The Travel Literature Genre: Utopian Time Travel

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The utopian travel texts selected for this study are divided into two categories according to the closeness and remoteness of their ‘utopias’ to reality, hence a part is devoted to fantastic utopias and the other one deals with colonial utopias. These are preceded by a theoretical part where the theoretical and critical material necessary to the research is developed.

The this first part which is entitled Travel Literature and the Utopian Discourse aims at defining the theoretical tool used in verifying the hypothesis of the research, and since this later is primarily based on the generic intertextual dynamics so two chapters are proposed. The first one divided into three sections, a first one aiming at solving the problems about the definition of the travel genre and the controversy on the inclusion or exclusion of fiction within the realm of travel literature. The second section is going to be devoted to the key concept of this research which is utopia and utopianism. This concept will be defined in terms of many critics’ understandings and interpretations of its dynamics and uses. The final section will be purely theoretical since it proposes a general overview of intertextuality as the critical approach that will be employed to conduct this study.

The second chapter is about is devoted to Thomas More’s Utopia and its detailed description of the land of Utopia’s laws, customs, politics, economics, social organization and all other facets of its culture that build the utopian discourse. Exploring Utopia is necessary because it plays the role of the pretext in the intertextual reading of the utopian discourse in English travel literature. In other terms, the utopian material More’s text offers is the quintessence of the theoretical tool in this research, and this is the reason why I will try to keep a neutral attitude in my description of More’s Utopia since the end of my study is not to discuss Utopia itself, it is rather to examine how its utopian discourse has been reformulated and rewritten in other utopian travel texts.

The second part is entitled Travelling into Fantastic Utopias. It is also divided into two chapters. The first one devoted to Swift’s Gulliver and is entitled THE BIRTH OF A UTOPIAN SUB-GENRE DYSTOPIA IN SWIFT’S GULLIVER’S TRAVELS. The aim of this chapter is to examine the intertextual genetic relationship between Gulliver and Utopia as far as the utopian and dystopian literary genres are concerned. It also examines how Swift’s Gulliver reshaped the Morian utopian discourse creating a utopian sub genre which is dystopia. The second chapter under the title of Alice in Wonderland, Wonders through a Rabbit Hole reads Alice as a second illustration of fantastic utopias. The aim of this chapter is to investigate the extent to which Alice mingles with More’s Utopia and Swift’s Gulliver. It highlights the idea that Alice is a complex text at the level of both form and content, and it is its intertextual complexity as far as the utopian discourse is concerned that is targeted here. In other terms, the investigation of the utopian discourse in English travel literature cannot be complete without an insight into the intertextual relations Alice bears and the variety of readings and rewritings of the utopian travel discourse it is centered around.

The last and final part is interested is entitled Colonial Utopias, and as its title indicates, it is about travel narratives built upon a utopian colonial discourse. The aim here is to show that both Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe and Kipling’s Kim are travelogues both engaged with the colonial discourse alongside with the utopian one. In other words, these narratives are studied in terms of their utopian imagination of the colonial experience. It is divided into two chapters each dealing with a novel illustrating this idea. Introduction

Being based on representation, travel literature is often read from imagological critical theories. Narratives about counter worlds where the ‘self’ meets ‘ the other’ have opened the door for postcolonial criticism, a criticism deconstructing orientalist and essentialist discourses built in travel diaries and travel fictions. This trend of criticism focuses on the body of knowledge produced by orientalist texts in making the image of the ‘Self’ and the one of the ‘Other’. Such approach to travel texts targets the dismantling of the statements made about the other. In this scope of study, travel narratives are seen as generating a discourse in which writer and reader know about themselves by defining the identity of the self and comparing it to the equally built ‘Other’. Postcolonial study is interested in the ‘hidden’ rules generating binary or classificatory systems such as Self /Other, Civilized/ Barbarian. Thus, recent studies of travel literature are often of a postcolonial nature.

