Anne Storch

Terrible Magical Ways of Healing – Sea, Spa, and Skin 

In 1803, Georg Christoph Lichtenberg published a plea for the establishment of public seaside resorts, where recreation and recovery were on offer to all, across class boundaries and regional divisions. In 1902, August Engelhardt sailed to the island of Kabakon, where he established the Order of the Sun, which lasted three years. Members of the community lived on sunlight and coconut in order to obtain eternal life. In 2012, Ulrich Seidl produced a film on sex tourism at a Kenyan beach, in which middle-aged women share desires for rejuvenation. Crucial scenes of the film deal with the scent of coconut oil on the skin of young men. In 2018, the Princess Salme massage parlor at Paje beach on Zanzibar was demolished in order to create space for a larger building which would combine an international boutique hotel, spa and beach club. Spas of Zanzibar’s resorts tend to offer coconut peelings in order to remove dry, pale winter skin from white bodies.

The invention of the beach in the late eighteenth century has produced magical spaces. Beaches hold the promise of transformation into a better Self: bronzed, detoxed, reformed, embedded. The tropical littoral space seems to offer even more than this, namely a transformation into a better Other. They are sites of colonial mimesis and utopian play, magical non-places that provide recreation to all who are able to pay for it, as twisted Lichtenbergian paradises. While the construction of tropical beaches as holiday resorts and wellness destinations have received much attention in cultural history and social studies, there only very few scholarly studies on the discourses and language practices of the beach as a magical site of commodified transformation. Writing the linguistics of the beach therefore is a challenge, not only because of its absence in what we might want to call mainstream linguistics (which implies some kind of writing against the currents), but also because of its seeming banality – at least, we are all tourists at the beach, more or less. Yet, language at the littoral space is hardly simple or banal: it reveals information about the social relations between those who engage with each other at the beach, as well as insights into that what is underneath, below the sand and the water.

My talk will focus on language as a practice of healing and magic, transformation and possession. It explores the language of tropical beaches and spas, of love and desire, of beauty and coconut oil.