The Anti-Conquest, Travel Writing, and Planetary Consciousness | Mary-Louise Pratt
On this episode, our guest is Mary Louise Pratt, a Professor Emerita at NYU and author of the pioneering decolonial work on travel writing entitled Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation. Her new book Planetary Longings is out now through Duke University Press.
She holds a PhD in Comparative Literature from Stanford University. Her research includes work on Latin American Literature and Latin American Studies, comparative literature, linguistics, literary theory, postcolonial studies, feminist and gender studies, anthropology, and cultural studies.
Her publications include: Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation (1992; 2nd ed. 2007), a well-known study of the discursive formation of Latin America and Africa in metropolitan travel literature. With the west coast SOFA collective, she co-authored Women, Culture and Politics in Latin America (1993). A collection of her work appeared in Spanish in 2017 titled Los imaginarios planetarios (Madrid: Aluvion). Her most recent work as a critic and scholar includes reflections on neoliberalism and culture, language and globalization, and contemporary indigenous politics and thought. Pratt stresses the dynamic relations between high culture and popular movements, between gendered narratives and official legends, between national politics and global markets.
The episode is entitled, The Anti-Conquest, Travel Writing, and Planetary Consciousness.
What is the Anti-Conquest?
The Cataloguing of the World
Interior Discovery and Exploration
Planetary vs Global
Modernity, the Museum and the Past as Dead
The Voyage Outward and the Voyage Inward
The Myth of the Hero
European Eyes and the Discovery of the Nile
The Passive Act of Seeing
VIrtual Reality and the Age of the Selfie
The New Tourism
Travel Writing as an Instrument of Decolonization
Decolonizing Travel Writing
Mary Louise Pratt - The Anti-Conquest, Travel Writing, and Planetary Consciousness
Chris: Well, welcome to the End of Tourism Podcast, Mary.
Mary Louise Pratt: Thank you. Happy to be here.
Chris: It's a pleasure to have you an honor. Really? I'm wondering, professor, if you could tell our guests, what the world looks like for you, where you are today.
Mary Louise Pratt: Today I'm in the north valley of the city of Albuquerque in New Mexico where I'm house sitting for a friend.
And I do that every fall. And I'm looking out on an early December day that is much warmer and much drier than it is supposed to be. It's a gorgeous sunny day and everyone is very uneasy about how gorgeous, sunny and dry it is. It's also very vulnerable and threatened right now.
Chris: Yeah. Such are the times right. Now, I'd like to begin by asking what, if anything, have your personal travels in the world taught you about tourism in our time and place.
Mary Louise Pratt: About tourism? I think what travel has taught me a lot is the obscenity and destructiveness of first world hyper consumption and the needlessness of it. And it's ability to create a kind of fatal situation. And that becomes very conspicuous to me whenever I travel.
Chris: Yeah. And more and more. So it seems with each passing year that you know, these things become less and less invasive. And more and more obvious. And at the same time, more and more people have the capacity to contribute to this hyper consumption, as you mentioned. And, you know, we wonder how the scales will tip as time goes on.
Mary Louise Pratt: Yes. Because to tourism until the pandemic at least was the largest single industry in the world, which is pretty astounding.
Chris: Professor in your book, Imperial Eyes, you speak of an incredibly important topic that I think mostly goes unnoticed in our times and certainly among travelers today, that what you call the "anti conquest." I'd love it if you could unpack this concept for our listeners.
Mary Louise Pratt: Well, I invented the term "anti conquest" when I started discussing travel and exploration writing in the 18th and 19th centuries.
And I use the term to describe mechanisms by which travelers and travel writers preserve their kind of innocence about their travel. And unlike previous travelers in the 15th and 16th century, they didn't present themselves as conquistadores, as there to dominate and to conquest and to dispossess. They adopted a posture of a kind of innocence.
Mainly they were there as naturalists and just there to see the country and the kind of colonial and Imperial infrastructure that was underwriting their activities stayed out of sight. And it's pretty interesting now to see the degree to which tourism also continues to be structured that way, that the tourist industry constantly tries to conceal its own infrastructure so that the traveler doesn't see all the behind the scenes, labor and arrangements and damage that goes into making the making of the tourist experience.
And so part of what you buy when you're buying a tourist experience, is that feeling of innocence and unaccountability that you're there just seeing. For example, I just recently read a wonderful dissertation by a Colombian scholar named Pilar Sanchez on the Galapagos.
People who go to the Galapagos, always report this extraordinary experience of this raw nature and these amazing creatures. And they report feeling they're in the company of these animals. And they never see the town, the 30,000 people who live on Galapagos whose labor creates these experiences for people.
And you have to deal with the consequences of it and whose work creates that experience of untouched nature for every single tourist. So they don't really even have much contact with each other. So that whole practice of concealing the infrastructure. I think is a dimension of that, what I identified as the "anti conquest" in the book.
Chris: Yeah. In an Imperial Eyes you, write, "that only through a guilty act of conquest, can the innocent act of the anti conquest be carried out?" Could you elaborate a little bit on the link between the guilty act of conquest and the innocent act of anti conquest?
