Too often a memory of swooping spectacle; too often the food, the drink, the cost. All said, all done, all consumed, in detail. Still, the writing pours forth, as if the world lacked autobiographical banalities.
Once, such authorial myopia was confined to paragraph upholstery; now, it is the predominant foothold for writers of all kinds. And in travel writing, the conflation of personal record with experience of place has reached its apotheosis: gone are attempts to convey experience. For the public that imitates this form of travel – with rapid consumption, rather than the slowness of chance experience – the superficiality of contemporary travelogues is unnoticeable at least, desirable at most.
Though even for those who would sooner catalog the world than unearth themselves, every experience eventually deviates from the expected. Be it positive or negative difference, it is the shock of the unexpected that reveals the unimportance of prioritized consumption. That is, over a lifetime of movement, every individual will gradually come to differentiate the twofold varieties of travel: the person-in-the-world and the world-in-the-person. Unfortunately, the former has effaced the latter.
If the purpose of a travelogue (and therefore, a travel writer and travelogue) is to isolate the aforementioned spectacles and expenses, then the author must position himself or herself as the sole point of interest. This person-in-the-world chooses the role of all sentences, chooses the highlights, and ultimately, chooses the overarching structure that results in pithy satisfaction. To this author, the travelogue is then a species of regurgitation, a glum memory of the glib. Every article written in this fashion records the details of the author’s existence in the world – regardless of the singularity of the framer. When, typically at the article’s middle-end or conclusion, the writer reaches for the audience, the lurching cri-de-coeur arrives with the conviction and delivery of a stuffed-animal.
I, personally, am incapable of visiting all destinations across the globe, but I do find the ability to read brief descriptions of locales enticingly exotic. When those travelogues devolve into restaurants (associated with a trip I am not planning) or hotels (whose cost is irrelevant to me), I find little value as a reader. And when the excesses of consumption are excised, little experience remains for the reader.
Captivating this writing is not; captive to consumerism it is. Like a watchmaker believing experience is contained only within the tick-marks of his own creation, the person-in-the-world writes through hours and days of ego, causing the travelogue to reflect him in all respects, and leaving the reader to question the importance, validity, and value of such perfect, little description.
Conversely, the traveler who finds moving shadows and autumn leaves and ripening fruit most indicative of the passing world writes a travelogue that expunges ego and collects experience. Where has this writing gone?
It has disappeared.
As lists prepared for consumption prefigure the human experience – inside and outside of traveling – the chance encounter of persons and landscapes disappears. Varying reasons justify traveling, though consumerism is the least productive and most destructive. Change the metric – exchange individual markers of experience for cultural understanding – and the fallacy of the watchmaker is all too clear.
Creative Commons Photo