you say you’re pretty on the inside
someone else said you can’t carry that weight
the olympia five the olympia six
i can’t keep them straight because i don’t give a shit
but who did this to my good friends and me
who got us reading sassy, spin, and AP
someone told us we’re cool, someone told us we’re tough
now we think we’re hot shit, cause we’re addicted to drugs
you say your scene is slowly sinking
well let the rats leave maybe we’ll keep in touch
the olympia six the olympia five
who cares about who’s dead
[laugh] we’re still alive
laughing at all the way
laughing at all the way
Would Madame Bovary, we wonder, have lived a more authentic life, would her sentiment of being have more nearly approached singleness and particularity, if at the behest of a more exigent taste she had chosen as the stuff of her dreams the well-made, expensive images of a more creditable form of romanticism? Will not any art — the most certifiedly authentic, the most shaming — provide sustenance for the inauthenticity of those who consciously shape their experience by it? It was the particular inauthenticity which comes from basing a life on the very best cultural objects that Nietzsche had in mind when he coined the terrible phrase, ‘culture-Philistine’. What he means by this is the inversion of the bourgeois resistance to art which we usually call Philistinism; he means the use of the art and thought of high culture, of the highest culture, for purposes of moral accreditation, which in our time announces itself in the facile acceptance of the shame that art imputes and in the registration of oneself in the company of those who, because they see themselves as damned, are saved.
Rousseau is not mocked. The arts no longer seek to ‘please’, but pleasing was never the only technique of seduction, and art can still lead us into making the sentiment of our being dependent upon the opinion of others. The concerted effort of a culture or of a segment of a culture to achieve authenticity generates its own conventions, its generalities, its commonplaces, its maxims, what Sartre, taking the word from Heidegger, calls the ‘gabble’. To the gabble Sartre has himself by now made his contribution. As has Mme Sarraute; as did Gide; as did Lawrence — as must anyone who undertakes to satisfy our modern demand for reminders of our fallen state and for reasons why we are to be ashamed of our lives.
—Lionel Trilling, “Sincerity and Authenticity”
On the highway to Toledo we passed several tour buses of what seemed like Americans, digital cameras already in hand, and as we drew past them I expressed infinite disdain, which I could do easily with my eyebrows, for every tourist whose gaze I met. My look accused them of supporting the war, of treating people and the relations between people like things, of being the lemmings of a spectacular empire, accused them as if I were a writer in flight from a repressive regime, rather than one of its fraudulent grantees. Indeed, whenever I encountered an American I showered him or her with silent contempt, and not just the loud, interchangeable frat boys calling each other by their last names, calling each other fags, and the peroxided, inevitably miniskirted sorority girls spending their junior year abroad, dividing their time between internet cafés and discotecas, complaining about the food or water pressure in the households of their host families, having chosen Spain over Mexico, where Cyrus was, because it was safer, cleaner, whiter, if farther from their parents’ gated communities. I had contempt not just for the middle-aged with their fanny packs and fishing hats and whining kids, or the barbate backpackers who acted as though failing to shower were falling off the grid; rather I reserved my most intense antipathy for those Americans who attempted to blend in, who made Spanish friends and eschewed the company of their countrymen, who refused to speak English and who, when they spoke Spanish, exaggerated the peninsular lisp. At first I was unaware of the presence in Madrid of these subtler, quieter Americans, but as I became one, I began to perceive their numbers; I would be congratulating myself on lunching with Isabel at a tourist-free restaurant, congratulating myself on making contact with authentic Spain, which I only defined negatively as an American-free space, when I would catch the eyes of a man or woman at another table, early twenties to early thirties, surrounded by Spaniards, reticent compared to the rest of the company, smoking a little sullenly, and I knew, we would both know immediately, that we were of a piece. I came to understand that if you looked around carefully as you walked through the supposedly least touristy barrios, you could identify young Americans whose lives were structured by attempting to appear otherwise, probably living on savings or giving private English lessons to rich kids, temporary expatriates sporting haircuts and clothing that, in hard-to-specify ways, seemed native to Madrid, in part because they were imperfect or belated versions of American styles. Each member of this shadowy network resented the others, who were irritating reminders that nothing was more American, whatever that means, than fleeing the American, whatever that is, and that their soft version of self-imposed exile was just another of late empire’s packaged tours.
—Ben Lerner, “Leaving the Atocha Station”
"The judgments on India were much less harsh before the days of European empires, when the inferiority of native peoples became an article of faith. Travelers from Europe did not deny that they had in India come up against a culture much older, and in many ways more sophisticated, than the one they belonged to. Voltaire, for instance, often invoked the virtues of India and China in order to show up the inadequacies of eighteenth-century France.
But the nineteenth century brought new attitudes. A series of scientific, economic, and political revolutions gave Western Europe a new idea of itself. India, and more generally, Asia, became a place against which the traveler from the West measured his own society, and usually found it superior; it became the gigantic but often invisible backdrop to understanding his emotional state, and the refining of his moral and philosophical vision.
The nineteenth century also saw the British complete their conquest of India and become the paramount power in the world. Unlike the Persian and Central Asian conquerors of India before them, the British never looked as if they meant to stay on in India and make it their home. They either went home or died young. India remained, despite a veneer of modernity, a profoundly foreign country; and travelers from the West continued to record its alienness and their own sense of difference and bewilderment.”
—Pankaj Mishra, “India in Mind”
I had arrived in Riga to visit a woman friend. Her house, the town, the language were unfamiliar to me. Nobody was expecting me, no one knew me. For two hours I walked the streets in solitude. Never again have I seen them so. From every gate a flame darted, each cornerstone sprayed sparks, and every streetcar came toward me like a fire engine. For she might have stepped out of the gateway, around the corner, been sitting in the streetcar. But of the two of us I had to be, at any price, the first to see the other. For had she touched me with the match of her eyes, I should have gone up like a magazine.
—Walter Benjamin, “One-Way Street”
The German word for ‘uncanny’, as in Freud’s famous essay on the Uncanny, is unheimlich – unhomely. The tourist thrives on the uncanny, moving happily through a phenomenal world of effects without causes. This world, in which he has no experience and no memory, is presented to him as a supernatural domain: the language of travel advertising hawks the uncanny as part of the deal. Experience the magic of Bali! The wonders of Hawaii! The enchantment of Bavaria!
But for the newly arrived immigrant, this magic stuff is like a curse. He’s faced at every turn with the unhomelikeness of things, in an uncanny realm where the familiar house sparrows have all fled, to be replaced by hummingbirds and eagles. The immigrant needs to grow a memory, and grow it fast. Somehow or other, he must learn to convert the uncanny into the homely, in order to find a stable footing in the new land.
—Jonathan Raban, “Driving Home”