Mary Louise Pratt: Well, what I mean by the guilty act is conquest is being the uninvited arrival and the unsolicited arrival and the person who has intentions. and so I use the word "invader" at times to talk about that. So, the early 19th century explorers who were looking for the source of the Nile, for example, did not necessarily see themselves as the vanguard for colonial invasion.
But they knew they were the Vanguard of European designs in Africa and that they were bringing Africa into the purview of Europe over which the Africans themselves had no control. So. I think it's that the uninvited nature of the arrivals that for me has to be underlined.
Chris: Absolutely. Yeah, there's a line in, in your book where you specifically described this as a way of, well, first of all, you describe it as a great longing, which I think defines quite deeply the innocent act, but you also describe it as a way of taking possession without subjugation and violence.
Mary Louise Pratt: There's a longing for that. Yeah. A longing for that.
Chris: And how do you see, I mean, you were writing particularly about the 18th and 19th centuries. How do you see the anti conquest showing up today in contemporary tourist travel?
Mary Louise Pratt: The tourist industry constructs, for example, a structure of hospitality around you. So you are considered, you're called a guest and the people who are making your experience for you treat you as a guest and they're your host but they didn't, didn't exactly invite you to be there.
And the conditions under which they are hosting you were created by Holiday Inn International or created by multinational corporations. So, the hospitality industry, which is a contradiction in terms is a really good phrase that denotes this whole structure of the simulacrum of hospitality, the simulacrum of traveling to visit, whereas, anthropologically, visiting is a kind of reciprocal thing where I visit you, you visit me but in the hospitality industry, it's a one-way street, in tourism. And so it's that whole structure of pretend hospitality and pretend guests rather than customer is part of the way tourism maintains the innocence of the tourist.
Chris: Yeah, absolutely. And so I wanted to speak about the two of the main themes of your book. One, which is the emergence of natural history as a structure of knowledge, and the other, which is the turn toward interior, as opposed to maritime exploration. Now, you refer to these scientific and humanistic revolutions as extensions of the Christian missionizing project or conversion, as opposed to its subversion.
I'd love it if you could offer a little more of what this means for our listeners, what was happening at the time to give us a little bit of context.
Mary Louise Pratt: Yes. Well, what I meant by that idea was in the, in the 18th century Sarah Rose, this domain of knowledge construction that was called "natural history."
And what that involved was the project of describing every single natural element of the world living, or non-living using a single set of terms. And this began or consolidated itself with the appearance of a book called "the System of Nature" that was written by a Swedish naturalist named Carl Linnae.
He's called Linnaeus in Latin and in "the System of Nature" Linnaeus proposed 24 categories of description that he claimed would characterize every single plant that existed, including the plants that were not yet known to Europeans. So we created a typology of categories for describing all natural, all plants.
And this created a structure of knowledge production that involved sending out disciples. And this is where the Christian image comes in, sending disciples out from the center of this knowledge construction, which was in Northern Europe, sending the disciples out all over the world to retrieve this knowledge, create these descriptions and to bring this system to that place.
And so it was that idea of discipleship and the idea of a set of terms that could blanket the entire planet. That was where the analogy with Christianity came in for me, that the model was Jesus sending disciples to take the word of God to the entire human world. And that fanning out from a center was what the analogy with Christianity was for me.
And natural history was of course completely secular knowledge. And it arose with the rise of secular science in the 18th century. So in that sense, it was at odds with Christianity in that respect, but the structure, and this is why I argued that natural history was part of a new form of planetary consciousness that developed in Europe in the 18th century.
Chris: Wow. And the turn toward interior, as opposed to maritime exploration, you were referring to the geographical interior or also cultural interior or individual, psychological interior?
Mary Louise Pratt: I had not thought about psychological interiors. I was just noticing that exploration began to leave behind maritime exploration and move into exploring interiors, which I think connected with the expanding capitalism and the expansion of extraction and those kinds of things, but interior exploration in speaking of it in psychological terms did arise, especially the later though in the 19th century with romanticism, of course, that was sort of the romantic traveler was the one interior traveler.
Chris: And so, you know, I imagine that the people undertaking these scientific and a natural history based projects were apart of the intellectual elite, literate and probably wealthy Europeans.
And so I'm curious what was the consequence, not necessarily for them, but for the Europeans at the time, who perhaps more and more were becoming literate for the Europeans who were reading these texts, what was the consequence for the culture in that regard?
Mary Louise Pratt: Actually it's one of the most interesting things about Linnaeus' systems and about natural history in general is it was a very democratizing form of science.
It aimed to create not professionals, but lay naturalists. So Linnaeus deliberately described it as a system that anybody could use. So you didn't have to be trained. You could pick it up, take the book with you, take the illustrations with you and just go out wherever you were and start doing it.
And it had a really anti elitist or strongly sort of democratic impulse in it. This is something we can all do, and this is a way we can all relate. To the world and have this form of the power of this kind of knowledge creation. But of course it did require literacy, but it became very democratized kind of thing.
Lots of people would, you know, even when I was a kid, people would still keep scrapbooks of the samples of plants that they would find and there was a whole kind of collecting thing that went on that everybody had access to. So, natural history was very interesting in that way.
