In 1993, Andrea Fraser and Christian Phillip Müller joined Gerald Rockenschaub as part of the Austrian delegation to the 45th Venice Biennale. Upon the invitation of Rockenshaub and curator Peter Weibel, these two artists, one American and the other Swiss, added a note of dialectical migrancy to what is more typically an international exchange process.
On the back cover of the catalogue, an image depicts the three artists dressed in traditional Austrian costume. While we could view these surreal intrusions as a refusal of self-identification, a poststructural index of the foreignness within, we could also view them as diacritical overidentificationswith social space, the kinds that occur almost automatically, symptomatically, in the modern world of tourism. Their poses reveal how someone becomes the subject of touristic attraction. Their disarming allure is described by Helmut Draxler as a means to alienate the accumulated cultural capital of artworld visitors who contribute to the "exhibitionary complex" of biennale mega-shows. Working through the representational act of delegation, the artists reconstruct the competitive internationalist structure of the Biennale and relate this to the global world economy, its divisions of labour and military command systems.
This image of the artist in drag figures as a prelude to the study of photographic postcards from Niagara Falls. The purpose of this essay will be to consider the question of subjectivization in relation to the familiar visual culture paradigm of the "cultural constructedness" of landscape imagery. A preliminary caution is the lure of the archive as an unmotivated witness. The probability of this, which we should not discount too quickly, is supplemented by the interfering, call it symptomatic, intention of the critic. The archive's memory traces, the postcards, will therefore be deployed through a psychoanalytic conception of transference that places the modern division of labour in line with the analysis of tourism as a compromise formation, part-success and part-failure. Postcards of the Niagara Falls should eventually be brought together with their facilitating causes, inasmuch as they are, as Freud says, "expressions of tendencies striving towards a goal," working together or against one another. I will seek to explain how Niagara Falls postcards that have become objects of use are inscribed in a universal process of commodity exchange, how the phenomenal specificity of the Falls is used to promote what is universal, or biopolitical, about its viewing. This universalization is a process that belongs to modernity and its deepening of commodity relations.
For this study, I have examined the two sides of some 1000 Niagara Falls postcards dating from the 1890s to the 1950s. I have left it to other scholars to provide the necessary accounts of the history of colonial settlement and subsequent regimes of commercial exploitation. While the archaeology of the postcard form allows us to relate it to various other mediums of representation, most notably the picturesque print, pictorial notepaper and envelopes, the nineteenth-century carte de visite and the stereograph, its genealogy requires an elaboration of what we might call, to cite Lacan, "the agency of the letter in the unconscious." In this sense, I will show that the postcard operates as the screen image of a person who seeks to perform the function of invisible mediation; one might say, the function of the camera itself. Various detours will be taken to map the interwoven structure of the subjectivization of the postcard and its site.
From Discourse to Desire
Messages on postcards often seem to be scripted in advance, ritualized at best, repetitive like the serialized production of the cards themselves. This perception is conditioned by a cultural conservatism that for decades has made mass tourism signify in dualistic terms. When the "open post sheet" or postcard was inaugurated in Austria in the late 1860s, the public reacted by expressing its aversion to open communication, warned of the decline of letter writing and lamented the new indecency. The main point of contention was the ease with which one could read someone else's private correspondence. The low cost of the postcard (at least half the cost of a sealed letter) and its mass cultural character drew reproaches from the Victorian middle class. While criticism of the postcard was first directed at its indiscretion, it soon shifted to its widespread distribution as part of the promotional apparatus of local and international tourism. The success of the first correspondence cards, as they were then called, was due to the development of its pictorial qualities, its transformation into "view cards" and Gruss aus, "greetings from" picture postcards. Postcards provided images of places and events well before newspapers and other print media contained photographs. Only thirty years after the introduction of private mailing cards in the 1860s and its popularization in the late 1880s, an anonymous writer complained:
The illustrated postcard craze, like the influenza, has spread to these [British] Islands from the continent where it has been raging with considerable severity... Germany is a special sufferer from the circulation of these missives. The travelling Teuton seems to regard it as a solemn duty to distribute them from each stage of his journey as if he were a runner in a paper chase... Would be vendors beset the traveller on the tops of hills, and among the ruins of the lowlands, in the hotel, the café, and even the railway train. They are all over the country, from one end of the Fatherland to the other.
In the 1890s, new printing techniques like the collotype process allowed the chromolithographic "private postcard" to be mass-manufactured at a lower cost, thus initiating a collecting craze that lasted until the First World War. Around 1897, new government regulations allowed illustrations to occupy the whole face side of the card.
In Canada, in 1904, it became possible to write both the message and the address on the back or "address" side. The newly divided back allowed illustrators to better exploit the postcard's visual potential. By that time, the universally agreed upon size of 3½ x 5½ inches accommodated collecting and the manufacturing of cards in sets and series.
