Located approximately four hours southeast of San José on the Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica, Puerto Viejo de Talamanca is a burgeoning tourist town thoroughly characterized and “eroticized” in guidebook, anthropological, and ethnographic representations, as a place where “tourist women come to ‘hook up’ with local, Afro-Caribbean men.” Drawing on recent developments at the intersections of affect studies and the anthropologies of tourism, in this experimental paper, I seek to augment and accomplish a disruption of such representational and critical assessments, specifically, through a retooling of salient tourism studies concepts such as encounters and contact zones, toward a theoretical orientation that explores “eroticization” as an affectively charged, durative, and ongoing process of becoming. In doing so, I further experiment with ethnographic writing practices and conventions adequate to this task, thereby enacting a mimetic performance of affects toward an extension of their disruptive potentials. To that effect, I take up locally and touristically inflected notions of vortices, understood as seductive and relational affectively charged pulls that draw tourists and locals alike into new and ongoing infrastructures of difference, for better or for worse.
- Costa Rica
Corps de l’article
Experimentation I: Introduction
This paper is an experiment. It is written out of a desire to take the becoming and emergence implied by the concept of “eroticization” as seriously as possible. For some time now, anthropologies of tourism have been interested in some form of change. Focused on “re-creation” (Graburn, 1989), overcoming alienation in other times and places (MacCannell, 1976), or attending to political economic and cultural “impacts” (commodification, cultural “destruction,” structural disenfranchisement), such works have examined shifts produced through encounters for pleasure travel (Greenwood, 1989; Nash, 1989). In the move to decolonize anthropology (Clifford and Marcus, 1986; Marcus and Fischer, 1986; Faier and Rofel, 2014), however, attention has shifted from bounded “Cultures” “impacting” through subsumption or homogenization (Appadurai, 1996; Castaneda, 1996), toward thinking through the fluid and productive capacities of encounter, while “retaining a commitment to demonstrating how unequal cultural histories and forms of difference have material and political effects” (Faier and Rofel, 2014 : 364). Here, anthropologists have become interested in the novel identities, objects, subjectivities, imaginaries, and spaces produced through power-laden tourism encounters, facilitated by global flows of people, media, imaginaries, capital, culture, and the likes.
While such interventions have been both welcome and necessary, parallel critical lines emerging from the Writing Culture movement have also become concerned with thinking through the “body” and embodiment in tourism. Highlighting an overabundance of research on “meaning” in tourism studies, and thus, a prevalence of thoroughly disembodied ethnography (Veijola and Jokinen, 1994), scholars such as Lynda Johnston (2005) have drawn on critical feminist work (Butler, 1990; 1993) on performativity to enflesh and enliven the anthropologies of tourism.
It is at this embodied-semiotic intersection that much of the recent work on tourism erotics has taken shape. In this capacity, anthropologists have concerned themselves with embodied and discursive experiences in “eroticized” touristic contact zones (Bruner, 2005), the production of new subjectivity, identity, and spatial formations (entangled with numerous interpolations—sexuality, gender, and race for example) through eroticized encounters and imaginaries, and the political and economic effects of such processes (for example see Brennan, 2004; Padilla, 2007; Frohlick, 2013; Stout, 2014). This has been especially true with regards to the “Caribbean” and Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, a small tourist town located on the Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica, in the Province of Limón.
To that effect, in the current anthropological archive, there exists an impressive volume of literature devoted to examining the search for “sex, bodily pleasures, intimacy or erotic excitement” through tourism practices (see Frank, 2007 : 164; Frohlick, 2013 : 127). Anthropologists studying queer, gay, and lesbian tourism have amassed a substantial volume of work that interrogates and expands the ways in which same sex subjectivities and identities are produced, embodied, and enacted through a myriad of erotic tourism encounters (Puar, 2002; Johnston, 2005; Murray, 2007; Padilla, 2007). With regards to less often addressed heterosexualities in tourism encounters, Susan Frohlick and Lynda Johnston (2011) have documented the ways in which tourism marketing campaigns work to “naturalize” “exotic” tourism destinations such as Costa Rica and New Zealand, a process which in turn works to “heterosexualize” such destinations and particular forms of erotic attraction, thus instantiating and producing embodied and felt erotic tourism desires that are enacted on the ground in complex and multiple ways, and in relation to numerous human and non-human actors. Furthermore, and often in direct and sustained conversation with the above work, post-colonial critics have interrogated the emergence of Latin American and Caribbean tourism destinations, and the bodies therein, as thoroughly “exoticized” and “eroticized” in the context of naturalized, racialized, and sexualized stereotypes rooted in long historical colonial legacies, multiply (albeit complexly) recapitulated through tourism advertising and encounters for pleasure travel (Kempadoo, 1999; Brennan, 2004; Cabezas, 2009; among other authors).
While I am deeply indebted to this skillful and burgeoning literature on tourism erotics, in line with recent developments in the anthropologies of encounter and affect studies, in this paper I seek to experiment with different questions regarding processes of eroticization in tourism. Specifically, rather than asking questions about what comes to count as erotic, or how this or that body, subjectivity, or space, has become “eroticized” or newly interpolated as a result of touristic encounter in the contact zone (Bruner, 2005), I want to begin experimenting with eroticization as a process of emergence. Put another way, I want to begin addressing eroticization as an incipient and durative process of becoming (Deleuze and Guattari, 1987; also see Biehl and Locke, 2010).
Such a statement is bound to generate confusion. As I suggested above, if tourism studies have long been obsessed with some form of change and, as Susan Frohlick and Lynda Johnston (2011) alongside Deborah Curtis (2009) aptly note, that erotic and sexual subjectivities are always an “ongoing process,” then how is an affectively inflected understanding of eroticization as emergence different? What can such a theoretical shift contribute to our understandings, as anthropologists, of tourism processes and erotics? And what demands do such interventions make on ethnographies of tourism as practices?
Kenneth Little (2014), following Todd Ramon Ochoa (2007), has importantly elaborated that a tendency has grown in new approaches to tourism studies that consists in taking cues
too exclusively from the assemblages of objects, images, dreams, technologies, flows of power and meaning, institutions, and capital that are already encoded into one story line or another and so these approaches become calculation practices, matters of fact making that adhere to regimes of knowing organized under the “three pillars of anthropological representation” (Ochoa, 2007 : 479) and insight: negation, identity, and being. (Little, 2014 : 297)
While important and not necessarily problematic on their own, such trends risk “subordinating consideration” of tourism erotics “in their incipient, sense uncertain, eccentric moments, as unstable and emergent vitalities, generative and activating forces that are not (yet) coded culturally or socially” (Little, 2014 : 297).
The key to interpreting the importance of the above paragraph is a theoretical iteration of affect, understood as a complex assemblage of felt intensities and impacts that are never fully assimilable to encompassing power structures (Deleuze and Guattari, 1987; Massumi, 2002). While scholars studying tourism erotics have invoked and recognized the generative capacities of affect in spheres of erotic tourism encounters (most notably and artfully, Frohlick, 2013, which is of particular relevance to this paper given that my work shares a “fieldsite” with Frohlick’s), virtually none have engaged in sustained contact with those capacities as unfinished instantiating forces, opting, instead, for wonderfully insightful and robust renderings of the politicized after-effects of that generativity. Such a statement can be extended to tourism studies, more generally, where very little has been published on the unfinished potentials of affective force (for notable exceptions see Saldanha, 2007; Crouch, 2010; Little, 2010; 2014; Ness, 2011; Satsuka, 2015).