And the people who did it, who were sent on these excursions, which were of course often very dangerous, tended to be middle-class people with education like that of a doctor or a minister, or a bureaucrat or a say a captain of a ship or something like that, but they were middle-class people not usually aristocrats who went on these journeys.
Chris: And so yeah this planetary consciousness or European planetary consciousness that you mentioned that, that arose during those centuries, you say that it arose through travel writing. Was natural history and the Linnaean project was that the only aspect of travel writing?
Mary Louise Pratt: Yeah. What I wanted to argue was that, travel writing, since most people didn't travel, travel writing created what I call the 'domestic subject of European imperialism' and what I meant by that was it brought the world to Europeans in the form of books and So the European reader of the travel book, became what we might now want to call it the global citizen.
They observed themselves as that at the center of this planetary knowledge production and of this narrative. So they became the whole idea of the armchair traveler was created by travel literature that you could become a member of citizens of the world by reading through reading this stuff and creating through reading these books and creating in your own imagination, the whole of the planet or the larger world.
And that formed the domestic subject of what was going to be expanding European empires.
Chris: Well, yeah, because I imagine there was a good amount of imperial or nationalistic sentiment in the writing.
Mary Louise Pratt: There was, and also, you know, imperialism has had to work hard to make itself meaningful for the general public because the general public were not the beneficiaries of imperialism. The big trade companies where the main beneficiaries and elites who own things. And so empires have always had to work hard to legitimate themselves and make themselves a meaningful to the domestic subjects, as well as the people they conquer.
And so I think travel literature did a lot of that work. It made people feel part of this larger enterprise in which in fact they had very little stake and were not going to benefit from. So that's kind of the skeptical way of thinking about.
Chris: Yeah. I mean, I imagine that in that context, travel writing becomes not only a tool, but a weapon for European states and, and empires to consolidate nationhood within the state or within a monarchy, as opposed to you know, people cultivating and regenerating their own local indigenous practices or whatever was left of their indigenous practices at the time in Europe.
Mary Louise Pratt: That's true. Yes. And that, that's the part that comes yes, with modernity is the kind of the delegitimation of vernacular cultures within Europe, just as vernacular cultures were de-legitimated elsewhere.
And the other thing is that travel writing did provide, some of what travel provides, which is this experience of displacement, this displacement from the every day, then in entering into imaginary worlds or imagined the worlds that are radically different.
And the challenge of that too. And so it did provide some of that kind of displacement that people seek in travel experiences. Wow. That's why it was so popular. It was very popular people, loved reading, travel books, kind of virtual escape.
Chris: Yeah, sure. Wow. Why? That sounds a lot like a modern day social media, which I'd like to come back to in a little bit, but I'd like to ask, you know, you mentioned the notion of the global citizen being comparable or perhaps an extension of this European planetary consciousness of the 18th and 19th centuries.
Now, the global citizen and the global village, these very contemporary concepts are almost always championed among people in the tourism industry, among travelers among the sort of political establishment in the west.
Maybe it's probably too much to ask right now, but it's probably more, more something along the lines of a PhD dissertation or, or a project in itself. But can we track the evolution of European planetary consciousness into what we have, or consider today to be global citizenship or the global village, global village mindset.
Mary Louise Pratt: I'm sure you could establish some genealogical connections, but the distinction I would make, I mean, they both connected certain ideas of cosmopolitanism, which is a value-laden term that I really don't like very much.
But also, you know, There's a distinction between "planetary" and "global" in English that's pretty, that can be kind of pretty significant. Even like now planetary is more connected to ecological discourse and the question of nature, which is what natural history was engaged with. Whereas the global is much more connected to extractive industry, commodity capitalism that the organization of capitalist production on a global scale.
And to me, globality is much more connected with that project, which was in its bare beginnings in the 18th century and you know, sort of began with industrialization in the early 19th century. So I, I find that the global is much more the product of , multinational capitalism and so that's the thought that's a different set of associations for me.
Chris: But one could make the argument that, that the, the, the mentality or the, the goals of multinational corporations in that regard are not that distinct from the Imperial wants of European states or kingdoms, or leaders in the 18th and 19th century.
Mary Louise Pratt: I mean, those early big companies, the east India company
Chris: ...Hudson's Bay...
Mary Louise Pratt: In Canada, those big companies were the beginnings of that, they were the first kind of global scale enterprises.
Chris: Yeah. What do you think the consequences of what people would call today global thinking are in this context, in the context of conquest and perhaps anti-conquest?
There's often this regurgitated saying, "Think global, act local," right. And our capacity or willingness, especially among people of younger generations to only be able to reflect on what's happening in the world through news media or social media, in part, because those mediums have concealed not only the local, but any manner of living locally in terms of the neighborhood or in terms of your local ecologies.
Mary Louise Pratt: Yeah. One of the things that globalization has done is it has produced a lot of homogenization that, in other words, I like to think of this in terms of they're all these objects that now, wherever you go in the world, you will find them. The white plastic chairs, flip-flops things like that. Right? T-shirts, jeans, sneakers. And then of course globalized, your McDonald's, your 7-11, you're in Oaxaca. Is there 7-11 in Oaxaca, right? Yes.
