Samuel E Evans

“Tourism and the Semiotics of Nostalgia” by John Frow

Progym: Chreia

Frow’s writing highlights an idea that has seemed to linger at the back of my mind, though I couldn’t ever have put a finger on. Why do we travel? Culturally, I mean. It seems as though we are all in search of something, thinking that each trip should fulfill something within us, that each moment away from home should be a new page of our enlightenment. Frow takes a spin on this, saying that it in fact nostalgia that drives us, be it of a real historical period, or because of some feeling that a location is more wholesome, enlightened, or real.

“Nostalgia for a lost authenticity is a paralyzing structure of historical reflection,”

he writes, and this reflection leads us far and wide to find authenticity (135).

Frow asserts that nostalgia is an essential part of the tourist experience, in large part because it is central to our modernity. He writes that modern society at large, though often not even knowing it, is constantly longing for some lost, fictional past in which things were better. We long for “simpler times” indicated by childhood or happy days, and we think that somehow we have collectively undergone some kind of cultural decline. For example, every election cycle you hear calls that “oh this could never be worse,” or “I’ve never seen something like this,” and people long for the Obama or Reagan or Kennedy years when things were better, easier, or simpler, when in fact you heard the same calls at those times. It is this kind of eternal nostalgia, Frow says, that contributes to our tourist culture.

In his writing, Frow briefly references the popular idea of traveling for exoticism. The idea is very similar to his concept of traveling for nostalgia, in that from both perspectives we are in search of something as travelers. Both, to some extent, seek authenticity: something that is authentically foreign and exotic, or something that is authentic because of its relation to a better era. We may also think of traveling for the exotic as a kind of nostalgia, as we ride the gondolas in Venice or the tuk-tuks in India because they are both foreign and almost from another time from our Western perspective. The two ideas are not contradicting, but rather reinforce each other.

The souvenir, Frow says, is a prime example of nostalgia in travel. He says,

“the souvenir has as its vocation the continual reestablishment of a bridge between origin and trace… it works by establishing a metonymic relation with the moment of origin” (145).

We are so attached to this kind of nostalgia, that not only do we travel to fulfill our desire for it, but we must also buy tokens to remind us of our journeys to do so, to satisfy our following nostalgia for the trip itself. This is almost a kind of cycle of nostalgia, and it is a perfect example of the travel industry capitalizing on this concept. I, for example, traveled to my hometown of Green Bay driven by nostalgia and then bought a t-shirt in anticipation of future nostalgia for that trip; the same can be said of my trip to Germany, I traveled there almost for a kind of cultural nostalgia for the Old World, and I returned with beer-hall coasters.

Frow’s thesis in this piece represents the most convincing argument for why we travel that I have read thus far. Nostalgia is abundant in our culture, and the more I consider it the more I see it around us. It is no doubt then that we would choose our destinations based on nostalgia. Few people choose to travel to brand-new landmarks, because they do not have the cultural history to make them relevant, and many popular new landmarks are built with some kind of historical grandeur in mind. Frow’s argument seems to be the most logical conclusion based upon this. We don’t leave behind our culture of nostalgia when we travel, but rather our travel is one output for this nostalgia.

Samuel E Evans

“The Semiotics of Tourism” by Culler, “Rhetoric of the Image” by Barthes

Progym: Refutation

In general, I agree with the idea of semiotics with regards to tourism and culture, which Culler describes in detail. He writes that we see cultures, landmarks, and the people we encounter through a foreign, fantastical lens, choosing to see them most romantically or charmingly. In this way, different aspects of the culture we visit or emulate become so-called “signs,” and so the image of a tomato signifies Italieneity, a sombrero Mexicanness, blue-jeans Americanness, a Mini Couper Britishness, and so on. This concept is intuitive and accurate, but there are some ideas of Culler’s that I take more issue to.

Culler writes that “the tourist is interested in everything as a sign of itself, an instance of typical cultural practice: a Frenchman is an example of a Frenchman, a restaurant in the Quartier Latin is an example of a Latin Quarter restaurant” (Culler 2). This seems an overly reductive way to look at the mind of a tourist, almost assuming the tourist to be a mindless, ignorant brute who makes wild assumptions wherever he goes. Having been a tourist on countless occasions, as has nearly everyone else, I can’t think of many times when I’ve sat in a restaurant somewhere and thought of the place, “this is what it’s all like!” Perhaps someone has that mindset, but I haven’t had that thought on many occasions outside of situations where it is the obvious schtick of some attraction to appear in that way, such as a themed historical site.

