William Dalrymple on the role of travel writing in the 21st century

“I think increasingly with globalization the job of the travel writer has to be to try and peel back the surface impression of globalization and to reveal the much more complex reality. It seems to me in a sense an almost paradigmatic illustration of what a travel writer can still do today. Today there is no empirical information about a country that a travel book can give that cannot be got more accurately elsewhere. But what a travel writer can do is interpret the complexity of the globalized world, look at the hybrid human being that exists in different parts of the world, give a first person account of how that person seems, interpreting reality in a literary form in the same way novelists try. That seems to me to be what travel writing can be about now, what travel books can offer which Google or Encyclopedia Britannica or the novel cannot: you are going there and presenting and going deeper than the journalists, you are spending time and learning. I think that the idea that the travel book has had its day is true neither in the sense of having nothing more to offer, nor in the sense of sales. It is still a form of literature which people turn to and certainly in its comic form is more popular than ever. It is a very popular form still, because it is a form which has the ability to reinvent itself for each period. During the colonial period it sometimes, though not always, was doing colonial work, now it is doing a different job for a different audience in a different period of time. It seems to be a universal form, like poetry, but unlike the novel, has existed at all periods of history in all or most cultures.”
–William Dalrymple, interviewed by Tim Youngs, Studies in Travel Writing (2005)

Posted by | Comments (5)  | April 22, 2013
Category: Travel Quote of the Day

5 Responses to “William Dalrymple on the role of travel writing in the 21st century”

  1. DEK Says:

    Travel writers ought not also aspire to become unlicensed anthropologists. We set our sights low enough as it is. Our readers are more likely to want to read about Chichicastenango than about the impact of globalization on Chichicastenango or about a Vietmanese single mother living in Chichicastenango doing experimental theatre.

  2. Roger Says:

    I absolutely loved Dalrymple’s book, “City of Djinns: A Year in Delhi.” He definitely dug below the surface of Delhi society. I c0uld feel his understanding of post-colonial Delhi.

  3. DEK Says:

    When Dalrymple — a long-time resident of the country — writes about India, is it travel writing? Isn’t travel writing by its nature about a place seen from the outside, the writer, however knowledgeable, as much a foreigner to the place as his reader? What someone who lives in a place has to say can be entertaining and informative and vastly helpful, but is it really still travel writing? I assume Dalrymple would say that it is, and that my view of the genre is colonialist or worse; that his point is that the genre must move on into the brave, new, post-everything world. Perhaps that is where the future of writing about foreign places lies, but if so, it might be nice if we had some new name to distinguish it from what has traditionally been called travel writing.

  4. Roger Says:

    I only read that one book by Dalrymple about India, and it definitely spoke to me. I guess you could overdo anything, if you continually write about the same sort of thing. I’m not sure what you mean by “must move on into the brave, new, post-everything world.” Travel writing must move beyond the ordinary, I agree, if that is what you are saying DEK.

  5. Neha Sharma Says:

    the book is very lucidly written and presents delhi’s history in a very different and a readable way. the author captures history from the muslim rule to the partition to operation bluestar. for a trip that lasted 1 year, its a book not to be missed.