to the theoretical connection of identity and environment, and in particular the notions of the dérive.  Debord and his fellow psychogeographers embraced the practical and conscious act of the dérive through the cities, to explore unusual, less aesthetically pleasing areas of Paris in a less systematic way. Debord himself writes, ‘The dérive [literally: “drifting”], a technique of rapid passage through varied ambiances.  Dérives involve playful-constructive behaviour and awareness of psychogeographical effects, and are thus quite different from the classic notions of journey or stroll.  In a dérive one or more persons … let themselves be drawn by the attractions of the terrain and the encounters they find there.’[4]  This playful experimentation and display of pushing boundaries is placed within the contextual period of the avant-garde movement which enabled the individual to engage with innovative and artistic ways of expressing themselves and ultimately reflecting on their society which includes their environment.

Self & Steadman "Psychogeography"

Although psychogeography has never left the field of theoretical practice per se, it has continuously blended into the background.  Will Self and Ralph Steadman have brought the concept of psychogeography firmly into the 21st Century with their articles in TheIndependent combining in publication to produce the texts Psychogeography and Psycho Too.  Here Self introduces psychogeography as a concept with his detailed account of his purposeful and deliberate walk from Stockwell in south London to the Lower East Side of Manhattan.  Self provides the reader with his reasons for the walk, and subsequently what separates his notions of psychogeography from earlier examples such as J.G.Ballard and Iain Sinclair.  Self asserts his reason for walking to New York was, ‘because I had business there, to explore; and, also, because in so doing, I hoped to suture up the wounds in my own, divided psyche: to sew together my American and my English flesh.’[6] Here it is clear that Self believed that this journey as a physical and psychological exploration would result in a clearer, more unified sense of self.   Ralph Steadman’s artwork [5] which accompanies Self’s writing not only enhances Self’s deeply reflexive prose but can also be considered as a text entire.  He visually and aesthetically represents the complexity of relationships between individuals and their locality through a modern form which displays his immediately recognisable cartoon style. By creatively representing countries, buildings, monuments and the natural landscape of cliff edges, deserts and coastlines (to name a few) emphasises how the environment delivers an  enormous impact on the individual, moulds their experiences and the tensions and fluidity that envelopes both land and person resulting in a sensual and spiritual relationship.

It is not only aesthetically pleasing settings which can capture our senses of self, or spark a connection between person and place; psychogeography can be seen to relate to many types of exploration and representation.  Urban explorers generally prefer to find disused sites, and to visit places the general public would not normally like to go, this is not only to seek and capture the heritage of a particular place but could also be a way of coping with a sense of nostalgia and the degeneration of a cultural site.  There are many web sites which display photographs taken of derelict buildings, factories, hospitals and even asylums which provoke many critiques of historical, social and political structures.  It is through the tangible connectivity of these spaces that it becomes more apparent that not only is there the effect an environment has on an individual but also the effect an individual can have on a place.  A text which poignantly represents some of England’s disregarded landscapes is Edgelands written by Paul Farley and Michael Symmons Roberts.  This book celebrates a ‘debateable zone’ which they argue we do not even acknowledge in our everyday lives.   As they explain, ‘edgelands, by and large, are not meant to be seen, except perhaps as a blur from a car window, or as a backdrop to our most routine and mundane activities.  Edgelands are part of the gravitational field of all our larger urban areas, a texture we build up speed to escape…The smaller identities of things in the edgelands have remained largely invisible to most of us.’[7]  The reader learns this is potentially a true loss in terms of life experience.  The reference made to ‘so-called psychogeographers’ has a negative implication in terms of a general consensus that these in-between spaces ‘are merely a backdrop for bleak observations on the mess we humans have made of our lives, landscapes, politics and each other.’[8] This can be seen in some approaches to psychogeography, however, it is equally apparent that groups of psychogeographers also place an importance on visiting, experiencing and exhibiting their responses to edgelands.  It could be argued that any exploration and subsequent representation of experiences will create ripples in the fluidity between person and place, and furthermore becomes a firm foundation when considering a variety of theoretical critiques.

Alvar Aalto - tactile architecture

By exploring the notions of psychogeography it is possible to investigate many theoretical practices with the environment and the psyche as a subject.  Urban, identity and architectural theories are clear approaches where psychogeography could aid debate.  Architectural theory is a key example of this dual relationship and how considerations are given to the sensual rapport between architecture, environment and the body when designing buildings and even urban planning.  Kenneth Frampton exhibits this consideration in his essay, ‘Towards a Critical Regionalism: Six Points for an Architecture of Resistance’.   When concluding his essay, Frampton touches on significant examples of psychogeographical traces.  He asserts, ‘The tactile resilience of the place-form and the capacity of the body to read the environment in terms other than those of sight alone suggests a potential strategy for resisting the domination of universal technology.’[9] This is further elaborated by Frampton’s description of, ‘ [T]he kinetic impetus of the body in climbing the stair is thus checked by the friction of the steps, which are “read” soon after in contrast to the timber floor.’[10]  When acknowledging that senses other than sight are as important for a person to connect with a place-form this emphasises the possibilities of responding to any environment on a multitude of levels, particularly psychologically.  By ascending stairs and ‘reading’ them emphasises not only physical connection and movement to the stairs but also a necessity to engage with the setting on a much more complex level. 

Juhani Pallasmaa also appreciates and expresses the importance of a person’s perception in context with the environment, in his text The Eyes of the Skin he considers the importance of architectural phenomenology and how experiences of architecture have been suppressed and limited by the importance placed on the sense of sight.  Consequently, he calls for the necessity to combine the senses and embrace the knowledge of how a body, a person responds to their environment.  He argues,

‘All the senses, including vision, are extensions of the tactile sense; the senses are specialisations of skin tissue, and all sensory experiences are modes of touching and thus related to tactility.  Our contact with the world takes place at the boundary line of the self through specialised parts of our enveloping membrane’.[11]

This is a clear example of psychogeography, the psychological and physical experience of an individual and their surroundings through sensory perception.  Pallasmaa further develops this notion,

‘Touch is the sensory mode that integrates our experience of the world with that of ourselves.  Even visual perceptions are fused and integrated into the haptic continuum of the self; my body remembers who I am and where I am located in the world.  My body is truly the navel of my world, not in the sense of the viewing point of the central perspective, but as the very locus of reference, memory, imagination and integration. … The ultimate meaning of any building is beyond architecture; it directs our consciousness back to the world and towards our sense of self and being’.

It could be argued that this theoretical concept is not limited to architecture in terms of buildings and cities, these sensory principles can be applied to any given environmental landscape.

The possibilities the concept of psychogeography provides are unlimited.   It can provide a framework for literary critiques in terms of identity, and space and place, journeys of a physical or metaphorical nature and most importantly the development of identity and characteristics in synch with a static or changing environment.  Theoretically psychology travels with the rhizomatic metaphor associated with an unveiling perception of critical regionalism; these ideas are not solely fixed in contemporary literary works, but can meander and transgress a plethora of disciplines and eras with virility and the excitement of interesting discoveries.

[1] Debord, Guy-Ernest, Introduction to a Critique of Urban Geography, http://library.nothingness.org/articles/SI/en/display/2 Accessed 3/3/2011, 10:13.

[2] http://imaginarymuseum.org/LPG/debordpsychogeo.jpg Accessed 3/3/2011, 9:37.

[3] Wollestonecraft, Mary, A Short Residence in Sweden, London: Penguin Books Ltd, 1987, p 130.

[4] Debord, Guy-Ernest, Theory of the Dérive., http://library.nothingness.org/articles/all/all/display/314 Acessed 3/3/2011, 14:50

[5] Steadman, Ralph, Psychogeography, front cover.

[6] Self, Will, Psychogeography, London: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2007, p 13-14.

[7] Farley, Paul and Symmons Roberts, Michael, Edgelands, London: Jonathan Cape, 2011, p5.

[8] Farley, Paul and Symmons Roberts, Michael, Edgelands, p 9.

[9] Frampton, Kenneth, ‘Towards a Critical Regionalism: Six Points for an Architecture of Resistance’, in Foster, Hal,(ed), Postmodern Culture, Verso, 1990, p28.

[10] Frampton, Kenneth, ‘Towards a Critical Regionalism: Six Points for an Architecture of Resistance’, p 28.

[11] Pallasmaa, Juhani, The Eyes of the Skin, West Sussex: John Wiley & Sons Ltd, 2005, p 10-11

Review: Ben Highmore, Ordinary Lives: Studies in the Everyday, London: Routledge 2011

Ben Highmore, Ordinary Lives: Studies in the Everyday, London: Routledge, pp. 194, ISBN 9780415461870

Neil Campbell University of Derby

As Highmore says at the opening of this book, it is ‘about ordinary, everyday life and it is also about aesthetics’ (x) and within this seemingly straightforward statement is the challenge of the text itself. For, to bring aesthetics and the everyday together he has to re-think how the former is traditionally seen. He wants to get back to an earlier sense of aesthetics bound in closer to the ‘messy world of sensate perception’, one not tied to reason or, indeed, only to the beautiful defined through works of art. To do this he creates a genealogy from the Enlightenment of Baumgarten, Shaftesbury and Hume, through James and Dewey, to Jacques Rancière. Though art is part of a ‘world of feelings’ it must take its place, according to Highmore, alongside ‘shoes, gardens, rivers, houses, faces, plants and so on’ (xi) – or in the examples drawn from in the book itself, chairs, popular music, curries, and housework. This is an ambitious work interested in giving presence to ‘the pulsings of affect: the risings and fallings of hope, love, hatred and irritation; the minor and major disturbances of life set against and within a world of day-to-day habits, routines and collective sentiments.’ (xii). Such poetic turns of phrase are, for me are the really exciting aspects of this book and where it offers up a fascinating shift in new cultural studies. These are moments where the academic collides with the poetic and a different type of work emerges that looks to operate in the space between the two. This is a device I think he has learned, in part, from De Certeau, Raymond Williams and more recently from the similar work of Kathleen Stewart’s Ordinary Affects which he comments on in his introduction and whose author endorses the book on its cover. Stewart’s descriptive writing makes you, claims Highmore, ‘more and more alert to your surroundings. Your skin begins to prickle with the apprehensions of the lives of others, of resonances of care and indifference, of anxiety and ease’ (8). This descriptive energy is alive too in Highmore’s autobiographical attention to the world around him, and for, me these are the most interesting sections of Ordinary Lives, for this is where he ‘attunes and reattunes the human sensorium’ (8). Whether discussing his favourite chair or recollecting the impact of Tubular Bells, Highmore makes us remember and feel the world again, feel it differently; noticing and responding to disregarded or ‘remaindered’ things that we have been conditioned to see as unimportant or unworthy of aesthetic consideration. In the intimacy he encourages with the everyday, with ‘quotidian aesthetics, a new scale of feeling emerges which can be usefully explained by the adaptation of a phrase from Rancière, the ‘redistribution of the sensible’. In rejecting and challenging the hierarchies of significance (‘the visible and the sayable’) attached socially and institutionally to certain things and not others, Rancière encourages us (as Highmore does too) to act politically to redistribute the sensible and give presence to the unrecognised and diminished. Highmore’s book performs this politics in the ‘thingly world’ (58) through the recognition and response to objects and activities many would see as insignificant, but through which and in which he uncovers untold histories and poetics. Developing from Adorno and Benjamin, in distraction, for example, he finds ‘a scattering-outward of attention’ (119) which permits a more progressive, responsive relationship to the world than one always conditioned and concentrated by established channels. Ultimately, his goal is an aesthetic politics of the ordinary that produces ‘imaginative acts for thinking the seemingly impossible’ and contributes to a ‘culture that encourages habits of generosity and world-enlarging improvisation and adaptation, while also maintaining habits of comfort and stability’ (171). Highmore acknowledges himself that his examples are local and English and this is noticeable (and might restrict the book’s readership a little), however, he admits that his intention is that his ‘close work could be extended into other geographies’ (xiv). Hopefully this will be the case. As I suggested earlier, I think the book is most impressive and at its strongest when it is poetic and less tied into the case studies employed as groundwork. Although these are probably necessary, given the project at hand, it was the ‘pulsings’ of the everyday that seemed most innovative in Highmore’s digressive or ‘distractive’ style – what Dave Hickey in Air Guitar (1997), a book this one echoes in some ways, calls ‘the ordinary stuff – the ongoing texture of the drift’ (10).


