5. Sociology of tourism
Port and Kit came from a society that instilled competition and success into its people because those were some "of its supreme, ultimate moral values," For Port, in particular, to paraphrase T.S. Eliot, that center would not hold. Port couldn't "'conform' with this society's ultimate values," (Cohen, p. 181). I guess Port is in the "experimental mode" "of the touristic experience" (Cohen, p. 189) because he is trying to find, in the desert, "that form of life which elicits a resonance in himself...not...aware of what he seeks...needs...desires," (Cohen, p. 189). What resonates for him in the end is death. Port doesn't really believe life has a meaning so perhaps he's never looking for "authentic existence," (Cohen, p. 191), he's just looking for the clearest manifestation of said "meaninglessness" (p. 191) and that appears in the desert where you are forced to confront yourself and your life. This isn't "the diversionary mode" (p. 186) because Port doesn't really take "pleasure" (Cohen, p.186) in his experiences. His "centre" is "the tiny turning black point" (Sheltering Sky, p. 216) he sees in his hallucinations. That "black point", that "centre" is something Port has to "pierce the fine fabric of" (Sheltering Sky, p.229). This was his pilgrimage. He has made it to the "centre". Because "the centre...symbolises an ideal" (Cohen, p. 195) will it live up to his hopes and expectations? Does that even matter at this point considering what his centre is?
Arguably, I think Kit is the more interesting case study of "touristic experience" because she falls prey to "total disorientation, and ultimate alienation from all human society" that sometimes results from being an "experimental tourist" (Cohen, p. 195) upon returning from the desert, the abyss. When Kit goes swimming in the pool one night, she has her rebirth scene, her baptism moment as if she were a "traditional pilgrim" (p. 184). She runs the gamut of "touristic experiences” as the book goes on, but probably mainly experiences the last three on Cohen's list. After the swim and the night spent sleeping under a tree, Kit's centre, perhaps "new...centre" (Cohen, p. 190) has been located: "Those most deeply committed to a new 'spiritual' centre may attach themselves permanently to it and start a new life there by 'submitting' themselves completely to the culture...they will desire to 'go native'" (Cohen, pg. 190). Boy does Kit 'go native'! She gets rid of her Western clothes, briefly loses her gender (ends up looking like an Arab boy), becomes one of a group of wives, reverts back to utilizing and requiring her most basic, primal, human needs: sex, hand signals, fighting, biting, and having no concept of time. It's exhilarating in a way. Her impulsiveness is freeing, but also dangerous. Perhaps Kit's "centre" is found in the Arab culture, which is why she takes the streetcar to the Casbah. Her new identity is one that can't work in Ms. Ferry's world or in America. Because going back to those societies will force her to face her mind, her guilt that Ms. Ferry almost causes her to remember by mentioning Tunner. Her new centre allows her to exist ignorant of a part of her mind, her past. I'm just not sure if it's a healthy centre to have even though she goes "from meaninglessness to authentic existence," (Cohen, pg. 191) which would normally be considered healthy.
Upon the conclusion of Cohen’s composition, I pictured his five “modes” of tourism not as modes, but more as “levels” in which the tourist, or traveler (but more explicitly the tourist), must climb in order to gauge a sense of self-fulfillment. Because each tourist is different, the level they will reach differs depending on the type of travel they choose to embark on. As Cohen explained each level, I noticed a strong correlation between The Sheltering Sky’s protagonists, Port and Kit, and their own personal journey through Africa. Instead of attempting to classify the two as being on one specific level, I found that they traveled through the last three modes during the course of the novel; starting with experiential and ending with existential. Port and Kit have turned themselves into video-game characters, wandering through each level with only one life and an abundance of gold coins.
I’m ignoring the modes of recreational and diversionary travel because I don’t feel it applies to this novel. Port’s decision to travel to remote parts of Africa is not for the purpose of “recharg[ing] the batteries of a weary man” (Cohen, 184). If Port’s sole intent for travel were to gain a superficial, almost uncommitted sense of the country, he would not choose the Sahara as a vacation spot.