Chris: No, but there is another parts of Mexico. Surely. Is in
other parts of Mexico.
Mary Louise Pratt: Yes. When they arrived.
And I kind of set of expectations that when you arrive somewhere, you will have your internet, you will have your, there will be these things there. And so that homogenization is a whole dimension of globalization that's been produced by commodity chains. Right. So it leads to a different kind of imagination about what other places will be like and what the world is like.
Chris: Wow. Yeah. Well, actually I wanted to ask you Mary, about this notion of objects as being dead or lifeless and about the way a touristic mindset or a culturally American touristic mindset has grown not only to objectify, but to see and kind of viscerally believe museum pieces ruined. Souvenirs and other things as essentially lifeless because you have this great quote in your book, where you write that
"the European imagination produces archeological subjects by splitting contemporary non-European peoples off from their pre-colonial and even their colonial pasts to revive indigenous history and culture as archeology is to revive them as dead. The gesture simultaneously rescues them from European forgetfulness and reassigns them to a departed age."
So as soon as I read that, I thought, okay, well this seems to me exactly what the museum does. And so what consequence do you think that seeing other cultures, especially ones that are quote from the past or that only existed in the past has for our understanding of the world and of time?
Mary Louise Pratt: Yeah, this is such a good question because the museum is an artifact of modernity and modernity knows itself only in relation to something it calls pre-modernity right. And it identifies itself always over and against some non-modern, pre-modern other. And I think museums kind of housed that otherness and became a mechanism for affirming modernities and modernity's presentism.
Modernity produces experiences. When I say the experience of "the past as dead," I really mean that it means experiencing the past as a, as something that's over. So the modern subject is likely not to be a subject that experiences the past as vitally alive in the present or that has a circular sense of time, that sees the past circling back through it and has the future circling towards it. That will be repetitions of the past and the present, you know, that kind of much more vital, vibrant sense of time as always, always co-present in any moment, that modern subjects don't have that. It's part of the mechanism for creating the linear progressive time that modernity wanted to establish, that we're all moving towards something homogeneous. It's going to be the modern, and that will be the ultimate realization of our potential. Right.
And of course, that kind of linear development and progress have been completely, really discredited, now. I think most people don't inhabit that paradigm anymore. We're more likely to inhabit a cataclysmic paradigm of, you know, apocalypse.
But we haven't still recovered that or been able to... modern people haven't created that vibrant sense of pastness that you will still find in other places. And I think that was part of the project of modernity because it wanted it to be this forward looking, forward moving, linear temporality.
Chris: Well, I mean, to see something as dead in that context as dead and gone is to say that it's disappeared, right, it's non-existent. And that there's something in that understanding of our notions of dead, as far as the artifacts that we see in the museum or the ruins that we see and in tourist sites around the world, that there's something as much as there is a longing for living past in that regard that there's also something that's terrifying to, maybe not necessarily modern people, but what what's happened to people in order to become modern.
You know, the huge amount of tourism is now geared towards heritage trips or Homeland returns, and typically tourists are European descended people, not always, but of course, for centuries now. And so you see a lot of this and I think that somewhere in the modern willingness to escape and to travel, even if it leaves people on an isolated beaches, drinking booze and eating hamburgers for a week, that there's something in that travel that, that longs for a living past, that people often go searching out unbeknownst.
And the museum is, I think, a product of that, even though it, you know, it's part of its consequences is to present the world and the past is dead.
Mary Louise Pratt: Yeah, I think the also just to go back to the burgers on the beach, that. I for me too, a lot of travel for pleasure travel like that is it's an example whereby people introduce into their lives, in groups of people, societies introduce into their life radical difference, experiences of differentiation, dislocation, interruption of the every day, and expose themselves often to risks, to new experiences and to transgression and cultures have lots of different ways of doing that.
You could, you do that through carnival is an example, an old example of that kind of thing, where you set up something every year, you interrupt everything and, and the rules are lifted and, and everybody goes crazy and I call it sometimes reenchanting the world.
You reach out the world by just interrupting your daily routine and enabling yourself to have experiences that your daily routine doesn't allow you to have. Pilgrimage is of course, another one that, where people have done that. A very ancient form and people still do that.
And so there's these practices of self displacement and interruption and re-enchantment are very widespread among human groups. I think everybody does it one way or another with often with ritual. And so that's the, if you like that sort of the human desire or need, or social desire that the tourist industry capitalizes on and creates and co-ops that are, or seizes that, but the tourist industry trains the tourist to have these experiences, these experiences of displacement that we offer you, right? We'll construct it for you and sell it to you. And so there's something real there that gets them that is the basis on which tourism builds itself, I think.
Chris: Yeah. I mean it wouldn't be hard to make the argument that that's exactly what spring break is. Right? The carnival, the Saturnalia, the lawlessness of once or twice a year in which people could collectively release these things, but I guess today it becomes this certainly ritualistic, but entirely uninitiated and unachieved in it's matter of being and it's matter of existing.