It is on this point that I want to be perfectly clear. What I am arguing is that what anthropologists have come to understand as the “erotic” or “erotic subjectivity,” those felt, embodied, and discursive material-semiotic entanglements of being, are power-laden and historicized encompassments of relational capacities to affect and be affected. Rather than a straightforward biopower-esque production, I am suggesting that what multiply and differentially constitutes “the erotic” is more akin to an operation of subtraction, whereby affective capacities and potentials are effectively closed off by operations of power, although never fully (Massumi, 2002). It is this notion of “never fully” that works to disaggregate subjectivity constellations toward new assemblages and infrastructures of difference that I would like to address and begin to experiment with.
What Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari (1987) call desire, the “never-fully-assimilable” is made up of surging vitalities and affects, some known, located, and qualified, others barely sensed and unknown, that are the driving forces of the everyday. It is this sense uncertainty and incipient unpredictability of affect and desire that serve as a complicating mechanism to straightforward applications of biopower and resistance, as Joao Biehl and Peter Locke aptly point out, because “more than the ‘enunciative function’ of subjects and spaces” (2010 : 323) is in play. Ironically, however, it is precisely this “more there, there” that is often abbreviated from anthropological sensibilities of the world (Shapiro, 2015 : 372). As Stewart McLean has forcefully stated, such omissions and abbreviations “risk . . . enshrining a normative empiricism that absolutizes existing actualities as their unchallengeable horizon of what might ‘count’ as reality . . . [producing] a too-ready acceptance not only of hegemonic criteria of ‘interest’ and ‘relevance,’ but also a kind of ontological status quo” (McLean, in Romero, 2015 : para. 15). Further to the point, in their treatise advocating for the importance of an anthropology of becoming, Biehl and Locke (2010 : 323) note that such ethnographic attunements have the capacity to “illuminate the dynamism of the everyday . . . [and] can help us chart paths across larger structures and forces . . . [They] can help us account for people, experiences, and voices that remain unaddressed,” and can incite new and different calls for ethics and politics. If such is the case, which I argue it is, the question then becomes: how to incorporate such generative and rogue vitalities into ethnographic accounts of tourism erotics and the world?
Attending to eroticization as a process of becoming, then, involves doing some things and not others. First, it involves cultivating an attention to affects (in the form of shocks, habits, sensations, daydreams, arresting images, and scenes) that literally impact bodies (Stewart, 2007), as well as their sense incipient, generative, never-fully-assimilable, leaky, and yet unqualified capacities for disillusion and irruption (Deleuze and Guattari, 1987; Massumi, 2002; Little, 2014). This means that, methodologically, doing so demands “tracking [affective] intersectional co-shaping potentials as they instantiate and materialize things [by] . . . lingering in the infinite event of becoming that seethes with uncodified potentials” (Little, 2014 : 298). Moreover, interrogating eroticization as becoming involves retooling useful tourism studies concepts (for my purposes contact zones—see below) to account for those unfinished and generative capacities of affects, so often ignored by such conceptual efforts (see McLean, in Romero, 2015; and Shapiro, 2015). Finally, it also involves experimenting with forms of address that are adequate to thinking through eroticization as a process of becoming. What Brian Massumi (2002) calls “affirmative augmentation,” or what Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari (1987) call “micro-analysis” or “minor literatures,” the trick, here, becomes to do what Kathleen Stewart (2007; 2010) articulates as side-stepping the quick jump to representational thinking and evaluative critique long enough to develop a kind of haptic description of things-in-the-making that, although unfinished, matter because they literally exert forces that move things along. In what remains of this paper, it is precisely these notions that I hope to elucidate and experiment with. This is the difference between an anthropology that recognizes and interrogates change, and an anthropology of becoming.
What this experiment does not aim to do, however, is participate in the often reductive and polarizing caricatures drawn out of what has been called the affective turn, wherein affect is highlighted as either the privileged way out of representational impasses (see Hemmings, 2005), or as, at best, a flighty digression that requires getting back to the “real stuff.” Rather, I see this paper as an experiment that constitutes an adding-to the important work already done in tourism studies on erotics, even if it also constitutes a complication of the representational adding-up of such work (Massumi, 2002; Stewart, 2007). In this sense, I agree with Biehl and Locke that such experimentations are not meant to “give up” (2010 : 2) on evaluative critique, but to act as useful “supplements to prevailing applications” (2010 : 38) of biopower where, in line with Michael Fischer (2007), attention must be paid to more than the “enunciative function” (in Biehl and Locke 2010 : 38) of subjects and spaces. More than simply a question of interpolation and resistance, attending to becoming means attaching to and mobilizing affects as they seethe, leak, and provoke irruptions in (and move) bodies and social fields in ways sometimes shocking, in ways sometimes barely sensed and unknown, but generative nonetheless (Massumi, 2002; Stewart, 2007; Biehl and Locke, 2010). Put simply, this experiment seeks to expand what counts as ethnographic “interest or relevance” and what ethnography in tourism studies can do (see McLean in Romero, 2015 : para. 16; Shapiro, 2015), so as to be able to attend to, extend, and perform how eroticized bodies, spaces, lives, and worlds are being continuously made and remade, even under the often crushing and confining weight of tourism processes and practices. This is an experiment, then, that thinks through “the eroticized,” literally, as something always in the making, and seeks to develop an ethnographic attention and form adequate to that motion. With this, I turn to experimentation by way of example, moving to the ethnographic context, Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, located on the Caribbean Coast of Costa Rica, a sleepy Caribbean hamlet that is increasingly becoming known as a developing party town where North American and European tourist women come to “hook up” with local Afro-Caribbean men (see Frohlick, 2013).
Experimentation II: Representation
Located approximately four hours south-east of San José, Puerto Viejo de Talamanca is a town complexly situated within Costa Rica and Costa Rican national identity, Latin American tourism politics, and global tourism politics, more generally (Anderson, 2004; Honey, 2004; Palmer and Molina, 2004; Rivers-Moore, 2007; Frohlick, 2013). While indigenous populations have inhabited the Talamanca Mountains surrounding Puerto Viejo for some time, and tales of early pirate encounters proliferate, the beachfront town is said to have been “settled” by Panamanian and Nicaraguan turtle fishermen in the late 1820s (Anderson, 2004; Palmer, 2005). Structurally and socially isolated from the rest of Costa Rica for some time following this, in the late nineteenth century, the Costa Rican government began importing Afro-Caribbean populations to the area (mostly from Jamaica), in order to construct a railway for the transportation of coffee from the Central Valley to the port city of Limón, and onward toward Europe (Harpelle, 1993). Financial complications, however, forced the Costa Rican government to solicit numerous foreign loans brokered by Minor Cooper Keith, who, in 1884, and in exchange for his services, was granted ownership of the tracks along with 800,000 hectares of land in Talamanca. With this land, Cooper Keith began what would in 1899 become the United Fruit Company, and Afro-Caribbean populations were reluctantly permitted to stay in Costa Rica to ensure a labour force (Harpelle, 1993).