Likewise, Culler uses an example from a book by Walker Percy, in which a tourist travels West across the US and stops to see the Grand Canyon, though he cannot truly see it because it “has been appropriated by a symbolic complex which has already been formed in the sightseer’s mind” (Culler 7).  Culler refers to this idea as “semiotic mediation,” and it is a concept I find highly unlikely and obscure. As I see it, anyone with any sense of self-awareness can form their mental frame for observation and can view a sight from outside of the lens of some tourist poster. Perhaps you may reference the classic loud, oblivious tour bus full of selfie-stick wielding, sunscreen-smeared globetrotters, who will only actually “see” the sight through their phone camera. Then, maybe you could argue they cannot see the Grand Canyon, as they are blinded by the propaganda of travel media, but I still believe this is false, perhaps because I have some faith in human capacity. This theory is unfitting, largely because I think Culler gives too much credit to the tour company or the travel catalog. Far fewer people than Culler would have you believe have been absorbed into a mindless, capitalistic trance in which destinations exist as destinations alone. Instead, the tourist existing in Culler’s semiotic cage is the exception rather than the norm.

Samuel E Evans

The Tourist Gaze “Revisited” by Urry

Progym: Commonplace

Many people like to describe tourism as “going out to see the world,” or going abroad to “see things.” In this way, travel is considered a purely visual exercise, and the “tour” in tourism is taken very literally as if at all times you are following a guide, going where he goes, in line, and looking where he points. You go to a place to see the thing that you are told you should see: go to Paris for the Eiffel Tower and the café patrons, go to Berlin for the Brandenburg Gate and to see people eat currywurst outside a U-Bahn station. You go to the place to look, idly, at the view you have been told will be there, and so you have experienced tourism at that location.

This, of course, is a terrible way of looking at travel. Instead, you should enjoy travel in its entirety, along with every sunburn, aching foot, crowded train car, and noisy hostel room. After immersing yourself in a rough-and-ready American road trip or European train vacation, the cliché “it’s about the destination, not the journey,” really rings true. More often than not, the best vacation you will have will be the wild, backcountry, 3-star one over the transport-provided, tour-included, 5-star one. You go to Jamaica or Johannesburg to see things, sure, but also to experience whatever happens along the way, to appreciate the act of travel.

The person who goes on the first type of vacation, the one to Paris to see the Eiffel Tower, is not inherently wrong, nor are they doing anything we haven’t all been guilty of at some point in time. But rather, they are missing something. Urry writes that “experiences are only of importance to the tourist because they are located within a distinctive visual environment” (Urry 1). Hence, it is not necessarily seeing the Eiffel Tower that will make your trip to Paris so great, but that you can have a glass of champagne, eat a pain au chocolat, or simply have a nice conversation while surrounded by the beautiful and novel visual scenery of Paris. As Urry says, “sometimes, tourism indeed appears to be understood as little more than a collection of a range of often disparate and relative unconnected sights,” when in fact we should be equally appreciating those moments in between the photo-worthy ones (Urry 6).

Generally, when we head into a vacation destined to be like our Eiffel Tower example, it is because we have over-planned. We are following the guidebook, which as we know from de Botton’s piece, often makes us unable to truly see and appreciate what is around us. The argument here is then obviously not to look at our surroundings when on vacation, but to not focus too much on planning and following the sightseeing list. We should avoid being the blind, bumbling tourist, but not because this is some terrible crime, but because in doing so we would miss half of the value of travel.

Samuel E Evans

“The Psychology of Rhetorical Images” by Hill, “Breaking Down an Image” by Sheffield

Progym: Thesis or Theme

How effective is propaganda? Well, considering I have multiple pieces of it hanging on the wall in my apartment and nobody ever questions it, I would say it is quite effective. Well-designed propaganda is imagery that sticks with us, that we feel a real familiarity to, and which also deeply convinces us of something, even if we don’t realize it.

These two posters I have, tacked up in the living room, wrapped in clear plastic leaf, are replicas of iconic British WWII propaganda, given to me by my grandfather. My grandfather is very proud to have “lived through the war,” even though he was only born in 1943, and he is also a proud Brit, as are most of my family. The posters, one of a “German & British Fighters & Bombers” warning and the other the classic “Keep Calm and Carry On,” exemplify this pride, and to my grandfather’s generation and above they convey almost as much patriotism as the Union Jack itself.