Port, Kit and Tunner start off on the “Experiential” level: a place where “people who have lost their own center and are unable to lead an authentic life at home” (Cohen, 187) go. Because of the havoc of post-war America, the three head off in search of a place that’s wholly new and virginal; untouched by the bloody hands of combat. Tourists experientially travelling also find “strangeness and novelty” (Cohen, 187) in their new setting. Although Port utilizes the novelty of prostitution to find refuge from his marriage, he still has not felt a sense of a “real” religious experience, and further attempts to climb to a new level of tourism to seek fulfillment.
The experimental mode of travel is appealing for people who are without a sense of clear-cut priorities and obligations, those that have the ability to travel because nothing at home is keeping them from doing so (Port, for example). These tourists participate in the authentic life of the country they are in, but never fully give themselves to that country. Kit’s attempt at seeing another way of life when she is riding the train with Tunner exemplifies this. She wanders to the fourth class car, but upon seeing how drastically different it is than the life she is used to, she vomits.
The last mode of tourism, existential tourism, resembles an uncanny parallel to The Sheltering Sky. Although part I of the novel focuses on the first two modes, parts II and III embody existentialism. Port’s fascination with death and the nothingness of the afterlife subconsciously connects to his rejection of receiving immunization. This is revealed in part II, where Port falls deathly ill. Port feels that death is the only authentic thing, because after death, there is nothing else, and what is more authentic than dying in, and possibly for, a new country? Cohen describes existential travel as “switching worlds” and “living in exile”. Travelers may “attach themselves permanently and start a new life”, which is demonstrated by Kit, after the death of her husband. You could argue that Kit is either fulfilling a spiritual desire or fantasy by being captured and used purely for sex, or that Kit has become completely brainwashed, but I think it’s a little bit of both. Kit is indeed affixing herself fully to one culture, most likely in search of enlightenment, but whether Kit does this out of choice or mental instability is left of to the reader to decide.
To explain these, Cohen uses the concept of centers, the prime areas that individuals are located in and carry on their daily lives in. His whole theory of travel relates back to these and how a need for a change in the center prompts travel.
In the case of Kit and Port from Paul Bowles’ The Sheltering Sky, two types of travel explain their intentions. First off, there is diversionary tourism, for those seeking to get away from normal life and get their minds off their problems. They choose to leave their normal centers because they aren’t content with them and explore a new area to simply get their minds away from everyday life. For Kit and Port, their marital problems explain the diversionary aspect of their travel.
The other type of travel Kit and Port embark on is existential, meaning that they elect a new center to call home. As opposed to the other types, which include visiting another center for relief, this type involves living “in two worlds: the world of their everyday life… and the world of their elective centre.” Kit and Port seek another cultural way of life. Instead of being experimental tourists, immersing in the authentic life of another culture, but not fully committing to it, they decide to fully immerse in the culture and lose themselves there. They truly are existential travelers, for they stay in Africa forever; with Port dying and Kit wandering into the Acbah, they never return to their original home. As Cohen would say, they “switch[ed] worlds.”
While Port may be an “experiential tourist,’ Paul Bowles seems to be an “experimental tourist.” We know that Bowles was fed up with America, which to him seemed to have its “centre” based in competition. Therefore Bowles left in search of a new culture with a more accommodating centre. This fits into what Cohen describes as the “experimental tourist:” these tourists “do not adhere anymore to the centre of their own society, but engage in a quest for alternative [centres].” Cohen continues to suggest that these tourists may use drugs to find their centres, which Bowles does. However, geographically once in Morocco Bowles no longer searched for a geographic centre, however through writing, drug use, and promiscuous sexual experimentation he seemed to always be an “experimental tourist” always looking for his centre.
Comparing these two people Port and Bowles, begs the questions of which tourist got the better deal? Although Port dies in his quest for a centre he also achieves his goal of finding the ultimate authenticity. Bowles on the other hand searched and searched, constantly experimenting and trying to find his centre. In comparing an experiential tourist and an experimental tourist, one notices many similarities, and one can certainly notice similarities in Port and Bowles: particularly their distaste for American culture. And, it is interesting how a similar distaste can lead to two different quest for a “centre”.
