vacations and controllability -- 10/4/23

Today's selection -- from The Uncontrollability of the World by Hartmut Rosa. The contemporary world and the role of vacations:

"[In a world where we strive for controllability] space for resonant encounters with the uncontrollable, which actually moves us and which the world has to offer in unlimited abundance … is exactly what we are looking for, for example, when we travel. Vacation has become a critical mental and libidinal ‘anchor point’ of everyday life for many modern subjects, who think constantly about where their next trip should take them and which segments of world it should ‘reveal’ to them in what ways. Tourism derives its meaning and importance primarily from the fact that we necessarily live our normal professional and family lives in a mode of desperation at the prospect of managing our everyday affairs. As I have sought to show, this consists in a perpetual struggle against our own to-do lists, which we can never completely work through and which, for precisely this reason, have come to epitomize a world consisting of points of aggression that leave us no time, space, or breath for resonant encounters. Thus what vacation promises us is the ability to actually encounter an accommodating world in which there are no tasks we need to accomplish or problems we need to deal with— we can simply let ourselves be genuinely moved. The only problem is that, given the limited time at our disposal and the high costs involved, not only in paying for the trip itself but in living our everyday lives, we expect this experience to be both guaranteed and as intense as possible. As a result, we along with the purveyors of resonance have to use all available means to try to ensure that resonance actually occurs. What is fundamentally uncontrollable should— nay, must— be made available as a commodity, ideally in the form of an ‘all-inclusive package’ that precludes from the outset any possibility of injury or unwelcome self-transformation. By no means do we want to be so affected by Cuba, or Thailand, or the Himalayas that we decide to stay there and give up our job, or lose a fortune, or fall ill, or get mugged. All this should be out of the question. The goal of the vacationer is to return from his or her trip not unpredictably transformed, or possibly even unsettled, but relaxed and reinvigorated. Hence it is no surprise that the cruise industry-— which promises travelers that they will encounter faraway lands and people under completely controllable conditions, without having to actually engage with them— is booming. As I have already explained, however, making oneself invulnerable in this way means becoming or remaining incapable of resonance. One might well be stimulated, but certainly not touched or moved. And so here, too, commodity capitalism fulfills its wondrous function of getting consumers to constantly buy new products (in this case, trips) only to be inevitably disappointed by them, not so badly that they refrain from purchasing (in principle always identical) commodities altogether, but in such a way that after each disappointment they buy newer and ‘better’ ones.

Vacationers at the beach in Broadstairs, Kent, United Kingdom

“In my view, tourism in all its variations fulfills a critical function for modern society, not so much— or not only— because it represents an important economic sector, but primarily because it symbolizes, promises, and gives expression to a specific way of relating to the world. For those who visit a travel agency or a website, in a way, the whole world lies at their feet. Turkey, Egypt, even the Seychelles and Easter Island are accessible via budget airlines at bargain basement prices, not to everyone, but to those who can afford it, of whom there are many in wealthy industrialized nations. For everyone else, attaining such a relationship to the world remains a goal. The explosive expansion of our share of the world in late modernity is revealed here in vivid detail.

“Meanwhile, even in the context of the tourism industry, or especially there, more and more people, particularly those in the upper middle classes, are beginning to realize that they are at risk of overextending their reach, that the limits of controllability lie not outside but within them, and that precisely this is what they should be working on. As a result, travel packages that temporarily artificially limit our share of the world— those parts of it we can control— have grown increasingly attractive. Spending one's vacation within the walls of a monastery, with no television or internet, or at a solitary mountain cabin, off the grid and without a car, or hiking on foot along the Camino de Santiago or through the Alps from Munich to Venice: here the fact that the segment of world practically available to us has suddenly become much smaller is perceived and experienced as an unheard-of luxury. Interestingly, with such offerings, late modernity has managed to make even the experience of extreme uncontrollability controllable, available as a temporary option that we can opt out of at any time."



Hartmut Rosa


The Uncontrollability of the World




barns and noble booksellers
Support Independent Bookstores - Visit

All delanceyplace profits are donated to charity and support children’s literacy projects.


Sign in or create an account to comment