03 March 2009
After reading Percy’s “The Message in the Bottle: Howe Queer Man Is, How Queer Language Is, and What the One Has to Do with the Other,” I am struck with my own thought: how queer Percy and his essay both are. Perhaps this is why after being in four graduate classes, for the first time I am late with a post. Maybe it’s because I’m too darn literal and prefer the more concrete readings, but this one is a struggle for me. When Percy talks about the man who goes to the Grand Canyon, but isn’t actually experiencing the Grand Canyon because he has seen images of it. Percy states, “It is almost impossible to see the Grand Canyon, the thing as it is, has been appropriated by the symbolic complex which as already been formed in the sightseers mind.” This reminds me of the article on the Most Photographed Barn because in both instances, the observers aren’t seeing the image at its best – that of an original. In terms of the sightseers and the Grand Canyon, the issue of whether the viewing of the Grand Canyon is an authentic experience seems to compound the issue, so that it’s not only a matter of the sightseer “measuring his satisfaction by the degree to which the canyon conforms to the preformed complex,” but also in terms how others, who are referred to as experts rate the value of the sightseer’s viewing experience.
Percy discusses tourists who are looking for a real, unspoilt experience in Mexico, only to find after traveling all the way from the Midwest to find themselves surrounded in the small town of Guanajuato by a dozen other couples from the Midwest. The couple takes a drive, get lost, and find themselves in an Indian Village. Percy notes, “The spend several days in the village, observing the Indians and being themselves observed with friendly curiosity.” It was at this point that I was able to connect this reading to class due to the idea of observing people and being people being observed. Interestingly, this couple also sought out experts, an ethnologist friend, “not to share their experiences, but to certify their experience as genuine.” Percy used the example of the couple being fearful that at any moment the chief would pull out a Sears catalogue and ruin it all. I find it absurd that this couple is so dependent on other people to confirm whether something should or should not be of value to them. At one point, the couple is watching a dance, and instead of observing a dance that surely was unique, not one that they would see in the Midwest, “they watch the ethnologist! There highest hope is that their friend should find the dance interesting. And if he should show signs of true absorption…then their cup is full.”
To me, that is a sad way to live. Whether I am doing observations for my 5870 class, teaching, or experiencing any variety of new things, I will not rely on expert to judge what should be my own experience.