Special Themes in Literature: Travel Writing

Section 01
Joshua Brorby
Course Description

The call to travel is often accompanied by truistic slogans. Travel may “broaden your horizons”; it might incite you to find (or lose) yourself. “It’s about the journey, not the destination.” Does traveling teach us about our world, or ourselves? This course begins its exploration of travel writing with a juxtaposition of several genres that are in fact talking to one another: nineteenth-century travelogues at the birth of modern tourism; slave narratives of emancipation and flight; and adventure stories of international border-crossing. In each, how do conceptions of global and local change? What does world travel disclose about the precarious categories of nation and identity? And is there something formally unique about narrative in transit rather than in place? Readings will cover the nineteenth century to the twenty-first, from the Caribbean to the Himalayas, with critical emphasis on postcolonial studies. Likely authors include Olaudah Equiano, Charles Dickens, Mary Seacole, Harriet Martineau, Joseph Conrad, James Baldwin, Jamaica Kincaid, and W.G. Sebald. Additional readings will include Victorian travel guides paired with their modern-day equivalents in Rick Steves and Lonely Planet. We will conclude with a Nobel laureate’s novel, in translation, that also happens to be a contemporary travel story: Olga Tokarczuk’s Flights (2007/2018).