D. Hickey Air Guitar: Essays on Art and Democracy, Los Angeles: Art Issues Press, 1997.

K. Stewart, Ordinary Affects. Durham: Duke University Press, 2007.

Review of ‘Regionalism and the Humanities’

Regionalism and the Humanities, Edited and Introduced by Timothy R. Mahoney and Wendy J. Katz (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2008), 343 pp., $30.00, pb.

Neil Campbell

American Studies, University of Derby, U.K.

These seventeen interdisciplinary essays are the product of a conference of Regional Humanities Centers from November 2003 and this accounts both for its strengths and weaknesses. Its strengths derive from the expertise of its authors writing with authority about the role of region in the Humanities. At its heart is a desire to reclaim regionalism as a usable concept in an age of globalisation where the tendency has been to diminish the local and the ‘placed’ in favour of mobility and displacement.  Against perceived global sameness, a form of McDonaldization of culture, the authors claim that the regional offers difference and ‘particularity’ of ‘interest and identity’ (xi) which aims not necessarily ‘to produce a consensual history of a place, a period, or a people’, but is just as likely to emphasize pluralism and conflict among and between competing identities’ (xii). 

Annie Proulx’s opening essay looks at landscape in fiction as ‘the sum of accumulated changes wrought by the inhabitants and their marks on the land’ (14) and argues for regions as ‘neither pure nor static’. Other essays in the collection range from examine Great Plains environmental writing, the Southwest (through literature and architecture), to Willa Cather, and the South Atlantic through music.  This suggests the scope of the collection and its conference roots whilst highlighting its weaknesses in being too inclusive at the expense of a more rigorous theoretical examination of the topic, and in coming from 2003, already seeming dated.  It makes only one reference to ‘critical regionalism’, for example, a concept increasingly employed as a decisive tool to interrogate national and global imperatives and contest fashionable definitions of identity and place.

However, in its attention to regionalism as ‘focusing on pluralities instead of the mass’ (73) as one writer puts it, this collection constantly reminds us of the energy and diversity of such an approach, one ‘underrepresented in the ongoing reformulation of American studies’ (178).  Despite its flaws this collection contributes usefully to this particular struggle.

Producing America: Redefining Post-tourism in the Global Media Age

Neil Campbell 

‘Stay in and go somewhere different’ – Sky Television Advertisement, 2002


‘[I]n the world of supermodernity people are always, and never, at home’ (Augé 1992:109)

‘A virtual America, therefore, would be a mythic America turned inside out’ (Giles 2002:14). 

Jennifer Price’s Flight Maps opens with the question ‘What does nature mean to me?’ and then searches for it in the most obvious and unexpected places, scattered, as it is, almost everywhere (1999:xv).  Gathering up these discursive formations of ‘nature’ she assembles a record of her ‘travels’, as she calls them, through all manner of experience; ‘travels at once unsettling and reassuring’, mapping the different ways nature is constructed and produced by us all (ibid.:xxii).  Price’s use of the word ‘travel’ suggests her discovery of ‘nature’ is a form of tourism experiencing multiple, mediated spaces, both material and immaterial, past and present, real and imagined from which she assembles and constructs her meanings for nature, which in turn, contribute to the formation of her identity and sense of place. Similarly, one might ask, ‘What does America mean to me?’  Where do I go to find it? How and where do I ‘discover’ and ‘produce’ America? Can I find it without leaving home? The conclusion, like Price’s, is that the itineraries of everyday life bring us into contact, wherever we are, with America as real and imagined space, seeing it from the outside, as mediated, simulated, mythic and as actual, lived and tangible in life’s everyday and multi-layered spaces. These complex geographies bring us to America’s ‘scriptural economy’ (Certeau 1988:132): from the fast food restaurant’s slogan of the ‘United Tastes of America’, to the shopping mall’s Disney, Warner Brothers’ or Timberland stores, to the theme park’s time-space compression of American experiences from the Alamo to space travel, to the array of texts and images available on-line.  Thus we come to ‘know’ America despite living so far from it and having no, or limited, actual contact with the nation, rather like Barthes’ sense of Japan in Empire of Signs, a ‘fictive nation’ constructed by a ‘number of features … deliberately form[ing] a system … which I shall call: Japan’ (Barthes 1982:3).  Out of the system of signs from ‘faraway’, but ironically, under globalisation, ever-closer at hand, Europe assembles a ‘system’ called ‘America’ in a process not unlike what Augé terms the ‘anthropology of the near’ (Augé 1992:7).  An everyday stroll through a city centre, a visit to a theme park, a shopping trip, a meal in a restaurant, a glance at a billboard, magazine, guide book, or merely surfing the internet brings a mediated America into our lives no longer as an exotic destination ‘out there’, but resembling a more immediate, negotiated tourist experience.

The post-modern media surrounds us, as in Barthes’ Japan, with fragments, narratives and representations that as tourists we incorporate or reject as a sense of place is formed.  Such overlapping touristic sensibilities enter into the way we structure our lives making it less possible to think of tourism as a ‘discrete activity contained tidily at specific locations and occurring during set aside periods’ (Franklin and Crang 2001:7).  Indeed, those moments that in the past might have been considered as discrete tourist experiences marked by a search for authenticity away from home and work have become diffused into much of our day-to-day lives representing the ‘shifting boundary of holiday and everyday’ (ibid.).  In this ‘tourism of everyday life’ people are ‘routinely excited by the flows of global cultural materials all around them in a range of locations and settings’ without having to physically travel (ibid.:8).  Aided by immense advances in the electronic media we ‘casually take in these flows’ in ways once only experienced through physical travel, learning new repertoires, acquiring different expectations and translating them into the day-to-day world as a complex mélange of actual and virtual experiences (see Virilio 1994:67).

These ideas redefine post-tourism in terms of virtual/actual travel without the necessity of a faraway place, distinct from work, positing tourism as the elaborate consumption and use of a series of images in, what I will term, the virtual construction of America. The once singular activity of the tourist, seeking an authentic experience away from the workaday world, has been replaced by a gamut of experiences, knowledges, activities, and performances that constitute a post-modern tourism both self-aware and hybrid, mixing all forms of ‘texts’ into a complex weave of leisure practices distinct from a ‘pre-packaged’ holiday.  Post-tourism is more than physical travel including, as it does, desire, imagining and mediation in a much more complex and encompassing mobility close to what James Clifford calls ‘dwelling and traveling’ (Clifford 1997:30). In ‘travelling’ to America through its ‘cultural flows’ and the mediated ‘virtual’ Americas of television, advertising, consumerism, the service industries, film, literature and the Internet, it is possible to engage actively in the construction of a real and imagined nation or ‘transnation’ whilst still ‘dwelling’ in a familiar and rooted existence. As John Rajchman reminds us, ‘To virtualize nature [or America] is thus not to double it but, on the contrary, to multiply it, complicate it, release other forms and paths in it’ (Rajchman 1998:119).

The passive Americanisation of experience associated with cultural imperialism’s idea that ‘The Media Is American’ (Tunstall 1977), is challenged by this new tourism’s active, performative practice through which the post-tourist encounters America as objects, places, simulations, fashions, pleasures, tastes, and sights/sites creating a tourist text as a

galaxy of signifiers, not a structure of signifieds; it has no beginning; it is reversible; we gain access to it by several entrances, none of which can be authoratively declared to be the main one; the codes it mobilizes extend as far as the eye can reach, they are indeterminable  (Barthes 1975:5-6).

These ‘mobilized codes’ defining ‘America’ impose no simple cultural imperialism upon the audience since they have been actively producing meanings through their consumption.  The new post-tourist is not engaged in the impossible quest for an authentic singular America, but rather constructs and inhabits a contingent, fragmentary space, both real and imagined, confirming and challenging mythic national narratives.  This self-reflexive, participatory tourism has, in a sense been tutored through our consumption of the media and our sophisticated ‘use’, pleasure and critique of its many elements and ‘codes’.  For example, when Ien Ang famously studied the television programme ‘Dallas’ she concluded that rather than accepting a pre-packaged set of values and expected assumptions, its audiences had various responses, entering into complex dialogues with the show proving ‘it is wrong … to pretend that the ideology of mass culture exercises dictatorial powers …[since] alternative discourses do exist which offer points of identification’ beyond those expectations (in During 1993:415-6).  With the media, as with tourism, people ‘practise’ it variously, mixing, combining and pluralizing their use of its outputs creating all forms of pleasure and meaning. As David Crouch reminds us, ‘people use different agendas from those supplied by commodification and work their own sense into these leisure spaces’ since space, like identity, is not totally controlled by others, but is always ‘practised’, adapted and hybridised in all kinds of productive ways (Crouch 1999:257-8).  Thus a show like ‘Dallas’ could indeed function in juxtaposition, alongside other mediated experiences, as an integral part of a tourist’s critical construction of a ‘Dallas-Texas-America nexus’ acting precisely as an ‘invention and interruption of meaningful wholes in works of cultural import-export’ (Clifford 1988:147). The American mythic ‘package’ supposedly sold in advance to tourists might, therefore, be undone by this more variable, dialogic relationship to its representations and mediated ‘script’, for as Clifford argues, it is  ‘a hooking-up and unhooking, remembering and forgetting, gathering and excluding of cultural elements – processes crucial to the maintenance of an “identity” – [that] must be seen as both materially constrained and inventive’ (Clifford in Gilroy et al 2000:97).  Out of this ‘uncomfortable site’ of constraint and invention the new post-tourist might ‘begin’ to chart a different identity through its ambivalent experiences of America’s mediascape (ibid.).

