Wednesday, September 28, 2016

English 810, PAB Entry 3-4 for Paper 2 (or What is a Traveler, Anyway?)

Fussell, Edwin. Introduction. The Norton Book of Travel, by Fussel. Norton, 1987. pp. 13-17.

In his introduction to the anthology, The Norton Book of Travel, editor Edwin Fussell spends most of his time defining what a traveler is and is not: “Explorers learn the contours of undiscovered shorelines and mountains, tourists learn exchange rates and where to go in Paris for the best hamburgers, and travelers learn. . . not just foreign customs and curious cuisines and unfamiliar beliefs and novel forms of government. They learn. . . humility” (13). In, perhaps, passively elitist terms, Fussell explains how true travelers, “realize their provincialism and recognize their ignorance” (13), and are able to learn "moral" life lessons through their travel and write about those experiences through fascinating literature (15). However, this 3-part classification system leaves out those whose movement creates guidebooks, maps, or even the online reviews that 21st century movers depend on: “Just as tourism is not travel, the guidebook is not the travel book. . .Guidebooks belong to the world of journalism, and they date; travel books belong to the literature, and they last. Guidebooks are not autobiographical but travel books are, and if the personality they reveal is too commonplace and un-eccentric, they will not be very readable” (15).
In an effort to achieve this literary feel, Fussell leaves room for travelers to falsify their narratives in their accounts,“for if a traveler doesn’t visit his narrative with the spirit and techniques of fiction, no one will want to hear it” (16).

Fussell closes his introduction by remarking on the necessary metaphor of a travel writing piece: “the parable most often takes the form of a metaphor of understanding, and understanding by a process of intellectual kinesis, of the mind in motion” (17). In other words, for Fussell, there are dual stories taking place in travel writing: the outer, geographical voyage and the inner journey of the traveler.

In this two minute clip from CNN's Parts Unknown, Anthony Bourdain simultaneously breaks the fourth wall and any stigmas of "tourist" he carries by "going meta" in Sicily.

Fussell's classifications of who a traveler is has been largely discounted by recent travel writing scholars (Thompson); yet, there is still an obvious attempt, in modern travel writing, to present a writer who is far-removed from “tourist”. There is the "off-the-beaten-path" wanderer who tastes, speaks, notices the culture in ways which authenticate the experience. For example, Anthony Bourdain's Parts Unknown, seems to lean, and even more now in recent seasons, on food and cooking to authenticate travel. Perhaps even CNN's choice for Bourdain (who writes the narrative of the show) speaks of how much people speak, understand, internalize, connect with other cultures via food. Often, Bourdain handles touchy topics (politics, war, colonization, gender) over a bowl of local street food, bridging the cultural gaps with slurps and "wow, now that's good". Shows like Bourdain's are motivating the arm-chair traveler for authentic, “unknown” travel experiences- people-based travel vs. landmark-based, photo-op experiences (Bourdain notably does not visit the pyramids while in Egypt). Bourdain’s work sometimes steps into problematic territory of emphasizing cultural expectations and stereotypes but often through post-modern self-referential terms; yet, this writing (and the success of the show) perhaps only legitimizes the rigid, dividing lines which Fussell proposes in regard to travel identity.

Pratt, Mary Louise. "Anti-conquest II: The Mystique of Reciprocity." Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation. 2nd ed., Routledge, 1992. pp. 67-83.

In this chapter, Pratt offers critical insights of the travel writings of Scottish explorer Mungo Park: Travels into the Interiors of Africa (1799). Park, traveling on behalf of the African Association, a group bent on finding the course of the Niger River in the 18th century, spent 3 years within Africa, the first journey of its kind, and his writings from his experiences are still in print today. Pratt argues how Parks' "sentimentality both challenges and complements the emergent authority of objectiveness science" (73). In other words, because Park's writings focus on his own personal adventures in Africa, and he leaves out the taciturn observation- focus of science and geography of most of his contemporaries, he is able to develop a narrative similar to fiction, a foil to the objective sketchings of other travel writers, with all necessary literary ingredients, including a hero: "[Park] made himself the protagonist and central figure of his own account, which takes the form of an epic series of trials, challenges, and encounters with the unpredictable" (73).
Instead of geography taking center stage, Park focuses on the people that he meets: "nature is present in so far as it impinges on the social world: the full moon at Rhamadan; the dust and sun make everyone thirsty" (74).
Pratt sees the varied types of travel writing of the 17th-19th centuries as "complementary, and in their complementarity they stake out the parameters of emergent bourgeois hegemony" (77), but despite their differences, both of these travel-writers share "europeaness, maleness, and middle classness, of course, but also innocence and passivity. He, too, is the non-hero of an anti-conquest" (77). Pratt suggests that a traveler of this sort may contribute nothing more than a “good story” for an audience, utilizing the people and experiences within that place as tools to create a narrative that suits a larger purpose (e.g. financial gain, fame, cultural capital).

To speak to Pratt’s point, Margo Culley, a feminist historian who has worked extensively with female travel diaries, warns readers that even in the most seemingly transparent writings, “all diarists are involved in a process, even if largely unconscious, of selecting details to create a persona” (12). Pratt understands travel writers have the opportunity to place themselves at the center of their saga in order to actualize their experience as intrepid instead of gaining deeper insight from the experience itself. Their writing then appropriates places and people as experiences which can be sold through literature or plane tickets. For Pratt, this is the “unhero” (73), and I ask: Isn’t this what is commonly referred to as a “tourist”?

Works Cited
Bourdain, Anthony. "Sicily: Strangest Snorkel Trip Ever?" YouTube, uploaded by CNN, 07 Oct. 2013,

Culley, Margo. Introduction. A Day at a Time: The Diary Literature of American Women from 1764 to the Present, edited by Culley. The Feminist Press, 1985. pp. 3-26.

Thompson, Carl. Travel Writing: The New Critical Idiom. Routledge, 2011.

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