While most views were taken by professional photographers, the imagery was codified to meet the tastes of the broadest audiences. Consequently, postcard collections have provided valuable sources of visual imagery from the late Victorian and Edwardian eras. Whether reporting on events, technological innovations, fads or changing social mores, postcards, like snapshots, contributed to the mass cultural formation of everyday life. As with today's electronic mail, blogs and facebooks, receiving postcards was a popular pastime and an almost obligatory medium of exchange. Like websites, they recorded the most notable and mundane of day-to-day exchanges.
It is often held that Niagara Falls was the first place in North America to be depicted on a postcard. In 1877, a Niagara Falls newspaper stated that nearly 27 million cards had been sold in one summer month. For the period between 1905 and 1925, nearly 200,000 postcards could be mailed from Niagara Falls on any given day. The flow of imagery did not only originate in Niagara Falls itself; in the first decade of the twentieth century, Kodak and other companies printed personal snapshots onto postcard paper. Free rural delivery made the personal photographic postcard a new and inexpensive means of making contact with distant relatives and friends. Photographic or photoprint postcards were also produced by independent merchants who could easily produce massive numbers of cards with specially designed quick-printing machines. Printing techniques developed after 1900 allowed quality postcards to be mass-produced cheaply. Despite the accessibility of the hand camera and its popularity with travellers, the photographic postcard proved to be the simplest way for someone to possess a high quality snapshot of a place or event. By and large, the golden age of the postcard came to end at the time of the Great War. A partial decline was caused by the War, rising labour costs, the equalization of competition, and the advent of illustrated newspapers and magazines.
Since the 1920s, postcards have been perceived as ubiquitous and mundane. With the widespread availability of the camera, the postcard's function as a form of telegram asserted itself, resulting in the negligence of its artistic potential. In the 1930s, Surrealist artists and writers were drawn to turn-of-the-century postcards for their combination of symbolist eroticism, mass cultural bad taste and writerly automatism. The ritualistic aspect of postcard writing has been duly noted and to the present we recognize its banal features before addressing its share in the creation of social relations. If postcard writing has been an object of scorn, an equal amount of disdain has been reserved for its imagery. After decades of collecting, however, photographic postcards came to have an endearing, nostalgic quality. "In the 1900s," wrote Walker Evans,
"sending and saving picture postcards was a prevalent and often deadly boring fad in a million middle-class family homes. Yet the plethora of cards printed in that period now forms a solid bank from which to draw some of the most charming and, on occasion, the most horrid mementos ever bequeathed one generation by another."
By mid-century, a postcard aesthetic could be defined, but it wasn't until the advent of "social landscape" photography in the sixties that the "commercial tradition" came to be the basis for a seemingly more democratic mode of cultural representation. Exceptionally, the California photographer Bill Dane was the only artist from this period to work seriously with the postcard form, mailing out his work to friends, family and art world people. To my knowledge, Dane was the first artist to recognize how the two sides of the postcard form denies its opposite any kind of comfortable existence. His use of written address and delivery through the postal system subverted John Szarkowski's formalist insistence on the quality of the print itself, vantage point, and the function of the frame. When I researched Dane's work at the George Eastman House (International Museum of Photography), I was not surprised to find that his postcards were held in the manuscript rather than the photography collection.
Jacques Derrida has perhaps most critically examined the aporias of the postcard design. Proportional analogies between image and text, he argues, are always constructed according to seemingly irreducible oppositions. "In order to dissolve, as they always do, the oppositions must be produced, must be propagated and multiplied." As Derrida's reflections on Freud amply demonstrate, the postcard form engages its readers in an interminable game of transference designed to reveal "the secret of reproduction." Derrida's work underscores the limits of the principle of infinity that is at the centre of constructionist discourse and the metaleptical inversions and confirmations of the touristic enterprise. In Derrida, we do not find infinity, but a host of paradoxes: debt, transference, subversion, destiny, catastrophe, prophesy, lack, trauma, reproduction, repetition, engagement, secrecy, illegibility, separation, imposture, fantasy. Derrida's writings on the postcard elaborate the compulsion to repetition, beyond the pleasure principle, as a discourse on reproduction.
A subsequent recuperation of the discourse on the infinite is found in Jean-François Lyotard's notion of the photographic sublime, a theory that posits contemporary photography's abandonment of the drive toward mimetic representation. As photography enters the field of [modernist] aesthetics, Lyotard argues, it realizes and concludes the illusionistic ambition of Renaissance perspective. "The governing principle of the postindustrial techno-scientific world," he states, "is not the need to represent the representable, but rather the opposite principle." We could say, instead, following Benjamin's work "On the Mimetic Faculty" that the new cartographies of the visible world are superimposed over mimetic modes of behaviour and according to histories of use. Formal reflexivity is what deniesthe instrumental use of the medium in its aestheticization of social space.
