Monday, June 27

The Guardian’s Point of View on Travel Writing: An Alternative Escape | Editorial


WWe may now be able to look forward to non-quarantine travel to and from Amber List countries, but as the color coding indicates, it will be some time before access to the rest of the world can be taken for granted again. Perhaps, for environmental reasons, it never should have been; It is also true that many people, for reasons of income or nationality, have never seen the world in this way, or have traveled in circumstances that are not so much about choice as traumatic need. But for a few decades, the option of sticking a pin in a map and then appearing there for a week or two has been, theoretically at least, widely available, and in recent months many have viscerally missed trips, missed that. time to walk. from an airplane, ferry or train to a different reality; the sudden smell and sounds of other places, of an expansion of perception.

But perhaps we can return to a type of travel that is sometimes forgotten, specifically, that of the imagination, through travel writing. From Herodotus to Marco Polo, to James Bruce, and then in the 20th century, from Patrick Leigh Fermor and Rebecca West to Bruce Chatwin or Wilfred Thesiger, writers have always brought their investigative intelligence to the world and brought idiosyncratic and evocative evidence. and wonders. Of course, it could be argued that until recently this writing has been mainly by men, privileged and white, who enter the world and name it, claiming their rights. But at best, this writing understands the complexities of such a position (think Orwell and his elephant). And it is not always the powerful Westerner who does the description: for example, VS Naipaul’s evocation of the English countryside in The Enigma of Arrival, which is called a novel but closely follows his own life.

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This type of writing looks outside itself, at people and things that it cannot assume immediate understanding of, and challenges itself to bring them to life in all their differences, which is a definition of empathy (and the opposite of curing it. for Instagram). ). Jonathan Raban is able to do several consecutive pages on the movement of the Pacific Ocean under the keel of his ship, an exciting read, in part because the ocean, like the allusive, shimmering and shimmering surfaces of his prose, hints at complex depths. Which, of course, is a mark of the best writing, and something that the best fiction does as well. Those hungry for travel might also seek out novels and stories, especially those set elsewhere. Or go one step further and read fiction written elsewhere, in another language, then translated: the closest thing to actually being in a new country, possibly better, in some way, given the gulf between a stranger’s first impressions, or even those of a regular visitor, and the lived experience of a local.

At best, both traveling and writing are acute ways of looking: of empathic imagination, of seeing commonalities and differences, of immersion, of self-questioning. And while it is true that nothing can replace that first physical moment of different air, different light, one can still, in some way, be outside.


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