Redefining the post-tourist

The term post-tourist was coined by Maxine Feifer responding to a street at Mont St Michel in Normandy full of ‘creperies, Coca Cola stands, and tourist boutiques selling gimcrack souvenirs’ where the tourist had ‘come all this way to see something venerable, beautiful, and above all different [… to find only] an atmosphere of other tourists: the modern plight’ (Feifer 1985:2).  The post-tourist has learned to live with and enjoy this ‘modern plight’ as part of the tourist repertoire within a highly mediated environment: ‘Via the mass media, one knows a little bit about a lot of things’ (ibid.:260).  Standing by the Eiffel Tower she recalls and quotes Barthes’ famous essay and his idea that what one ‘sees’ is ‘the most general human image-repertoire … confronting the great itineraries of our dreams’ triggered in advance by its media saturation and iconic presence into which one is inserted as tourist identity.  Feifer’s experience radiates outwards from Barthes with ‘wry hyper-self-awareness’, to include buying souvenirs, tourist chatter, and generally revelling in the ‘touristy’ ‘simulated environment’ rather than evading or denying it, recognising that the mediated experience is indeed part and parcel of the nature of tourism (Feifer 1985:267,269). She adds that ‘As the McLuhanesque global village of communications media gets bigger and more elaborate, the passive functions of tourism (i.e. seeing) can be performed right at home, with video, books, records, TV’ (ibid.:269).  Looking beyond Urry’s influential notion of the ‘tourist gaze’ (1990) as the determining element of tourism, she calculates the effects of the ‘overabundance of  [media] events’ on the totality of the tourist experience (Augé 1995:30).  The ‘playful’ post-tourist in situ ‘traverses a landscape’ noting its ‘geometric complexities … jazzlike discordances …[and] variety of aesthetic contexts’ with the ‘humorous eye for “kitsch” as well’, enjoying ‘the connective tissue between “attractions” as much as the vaunted attractions themselves’ (Feifer 1985:270 – my emphasis), but in addition calls upon a vast range of ‘other’ media generated ‘landscapes’ of sensation, knowledge and imagination that, in the words of Arjun Appadurai, ‘transform the field of mass mediation because they offer new resources and new disciplines for the construction of imagined selves and imagined worlds’ (Appadurai 1996:3).  This is at the heart of reconstituted post-tourism blending the actual and the virtual as components of the twenty-first century leisure event into ‘a constitutive feature of modern subjectivity’ (ibid.).

For Feifer’s post-tourist is creative rather than passive in receipt of the defined and pre-packaged experience cast out from the ‘nets of the media’ (Certeau 1988:165), knowing ‘that he is a tourist: not a time traveller when he goes somewhere historic; not an instant noble savage when he stays on a tropical beach; not an invisible observer when he visits a native compound’ and is, therefore, able to ‘embrace’ and critique it as part of the process (Feifer 1985:271).  In the eighteen years since Feifer’s book there has been a media proliferation perpetuating and accelerating opportunities for the types of post-tourist experiences she was beginning to chart, in particular the growth of digital satellite technologies and the Internet, capable, as Augé writes, of conveying ‘an instant, sometimes simultaneous vision of an event taking place on the other side of the planet’ (Augé 1992:31).  These mediated spaces enter lives with rapidity, compressed in time, ‘as a substitute [or supplement] for the universes which ethnology has traditionally made its own’ (ibid.:32).  So just as ethnology is redefined in the light of these changes, so is tourism, accommodating the overabundance of mediated experience and knowledge and actively selecting a tailor-made ‘package’.  Operating within a version of Augé’s ‘non-place’, both everywhere and nowhere, the post-tourist combines the imagined (a dream of America, media representations, screen cultures), the ‘real’ (actual travel, guides and themed experiences) and the virtual (myths, media, Internet) into a ‘package’, a collage-like America of over-lapping and disjunctive elements that together construct their tourist experience.  The post-tourist’s playfulness is creative, translating identities between place and non-place ‘like palimpsests on which the scrambled game of identity and relations is ceaselessly rewritten’ (ibid.:79). The post-tourist is no simple detached ‘reader’ of the pre-scripted tourist text, but an active ‘writer-reader-practitioner’ using the skills of everyday life such as multi-tasking, rapid interchanges and shifting between media forms and communication flows to assemble, produce and consume virtual ‘Americas’ that together form a multi-layered collage cutting up and rearranging any given ‘scriptural economy’.  To borrow from Appadurai, this tourist-media intersection provides ‘resources for self-imagining as an everyday social project’ choosing and moving across and between various texts inventing America as ‘a mass-mediated imaginary that frequently transcends national space’ (Appadurai 1996:4, 6).

The potential of such mediated tourism, is partially defined by Michel de Certeau: ‘Without leaving the place where he has no choice but to live and which lays down its law for him, he establishes within it a degree of plurality and creativity.  By an art of being in between, he draws unexpected results from his situation’ (Certeau 1988:30 – my emphasis).  When de Certeau lists the media saturation of the modern world and asks ‘What do they do with it?’ he directs us back to our central question too – what do we do with all these American images?  Following de Certeau, the new post-tourist is no Americanised, passive being, but mixes and matches from the mediascape forming their own virtual America, part mythic cliché, part surprising and hybrid invention, part narrative debris (ibid.:107). Gathering up these mediated fragments of place and identity, a new ‘collage’ is created that denies the oft-made assumption that the tourist-as-consumer is a ‘sheep progressively immobilized and “handled” as a result of the growing mobility of the media as they conquer space. The consumers settle down, the media keep on the move’ (ibid.:165).  In fact, the post-tourist ‘keeps moving’ but differently, crossing boundaries, shifting between experiences without necessarily having to travel in any conventional manner.  The ‘Americanised’ tourist, ‘grazing on the ration of simulacra the system distributes’ (ibid.:166) perpetuated in texts from Eco and Baudrillard to Ritzer and encapsulated in the concept of McDisneyization (see Rojek and Urry 1997), is a reductionist vision that defines the consumer as a ‘receptacle’ ‘similar to what it receives … passive, “informed”, processed, marked, and [… with] no historical role’, when in reality they can be more inventive, ‘travel[ling] through … texts’ with ‘detours, drifts … produc[ing] by the travelling eye, imaginary or meditative flights’ (Certeau 1988:167,170).  In the twenty-first century one must extend de Certeau’s ‘reading’ to global media texts that amplify this ‘travelling’ through which one constructs ‘another world’, since in the mediascapes that structure tourism ‘readers are travellers; they move across lands belonging to someone else, like nomads poaching their way across fields they did not write … his place is not here or there, one or the other, but neither one nor the other, simultaneously inside and outside, dissolving both by mixing them together …’ (ibid.:174).

The ‘nomadic’ post-tourist dwells and travels, moving and ‘poaching’ between the arrays of experiences that constitute ‘America’ actively constructing a hybrid sense of place and identity in the process. Rojek develops these ideas by emphasising the media’s role in the post-tourist experience, adopting terminology drawn from personal computing and digital technology (Rojek and Urry 1997).  He writes of the ‘index of representations’ – visual, textual and symbolic – from which the post-tourist might draw to construct their own desired landscape (Rojek and Urry 1997:53).  The archive with its ‘files’, are however, always more than visual and involve the post-tourist in a creative process of ‘dragging’ (as on an active desktop) as ‘files’ are moved, combined, selected, deleted, in various acts of ‘interpenetration of factual and fictional elements to support tourist orientations’ (ibid.); an elaborate ‘copy’, ‘cut’ and ‘paste’ across the mediated spaces of the contemporary world. Rojek draws upon the American example I used earlier to make his point, showing how Dallas could be ‘indexed’ and ‘dragged’ from diverse narratives and fragments such as the Kennedy assassination and the Ewing family in the TV show ‘Dallas’.  To similarly access ‘America’ today would involve an even wider range of ‘files’ to draw upon, since although the post-tourist engages in ‘fantasy-work, reverie or mind-voyaging’ (ibid.:63), it is no longer tangential, but central to the event, with indexing and dragging no longer ‘an unavoidable accessory to the sight’, but an increasingly vital component part.  From the media flows this ‘collage tourism’ of the close-at-hand ‘replaces [even] the necessity physically to visit the site’ (ibid.:63) and presents, at its most positive level, a hybrid engagement between cultures and texts that has parallels with Clifford’s ‘ethnographic surrealism’ with its capacity to ‘mock and remix’, invent and interrupt dominant cultural assumptions (Clifford 1988).  The post-tourist, moving between cultures, suggests the potential for a new hybridised identity, resistant and creative, assembling its own America rather than accepting any unquestioned version from within. 

John Urry recognised that ‘People are tourists most of the time whether they are literally mobile or only experience simulated mobility through the incredible fluidity of multiple signs and electronic images’, and has developed this idea further in the concept of ‘mobilities’ ‘at the heart of a reconstituted sociology’ (Urry 1995:148; 2000:210).  Accepting the multiple nature of tourism in the digital age, concepts such as ‘imaginative mobilities’ and ‘virtual travel’ form part of this expanded vision in which ‘It becomes possible to sense the other, almost to dwell with the other, without physically moving either oneself or … physical objects’ (ibid.:66, 70). Deploying the ideas of Gilroy and Clifford, for whom culture is about mixing routes and roots, Urry stresses the ‘complex relationships between belongingness and travelling, within and beyond the boundaries of national societies.  [Where] People can indeed be said to dwell in various mobilities…’ (ibid.:157).  A redefined post-tourism is equally ‘mobile’ in this sense, moving in the circuits of mediation both dwelling and travelling amidst the ‘intercultural import-export’ of everyday life, sifting and selecting experiences, producing mobilities and reinventing identities (Clifford 1997:23; see Cresswell 2001).  Indeed, Sky television’s slogan ‘Stay in and go somewhere different’ might inadvertently signify this new tourist sensibility derived from an inventive use of these media possibilities.