The more common approach to a generalized study of the representation of the Niagara Falls has been to emphasize the social and aesthetic discourses that have shaped opinions about the experience of the site, from the sublime to mass culture critique. In one scholarly study, the author suggests that 250 years of artistic representations have been fated by the impossible task of capturing the Falls' sublimity. Of course the question of an adequate means to capture the Falls is a ruse. Instead, contemporary visual culture studies turn to the discourses that shape meaning. What do we make, then, of Lyotard's notion that our contemporary interest lies in representing the unrepresentable? Do we seek in the serialized manufacture of a place image the endless play of language games, which is involved in the myriad uses of postcards, or does every landscape, as Allan Sekula once wrote, "find its deadly echo in the aerial view of a targeted terrain"?
Postcards have a particular way of bringing to mind the traumatic events of history, becoming visible in relation to specific orderings: the family album, the public archive, the visual culture textbook, or the Internet, to name a few. What perhaps we fail to consider in relation to virtual worlds is what Slavoj Žižek, after Lacan, calls the dimension of the Real. What is traumatic about the events that shape us is not the "true reality" that is dissimulated by screen images, but the void that renders reality inconsistent and incomplete. The function of all symbolic systems, he argues, is to dissimulate this inconsistency by presupposing, in its place, a more remote reality, sublime, unrepresentable, or, yet to be represented. The quest for the technological sublime, proposed by Lyotard, becomes, through our understanding of Žižek 's theory of the progressive disintegration of the "big Other," a paranoid pursuit. Following Žižek, I propose instead a psychoanalytically informed approach to the photographic archive as a site that is productive of our experience of reality. The archive, like the Real, is an empty space, a construction that can never be experienced as such, but that is always retroactively constructed and that figures in hegemonic struggles over meaning. The important point here is not the nostalgic recovery of time passed, nor the insistence on History, but the essential meaninglessness of reality, against which all accounts of the past have a negative function, that of proposing an image of the social world.
Commodity relations and the transformation of the commodity through the promotional logic of the commodity-sign, which relies on forms of symbolic and psychological codification, have by and large determined the way that postcards connote consumer enjoyment. Relying heavily on practices of visual consumption and scopophilic spectatorship, touristic enjoyment operates as a defense mechanism against fantasmatic excess, thus reintegrating experience in the circuit of symbolization. Touristic fantasy stages desire as such but also prevents fulfilment. The realization of touristic desire comes with the recognition of how postcard images substitute for the Niagara Falls "thing" itself. The goal of experiencing the Falls is not realized in its actuality, but in the reproduction of touristic desire. The language that has been used to describe the Falls provides a concrete expressions of desire – the anamorphic object or thing that retroactively embodies its own cause. This poses a problem to historicist accounts of the visual culture of the Falls that do not consider how all representations are symptoms of subjective ego investment. The truth lies elsewhere, however, since subjective identification with the postcard symptom involves personal fantasy. Paradoxically, this implies that postcard representation is an action that resists symbolization. Thus, the most succinct way that people have attempted to domesticate both the Niagara Falls and its view-card representations has been to engage in the work of signification.
Doing the Falls
Let us consider for a moment to this question of signification and its communication of enjoyment. One of the tropes of enjoyment, outside of the official "truth," can be located in the paradoxical discourse of authenticity. Social theory has helped to problematize the mass culture critiques that typically consider tourism to be no more than a crass commercial activity. Since the advent of postwar structuralism, both touristic discourse and photographic discourse have come to consider the hermeneutic entanglement of the authentic with the mediated. As Jonathan Culler once stated, "The paradox, the dilemma of authenticity, is that to be experienced as authentic it must be marked as authentic, but when it is marked as authentic it is mediated, a sign of itself and hence not authentic in the sense of unspoiled." The authentic is structurally related to its opposite, and produced along this continuum.
Dean MacCannell famously provided the first major critique of the view that tourism produces a shallow and artificial relationship to place. In The Tourist, MacCannell defined tourism as a quest for authenticity. Aesthetic interest in sites is constituted for MacCannell by markers of authenticity such as postcards, guidebooks, brochures and travelogues. Various stages of marking and framing constitute a process of "site sacralization" that work to produce cultural value. The proliferation of site markers produces the magical aura that drives the tourism industry. At Niagara Falls, and during the age of mid-nineteenth-century tourism, artists and photographers transformed the mode of picturesque sublimity by changing the visual image of the Falls to incorporate spectators as well as neighbouring farms, mills, roads and hotels. New vantage points were incorporated into the touristic framing of Niagara as visitors would follow man-made staircases to the foot of the Falls, enter the Cave of the Winds behind the American Falls, take in a view from Prospect Point, Terrapin Tower and Goat Island, see the whirlpool or journey on the Maid of the Mist. Well before the advent of postcards, and without ever having been to Niagara, most travelers would have been familiar with these viewing platforms.
