Hitting the Hot Spots: Literary Tourism as a Research Field with Particular Reference to KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

By Stiebel, Lindy | Critical Arts, July 2004 | Go to article overview

Hitting the Hot Spots: Literary Tourism as a Research Field with Particular Reference to KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa


Stiebel, Lindy, Critical Arts


Abstract

Literary tourism is a new field in the province of KwaZulu-Natal, and South Africa more generally. Whilst in England, the interested reader/ traveller can buy books on Hardy's Wessex, Dickens's London and Shakespeare's Stratford-on-Avon; show literature students and the public generally an assortment of films on places associated with important writers, and even go on guided walks through famous "literary' places like Wordsworth's Lake District; there is very little of the same for the South African literature researcher-or indeed literary fan. KwaZulu-Natal is a particularly rich province culturally speaking, offering a wide range of writers both black and white, male and female, writing in English and Zulu predominantly-Alan Paton, Roy Campbell, Lewis Nkosi, Lauretta Ngcobo, Daphne Rooke to mention but a few. Efforts by literary scholars to encourage literary tourism in this fertile area inevitably lead one to consider a research agenda; in my case this has a threefold purpose involving firstly, the creation of a literary archive of local writers both past and present; secondly, the recording of selected writers and their works on film, and thirdly, the establishment of a "literary map" of the region on website. Such a research agenda carries with it complex questions: how to define a 'local' writer? How to understand the uses a writer makes of place? Who should be featured and why? How do readers' constructed places interface with 'real' places? What could the impact of literary tourism be ? This paper engages with some of these questions and attempts to suggest a possible research agenda that has exciting possibilities within KwaZulu-Natal, and which could offer a potential framework for similar literary tourism projects in other provinces of South Africa in the future.

   If there is any universal truth about writers, it is that they are
   place bound. In every sense. A writer's place colors the voice with
   which he [sic] writes; his origins provide the rooms, the streets
   and the faces that his imagination worked into art. On the other
   hand a writer likes nothing more than to be bound for somewhere
   else; a new place ... (Eisenberg, 1985, pp. 17-18; in Butler-Adam,
   1990, p. 28)

   We walk in our writers' footsteps and see through their eyes when we
   enter these spaces. (Marsh 1998, p. xv)

Dean MacCannell (1992) aptly summarises the reason for the apprehension some academics feel when their discipline extends to intersect with the field of tourism: "Tourism is not just an aggregate of merely commercial activities; it is also an ideological framing of history, nature and tradition; a framing that has the power to reshape culture and nature to its own needs" (p. 1).

In other words, like everything else, tourism is not an innocent activity. The ideological framing of tourism is done by both those who market a particular place or event, and by those who are the tourists arriving at a site with a particular set of preconceptions which inform what John Urry (1990) famously called "the tourist gaze". Of course, academics themselves in their teaching and research also do their own ideological framing evident in what they choose to teach and how. Urry (1990) distinguished between what he called the 'romantic' gaze and the 'collective' gaze of tourists: in summary, the former describes the gaze by those better educated who have the cultural capital to construct meaning from places and events; the latter gaze belonging to those less discerning and less informed, more in need of other similar gazers to verify the point of gazing in the first place.

The cultural tourist is generally taken to belong to the category of the romantic gaze--the tourist who visits a site because of knowledge already gleaned about a cultural practice or culturally linked site, or with an interest in "learning about, experiencing or understanding cultural activities, resources and/or other cultures" (Craik, 2001, p. …

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