The traveller as an infiltrator
On the changing experience of travel
by Jorinde Seijdel
„Travelling is medieval. Today we have means of communication that bring the world into our homes. To
travel from one place to another is atavistic. You laugh, gentlemen, but it‟s true; travel is atavistic. The
day will come when there will be no more traffic at all and only newlyweds will travel.‟ (Max Frisch)
When can you consider yourself to be travelling nowadays? Is it while you dine in a McDonalds in some
far-flung corner of the world, as your charter flight wings you to your exotic holiday island, or, for couch
potatoes, as you zap and surf from one virtual destination to another? Could it be while you sit fuming in a
traffic jam at the start of a trip to the Costa del Sol, as you scour the bazaars of Istanbul, or as you shop
till you drop in Oxford Street or Fifth Avenue? Are you travelling on a packaged African safari, or as you
glide straight into the Euro Disney Fantasyland on the TGV? And, if you are indeed travelling, what are
you looking for? Is it a recapitulation of things you already know from the TV? Or do you seek the
authentic rough-and-ready experience, as proffered by the alternative travel agencies? And where are
you, when your e-mail and your mobile will keep you connected to the home front wherever you happen
to be in the world?
These rhetorical questions illustrate that the experience and that activity of travelling have
undergone a sea change. Travel has been transformed into a manufactured experience, a contrived
product. The voyage has become a commodity and the traveller has been turned into a consumer. There
are no blank spaces left on the map of the world and the globe has been robbed of its mysteries. Besides,
the media make it unnecessary for us to go on a physical journey to see the far-away or the „other‟. Yet
people today are more mobile and more eager to seek out peak experiences than ever before. An
inevitable consequence is that the experiences and the thrills that were once an inherent promise of
travelling must now be sought elsewhere.
Theoretical discussions of travel often distinguish „exploring‟ as exemplary of the Renaissance era,
„travelling‟ as belonging to nineteenth-century bourgeois society and „touring‟ as a phenomenon of
modern culture. „The explorer goes to discover unknown territory, the traveller moves within a territory
already discovered by history, while the tourist exists within an area that has already been surveyed and
prepared for him by advertising and the travel agent.‟ (1)
The rise of the tourist has seen the devaluation of the element of adventure that was an
ingredient of travel in the past. „By continual overuse, we wear out the once-common meaning of “an
unusual, stirring experience, often of romantic nature”, and return “adventure” to its original meaning of a
mere “happening” (from the Latin, adventura and advenire). But while an “adventure” was originally “that
which happens without design; chance, hap, luck”, now in common usage it is primarily a contrived
experience that somebody is trying to sell us.‟ (2) The pre-modern „active‟ traveller and his opposite the
modern „passive‟ traveller are antonymous identities that are both rooted in the original meanings of
„travel‟ and „tourist‟. „Travel‟ can be traced back to the French word travail (or „labour‟) and then further to
the Latin trepalium which was an instrument of torture made of three stakes. The term „tourist‟ did not
emerge until the early nineteenth century. The „tour‟ came from the Latin tornus which itself stemmed
from a Greek word for a device for turning circular objects. The original, perilous „travail‟ of the voyage
has evolved into the safe, vicious circle of the tourist.
Explorer-traveller-tourist is a transformation process that could be considered from several
angles. In the context of this essay, however, it is mainly aspects of the history of perception and of the
media that will shed light on the evolving experience of travel. The phenomenon of travel forms an
integral part of the exploration and disclosure of the world which commenced in the Enlightenment and
during which mankind, as lord and master of the Earth, increasingly annexed and cultivated its surface.
This wholesale demagification process went into huge acceleration as the result of nineteenth-century
technical revolutions in the sphere of media (the panorama, the diorama, photography, stereoscopy,
moving film etc.) and of course transport (trains, cars, aeroplanes etc.). The boom in travelling was also
an effect of the democratization of society, which produced new social-cultural wants that were facilitated
and channelled by such modernities as public museums, world exhibitions and travel agencies. The
tourist, as a traveller, recreant and museum-visitor, may be regarded as paradigmatic for the modern
experience that took shape in the nineteenth century.