First I must address that this categorization only applies to Kit in the beginning of the book, when she is still a tourist. I do not believe that Kit is really a tourist after Port’s death, but rather truly becomes fully embedded in the culture. When Port is still alive, however, the two are searching for meaning in their lives through an authentic African experience. When they realize, however, that they are radically unhappy in the run-down hotels eating rabbit with fur still on it, it hits them that this is not the authentic dream they had imagined. Instead of admitting that this is not the journey they had envisioned, they continue on “attached to the ideal which the centre is meant to represent” (Cohen 196).
In the end, Port’s disenchantment leads to his death, his last attempt to make the whole journey “real.” He attempts to “preserve [his] dream, while denying the adequacy of its earthly embodiment” (Cohen 196). The only way Port can really live out his expectations of experiencing an authentic journey is to die in the process, the most authentic death of all. The couple tries to act as if they are “starry-eyed idealists,” by pretending they have found self-realization even though it is “based on self-delusion” (Cohen 196). But in reality, they have not found self-realization and they are not deluding themselves into thinking they have. They accept the fact that they are not going to find self-realization, and force it upon themselves anyway. They “reject the reality” of their failure (Cohen 196).
It is true that “tourists demand authenticity”. Port is not content in Africa because he is constantly searching for an unknown location; he restlessly travels deeper and deeper into the continent as he attempts to gain authenticity and the feeling of truly being alive. In this way, the existential properties of The Sheltering Sky are revealed. Life, in a way, seems to be meaningless to these tourists; Port even forgoes his vaccinations before the trip as if to show that whether or not he lives is of little importance. As described in the article, the “existential experience” is fueled by the desire to visit the “old country”. Kit and Port initially visit Africa due to their need to see life continue on in the same way it had before World War II. The couple traveled off the beaten path to find a place, and its inhabitants, who did not resemble those from the place from which they came. In some ways, the story depicts a pilgrimage for the characters as they are in search of a greater meaning. Kit especially, at the end of the book, is traveling by means of strangers and is looking for some unknown entity. All we know as readers is that she is slowly losing her own identity and by the end, Miss Ferry, a woman who previously would have been on the same social level as Kit, views Kit as a poor, unfortunate case. For this drastic change to occur, Kit’s travels must have taken a severe toll on her inward perception of herself. In general, the characters in The Sheltering Sky contain traits of tourists as they travel in search of missing aspects of their lives.
The first is the only exception to this rule, as Port and Kit are truly not recreational tourists at all. This view is exactly the one they look down upon, and they do so for a reason. It is not traveling at all, because you still have a center somewhere else. Port says in multiple instances throughout the book that he feels like he has no real home anymore, because he has switched so many times. This definition fits the diversionary tourist, who does not search for a new center or new meaning, but just accepts there is no meaning and just wants something to entertain himself. Port definitely fits into this, he definitely is trying to escape the malaise of lack of culture that is spreading all over the world. The one thing he doesn't realize, however, is that this malaise is being spread by people like him, who feel that they must leave their center and find something better.
The diversionary tourist isn't the only thing that describes Port. He also can be related to the experiential tourist, who tries to find fulfillment in someone else's center. Bowles never makes it totally clear about Port's motives, so all we can do is speculate on exactly what Port is looking for. What makes it even more confusing is that Port doesn't even seem entirely sure himself. This is why all of the types of tourists, in one way or another, manage to fit Port's personality.
The next type of tourist that Cohen talks about is the one that might work the most well with Port's journey throughout the Sheltering Sky. This type of tourist is known as the experimental tourist is someone who has come to terms with the fact that they will never find an authentic experience and instead are content to witness others having authentic experiences. Port's character definitely progresses through these types of tourists throughout the book but I think this is the one he identifies with the most. He first goes abroad as a diversionary/experiential tourist, but eventually he is so desensitized when he realizes that even when he goes deep within the depths of the Sahara, he can't escape himself and the inauthenticity within himself. And this is the true problem within Port, which he can only reconcile with death.