In 1948, Costa Rica demilitarized following a complex, albeit, brief, six-week civil war beginning in March of that year (Hoivik and Solveig, 1981 : 334-336). Over the next twenty-five years, demilitarization, and the ensuing “political stability” engendered by the process, became a cornerstone of Costa Rican national identity, mobilized toward differentiating the country from the rest of Latin America (Palmer and Molina, 2004; Rivers-Moore, 2007). This characterization has gone global, with Costa Rica having been internationally touted as “the Switzerland of Latin America,” and the “Latin American Exception.” As noted by Steven Palmer and Ivan Molina (2004) (also see Rivers-Moore, 2007), however, such narratives of “exception” have been attributed to a racialized common colonial ancestry based on Spanish descent, effectively (and problematically) rendering the indigenous and Afro-Caribbean populations of Puerto Viejo invisible in terms of the nation, its history, and global reputation. Today, the Limón Province (in which Puerto Viejo is situated) is one of the most marginalized in the country (see Anderson, 2004; Frohlick, 2013).
Such processes come to matter, again, following the Costa Rican economic crash of the late 1970s. Occurring in the context of the Latin American Debt Crisis, during that time, Costa Rica experienced “massive per capita public external debt, forced currency devaluations, unprecedented inflation, and capital flight” (Carriere, 1991 : 10). Financially debilitated and unable to repay its loans, Costa Rica, under direction and influence from the International Monetary Fund, began to liberalize its economy toward tourism, granting incentives for both local and foreign developers (Honey, 2004). Drawing on its massive biodiversity, Costa Rica initiated tourism development in the niche vein of ecotourism. In order to gain a foothold in “the context of a global political economy that places the country in competition with other destinations” (Rivers-Moore, 2007 : 345), Costa Rica mobilized its “exceptional” status toward attracting tourists, highlighting not only its ecological prowess, but also its safety for tourists and potential as a “retirement haven” (Honey, 2004).
In the early 2000s, these processes began culminating in figures such as the American developed, and the Instituto Costarricense de Tourismo (ICT) commissioned the “No Artificial Ingredients” marketing campaign. Launched in 2002, and disseminated through multilingual websites and brochures, “Costa Rica: No Artificial Ingredients” was designed to stimulate tourism in the context of ongoing structural adjustments, “as well as a general international decline in tourism post-September 11, 2001” (Rivers-Moore, 2007 : 345). Produced in relation to emergent tourist demands, subjectivities, desires, imaginaries, and enactments (both within and beyond Costa Rica), the campaign has contributed to the ongoing “tropicalization” (Thompson, 2006) of Costa Rica, effectively marketing and producing the country as an “exotic” and “pristine” “natural wonderland,” where tourist safety is ensured through a national racialized homogeneity. Where Afro-Caribbean and indigenous populations do figure in the campaign (and tourism imaginaries and enactments regarding/within Costa Rica, more generally), they feature as “exotic and atavistic relics of a historic past and as spatially segregated,” or as exoticized and racialized “natural” bodies folded into an ecological scene, waiting to be consumed and penetrated by a masculinist and colonialist ecotouristic project (ibid. : 350).
More to the point, and with regards to tourism erotics, specifically, Frohlick and Johnston (2011) have also noted that in addition to naturalizing black bodies in the Caribbean region of Costa Rica, the campaign has also worked to overwrite erotics into Costa Rica as a tourism destination—most notably, heterosexuality. With regards to the Limón province, however, such campaigns work overtime to create a destination imaginary of the Caribbean Coast that is thoroughly enmeshed with ethno-sexual, non-normative heterosexual erotics, emanating from historical and contemporary processes of essentializing dark skinned bodies for consumption, a process, the authors suggest, which complexly mediates how heterosexualities and erotic desires play out on the ground in Puerto Viejo. Such processes have worked to isolate Puerto Viejo and the surrounding areas in the Limón province, ethnically, spatially, and erotically, thereby rendering the Caribbean Coast as a kind of “outer-other limit” in terms of Costa Rica as a tourism destination and the Caribbean “proper,” more generally (Anderson, 2004; Frohlick, 2013).
Alongside the emergence of such renderings (and because of them), during the late 1970s, tourists began to trickle in Puerto Viejo and its surrounding hamlets. While many of the town’s earliest visitors were big-wave surfers drawn to the now world-famous Salsa Brava reef break, for other early tourists, it was precisely Puerto Viejo’s situation at the limit that provided its touristic draw. As Frohlick (2013) points out, prior to the 1990s, the ecotouristic seduction of the Caribbean coast was characterized by the particular lures of nature, anti-materialism, and the potential for “authentic” encounters with villagers that were seen to be absent in the more heavily built-up and invested regions located on the Pacific Coast of the country. More recently, however, and in relation to the “othering” processes concretized by advertising campaigns such as “Costa Rica: No Artificial Ingredients,” tourists have also been making their way to Puerto Viejo under the auspices of adventure-frontier tourism (Frohlick, 2013), whereby framings of the town as “at the end of the road,” “in another Costa Rica,” or “on the wild side,” promise vacationers they can discover untouched populations and have experiences like none other. Finally, many, though certainly not all, tourists have been drawn to Puerto Viejo’s “party” atmospherics and culture. In the late 1990s, following an eruption of violence and sexual assault in Cahuita, a hamlet 20 kilometres north of Puerto Viejo, dance halls in the town have gained popularity due to perceptions of increased safety.
Today, Puerto Viejo has become a small, yet thriving transnational tourism destination. Composed of approximately 2000 inhabitants, the town is home to numerous tourism offices, dance halls, local and international fusion restaurants, and small cabina-style hotels. Circulating tourism imaginaries and discourses regarding “the Caribbean” have also brought notions of Rastafarianism to the area and have contributed to a complex “sex tourism” industry, wherein the town has become known as a place where North American and European tourist women come to “feel sexier” and “hook up” with Afro-Caribbean men (Frohlick, 2013).
It is at this juncture and in this context that most of the ethnographic work on tourism erotics in Puerto Viejo has been produced. Of particular importance is Susan Frohlick’s (2013) recent research, wherein she demonstrates some of the most complex and rigorous ethnographic work on tourism erotics in the representational idiom to date. Seamlessly moving through multiple scales of ethnographic attention, from global circulations of tourism imaginaries and advertisements, which, she argues, work to differentially overwrite Costa Rica as a heterosexualized erotic tourism destination on the basis of race and geographic locale (also see Frohlick and Johnston, 2011), to the erotic desires such processes instantiate and the complex ways such desires play out “on the ground,” Frohlick documents the complexities and negotiations of cross-border and ethno-sexual, erotic and intimate encounters between tourist women and local, Afro-Caribbean men.
What is most impressive about Frohlick’s rendering of Puerto Viejo as an erotically charged tourism destination is, first, her recognition of the fact that erotics exceed sexualities and sexual encounters (here, Frohlick documents the erotic charges of numerous bodies and spaces—human and non-human—from the charged up energies of particular bodies, to dance halls, and the erotic lure of the rainforest or the taste of fresh fruit, for example), and second, her recognition of the contact zone as an affectively saturated encounter space—a theoretical orientation which I share.
To that effect, in Frohlick’s rendering of erotic encounters, contact spaces, which have typically been conceptualized as liminally creative voids that enact new infrastructures of difference not from one historically located side or the other (tourist/local), but from their merging (see Bruner, 2005; Little, 2014), appear more akin to how Stewart McLean (in Romero, 2015 : para. 10) has characterized the liminal as a “superabundant plentitude” that is overspilling with both known and rogue vitalities and affects that literally move life along, although I am not certain Frohlick would utilize these terms. Nowhere are such characterizations more apparent than in instances where Frohlick documents the importance of the seductive and generative energies of affective forces in the encounters she observed, most notably in her discussions, following Michael Taussig (1992), of the erotic affective seduction of boundaries in relation to what she terms a fetish-like “aura” of black masculinity in Puerto Viejo, or in the moments of affective, abject, and unqualified shock, that appear when discussions of monetary exchange enter tourist women’s cross-border sexual and erotic relationships with local men. Ironically, however, it is at precisely this moment that my ethnographic work and experimentation diverge with Frohlick’s, most representational ethnography on tourism erotics, and representational anthropologies of tourism, more generally.