This approach to this kind of narratives however pertinent in that it situates travel literature within a broad sphere of discursive cultural institutions such as orientalism and anthropological and cultural studies, it sometimes reduces travel narratives to mere colonialist propaganda. This fact about the way travel texts are read gave me the curiosity to investigate them from another perspective, a perspective where the encountered ‘Other’ is not only and necessarily the colonized. Sometimes travelers tell us about their journeys to remote places or fantastically imagined lands and here the ‘Other’ is strange and fabulous and even when the image attributed to it is more or less realistic, this ‘Other’ does not necessarily contribute in the making of a colonialist identity but it may consolidate or dislocate other discourses such as utopianism. In other terms, travel literature offers us a wide variety of discourses beside the colonialist one and I propose a study of travel yarns where the quest is for utopia.

A utopia is defined as an ideal or perfect world or state. In literature it implies visionary narratives of political or social perfection. These are generally detailed descriptions of a nation or a world functioning according to social, political, economic and religious codes which the narrator or the traveler sees as being better than the ones determining exiting states. There is a clear desire for a better world hence a clear dissatisfaction with an actual one. This is the core of Thomas More’s travel narrative Utopia in which the word utopia and the concept it implies were defined for the first time. This text marked the beginning of a long tradition of a utopian travel literature. A literature shaped by a utopian discourse underlying a set of travel narratives different in perspectives and approaches. The study I propose targets in fact some of these narratives which I suggest classifying into two categories, a first one including those travel narratives where the narrator describes a fabulous world characterized by strangeness and remoteness from reality and here my choice falls on Thomas More’s Utopia, Jonathan Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels, Lewis Carol’s Alice in Wonderland and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World . The second category comprises texts where the writer makes a travel to a world built realistically but characterized by perfectibility in comparison to the failure of an actual one as we may find in travel fictions such as Kipling’s Kim and Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe. This selection of works covers five centuries of utopian travel literature from the sixteenth century to the twentieth century.

The ‘genetic’ relationship between these travel fictions is going to be investigated by proposing an intertextual reading. As intertextuality is a critical theory that implies that literary texts are not original and genuine creations; rather they are a “tissue” (Kreistiva: 1999, p,123) of unavoidable and often unconscious references to and borrowings from other texts (Kreistiva: 1999, p,123), so a deconstructive study of the selected works would be very pertinent.

Thus this first chapter which is entitled Travel Literature and the Utopian Discourse aims at providing the theoretical material necessary to conduct this study, this is why it is divided into three sections. The first section aims at solving the problems about the definition of the travel genre and the controversy on the inclusion or exclusion of fiction within the realm of travel literature. The second section is going to be devoted to the key concept of this research which is utopia. This concept will be defined in terms of many critics understandings and interpretations of its dynamics and uses. The final section will be purely theoretical since it proposes a general overview of intertextuality as the critical approach that will be employed to conduct this study.

The Rebirth of a Forgotten Genre

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Travel writing is nowadays gaining more and more popularity. Bookshops offer a myriad of titles of travelogues and names of modern travel writers such as Paul Theroux, Michael Palin and Bill Bryson come very often in debates about contemporary literature. For instance Michael Palin‘s Around the World in 80 Days inspired from Jules Vernes’s Le Tour du Monde en 80 Jours is highly popular especially that it accompanies the BBC Travel series under the same title. It is no coincidence that both Palin s travels (since Around the World in 80 Days is one title of the writer s successful series of travelogues) and the BBC travel documentaries program has borrowed the title of one of the most typical travel books. This revival of Jules Verne book s in fact reflects an awareness about the flourishing interest in travel writing. An interest reflected also in the large popularity Theroux’s bestseller The Great Railway Bazaar has had since its publication in 1975. In this travel book the writer tells about his very eventful train journey from London throughout Europe, the Middle East and India. The book gained popularity within readership, and it has also been seen by critics as a classic in the genre of travel writing. Similarly, Bill Bryson’s exploration of Britain in his Notes From a Small Island and his other travel books have received widespread recognition. As its cover illustrates with the image of the typical British cup of tea, Notes from a Small Island, Travels through Exeter, John O Groats and Scotland to describe things British from an American eye. Jeffrey Tayler, Tony Hawks and J. Maarten Troost are other names of widely read and recognized travel writers whose titles are printed at large amounts so crowd-pleasing they are today.