Virilio’s Post-tourist Inertia

For some however, such fluid ideas of dwelling and travelling within the media appear less optimistic, leading to claims of overt Americanisation, passivity or, as in Paul Virilio’s work, to a world being ‘shrink-wrapped by global media’ as it ‘substitutes’ actual experience with the virtual, consequently diminishing the human in the accelerated saturation of new global ‘vision machines’ that ‘overexpose’ and synthesise physicality (McQuire in Armitage 2000:146). As he puts it, the global media is creating its ‘final resting-place … shrinking before our eyes to a blind cockpit for the dreams of a population of sleepwalkers’ (Virilio 2000:31). This is an age characterised, according to Virilio, by ‘a monotheism of information’ bombarding the senses and distracting the individual from previously accepted notions of travel experience (in Armitage 2000:13).  Substituting for these experiences are the multiple ‘screens’ of the global media networks projecting into the individual’s home until ‘everything is on the spot, everything is played out in the privileged instant of an act, the immeasurable instant that replaces extension and protracted periods of time’ making that individual a ‘tele-actor’ detached from ‘physical travel’ taking on ‘another body, an optical body’ that will ‘go forward without moving, see without eyes, touch with other hands than his own, to be over there without really being there, a stranger to himself, a deserter from his own body, an exile for evermore’ (Virilio 2000:17, 85). 

The experience of tourism involving motion across the earth is altered fundamentally by this ‘telluric contraction’ since the media now replaces and reconstructs ‘the very nature of our travels’ making it ‘travelling on the spot, with an inertia that is to the passing landscape what the “freeze-frame” is to the film’ (ibid.:18).  Virilio’s virtual or cyber travel transmits electronic mediascapes through ‘vision machines’ into the everyday spaces of the home creating ‘the static audiovisual vehicle, a substitute for bodily movement and an extension of domestic inertia which will mark the definitive triumph of sedentariness’ (ibid.).  With no capacity for human choice, interaction, empowerment or pleasure, these new digital media epitomise ‘a sort of Foucauldian imprisonment … [in which] the world is reduced to nothing … [and so] it is no longer necessary to go towards the world, to journey … Everything is already there’ (Virilio in Armitage 2000:40).  For Virilio the port of entry and departure of classical tourism has been translated into the ‘teleport’ in the heart of the inert home creating tourism without travel as a substitute for real life and meaningful interaction: ‘Now everything arrives without any need to depart …[through] the general arrival of images and sounds in the static vehicle of the audiovisual. Polar inertia is setting in’ (Virilio 2000:20-1 -italics in original).

Virilio relates this process of ‘substitution’ to the ‘Americanised’ theme park; a denudation of experience, a space of inaction, media detachment, and the epitome of cultural loss:

The leisure park is on the point of becoming a stage for pure optical illusions, a generalization of the non-place of simulation with its fictitious journeys offering everyone electronic hallucination or intoxication – a ‘loss of sight’ replacing the nineteenth–century loss of physical activity (Virilio 2000:19).

Virilio’s nightmare world of loss can be countered by defining the traveller-as-agent, following de Certeau, inventing and producing tourist ‘texts’ as a ‘collage’, working with and through the mediated landscapes either as virtual in themselves, or in relationship with the actual, physical acts of travel in a process of supplementation not of substitution. To use our example of apprehending America, Virilio might interpret this as a manifestation of negative global substitution as people absorb the second-hand representations, myths and narratives through screen technologies of sameness, converting different spaces and cultures into a hideously monologic ‘world city’, a ‘geostrategic homogenisation of the globe’ (McQuire in Armitage 2000:147).  Virilio’s tendency is to essentialise an authentic, earlier sense of identity being eroded by the forces of hypermodernity in similar ways to the notion of the ideal ‘classical’ tourist or traveller, with a fixed agenda of motives and principles.  However, as we have seen, one can view this differently, with the media contributing to a hybrid post-tourism that ‘indexes’ and ‘drags’, selects and rejects America, as part of a complex gathering-up process that constructs a rather more fluid, non-essentialized and mobile identity. 


Themed Environments and the Grand Canyon

To demonstrate this post-tourism I will examine two examples of the generalised projection of ‘America’, through themed environments such as malls and restaurants and as iconic sites, like the Grand Canyon.  Both can be visited and experienced as ‘American’ in multiple ways as we ‘index’ and ‘drag’ their representations and actuality into our own personal vision.  Theming is pervasive, occupying spaces beyond the real and actual, existing through the media circulating images and experiences of America; in the U.K. as 1950s retro culture in the ‘OK Diner’ chain of Streamliner-styled aluminium restaurants with sporting memorabilia themes, or as the mythic Wild West at The American Adventure theme park with its simulated saloon, dancing girls and shoot-outs juxtaposed with the Alamo and Native American remnants, or in any trip to the shopping mall (Gottdiener 2001).  Many critics view these themed experiences as hollow spectacles showing all the attributes of a McDonaldization or McDisneyization of tourism (see Ritzer and Liska in Rojek and Urry 1997; Eco 1986; Baudrillard 1983; Virilio 2000).  Eco, for example, views Disneyland as ‘a disguised supermarket, where you buy obsessively’ and for Baudrillard it is ‘there to conceal the fact that it is the “real” country, all of “real” America, which is Disneyland’ (Eco 1986:43-6; Baudrillard in Storey 1993:164). Thus in visiting British shopping malls, like the Trafford Centre, Meadowhall, or Bluewater, we enter ‘a stunning new world of experience’ like a theme park, taking us to New Orleans or New York City through its themed restaurants and attractions, ‘the choice is ours’ (Trafford Centre brochure), learning to be post-tourists dipping in and out of a new psycho-geography of American fragments. As David Harvey puts it, summarising many of these criticisms of themed mall cultures, this is a ‘time-space compression’ wherein, just as ‘all the divergent spaces of the world are assembled nightly as a collage of images upon the television screen’ so theme parks allow us ‘to experience the world’s geography vicariously, as a simulacrum’ whilst ‘conceal[ing] almost perfectly any trace of origin, of the labour processes that produced them, or of the social relations implicated in their production’ (Harvey1990:300).  Alternatively, these experiences become part of a creative repertoire the individual draws upon, often reflexively and critically so that the ‘collage’ is not inevitably, as Harvey suggests, reductionist.

After all, we know it is not ‘real’ America, since we have not crossed the Atlantic, and yet we still sample the iconic, mythic ‘themes’ that holiday brochures and television programmes articulate.  For example, having shopped in The Gap, eaten at McDonalds and walked through a simulated New Orleans, we could buy an American magazine or novel or DVD, or read a USA holiday brochure whose opening double-page has images of happy Hawaiians, the Statue of Liberty, a cowboy and the words ‘Big, Bold and Larger than Life … Imagine the soaring skyscrapers of Manhattan, the glittering lights of Las Vegas, glamorous Hollywood legends and the cowboy country of the West.  Think of the great outdoors: awesome Niagara Falls, the majestic Grand Canyon …’ (Funway 2003-2004).  The mediated, iconic ‘themes’ are here once again and we are required to ‘imagine’ them before (or as well as) actually experiencing them, drawing them out from our already-formed sense of America and reassembling them as a new collage – ‘a vast melting-pot of creeds, colours and traditions’, where, as with the shopping mall, ‘the choice is yours’ (ibid.).

As we assemble our particular ‘America’ of themes, icons, micro-narratives, instant histories and mediated images we consume and produce as post-tourists, as de Certeau argued, willingly indulging in the McDisneyization of leisure fused with the realities of everyday existence.  Some would argue, like Ritzer and Liska, that such a process of predictable, efficient, calculable and controlled experience – the defining elements of a McDonaldized society – have thus entered tourism and the media, with the inevitable outcome that ‘real’, authentic travel has disappeared and been substituted with ‘virtual travel’: ‘some people will find that it is far more efficient to “visit” Thailand [or America] in the comfort of their living rooms [or themed environments] than actually to journey there’ (in Rojek and Urry 1997:101; Virilio 2000).  These negative visions of endless, passive consumption cohere in the vision of a ‘McWorld’ of malls, multiplexes, theme parks, fast-food chains and television forming a huge enterprise transforming and denuding humanity. A different approach asserts active choice, ‘sampling’ and ‘collage tourism’ within this process of consuming places and experiences whereby the McWorld’s inauthenticity and commodification is acknowledged and ‘used’ pleasurably in the construction of a post-tourist America as a series of critical dialogues with America, rather than the passive recipient of a pre-formed monologue.

These complex dialogic relations to themed and mediated tourism can be translated into responses to a single, iconic American experience like the Grand Canyon, for example. Gottdiener recognises that many of the same impulses to theming have spilled over into the organisation of nature at places like the Grand Canyon – the so-called ‘seventh wonder of the world’- where ‘regulators … designers and engineers have worked over natural wonders … to heighten the theme of mother nature in an idealized sense’ (Gottdiener 2001:3).  But even before one arrives there, assuming one is going at all, the Grand Canyon ‘travels’ into the post-tourist consciousness via its intense media presence.  Recently, for example, a BBC viewers’ poll invited people to vote for the best place to visit ‘before you die’ and first choice was the Grand Canyon followed by Las Vegas and New York in the top ten places (www.bbc.co.uk/50/destinations/america).  Although clearly a popular ‘real’ tourist destination, America also exists as ‘imagined’ spaces recalled from a cultural image-archive rich in specific mythic traditions about America as ‘free’, ‘open’, adventurous and vibrant.  In these tourist experiences the ‘America’ discovered is, as the brochure stated earlier, ‘larger than life’, somehow more real than reality, a spectacular theme-park capable of taking us out of ourselves. The BBC website carries comments that emphasise the Grand Canyon’s vastness and its exoticism: ‘The Paiute Indians call it Kaibab … “Mountain Lying Down” …’ whilst endorsing it with celebrity tributes from Eamonn Holmes to Jilly Goolden, and the authority of  the Condé Nast Traveller. In turn the BBC website links to many others about the Grand Canyon; in fact a simple Google search produced well over a million websites that draw one into the ultimate post-tourism journey. Without moving further than a computer screen we engage with both ‘official’ and private sites on river running, air trips, hiking trails, wild life, environmental groups, Teen Summer Camps, gift shops, photo-galleries, individual travelogues from all over the world, and can even sit and watch the ‘live’ webcam of the actual Grand Canyon as it shifts and changes throughout the day and night.  In ‘indexing’ and ‘dragging’ through this wealth of material a mediated Grand Canyon assembles following the ‘quick links’, cutting in and out of the ‘frequently asked questions’, the web cam, ‘facts/docs’, maps and news releases until one, ironically, fulfils, without moving, the National Park Service’s slogan – ‘Experience Your America’.