While Frohlick’s work deeply recognizes and is astutely attuned to the generative capacities of affects and their role in the formation of novel tourism erotics, spaces, and subjectivities, her work ultimately doubles back into representational ethnographic idioms, wherein such affectively charged moments of shock and seduction act as pivot points toward discussions regarding the meanings tourist women attribute to such cross-border intimacies, as well as Frohlick’s interpretations of these events and ascriptions (see the Introduction to Frohlick’s ethnography, 2013). Such notions become most apparent in narrative threads that move from generative moments of affective shock toward instances of affective reterritorialization, for example, in new subjective encompassments regarding tourist women becoming “sugar mammas” (Frohlick, 2013 : 167) and the politics of resistance to such categorizations Frohlick describes.
As I have stated above, such renderings, while not necessarily problematic in their own right, are indicative of larger trends in the anthropologies of tourism erotics, and representational anthropology, more generally. Following Kenneth Little (2010; 2014), Stewart Mclean (in Romero, 2015), Joao Biehl and Peter Locke (2010), and Kathleen Stewart (2007), I have suggested that such ethnographic trajectories run the risk of subordinating detailed studies of tourism erotics in their unfinished, sense incipient, and generative moments of transgression and irruption. In this sense, I contextualize Frohlick’s work as a, kind of, stand in, for much of the work produced on tourism erotics heretofore, and mobilize it as a juxtapositional springboard for my own experimentation and diverging ethnographic questions, given its ethnographic proximity to my own work. My goal here, then, rather than to analyze, is to attach to such moments of generativity, and furthermore, to experiment with practices of writing that are adequate to their form. What I aim to do is akin to what Taussig means when he urges anthropologists to “get with it! Get in touch with the tactility of the fetish” (1992 : 122) in the context of nervous systems, or what Little (2014) does when his writing presses close to his Belizean beer coaster as he traces the tactile irruptions such forms of contact ensue. To be perfectly clear, what my project seeks to do is enact an ethnographically informed kind of mimetic performance of these generative capacities of affects in Puerto Viejo. The point, here, is not to finally know them in any sort of capacity that would allow for evaluation or critical assessment, but to mimic their forms and capacities in writing so as to extend their potentials for dissolution, irruption, and generativity (see Taussig, 2004; Stewart, 2007; amongst others, for similar experiments), what Deleuze and Guattari might call their “lines of flight” (1987 : 3). The point is to write in the context of a Spinozist/Deleuzian ethics, wherein my goal is to extend, foster, perform, and leave open affective potentials and connectability, in order to see where things might go if left unchecked (Deleuze and Guattari, 1987).
Experimentation III: Affirmative Augmentation
Disclaimer: A Note on Ethnographic Writing
While this paper seeks to disrupt the salience of representational ethnographic productions of tourism erotics in Puerto Viejo, and representational ethnographies of tourism, more generally, it is not forgetting of, nor indifferent to, the politics of ethnographic writing that have been at the forefront of anthropology since the late 1970s (and in some instances even earlier; see Gregory Bateson’s Naven, 1936, for example). For some time now, experimental anthropologists have been attuned to the “fictive” (Geertz, 1973), positioned, and partial (Clifford and Marcus, 1986; Marcus and Fischer, 1986), temporal (Fabian, 1983), situated, and geographically located (Gupta and Ferguson, 1997) aspects of ethnographic writing, and the important politics, therein. While this experiment seeks to mimic and perform the generative and unpredictable capacities of affects in their irruptive and deterritorializing trajectories, this work does not mean to suggest that the historical and political locatedness of actors, including the ethnographer, coming into forceful and generative contact in the encounter zone are irrelevant. To that effect, it would be remiss not to reflexively include some of the situated orientations that went into the production of this experiment, even if my ultimate goal is to exceed the encompassment of positioned subjectivities in Puerto Viejo.
In line with such concerns, then, the ethnographic research for this experiment took place over a six-month period during the summer of 2010, and one year from November 2015 to November 2016, in a mixture of English, intermediate Spanish, and intermediate Costa Rican patois. During that time, I, a white, thirty-something, male, heterosexual Canadian from Toronto, spoke and stayed with numerous people living in Puerto Viejo de Talamanca, Costa Rica. Given my age and particular research and personal interests (for example, I cannot stand to do yoga), much of this research was done in connection to Puerto Viejo’s reputation as a touristic party destination, wherein I was in contact with numerous industry stakeholders, including expatriate and local bar and club owners, long-stay tourists from mostly North America and Europe, locals who attended such businesses, and a mixture of foreign and local employees working in such establishments. Due to my living arrangements, however, I also got to know and work with numerous “local” business owners, residents, and those employed in the tourism industry in Puerto Viejo, both formally and informally. Rather than living and renting a private residence in the communities just outside of Puerto Viejo “proper,” I lived in an apartment located in a small hotel in the town centre that employed “local” women and men as receptionists, tour guides, housekeepers, and handymen. Through these connections, I was introduced to numerous other locals of different positionalities, and attended private and community events in the local community, including church services, school fundraisers, birthday parties, dinners, weddings, funerals… It is at the intersection of these two trajectories that the affective scenes to which I was present—and document here—took place. All of this is to say, then, that what follows is not meant to be totally encompassing or universalizing in terms of happenings in Puerto Viejo, so much as contingent on a particular assemblage of research positionalities, interests, and happenstance.
People tell me Puerto Viejo sucks you in. That it’s the kind of place you visit with a plan for a couple of days or a couple of weeks in “paradise,” but then your plan “goes to shit” and you end up staying well beyond your planned visit, losing your return ticket, and exceeding your tourist visa, your savings and credit limits, or your thresholds of “normal” mental health in the process. It’s a kind of seduction that’s hooked up into the tactile pulls of tourism imaginaries and erotics, those things that make you imagine and feel desires for new exotic lovers, easy retired living on the beach with two-for-one drinks in hand, sweat beading and dripping down the side of the glass, all-night parties all the time, or an endless supply of lazy days on the beach. It’s a kind of seduction that sits in your gut, gives you flutters and a sort of longing that, even if you manage to leave, tugs on you and makes you do things “you never thought you were capable of,” like quitting your job wherever you are from and heading to a Costa Rican town “at the end of the road” to try and make some kind of life away from the “rat race.”
And why should it be otherwise? Picture it. Pristine beaches. Fine sand between your toes. A healthy glow from a strong sun that makes you feel attractive and alive. A solid buzz. No schedule. Good-looking, wild, authentic, and happy locals. Mind-blowing sex. Amazing food. Fresh fish. Hammocks. Every kind of exotic animal under the sun. Every shade of green. Weed. Why go to therapy when you can go to Puerto Viejo? At the risk of sounding like a cliché, do I need to go on? Just “imagine.”
