Wednesday, October 26, 2016

English 810, PAB 7-8 (Common Theories in Travel Writing)


Said, Edward. “Orientalism.” The Edward Said Reader, edited by Moustafa Bayoumi & Andrew Rubin, Vintage Books, 2000. pp.63-113.
In this 1978 work, Said borrows Michel Foucault’s theory of discourse to explore the term “orientalism” as a “system of knowledge” (73) the West (namely America, France and Britain) uses to explain, think / write about the Middle East and India. Said affirms that this discourse not only perpetuates cultural, social, imperialistic expectations of the the Orient, but it also helps shape Western identity (68). As this discourse exists, “European culture [is] able to . . . produce . . . the Orient politically, sociologically, militarily, ideologically, scientifically, and imaginatively during the post-Enlightenment period” in an effort to simultaneously dominate the Orient and define itself as superior (70).
Studying this discourse requires Said to survey a wide variety of writers and works: “Thus a very large mass of writers, among whom are poets, novelists, philosophers, political theorists, economists, and imperial administrators, have accepted the basic distinction between East and West as the starting point for elaborate theories” (69). While he admits how problematic it can be to study such an expansive range of genres, Said’s loyalty to a cultural studies and postcolonial lens demands this inclusion.
The varying types of writers- journalists, missionaries, tourists, scientists, novelists- perpetuates “positional superiority” over the Orient, providing “a whole series of possible relationships with the Orient without ever losing him the upper hand” (73). Moreover, Said argues that Orientalism is produced by agents involved “in his own circumstances” (77); in other words, there are no pure individuals studying the Orient- there are “Americans”, “Europeans”, etc., who bring with them all the traditional and preconceived expectations of the Orient, but most importantly, they bring positions of dominance. It is because of this framework that Said insists that Orientalism has “less to do with the Orient than it does with ‘our’ world,” reaffirming power roles (79).
Orientalism asks theoretical questions like: “How did philology, lexicography, history,. . . political . . . theory, novel-writing, and lyric poetry come to the service of Orientalism’s broadly imperialist view of the world?...How does Orientalism transmit or reproduce itself from one epoch to another” (81)?  
To answer such questions, Said uses what he calls “strategic location” to study an “author’s position in a text with regard to the Oriental material he writes about” (86) in order to understand how an author uses translations, “narrative voice,” or other literary and rhetorical choices to connect with other works which guarantee the author’s perspectives. Said is careful to point out that the results are only representations of audience expectations of the Orient: “the audience is watching a highly artificial enactment of what a non-Oriental has made into a symbol for the whole Orient” (87).
There are two aspects of Said’s Orientalism that I find most helpful to my work with travel diaries: (1) Said sees little to no difference between archival, historical works and fiction works, such as novels (87,89). (2) Said sees all work as imprinted with cultural residue, culture that has been shaped by discourse that weaves and overlaps across disciplines through “intertextuality” (79); this perhaps allows him such a wide range of objects of study.
While Said’s focus is obviously geographically limited, his perspective provides travel writing scholars food for thought, especially how discourses predetermine travelers experiences and expectations during their journeys.




Armitage, Susan, and Elizabeth Jameson, eds.  Introduction. The Women’s West. Norman: U of Oklahoma P, 1987. pp. 3-6.
A time of particular interest in travel writing is the 19th-century American West. The discourse of the frontier often centers on the wild exploits of the male traveler; however, there is also a plethora of first person narratives written by females, and this vast amount of literature has captivated feminist historians. In their book, The Women’s West, Susan Armitage and Elizabeth Jameson discuss the 19th century as time of great mobility, cultural exchange, warfare and political and global restructuring, all through the context of the female diarists writing the west.
The majority of the hundreds of diaries of the 1800s in America document the experience of The Overland Trail, linking the east with California or Oregon. John M. Faragher, author of Women and Men on The Overland Trail, estimates that from 1840 through 1870 as many as “half a million individuals traveled the overland route to the Pacific Coast and other parts of the West” (11), and Lillian Schlissel, author of Women’s Diaries of the Westward Journey, describes how “Over 800 diaries and day journals kept by those who made the overland journey have been published or catalogued in archives, and many more are still in family collections” (11).
Despite the overwhelming amount of American frontier female travel literature available, it is often excluded from the frontier travel narrative discussion, while male literature of the frontier is often celebrated, is well circulated, and forms the basis of many beliefs about the true happenings, opinions and desires of all Americans—even women—during that time. Feminist historians agree that what men’s frontier literature does best is solidify mythological perspectives of American male heroic caricatures because it centers on hunting, claiming and action.
Armitage and Jameson remind readers of the mythic western protagonist of “Hisland”: “Occupationally, these heroes are diverse: they are mountain men, cowboys, Indians, soldiers, farmers, miners, and desperadoes, but they share one distinguishing characteristic—they are all men” (9). This mythic “Hisland” is often understood as unmitigated history, but it is incomplete; it lacks the contributions of real women who forged the everyday life for everyone around them.  
This roughly 9 minute video produced by Timelines.TV provides a small sample of female travel writing from the time of "Manifest Destiny".

The male frontier travel narrative is often centered on action without relation. In contrast, Riley attributes white and native women’s often positive relationships with one another to their feminine roles: “women, like men, were dedicated to protecting themselves and their families from harm, but they were also constantly concerned with extracting vital resources for their families from the environment and its inhabitants” (169). The female frontier diaries center on homemaking, details and dailiness, and this focus on the private sphere of home is the reason most women’s travel diaries of the American 1800s did not receive much attention until the 1970s.  
For travel writing scholars, the work of feminist historians is invaluable; Armitage and Jameson's work concludes that despite the dailiness that overwhelms female frontier diaries, they are still relevant and perhaps can divulge more authentic information about life on the frontier, exchange with natives and non-white peoples, allowing, at times, rare insights. Actually, this kind of critical theory is what coaxed me into studying travel writing as a sub-discipline, so it is easy for me to see the benefits of these kinds of conversations- shedding a feminist light on a traditionally male-dominated writing space allows readers with cliché assumptions, like myself, to become curious and ask questions which overlap across disciplines.


Works Cited

Faragher, John M. Women and Men on the Overland Trail. New Haven : Yale UP, 1979.
Riley, Glenda. Women and Indians on the Frontier, 1825-1915. U of New Mexico P, 1984. eBook Collection (EBSCOhost). http://search.ebscohost.com.ezhost.utrgv.edu:2048/login.aspx?direct=true&db=nlebk&AN=22748&site=ehost-live
Schlissel, Lillian, ed. Women’s Diaries of the Westward Journey. New York: Schocken, 1982.

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