Published on March 27, 2008
Becoming Strangers:: Becoming Strangers: Travel, Trust, and the Everyday. Day Eleven: Travel Writing The Middle World Revisited: The Middle World Revisited When, like Mary Rowlandson, people find themselves thrown into “the middle world” they often try to make sense of it by: Trying to match what you observe to your customary sense of “place” Trying to learn if where you are is organized according to a different logic of “place” Regardless, they have a tendency to attend much more closely to unfamiliar particulars, ones they cannot “place.” The Middle World Revisited, Cont’d: The Middle World Revisited, Cont’d Some people—anthropologists, for example—are particularly interested in mastering the new “place” they inhabit. Others—natural scientists, for example—find it useful to be “unhoused.” They record unfamiliar particulars—and sometimes learn new ways of thinking about them, or even new ways to perceive them. Then there are tourists. Travel Writing: Travel Writing Begins in 1st & 2nd centuries CE, with writers such as Strabo & Pausanius, who describe distant provinces of the Roman empire. Starts again in 13th century with Marco Polo and other travelers to Asia along spice routes. Picks up in 17th and 18th centuries: tales of European voyages to Asia and New World. Coincides with expansion of European empires. Becomes “serious art,” written by Goethe & others. 19th century classics include Charles Montagu Doughty’s Travels in Arabia Deserta (1888) and Lafcadio Hearn’s Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan (1894). Robert Byron (1905-1941): Robert Byron (1905-1941) Educated at Eton and Oxford. One of the “Bright Young Things” along with Evelyn Waugh, Harold Acton, Anthony Powell, and Nancy Mitford. Problem of “education beyond his means”: prepared to be man of leisure yet no family money. “Isn’t Robert simply killing? He seems to hate everything which ordinary people like!” Slide7: Byron at MOUNT ATHOS Eastern Orthodox monastic settlement that dates back to 963 CE. Isolated peninsula jutting into Aegean Sea. No women or female animals allowed down to today. Incredible trove of art & books. Byzantine Mosaics from Hagia Sophia: Byzantine Mosaics from Hagia Sophia Early 6th Century CE, from during the reign of Justinian I Imperial church in Contantinople (today Istanbul) Flattened, stylized, geometric figures against gold backgrounds The Road to Oxiana (1937): The Road to Oxiana (1937) Recounts Byron’s travels to & from Persia & Afghanistan in 1933-34 in quest of the origins of Islamic architecture. “What Ulysses is to the novel between the wars, and what The Waste Land is to poetry, The Road to Oxiana is to the travel book.” (Paul Fussell). Very popular among later British travel writers, including Eric Newby, Colin Thubron and Bruce Chatwin. Ottoman Empire, Asian Possessions, Before World War I: Ottoman Empire, Asian Possessions, Before World War I The British Empire in the Middle East during the 1930s: The British Empire in the Middle East during the 1930s The Road to Oxiana (1937): The Road to Oxiana (1937) Looks like a journal—provides dates & places. Written, though, in the form of anecdotes, mini-dramas, rants, and short “artsy” effusions. A “mosaic” style. Casts himself & others in roles, often stereotypical ones, sometimes contradictory ones. Desire for good story or punchline shapes the narrative. Like almost all travel writing, focus ends up being as much on him as on the things he describes. The Road to Oxiana (1937): The Road to Oxiana (1937) Byron thoroughly aware of life-as-theater: roles, setting, dialogue, action, etc. Road to Oxiana shows the British Empire (“Marjoribanks”) in action: who behaves how, where, when, why. Attention especially to the imposition of one “place” on another, and on the struggles between competing visions of “place.” Byron implicates himself in the system that he describes. Highlights his own prejudices & privileges even as he makes us think twice about British imperialism. King David Hotel—or Dome of the Rock?: King David Hotel—or Dome of the Rock? The Buddhas of Bamiyan (4th-5th centuries CE): The Buddhas of Bamiyan (4th-5th centuries CE) Statues erected in pass in Afghanistan linking Asia Minor to South Asia. In Oxiana, Robert Byron called them ugly & derivative. In 2002, the Taliban destroyed the Buddhas. How would Byron have responded & why?