Sightseeing/site-seeing: the virtual traveller
Perceiving and travelling both aim at the conquest of physical space. The exploration and exploitation of
the world by the traveller/tourist thus takes place on two levels. On the one hand, the tourist travels
physically, and on the other he consumes the world at home through images. Precisely these
fundamentally different modes of experience were a nineteenth-century harbinger of the problematization
of relations between reality and image, between authentic and artificial, between private and public,
between home and abroad...
New image-viewing devices enabled new forms of „travel‟ in which not only the images became
criteria for the experience of the tourist, but in which alternative perception perspectives also emerged.
The classical, central perspective gaze no longer satisfied the visual expansionism of the rising citizenry,
of the masses, in the nineteenth century. New reproduction techniques and new viewing devices were
hence addressed increasingly towards a mass public. Robert Barker‟s patented „panorama‟, sometimes
known as the dinosaur of the mass media, introduced a poly-perspective which enabled a new kind of
perception with a new structure: the panoramic view, in which the viewer was completely enclosed in a
cylindrical drum and surrounded by an image painted all the way around the walls, through 360 degrees.
The panorama was mainly used to depict landscapes, seascapes or cityscapes, and the fact that it
enjoyed popular success for a considerable period underlines both the touristic quality of this medium and
the absorbing potential of media in general. (3)
Louis Daguerre‟s diorama, which followed the panorama, was a forerunner of film which satisfied
the growing demand in the nineteenth-century for a moving image. The diorama consisted of a large,
transparent screen on which the image was applied partly in transparent and partly in opaque paint.
Ingenious illumination techniques were used to alter the visible colour and intensity of the image so that,
for example, a landscape could be shown passing from sunrise to sunset in a short time. A Parisian
newspaper of the period encouraged readers who „sought pleasure without fatigue‟ to visit Daguerre‟s
diorama and so to travel from Switzerland to Britain without even leaving the French capital. (4)
The stereoscope (using photography) and the „Kaiser Panorama‟ were even more successful
than the conventional panorama and diorama in meeting the demand from the new public for a maximally
realistic, multidimensional image of the real world. The Kaiser Panorama required its viewing public to
peer through stereoscopic slots into a large, round structure in which sequences of stereoscopic images
were projected circumferentially to depict ever changing landscapes. The great promoter of the Kaiser
Panorama, August Fuhrman, created a truly global archive of images, consisting of stereoscopic
photographs made all over the world. His motto was, „Mit dem Kaiser Panorama ist das Problem gelöst -
die Welt mit der Welt bekannt zu machen.‟ („The Kaiser Panorama solves the problem - acquainting the
world with the world.‟) (5)
Whereas the Kaiser Panorama, as a mass medium capable of suggesting movement, was a
forerunner of the cinema film, the stereoscope was the first media machine designed specifically for home
use and the individual viewer. It was a small box with two lenses that allowed photographic images to be
viewed stereoscopically, thereby creating an illusion of depth and bringing the viewer into even closer
contact with the three-dimensional scenes. Inexpensive and simple to use, the device remained a hugely
popular form of domestic entertainment for several decades. Vast numbers of images, depicting
monuments, picturesque landscapes and exotic locations, were published for the stereoscope. Dealers in
the device advocated a stereoscope for every family with the slogan „the stereoscope links your home to
the location of your choice‟. The American physician and essayist Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote a lyrical
description of his stereoscopic voyages: „I stroll through Rhenish vineyards, I sit under Roman arches, I
walk the streets of once buried cities, I look into the chasms of Alpine glaciers, and on the rush of
wasteful cataracts. I pass, in a moment, from the banks of the Charles to the ford of Jordan, and leave my
outward frame in the armchair at my table, while in spirit I am looking down upon Jerusalem from the
Mount of Olives.‟ (6) The stereoscope induced the birth of the „home traveller‟, the „armchair‟ traveller or
the „virtual tourist‟, the implication being a reinterpretation of the world as something one can go and take
a look at, as something capable of being consumed and programmed.