The final type of tourist Cohen talks about is like Port in name but not so much in description. Although we do classify the Sheltering Sky as a "existentialist" book with "existentialist" views, I don't think this is the kind of tourist that Port most identifies with. Although there are aspects of this tourist that are very Port, like that he doesn't really want a new center, but just one that is de-central to his own native center, the fact that this tourist is searching for authenticity makes him different from Port. This tourist hopes to go "from meaninglessness to authentic experience", which is initially Port's intention. But by the end of the book Port has accepted there is no authenticity, and the only true authenticity or higher power can be found in death.
Much of Cohen’s essay speaks of travel in a religious sense. He begins with the “mythological imagery” (Cohen, 182) of primitive societies and goes on to discuss the pilgrimages of modern-day Zionists. I believe that the religious aspect has almost nothing to do with Port and Kit’s journey. They are searching for a “centre” (Cohen,) of a different kind.
I believe that Port mostly fits into the “Experiential Mode” (Cohen, 186) and partly into the “Experimental mode”of tourism. He lives in a “centre-less space” (Cohen, 186) because he travels so much. The beginning of The Sheltering Sky describes how port really has no home. He is the “drifter” according to Cohen who “observes the authentic life of others” but always “remains aware of their ‘otherness’.”(Cohen, 188) His increasing understanding of his “state of alienation” (Cohen, 186) is partly what motivates him to continue traveling deeper into the Sarah (and simultaneously deeper into his own mind). Cohen describes that the “experiential tourist…perhaps inarticulately, searches for a new meaning.” (Cohen, 187) In the very first chapter of The Sheltering Sky Port awakens with “the certitude of an infinite sadness at the core of his consciousness.” (Bowles, 3) Throughout the rest of the trip Port searches for this meaning within the literal desert and within the desert of his mind. He seems to think that his relationship with Kit holds meaning although it is not enough to save him from falling into the abyss. The fact that Port invited Tunner in this journey exemplifies the very fact that Port’s search is “inarticulate” because he wants to get closer to Kit but he, himself, puts a huge obstacle in his own way.
Kit, on the other hand, makes a passage through many of the different modes of tourism. She begins the Africa trip in the “Recreational mode.”(Cohen, 183) (for fun) but still looks down on other tourists and European-like qualities she sees in Oran. This moves her into the “Diversionary mode”(Cohen 185) of travel. Her meaningless life is exemplified when she is sitting in a café in Oran with Tunner and Port and discussing real versus fake Pernod. Her “center-less[ness]” is shown through the fact that she doesn’t really want to be in Africa, but she agreed to the trip because Port wanted to go. In a sense, Port is her centre. When Port dies she moves into the “Experiential mode”and becomes completely aware of the fact that she has no centre at all. This sends her into her own journey of self-discovery. She “[tries] to break the bonds…and begin to ‘live’” (Cohen, 187). Finally Kit becomes the “experimental tourist…in search of [her]self.” (Cohen, 189) She is not sure what she is looking for so “the search itself [becomes] a way of life.” (Cohen, 189) Her ultimate goal is to get lost in the Casbah and assimilate into African life.
Part of reaching the ultimate commitment, at least for Port, is shedding his identity. If looked at in a negative light, an identity is a burden that keeps someone back from completely exploring a new environment. They will not be able to see themselves as natives if they know that they are really just visiting. After Port loses his passport, he realizes that "it rather suited his fancy to be going off with no proof of his identity to a hidden desert town about which no one could tell him anything" (163). As he explains to Kit after their bike ride, they "have never managed...to get all the way into life. We're hanging on to the outside for all we're worth" (94). Abandoning his passport and leaving the world in a sense is going all the way into life. So much so that he eventually passes through life and ends up at the other side.
