Travel literature in colonialism: fantasy and fascination in exoticist discourses:
As we fail to clearly define exoticism, there is nonetheless something we do know and understand about this term – the Exotic, ever since the word was brought to common discourse, has always captivated and fascinated traders, travelers and various conquistadores who discovered new lands and territories on the road. As Europe’s most famous empires started to expand to the East, those who were sent to these then pristine and hidden places, brought back said exotic stories about what they had experienced and seen so the world got to find out (they thought!) about the exotic ‘outside(r)’. Travel literature in those days enab led unlearned civilizations to indulge into some kind of transposed and imaginative travel. Fantasy, imagination and individual interpretation of exoticist discourses gave birth to varied, all too creative, travel stories in a colonial era when traveler’s knowledge was to enlighten the civilized world about the otherness. The character Rusticello adds in the prologue of Travels of Marco Polo: Master Marc Pol (…) says to himself that it would b e too great evil if he did not cause all the great wonders which he saw and which he heard for truth to be put in writing so that the other people who did not see them nor know may know them by this book.
(Quoted from the analysis of Mary B. Campbell, The Witness and the Other World, p.94, Cornell University Press, 1991) Because what these people saw and experienced abroad was too “foreign”, “unusual” yet “fascinating”- that is to say inherently exotic- th e narratives they put into writing gave way to various mistakenly interpretative and fantasizing accounts; as they were facing myths they could not elucidate, readers and travelers alike were losing their mind over intangible matters that began to arouse fascination and generate fantasy: The East remains a convenient screen for imaginative projection, as it was for earlier pilgrims and merchants of our acquaintance. (Mary B. Campbell, The Witness and the Other World, p.153) If the Other World has become phenomenal by the time of Arculf and Adamnan, it does not yet seem to provide a significant cultural complement to the West. It is a world of both sub- and superhuman, in which there is no simply human reality but that of the amazed and alienated traveler himself. (Mary B. Campbell, The Witness and the Other World, p.43).
Of the Annamites, the inhabitants of Cochin-China, [Dr Morice] says at the outset, that his first feeling with respect to them was one of disgust. Those faces more or less flattened, and often devoid of all intelligence or animation; those livid eyes; and, especially, that broad nose, and those thick upturned lips, reddened and discoloured by the constant use of betel-nut, do not answer to the European ideal of beauty. (Transcribed records of Lieutenant Francis Garnier’s explorations and narratives in The French in Indo-China, p.73,White Lotus ed., 1994).
Let alone that these fantasy-driven narratives successfully forced their way into public interest, none of them was ever questioned. As listeners and readers were unwittingly led to approve unreal and fantastic travel reports, the general willingness to nourish and unfold these exotic myths, by way of acquiescing or non-questioning their accuracy, revealed the undeniable lack of understanding of and knowledge about the Other and the East: This should not be mysterious: the history of travel, exploration, and discovery is mainly an achievement of men of action and unlearned people – not of scholars like Photius and Lilius, who thought they could distinguish fact from fantasy and preferred the former. (…) The Marvels material appears at the geographical limits of knowledge – at the borders of the map, the farthest reach of the journey. (Mary B. Campbell, The Witness and the Other World, p.50).
The disturbing alienness of 150-foot berries and gems that grow on trees: for the original audience these matters are relieved of their problematic nature by the simple fact we are talking about the East. (Mary B. Campbell, The Witness and the Other World, p.82).
As the first man to see the whole world, [Marco Polo] exists in the mythic-heroic sphere (…). He is literally a living legend, and it is fro m that order of existence (…) that the reader can believe it fully.
(Mary B. Campbell, The Witness and the Other World, p.95) Knowledge is incompatible with exoticism, but lack of knowledge is in turn irreconcilable with praise of others; yet praise without knowledge is precisely what exoticism aspires to be. This is its constitutive paradox. (G. Huggan via T. Todorov, 1993, The Postcolonial Exotic, p.17)
Postmodern exoticism: a quest for a retreat in Shangri-La:
In today’s world, travel has been given a different meaning: we travel to places we already know, have seen or heard of somewhere, from discoverers to travel agents have reported about their encounters and findings, the world has been largely inspected. The unknown never seems so unfamiliar to hardly anyone anymore. Based on a great many accounts, we all think we know what to expect about the exotic other, and what our journey abroad will be made up of as we walk into a (or rather log onto an online) travel agency to book a trip. Through generalization, the exotic is being stereotyped more than ever – it has nurtured visions, expectations and needs travelers seek to satisfy when traveling. Unlike its colonial counterpart, the postmodern (or postcolonial) exotic (Huggan), no longer a peradventure passive encounter with otherness, is now a quest we may all put a lot of ourselves into throughout our travels. This colonial quest for the exotic is now transposed into a biased remembrance of a captured yet preserved and uninfected otherness, of a pleasurable past that ‘stands exempt from the evils of our civilization’( Chris Bongie, Exotic Memories, p.145, Stanford University, 1991), the desired mirage that appears in the horizon: Presently the ground leveled, and they stepped out of the mist into clear, sunny air. Ahead, and only a short distance away, lay the lamasery of Shangri-La. (James Hilton, Lost Horizon, p.66, Pocket Books, published June 1939).
It is legitimate, therefore, to ask whether this pursuit of an aestheticized voyage, what some will comment as nostalgia or exotic, may ever be achieved or travelers devote themselves to an idealistic enterprise they may never terminate: The exoticist ‘elsewhere’ conjures up a vision of G olden Age which has long since vanished – if it ever existed. (Huggan, the Postcolonial Exotic, p.179).