So I wanted to ask you as well about heroism and discovery, right? These two things pop up quite a bit in your book and I wanted to ask you about I guess these narratives, right? The biblical narratives that were certainly alive and well, as you mentioned, the discipleship of Linnaeus and his followers in the 19th century.
And how a lot of these kinds of religious narratives and myths, don't seem to be apparent today. I'm wondering, given the fact that you've done so much research around the 18th and 19th centuries, and that you've lived in the 20th and 21st century, you know, do you see these narratives and myths continuing today?
Mary Louise Pratt: I think discovery and those paradigms are still very present in, as forms of travel experiences that people seek out and are offered. So, in particular I'm fascinated by the contemporary phenomenon of what's called extreme tourism, where people do expose themselves to things that are very dangerous and very difficult.
And often people die doing it, you know, doing these things. And those are absolutely framed by narratives of heroism and conquest. You know, mountain climbing is still framed as conquest that a peak can be conquered over and over and over by every single person who climbs it.
Right. And so I think discovery tourism is also, or the paradigm of discoveries is also very much present in a lot of place-based tourism or destination tourism, where you go, you're going to see the northern lights. You're going to see the polar bears at Churchill. You're going to see the blue footed boobie in Galapagos, where the experience you have is the experience of you discovering this thing for yourself.
So those are paradigms of which, again, this kind of re-enchantment of the world happens in a commodified way through a commodified experience. But I think those paradigms are still there as like meaning machines can generate meaningfulness to the experience of displacement.
Chris: You know, people travel the world to find themselves there's this interior discovery, as well. And the conquering of your fears, perhaps, as you mentioned, you know, in regards to like mountain peaks, like Everest or the Amazon jungle or something like that, that there's this kind of parallel discovery and conquest that's happening both in the external world and in the interior, perhaps psychological world.
Mary Louise Pratt: Yeah, that's a very powerful connection.
People talk about the voyage out and the voyage in, right. And the voyage of discovery and the voyage of self-discovery. And I think those two are connected for me. At least they're connected above all in the fact that they both involve departing from the known and every day. They involve taking risks.
They involve exposing yourself to transformation. People are transformed by travels, you know, and the you're exposing yourself to transformation, to risk, to challenge, to discomfort. And I think that they connect yes, to self-transformation and that's where they connect. And so that travel can be a metaphor for, or a figure for self-discovery, but it can also be a practice of self discovery. Right.
Chris: Wow. I guess within the tourism industry, probably the vast majority of the time, the industry and the experiences that people encounter are often surrogates for how that quote "self-discovery" or perhaps initiation might've occurred in indigenous cultures across the world or pre-modern cultures. I see that when I think about heroism, when I think about, while I never considered myself a hero or while there was no like heroic impulse in any of my travels, you know, I still went to to see all these ruins and hike quote, in untouched forests and mountains.
And it made me remember when I was a kid that I loved the Indiana Jones movies. Right. And so there was this kind of way of Not just reenacting or inhabiting a heroic role, but that it largely happened subconsciously or unconsciously, right?
Mary Louise Pratt: Yeah. Myths are like that. I mean, you're talking about myths of, and a very powerful one, just like the frontier myth is this incredibly powerful myth. And that, that Indiana Jones type myth is a very powerful myth. And so it makes an experience very meaningful. You're being the protagonist of this particular narrative, you know, that you you're producing by doing what you're doing. Myths are very powerful. Yeah. Travel myths, especially.
Chris: And I wanted to ask you . About sight and spectacle because when people travel, when they go touring, when they go to experience other cultures and other lands and other worlds that it almost always happens through the eyes, at least for Western people or modern people.
You know, you have, this is great. It's not even the entire line. And, and, but it's incredible, you know, you write that " only the seeing and the writing of the seeing can fully constitute the discovery." I wanted to ask you, why is our manner of seeing so important on our travels as Western, modern people?
Mary Louise Pratt: Yes, it's such an interesting thing. I mean, the phrase we're going to see the sites was the definition of taking a trip. Right. And I loved when I was reading 19th century travel books and people where discovery of something, it meant the European person laying their eyes on it.
And so I remember reading the literature on the discovery of the source of the Nile, which expedition after expedition was sent out to discover the source of the Nile. And of course, lots of people in Africa knew where the source of the Nile was, but Richard Burton had to be taken to actually lay eyes on it himself and then go back and report to the Royal Geographical Society.
Right. And so the discovery involved having local people show him the place. Right. And so many discoveries were like that. It wasn't that the thing was unknown. It was completely well-known. So I think sight, it really had to do, and that natural history comes into this again. It really had to do with the visual being the privileged form of authority for scientific, secular knowledge, and science was the science of the visual.
And that was linked to empiricism. What you could see through a microscope, what you can see through a telescope, what you can see in the plants and animals that would allow you to classify them. And so I think that's where the visuality acquired so much, importance, but I think often with travel experiences, seeing becomes the pretext for all kinds of other experiences.
So you say, well, I'm going to go to Paris because I want to see the Mona Lisa, but seeing the Mona Lisa becomes a pretext for you having all kinds of other sensory experiences in Paris. Right. And so I think the idea that seeing sometimes is the pretext for many other kinds of travel experience in that of displacement and defamiliarization and all that other stuff that I've been talking about.
