Wednesday, January 26, 2011

That Good Old Sublime

For those of you who have been following my blog for very long, you know that I have a real fascination with the concept of the sublime (for definitions, click here). Before I left for South Africa, I'd put a lot of effort into understanding this concept and making connections between it and various other aspects of my studies, especially through my exploration of the modern technological sublime. I hung onto this concept as I prepared for my Field Study and then throughout my time in South Africa, and as it turned out a huge proportion of what I learned and saw in the field related back to this idea of the sublime that I love so much. I realized that my project on ecotourism related directly to the sublime, and the more I learned about each of them, the more connections I saw. These posts show my progress in discovering these connections:
The more I looked at it, the more I realized that the whole tourism industry is really dependent on people's desire to have sublime experiences. The brochures I collected for South African game reserves, parks, lodges and adventure companies all advertised the fact that they were giving you something different, as far from home and familiarity as you can get, where you can experience seclusion, adventure, and/or untouched nature. They say they can transport you to a distant past, through forests yet to be explored and cultures unchanged by time. People want their world to be stretched; they want to find some hidden part of themselves through travel to far-off lands (think Eat, Pray, Love); they want to reassure themselves that something exists outside of human creation, which is greater than anything humans can create. Tourism companies and lodges offer all this, without the challenges that come from seeking it out on your own. They bring you to the edge of the cliff, allow you to see the sublime view, and give you a commemorative t-shirt. I may sound cynical, but the truth is that some of my own favorite experiences in South Africa were just like this; in fact, at Cape Point, either a wide, well-paved path or a rail car takes you quite literally to the edge of a cliff overlooking an incredible expanse of ocean. Maybe not a very impressive journey, but I consider this to be one of the most mind-bendingly amazing sights I've ever seen, and in combination with the feel of standing there blown by the fresh wind (according to some, this point has the healthiest air in the world) and encompassed by the perfect silence coming off of the ocean and all the way up from Antarctica, it was really a sublime experience. I think this is what every tourist and traveler is looking for. And that's why ecotourism works: it offers up amazing, authentic natural and cultural experiences, along with the promise that everything's going to stay just as it is.

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