Nostalgia is paramount in our postmodern tourism industry and is yet sustained by a process of blinded aestheticization of the exotic other – n ostalgia appears to be a socially-fueled way of thinking through which the ‘I’ ignores more abou t the ‘exotic’ than it believes it knows. How tourists actually perceive and experience the exotic is an ostensibly nurtured caricature sealed into social conformity. Tourists have no command over their ‘gaze’, just like they do not control their perception of the exotic – a mere contextualized construction that primarily intensifies “the collision between ego’s culture an d alien culture” (Mason, 1996) and guides people to the right path, to the appropriate perception of otherness:
Tourist gazes are filters of touristic perception – they provide a medium for what tourists see but also a guideline as to how they ought to see. (Huggan, The Postcolonial Exotic, p.180).
The tourist gaze is structured by culturally specific notion of what is extraordinary and therefore worth viewing. (John Urry, The Tourist Gaze, 2nd ed., p.59, 2002)
Promoting Southeast Asia as an exotic destination:
Southeast Asia is the generally accepted name for a series of islands and peninsulas which lie East of India and West of China. Southeast Asia is blessed with abundant sunshine and plentiful rain. (…) Southeast Asian [c ountries] share some similarities from [their] ancestors, artifacts up to the influence brought by India, China, Muslims and Europe. (…) [These] similarities lead to unity among the nations2. (About Southeast Asia, www.asean-tourism.com).
When it comes to exotic vacations, Southeast Asia appears to be the ultimate destination and keeps ranking up as such in the public opinion. Indeed, this region of the world has based its fame on an aestheticized way of living and its year-round “abundant sunshine”; in other words, on its unrivaled and valuable exoticness. However, one might pointedly wonder whether there is one Southeast Asian exotic or the region houses multifaceted exotics that cater and appeal to numerous tourist markets. How do Southeast Asia and its member nations promote and pass on their ideal(ized) exoticness to tourists?
In this part of the world where most of the local economies are booming and moving at their fastest, tourism is highly welcome, exploited and stimulated as a general assurance to economical prosperity. Whilst the region highlights its oriental exoticism, tourism is strictly oriented towards the same concept. The marketing of exotic tourism will therefore illustrate my second chapter through which I will demonstrate how authenticity, diversity and liberty are utilized to foster tourism-driven discourses that attracts tourists into exotic fantasy.
Promoting national uniqueness in uniformed regional identity:
Traveling to Asia has never been as confusing as it appears today. Asia as a continent and economic region is divided into smaller economical and cultural territories that are themselves split up into smaller historical sections. For instance, a tourist going to Laos is, yes, going to Asia but first and foremost, going to Indochina in Southeast Asia. However, this distinction does not quite occur to the majority – in fact, the tourism industry in Asia has sustained an ‘exotic Asian’ that has in turn partially deprived local countries from their local uniqueness; even Southeast Asia is sometimes referred to as a symbol of Asia per se. Respective member countries are to reactively emphasize their uniqueness; nevertheless, a uniqueness that must fulfill enough of stereotyped pre-requisites, nurtured in the term of ‘Asian’, to be accepted and supported by tourists. In that respect, I will focus on the marketing of exoticism implemented by tourism professionals and how they deal with an inner obstacle that both unites and divides Southeast Asian countries. First of all, it is fundamental to draw a more precise definition of Southeast Asia by listing down countries that take part in its economical activity: Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, East Timor and Vietnam (Le Bilan du Monde 2009, Le Monde, p.138). Interestingly, the tourism industry has cut out Southeast Asia into a slightly different model: one may notice the cultural division between Northern Southeast Asia and Eastern Southeast Asia, where the northern lands are predominantly Buddhist while the southern islands remain mostly Muslim (The Philippines and Vietnam being exception to both). In that respect, tourism professionals, such as locally implanted tour operators for instance, straightforwardly utilize this distinction to their own advantage. Exotissimo Travel, a Destination Management Company specialized in Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam, is a relevant illustration of this trend: We honestly do not see the region as five separate countries, but rather as one single Southeast Asian entity representing one vast touring opportunity (Exotissimo Professional’s Guide , p.5, 2009)
Table of contents :
I/ DEFINING EXOTICISM:
A LOOSE ACADEMIC DEFINITION:
TRAVEL LITERATURE IN COLONIALISM: FANTASY AND FASCINATION IN EXOTICIST DISCOURSES
THE POSTMODERN EXOTIC: A QUEST FOR A RETREAT IN SHANGRI LA:
II/ PROMOTING SOUTHEAST ASIA AS AN EXOTIC DESTINATION:
PROMOTING NATIONAL UNIQUENESS IN UNIFORMED REGIONAL IDENTITY:
A MARKETING DILEMMA BETWEEN TOURISTS AND TRAVELERS:
EXOTIC VISIONS: FROM IMAGE TO IMAGINATION THROUGH IMAGINEERING:
III/ EXOTIC TOURISM: DRIFTS AND DRAWBACKS OF A RELENTLESS QUEST:
MASS TOURISM: A MULTIDIMENSIONAL CONQUEST
SEX TOURISM: FROM EXOTICISM TO EROTICISM
FROM EXOTHENTIC TO EX-AUTHENTIC TOURISM:
IV/ MANAGING EXOTIC TOURISM: THE EARLY STAGES OF EGALITARIAN OTHERNESS:
ENHANCING DESTINATIONS’ RENEWAL:
IMPLEMENTING REGIONAL SYNERGY:
HEADING TOWARDS NICHE MARKETS:
BIBILOGRAPHY: & WEBOGRAPHY