Twentieth-century consumers of the Falls have had to negotiate the various levels of sacrifice that is expected of them, the solemn communication with others through the observation of the framing operations, markers and quidebooks, or the deviance from these expectations through the cultivation of difference. John Urry considers all touristic activity to be part of this reflexivity of modern experience. Urry's contention is supported by the postcard messages that indicate a recognition of the implication of the "place-image" of Niagara Falls in its viewing. Some phrases culled from the postcards I examined reflect this implicit understanding of the Falls as a mediated site: "I think you would enjoy seeing the real thing"; "This isn't as pretty as they are. You must see them"; "This picture simply does not do the Falls justice". In some cases the message is played out against the surface signs of the support: "Come on in the water is fine"; "We took a ride in that little boat you can see at the bottom of the card"; "Stood down here about where you see the couple with the umbrella"; "Here is where it thunders all the time. Can you hear the rushing and roaring of the water?"
Unavoidable in the twentieth century is this issue of the correspondence between the site and its image. The intersection of imaginary and real site delimits the time of the photograph. Because the postcard photograph has already provided an exact declension in space, it is the writer's task to make the necessary inscription in narrative time. The consumer attitude is evident in the insistence that the writer is having a good time. This typically comes in advance of any comment about the sight and we notice attempts to overtake the mediation of authenticity through personal narrative, references to planned itineraries and timetables. Postcards mediate the regimes of representation through which subjects of touristic consumption participate in an increasingly regimented culture of spectatorship. MacCannell argues that the romantic and aesthetic perception that could at one time have provided a critique of capitalism is today "fully integral with commodity production." More than any other artefact of travel, the postcard embodies this "dialectic of surface and depth" that marks the postmodern "crisis of historicity" and the grim prose of modern industrial devastation. MacCannell's critique of the conquering spirit of modernity is reflected in the regulation of the Falls as an object of curiosity.
The touristic consumption of a "place image" like the Niagara Falls is conditioned by what Rob Shields refers to as image maintenance. The relays between photographic representations of a place and complex social spatializations are not without contradictions and tensions and there is often a need to maintain and manage the viewing of sites like the Falls in order to establish and profit from its notoriety. This managerial activity takes place both on the ground and at the level of photographic representation. The Falls themselves are maintained by geologists and engineers in order to conserve their familiar characteristics. Erosion has been slowed over time with the use of control structures that reduce the amount of water that passes through the Falls. Another level of maintenance has figured in the history of the postcards themselves. In the early 1900s, Niagara Falls authorities prevented postcard dealers from distributing cards deemed improper and depicting, as one account described it, "wash line displays, children before they are dressed, artistic poses of femininity and scenes on the sea beach." By 1907, "racy postals" could be purchased at a number of places and police eventually threatened vendors with severe penalties. Whereas in the nineteenth century Niagara Falls was associated with the romance of a place "where young eligibles could meet other young eligibles," by the twentieth, it was associated with illicit sexual promiscuity. Park scenes of "amorous couples" were described as "libelous imprints against the city" and efforts were made to withdraw French postcards depicting café patrons of both sexes "imbibing freely." Perhaps a more nefarious threat to the image of the Falls was a series of cards printed in 1912 with the caption: "Falls running dry." For a few days in winter of 1909, ice dams prevented water from running across the cataracts. An entrepreneur capitalized on this event by producing humorous epiphenomenal postcards. Because these did not explain how the chance occurrence lasted only two days, officials removed the cards from circulation, considering them "poor advertising material."
Shields argues that changes in attitudes towards the Falls have taken place as a result of promotional imagery. While attitudes are polyvocal and open to different meanings and understandings, Shields contends that the shift from an early Romantic age emphasis on the sublimity of nature to later views of urban seediness underwrites the lack of a positive semiotic identity for the Falls. The loss of the aura of authenticity was related to the site's growing accessibility in the mid-to-late nineteenth century, due largely to the railway access that allowed middle-class travellers to come for short stays or one-day trips. Already, at mid-century, Niagara Falls was associated with "tourism," implying entertainments of various sorts, hucksters, viewing platforms, hotels, shops, taverns, thrill seeking and itinerance. Entrepreneurs responded to cheaper travel by building "tall barriers to obscure the Falls from view and to charge the public a fee to see the cataracts through peepholes." At this time, citizens in Canada and the U.S. fought against entrepreneurs for unimpeded viewing of the sight, a privilege eventually established by both federal governments in the 1880s. By the 1920s, the site was almost completely functionalized by commodification and tourism.