In her piece, Sheffield writes about the rhetorical situation of images which can be used to make an argument. The argument differs somewhat between these two pieces, but they are still very similar. For one, their audience is the same: both target the war-era British public, and the context is also the same: both were made during the German air-raids on England. However, the purpose, which Sheffield describes as “the overall goal for creating an image,” differs between the two (Sheffield). The former is, while propagandistic, mainly concerned with educating the public to help promote safety. The latter, on the other hand, is propaganda at its finest. It evokes pure patriotism, with a bold font, full use of English red and white, and the image of the crown to top it off. Of course, the public warning poster utilizes similar strategies also, using large lettering, varying font, and stark imagery to help inform and elicit a cautionary tone. Something that Hill writes about that really resonates with me is that

“patriotism is an abstract and complex concept,” which he refers to as “a ‘value,’ not a feeling (Hill 35).

Patriotism, he says, goes beyond the usual emotion-inspiring imagery, but rather the patriotic images conjure patriotic value, which then spurs the multitude of emotions that are tied to that..

Some argue that British patriotism has been dulled, or even corrupted. During the 2012 London Olympics “Keep Calm and Carry On” was plastered all over the world, on t-shirts, commercials, mugs, and soda bottles, with all imaginable spins and puns being utilized. Here, people argued that the image of wartime solidarity and strength was being over-commercialized, ruined by its tacky application as bumper stickers and Dr. Who memorabilia. Likewise, though more alarmingly, far-right groups in England have utilized pseudo-patriotic imagery, including reworking old propaganda, to try to push anti-immigrant “Britain-for-the-British” agendas. This, in some people’s minds, has further ruined British and especially English pride, with some only daring to fly Saint George’s Cross during World Cup football matches. However, both of these have been fought against, and I believe that a positive will come from it. Hill writes about this, as he utilizes the example of insurance companies using patriotic imagery, such as Iwo Jima, to create a positive familiar connection in viewer’s minds towards their cause (Hill 36). People often see through this, and are able to dismiss it. This has been the case with both the “Carry On” merch and, for the most part, with the English nationalists.

The posters on my wall are decoration, at that’s it. However, they do stir some kind of familiarity to a land I have never lived in, which is simply a testament to their effectiveness as rhetorical images.

Samuel E Evans

“Understanding Visual Rhetoric” by Jenae Cohn, The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton

Progym: Proverb

“Give the camera, put it away, and start to draw, because if you draw, you see the beauty of things properly” (de Botton 43:58).

In this quote, taken from Alain de Botton’s film The Art of Travel, he paraphrases the message of the English philosopher John Ruskin. I like this quote, both because the message is both very relatable and understandable, but because there is also some humor to it. Having English parents and thus being raised on British television and comedy, I can see the subtle, dry humor in de Botton’s philosophy, including with this quote. He seems to present Ruskin’s message in almost the most direct method possible, both for effect and to help prove his point. This quote, as well as his choice to use Ruskin, demonstrate in short de Botton’s very English perspective on travel.

Ruskin, according to de Botton, despised the attitudes of tourists, who he thought “looked at things but didn’t really notice them” (de Botton 43:44). Ruskin then urges us to really make an effort to not just capture images because we feel obligated to, but instead to really appreciate them. De Botton translates this to the modern-day with the example of cameras, and in this scene, he proceeds to collect the cameras of the Japanese tourist group he is with and make them draw the English church they are examining. This, accompanied by the chuckles of the tourists and his clumsily collecting the many cameras really makes the scene.

Some may disagree with de Botton’s argument here and say that photographs and postcards and tacky wall-art are important pieces of the travel experience that help you remember it once you return home. You might say that “a picture is worth a thousand words” and that you will never be able to recall just how wonderful your time away from home was unless you can really see it. This, it can be argued, is exactly his point, because we will always remember it better and also enjoy it more in the moment if we aren’t focused on getting the image that will allow you to see it later. If you let it sink in while you are there, perhaps by drawing it, you will remember the full moment better.

You could compare this idea to the many people who decide to travel with no plan. Sometimes, if you worry over the details, obsess about having the best possible time on your vacation, you ruin the moment. Just as focusing on the perfect picture takes you out of the moment, so does thinking only about the “next thing.”

Personally, I have begun following a similar idea over the last few years. When I was younger I would take far too many pictures, stopping to take poorly-framed, underlit snaps of whatever attraction. But now, I have decided to only take pictures that I think I will actually like to see later. I can find an image of the lighthouse at Negril in Jamaica, but not a picture of myself with the eccentric guide who brought us off the beaten track down the rocks past the building. Things like this are worth capturing because they enhance the moment, they don’t distract you from it. Instead, I can put my mind to simply enjoying my vacation, in the moment, not worrying about whatever else.