Once Port made up his mind to reach the ultimate commitment, no one could stop him. As Port lay dying, Tunner forces Kit to confront that she can not do anything to make him come back from his almost deathly state. It also seems like even though Port made up his mind, as he gets closer to death, he becomes less and less willing to let go. Part of him desperately wants something to hold onto while another part desperately wants to keep going (221). Death was the only thing that could satisfy Port's need to "experiment with other forms of life and not just experience them" (195, article).
Cohen describes the experimental mode of travel as, “this mode of the touristic experience is characteristic of people who do not adhere any more to the spiritual centre of their own society, but engage in a quest for an alternative in many different directions” ( Cohen, 189). I think this description as a traveler can certainly relate to the characters of Port and Kit. The reader can get this interpretation from the beginning of The Sheltering Sky where Bowles describes Port’s definition of a traveler by saying, “Whereas the tourist generally hurries back home at the end of a few weeks or months, the traveler, belonging no more to one place than to the next, moves slowly, over periods of years, from one part of the earth to another” (Bowles, 6). Port doesn’t believe he is a tourist because he doesn’t just visit a country for a short amount of time and then leave. He stays there gaining experience and living life in a new way each and every time. I think this can connect to Cohen’s interpretation of the experimental mode of travel because these types of tourists don’t have an area to come. They continuously travel in the search for something, that something however is unknown. This is exactly what Port and Kit have done their entire lives and continue to do in the novel. They travel all throughout Northern Africa but don’t know exactly for what reason which I think can certainly be classified as “experimental”.
Paul Bowles takes a unique approach in his novel because Port and Kit aren’t just one type of tourist. They actually transform to the existential mode of traveling towards the end of the novel. Erik Cohen describes these people’s behaviors as, “ for a variety of practical reasons, will not be able or willing to move permanently to their ‘elective’ centre, but will live in two worlds: the world of their everyday life, where they follow their practical pursuits, but which for them is devoid of deeper meaning” (Cohen, 191). I think this explanation can certainly hold true for what ended up happening to Porter and Kit in the novel. Kit is the strongest example of this because she was living one life in which she went about the day doing practical things just to play the role of a normal human being but inside her was a clash between two different worlds. Like the definition of an existentialist mode clearly indicates, Kit had to battle a primitive way of living and the normal way of living. When going about the day living a normal life, she was truly hiding from what had deeper meaning for her. This deeper meaning for her is to become primitive which Bowles is the effect of romanticism. Port has a romantic obsession with death and this is completed when he keeps on traveling until he gets sick and dies. Kit wants to be a primitive woman who is in touch with her sexual desires. At the end of the novel, Kit and Porter’s journey can be classified as an existentialist one because of what they seek and how they eventually end up.
The Moresbys do not fall into the first two groups; they are neither recreational tourists, who travel “in pursuit of ‘mere pleasure,’ nor diversionary tourists, who, alienated from the centre of society, travel only to “escape from the boredom and meaninglessness of routine.” They don’t entirely enjoy their trip, like recreational tourists would, and do not regard their journey as a form of entertainment through which they relieve stress and pressures gained in daily life. Likewise, they do not belong in the diversionary mode since they have no “routine “to escape from in the first place; independently wealthy and submerged in the sense of timelessness, they possess no ties to any scheduled work and show no interest in professional advancements. Also, while Port and Kit bring all their culture with them, carrying luggage, staying in fancy hotels, and rarely mingling with the locals, they do not “move in a centre-less space” but look for one.
The couple seem to fall into the second category of the five modes—experiential, experimental, and existential—but most fittingly in the experiential mode. Port fits the characterization of a experiential tourist; he is “a modern man who, alienated from the spiritual centre of his own society, actively, though perhaps inarticulately, searches for a new meaning.” Moreover, MacCannel’s claim that “Pretensions and tackiness generate the belief that somewhere, only not right here, not right now, perhaps just over there someplace, in another country, in another life-style, in another social class, perhaps, there is genuine society” describes the situation of the Moresbys perfectly.In this depressing post-war era of hopelessness and cynicism, they travel as far away from New York to find their “centre,” a symbol for “ultimate meanings.” Only encountering meaninglessness, they continue to wander deeper and deeper into the desert, in a “quest for authentic experiences,” and while they look, they completely “remain aware of their ‘otherness’.”