So, it's a way for the, the experience to be organized. Today, we're going to see this. Tomorrow, we're going to see that. How else are you going to spend 10 days someplace. Right? So it's a way of providing a narrative, a schedule even on which all kinds of other experiences get hung.
Chris: Yeah. I mean, it's become a kind of blind spot of Western people and especially tourists and other places. Right? I mean, like you would never, I mean, how many of us could actually imagine going somewhere like Paris, for example, and having a 10 day itinerary, and it's saying on this day, on the first day, we're going to go and smell this, and the second day we're gonna go and smell this.
And third day, we're gonna go and smell that. Right. It sounds so absurd, but that's the absurdity perhaps with which we have focused this, this tunnel vision of seeing of our obsession with sight as opposed to other senses.
Mary Louise Pratt: Can you imagine going to like going to match a Picchu, the experience of sea of Machu Picchu? Yes, you see. It's the experience of breathing bad air being of that elevation, that sky, that particular quality of the sunlight, all those things are sensory, the smell there, all those things are the sensory makeup of the experience, not just the sight.
Chris: Yeah. It's incredible to consider. Okay, now in your book in Imperial Eyes, you write that, "In the end, the act of discovery itself, for which all the untold lives were sacrificed and miseries endured consisted of what in European culture counts as a purely passive experience, that of seeing." I wanted to ask you, Why is it a purely passive experience?
What are the consequences for that? And does it continue today? Do you think we maintain or construct any form of active seeing in our days as travelers or tourists, people in other lands or even in our own?
Mary Louise Pratt: I think the passive act of seeing that is where I go to the place.
I see. I go to Yellowstone. I see the grizzly bear. I think that template is still very much with us. And I'm really interested in whether people will slowly lose that desire. It's a form of desire, right, the wanting to see the thing. It's a form of desire that's constructed for people, right? And I'm really interested in weather now when, when we're facing ecological, catastrophe, mass extinctions, I'm just wondering whether that form of desire is going to mutate or transform into something else. Maybe not wanting to see.
Chris: Right. Right. Wow. Well, I mean, I think about social media and Instagram and the way in which modern people, especially tourists or anyone who follows tourists or influencers online and things like that everyone wants the picture or the photo in the same spot.
And on one level, it's this mass consumption, this kind of feeding tube of endless images that at the end of the day become kind of sterile and meaningless because everyone takes the same one. Right. If you want to get a picture of the pyramids, it's absurd.
I mean, there's probably tens of millions of photos of the pyramids online and the exact same photo. Right. So I'm wondering in the context of a dying culture or a dying world that we perhaps might actually have the opportunity, whether it be, you know, looking more deeply into the things and people we have in front of us, or simply looking away, removing that feeding tube, in order to acquire or court some kind of active experience of the eyes that perhaps don't just consume.
Mary Louise Pratt: You know, it's interesting because as you're saying that I'm thinking about all virtual reality stuff that creates a different use of the eyes, right? A different experience of the eyes. The photograph business, and of course the age of the selfie.
It's you're right. It's fascinating to me that the photograph is still has such a central place because when the photograph... I'm much older than you, but when I was a kid growing up in a small town in Ontario, in Canada, there would be, these people would come through town to give what was called a travelogue.
And everybody, the town would gather in the town hall or the high school auditorium or wherever, and somebody would come through with their slides of there of a trip to India and they would tell you all about India.
Mary Louise Pratt: You look at these sides and they would describe things to you. And it was a form of travel literature, right? And you, again, it had that same impression of you feeling part of a world bigger than yourself and that sense of the exotic and of displacement and re-enchantment all that stuff. And the photographs were crucial because they were scarce. You know, he had the slides and you didn't write, or you or national geographic had that function.
And it's, it's fascinating now that, you're right, that the photograph itself, doesn't have have value, but the taking of the photo, the act of taking of the photo seems to be the thing that is the act of ownership and possession of the experience that you had of being in that place.
And, but then now, with the selfie you take the picture of the pyramid with yourself in it. Right. And it becomes then part of the whole culture, not of self-discovery anymore at all, but of self projection, self-expression, self- creation, that's so central in social media now that you're constantly creating images of yourself that you put out out into the world that are expressive, but they're not, it's not self discovery at all. It's about self promotion, right?
Chris: Yeah. We've just become brands selling the same thing, you know, just a little slightly removed from the next person to some degree.
Mary Louise Pratt: People are invited to insert themselves into the world this way. And it's a very dematerialized way. Right. It's all, yeah. Electronic
Chris: And to the degree that, you know, people feel alienated if they can't or if they don't write that it's not just an invitation anymore, but the only way I think for a lot of people. And this has happened, you know, largely in the last 10 years, which is really hard to imagine for people who maybe are under 30, right.
That it wasn't the same, you know, I mean, it's, that's, that's the thing is kind of like a revolution in terms
Mary Louise Pratt: It's been a revolution, a technological one, and a cultural one too.
