than ten thousand stars how not to dance.
--e. e. cummings
Garcia Lopez de Cardenas discovered the Grand Canyon and was amazed at the sight. It can be imagined: One crosses miles of desert, breaks through the mesquite, and there it is at one's feet. Later the government set the place aside as a national park, hoping to pass along to millions the experience of Cardenas. Does not one see the same sight from the Bright Angel Lodge that Cardenas saw?....
A man in Boston decides to spend his vacation at the Grand Canyon. He visits his travel bureau, looks at the folder, signs up for a two-week tour. He and his family take the tour, see the Grand Canyon, and return to Boston. May we say that this man has seen the Grand Canyon? Possibly he has. But it is more likely that what he has done is the one sure way not to see the canyon.
Why is it almost impossible to gaze directly at the Grand Canyon under these circumstances and see it for what it is--as one picks up a strange object from one's back yard and gazes directly at it? It us almost impossible because the Grand Canyon, the thing as it is, has been appropriated by the symbolic complex which has already been formed in the sightseer's mind. Seeing the canyon under approved circumstances is seeing the symbolic complex head on. The thing is no longer as it confronted the Spaniard; it is rather that which has already been formulated--by picture postcard, geography book, tourist folder, and the words Grand Canyon. As a result of this preformulation, the source of the sightseer's pleasure undergoes a shift. Where the wonder and delight of the Spaniard arose from his penetration of the thing itself, from the progressive discovery of depths, patterns, colors, shadows, etc., now the sightseer measures his satisfaction by the degree to which the canyon conforms to the preformed complex. If it does so, if it looks just like the postcard, he is pleased; he might even say, "Why it is every bit as beautiful as a picture postcard!" He feels he has not been cheated. But if it does not conform, if the colors are somber, he will not be able to see it directly; he will only be conscious of the disparity between what it is and what it is supposed to be. He will say later that he was unlucky in not being there at the right time. The highest point, the term of the sightseer's satisfaction, is not the sovereign discovery of the thing before him; it is rather the measuring up of the thing to the criterion of the preformed symbolic complex....
How can the sightseer recover the Grand Canyon? He can recover it in any number of ways, all sharing in common the strategy of avoiding the approved confrontation of the tour and the Park Service....It can be recovered by leaving the beaten track....It can be recovered by a dialectical movement which brings one back to the beaten track but at a level above it. For example, after a lifetime of avoiding the beaten track and guided tours, a man may deliberately seek out the most beaten track of all, the most commonplace tour imaginable: he may visit the Grand Canyon by a Greyhound tour in the company of a party from Terre Haute....It may be recovered as a consequence of a breakdown of the symbolic machinery by which the experts present the experience to the consumer. A family visits the canyon in the usual way. But shortly after their arrival, the park is closed by an outbreak of typhus in the south. They have the canyon to themselves....
[A loss of sovereingty] has come about as a consequence of the seduction of the layman by [planners and experts]. The layman will be seduced as long as he regards beings as consumer items to be experienced rather than prizes to be won, as long as he waives his sovereign rights as a person and accepts his role of consumer as the highest estate to which the layman can aspire.
As Mournier said, the person is not something one can study and provide for; he is something one struggles for. But unless he also struggles for himself, unless he knows that there is a struggle, he is going to be just what the planners think he is.
---Walker Percy, The Message in the Bottle (1954)