The Tourist #60


“‘But we have seen it’ these words still haunt me. The touristic mode of experiencing is primarily visual, and to have been there, to have ‘seen’ it , only requires presence. The tourist ‘sees’ enough of the Balinese ritual only to confirm his prior images derived from the media… To ‘see’ a ritual is comparable to collecting a souvenir. … The tourist has ‘seen’ a strange thing, a token of the exotic, and there is no necessity to go further, to penetrate to any deeper level … [than] to capture … the ceremony in photographs.”

Bruner (1995 235-6 our italics)”

A ritual exists to be seen. This is the risk the ritual takes, that it is there only to be seen and means nothing. The ritual may be precisely no more than what is seen, there.

The person who “understands” the Balinese ritual is then who? The Balinese authentic participant? The Balinese ironic participant? The Balinese mercenary participant (the old lady on her knees in the church praying her son’s business will recover)?

Or is it the German Anthropologist who can see how necessary religious belief is to the savages? As it once was for our mighty civilisations?

Or is it the tourist who is looking for answers, but also, and principally, postcards - which are so much better really than a performance of a performance of an act of ritualistic value and bearing? Is the tourist here not closest to the one who wishes for the “true” religious aspect of the ritual to be preserved? In passing by they pass by the carnivalesque re-staging in a world bereft of grace of something which once, perhaps, at least meant something to someone?

After the event has been photographed once it is a whore to allow itself to be photographed again.