Away from the computer screen, other media add to this rapidly forming post-tourist archive, such as Lawrence Kasdan’s film ‘Grand Canyon’ (1992) in which the actual place functions both as an image of social distance and a reassuring metaphor of ‘otherness’ for the lives of people in Los Angeles trapped in a world of crime, consumption and crises: ‘there’s a gulf in this country, an ever-widening abyss between the people who have stuff and the people who don’t have shit, like this big hole has opened up, as big as the Grand Canyon’.  At the end of the film the diverse characters take a trip to the actual place, reflecting as they gaze upon the canyon,  ‘I think … it’s not all bad’, suggesting the mythic landscape’s transcendental qualities to erase difference and to assert an ahistorical, harmonising presence that one also discovers in Carl Sandburg’s Prologue to the 1955 photography exhibition ‘The Family of Man’, describing it as ‘A camera testament, a drama of the grand canyon of humanity, an epic woven of fun, mystery and holiness – here is the Family of Man!’ (Steichen 2000:5 – my emphases).  Alternatively one might view the ‘Reader’s Digest Grand Canyon’ (1988) inviting us to ‘experience [its] awesome beauty and magnificent drama … the splendour … and magic …in the comfort of [our] … own home… in living colour … with specially scored stereo music … and enlightening narration … [to] Achieve the feeling of actually being there!’ (my emphases).  Wherever we go to discover the Grand Canyon, as part of a virtual America, we are confronted by its real and imagined presence, its pervasive mediascape, from which we negotiate and produce mobile meanings that interfere with and destabilise old, mythic, idealised visions as we confront, analyse and rearrange these elements into new patterns and juxtapositions. Post-tourism, as it ‘indexes’ and ‘drags’, is less about defining separate cultures such as a monolithic, dominant America, or in asserting fixed and stable identities, but is engaged, to borrow from Clifford, in producing ‘conjunctures … complex mediations of old and new, of local and global’ accommodating the ‘shifting mix of political relations’ where nations and identities meet, intersect and hybridise (Clifford in Gilroy et al. 2000: 98, 102).


‘Every story is a travel story’ (Certeau 1988:115)

This chapter has examined relations between Americanisation, media and tourism, but resisted seeing cultural imperialism as uni-directional because, as Raymond Williams has written,

The making of a society is the finding of common meanings and directions, and its growth is an active debate and amendment under the pressures of experience, contact, and discovery, writing themselves into the land.  The growing society is there, yet it is also made and remade in every individual mind (in Highmore 2002:93 – my emphasis)

America is indeed ‘made’ within the ‘active debate and amendment’ of our everyday lives, yet it does not automatically control identities or replace exclusively all that has existed before it arrived.  The actual, material landscape reminds us of this fact as we move between Americanised shopping malls and traditional market-places, visit theme-parks and museums, as the mixtures and ‘impurities’ around us testify to the cultural, spatial conjunctures that reflect the formations of identity constituted within this climate of addition, juxtaposition, supplementation and hybridity.  Unlike Virilio’s pessimistic vision of travel turned by the media into ‘polar inertia’, Homi Bhabha’s sense of cultural identity as complex, hybrid and contested is less reductive: 

What is at issue is the performative nature of differential identities: the regulation and negotiation of those spaces that are continually, contingently, ‘opening out’, remaking the boundaries, exposing the limits of any claim to a singular or autonomous sign of difference … where difference is neither One nor the Other but something else besides, in-between  … a form of the ‘future’ where the past is not originary, where the present is not simply transitory.  (Bhabha 1994:219).

This ‘in-between’ is, as we have seen, the condition of the post-tourist, and as Bhabha explains, is a productive rather than a reductive experience, actively ‘performative, deformative’, translating ‘America’ here through mediated and actual tourism, re-thinking assumptions and expectations in a process of combination not substitution and of ‘opening out’ rather than of ‘closing down’ (Bhabha 1994:241,227).  Rejecting any monolithic vision of America, the post-tourist plunges into a productive experience of time-space, sharing much with Edward Soja’s perception of non-linearity:


We can no longer depend on a story-line unfolding sequentially, an ever-accumulating history marching straight forward … for too much is happening against the grain of time, too much is continually traversing the story-line laterally … Simultaneities intervene, extending our point of view outward in an infinite number of lines connecting the subject to a whole world of comparable instances, complicating the temporal flow of meaning (Soja 1989:23 – my emphasis).

The ‘traversing’ post-tourist enters a phase of what Edward Said calls ‘overlapping territories, intertwined histories’ where relations between Europe and America are no longer seen as one-way or essentialized, but rather as collaborative, negotiated ‘contrapuntal ensembles’ stressing ‘a more urgent sense of the interdependence between things’ (Said 1993: 1, 60, 72). These transnational ‘connections’ emphasise dialogue and interdependence paralleling the reconsiderations of tourism and travel in a global ‘post-cultural imperialist’ media age where

No one today is purely one thing.  Labels like Indian, or woman, or Muslim, or American are no more than starting-points … Imperialism consolidated the mixture of cultures and identities on a global scale.  But its worst and most paradoxical gift was to allow people to believe that they were only, mainly, exclusively, white, or black, or Western, or Oriental.  Yet just as human beings make their own history, they also make their own cultures and ethnic identities … there seems no reason except fear and prejudice to keep insisting on their separation and distinctiveness, as if that was all human life was about.  Survival in fact is about the connections between things …  (ibid.:407-8 – my emphases).

To borrow an idea from Rajchman in his discussion of the relations between the actual and virtual, I would conclude by suggesting that these concepts of tourism, media and identity are like constructing of a new type of house ‘that holds together the most, and most complicated, “different possible worlds” in the same container, allowing them to exist together along a constructed plane with no need of a preestablished harmony’ (Rajchman 1998:117). In post-tourism’s construction of a virtualised America there is no simple reproduction of a given mythology or pre-packaged national narrative that engulfs ‘real space’ or subsumes identity and Americanises them both, but instead an alternative emphasis upon a

virtual construction […] that frees forms, figures, and activities from a prior determination or grounding …allowing them to function or operate in other unanticipated ways; the virtuality of a space is what gives such freedom in form or movement.  Thus virtual construction departs from organizations that try to set out all possibilities in advance.  It constructs a space whose rules can themselves be altered through what happens in it (ibid.:119). 

Therefore, in post-tourism’s virtual America there is a powerful sense of potential instead of loss, an assertion of new identities rather than a yearning for lost essences and of being ‘always more than this actual world, and not limited by its already present forms’ (Colebrook 2002:96).  As Giles argues, this process states a vital critical position, for the ‘redescription of American culture as a virtual construction would seek to position itself on … [geographical and intellectual] boundaries and, by looking both ways, to render the mythological circumference of the nation translucent’ (Giles 2002:14 – my emphasis).  Thus the post-tourist has much in common with other diasporic or nomadic groups in the twenty-first century whose inventive mobilities move them in-between worlds unsettling the assumptions of one culture from the perspective of another, providing new ways to imagine identity and nation, ways that might, ultimately challenge us all to see beyond monolithic, mythic conceptions of closed cultures to something more mutable, itinerant and contested.

Works cited

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Bhabha, Homi (1994) The Location of Culture.  London: Routledge.

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Clifford, James  (2000) ‘Taking Identity Politics Seriosuly: ‘The Contradictory Stony Ground’, in Gilroy, Grossberg and McRobbie (as below), pp.94-112.

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Price, Jennifer (1999) Flight Maps: Adventures With Nature in Modern America.  New York: Basic Books.

Rajchman, John  (1998) Constructions. Cambridge: The MIT Press.

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Neil Campbell, 2003 draft of chapter published in Crouch, Jackson & Thompson (eds.) The Media and the Tourist Imagination (2005, Routledge)