It’s kind of like this time I was sitting at a continental breakfast in a hotel in Toronto, at the tail-end of an overnight connection to San José, making small talk with some guy about where I was traveling and what I was up to, when he told me that a year on the beach in Costa Rica, with all those “strong rum drinks and hot Latin locals, studying beach bodies,” was a fantasy that he could “really jerk off to” and that he would “never leave,” only being there is more intense because you are in the thick of it, in the heart of the jungle, your body gorging itself on sensory overloads in paradise, all those things that you’ve been fed that primed your “ready-to-jerk-off” body and desires for “exotic” and “erotic” Caribbean experiences.
But in pulling you in, that seduction whirls you into new circuits of connectivity, into new forms of sensing and making, new and literal strategies for making sense, new legal infrastructures, new negotiations, or new anxieties, agitations, and dreads. And before you know it, you’re wrapped up in something that caught you off guard, something gesturing toward you are not sure where, something that makes no sense but feels like something nonetheless, continually and collectively unfolding in the everyday toward new infrastructures of difference and sensation.
Expatriates in Puerto Viejo sometimes call this pull the “vortex.” They tell me it is a kind of non-reality or a suspension that happens when Puerto Viejo, as a differential assemblage of particular discourses and felt intensities, pulls you into circuits you cannot, or do not feel like, getting out of. Take, for example, last days.
In Puerto Viejo, there is a running joke among expatriates and long-stay tourists that your last day is never your last day. That in the party vortex, everyone falls in love with the place or someone and takes “way longer to leave,” if they leave at all. Worst case, you will be back, because of the separation anxiety. Freddy, an American guy in his late twenties, tells me he has been leaving for weeks, that he came one year ago with the intent of staying just a few days, but here he is, every night, saying he will be “out of here soon,” only to show up at the next party, the next day, to absolutely nobody’s surprise. Maybe Tuesday will be the day, he jokes. “I just love this place too much.” “If you love the place so much, why are you leaving?” I asked him.
And here’s the rub, he says he is leaving because the vortex pulled him in too deep. He says he is leaving because its seductive forces exceeded his good life dreams, short-circuited and turned them around, and now he does not recognize himself anymore and does not know what he is doing. A while back, Freddy had a tourist girlfriend. But one day she left him for a local guy and now he is bent out of shape. One week he lost two different cell phones. A couple of weeks later, his passport, all in drunken stupors and blackouts he cannot remember. But the worst of it came that time he was drunk and saw his ex out with a local guy; that time he confronted them, called her a “bitch” and him a “mother fucker,” an encounter which set off a wave of threats about Freddy not being from Puerto, about him not knowing “who he was fucking with,” and about how he should start watching his back. And that’s when Freddy really started getting nervous, when he started describing the encounter in painstaking detail, over and over again, and then once more, asking people if they thought he should worry about it or if he should wait to go to parties until it all cooled off. That’s when the dream of a never-ending-party-summer in the hot and sexy Caribbean imploded on itself, and suddenly that light-hearted vacation party saying, “one guaro, two guaro, three guaro, floor,” became one benzo, two benzo, three benzos more,” and Freddy started wondering why it was so hard for him to relax.
And yet, Freddy lingers, “getting way too fucked up” and rambling about “big black dicks” and “reverse racism.” Caught up in an ongoing circuit of beach-party-sleep-repeat, a tourism party kitsch phrase scrawled on t-shirts around a town that stopped feeling like it should, but with dreams of getting it back, Freddy, with one foot out the door, keeps getting sucked back into place, all the while scanning the horizon for something that might snap him out of his rut and get him back on track, so he does not have to leave “for real.” “Maybe before I leave I’ll try yoga,” he tells me.
Old man Bill says the vortex is not really a vortex, though. That it has to do with the black volcanic sand that covers Playa Negra near the bridge at the entrance of the town. Bill tells me that the sand is strongly magnetic and that it does things, that it “sucks stuff in and fucks things up.” A couple of months back, a car came careening around a corner near Playa Negra when the electricity snapped out and the road went dark. The car flew straight into a post in front of The Point, a beach front pirate bar ran by an American guy with a cartoon name who made his own pirate ship that sank in a storm and grows his own peppers to make his own Caribbean hot sauce. Apparently, the car hit the post and knocked out the driver, who woke up to all the cash and drugs gone from his pockets. A few weeks later, the same thing happened to a different driver, not the looting, but the crash. Same corner, same darkness, same everything. “See man, it’s that fucking sand, man,” Bill says. “It’s got some kind of pull in it, it pulled those cars into that corner. That corner is a hot spot.” But Bill’s sand story is about more than just careening car coincidences. “It’s rewiring people’s brains,” he tells me. Bill is one of those old school expatriates. He came to Puerto Viejo with the first wave of tourists looking for some kind of “lost paradise” and has been “rocking and rolling ever since.” But now, Bill says that his lost paradise is just lost, and “that fucking sand is to blame.”
Bill believes that the sand is really messing things around. That its magnetic properties keep tourists and expatriates tethered to the place, like a grocery list on your fridge. But in its pull, people “don’t see so straight,” they lose sight of “the dream” of a lazy life in the Caribbean and what needs to be done to “get the place back on track.” “They’ve all gone crazy,” he tells me. “The tourists are crazy for black dicks, the locals want cash, everyone just wants to party, now there’s crack everywhere.” He tells me about how these desires have roughed the place up, spun it around, and created new and conflicting trajectories wherein people do not talk about all the troubles tourism brings, like violence and drug abuse, to keep the tourists rolling in to sustain a life in paradise, or how other people play up that very same violence, in a kind of weird complicity and conjunction with the racist assumptions of the state, to keep their “hideaway paradise” as it is. Not tooooo popular! Either way, for Bill, it all started with that sand.
But for locals like Eduardo, things seem to have even less coherence than the above stories. For him and other local men, the seductive lure of what expatriates call the vortex, or the pulls of magnetic sand, feel less encompassing than jokes about such emergences would have one believe, even in excess of their unstable, conflicting, and confusing trajectories, and even if they do not play out as straightforward as the “talk.” But do not get me wrong; Eduardo is deeply attuned to the seductive power of the vortex and his part in it. He gets it and he gets swept up in its trajectories, whether he wants to or not, or whether he calls it that or not.
In this sense, Eduardo can feel his seductive power. He tells me all the girls come to Puerto Viejo to “find a Caribbean man,” and that he likes to be the man that they come to find. Tapped into the desires for erotic alterity that is the stuff of Puerto Viejo tourism imaginaries and, depending on who you are, the vortex, itself, Eduardo enacts his own desires, moving toward a kind of maneuverability, and in seeking “to be found,” he pushes a complex performance that wildly ricochets between a disturbing racialized and economic abjection and a harnessing of his affective force, playing to the desire demands of some tourists, and tourist women, especially. And Eduardo knows his positionality well. Eduardo is not black, he is Panamanian-Indian. In fact, he is reminded of it constantly, like the time he hit on a couple of long-stay Americans who told him he simply was not “black enough,” or the time he wanted to talk to some girls on the beach when his cousin, Francisco, told him that he had been there, tried that, and that they “only liked black guys.” That is the time when Eduardo got the idea, drawn in by the magnetic energies of black sand, perhaps, to go dip himself in the azure Atlantic Ocean and proceed to roll around all over Playa Negra, like in some kind of frenzy, covering himself in a thick coat of black volcanic sand. Apparently, it “worked,” Francisco told me later.