Out of the five classifications of tourism defined in Cohen’s essay, the experiential mode seems to be the closest fit for Port in Sheltering Sky.
Port and Kit exhibit their searches for meaning in life differently. For Port, he feels that he is not participating fully in life. He expresses to Kit, on the day that they take an expedition together, that he feels like he is simply living on the outside of life, and he wants to be in the middle of it. Not only does this comment show some sort of emotional void, but it explains why Port is constantly on the move: he is on the quest for something specific, a certain place or experience that will lead him the "middle" of life. He later returns to the site later on that night alone. He thinks to himself that it would be horrible if Kit found out he came back without her: either she would not understand why, or she would understand all too well. This indicates the gaping hole in Port and Kit's relationship, as well as Port's physical desire to find a place that will somehow add meaning to his life. Port is constantly on the move: he goes into the dessert, he seeks out natives, he places himself in precarious situations. He wants to experience difference facets of life through actively searching for a tangible element of purpose.
Kit's existential angst manifests itself differently than that of Port's. Kit's paranoia, centering around the omens she interprets, is a way of compensating for the meaningless she feels in life. By overanalyzing daily events and interpreting them as signs of doom, Kit adds a layer of structuralism to the ambiguity of the universe. Kit also recalls how she once thought that if Port were to die before she, it would be she who had really died- she imagined herself as living only in some sort of dream world that needed Port to exist. Kit's descension into insanity is a deconstructive one: she delves deeper into her subconscious, yet can also be said to have reached a certain nirvana with her disregard of societal norms. The enigmatic nature of Kit's existential discovery is frightening to the reader.
On page 181 Cohen makes the connection between “vacation,” and “vacant time,” I had never thought of this connection, and I thought it was an appropriate word to describe a reoccurring feeling I got from Bowles’ writing, vacant. “If tourism becomes central, the individual would become ‘deviant,’ he would be seen as ‘retreating,’ opting out, or escaping the duties imposed on him by society.” (Cohen 181) Port’s motives to go to Africa could be seen as “opting out,” of his own society, tired of the duties he was forced to deal with.
Cohen takes on a different stance on the entertainment seeking “tourist,” than a writer Cohen mentions, Boorstin, as well as Port’s opinion. Cohen believes these tourists are not interested in the authentic experience, and rightly so, because sometimes authenticity can be frightening or depressing. Authenticity could ruin a trip with a “terrifying or revolting,” overtone. Port experiences this first-hand. He came across many disturbing sights and hopeless landscapes, which would definitely be classified as authentic North Africa, but is that really an ideal trip?
Cohen also quotes another sociologist, MacCarnell, who said “the concern of modern man for the shallowness of their lives and inauthenticity of their experiences parallels concern for the sacred in primitive society.” This comparison is incredibly appropriate because of the theme of reverting back to a less civilized time that we continuously discussed with The Sheltering Sky. By the end of the novel Port and Kit seem to regress to a more primitive state by acting on more spiritual whims than logic and reason.
Finally, Cohen makes one statement that strongly resembles Kit’s story towards the end of the novel: “Indeed, in extreme cases the search itself may become a way of life, and the traveler an eternal seeker. Such may be the case with those ‘drifters,’ who get accustomed to move steadily between different peoples and cultures, who through constant wandering completely lose the faculty of making choices, and are unable to commit themselves permanently to anything” This description is eerily similar to Kit when she is own her own in the Sahara. Kit gets passed along from man to man in a daze-like state, never really caring where she will end up. Even in the last paragraph we find Kit is “drifting,” into another anonymous crowd, only to be lost forever.