Cultural poesis, critical regionalism and suburbia © Neil Campbell

Cultural poesis, critical regionalism and suburbia © Neil Campbell

American anthropologist Kathleen Stewart describes her practice as “cultural poesis”, a phrase that may have some use as a preface to what follows in this conclusion. She defines it as: “an experiment that writes from the intensities in things. It asks what potential modes of knowing, relating or attending to things are already being lived in ordinary rhythms, labors, and the sensory materiality of forms, of attunement to worlds.” (Stewart webpage: n.p.) We need to notice, feel, acknowledge, and value all that is around us and that we already experience but often forget or disregard or diminish. The grand sweep of landscape from which myths of nation, region and self have so often been formed do not tell the whole story or even a fraction of it. It is through the “intensities in things” close at hand that we might become more “attuned” to the world all around us, connecting the local to the global not through abstraction and distance, but rather through inter-relation and specificity. For Stewart this necessitates an attention to the ordinary: “things that are necessarily shifting, opportunistic, polymorphous, indiscriminate, aggressive, dreamy, unsteady, practical, unfinished, and radically particular”. (Stewart 2005: 1028) In order to record such flighty, generative things she recommends new forms of writing, “as if the writing were itself a form of life” – responsive, affective, mobile and poetic: It follows leads, sidesteps, and delays, and it piles things up, creating layers on layers, in an effort to drag things into view, to follow trajectories in motion, and to scope out the shape and shadows and traces of assemblages that solidify and grow entrenched, perhaps doing real damage or holding real hope, and then dissipate, morph, rot, or give way to something new. (ibid.) As we will develop below, perhaps this attention to what Stewart calls “Ordinary Affects”, is emerging across different fields of land and identity studies, ranging from new travel literatures, ficto-criticism, new ethnography, radical cultural geographies, and psychogeography. These human interactions with land might be re-thought and re-felt as a “patterning of desire and routine”, as “orchestrations and intensities … as much characterised by confusion as clarity” since, as Highmore argues, “the ordinary con-fuses thought and feeling as ideas and sensation, remembrances and hope, and myriad somatic perceptions”. (Highmore 2011: 2) As we have seen throughout this collection, these are the very spaces that writing occupies, traverses, and folds. D.J. Waldie is a writer Stewart admires and refers to directly as “surreally realist” in his approach to the suburban landscapes of Lakewood, California. (Stewart 2007: 7) It is with his work that this section begins. Speculation 1: D.J. Waldie’s Affective Suburban Landscape The city and my body supplement and define each other. I dwell in the city and the city dwells in me. (Pallasmaa 2005: 40) Laura U. Marks writes disparagingly in The Skin of the Film (2000) of “the sensuous nonplace of a North American suburb” dominated by the “commodification and genericization of sense experience” where the world has become increasingly optical and symbolic, dominated by the “abstraction and symbolization of all sense modalities”. (Marks 2000: 244) Such generic bland landscapes, she claims, can only be countered by “pools of local sensuous experience” created by the people who actually live there, achieved through “practices like cooking, music, and religious ritual”, around which are “created new, small sensuous geographies whose monuments are grocery stores, places of worship, coffee and tea shops, and kitchens” as well as through “their very bodies, in the organization of their sensoria”. (ibid.: 245) Suddenly, Marks’ judgmental and generalist attack on suburbia is modified by a different perspective, at once more complex and multiple than the initial one; a haptic and affective landscape of the everyday explored and enhanced by the likes of D.J. Waldie for whom suburbia is his flawed home, yet always a rich and varied space of becoming. Waldie challenges representations of suburbia as a type of region unworthy of serious, close attention, proving that regionalist study can be critical too, interrogating the local and proximate precisely in order to demonstrate its universality, its connectedness and its differences with the wider world. As Lucy Lippard puts it, “Good regional art has both roots and reach”. (Lippard 1997: 37) In this sense, and following from Stewart’s ideas, Waldie’s Holy Land is both rooted in a deep, intense “ordinariness” of Lakewood whilst never losing sight of the relatedness of suburbia to the ‘reach’ of national and global forces. (Stewart 2007: 7) Waldie, who, until 2010, worked as a public official for the Lakewood authority, claims suburbia is a “landscape people rarely notice” and his writing presents a mosaic of episodes made up of memoirs, gathered stories, observations and other fragments that demonstrate precisely why it is worth noticing and how its multiple narratives, when looked at from the ground up, enmesh us into not just local, but national and international histories (Waldie 1996: 154). To this end, I would argue, Waldie stands at the forefront of an expanded or reframed critical regionalism that builds upon a definition provided by Douglas Reichert Powell who sees it as a “strategy for cultural critique” that links individual moments of cultural struggle to larger patterns of history, politics, and culture, by understanding how they are linked not only in time and in the nebulous networks of discourse, but also in space, through relationships of power that can be material and cultural. (Powell 2007: 20-21) Critical Regionalism originates in architectural theory to describe the relationship between the universal and the local in architectural styles. It asserts the need to be critical of the local and regional to avoid a tendency toward naïve inwardness and nostalgia, whilst at the same time, being critical of an overly prescriptive “universalism” that sweeps away the significant contributions of the local and the regional in favour of standardization. It emerged in 1980 with an unpublished piece by University of Texas architecture scholar Anthony Alofsin, “Constructive Regionalism”, in which he identifies an understanding of regionalism through the work of Lewis Mumford in his admiration for architect H.H. Richardson and later the San Francisco Bay Region School. Key to Alofsin’s article is his idea that out of Mumford’s concern for balance and reconciliation between the local and universal styles might emerge “both criteria for criticism as well as a direction for the production of architecture, in essence a constructive regionalism” (Alofsin in Canizaro 2007: 372): “It would embrace traditions and transform tradition; it would be wed to its setting … it would foster craft and push the limits of technology; it would speak to the individual search for the universal”. (ibid.: 372) Wrestling with its paradoxes, Alofsin saw “human use”, “local life”, and the “bonding of people” as intrinsic to this constructive, critical regionalism, whilst refuting “imposition of style or visual hegemony” and “cultural hedonism”. (ibid.: 373, 372) This idea, like the term Critical Regionalism itself, is borrowed from Lefaivre and Tzonis who coined it in 1981 and traced it first in the works of Lewis Mumford and John Brinckerhoff Jackson. (Lefaivre and Tzonis 1981) It was, however, Kenneth Frampton’s influential essay “Towards a Critical Regionalism” that gave a wider audience to these debates, noting the fundamental, and often productive, tension between “universalization” (closely allied to what we might now term globalization) and the “local / regional” (often viewed as limited, inward, provincial). As noted above, since regionalism is often seen as naïve localism as opposed to a more fluid and postmodern cosmopolitanism, Critical Regionalism attempts a negotiation between these two poles to avoid the excesses or limitations of each. Lefaivre and Tzonis write of the need for critical self-consciousness to avoid reviving any form of nostalgic vernacular with its echoes of compensatory idealism, and instead echo Frampton’s call for a “double mediation” – “to ‘deconstruct’ the overall spectrum of world culture which it inevitably inherits” and “to achieve through synthetic contradiction, a manifest critique of universal civilization.” (Lefaivre and Tzonis 2003; Frampton in Foster 1983: 20, 21, 22, 23, 25). Frampton desires “the dialectical interplay between [universal] civilization and [local] culture” and asserts that this might happen through “double mediation” and “interaction” whereby modern, universalization is constantly interrupted and unsettled by what he usefully terms “a revealed conjunction between” (Frampton ibid.:17, 21, 22 – emphasis added). The “conjunctural” denies the assertion of hierarchical order, of the dominant, universal form over the regional, and instead finds effective ways to “mediate” between and across forms. This conjunctural process Frampton calls “in-laying” or “layering” whereby the site “has many levels of significance … the prehistory of the place, its archaeological past and its subsequent cultivation and transformation across time,” displaying all the “idiosyncrasies of place … without falling into sentimentality” (ibid.: 21, 26). In these points, Frampton presents a radical vision of “critical regional” space as complex, layered, and multiple, a palimpsest comprising past, present and future that opposes any effort to reduce or limit its capacity through narrow definition or “rootedness.” As I will suggest briefly here, D.J. Waldie’s approach to the suburban landscape of Lakewood, California has just such a layered, “conjunctural” emphasis, interested in the past and the community dreams of post-war culture, without becoming nostalgic or reductive in his attitude to its continuation and evolution as urban space. As Waldie constructs this critical region on the page nothing simply snaps into place “to support a well-known picture of the world” (Stewart 2005: 1027), for he tests us, surprises us, shifts his tone and style as if to imitate the variant, mutable world he describes. It is never a represented world, but an emergent, immanent, and poetic one – characterised by what Stewart calls the “jump or surge of affect” seeing the “affective as a state of potential, intensity, and vitality”. (ibid.: 1027-8) Indeed, as the opening of Waldie’s Holy Land suggests, his intention was to present a more human, affective relationship to the soulless appearance and reputation of the grid: “That evening he thought he was becoming his habits, or – even more – he thought he was becoming the grid he knew” (Waldie 1996: 1). The author, here referred to as “he,” absorbs the grid into himself, just as the book itself metaphorically embodies the shape of the grid with its 316 sections (some long, some short, some poetic, some mundane) intersecting and juxtaposing across its pages; fragments and layers that together, like the lives within the gridded streets he investigates, create a story to challenge the normative mythology with its “necessary illusion [of] predictability” (ibid.: 2). As he writes, “The grid limited our choices, exactly as urban planners said it would. But the limits weren’t paralyzing” (ibid.: 116). One might learn to live within such apparent restrictions, structure a whole life within and through such maligned patterns. Echoing the new forms of writing Stewart wrote of earlier, Waldie’s suburban palimpsest demands a different type of text; photographic, prosaic, and poetic, its many layers of form and content present, investigate and circulate around the structures of deep feeling, “active relations”, and histories that delineate his Lakewood. (Williams 1965: 62, 64) To capture these patterns Holy Land shifts self-reflexively from third to first person, interweaving historical and affective elements across the landscape Waldie knows so well. “What more can you expect of me than the stories I am now telling?” he writes, and it is through these stories that he unravels a critical regionalist methodology (Waldie 1996: 13); an approach that echoes that of Michel Foucault’s notion of genealogy: “the union of erudite knowledge and local memories” (Foucault 1980: 3). Waldie has lived in Lakewood all his life, occupying the same house his parents bought in the 1940s and, with failing eyesight due to glaucoma and keratoconus, he walks its streets like a flâneur noting its details and quirks, its lines of demarcation and celebration, hearing the voices of the dead and the living echoing through what Foucault terms its “insurrection of knowledges” (ibid.: 84). Holy Land juxtaposes psychogeographic tales of land and identity, cross-cutting, like the suburban grid it examines, between historical figures and Waldie’s neighbours, childhood memories and religious rituals, his real father, the city Fathers, and the Holy Father. Thus Waldie moves seamlessly between stories of Mr H and the fallout shelter built under his garage or Mrs R’s dead baby baptized by Waldie’s mother in the street, to the implications of geological shifts and water politics in LA, to the racial restrictions on home ownership in the post-war USA. To some extent Waldie’s approach mixes Will Self’s description of the ideal psychogeographer, as a “local historian with an attitude problem” (Self 2007: 12) with Michel De Certeau’s sense of historians as “prowlers”. For he works the suburban “zones of silence” (De Certeau 1988: 79), constructing a version of place akin to De Certeau’s – “composed by a series of displacements and effects among the fragmented strata that form it and that it plays on these moving layers”; a space of memories, “haunted by many different spirits hidden there in silence … [since] Haunted places are the only ones people can live in …”. (De Certeau 1988a: 108) Lakewood’s voices, its personal and public ghosts, echo across Waldie’s fragments: his dead parents summoned up through the stories he recalls of their lives and his living with them; his neighbours across the years from the primarily white demographic of the post-war years to its increasingly multicultural make-up in the twenty-first century; the founding boosters, and further back, the Spanish gentry who founded Los Angeles; and even the dead soldiers memorialized on the plaque Waldie replaces in Lakewood. These voices pattern the book, like “the ghosts of repetition that haunt … with ever greater frequency,” as Sebald puts in The Rings of Saturn (Sebald 1998: 187), all filtered through Waldie’s “Catholic imagination.” His poetic technique layers the fragments and traces before the reader, providing “a meditation on the fate of ordinary things – the things we touch and the lingering effects of their touch on us”. (Waldie 2007: 61) Waldie contrasts this “touch” of suburban life, of really working close to the ground, with the stereotypical judgements of suburbia derived from aerial photography presenting the hideous sameness and grid-like rigidity of this distanced view. As Waldie writes, “you can’t see the intersection of character and place from an altitude of five hundred feet, and Garnett [the photographer] never came back to experience everyday life on the ground” (Waldie 2009:3). Architectural theorist Juhani Pallasmaa also claims the city has been overburdened by the visual, created by “rapid motorised movement,” and “through the overall aerial grasp from an airplane.” For him, as for Waldie, this enforces “the idealising and disembodied Cartesian eye of control and detachment … le regard surplombant (the look from above) …” (Pallasmaa 2005: 29). Just like contemporary British psychogeographers such as Will Self and Iain Sinclair, what matters more is proximity and a felt connection to the overlooked landscapes of the everyday through which one might counter what J.G. Ballard famously called the “death of affect”. (Ballard 1984: 96) For Waldie, it is this proximate spatiality that concerns him, seeing beyond the aerial view and its gridded imagery that literally and metaphorically “looks down” on suburbia, to a view made up of the human and the material landscape and their “joining of interests” (Waldie 1996: 6). For only then will you experience its vital details: “house frames precise as cells in a hive and stucco walls fragile as an unearthed bone”. (ibid.: 5) Through these organic, breathing images of cells, hives, and bones Waldie creates his phenomenological, affective landscape vision “like the illustration of a fold of skin in a high school biology book” (ibid.:125), never static or dead but always already engaged in the multiple processes of embodied living in the world. As he has written elsewhere, “It’s only the skin I won’t slough off, the story I want to hear told, my carnal house and the body into which I welcome myself”. (Waldie 2004: 108) If the gridded space of the suburbs has become its defining image, Waldie’s writing gets inside the grid seeing complex lives and affects implicated within it and “which it cannot contain, which spills out from it, linking it to the outside”. (Rajchman 1997: 20) “The critics of suburbs say that you and I live narrow lives”, writes Waldie, “I agree. My life is narrow. From one perspective or another, all our lives are narrow. Only when lives are placed side by side do they seem larger”. (Waldie 1996: 94) As we read Holy Land from section to section, across time and perspective, this is the experience gained; of lives and stories juxtaposed, side by side within the grid, building layer upon layer within the intersecting streets of a community constantly evolving and yet, in some important ways, remaining constant and eternal. At one point he uses the word “interleaving” to express this (Waldie 1996: 3), as if to deliberately invoke once again both the organic process of overlapping growth and the bookish metaphor that reminds us of how these suburban streets, for all their apparent ordinariness, are like the text itself with each section a new “leaf” combining with others new and old forming a complex, spectral document. Through this interleaving process, Holy Land reaches beyond localism showing instead these deep histories of the grid as regional yet always simultaneously connected to national, and international histories: the consequences of wars (both the Second World War and Vietnam), the Atomic Age, the processes of migrational, racial, and demographic shifts into and out of the American West; the development of a military-industrial complex as the life-blood of the Sun Belt economies (Lakewood is an aerospace suburb in part built to service the workers at South Bay and Long Beach); and the dramatic ecological changes written on the very landscape of suburbia. Through these examples, Waldie locates Lakewood within a matrix of environmental and political change like the work of Mike Davis, a writer he admires, and yet whose work is apocalyptic in portraying LA’s decline, whereas Waldie prefers his “skeptical optimism” born of a mixture of civics and Catholicism. (Waldie 2004: 27) “My ‘sense of place’ is based”, he writes, “on the belief that each of us has an imaginative, inner landscape compounded of memory and longing that seeks to be connected to an outer landscape of people, circumstances, and things” (Waldie 2007: 62). Thus self for Waldie is spatial, social and spiritual, all channeled through sense which “enmeshes the ghostly and the definite,” as he puts it, drawing in from his experience of the suburbs, “like the Word being made flesh,” all its material and immaterial elements and stories, until what emerges is, as he writes, a “dialog, a continuous narrative within and without, that I understand to be prayer. Because my imagination inclines to being analogical, habitual, communitarian, and commonplace, I assume that’s Catholic”. (Waldie 2007: 63) In a corresponding and beautiful moment in Holy Land, he writes, “When I walk to work, thinking of these stories, they seem insignificant. At Mass on Sunday, I remember them as prayers”. (Waldie 1996: 111) Waldie’s identity as social, spatial, and spiritual emerges through his relationship to place, just as place forms from its dialogical relations with people. To reflect and interrogate this, he creates a unique form of critical regionalist text involving a hybridization of materiality and sensibility, yet one always already entwined with spirituality, since, as he writes, “The everyday isn’t perfect. It confines some and leads some astray into contempt or nostalgia, but it saves others. I live where I live in California because the weight of my everyday life here is a burden I want to carry”. (Waldie: 2009: n.p.) Through recognising and recording this “burden,” like the image of crucifixion that haunts Holy Land from beginning to end, he constructs an expanded critical regionalism in the spirit of Frampton’s mediated “conjuncturalism”; appreciating the local in the context of the wider world, the inner with the outer, the material with the immaterial, the “Christic” with the civic; seeing how even in the most disregarded and ordinary landscapes love, care, and redemption might still be possible both individually and collectively. In the words of Kathleen Stewart, “Potentiality is a thing immanent to fragments of sensory experience and dreams of presence. A layer, or layering to the ordinary, it engenders attachments or systems of investment in the unfolding of things”. (Stewart 2007: 21) How appropriate it is then, that Holy Land concludes at Easter, juxtaposing religious rituals of sacrifice and atonement with the civic and community care that Waldie espouses, clearly linking the obligations and responsibilities of faith with his view of properly sustained suburban duties. “There was,” he writes, “no distinction about who could participate in the veneration of the cross,” and in his memory the Easter Mass merges with the secular gathering of suburbia until the words of the hymn Pange Lingua take on another meaning as relevant to the struggles and trials of suburban family life in Lakewood as to the death and resurrection of Christ: “Sweet the wood / Sweet the nails / Sweet the weight you bear”. (Waldie 1996: 178-79) Curiously, Waldie claimed in 1999, when answering an LA Times round-robin on the question “L.A. Lit (Does it Exist?),” that, “The literature to come isn’t here yet”. (Waldie 2004: 123) However, he is too modest, for his own writings, scattered across books, articles, interviews and blogs suggest that his affective memoirs of person and place with their passionate breadth and emotive depth point towards new and exciting forms of expanded critical regionalism resonant with a complex and mysterious “compass of possibilities” (Waldie 1996: 4) derived from an intense relationship to the everyday and an “investment in the unfolding of things.” In the words used by Kathleen Stewart to define her own book Ordinary Affects, Waldie creates a new form of writing “about how moving forces are immanent in scenes, subjects, and encounters, or in blocked opportunities or the banality of built environments”. (2007: 128) Holy Land works rhizomatically outward from the everyday and the disregarded – the “landscape people rarely notice” (1996:154) – to build a complex, ambiguous, and always moving (in every sense of the word) vision of suburbia, rather like the process defined by Stewart, as a sense of force and texture and the sure knowledge that every scene I can spy has tendrils stretching into things I can barely, or not quite, imagine. But I already knew that. The world is still tentative, charged, overwhelming, and alive. This is not a good thing or a bad thing. It is not my view that things are going well but that they are going. (Stewart 2007: 128) As Waldie has written elsewhere, in similar terms, of his relationship to place, “To be a citizen of Los Angeles means, in this hour, not to dream but to pick up the burden and gift of bearing witness to this place”. (Waldie 2009: 6) Through such powerfully affected and affective terms, Waldie expresses something of the poetic purpose and political drive defined by the great French chronicler of everyday life, Michel de Certeau, who lived out his own life in California, and who wrote that: One must awaken the stories that sleep in the streets and that sometimes lie within a simple name, folded up inside this thimble like the silk dress of a fairy. (De Certeau, Girard, Mayol 1998: 142)