It is important to precise that this second life currently granted to travel writing came after a long period of marginalization of the genre by criticism. In almost all the critical sources dealing with travel writing, the critics open their study with the fact that before the last decades of the twentieth century this category of writings was overlooked, Carl Thompson in his Travel Writing implies that: “for much of the twentieth century at least, the genre was usually dismissed by literary critics and cultural commentators as a minor, somewhat middle-brow form”(Thompson, 2011: 1). Even if there has always been a readership attracted by travel writings, at the academic level the genre has not been taken seriously until the last decades of the twentieth century as Peter Hulme observes in explaining the problems Tim Youngs and himself encountered in gathering the theoretical material examining travel writing. Likewise, Barbar Korte in her English Travel Writing from Pilgrimages to Postcolonial Exploration, a very rich survey of English travel writing from the Middle Ages to the present, implies that “literary studies have taken comparatively little interest in travel writing until fairly recently … unless it related to “recognized” works of literature” (Korte, 2000: 21). Koweleski also in Temperamental Journeys: Essays on the Modern Literature of Travel tackles this point. The book is a collection of essays examining twentieth century travel writing which aims at reviving critical regard to this genre which according to the writer has been unfairly seen as second rate literature for a long time “There is a venerable tradition of condescending to travel books as a second-rate literary form” (Kowaleski, 1992:17). Kowaleski also implies that the scarcity of critical interest about the travel writing genre is due to some problems with its generic definition which is an issue of high importance to which a section will be devoted below. At this level examining the stimulating factors that led to the awakening of critical curiosity about travel writing is necessary to prepare a discussion of the problems with the generic traits of travel writing.

Travel writing’s reputation rose strongly in the latter part of the century, with the new generation of very trendy travel writers, but it was essentially the prestigious British literary journal Granta, which created a watershed through its travel-themed special issues in the 1980s and 1990s. The literary review recognized travel writing as a genre bearing significant importance in reflecting modern needs for mobility, movement and cross cultural curiosity, new ethos brought by globalization. Related to globalization is the flourishing tourism as implied by Peter Hulme and Tim Youngs in their book The Cambridge Companion to travel Literature. For them we live in a time where constant movement led to the revival of interest in travel writing by both readers and critics:

“… Tourism, for example, is now one of the largest industries in the world. At any given moment, moreover, a significant portion of the global population is on the move not through choice, or for recreation, but through necessity, as they are displaced through economic hardship, environmental disaster or war. In these circumstances, travel writing has acquired a new relevance and prestige, as a genre that can provide important insights into the often fraught encounters and exchanges currently taking place between cultures, and into the lives being led, and the subjectivities being formed, in a globalising world”. (Hulme. P, Young. T, 2002)

As put forward by the two critics, with globalization the status of travel literature has turned from having been a second rate genre to become a highly responsive and cross cultural informative body of travel texts. This assumption is quite true when we think about the astonishing rise of travelogues in a multitude of new forms. Nowadays in the shelves devoted to travel literature you can choose the ‘standard’ travel book as you may find more modern options such as travel diaries with pictures and sophisticated drawings and patches illustrating visited sites, places and landscapes as well as faces of common and unknown people met in the journey. In fact the rise of eagerness for new encounters within and beyond boundaries is so strong that today you can even have tutorials on how to create and make your own travel diary. Travel blogs are often consulted by travelers for the large amount of information and guidance they offer about many known and remote places in the world. These ‘electronic’ travel books rely mainly on personalized photographs and sketching, and referring to them by both travelers seeking for advice or mere curious ‘static’ travelers have become very common.

The argument that it is the aspects of globalization and mainly the boom of tourism that got travel writing out of obscurity may seem totally convincing to general readers of travel writing and admirers of travelogues, yet most probably it will let unsatisfied students of literature interested in the study of the genre and more importantly aware of the development of the trends of literary critical theories. In other terms, the factors related to globalization do not directly and thoroughly answer the question that any travel literature researcher would ask and which is what led literary criticism to shed its light of interest on travel writing in the late twentieth century? Many critics agree that it is the rise of new trends in literary criticism interested in ethnography, cultural dimensions of literature and discourses of representation that revived interest in travel writing because this latter provided them with considerable material, Carl Thompson describes that situation, he writes: “over the same period, academic interest in travel writing has also increased dramatically. Scholars and students working in several different disciplines have found the genre relevant to a broad range of cultural, political and historical debates”. (Carl Thompson, 2011). The debates Thompson refers to were related to what has come to be known as postcolonial studies which explored colonial issues widely developed in travel writing.