De Botton’s quote here, in its odd humor and awkwardness, and the amusing scene it is a part of, is particularly enlightening to me because it puts into words an idea I have been acting on for a while, but haven’t consciously thought about. It goes against many of our impulses as travelers, but it is also highly rewarding and worthwhile, and de Botton’s method of illustrating it is excellent.

Samuel E Evans

“Where Was the Birthplace of the American Vacation” by Perrottet, “The Art of Loving the Beach” by Comstock

Progym: Comparison

It’s often a silly question that is thrown around in icebreakers and introductions: the mountains or the beach? Well, why not both? Both can be appreciated in numerous ways and for countless reasons, and both have storied histories in Western tradition. They serve similar, yet distinct functions in how they allow us to escape, learn, expand ourselves, and reconnect with our surroundings. Indeed, trekking up a hilly trail or meandering down the coast both have their virtues.

In many people’s imagination, including mine, the “great outdoors” begins with some kind of tree-bound mountain vista. This can be seen in the cultural significance of this idea in history, beginning with Petrarch and continuing through modern National Parks posters and calendars. In fact, writes Perrottet,

“the American vacation was born” as “the scions of New York City took to declaring that they would ‘vacate’ their city homes for their lakeside summer retreats”

in the Adirondack mountains (Perrottet 1). Thus, the escape to the wild, forested wilderness is of central importance to the history of the very idea of American travel.

However, it is also imprinted on many people’s minds that a trip to the beach is the ultimate, quintessential, and most relaxing vacation available. In some ways, as Comstock writes, this is a relatively new idea to Western minds, as the beach was previously considered “intemperate, ignoble, and dangerous” (Comstock 3). This was not always the case, as affluent Romans, for example, were known to flock by the thousands to the Bay of Naples and elsewhere around the Mediterranean for luxurious seaside galas. So, our beach vacations, whether exorbitant like the Romans or more modest, are somewhat of a recent rebirth of a much older idea.

Given that both are firmly rooted in our cultural consciousnesses, the question still remains: beach or mountain? Well, I encourage you to consider their virtues. Both locations allow us to return to nature, to see the sights set before us, and breathe in the open and untainted air. But beyond that, they differ somewhat in what they have to offer. The beach, as Comstock writes, is a

“place where youth has free reign, and where also … one can recapture or discover the spirit of youth” (Comstock 9).

The beach allows us to frolic childlike in the waves or “go wild” at a sunset party. The beach is simultaneously joyously relaxing and bubbling with warm, youthful energy.

The wilderness, mountains, and forests, however, are more quiet, solitary, nostalgic, rugged. Similar to the beach you are freed of your usual obligations, and you can choose between energy and relaxation: a vigorous backpacking trip or a quiet afternoon of fishing by the lake. Perrottet quotes Robert Pruyn saying,

“‘there is independence, delight, and peace in the isolation,’”

though he also acknowledges that you can choose to be one of the thousands who flock together to camps for merriment (Perrottet 3). The mountains have different opportunities for you to enjoy, but they provide a similar escape to freedom as does the beach. You can make of your vacation there what you like.

So instead of arguing, either to a friend or within your own head, about whether the beach or the mountains is better, just go and find out. You can create what you will of either; you can relax to the sounds of the waves or woodpeckers or party at the boardwalk or the boat launch. Escape to both, see what solitude in the wilderness can bring, or a slow, sunbaked day in the sand.

Samuel E Evans

“The Foreign Spell” by Iyer, The Grand Tour by Towner

Progym: Encomium

           Pico Iyer describes how he is “always foreign,” or brings with him a sense of foreignness almost wherever in the world he goes. He was born in England to Indian parents, and spent much of his early life in California, feeling doubly out of place there and not feeling at home with any of his three possibly identities. Iyer is of Hindu origin, and he describes his possible personal connection to Bali or the Ganges in India, but again he says,

“everywhere I knew was foreign, which meant that nearly everywhere had the power to unsettle and surprise me, forever,”

which is the essence of what Iyer writes of in this piece (Iyer).

           Iyer attended school in England, and he describes “flying alone over the North Pole six times a year” to attend first preparatory school and then Oxford University, all while still living with his parents in California (Iyer). This also must contribute to Iyer’s eternal foreignness, his early disconnect from any kind of solid, familial home. This could be disastrous for a young person, but Iyer seems to imply that it was more freeing and enlightening, allowing him to have the perspective he now employs. Iyer was also raised on the road beyond just this, so to speak, as he talks about spending months traveling, continent to continent. He says that

“the door to the world was swinging open for those of us ready to live rough and call ourselves foreigners for life” (Iyer).