Tourism and leisure have long been integrated with work as part of the changing experience of everyday life, leading to what Christopher Lasch considers "the performative self," a manager of public impressions. As commodities lose their integrity and usefulness, they become disposable and obsolete; their value comes to lie in their marketability. In their study of advertising, Leiss, Klein and Jhally argue that in the shift from traditional and industrial societies to consumer societies, both objects and social relations become unstable. The satisfactions that were available in traditional and national cultures dissolve in the face of great changes. "When the characteristics of goods change quickly and continuously," they write, "the needs through which individuals relate to them must also be in a state of permanent fluidity. When goods are little more than changing collections of characteristics, judgments about the suitability of particular goods for particular needs are, so to speak, destabilized." In a consumer culture, feelings are not recollected but fragmented; they are to be combined and rearranged according to needs and circumstances. "This fragmentation," they contend, "stands in reciprocal relation to the disintegration of goods as determinate objects." As mentioned earlier, the quest for authenticity propels individuals to document biographical narratives that involve the self with the places one visits. Despite the availability of picture perfect postcards at most sites, people today choose to take their own photographs and individualize experience. The function of the postcard, as a form of souvenir, is to extend a biographical narrative to that of the recipient by means of gift giving and thereby to reaffirm a personal articulation. Yet, beyond this, there is still a problem of distance, a further need to "appropriate distance." This need is negotiated in the addressee's reception of the gift, and in the gift's subsequent inclusion in the collection or in its presentation as an object of display. In the study sample, dozens of messages referred to the practice of collecting and saving postals. Requests were made for exchanges and thanks sent for their reception.
Picture postcards are symptomatically utilized as promotional commodities transacted in gift exchanges. These gifts are part of complex relations of kinship, friendship and modern forms of association. Domestic inquiries, statements of emotional attachment, and notifications of safe passage are predominant. The gesture of hand writing itself is also important to the postcard's ritualistic performance, more important perhaps than the content of the message. As signs of intersubjective communication and contact, many cards deal with concerns of reciprocity and obligation. Obligations of reciprocity vary and are nuanced with affective statements ranging from concern and humour to anxiety and insistence. In contrast to the Maussian emphasis on obligation, George Bataille considered giving in terms of expenditure and sacrifice. Bataille's view of the link between accumulation and expenditure suggests the possibility that leisure and travel are useless and pleasurable activities in excess of any calculated or socially integrated action. Leisure is part of an affective economy. It would be mistaken, however, to consider excess and bodily pleasure as somehow outside the space of social action. Practices of play, gaming, testing and performance are central to notions of civilization and symbolic strategies of control and domination.
Tony Bennett has most convincingly argued that the techniques of display and classification that are associated with the nineteenth century "exhibitionary complex" were object lessons in the self-regulation that citizens underwent in the maintenance of systems of police control and imperialism. Within the exhibitionary complex, nationalistic sentiment was typically presented in terms of technological progress and innovation, part of an ethnographic project of mapping sociocultural evolution from savagery to civilization. Bennett mentions that in many world expositions, viewing platforms and vantage points allowed participants to withdraw from the bustle of the fair grounds and to gain a comprehensive view of the spectacle from a distance. The administration of a distanced view functioned as a mechanism of public incorporation and a means to place people on the same side as State power. Postcards and other souvenir miniatures were typically available for sale on these sites of power/knowledge where public and private, subject and object were regulated and exchanged. Countless Niagara view cards from the pre-WWII period include the Canada Coat of Arms or some other indication of the British Commonwealth. The self-captioning of photographic postcards should be thought of in these terms, although the scale of the postcard also returns the viewer to the more personal concerns of kinship and community, other levels of the permanent display of power.
A Raging Torrent of Consumption
In the Grundrisse, Marx described how production and consumption mediate one another. Emphasizing the social character of commodities, he wrote: "Production mediates consumption; it creates the latter's material; without it consumption would lack an object. But consumption also mediates production in that it alone creates for the products the subjects for whom they are products." With the historical development of the forces and techniques of production, and in ways Marx could not have anticipated, consumption begins to take on greater control of production, leading to the relative independence of consumption. Jean Baudrillard referred to this condition as the "mirror of production," a stage of production where the alteration of the relation betwen culture and economy leads to a political economy of the sign.
Andrew Wernick defines this process as the "promotional condition of contemporary culture." Wernick's view is that all of today's cultural phenomena have as one of their functions the communication of a promotional message, which in itself is a mode of communication that operates through the force of homogenization, provided that cultural products themselves are differentiated. This logic of promotion not only dominates the objects, people and places that are advertised, but is instrumental towards itself, subordinating the performative dimension to that of communication. (The communicative function of the postcard is perhaps most noticeable in the insistent tone of the image caption, a code that tends to override the written communiqué.) What is key to promotional communication is not direct exchange, say, the buying of a product, nor the belief in its efficiency, but the enactment of symbolic transactions that feed into already existing symbols. Promotion, we could say, de-cathects existing moral, political and cultural categories. We are all promotional subjects, Wernick argues, vacillating between playful willingness to be seduced and hardened skepticism, faced with the problem of authenticity and dependent on the constant production of differences and self-stagings.