I found the characters in Paul Bowles’ The Sheltering Sky to match some of Cohen’s descriptions of tourists. Mrs. Lyle is in the “Recreational Mode” of tourism where she “does not have a deep commitment to travel as a means of self-realization or self-expansion,”(184, Cohen). She travels for pleasure and because she can as a high-class individual. The original purpose of travel is for pilgrimages and recreating one’s spiritual centre. However, Mrs. Lyle’s spiritual centre is still at home. She relates everything she finds to her home and she does not really seek anything when going to North Africa. On the other hand, Kit and Port drastically change themselves on their trip.
Port seeks to fill a void in his relationship with Kit through travel, but his spiritual centre remains at home. He travels in the Experimental Mode since he has the characteristics of, “…people who do not adhere any more to the spiritual centre of their own society, but engage in a quest for an alternative in many different directions”(189, Cohen). He knows that the Arabs live authentically and he would like to experiment with living in other societies. His center remains at home, but something inside urges him to travel.
Kit travels in the Existential Mode because her spiritual centre departed so far from her own home. Cohen says that Kit’s type, “… may attach themselves permanently to it and start a new life there by ‘submitting’ themselves completely to the culture or society based on an orientation to that centre…”(190, Cohen) She completely immerses in African life especially in Belqassim’s house. Kit completely dresses the part of a “primitive” person and competes with the other wives for Belqassim. She is practically a native due to her immersion in the Algerian culture.
Prior to Port’s onset illness, Kit finds herself unintentionally traveling about in preciously this pleasure-seeking manner. She habitually confines herself to her bedroom, as filthy and unglamorous, as it may be, engaging in this semi-conscious relaxation. While we understand that her hermitage is a necessary psychological seclusion to consider her blunders and presumably seek escape from them, on the surface it appears that she is experiencing the recreational mode of travel. She is fulfilling this mold by essentially “getting away,” because it is clear that there are things she is attempting to ‘get away from’; if this were not the case, than she “may find no need for travel,” than she presumably, “would have stayed home.”
The interesting element that Port throws into the mix is that he, like Boorstin, possesses a “they-are-the-tourists-I-am-not” attitude. Though he travels with a great deal of luggage, was at one point attached to his passport, and continually rejects the native propositions for tea, he still carries an air of superiority over his companions; asserting that he is in search of anything but the “trivial, superficial, frivolous pursuit” of the tourist. Kit on the other hand, was never concerned with such designations, but following Port’s death, found herself in a deviation even further from anything Port was ever able to attain.
In this sense, through her transformation she embodied the experimental mode of tourism, engaging “in a quest for an alternative” lifestyle that began after her submergence from African waters and resurfacing, free of societal constraints and conceptualized time. Cohen summarizes the process that Kit underwent by comparing it to that of the assumed modern man, stating that, “the individual would become ‘deviant’…or seen as ‘retreating’, opting-out, or escaping the duties imposed upon him by his society.” These can be reflected through Kit’s shedding of Western dress, disengagement of time, and liberation from conventional society. In her sought out search for pure identity, both internally and externally she plunged further into the touristic experience and entered into the existential mode.
From the opening pages of The Sheltering Sky, it is evident that the existential mode has always been prevalent. While this mode of examination is the only accurate method of reflecting on the novel as a whole, each mode of travel is important and quite essential to our understanding of it. Port ended and began by meditation through the subconscious; his refusal, even in his final moments to, “fully…commit himself to,” to either medium, and in essence, to either location, demonstrates this sort of existential existence. Similarly Kit embodied this concept towards the end of the novel when she submersed herself in native life and allowed “the search itself” to “become a way of life.” Both she and Port existed in “tourist space” and acted in obscure manners while being unaware of their “craving for authenticity”. This craving, and the actions that followed it, provide the justification for their “touristic condition” and reflects their “absurd human condition.” This novel is truly about the human condition; it is an exploration not only through the Sahara, but also through the mind, in actuality, through many minds. And by examining it in this fashion, we are able to take away some sort of understanding of that subconscious psychological journey.
Paul Bowles, The Sheltering Sky
Erik Cohen’s “A Phenomenology of Tourist Experiences