           All of this, alongside his formal education and being raised by a political theorist father and being from a line of writers and thinkers, seems to have led Iyer to want to reexamine travel, and tourism, through a new lens, a critical and picture-perfect lens. He describes how the world has become smaller, yet not less diverse or more homogenized as some may claim. Instead, the world has only changed along the lines it was already coursing. He writes about how Bali has changed, now equally full of fast-food and beachfront resorts as temples and shrines, but that it is not “spoiled” as some may say. He writes that

“this is what the island has been tempting every visitor to say since the beginning,”

and the visual alterations hardly detract from how wonderfully foreign it continues to be (Iyer).

           Iyer’s writing continues to portray travel in a new light, as not ruining the world while seeing it, but rather continuing to find new ways that the world is worth traveling. We are not becoming more monotonous and uniform, but rather we are adapting alongside one another in a multitude of different and amazing ways. In this way, you could compare Iyer’s work to Steinbeck, who writes about the trials and hardships of the American man, but not to say that America is terrible, but to say why it is worthwhile. Through critical analysis, thought, and storytelling you can come to see each’s perspective and see how their respective subjects are multifaceted and dynamic. Much as the West is in turmoil during The Grapes of Wrath, the world travel writers describe is being massively altered by globalization and the tourism industry. But the argument in from both Steinbeck and Iyer is that this doesn’t mean they are being ruined, but much the opposite. Iyer says that what we see now is a continuation of culture, of new things being born along the lines of what came before, and this only makes it more worth seeing.

Samuel E Evans

A selection of poems by Wordsworth, Readings by Iyer

Progym: Impersonation

I stand upon the sandy shore
Friends around me, I need not more,
Looking at the starry night
Those distant points, so bold and bright.
We gaze upon the milky way
Our travels are done for that day,
We’re tired and sore, but still prevail,
Tomorrow we’ll continue on down the trail.

The night is cold, chilling to the core,
But no coats or hats we wore,
We almost enjoyed the elements,
For it seemed they were heaven-sent.
The glory of the world, creation,
Mother Nature’s many children,
Upon the sky, the Earth, before us now,
How beautiful, we only wonder how.

This is why I long for travel,
To watch with wonder as nature unravels,
To see before me all I do not know,
But can come to learn, I hope so.
Through adventure we leave behind
Certainty and comfort, we unwind
By letting go and casting forth
Into unknowns, we go headfirst.

And there I stand on the beach,
So far from home, I cannot reach,
All the amenities that it contains,
Until I long for them again.
But that is the essence of this all,
We hear travel’s beckoning call,
For new discoveries, we seek backcountry,
Now time for bed, we’ll wait and see.


Samuel E Evans

“An Autumn Effect” by Stevenson, “The Rhetorical Situation” by Bitzer

Progym: Description

The vales of Buckinghamshire lay in glorious autumnal colors below; winding grassy valleys turning bronze in the changing weather, framed by gently rolling peaks masked by smears of beeches and alder. The trees are half-bare and frosty leaves crackle underfoot, along with beechnuts and shells left by red squirrels and robins.

Below in the valley, beyond the golden fields of barley being harvested for the mills and brewers lays the town. The little hedge-lined lanes of the countryside converge upon the town like rivulets, and in the center is the faintly visible, distinctive spire of an old, stone Anglican church. The homes, sheds, inns, and stores clustered around it are a mix of thatch and slate roofing, and many have pleasantly sagged with old age. In the foreground, a small stream runs around the side of a large hill and past a paddock where the white dots of sheep can be seen, and a farmhand and his dog are sauntering up the hill.

The path, rutted, muddy, but well-worn, leads out of the trees and down the hill into the valley. A small bridge can be seen in the distance where it crosses the stream, and not far beyond the path ends at a road, presumably leading into town. I follow the path, which, set deep into the soft earth of the downs, must be old and long-established. It must have been used for centuries before, previously the main conduit over these hills and towards the lush lowlands below. Now I tread it, as the sun rises in the sky, casting light through the amber leaves and warming my back as I set off down the way.


Stevenson describes the countryside in Buckinghamshire that he walks through somewhat like this. I have also had the happy fortune of being able to go for long walks in this very same area, and many other places in the south of England, as my mother is from the town of Hemel Hempstead which is in neighboring Hertfordshire.

Bitzer also writes that

“rhetorical discourse comes into existence as a response to a situation”, which is also a little bit of what I am attempting here (Bitzer 5).

I have visited countless times at this point, and so I decided this would be a good opportunity to tackle the Description progymnasmatum, basing it both off of my personal experience, but also Stevenson’s description and his writing style. It seemed the perfect opportunity for me to try this rhetorical strategy.