Another proto-modern attraction, which flourished in parallel with the early years of the movie,
was the „phantom ride film‟, a genre which concentrated on the explicit simulation of the physical
experience of new, rapid transportation technologies like the train. The „phantom ride‟ consisted of
continuous film recording of a moving track, made using a static camera fastened to the front of a train.
There was even a phantom ride film in which the viewers occupied a train carriage and viewed the film
through an opening at the front. (7)
This „cinema of attractions‟ emphasized the direct stimulation of shock or surprise, almost
palpably illustrating Walter Benjamin‟s idea about the „shock‟ as a characteristically modern experience.
Benjamin (1892-1940), who approximated the roots of modernism in nineteenth-century Paris, argued
that the constant, abrupt transitions of images inherent to a new technology like film induced a shock
effect in the viewer, a raised state of consciousness, which was also evoked by other manifestations and
conditions of modern life.
Anne Friedberg, in Window Shopping: Cinema and the Postmodern (1993), argued that the
medium of film was the ideal vehicle for virtual tourism. Cinema mentally transports the viewer without
requiring him to move to other places and other viewpoints, thus creating a „virtual gaze‟ . Camera
movements and montage, Friedberg stated, also enable film to create a „mobilized gaze‟ that extends the
simulation of movement and visibility from the diorama and panorama to the imaginary landscapes of
cinema, tourism, television, shopping malls and the Internet. (8) The mobilized, virtual gaze became
effective at the transition to a modern, urban culture, in which time and space fragmented, and which the
organizing, all-surveying, panoramic gaze failed to grasp.
The tautological universe of homo touristicus
The panorama, the diorama, the stereoscope and the film (including experiments like the phantom ride)
reflect the first inklings of the major changes in the experience of time and space that structured the
twentieth century. At the same time, these media anticipated television, the Internet, virtual reality and the
motion simulator - not only as viewing, transportation and time machines, but also as experience
machines; they not only sketch the first contours of the contemporary „virtual traveller‟ but also of the
contemporary tourist, bent on sensation, spectacle and entertainment.
It is the development of the tourist subspecies that Daniel J. Boorstin evaluates in The Image: A
Guide to Pseudo-Events in America at the beginning of the 1960s. He describes the march of modern
tourism as an essential constituent of the twentieth-century Societies of the Spectacle, in which reality
was categorically substituted by images and artificially staged events. (9) The spectacular element was
already present in one of the first train excursions organized by the English travel-agency pioneer
Thomas Cook (1808-1892): a trip from Wadebridge to nearby Bodmin to witness the hanging of two
Cooks tours, „agencies for the advancement of human progress‟, soon extended their reach to an
international stage, leading to a considerable surge in the hotel and insurance industries („When the
traveller‟s risks are insurable, he has become a tourist‟) and to a cardinal change in the travel experience.