Chris: Now that we're on the subject of revolutions in tourism that, you know, in the last 10, 20 years, the industry has began to court, people from different ethnic and demographic backgrounds. So people who aren't traditionally European descendant, people who I would call cultural Americans and they've become a part of this tourist demographic.
But not just people in the west, but middle classes in China and India, people in places where, really up until very recently, even the notion of a vacation or of time off didn't really exist, and for a lot of people was kind of a confusing thing, that the notion that time could be split into life and then everything else or leisure and then everything else.
And so I'm wondering as this. As tourism becomes slowly less and less of a white dominated industry, do you think that those demographics have the capacity to alter the narratives that tourism and travel writing has brought forth in the context of conquest or do you think that the industry will simply reinforce those lineages with new subjects?
Mary Louise Pratt: Well, First of all. Yes. It's very important that you identify the work-leisure paradigm, which is again, modernity, right as the underpinnings for all of this. And I think that the industry will do what ever it enables it to make money.
Right. And the tourist industry, part of its job is to produce tourists. And it certainly has no interest in discriminating against, a billion potential Chinese tourists. Right. So, it will market itself to anybody that's a potential customer. The question though, of whether the customers can change the product, it's certainly not impossible.
Right. But you would have to just see where those pressures come to bear and how they're brought to bear on the tourist industry. I mean, the tourist industry adapts food-wise for example. So wherever a group is coming from, it will try to provide them with food that they can enjoy, you know, respect their restrictions, that kind of thing.
And tourism is very adaptable. It will segment its market. And if there's an enclave of people that needs a tourist experience, w it will be provided, you know, if it's profitable. So that's kind of a pretty uninteresting answer to an interesting question about what could change the way traveling and tourism are done, you know, in the world.
And, I don't know if you remember Maurice Bishop. He was the prime minister of Granada, and he made an incredible speech in the 1970s. He advocated for what he called "the new tourism." And this is, you know, talking about the Caribbean.
And he wanted to talk about tourism that for example, was required to feed in something important in beneficial into the local culture. It was required to engage with every aspect of the economy of the island. So you had to rely on and nourish the productive forces of that place. And if you imagined rather instead of the tourist and just that we have forms of visiting that required much more reciprocity, where if I'm going to visit your country, you visit mine, where I'm going to read the travel book that you wrote about Sri Lanka, but I want to read a travel book but where Sri Lankan is writing about me, about us. I want to see what we look like to them, not just what they look like to you, right? So if you could imagine that someone has to apply to go visit a country or to visit anything, to go visit something and some things required of you in exchange or in return.
And so you can reimagine travel organized along much less exploitive, and much more ethical and reciprocal principles. The way visiting is, you know, or the way pilgrimage is, where it has a much more sacred aspect to it. And it's lived in that way. And I don't mean to be reactionary and just say, we have to go back to these, you know, past forms, but if you just try to fantasize radically re-imagining the way mobility works in the world... And one of the things that makes that forces us to do that now, I think in the world is the tremendous pressure of migration and mass migration, which is a fairly new phenomenon, its certainly brand new at the scale that it's happening now.
And it's so fascinating for instance, to see the heroic conquest narrative be alongside the narrative of the thousands and thousands of people finding the way through the Darien Gap, which was this place that was required, heroic discovery and all of a sudden thousands of desperate Haitians are coming up that, that jungle path that was supposedly inaccessible.
And so that whole paradigm of the caravan, the deathtraps of the boats and things, all of this movement, this form of mobility, I think is really challenging our imaginations and it's adding a whole new set of narratives and myths into the mix in a way that I think is going to problematize our more utopian versions of travel. I'm really intrigued and how that's going to play out.
Chris: Yeah realistically, not just today, not just in the last 50 years but for the last few hundred years. And certainly before that the vast majority of travelers were not tourists. They were exiles, warriors, pilgrims, and immigrants.
I wanted to ask you, as someone who's been engaged in the history of travel writing for a long time now, what contradictions do you see or foresee in the emergence of decolonial travel writing, for people who might want to engage in such an undertaking, what advice would you have for them having spent decades now researching this?
Mary Louise Pratt: Well, here's what I would say.
If you were going to decolonize travel writing, you'd first have to decolonize travel and travelers. Right. And that would mean really changing ourselves so that, for example, that heroic feeling when you get to the top of the mountain doesn't exist really. Right.
But I do think there's a different question that I might ask, which is... so how to decolonize travel writing? I think you have to decolonize travel and travelers... but there's a different question where you could ask, can travel writing be an instrument of decolonization?
In a way, that's what I was trying to do in the book. If you write a piece of travel writing that seeks to lay bare its own coloniality then that act has a kind of decolonizing energy to it. You can develop it as a decolonizing practice, that operates on the writing. And the idea is not to produce a new kind of travel writing, but to decolonize the ones that exist.
And that means that if you're writing about your own trip, you have to write about the coloniality of your own reactions, right. And your own uptake, and so on. Introducing that level of reflection into the mix would would have a decolonizing effect whose effect in the end would be to deconstruct travel writing and have a whole different vocabulary that would about displacement.
And you could develop a whole different vocabulary for talking about mobility and displacement and estrangement and defamiliarization and all kinds of these things. Right.