Max Cafard, The Surre(gion)alist Manifesto

And once we begin to think Regions, we discover a vast multiplicity. Of Regionalisms and Regions, of Regions within Regions, and Regionalisms within Regionalisms. Thus, Surre(gion)alism.
Regions are inclusive. They have no borders, no boundaries, no frontiers, no State Lines.
Though Regionalists are marginal, Regions have no margins. Regions are traversed by a multitude of lines, folds, ridges, seams, pleats. But all lines are included, none exclude. Regions are bodies. Interpenetrating bodies. Interpenetrating bodies in semi¬simultaneous spaces. (Like Strangers in the Night).

Region is origin. It is our place of origin. Where all continues to originate. Origination is perpetual motion. Reinhabitation means reorigination. We return to our roots for nourishment.

Without that return, we wither and die. We follow our roots and find them to extend ever deeper, and ever outward. They form an infinite web, so all-encompassing that uprooting becomes impossible and unthinkable, deracination irrational ….


 See http://raforum.info/maxcafard/spip.php?rubrique2 for the complete essays on this topic.

John Sayles’ ‘Limbo’: Analysing the opening sequence

Limbo © Columbia Tristar

The subject of this piece (the opening scenes of John Sayles’ film, Limbo (1999)) has been chosen as it affords the opportunity to both continue an ongoing theme of my research (representations of the American state of Alaska) and to continue to expand and explore the methodological approach of critical regionalism. For the purpose of this analysis, I take only one aspect of this emergent transdisciplinary approach – the restructuring of binary oppositions and dialogisms ignored in regionalist accounts of landscapes and their attendant cultures. Through an examination of the homonyms real and reel, I attempt to demonstrate how these terms can be theorised as binary oppositions and how an engagement with both allows for the goals of critical regionalist practice to be uncovered and examined in the subject of this case study. In order to reposition real/reel as a binary, other binaries must also be introduced and the opening sequence of Sayles’ twelfth feature film provide an ideal vehicle through which to do this.

After footage of a shoal of salmon swimming underwater over which the titles play, Limbo employs a montage of footage of the Alaskan landscape and culture which plays as a promotional film for the state. As a disemobodied narration praises “America’s last frontier” with its “azure skies … the hearty souls of men who have gone to sea … its siren call to the bold and adventurous … [and] the promise of untold fortune”, the audience sees a blend of images of glaciers, mountains, forests and their wildlife, cruise liners and fishing vessels, kitsch tourist goods such as Eskimo dolls and traditional native totem poles. As the narration and promotional film fades out, the director transports us to a garden party attended by the great and the good of Port Henry, Alaska. In attendance is Albright, “a major figure in the tourist industry” (Bould, 2009:153), who speaks of his vision for Alaska, a vision which is built on “themes for each area up here: The Whales’ Causeway, Island of the Raven People, Kingdom of the Salmon, Lumberland”.

Limbo continues a theme prevalent across Sayles’ entire output. Its Alaskan setting presents “a textured and authentic place that is alive with the genuine diversity of the modern United States” (Armstrong, 2004) and builds upon a widely accepted notion amongst critics that the director’s oeuvre is “about America, its peoples, landscapes, histories and languages” (Bould, 2009:1). Earlier Sayles works such as Baby It’s You (1983), Passion Fish (1992) and Lone Star (1996), set in New Jersey, Louisiana and the Texas-Mexico border respectively, all demonstrate an intensity of emplacement at odds with the tendency towards homogeneity of place often seen in cinematic landscapes. Herein, Sayles’ films work against not only the conventions of cinema but also the denial of the heterogeneity of specific places in regionalist representations. This tendency is, according to Lukinbeal (2005), at its most dominant in the classical paradigm wherein narration becomes a commodity “because it elides the social differences of local scale and attempts to move the consumption of a product to a larger scale” (12). This elision of difference is consistently challenged by Sayles and has lead to critics positioning the director as coming from the naturalist tradition as his work “suggest[s] a social totality” (Bould, 2009:6). It is within this social totality that “practices, institutions and relationships exist not in isolation from one another, but in actual, dramatic, mutual and dynamic interaction” (Wayne, 2002:225). These last two observations hint at possible intersections within Sayles’ work, with the emergent discipline of critical regionalism as will be explored throughout this case study.