The spatiotemporal movement travel narratives are based on open a space for discourses of representation which are based on creating images for the encountered other and his culture as Thompson writes: “All journeys are a confrontation with, or more optimistically a negotiation of, what is sometimes termed alterity” ( ibid :9) . This latter according to the critic is constructed through processes of drawing differences from and similarities with the other , he carries on implying that “…all travels require us to negotiate a complex and sometimes unsettling interplay between alterity and identity, difference and similarity” ( ibid : 9). Mary Baine Campbell thinks that it is the fact that travel writing holds many instances of the discourse of power and knowledge, otherness and essentialist stereotypes, themes widely scrutinized by postcolonial critics, that has attracted the critical discipline “as a kind of writing, (travel writing) provokes certain kind of essentially literary questions and formulations. Most interesting here are works of literary criticism that find themselves directly facing issues of power, knowledge, and identity as a consequence the very nature of the formal matters raised. Formal issues that have been fully explored with relation to travel writing in recent decades include the nature and function of the stereotype, lexical matters such as the hidden etymologies”. ( Hulme. P, Young. T, 2002 :263).

To sum up this relationship between the renaissance of travel writing and the rise of postcolonialism we can say that they did good service to each other. The critical discipline can be seen as the first source of theoretical material that allowed the exploration of a long history of written journeys. At the same time, these journeys narrated by pilgrims, explorers, idealistic thinkers, skeptical colonialists, satirical observers, visionaries, being real or fictional, epical or purposeless, they all offer pertinent instances of study to students of literature with postcolonial approach. Moreover it is important to remark that other critical theories also found interesting issues in travelogues, such as gender studies namely feminism, and American new criticism as well, yet as far as the amount of studies and the implications none of the two schools could challenge the post colonial trend. However, In fact, the tenants of postcolonialism monopolized the critical studies of travel writing and often reduced it to a mere colonialist tool, and this is the reason why the primary challenge of my work is to propose a counter reading ,relying on the theories of intertextuality, to the texts composing my corpus. Besides, when explaining the choice of the intertextual approach in this study I will further develop the shortcomings of the postcolonial reading of travel writing.

The Problems of the Generic Identity of Travel Writing

Previously, I referred to the question of problems with the generic nature of travel writing identified by many critics and used to explain the long absence of theoretical material concerned with this category of texts, for Kowaleski for instance it is the “unclear” identity of travel writing that he describes as having “a dauntingly heterogeneous character” that hindered critics. Actually, the device of travel makes the genre interdisciplinary in the sense it encompasses geography, culture, history, ethnography, anthropology and other fields, and it appears that this heterogeneous trait suited postcolonial theory which is interdisciplinary in itself. Yet, it is not this thematic hybridity that disturbs critics; it is rather the generic boundaries of travel writing that stand as a controversial matter. The range of texts based on the device of travel is so astonishingly wide that it is logical to ask the following questions: What are the identity traits of a travel text? where can we put the boundaries of the travel genre? Are these boundaries fixed or changeable?

I found it highly important to raise the above questions for two reasons, firstly the definition of the travel genre is a subject of controversial debate. Secondly, answering these questions would help me to clear possible disapprovals as far as my choice of the travel texts to be studied in this research is concerned. In fact, my corpus is constituted of narratives based mainly on fictional travels and many critics put this category out of the boundaries of travel writing. Thus, it is necessary at this level of the research to argue that fiction can be accepted in travel writing and this is a way to give ‘legitimacy’ to the novels I have chosen to study. Furthermore, since all these novels are journeys shaped on a utopian discourse, hence discussing the heterogeneous nature of travel writing will pave the way to argue that the mix between utopia and travel fiction can create a sub-genre in travel writing which is utopian travel literature. To sum it up a stop at defining and identifying the object of this study is inevitable.

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