Travel Writing: Knowledge: Literature: The Intellectual and Cultural Status of Modern Travel Writing (Oxford University: 21 April 2012)
Two workshops, to be held at Oxford UniversityContact details:
Co-organised by the Cultures of Travel seminar series, Oxford, and the Centre for Travel Writing Studies, Nottingham Trent University
April 21st and late autumn 2012 (latter date tbc)
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? This is the question we will explore in two workshops, to be held in late spring and autumn 2012. Addressing travel writing’s intellectual status as a form of knowledge, the first workshop will investigate whether the genre has made, and can still make, meaningful contributions to disciplines such as anthropology, geography, sociology, politics and science – or indeed, whether it generates a different kind of knowledge by being independent of such disciplines. The so-called ‘linguistic’ or ‘cultural turn’ of the 1970s and 1980s prompted a significant critique of the scientific methodologies, and the claims to scientific objectivity, traditionally espoused in many of the so-called ‘social sciences’; in the wake of this critique, what is the relationship between the travelogue and the many academic treatises, across a range of fields, which essentially relay the findings of a traveller-observer? What sort of knowledge can travel writing provide? And how is the genre currently regarded by the practitioners of disciplines traditionally dependent on observations garnered through travel?
The second workshop (date to be confirmed) will then 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. 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 address either the ‘travel writing as knowledge’ or ‘travel writing as literature’ themes. (NB: a core of speakers has been confirmed for the first workshop on April 21st, but we have space for more papers). Please contact Dr Carl Thompson if you are interested in contributing or attending. There is no deadline for paper proposals, but if you wish to participate you are advised to get in touch sooner rather than later!
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Filed under: Call for Papers - Conferences
in Travel Writing (journal)
for Travel Writing Studies (Nottingham Trent University)