Travel Writing



On Travel Writing


Travel writing is one of the last great “generalist” professions, where you are integrating all this knowledge – geography, history, religion, language, culture, art, literature, music, architecture, ecology, biology, anthropology, sociology, storytelling, politics, philosophy – into one coherent narrative that communicates place and culture to the people back home. Rolf Potts [#]


Certain places seem to exist mainly because someone has written about them. Kilimanjaro belongs to Ernest Hemingway. Oxford, Mississippi, belongs to William Faulkner, and one hot July week in Oxford I was moved to spend an afternoon walking the graveyard looking for his stone, a kind of courtesy call on the owner of the property. A place belongs forever to whoever claims it hardest, remembers it most obsessively, wrenches it from itself, shapes it, renders it, loves it so radically that he remakes it in his image, and not only Schofield Barracks but a great deal of Honolulu itself has always belonged for me to James Jones. It is hard to see one of these places claimed by fiction without a sudden blurring, a slippage, a certain vertiginous occlusion of the imagined and the real. Joan Didion, The White Album ("In the Islands")


Our writers are certainly not telling us what we shall see or feel ourselves, if ever we go to the parts they write about, and it is no good complaining that our own responses were different, if we happen to have been there already. For they are other minds that we are traveling with here, other sensibilities, and as any philosopher knows, the truth about anything is nobody's monopoly—not least, the truth about a place. — Jan Morris [#]


Instead of more consumerism – the buying of experiences, the accumulation of things, of eating the ‘other’ – perhaps writers should name their own environment. What is the shape of your watershed? How is your electricity produced? Where is your water treated? Where is your food produced and by whom and how does it travel to your local market? What are the names of the rocks under your feet and around you? What formed those geological features? Who were the first humans here? What flora and fauna live upon it and what are their habits and interfaces? What stars whirl above you and what names have they been given, what lore? How can one trace the relations, find the slippages between histories, the linkages, to find the complexities in naming and of the named? Travel as one’s carbon footprint; travel as a footstep, travel as a naming in a landscape in all its complexity. Homing as a way to place oneself in a constellation of process and being. Hoa Nguyen [#]


All great literature is one of two stories; a man goes on a journey or a stranger comes to town. — Leo Tolstoy (apparently)