(10) As the poet, artist and critic John Ruskin complained, „Going by railroad, I do not consider as
travelling at all; it is merely being “sent” to a place, and very little different from becoming a parcel‟. (11)
Boorstin described how the travel agency, as an escorting and protecting intermediary,
increasingly blocked direct contact between the tourist and the foreign context. The tourist would
eventually come to see practically nothing of the reality of the strange places he visited, but would be
dazzled by „paragons‟ and staged events presented especially for his enjoyment. „They keep the natives
in quarantine while the tourist in air-conditioned comfort views them through a picture window.‟ (12)
For host countries, the rise of tourism led to the simulation and commercialization of their own
culture as a tourist attraction. The phenomenon of the tourist attraction meant that cultures all over the
world started producing banal, commercial representations and reproductions of themselves and their
„exotic‟ spots. The authentic was eventually overwhelmed by the imitation, and the inhabitants found
themselves more and more often cast as „actors‟ to satisfy the illusion required by the tourist. There is a
story that Kaiser Wilhelm of Germany used to take a break in his daily business at exactly 12 noon and
go to the window of his imperial palace: „I must excuse myself now to appear in the window. You see, it
says in Baedeker that at this hour I always do.‟ (13)
The world survived as a fake, as a touristic stage-set, as a museum and permanent déjà-vu, and
it was endowed with stars under the system of the travel guide avant-gardist Karl Baedecker (in 1942, the
Nazi Herman Goering was said to have instructed the Luftwaffe to „destroy every historic building and
monument in Great Britain which is marked with a Baedeker star‟). (14) Travelling, in the touristic cosmos,
is no longer a metaphor for change but essentially a tautological experience, in which the traveller seeks
affirmation of the known and familiar, of received images.
The metamorphosis of the traveller into a tourist was animated by the rise of powered propulsion, of fast
vehicles such as the train, the car and the plane which eradicated the space to be traversed and the
sense of being on the way from the travel experience. Speed became a crucial economic and cultural
factor. The Futurists celebrated speed as an expression of the new era. „We affirm that the world‟s
magnificence has been enriched by a new beauty: the beauty of speed. A racing car whose hood is
adorned with great pipes, like serpents of explosive breath - a roaring car that seems to ride on grapeshot
is more beautiful than the Victory of Samothrace... We already live in the absolute, because we have
created eternal, omnipresent speed.‟ (15) Meanwhile, the speed of this racing car has been reduced to a
relative snail‟s pace. The twentieth century was dominated by a continual surpassing of speed
constraints, and hence by the literalization of the mobile gaze.
Boorstin predicted that in the Space Age - which has actually become a „Spaceless Age‟ on the
surface of Planet Earth owing to the victory of speed over space - we must necessarily go in seek of
adventure in three-dimensional, cosmic space. He could not have foreseen that by today most of the
moon‟s surface would have been mapped and the first space tourists would already have taken off. Nor
could he have anticipated that an entirely new travellable cosmos would emerge...
But the Canadian media oracle Marshall McLuhan did anticipate it. McLuhan, who was one of the
first to consider the communicative media epistemologically, proposed that the rapid switching made
possible by electronics would usher in a new environment for mankind. By the 1950s and 60s, he was
already envisaging the world as an electronic space, which he described in favourable terms as a global
village: „During the mechanical ages we extended our bodies in space. Today, after more than a century
of electric technology, we have extended our central nervous system itself into a global embrace,
abolishing both space and time as far as our planet is concerned.‟ (16) Speed was for McLuhan a
determining factor in the new, united electronic world. „Electric speed mingles the cultures of prehistory
with the dregs of industrial marketeers, the nonliterate with the semiliterate and the postliterate.‟ (17)
Several years later, the „philosopher of speed‟ Paul Virilio took the research further and considered the
cultural consequences of acceleration and technological transportation. His results are however more
critical than those of McLuhan. For Virilio, the annihilation of distance, space and time by today‟s
telecommunication technologies, which transmit information at the absolute speed of light, makes „real
time‟, as a global „one-time-system‟, a determinant of our experience. The immediacy, directness and
omnipresence made possible by the telecommunications media add up to a fundamental change in our
relation to the world and our conception of it. It is tantamount to an „historical event which throws history
into disarray and jumbles up the relation of the living being towards the world.‟ (18) In the light of speed,
the classical, spatial perspective is replaced by a real-time perspective: „To see at a distance, to hear at a
distance: that was the essence of the audio-visual perspective of the old. But to reach at a distance, to
feel at a distance, that amounts to shifting the perspective towards a domain it did not yet encompass:
that of contact, of contact-at-a-distance: tele-contact.‟ (19) The consequent doubling of the sensorily
perceptible world into a real and a virtual one induces in us a loss of orientation with regard to the Other.