This process of differentiation is echoed in Georges Van den Abbeele's critique of MacCannell and the latter's emphasis on tourism's "sinister connotations." For MacCannell, the tourist's disalienation from tourist attractions requires the categories of immediacy, authenticity and original presence. Van den Abbeele's deconstruction of the "dialectics of authenticity" and of "totalities of interpretation" attempts to defer the link between MacCannell's semiotics and his Marxist sociology. The tourist is determined in advance to be a double figure, a theorist of tourism involved in the interpretation of a chaotic, fragmented universe, and who does not produce a "unified experience," but a reconstruction of the ruse of tourism, "so that when the experience takes place it can be grasped as fully present." The more radical aspect of this process is not the "supplementary character of the marker," as Van den Abbeele argues, the non-plenitudinousness of the sign that sets off a "chain of supplementarity," but the traumatic irruption of the Real of signification that sets off the antagonistic character of social differences through the functioning of differentiation. The constitutive incompletion of subjectivity is what allows us to tie semiotics and sociology in the context of tourism and allows us to view postcards as moments of identification (suture) in the construction of the social field. The subject of touristic attraction not only experiences itself as an alien entity, but is constituted precisely by this world of appearances.
As I have argued, visitors to Niagara Falls are involved in practices of gift giving and commodity exchange that are part of a transferential process. Key to this process is the world of familial and affective intimacy. In his 1965 book on photography Pierre Bourdieu addressed the way that photography encourages communication with others and the social functions that are concealed in individual acts of reception and interpretation. While he suggested that only psychology could adequately address some of the unanswered questions posed by sociology, he did fulfil sociology's mission of explaining the predispositions and class habits that structure the objective constraints and norms that motivate photographic practice. Bourdieu insisted that in most instances, photographic practice is a function of the integration of the family:
photographic practice only exists and subsists for most of the time by virtue of its family function or rather by the function conferred upon it by the family group, namely that of solemnizing and immortalizing the high points of family life, in short, of reinforcing the integration of the family group by reassuring the sense that it has both of itself and its unity.
This reinforcement of family ties relates specifically to the petty bourgeois modes of production and consumption that are anticipated by postcard manufacturers.
The goal of the tourism industry is thus contradictory: on the one hand, allowing subjects to escape not only from work but also from family pressures, and on the other, to provide occasions for these very same rites of incorporation through the commodification of hospitality. Because of this, touristic consumption functions as a game of puzzled amusement and interpretive detection that is betrayed by the purchase of a postcard. Citing Susan Stewart, John Frow describes the postcard as
"an instrument for converting a 'public' event into a 'private' appropriation of the tourist object, in a process by which the tourist first 'recovers the object, inscribing the hand-writing of the personal beneath the more uniform caption of the social,' and then, 'in a gesture which recapitulates the social's articulation of the self – that is, the gesture of the gift by which the subject is positioned as a place of production and reception of obligation,' surrenders it to a third party who acts, quite involuntarily, as a witness to the simultaneous validation of the site and of the self."
What if we were to pursue Bourdieu's allusion to psychic motivation and consider photographic practice as symptomatic? The experience of the Falls provides an occasion for us to recognize the void that the Falls cause us to experience in ourselves, the price we pay for access to enjoyment. Family members and friends guarantee that we will be discharged of touristic guilt, that our relations of guilt will be externallized, cast away onto the territory of the Other. The family structure is involved from the very beginning in this process of global tourism, caught in the circuit of guilty pleasures and the transference of guilt. Because of this debt to honour, every tourist becomes the detective of their own crime story (primal scene), and like the detective of film noir, loses the distance that would enable them to analyze the false scene.
According to Žižek, "the hard-boiled detective gets mixed up in a course of events that he is unable to dominate; all of a sudden it becomes evident that he has been 'played for a sucker.' What looked at first like an easy job turns into an intricate game of criss-cross, and all his effort is directed toward clarifying the contours of the trap into which he has fallen."
By trying to reconstruct the crime scene, the detective typically gets involved in a shadowy id underground world, above which floats a superego narrative voiceover. Thus, the mode of subjectivization that is involved in touristic consumption implies an identification with the particularity of one's own symptom. The Falls exist primarily as the symptom of the tourist. What lies waiting beyond the misty falls is the death drive itself, encoded in the mysterious power of the photographic image and its corresponding message. By postponing catastrophe, the psychic surrender to the death drive, we all get wet, so to speak, and accept that we are tourists, a condition of being that lies outside the "truth" about representations of Niagara Falls. In the Lacanian account, subjectification means experiencing oneself as an object, a helpless victim; this is the process through which we confront the nullity of our narcissistic pretensions. Perhaps the uncanny power of the Falls lies in the fantasy that they exist as though a vision untouched by human eyes, unseen by the desire of the Other. This same relation with the Gaze is re-established by the picture postcard and its inscription. It is as Lacan states of the gift: "Where one is caught short, where one cannot, as a result of the lack [of desire], give what is to be given, one can always give something else."