But Eduardo tells me he does not need to be black, or black sand, to “get girls.” In a series of teaching-like moments, Eduardo tells me you just have to “be the Caribbean” and make people “feel the Caribbean,” and that he grew up in Puerto, so he knows what that is about. Take Eduardo’s love of fishing. Tapping into the imaginary and erotic desires that are the stuff of unstable vortices, Eduardo tells me that the best way to get girlfriends is to take them fishing. He has the whole thing down to an art. He knows where to catch tuna and he has traps set for snapper. He knows where the good beaches are for catching lobster. He tells me how he likes to take dates out on the water, show them his skills with the rapala, catch some fish for them, make some fresh tuna sashimi on a secluded beach near Punta Mona, and after showing them the Caribbean, “maybe they’ll have sex.” With the leftover fish, Eduardo usually makes a ceviche or an evening rondon, and invites his dates over for supper before partying in the dance halls. The rondon, he tells me, “gives him strength” for nights of “hard partying and fucking.”
And yet, there’s another rub. The affective forces conjured by “Eduardo-contact,” that erotic and seductive tactility of desire enacted in the vortex, is never totalizing for tourists, and Eduardo tells me that, contrary to the vortex tales, the tourists he encounters sooner or later always end up leaving (myself included), for one reason or another. And once again, it is here, at the implosion of the complex vortex fairy-tale hawked jokingly by expatriates and long-stays, that Eduardo is thrown into new circuits and technologies of connectivity and world-building emergence. For better or for worse.
It is like the time Eduardo’s “baby mama,” a woman in her early thirties with whom he has had an unstable on-again, off-again, relationship, moved back to Germany after having their baby, because of near constant fighting with Eduardo. One day, while living in Germany, she saw a picture on Facebook of Eduardo and another tourist woman on the beach holding fish. At that moment, the jig was up. Eduardo woke up to a series of text messages telling him in a frenzied rage that he would never see his daughter again. His complicated on/off girlfriend had also called his mother with the same message. That morning Eduardo started drinking and was almost all the way through a bottle of Cacique when I found him at the Lazy Moon that afternoon. And while I was there, in a drunken rage, set off by another unpromising message and calls from his mother, Eduardo smashed his phone on the ground, only to immediately regret the decision. “How can I Skype with my daughter?” he asked me. “Do you have an extra one?”
In his panic, Eduardo started making concessions and deals with himself, scanning the horizon to get things back on track. That he was partying too much, blowing all his money and not fishing enough, not doing what he needed to do to finish the house he was building in the Playa Negra neighbourhood so he could bring his daughter back to live with him. He asked if “maybe he could move to Canada with me and work under the table to make some real cash.” This time, he would change and his relationship with his daughter would be different. Or not. It is not like Eduardo had a lot of options. But either way, something is happening as he reaches and gestures toward new desires and new modes of being and relationality in the excessive and irruptive, erotically charged, seductive, and on-going emergence of the vortex.
But the incipient eroticization of bodies and spaces in Puerto Viejo does not just happen through moments of conflict, mundane routines of slowly drinking oneself to death, and theorizing about the magnetic energies of volcanic sand—in scenes that rub up against the smoothed over stories about the seductive and erotic pulls of contact in the vortex that is the suturing work of durative and powerful forces. It happens in other ways too, like in unexpected moments of shock and levity.
Take Carla. She runs the reception in a hotel close to where I lived. She’s Afro-Caribbean and old family Puerto Viejo, an easy way of saying that her family was one of those brought in to work the railway Minor Cooper Keith finished for the government, and in exchange was given a tract of land in Talamanca just outside of Puerto Viejo “proper.” “Everything from point A to point B in Cocles was ours at one time,” she tells me, but now, much of that land has either been sold off in the ongoing emergence of Puerto Viejo as a tourism destination or familial emigration, or stolen through black magic and shady deals or outright swindles linked to squatters’ rights laws and phony testimonials of land use that are the stuff of property politics in the town and its surrounding areas. People tell me Carla used to be a party monster. But somewhere along the road, she “got wise” and stopped blowing all her money like those party guys she calls “rasclats,” and started working two jobs, six days a week, to take care of her parents and siblings, and to build a small house on a shared family plot of land that they use while their holdings appreciate. So it came as a shock when Carla asked me to go partying with her. Not like a date, just to “bleach it.” Her boss was out of town, she had a day off, and she had not done it in a while, she told me.
Carla invited her cousin, Steve. While Carla got ready, Steve and I drank beer together in the lobby of the hotel, talking about the day’s gossip, about the heat wave that was blowing up electrical transformers in town, how tourists hate cockroaches in their rooms even though they came to the rainforest, and about his job as a handyman in the hotel that his cousin had got him. Around eleven in the evening, Carla came out, ready for the night, and asked Steve and me how she looked. “Good,” I said, thinking of it. “No,” Steve told me. “She looks sweet. In the Caribbean you call girls sweet. Trust me, it’s better. I’ll teach you.”
Each grabbing a beer for the walk, the three of us began making our way to the Lazy Moon, a beachfront bar rented from a prominent local Afro-Caribbean family, and ran by young-ish Canadian and American expatriates. When we arrived, Reggae night was in full swing. The scene was like something perfectly taken out of any tourism party imaginary. A thumping reggae soundtrack pulsated to the backdrop of the push-pull sound of a calm Atlantic Ocean. Bass lines were so loud and forceful they felt as if they were pushing through you, making your heart skip and flutter as the sound waves crested up against your chest. The dance floor, a kaleidoscope of bodies from everywhere moving in time to the music, was covered in a thick haze of cigarette and marijuana smoke. Tourists who needed a break from the intensity surrounded tables on the beach, or sat in swings suspended from almond trees, just high enough off the ground that their toes dipped into the lapping surf. Good looking, male, Caribbean bartenders poured stiff drinks with names like “Island Breeze” or “Ticarita,” or slung shot after shot of guaro. People sweat through their shirts as they swayed and grinded on the dance floor. Couples made out on the beach. “It smells like sex in here,” I once heard someone say about a Puerto Viejo party. Getting with the scene, we each did some shots and grabbed some beer, chemically modulating our bodies to the atmospherics of the party. After some time and some chatting, Carla decided that it was time to join the sea of bodies on the dance floor.
Steve’s dancing always starts the same way. It’s slow at first, a laboured kind of motion and sway while he smokes his joint and feels out the scene. But as he starts to get with it, tuning in to the intensity of the party, his dancing grows more intense, and before any of us knew it, there was Steve, as if in a frenzy, whirling and thrusting his hips like he was in the thick of it, his tank top tucked into its collar, exposing his abdominal muscles and near perfect physique. And it wasn’t long after that some female tourists took notice and started bumping and grinding with Steve while he did his thing.
And then, it happened. Cutting through the erotic energy and party intensities of the scene, came a long and uncontrollable, cackling laughter. Carla had come back from getting a drink at the bar to witness Steve’s performance. Struggling to catch her breath between belts of laughter, Carla managed to get a few words out. “If anyone fucked me like that,” she bellowed, “I would beg for pardon and get the fuck out of there.” She just couldn’t help herself. She couldn’t stop laughing.
Steve noticed. The tourists noticed. Pink-sunburned faces turned a deep crimson red. The tourists dispersed. Steve shook his head. Consciousness turned inward, and in an instant the whole sexy scene started to look like a joke. And Carla kept laughing, sucking the erotic energy out of the bar, as a forceful enactment of multiple desires in the charged-up space of the encounter zone. The whole thing was like letting an untied balloon lose and watching it deflate. Through her laughter, the seductive and erotic energies that make up the stuff of tourism imaginaries and enactments in the forceful lures of the vortex-contact space became destabilized, gesturing toward recombinations of subjectivity and being. In moments like this (and those above), Carla becomes what Kathleen Stewart (2007) calls an “arresting image,” or what Sianne Nagi (2005) calls “bad examples,” “not perfect representations of a structure at work in the real world, but actual sites where forces have gathered to a point of impact to instantiate something . . . They are not representations at all but constitutive events and acts that animate and literally make sense of cultural forces at the point of their emergence” (Stewart, 2003 : 2). And that’s this scene, for better or for worse.