Everything now happens within the „one-time-system‟ of the media, in which local time and local space,
which formerly were a guarantee of cultural and social heterogeneity, have vanished.
Just as every new technology, Virilio holds, introduces not only progress and acceleration but
also the hazard of a new kind of accident - the car collision, the train derailment, the plane crash etc. - the
communications revolution ushers in the danger of a global accident, a disaster that would simultaneously
affect the whole world. That global disaster would be precisely the disappearance of the particular and the
local, the uprooting and disorientation of man with regard to space. In Virilio‟s view, the material existence
of the world is attacked by the absolute speed of light: the greater the acceleration, the more rapid the
evaporation of reality and the desertification of the natural landscape.
Perception and travel are interconnected, in the sense of the conquest of space, and similarly speed and
perception are related. The gaze on space and control over space cannot be seen separately from the
speed of machines and perception technologies. In his researches into the roots of modern perception,
the Belgian cultural philosopher Lieven de Cauter terms speed „the residue, the upshot (but also the
radical transformation) of the panoramic ecstasy, of the sublime shudder, and the unforgettable
experience of the adventure.‟ (20) The experiential factor of speed has become omnipresent and
determinative: speed is the „kick‟, the much-desired shock experience - the pleasure of the ideal, pure
(information-free) overstimulation, as De Cauter puts it. He observes that new media minimize our
physical and perceptual awareness of speed: the supersonic speed of an aircraft or the speed-of-light of
telecommunications is no longer somatically palpable. In order to recover something of the pleasure and
euphoria of speed, we seek our kicks today in such things as hang gliding, skateboarding, air surfing and
bungee jumping. These are „a last, almost anachronistic attempt to “experience”: a regressive, infantile
repetition of the longing to be touched by the world.‟ (21)
The kick of speed, an updated equivalent of Benjamin‟s shock, may be considered as a
stratagem against the disembodied speed of electronic communications, a shock therapy for experiential
poverty. „The search for the physical (“organic”) sensation of speed, the visible and tangible (if no longer
representative or representing) displacement of the slow body, is thus a (perhaps clumsy) attempt to
acclimatize to invisible speed, the speed-of-light of the images and sounds that are transmitted to us from
everywhere by telephone, radio, television, modem or fax.‟ (22) De Cauter argues that the disintegration
of the body by speed is equivalent to the disintegration of seeing and hence to the collapse of the modern
representation of space and time; in other words, to the collapse of modernity itself.
The traveller as an infiltrator
What is the point of travelling in Boorstin‟s tautological, museum-piece universe, in Virilio‟s desert
landscape or in the disintegrated modernity observed by De Cauter? If the contemporary apprehension of
speed/transport is no longer physical but cognitive, what does it mean for the experience of travel in the
sense of being in motion or of „going out into the world‟? Is travelling in the traditional sense an
anachronism, or is it merely a figure of speech?
The early-modern, virtual traveller has been brought up to date and concretized as the TV zapper
and the Internet surfer, people who constantly switch from one reality to another and from one media
landscape to another, travelling „around the world in 80 clicks‟. Contemporary perception is in this respect
more mobile than ever; we see more than ever, even if it is in the form of reproduced images. We make
our way on blindingly fast circuits, using browsers and search engines to navigate through the dense data
landscape. These digital explorations offer a new kick, with the seduction of new hazards such as system
crashes, hacking and viruses. But are we anything more than mere tourists in this world duplicated by
images and information? We may still ask where the new terra incognita lies, what enthralls us and what
induces sensations and insights which bear comparison to pre-touristic exploration and discovery, in their
intensity and experiential value.
