William Dalrymple on the future of travel writing

“The question remains: does travel writing have a future? The tales of Marco Polo, or the explorations of “Bokhara Burnes” may have contained valuable empirical information impossible to harvest elsewhere, but is there really any point to the genre in the age of the internet, when you can instantly gather reliable knowledge about anywhere in the globe? Certainly, the sort of attitudes to “abroad” that characterized the writers of the 1930s, and which had a strange afterlife in the curmudgeonly prose of Theroux and his imitators, now appears dated and racist. Indeed, the globalized world has now become so complex that notions of national character and particularity — the essence of so many 20th-century travelogues — is becoming increasingly untenable, and even distasteful. So has the concept of the western observer coolly assessing eastern cultures with the detachment of a Victorian butterfly collector, dispassionately pinning his captives to the pages of his album. In an age when east to west migrations are so much more common than those from west to east, the “funny foreigners” who were once regarded as such amusing material by travel writers are now writing some of the best travel pieces themselves. Even just to take a few of those with roots in India — Vidia Naipaul, Pico Iyer, Amitav Ghosh, Vikram Seth and Pankaj Mishra — is to list many of the most highly regarded writers currently at work.”
–William Dalrymple, “Home truths on abroad,” The Guardian, September 18, 2009

Posted by | Comments (2)  | January 26, 2012
Category: Travel Quote of the Day

2 Responses to “William Dalrymple on the future of travel writing”

  1. DEK Says:

    Recent events in Europe — different national responses to the financial crisis and the behavior of a now-famous ship’s captain — to say nothing of news constantly coming out of Islamic lands — suggest to some waggish observers that national peculiarity — which is to say, culture — has to managed to survive the onslaught of the global market.

    It is natural for us to notice things that seem to have changed, however few our datapoints, and ignore the great mass of cultural continuity that continues on beneath the surface, as continuity is seldom thought as worth remarking on as change.

  2. Kris Says:

    I think there is a place and a point. Many people view the world outside of their experience according to what they see in the media. That however, is not how most travellers experience it. What if a person who is continually glued to Fox News came across a story by someone who has had a positive experience in Iraq? It would offer a different and perhaps a more accurate idea of how life really is there. We can’t rely on the internet and media to replace experience and if you can’t get there yourself reading about someone who did is the next best thing.