When I later asked Carla about her laughter, she told me she wasn’t trying to be political. All she told me was that the whole thing was ridiculous, that Steve’s dancing “looked sooo stupid,” and that she couldn’t understand how anyone would be into it. But, at the same time, Carla’s laughter carried the force of impact. As an “arresting image,” Carla’s laughter implodes the linear trajectory of a scene of politically and historically located eroticized unfolding in the contact space of Puerto Viejo party happenings, those hooked into assemblages of sensations, discourses, and meanings that constitute the complex seductive energies of what expatriates and long-stay tourists have come to feel and identify as a charged up “vortex,” erotically inflected or otherwise. In doing so, figural images (see Haraway, 2008) such as Carla’s laughter, Freddy’s confrontations and slowly unfolding party habits, Bill’s half-formed and erratic sand suspicions and theories, or Eduardo’s fights and never fully encompassing seduction techniques, as world-making events, whether in flash bang moments of impact, or slow durative unfoldings, have the potential to usher in trajectories for new assemblages and modes of being, what Deleuze and Guattari (1987) call “lines of flight,” if only left unchecked. Or not. I mean, it is not like the dispersal unleashed by Carla and all the politics enshrined by the performance she publicly mocked probably won’t recombine in similar fashion somewhere else on the dance floor, on a different day, for perhaps even the same people. And that is the point. That is exactly the point of this experiment: to enact a kind of mimetic performance of such affectively charged up and potentialized scenes of impact, to find a mode of writing that is adequate to their form, so as to extend and mimic their capacities for dissolution and irruption. To see where things might go if left unchecked.
Experimentation IV: Conclusions
Early in February of 2017, I attended a paper presentation on affective anthropology for the Centre for Imaginary Ethnography, in Toronto, Canada. Following the presentation, during a conversation regarding the importance of developing an experimental ethnographic practice that invokes affect, one of the discussants for the presentation relayed a story regarding the introduction of experimental ethnography in the classroom. The story goes something like this. On the first day of class, the professor reads a passage from the evocative Ordinary Affects by Kathleen Stewart (2007). After having read the passage, the professor then proceeds to ask the class, “Is this science?” to which the class almost always and unanimously answers “no.” Apparently, however, on one particular occasion, there was an unexpected caveat, wherein a student raised his hand and disrupted the smoothness of the consensus, saying something to the effect of “but it feels like something that’s going on, doesn’t it?” It is toward the importance of this recognition and the implications for “erotic” anthropology and ethnography (and anthropology, more generally) that I have been trying to elucidate in this experiment.
In recent years, Puerto Viejo de Talamanca has complexly emerged as an “eroticized” tourism destination: through guidebook representations, through large-scale tourism imaginaries and tourism destination marketing focused on “the Caribbean” and Costa Rica, and through representationally inflected ethnographic research regarding how such processes play out. My purpose, here, has not been to diminish the importance of studying the implications of such ongoing processes and what they mean in the lives and worlds of both tourists and locals in the town. Rather, in line with scholars such as Little (2014), Locke and Biehl (2010), and Stewart (2007), what I have attempted to accomplish is a disruption of an anthropological trajectory, elucidated ever so forcefully in a story about an introductory anthropology class, wherein moments of affective impact and instantiation (and the potentials thereof) risk oversight in the context of a kind of normative ethnographic and social scientific framework. My goal has been to add to this important work by experimenting with what a cultivated attention to affective irruption can bring to anthropological investigations of tourism erotics in Puerto Viejo—that yet unfinished stuff of tourism erotics that matters because it “feels like something” and, literally, moves things along.
What long-stay tourists and expatriates in Puerto Viejo have come to understand, enact, feel, and know as “the vortex,” the seductive forces of which “locals” have become caught up in, attuned to, and have co-constituted, although through differential histories and intersections of power, and even if many locals would not use the term, is that which is assembled through an overwriting of Puerto Viejo and people therein as “erotic,” and through practices that are thoroughly enmeshed in the realm of “the erotic,” though certainly not all. What I have tried to demonstrate are the ways in which such conceptualizations become destabilized and ruptured, wherein new infrastructures of difference and what might constitute “the erotic” are continuously mobilized through the never fully assimilable capacities of affects (in the form of shocks, sensations, hauntings, habits, and so on). What my writing seeks to enact, then, is close attention to such irruptive moments, so as to engage in a mimetic extension of their potentials for instantiating new formations of “erotic” subjectivities and spaces, here understood as haecceitic constellations of capacities to affect and be affected. Put simply, such an experiment has sought to develop an anthropology of touristic “eroticization,” literally, through a close attention to, and a performance of, those moments of impact which move “eroticized” life in Puerto Viejo along, to who knows where, if only left unchecked.
Furthermore, while I frame my ethnographic contribution to tourism studies, tourism “erotics,” and ethnographies on Puerto Viejo (and Costa Rica) as a “useful supplementation” to an arguably “normative” ethnographic trajectory, specifically, through an argument that seeks to expand concepts such as contact zones (Bruner, 2005) to account for affective saturation, as well as, through an identification of gaps and oversights in much ethnography heretofore, I want to be clear that it is my hope that this experiment exceeds such theoretical ambitions, however modestly. To this effect, while I have stated, above, that this experiment does not wish to participate in reductive polarizations that characterize the affective turn in anthropology as either a privileged way out of representational impasses, or conversely, a flighty digression that demands “getting back to the real stuff” (see Hemmings, 2005), I would be remiss not to address such withdrawn participation in the context of this statement and these concluding remarks. The reason for this, I suggest, is because such polarizations are nonsensical.
What has typically constituted the “real stuff” of representational ethnography has always seemed rather commonsensical to me, in spite of the theoretical complications that have been recently brought to light in the context of the affective turn, and which are too lengthy and theoretically dense to overview, here (for a full rendering and critique of the limitations of representational theory, see Massumi, 2002). Suffice it to say, then, that representational ethnographies in the anthropologies of tourism, in their various iterations, matter because of the ways in which they analyze emergent phenomena generated in the effervescent space of contactive encounters, often in ways that complicate reductive assumptions about complex tourism processes and practices, and in ways often critical of, and antithetical to, encompassing power structures that produce the weighty and crushing conditions under which people connected to tourism processes often live their lives.
While I offer a critique and an expansion of this important work, my experimentation in this paper is written and enacted in the spirit, politics, and legacy of this ethnography that has come before. More than just a theoretical project that seeks to refine and reconceptualize the workings of generative touristic contact toward an understanding of “eroticization as a process of becoming,” and furthermore, to experiment with forms of writing that are adequate to these refinements, my experimentation, rather than a flighty digression that demands “getting back to the real stuff,” is one motivated by the politics and ambitions of that “real stuff” ethnography.
