Academic journal article English Studies in Canada

Going out of Their Way: Tourism, Authenticity, and Resistance in Contemporary Atlantic-Canadian Literature

Academic journal article English Studies in Canada

Going out of Their Way: Tourism, Authenticity, and Resistance in Contemporary Atlantic-Canadian Literature

Article excerpt

TOURISM, OBSERVES NEWFOUNDLAND WRITER Edward Riche in a recent interview, "is a kind of pollution:" "[A] s something that one has to rely upon for economic survival;' he adds, "it is the last act of desperation" ("Equal Opportunity" 212). Riche's critical view of tourism is widely echoed in contemporary writing in Atlantic Canada, reflecting the importance of tourism to the economic and cultural life of the region but also reflecting an increasingly sophisticated theoretical appreciation of the dynamics of tourism as a global phenomenon. As Riche's comment suggests, there is a significant structural relationship between tourism and economic under-development, a relationship which has been a central theme in the growing body of commentary on the cultural, political, social, and economic consequences of tourism. Tourist destinations are more likely to develop not out of an ingrained sense of hospitality and an instinctive inclination of host societies to share the bounty of their locale with others but out of economic necessity. Tourism, as Kevin Meethan argues, reconfigures "the boundaries between hospitality as a form of social obligation ... and hospitality as a commodified form" (149). Consequently, tourism is commonly characterized by a fundamental tension: that it requires a staged hospitality, an openness to visitors that, while potentially genuine, is also to some degree compelled. That is, tourist destinations-particularly ostensibly "exotic" locales-tend to be framed within an economic and political asymmetry between hosts and visitors and, indeed, are often characterized by conditions of economic exploitation and coercion. In short, rather than an innocent, free flow of people from one area to another, tourism involves a kind of coerced hospitality, with host societies compelled to go out of their way to cater to tourists' expectations and needs. Unsurprisingly, one result of such asymmetrical power relations is a resentment of and resistance to the material and symbolic imposition that tourism typically represents. Such a reaction is increasingly visible in the literature of Atlantic Canada, an economically underdeveloped and vulnerable region particularly reliant on tourism.

Much contemporary Atlantic Canadian writing-the fiction of Riche, Alistair MacLeod, and Lynn Coady,' for instance, and Frank Barry's trenchant play Wreckhouse-highlights the ways in which tourism in the region amounts to commodifying underdevelopment and affords valuable lessons about the economic, political, and cultural tensions and conflicts elided by the buoyant hyperbole of tourist promotion. As Graham Huggan argues in The Postcolonial Exotic, the construction of the global margins as culturally exotic leisure spaces amounts to an extension of colonial relations. One of the more positive valences of postcolonial discourse, he contends, is its resistance to exoticism as a profoundly subordinating paradigm that "must be confronted, incorporated into works that challenge-often looking to subvert-metropolitan mainstream cultural codes" (27). Given that Atlantic Canada's position within Canada has been described by numerous scholars as being characterized by a kind of internal colonization, 2-such a description (in appropriately modified form) seems apt for describing the tenor of much contemporary writing in the region. Tourism increasingly seems to be a preoccupation of writers in Atlantic Canada, and there is a profound dissonance between the testy attitude of writers such as Riche and Barry toward tourism and the cheery boosterism of the tourism industry itself. This attitude is nicely captured in one of MacLeod's most powerful stories, "Clearances," set in a Cape Breton increasingly being transformed by the forces of a leisure economy. Bristling at tourists' objections to his cutting down trees to make a living, a young man bitterly complains, "This isn't my recreational area. This is my home" (426). As Meethan observes, the "development of tourist space means change at the level of lived experience for those whose space of home, or of work, is the space of leisure for others" (37), and this conflict is registered in a number of ways in contemporary writing in Atlantic Canada. …

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