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  • Metaphoric Rocks: A Psychogeography of Tourism and Monumentality
  • Gregory L. Ulmer

“Tradition is like spring-water that wells forth from the ground, flowing on forever. It is no abstract doctrine”

Mysteries of the Dream-Time

An earlier version of this work was published in The Florida Landscape: Revisited, a catalog for an exhibition curated by Christoph Gerozissis, Lakeland, Florida: The Polk Museum, 1992. An electronic predecessor was included, with the assistance of Anthony Rue, in a cultural studies World-Wide Web project at the University of Florida called Re:WIRED.

Project for a New Consultancy

The State of Florida has asked for advice. Debilitated by the recession, embarrassed by its ranking as 43rd most livable state in America (based on categories such as income, crime rate, graduation rate, suicide and taxes), Florida is giving renewed attention to its leading industry—tourism. The 1991 Legislature created the Florida Tourism Commission charged with devising a strategy for promoting tourism. One of the first acts of the Commission was to hire the New York consulting firm of Penn & Schoen which, for a fee of $250,000, will assess what role the state should play in tourism promotion.

The Florida Research Ensemble (FRE—a faculty group at the University of Florida that practices an experimental approach to arts and letters) took this situation as a good test for its new consultancy project. What knowledge resources are available for dealing with a state problem? If there is an agricultural problem the Institute for Food and Agricultural Sciences at the University of Florida is called on for advice. But when there is a cultural problem, why does no one ask the experts in culture at the University for advice? Why is the expertise of a public relations firm, and a New York firm at that, thought to be relevant to the issue of tourism in Florida, while the expertise of professors in the liberal and fine arts is not considered relevant? This question is addressed as much to the professors as to the state agency, of course, since the arts and humanities disciplines traditionally have not thought of the culture industry as the applied dimension of their specializations.

A review of newspaper reports of planning thus far indicate that the “improvement of tourism” is being framed as a matter of advertising. The local tourism boards formed in response to the legislative initiative have been most concerned with “how and when to advertise and how to get the attention we need.” Perhaps because Florida already attracts over 40 million visitors a year, less attention has been given to “what facilities and resources may be magnets for visitors.” An early example of what to expect is the campaign commissioned by the State Commerce Department. During the winter of 1992–1993, an agency monitored bad weather in northern cities, placing full-page ads in newspapers following a blizzard: a photograph of a piece of toast with the words, “just a reminder that it’s nice and toasty in Florida.” To this reminder we might add the rider: “safer than Egypt.”

Assuming that these efforts did indeed focus touristic attention on Florida, FRE offers to consult with the Tourism Commission about how to improve the experience itself of the visitors to our landscape. FRE’s first step is to challenge the assumptions about cognitive jurisdiction, about what knowledge is relevant to which problems (Star Wars belonged to physics, tourism to public relations). The fact is that when it is a matter of invention, history shows that innovation almost always comes from outside a specialization. One definition of invention could be “a process by which the status of an idea is transformed from irrelevant to relevant.” FRE is not “competing” with Penn & Schoen for the PR job; we offer a different expertise, which until now has not been applied to tourism except in the negative mode of critique. Our disciplines have said a great deal against tourism; the challenge for FRE is to apply our knowledge to the design of an improved tourism.

From Tourism to Solonism

There are many significant points of overlap between the arts and tourism. Take for example the case of Solon, one of the wisest of...

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