Travel Writing: Knowledge: Literature
The Literary and Cultural Status of Modern Travel Writing
A colloquium at Oxford University
Co-organised by the Cultures of Travel seminar series, Oxford,
and the Centre for Travel Writing Studies, Nottingham Trent University
November 24th 2012
Travel writing is generally regarded today as a minor, somewhat ‘second-order’ genre. Seldom adopted by writers who wish to make a substantive contribution to knowledge or to current intellectual debates, the form is from one perspective too dilettante or ‘literary’; it seemingly lacks methodological rigour and prioritises style and/or entertainment over factual content. From another perspective, however, travel writing is apparently not literary enough. Few critics today (and few university departments!) class travelogues as ‘Literature’, in the most exalted, honorific sense of that term. Seemingly hamstrung by the requirement to relay factual information, they are thought to lack the aesthetic scope or resonance of more obviously imaginative forms such as fiction, poetry and drama; and so travel writing is for many commentators a genre which seldom reaches the highest levels of artistic achievement.
Yet are we right to be so dismissive about travel writing? In an April workshop, we examined travel writing’s intellectual status as a form of knowledge. In our second workshop on November 24th, we will explore travel writing’s status as a mode of literature, investigating the aesthetic potentialities of the form – the artistic effects to which it is best suited, and the greatest literary heights which have been attained in the genre. Questions we will address include: How ‘literary’ is travel writing, and what insights can we glean from travel writing as to the very nature of ‘literature’? Why might a writer choose the travelogue over fiction or poetry as a medium to relay his or her insights? Why does travel writing seem to become fashionable and attract more ‘literary’ writers in the 1930s, and then again in the last three decades or so? Does travel writing perhaps speak to 21st century readers in a way that the novel no longer does? And if so, what are the distinctive pleasures of the travelogue?
We accordingly invite papers which explore any aspect of the ‘travel writing as literature’ theme. Please contact Dr Carl Thompson (firstname.lastname@example.org) if you are interested in contributing or attending. The deadline for paper proposals is September 30th 2012, but preliminary expressions of interest would also be much appreciated!
Dr Carl Thompson
School of Arts and Humanities
Nottingham Trent University
United Kingdom Email: email@example.com
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