Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Touring History

Mat and I are beginning to put togethr our plans for our honeymmon, which we will take in February during my reading break. The honeymoon itself has been the source of some vexation for both of us, as we have very different ideas about where such a thing might take us. He would like to go to a resort and bake in the sun for a week; I would much prefer to do something more cultural.1

Obviously, I want to go to Scotland. I'm not so sure I want to go to Scotland in February, per se, but that's where I want to go again, and soon.

However, we have arranged a compromise: New Orleans. It has food, history, culture, music, and a nightlife. The flights for the week we want to go are relatively inexpensive, and there is just so much to do there. The historian in me is thrilled by the idea of haunted tours, cemetary tours, Garden District tours, French Quarter tours, walking tours, swamp tours, etc.

The humanist in me (and perhaps, dare I say it, the pinko Commie in me), though, has mixed feelings about two of the possible tour offerings: Plantation tours and Hurricane Katrina tours. The relationship between history and tourism is always an uncomfortable one, as it has to preclude learning at some point and move towards spectacle: "Come see where the levees were breached! Marvel at the hard working people of the Ninth Word as they attempt to rebuild thier lives!" or "Come see where B'rer Rabbit was written! Eat lunch in honest-to-goodness slave quarters!"

Which is not to say that these things are not interesting to me, nor that there isn't value in seeing them--it's more just the way that they are marketed that disturbs me. When history becomes spectacle, there is substantial danger in losing the significance of the events. Eating a meal in slave quarters, to me, validates a particular period and a particular lifestyle in a way that I'm not comfortable with.

1 I can spend approximately 30 minutes baking in the sun on a beach before I am bored out of my mind, and I can't imagine doing it for a whole week. Yes, you're right--"relax" is not in my vocabulary.

1 comment:

Castor Rouge said...

Shenanigans! I call shenanigans on the Skylark.

Time and again I’ve heard you claim that you are a Marxist-Feminist, however your uneasiness about visiting slave quarters suggests a rather bourgeois, if not haughty and aristocratic sensibility in your approach to history. As domiciles of the poor are oft ne’er preserved and their history forgotten the preservation of slave quarters on a few southern plantations is, for most Americans, their only real direct engagement with their nation’s history of class struggle. As a Marxist-Feminist you no doubt realize that if artefacts of class struggle are few, then those of women from the lower classes are even less so. Slave quarters, with their bare hearths and rudimentary domestic tools are a poignant reminder of the struggle of women slaves, the confinement of space and poor quality of the surroundings an entwined glimpse into the oppression of class and patriarchy.

So, it begs to be asked, why the big queasy?

Perhaps Marxist-Feminism isn’t working out for you. Granted, you work at a university campus so it likely helps you fit in with the faculty, but it is so gloomy and offers little enjoyment of history when confronted with disparity. For the duration of your honeymoon you might want to consider dabbling and give Liberal-Feminism a try. Consider the following.

As opposed to lamenting the obvious inequality of condition over countless generations memorialized by the slave quarters you could give yourself over to the contrast with modern freedom of opportunity and the general improvement of the standard of living in the West as a consequence thereof. Organic class structures like those of the old South restricted this, and the juxtaposition of this with the ever evolving state of the United States, from the abolition of slavery, through the civil rights era unto the present day demonstrates the idea of social change by the creation of opportunity and expansion of all franchises in society in which a person may take part. Likewise the slave quarters, from a Liberal-Feminist perspective, epitomize how women, even after some freedom of opportunity was extended as racial barriers broke down, would be relegated to similar environments for generations thereafter until freedom of opportunity was expanded to the gendered sphere.

Still not your cup of tea? Well, I want you to have a happy honeymoon, so perhaps you should just try on some straightforward Nihilism for the duration of your trip. Your uneasiness about the slave quarters stems from the Judeo-Christian ethic that has been instilled in you since you were small. The buildings themselves do not carry or convey any meaning except that which you instil in them, and if the thought of visiting them fills you with any unease it is only your body trying to expel the dogmas of your upbringing from your physical being. Per Nietzsche instil a pre-Christian ethic in what you see, and your feelings will coincide. Visiting the coliseum in Rome your thoughts turn not to the suffering of the gladiators and slaves, and the myriad origins of their suffering, but to the awesome and improbable duration of something so old as the structure itself, its worldliness. Wood shacks, while not awe inspiring, are for their fragile nature and aptness to burn or rot still a wonder of preservation, and the historian in you can appreciate that, surely.

Then again a nihilist would probably ditch the plantation as a whole and go on a swamp buggy tour.

And with that all said, I hope you two have a lovely honeymoon.