Confessions of a Tourist

Christoph Ransmayr (Foto by Johannes Cizek)

This past summer I finally had a chance to read Christoph Ransmayr’s small book Geständnisse eines Touristen: Ein Verhör [Confessions of a Tourist: An Interrogation] (2004). This small book is a compilation of many interviews and conversations that Ransmayr has given over the years. Responding to the questions of an imaginary interviewer, Ransmayr reflects on his writing, his traveling, and his interaction with the world of literary criticism in academia and in the news.

Since I continue to theorize the agency of tourists as creators and performers, I wanted to share some of Ransmayr’s reflections on the connections between tourism and writing.

Writers usually like to see themselves as travelers rather than tourists, often reaffirming that longstanding hierarchy between the supposedly cultured traveler and his or her uneducated opposite, the tourist. Ransmayr is an exception: “Auf Formularen […] sind mir die Felder am liebsten, in die sich einfach Tourist setzen läßt, denn Ahnungslosigkeit, Sprachlosigkeit, leichtes Gepäck, Neugier oder zumindest die Bereitschaft, über die Welt nicht bloß zu urteilen, sondern sie zu erfahren, zu durchwandern, von mir aus: zu umsegeln, erklettern, durchschwimmen, notfalls zu erleiden, gehören wohl mit zu den Voraussetzungen des Erzählens” (Geständnisse 10-11).

This is a rather positive interpretation of the tourist, and one that is close to my imagination of the tourist as an agent who is instrumental in the construction of places and spaces. What I took to be the most important aspect of Ransmayr’s comparison of the writer and the tourist was the acknowledgement that the writer can only ever bring into existence a small slice of the infinite possibilities of life, just like the tourist can only ever see a small sampling of the equally infinite spatial manifestations of reality. It is, in other words, a confirmation of the creative and dynamic power of both tourist and writer, without confusing their actions as definitive determinations of reality.

Ransmayr describes the work of the author as a sometimes painful move from one sentence to the next, always aware that you don’t really make gains, but that each beginning of a new sentence marks a return to the start: “Wie lautet der nächste Satz? Und der nächste?, Fragen, die ungerührt die Rückkehr zum Anfang fordern, zehn, hundert Felder zurück!, an die Ränder endloser weißer Flecken auf einem Globus, der bestenfalls in Fragmenten, Küstenabschnitten, Inselchen, Klippen zu kartographieren ist, während sich ganze Kontinente, submarine, von Ozeanen bedeckte Gebirge, riesige Städte, Wüsten–der ungeheuerliche Rest!–aufgespießt zwischen unerreichbaren Polen, unvermessen, unausgesprochen, unerzählt an mir vorbei und unter meinen Füßen weg und weiter und immer weiter drehen.” (Geständnisse 13).