This essay was first presented in the context of the conferenceThe Cultural Work of Photography in Canada: An Academic Workshop, May 8-10, 2008, Carleton University.
1. Helmut Draxler, "I, too, was in Australia," in Andrea Fraser, Christian Phillip Müller, Gerald Rockenschaub: Austrian Contribution to the 45th Biennale of Venice (Vienna: Ministry of Education and Art, 1993) 224.
2. Sigmund Freud, A General Introduction to Psychoanalysis (New York: Washington Square Press, 1920 ) 71.
3. From The Standard (21 August 1899), in Frank Staff, The Picture Postcard & Its Origins (New York: Frederick A. Praeger, 1966) 60.
4. Howard Wood, "International Postcards: Their History, Production, and Distribution (Circa 1895 to 1915)," in Christaud M. Geary and Virginia-Lee Webb, eds. Delivering Views: Distant Cultures in Early Postcards (Washington: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1998) 13.
5. See Richard Carline, Pictures in the Post: The Story of the Picture Postcard and Its Place in the History of Popular Art (London: Gordon Fraser, 1971).
6. Norman D. Stevens, ed. Postcards in the Library: Invaluable Visual Resources (New York: Haworth Press, 1995).
7. W.L. Gutzman, The Canadian Patriotic Post Card Handbook 1904-1914 (Toronto: Unitrade Press, 1985) i.
8. Niagara Falls Gazette (12 December 1877) 3:3.
9. "Millions of Post Cards," Niagara Falls Gazette (15 August 1906) 2:2; "150,000 Post Cards Mailed Out of Niagara Falls by Tourists Sunday," Niagara Falls Gazette (21 September 1925) 1:3.
10. See Edward John Wall, The Photographic Picture Postcard for Personal Use and for Profit (London: Dawbarn & Ward, 1906).
11. See Brian Coe and Paul Gates, The Snapshot Photograph: The Rise of Popular Photography, 1888-1939 (London: Ash and Grant, 1977).
12. See Jordana Mendelson, "Joan Miró's Drawing-Collage, August 8, 1933: The 'Intellectual Obscenities' of Postcards," Art Journal 61:3 (Spring 2004) 24-37.
13. For example, the avant-garde fascination with debased materials is noticed in Georges Pérec's book on the "infra-ordinary" in which he observes that there are exactly 243 possibilities for the postcard message.Georges Pérec, "Deux cent quarante-trois cartes postales en couleurs véritables," in L'Infra-ordinaire (Paris: Seuil, 1989). More recently, the deconstructionist team Diller + Scofidio included in a photo-essay on tourism a series of generic postcards with the headers: The Date; The Salutation; Interpretive Account; The Description of the Site; The Travel Itinerary; The Undecipherable Statement; The Closing; The Signature. For the right hand side, they add: Proper Name; Street Address; City & State; Zip Code; Country. Elizabeth Diller and Ricardo Scofidio, "Hostility into Hospitality," in Diller + Scofodio, eds. Back to the Front: Tourisms of War (Basse Normandie: F.R.A.C., 1994) 278-321.
14. Jonathan Green, American Photography: A Critical History 1945 to the Present (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1984) 10.
15. Jacques Derrida, "Economimesis," Diacritics 11:2 (Summer 1981) 4.
16. Jacques Derrida, The Post Card: From Plato to Freud and Beyond (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1987) 12.
17. Jean-François Lyotard, "Presenting the Unrepresentable: the Sublime," Artforum 20:8 (April 1982) 69.
18. Walter Benjamin, "On the Mimetic Faculty," in Peter Demetz, ed. Reflections: Essays, Aphorisms, Autobiographical Writings (New York: Schocken Books, 1978) 333-336.
19. See Caren Kaplan, Questions of Travel: Postmodern Discourses of Displacement (Durham: Duke University Press, 1996) 64.
20. Elizabeth McKinsey, Niagara Falls: Icon of the American Sublime (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985). See also Linda L. Revie, The Niagara Companion: Explorers, Artists, and Writers at the Falls, from Discovery through the Twentieth Century (Waterloo: Wilfrid Laurier University Press, 2003).
21. Allan Sekula, "The Traffic in Images," in Benjamin H.D. Buchloh, ed. Photography Against the Grain: Essays and Photo Works, 1973-1983 (Halifax: The Press of the Nova Scotia College of Art & Design, 1984) 79.
22. See Slavoj Žižek, La subjectivité à venir (Paris: Flammarion, 2006) 100.
23. The big Other, in Žižek 's interpretation of Lacan, stands for our perception of the social rules that structure reality. The big Other, like the Symbolic order, serves to mask the contingency of the Real and provides a sense that reality can be known. While disputing its claims to truth, Žižek argues that the big Other is indispensable; illusion, which is on the side of reality, guides our actions (rather than knowledge). For Lacan, "the big Other does not exist." From this we can understand that social reality operates as a double illusion, an unconscious fantasy. Fantasy marks our relationship to the desire of the Other. Through it, and by attempting to avoid incommensurability, we (traumatically) perform what we think we are in the eyes of others. Through fantasy, the traumatic aspect of our being, and through identification with ordinary material objects and signs, we overcome the inconsistency of the big Other.