Limbo © Columbia Tristar

Regionalist versions of region tend towards the monologic. Critical regionalism critiques these reductionist representations, such as those of an Alaska codified as simply reminiscent of the frontier conquered in the westward expansion of America. This national narrative – the conquering of the West – in itself demonstrates how a complex landscape is ideologically redefined through the eradication of difference in its representation: white, male and individual, rather than multi-ethnic, bi-gendered and communal. Through inserting the binary opposites back in to these imaginings of region, critical regionalism seeks a dialogical revision of these representations. I would argue that a key dialogism to engage with in criticism of cinemas representations of regions, such as the Alaska of Sayles’ film, is that of space/place.

Developments in traditional geography – as theorists attempt to define an approach to a geography of and in film – hint at an intersection with the goals of critical regionalism and provide the root of this study’s suggestion that real/reel can be redefined as a binary of use to this approach. Hopkins (1994) and Lukinbeal (2005) draw attention to the privileging of the material landscape (the real) in traditional geography and echo Aitken and Zonn’s (1994) observation of that discipline as one in which “representation is subsidiary to physical reality” (5). Film, particularly in the classical paradigm, inverts this relationship by privileging the representative elements (the reel) of landscape, resulting in this landscape becoming a space within which the narrative events can unfold, rather than as a place which can impact upon these events. This places the real (the geographical place) and the reel (the representational cinematic space) into a distinctive and interdependent relationship and one which is examined by Sayles’ film. This is an important distinction if we wish to view Limbo as a critically regionalist text for, as Lukinbeal (2005) again notes, the real and the reel intersect in “how we narrate our identities … and how we define the extent of ourselves within a global cinematic community” (17-18).

Lukinbeal’s insight continues: “sense of place … refers to the location where the narrative is supposedly set (whether real or imagined [reel])” (ibid:6). Critical regionalism would seek to take this final statement out of parentheses and make it the central point of any critique of regional representations: all landscapes are real and reel. Film, therefore, undoubtedly offers up a multitude of texts to be subjected to the gaze of the critical regionalist. The regional and the cinematic are both ‘heterotopic’ (Hopkins, 1994) and their own collision on screen (the nature of which will be explored shortly) offers the potential for a re-alignment of Frampton’s (1983) original critical regionalist clarion call – to counteract “the bulldozing of an irregular topography … [which] aspires to a condition of absolute placelessness” (26) – to the realm of cinema. This ‘placelessness’ is counteracted in Limbo through the deconstruction of cinema’s traditional convention of homogenising place to facilitate narrative space.

Whilst the title of the film and its tag-line – “a condition of unknowable outcome” – acknowledge the texts most obvious defying of cinematic convention (Sayles denies his audience narrative resolution), other elements demonstrate a more complex, often subtle, reconfiguring of filmic convention within that same conventional framework. The establishment of place at the outset of Limbo takes the form of seemingly archival footage of Alaska presented as a tourism promotion film. The icons and stereotypes within this help to construct what Jameson (1991) would refer to as a ‘cognitive map’ of the landscape which the narrative occupies: “enabl[ing] a situational representation on the part of the individual subject to that vaster and properly unrepresentable totality which is the ensemble of society’s structures as a whole” (?). To this extent, Sayles naturalist approach with its attempted presentation of this social totality, could be seen to be following an accepted convention of the classical paradigm which was introduced earlier. Lukinbeal (2005) argues that within this paradigm landscape as place is often established in the master shot … [which] occurs at, or near, the beginning of the film … [and] may simply be archive footage of locations” (8). However, when noting Bould’s (2009) observation that the footage Sayles employs is “actually a kinescope of specially-shot videotape” (150), the montage which it creates – and which both constructs and deconstructs Alaska – is opened up to critical examination.

Limbo © Columbia Tristar

Such an examination can usefully begin by turning to the work of filmmaker-theorist Sergei Eisenstein (1949) whom Aitken and Zonn (1994) invoke in their discussion of the pastiche of place which, for them, inevitably takes place when the homonyms of real and reel (imagined) are brought together in cinematic representations of place. For Eisenstein, montage allowed for the “collision of ideas” (in, Aitken & Zonn, 1994:18) which, as Aitken and Zonn, note “suggests a dialectic whereby an image-event colliding with another … [creates] a third image-event” (ibid:18). ‘Collisions’ abound in Limbo’s opening montage: wilderness/civilisation, utopia/dystopia, inside/outside, local/global and, most importantly real/reel.

The links here to critical regionalism can be drawn by further expanding the space/place dialogism which hinders not only cinema but many representations of region. Reichert-Powell (2007) notes that regions are formed not solely around landscape nor informed exclusively by topology, rather “they are ongoing debates and discourses that coalesce around particular geographical spaces” (14). The tendency of regionalism to denude the topology of individual regions, as Reichert-Powell criticises, is seen at work in the “constriction and artificiality” (Maier, 1994, in Lukinbeal, 2005:12) associated with many representations of place on film. Sayles’ self-constructed mock tourism montage provides the audience with a cognitive map of Alaska which acknowledges the ‘constriction’ and ‘artificiality’ of popular imaginings of that region.

The artifice of regional representations of Alaska as a tourist destination are revealed by Sayles when the audience sees native American handicrafts manufactured by migrant labour, salmon fishermen’s catches sent to automated canneries and the logging industry’s clear-cutting sites re-envisioned as ‘Lumberland’: a “turn-of-the-century sawmill with a water-powered generator and a gift shop” according to the character of Albright – himself a re-imagined twentieth century frontier booster. Campbell (2008), in discussing the ‘post-tourist’ experience which Limbo‘s montage can be seen to epitomise, suggests that films such as Sayles’ demonstrate “the potential for contestation and transformation, blending the actual and the virtual” (117). In this ‘blending’ of actual and virtual (or real and reel as I position this dialogism in this study) we can see proof of Lukinbeal’s (2004) suggestion that the terrain of cinema is “Baudrillardian … [it] precedes the cultural territory” (248). Certainly there are elements of simulacra in Albright’s vision for the state of Alaska which follow the deliberately simulacral elements present in the tourist montage. Both segments challenge preconceived ideas of the region of Alaska and do so through disrupting either the ontology of the cinematic form (the reel) or the epistemology of prior, received knowledge of the region (the real).

Therefore, the ontological stability of the audience’s epistemological understanding of the two film forms which they are viewing in conjunction as Limbo begins (a narrative film and a tourism promotion film), are disrupted by this reinsertion of the viewer/tourists “actual local conjunctural situatedness” (Bould, 2009:151) into Sayles’ imagining of Alaska. In adopting this tactic, the director confronts the audience with the “interconnectivity and multiple interpellations” (ibid:11) of the physical and cultural landscape of Alaska: of the real and the reel Alaska. In doing so, Limbo clearly demonstrates its critical regionalist credentials through this montage which “mediat[es] between the fascination with lost, rural, residual” culture and the simultaneous interest in emergent ones” (Campbell, 2008:43).

Jameson (1994, in Bould, 2009) refers to this act of mediation as “neoregionalism” (7), a “form of reterritorialization” (ibid) and a reaction to the eradication of distinctive regions through homogenisation, reduction, standardisation, commodification, atomisation and rationalisation. Sayles, through the juxtaposition of the images and narration in the montage which opens the events of Limbo, highlights the presence of all of these effects of regionalism – the reel aspects of representation and the real aspects of the material reality – in popular conceptions of Alaska. Neither version is dismissed but the possible incompatibility of the reel and the real are highlighted through the heterotopic qualities of both, resulting in a “contradictory, composite place of the real and the imagined of other times and spaces” (Hopkins, 1994:57) (emphasis added).

If, as I have suggested within this analysis, the real and the reel were redrawn as binary opposites alongside their related dialogic counterparts of place and space, an interrogation leading to mediation of these seemingly contradictory concepts can take place in readings of cinematic texts. This is in line with the aims of a critically regionalist approach to culture: to “disrupt … [regionalism’s] oft-discussed, conventional sheltering role and to fold outward, engaging with its own assumptions and defining principles” (Campbell, 2008:44). Limbo exemplifies John Sayles’ own attempts to engage with and mediate between, prior, reductionist and simplified versions of region and new, complex and dynamic reconfigurations of these same regions. Whether this is the region of Alaska as in Limbo, or in the Texas-Mexico border which Lone Star occupies (several critics have begun to explore this, perhaps most-celebrated of Sayles’ films, in what could be interpreted as critically regionalist ways. Cf. Arreola (2005), Etulain (2004), & Nichols (2009)) Sayles’ films focus on liminal territories and landscapes reflect another key element of critical regionalism: the transgression of boundaries. These boundaries may take physical form in national or regional borders or landscapes (the real), or the ideologically-inflected borders of representations of nations, landscapes and regions (the reel). In both cases, the dynamics of culture inside those boundaries must take into account elements from the outside.

The regional, national & transnational imagination of Bruce Springsteen

Image © Danny Clinch

Finally watched the excellent Thom Zimmny documentary The Promise which accompanies the re-release of Bruce Springsteen’s seminal 1978 album, Darkness on the Edge of Town. There aren’t many artists as inextricably linked to a specific region as Springsteen is; New Jersey provided him with, not only a stomping ground on which to hone his particular brand of rock ‘n’ roll, but also a cast of characters and endless, evocative settings in which to place them. Yet, the Boss’ ouevre has always had wider concerns than those of Madame Marie, Sandy, Rosalita, The Cosmic Kid and their lives on provincial Asbury Park’s boardwalk. Nor has Springsteen’s music been wholly situated within the United States (anyone whose only image of Springsteen is the tub-thumping, flag-waving, America-championing, beefed-up ‘Born in the USA’, really needs to read this excellent cartoon primer on the far more ambiguous nature of the man and that song in particular).

Darkness marked a departure for Springsteen: gone were the lyrically dense,

Springsteen's regional imagination

freewheeling fairytales of the Jersey shoreline which made up his first two albums; gone too was the kaleidoscopic kineticism of Born to Run’s urban landscapes. Where these previous albums had spoken of escape from the boundaries of Asbury Park, Darkness considered what the protaganists did once they had transgressed that ‘Jersey state line’.

What really intrigued me about the Boss’ own observations in the documentary was the agonising over the sonic positioning of Clarence ‘Big Man’ Clemons’ saxophone. For Bruce it was an urban instrument; how could it be made to speak in the rural settings of that Darkness on the Edge of Town?