For, despite - or perhaps precisely because of - the assured character of tourism and the hall of
mirrors of the media, we still long for new stimuli, for the Strange and the Other, for new enchantments
realities. It could be added that we are less inclined to seek it outdoors, in physical space, but we
increasingly, and at multiple levels, discover and explore „inner worlds‟; the Internet is in this respect an
outside-in realm. This inward-directed tendency may be legible in our current preoccupation with
exposing what was private, intimate or hidden - whether media-produced, as in „reality‟ or „confessional‟
TV, or taking the form of scientific exploration and mapping of the world of DNA. The attraction and
excitement currently exerted by these formerly hidden, inner or internal areas is evident. The revelation of
confidential, personal matters, considered as a new „exotic‟ realm, seems to appeal to a fundamental
longing for insight into that which was hitherto veiled; the identification and decoding of the genetic
system seems to respond to an elementary urge to organize and classify unexplored territory.
At another level, it could be said that we no are longer obliged to venture into the outside world in
order to meet the Other, in the sense of „foreigners‟. The latter are now present within our own culture.
The globalization and the worldwide mixing of cultures implies the importation and exportation of what
was previously exotic. Alternatively, we may seek the foreigner on the Internet, where the allogenic and
allochtonous can be summoned up at will.
This „inward flight‟ and the search for alternative realities is accompanied by a process of
disembodiment. De Cauter‟s notion of extreme sports as a final attempt to evoke a physical sense of
speed/movement, has a counterpart in which the stress is on the thrill as a cognitive, internalized
experience. Eastern philosophies and immersive environments - be that amusement park attractions, 3D
computer games or techno parties - allow us to leave our body behind so as to plunge the soul into the
immaterial environment of the Other. „Trance‟ would in this respect appear to be a prototypical
Explorer-traveller-tourist.... The question rises once again as to the semblance of a possible
fourth type, the most contemporary phenomenon that we can add to this series. Perhaps the status or
nature of the present-day traveller may best be compared to that of „infiltrator‟, taken alternately in the
sense of either „hacker‟ or „intruder‟. Infiltration could be regarded as an inescapable continuation of the
sequence of exploring, travelling, touring....
(1) P. Prato & G. Trivero, „The Spectacle of Travel‟, in Australian Journal of Cultural Studies, vol. 3, no. 2,
1985, p. 25.
(2) D.J. Boorstin, The Image: A guide to Pseudo-Events in America, New York, 1987, p. 78.
(3) For nineteenth-century viewing devices, see Sehsucht: Das Panorama als Massenunerhaltung des
19. Jahrhunderts, Kunst- und Ausstellungshalle der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, Bonn, 1993.
(4) E. Huhtamo, „Armchair Traveller on the Ford of Jordan‟, in Mediamatic Magazine, vol. 8, no. 2/3, 1995,
(5) Op. cit (see note 3), p. 281.
(6) Op. cit. (see note 4).
(7) See E. Huhtamo, „Ingekapselde lichamen in beweging‟, in Kino-eye 2 / Andere Sinema,
(8) A. Friedberg, Window Shopping: Cinema and the postmodern, Los Angeles / Oxford, 1993.
(9) Op. cit. (see note 2).
(10) Ibid., p. 91.
(11) Ibid., p. 87.
(12) Ibid., p. 99.
(13) Ibid., p. 104.
(14) Ibid., p. 106.
(15) F.T. Marinetti, „Manifesto of Futurism‟, 1909, in H.B. Chipp, Theories of Modern Art, Los Angeles /
London, 1968, p. 286.
(16) M. McLuhan, Understanding Media: the Extensions of Man, New York, 1964, p.19.
(17) Ibid., p. 31.
(18) P. Virilio, Speed and Information: Cyberspace Alarm!, trans. P. Riemens for Ctheory
(http://www.ctheory.com), orig. publ. in Le Monde Diplomatique, August 1995
(19) Ibid. (18).
(20) L. de Cauter, „Korte geschiedenis van het skiën: prolegomena voor een archeologie van de kick‟, in
Vertoog en Literatuur, Cahier 1, Amsterdam / Antwerp, 1993, p. 185.
(21) Ibid., p. 192.
(22) Ibid. (20), p. 193.