In the theoretical iteration of affect outlined above, power, as a concept, continues to operate as a productive force, but specifically, as one that is limiting in terms of the affective potentials and capacities opened up, sometimes shockingly, sometimes mundanely, in the ongoing emergence of everyday touristic life in Puerto Viejo. This is to say that operations of power work as a mechanism to foreclose and suture moments of potentialized irruption, wherein affects side-step, or short-circuit, habituated trajectories toward the possibility for new infrastructures of difference and being. Put simply, here, power operates as a type of productive, yet subtractive, foreclosure of emergent spaces and scenes opened by the never fully assimilable capacities of affects.
While this experiment seeks to engage questions of theoretical invigoration and an expansion of what might count as ethnographic writing, it also offers a modest contribution through a politics of extension, whereby my writing seeks not only to mimic the ongoing “eroticization” of Puerto Viejo and the encounters therein, but to extend and amplify affectively ruptured and potentialized moments carved out under the sometimes crushing and debilitating auspices of tourism processes. More than simply an experiment, then, this paper is a politicized invitation to not only develop forms of address that are appropriate to the affectively charged movement of the everyday, but to also extend irruptive moments, to slow down the quick jump to affective closures and territotialization, so as to be able to elongate scenes of rupture in a modest ethnographic effort to foster new trajectories, novel associations and inventions, and new and different circuits of connectivity. Put simply, to see where things might go if left unchecked.
The importance of invoking relationality, here, cannot be overstated. With this term, what I wish to make clear is that the novel “erotic” subjectivity, identity, spatial, object, and imaginary formations emerging in Puerto Viejo are being co-shaped and co-produced through contactive force in the encounter scene. This means that, contrary to superficial understandings and theorizations regarding the homogenization of cultural practices through global tourism, the “erotic” social and cultural phenomena continually emerging in Puerto Viejo are novel, ongoing constellations facilitated by contact through global tourism. What I mean, precisely, is that this is not a question of locals adopting the practices of tourists and expatriates, or vice versa. The significance and enactment of such processes do not translate that smoothly. Rather, what I suggest are emerging are novel practices, understandings, meanings, and modes of being through forceful contact, mediations, and negotiations that make up the everyday in tourism locals. This is not to say, of course, that emergence implies a type of lateralization in terms of power. There, very much, are massive divisions constituted through long histories of interpolation with regards to colonialism, racism, sexism, homophobia, etc. And, for example, instances of cultural appropriation are rampant in Puerto Viejo. But the point I wish to clarify is that it is not a question of change mobilized from one side or the other, but an emergence enacted through the merging of “contactive” forces, unequal though they may be.
The inhabitants of Puerto Viejo are comprised of various populations, including Ticos (Costa Ricans of Spanish descent), Afro-Caribbean populations, Bri Bri indigenous populations, and long-stay tourists and expatriates of various nationalities, but mostly from Argentina, North America, and Europe. Furthermore, during the tourist season, the town’s population can increase to well over 5000 people, depending on the global economic climate (to qualify this, tourism is subject to not only boom and bust cycles, but also recessions in tourism-generating countries. During the most recent recession, for example, Puerto Viejo saw very little population increase as very few people were then traveling).
Both of these categories (tourist women and local men) are deeply complex and fluid. While rendered superficially here, in the interest of space and to stick to the overall argument of my paper, I would be remiss if I did not point out that Frohlick’s ethnographic work goes to painstaking measures to elucidate the complexities of these categories and their encompassment, a notion which I also noticed during my fieldwork.
All of these categories need to be complicated. To begin, expatriates, long-stay tourists, and the term “tourist,” more generally, often all bleed into one another, and are used differently depending on context or which dynamics are being invoked. While “expatriates” typically refers to mostly white North Americans and Europeans of different nationalities who have opened businesses or acquired Costa Rican citizenship and who have left their home countries for, usually, political and lifestyle reasons, the notion sometimes extends to long-term tourists living in Puerto Viejo on tourist visas and often working informally. In expatriate parlance, the term “tourist,” as a differentiating point, is often used to identify people passing through the town for either vacation, or long-term travel, in order to differentiate people from outside of Costa Rica who were living in the town. In the context of my discussions with local people, however, the term “tourist” was often ascribed to anyone who was not Costa Rican and from Puerto Viejo by birth. Likewise, “local” was also a fluid category that engendered different implications depending on the teller. For short-stay tourists, the notion of locality was almost always extended to anyone of Afro-Caribbean descent living in Puerto Viejo, and sometimes, although not particularly often, to Ticos (Costa Ricans of Spanish descent) or indigenous populations. For attentive long-stay tourists, expatriates, and “locals” themselves, the term was much more complicated, with differential lines demarcated on the basis of ethnicity and geographic origin with regards to the Caribbean Coast. For example, Afro-Caribbean populations living and born in Puerto Viejo were often differentiated from Afro-Caribbean populations who had moved from Cahuita (a small hamlet 20 kilometres up the road from Puerto Viejo) or Limón (the capital city of the province in which Puerto Viejo is situated), and furthermore, from Indigenous and Panamanian-indigenous people living and working in the town and surrounding areas. The list and complications go on, with much more that could be added here. The point, then, is to suggest that all of these terms used frequently in Puerto Viejo are fluid, dynamic, and dependent on the relational context of usage and what the speaker wishes to evoke or accomplish with the term.
Again, there is a fluidity and complexity to characterizing these events as “local.” There were often “non-locals” in attendance, for example those who had foreign romantic partners, anthropological-friendship connections, etc. The point I am trying to make, here, rather, is that most long-stay and short-term tourists were not present at such events and encounters.
Guaro is a cane-based alcohol common to many Latin American countries.
Benzo, or benzodiazepine, is a class of anti-anxiety drugs with sedative effects.
As noted by Frohlick (2013), however, such demands are far from uniform or static. A point that I elucidate below.
This was often a position that I was ascribed by local men. Because of my whiteness, my geographical residence in Canada, being slightly overweight, and my monogamous marital status (i.e., I was never seen dating women), it was assumed that I was both inept in terms of meeting women, and disadvantaged, given the town’s reputation for erotic encounters centred on Afro-Caribbean and other “local” men. To this effect, I was often thought of as “in need of guidance,” wherein, when I was out with local men, I was often put in the position of a sort of student, where men would show me how “things were done.”
Rapala is a brand name of fishing lures. Amongst fishermen in Puerto Viejo, the brand name is used as a stand in for all lures of any kind.
Rondon, in local parlance, literally means “to run down,” and is in reference to a coconut-based soup made with whatever seafood and vegetables could be caught, or “run down” that particular day.
Such instances of touristic seduction and contact are not limited to cross-border heterosexualities. Eduardo expressed desires for coming and living with me in Canada, for making a better life, for example, and I am certain that our friendship and anthropologically inflected relationship opened up imaginaries for other lives in the context of homosocialities, etc.
That all the bartenders were male is not coincidental. On big nights such as Reggae Night, an all-male cast of bartenders is scheduled in line with assumptions that local men can handle the demands of the other locals (i.e., for free drinks) more effectively than the rotation of foreign workers, both legal and illegal.
Basically, what I am trying to suggest, here, is that the “vortex” is not a “local” term, in the sense that I have heard very few locals actually use it. What is of interest, however, is that despite the term’s currency with long-stay tourists and expatriates, the concept has, and is, being constructed relationally through co-constituting encounters, and that all manners of residents in the town become pulled into the forceful trajectories encompassed by the term, although differentially, given various positionalities, histories, interpolations, and so on.
- Anderson, Moji, 2004, “Arguing over the ‘Caribbean’: Tourism on Costa Rica’s Caribbean Coast,” Caribbean Quarterly , vol. 50, no. 3, p. 25-46.
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