24. See Robert Goldman, Reading Ads Socially (London: Routledge, 1992) 17.
25. See Slavoj Žižek, "Goal and Aim of Fantasy," in Looking Awry: An Introduction to Jacques Lacan through Popular Culture (Cambridge: The MIT Press, 1991) 102-104.
26. For further elaboration, see Slavoj Žižek, The Sublime Object of Ideology (London: Verso, 1989).
27. Jonathan Culler cited in John Frow, "Tourism and the Semiotics of Nostalgia," October #57 (Summer 1991) 130.
28. Dean MacCannell, The Tourist: A New Theory of the Leisure Class (New York: Schocken, 1989).
29. Frow, 127-128.
30. See Jeremy Elwell Adamson, "Nature's Grandest Scene in Art," in Jeremy Elwell Adamson, ed. Niagara: Two Centuries of Changing Attitudes, 1697-1901 (Washington: The Corcoran Gallery of Art, 1985) 38.
31. John F. Sears, "Doing the Niagara Falls in the Nineteenth Century," in Adamson, 105.
32. John Urry, Consuming Places (London: Routledge, 1995) 145.
33. MacCannell, ix.
34. Rob Shields, Places on the Margin: Alternative Geographies of Modernity (New York: Routledge, 1991) 15.
35. "Some Postal Cards Barred," The Daily Cataract-Journal (13 July 1905) 5:3; "Hundreds of Postal Cards Are Rejected," The Daily Cataract-Journal (16 August 1906) 5:5; "Postal Card Season Opens This Month," Niagara Falls News (20 April 1907) 5:5.
36. "Hundreds of Racy Postals in Scrap Heap," The Daily Cataract-Journal (11 July 1907) 1:4; "Police Stop Sale of Indecent Prints," The Daily Cataract-Journal (16 July 1907) 1:5; "A Warning to the Dealers in Obscene Postal Cards," Niagara Falls Gazette (16 July 1907) 1:3.
37. Shields, 143.
38. "Post Cards Slander City," The Cataract Journal (11 August 1909) 1:1.
39. "Would Exercise Censorship on Picture Post Cards," Niagara Falls Gazette (16 May 1912) 1:3.
40. Elizabeth Diller and Ricardo Scofidio, "Foto Opportunity: Eight Strategies of Niagara Falls," in George Baird and Mark Lewis, eds. Queues, Rendezvous, Riots: Questioning the Public in Art and Architecture (Banff: Walter Phillips Gallery, 1994) 105.
41. Christopher Lasch, The Minimal Self: Psychic Survival in Troubled Times (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 1984) 32.
42. William Leiss, Stephen Klein and Sut Jhally, Social Communication in Advertising: Persons, Products & Images of Well-Being, 2nd ed. (New York: Routledge, 1990) 68.
43. Leiss et al., 70.
44. See Susan Stewart, On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection (Durham: Duke University Press, 1993) 146.
45. On this subject see James Carrier, "The Symbolism of Possession in Commodity Advertising," Man #25 (1990) 693-706, and "Gifts, Commodities and Social Relations: A Maussian View of Exchange," Sociological Forum 6:1 (1991) 123.
46. See Michael Richardson, Georges Bataille (London: Routledge, 1994) 72.
47. Chris Rojek, Decentering Leisure: Rethinking Leisure Theory (London: Sage, 1995) 185.
48. The term "exhibitionary complex" includes world's fairs, exhibitions, sites of industrial and social progress, museums, department stores, ethnographic displays, spectacles, etc. See Tony Bennett, "The Exhibitionary Complex," in Reesa Greenberg et al, eds. Thinking About Exhibitions (New York: Routledge, 1996) 81-112.
49. Marx cited in Alexandra Halasz, The Marketplace of Print: Pamphlets and the Early Modern Public Sphere (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997) 170.
50. Andrew Wernick, "The Promotional Condition of Contemporary Culture," in Promotional Culture: Advertising, Ideology and Symbolic Exchange (London: Sage, 1991).
51. Wernick, 182, 188.
52. Wernick, 192-193.
53. George Van de Abbeele, "Sightseers: The Tourist as Theorist," Diacritics 10:4 (Winter 1980) 5.
54. Van den Abbeele, 9.
55. Pierre Bourdieu, Photography: A Middle-Brow Art (Cambridge: Polity Press, 1990) 15.
56. Bourdieu, 19.
57. Slavoj Žižek, Looking Awry, 62-63.
58. Jacques Lacan, "Of the Gaze as Objet Petit a," in The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psychoanalysis (New York: W.W. Norton, 1977) 104.