In new series of essays, Foreign Policy
magazine declares travel writing dead. The easy culprit to blame is Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat Pray Love, but the truth
is that bestselling memoir was only the final "nail in the coffin" for a
once-proud genre that has increasingly become "brainless," asserts Graeme Wood
(also a contributing editor at The Atlantic). He explains that an ideal travel
writer is "a sort of prophet" who has a "way of seeing the world through
the eyes of one who has the time and luxury to look at it directly,
rather than through the distortions of propagandists and wishful
thinkers." That ideal has now been perhaps irreversibly tarnished by
an "internet age frivolity" that threatens to combine "the worst of the
traveler and the worst of the homebody":
The writer goes overseas
but brings back news about a tedious inner crisis, leaving undisturbed
any insights about the places visited. Eat, Pray, Love -- to take only
the easiest target as an example -- is a whole memoir premised on the
notion that even the most decadent, boring, and conventional kinds of
travel somehow heal the soul and can turn a suburban ninny into a
Herodotus or a Basho.
But why has travel writing devolved into such
a "narcissistic" genre? As best as Wood can see, it's simple: "it
is easier than ever to travel, and not at all easier to write well."
Now that perspectives of "previously arcane hideaways" are now more
numerous, and the accounts written quicker than ever, the views have
regrettably become "far less exquisite."
If you don't
particularly agree, Foreign Policy
has posted a contrasting piece: Travel Writing Lives!
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