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  • Fear and Loathing in Academe:Gonzo Scholarship and the War Against Tourism
  • Daniel Stempel


When I retired in 1985 I chose as my mantra an academic version of a famous general's farewell to his troops: "Old scholars never die—they just fade away into the stacks." Now that I am an octogenarian, I have faded away into total invisibility, but, like Tithonus, I am not inaudible. I hope my voice will be strident enough to disturb the utopian dreams of a new generation, although I doubt that it will wake them from their dogmatic slumbers. My decision to return to the wars of intellect was occasioned by a chance discovery as I haunted the periodical stacks. I noted the name of an old friend in the title of an article and was surprised to find him pilloried as both a "liberal white Protestant" and a "white supremacist," terms which do not, in my experience, necessarily go together.

The article, "Pacific Scholarship, Literary Criticism, and Touristic Desire: The Specter of A. Grove Day," written by Paul Lyons, a member of the University of Hawai'i English department's Cultural Studies group, uses bell, book, and candle of the new postcolonial faith in a rite of exorcism to dispel the evil influences of commercial tourism.1 As every exorcist knows, the rite demands that a demon must be called by his name and Lyons has chosen to demonize a deceased member of the English department. Grove Day came to Hawaii in 1944 and retired in 1969. He served as chairman from 1948 to 1953 and taught the course in Literature of the Pacific until his retirement in 1969. He began as a freelance writer long before he decided to enter graduate school at [End Page 95] Stanford and continued to publish more than fifty books on Hawaii and the Pacific. In 1979 he received the State Award for Literature. He died in 1994 in a plunge from an upper floor of a retirement home. Paul Lyons, by his own admission, came to Hawaii in 1990 knowing nothing of its history and culture but soon became a self-appointed authority on Hawaii, its colonial past and present, and its postcolonial future, eagerly embracing the ideas disseminated by the Center for Hawaiian Studies at the university.

His article begins with a pretentious elaboration of the method he plans to use to raze the Potemkin village of tourism. Invoking the authority of Hegel on appearance and reality in a passage he has found cited by Žižek, he follows Dean MacCannell, who has adapted Erving Goffman's distinction between dramatic front and back: the entertaining scene presented to the tourist public contrasts with the backstage machinery of the stagehands who put it all together to deceive gullible visitors.2 He combines this with a quotation he has found in a book by William V. Spanos, the founder and former editor of Boundary 2, taken from a journalist's view of the Vietnam War, complaining that they had all been "deeply backgrounded." These are enlisted in the service of MacCannell's quest for "authenticity" as the touchstone of all encounters with other cultures, including the tourist experience.

Had Lyons, instead of accepting MacCannell's interpretation of Goffman's early work, The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life (1959), taken a closer look at this witty and ironic study of social behavior in a small community in the Shetland Islands, he would have found that Goffman makes no judgment on the comparative authenticity of either front or back. He utilizes what may be called the J. Alfred Prufrock theory of interaction between individuals and the groups in which they find themselves: "There will be time, there will be time / To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet. . . ." MacCannell, in contrast, sees the tourist as a Tennysonian Ulysses in pursuit of a horizon of authenticity that recedes into infinity, "whose margin fades / Forever and forever as I move."

Of course, the front/back and foreground/background binary oppositions and the insistence on authenticity are commonplaces rooted in the ubiquitous literary and philosophical tradition of "All the world's a stage" and require no...


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