For most people, travel writing is ethnography. Whereas few will ever read anything written by a professional anthropologist, travel literature is widely read and popular. Consequently, the public has come to trust journalists, travelers, and other writers for accurate information about indigenous peoples, Culture, and other subjects that have long been the purview of anthropologists. In this context, travel writing plays a critical role in how the public imagines and understands the Other. This article surveys common themes and popular representations of that ultimate Other—hunters and gatherers—as penned in twentieth and early twenty-first century travel literature. In particular, the article focuses on the trope of self-discovery, a literary device in which the author’s encounters with foraging peoples—often portrayed as remnants of the original human society—serve as a mirror in which the author reflects on their self, and writ large, modernity.
Ongoing Ethical and Theoretical Dilemmas
Corinne Fowler and Ludmilla Kostova
As a hybrid discourse cutting across generic and disciplinary boundaries and giving expression to diverse perspectives on a wide gamut of intercultural relations, travel writing has found itself at the centre of a widening field of intellectual inquiry. This special issue focuses on the ethical parameters of travel in a range of texts produced in a variety of historical and national contexts. While the topic is not strikingly novel, the editors and contributors to this issue nevertheless believe that their critical interventions engage fruitfully both with earlier interpretations and current theoretical paradigms. The six essays that comprise this issue concentrate on specific ethical dilemmas, neither attempting fusion into a coherent body of theory nor constructing all-purpose systems of classification, but preferring instead to tackle critical practices and preconceptions from a variety of competing perspectives. As early as 1985 Mary Louise Pratt defined travel writing as ‘one of the most polyphonous of genres’, thereby alerting scholars to its resistance to the ‘disciplined’ mediation of cultural differences (Pratt 1985: 141) and hinting at the futility of generalizing methods of analysis. Taking into account the distinctive features of the object of inquiry itself, the site-specific contributions to this issue are in tune with the anti-universalist thrust of most present-day critical practice.
Florian Krobb and Dorit Müller
Travel is a special form of human mobility that is subject to different historical conditions and one that, deliberately or not, always entails knowledge acquisition and knowledge transfer. Travel facilitates the encounter with peoples, ideas, and material artifacts. In the age of Enlightenment, the nexus between travel and knowledge gained a new intensity, as the movement beyond the known turned into a specific scientific project with manifestations in theoretical reflection as well as literary practice. In the special section on Travel Writing and Knowledge Transfer contributors from the fields of Literary and Travel Studies investigate how human mobility gains epistemic significance in the exploration of nature and foreign cultures. Th e articles focus on conditions and forms of knowledge production while traveling (itinerant knowledge). They analyze how observations, experiences, and reflections made on the move are molded and transformed in fiction and nonfiction, and they discuss the impact on European cultural and intellectual horizons.
Michael A. Di Giovine
It has become a Structuralist truism in the social sciences to state that individuals define themselves by what they are not. It has equally become evident that travel—and particularly the voluntary, temporary, and perspectival type that we call tourism—is predicated on interaction with the Other. Travelogues are particularly salient “social facts” in this regard, for they both index such processes of identity formation, as well as contribute to them. Two edited volumes, Rolf-Hagen Schulz-Forberg's Unraveling Civilisation: European Travel and Travel Writing (2005) and John Zilcosky's Writing Travel: The Poetics and Politics of the Modern Journey (2008) provide compelling examples of how the multifarious and complementary processes of travel and travel writing not only index, but construct, European identity.
Between 1848 and 1914 a wave of German academic explorers traveled to Africa, enticed by the promise of geographical, anthropological and botanical discoveries. These Afrikareisende (African explorers) composed narrative accounts of their journeys, which at the time were the main channel for disseminating their experiences to the public. This article focuses on three works from the first three decades of German exploration of Africa prior to German unification in 1871. The common aim of scientific discovery unified Afrikareisende and their passage through foreign space. An inextricable feature of this scientific ideology is the connection to rational, linear time. This article demonstrates how the perception and relevance of time is employed to transfer knowledge of the Self and Other to a German readership. This knowledge reflects not only the explorers’ experience of their personal identity but also the tentative beginnings of a collective German identity as it is defined in colonial space.
Under this rubric, Journeys presents Dr Annita Panaretou's assessment of the character of Greek travel writing and its place in a wider Balkan and European context, and a discussion of her position by three other scholars. The debate raises questions that go well beyond the immediate problem posed by the Greek case. What are the roles of history, ideology and emotion in the construction of identities? How does travel writing serve as a site in which these can be expressed, constructed and negotiated? And how, in the light of such issues, should we study particular national travel-writing traditions?
Wendy Bracewell and Alex Drace-Francis
In writings about travel, the Balkans appear most often as a place travelled to. Western writings about the Balkans revel in the different and the exotic, the violent and the primitive – traits that serve (or so commentators keep saying) as a foil to self-congratulatory definitions of the West as modern, progressive and rational. However, the Balkans have also long been travelled from. The region’s writers have offered accounts of their travels in the West and elsewhere, saying something in the process about themselves and their place in the world.
European Travel Writers and the Making of a Genre—Comment
Steven D. Spalding
This comment on the special section “On Travel Writing and Knowledge Transfer: Itinerant Knowledge Production in European Travel Writing” examines the section’s contributions in terms of the project called for in the section’s introduction. What new kinds of knowledge are produced in the context of the ever-increasing mobility of European travelers from the sixteenth century forward? What are the discursive conditions within which knowledge is constructed in and through travel narratives—including discourses of selves and others, of cultures and nations? How does mobility shape knowledge production, as narratives of journeys across the oceans develop into a full-blown genre with ever-greater stakes for travelers, readers, and nations? The four case studies in the special section offer insightful snapshots from the history of European travel writing—with a special emphasis on German authors—that resonate with major themes from travel writing studies and critical studies more generally, from Romanticism to the colonialist or imperial gaze.
Facts, Fictions and the Invention of a Scientific Discourse in Early Modern Europe
Joan-Pau Rubiés and Francis Bacon
Francis Bacon’s endorsement of travel for the sake of the universal light of knowledge, in his posthumous scientific utopia New Atlantis (expressing his personal aspiration for the foundation of a scientific institution), identifies well the strategic place that travel literature had come to occupy in the culture of early seventeenth-century Europe. Travel literature is certainly not a unique European creation, but its remarkable development throughout the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries was crucial in the formation of a specifically Western discourse on human societies, one increasingly organised around a vision of natural and historical diversity but also tied inextricably to universalist assumptions and aspirations.
A Self-Reflexive Investigation of Craft and Fictionalization in a Modern Travel Book
Travel writers seldom reveal the degree to which they deploy fictional elements in their notionally nonfictional books, nor do they discuss the precise motivations for and mechanics of fictionalization and fabrication in travel writing. In this article a travel-writing practitioner turned travel-writing scholar analyzes his own work: the thirteen-year-old manuscript of The Ghost Islands, an unpublished travel book about Indonesia. This analysis reveals various patterns of fabrication across what was presented as and intended to be a “true account,” including the craft-driven fabrications necessitated by reordering and amalgamating events, the omissions generated by attempts to overcome belatedness and to express antitouristic sentiments, the fictional elements introduced through the handling of dialogue and translation, and the self-fictionalization impelled by awareness of genre conventions. The article highlights the significance of writerly craft as a key—and largely overlooked—variable in the scholarly analysis of travel-writing texts.