The birth of the tourist out of the spirit of modernity: The travel bug from Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus to Houellebecq’s platform

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Kane, Michael
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Zygmunt Bauman once proposed ‘the tourist’ as one of the four archetypal characters of the postmodern. This suggests more than a coincidental link between postmodernity and the rise of mass tourism. Modernity itself has, of course, long been associated with increasing ease and speed of travel. This piece reviews some of the theoretical and literary reflections on the relation between the rise of leisure travel and the transformation of the sense of space from modernity to postmodernity, or even what Augé called ‘super-modernity’. Towards the end of the piece there is a discussion of Michel Houellebecq’s novel, Platform (2001), a provocative take on long-haul sex tourism and the global tourism business around the year 2000. Houellebecq’s novel is read alongside Daniel Defoe’s classic tale of travel, adventure and business, Robinson Crusoe (1719). These two novels – one a classic of early modernity, the other of postmodernity – are discussed here in the context of a long history of reflections on the significance of travel and the transformations of the sense of space in modernity and postmodernity, drawing on theorists including Guy Debord, Richard Sennett, Zygmunt Bauman, Marc Augé, Paul Virilio and Rem Koolhaas. This piece is part of a chapter of a longer work provisionally titled Modern Time, Post-natural Space: From Modernity to Here in Fiction and Theory. I will arise and go now, and go to … W.B. Yeats, ‘The Lake Isle of Innisfree’