Chris: Absolutely. I mean, I think that what you had written, putting context to the travel writing of the 18th and 19th century was, you know, as I mentioned before our conversation in the four or five years that I'd spent researching my own book, that I couldn't find anything else like it, you know, certainly there were other things, but not to that regard.
And I think that what you put yourself to was an incredible example for anyone looking to wonder deeply, inquire deeply and participate in the real change that's required in our times.
Mary Louise Pratt: It did take 10 years to write that book.
Chris: So many of the good ones do.
You know, travel, writing, travel literature. And I suppose even, a lot of the mainstream media that comes in the form of a video in our time can help us to inform ourselves of the world of our relative difference not just as tourists or travelers, but as neighbors within modern worldviews and cities and things like that.
And so, with social media, that capacity has largely become democratized, right? Suddenly, it's not just national geographic, it's not just a newspaper showing you and telling you what the world's like, but of course we have it 24 7 from anyone who's willing to offer it.
I'm wondering if you think this is a boon or a burden. And if there's room in the world we inhabit currently for a kind of interculturality a way of coming to different worlds, different people, different cultures, whether abroad or at home, in a way that undermines, the conquest that is, for many people, essentially ongoing.
Mary Louise Pratt: I mean, there's certainly plenty of potential there for that, for such things to happen. One example. I mean, if having access to the internet world, gives you access to the knowledge that nothing of yours matters at all to anybody, then that's not particularly empowering.
Right. And for lots of people, that's what is on offer. But on the other hand, one thing that has fascinated me is the way that is the way hip hop has traveled. And hip hop is now I think performed in, I think every language in the world. Wherever there's a language there's hip hop and wherever it's gone, it's carried with it that contrary and defiant, assertive, power and often tied to masculinity, but not always.
And I have just been really fascinated at that. And it's, it's a particular musicality. It's a particular rhythm. It's a particular form of lyric composition. And I just find it really, really interesting that of all the things that could have become planetarized, hip-hop did, you know, has done that.
And. I think it's pretty cool that the thing that planetarized was this defiant stance, resistant kind of art form and a very much grassroots art form. And so it's not an elite art form at all. Right. And it's super democratized. And so, that particular phenomenon I find really interesting.
And I'm looking forward to seeing what happens to that. Will it fade away, or will it continue to reproduce itself that way?
As far as travel goes, I'm wondering now, especially with the pandemic, whether people will travel less. I mean air travel is certainly becomes more problematic and both for reasons of a pandemic and free for logical reasons, air travel has to decrease.
And so things there are going to have to change somehow. And it'll just be really interesting to see how that happens. You know, imagine if air travel were to be rationed, you know, and you were told, everybody can get three plane tickets a year and that's it, right? Your air miles, you're assigned how many air miles you're allowed to consume right in a given period of time, or you have to apply for air miles if you want to go somewhere.
I just keep thinking about what will happened when if that kind of regime has to be installed in order to contain the carbon footprint. So,
Chris: yeah, certainly. I mean, if you had to earn your travel in a way that wasn't financially- based and as you were saying earlier, the willingness to construct a kind of radical hospitality that would, demand perhaps and even ensure a kind of reciprocity between hosts and guests that wasn't dependent on industrial forms of production, you know, McDonald's and air conditioning and everything else.
If you had to earn your travel, how would it be done in a world that we wanted to live, in a world that we might still live in, what would that look like?
Mary Louise Pratt: Yeah, what would it look like? Right. Exactly. You have to always bring a present.
Chris: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. And your behavior, right. And your behavior'd be part of that present, right?
Mary Louise Pratt: Yes. That was one of the things that Maurice Bishop talked about it and his thing was people have to be taught how to behave as tourists.
Chris: Well, Mary, on behalf of our listeners, I want to thank you from the bottom of my heart for coming on the pod today. I'm really, really honored to speak with you.
And our listeners will be honored to hear from you as well. And so a deep bow towards your willingness to be here with us today.
Mary Louise Pratt: You're very welcome. I enjoyed it a lot, too. Thank you for inviting me and thank you for good questions.
Chris: Yeah, my pleasure. I mean, you deserve them after, after everything, you've put yourself to. Now before I let you go, I wanted to ask, is there a way for our listeners to find your work, I guess online or in bookstores and if you have any upcoming events or perhaps new publications, that'll be coming out that you wanted to tell us about?
Mary Louise Pratt: I do. I actually, just finished correcting the page proofs for a new book called Planetary Longings. And it ties together work that I did on the 1990s and the first decade of the two thousands, just trying to track kind of some of the big shifts that have happened over that pivot of the millennium.
And so that book is coming out with Duke University Press, next spring, actually so soon. And it has a beautiful cover with a photograph by the Canadian photographer Edward Burtynsky. And I'm very happy about that. He's one of my favorite planetary photographers these days.
So, it's got a lot of stuff about mobility studies and many other things. So I invite people to keep an eye out for that with duke press in the spring.
Chris: Well i'll makes sure the link for it is up on the end of tourism website for all of our guests to check out.
Okay. Well, thank you very much. Again, Mary.
Thank you, Chris!