English 4017: Travel Writing

Spring Quarter 2011

Brian Kiteley

Office Location:  Sturm Hall 487C               
Phone:  303-871-2898
Email:  bkiteley@du.edu
Class time:  Tuesday 6-9:50 pm

Office hours:  Tuesday 1-4 pm


This course is open only to MA and PhD students in the English Department (and to other graduate students at DU with permission of the instructor).  The class will be a creative writing/literary studies hybrid classmeaning, it will be partly workshop, mostly discussion of literary texts, with a fair amount of in-class travel writing exercises.  The course will fulfill the requirement for a workshop outside your main genre for PhD creative writing students.




Francis Steegmuller, Flaubert in Egypt
John Muir, My First Summer in the Sierra
M.F.K. Fisher, Gastronomical Me 
Julia Child, My Life in France

Muriel Rukeyser,The Orgy
Alphonso Lingis, Trust
Amitav Ghosh, In an Antique Land
Elias Canetti, Voices of Marrakesh


Two chapters from James Clifford books:


Notes on Travel and Theory
The introduction to Predicament of Culture


● ● ●

Travel books are about process—the process of movement and of understanding, too.  They tell the tale of the journey toward knowledge and play up the delights of discovery, and the voyage matters more than any one destination.  In this, they have long anticipated the attempts of some postmodern forms of scholarship to foreground the search for understanding, to shift our attention to the quest for knowledge and away from its final fruits. 


Michael Gorra, The Bells in Their Silence


A number of things, I think, are true.  One is that there has been an enormous amount of genre mixing in intellectual life in recent years, and it is, such blurring of kinds, continuing apace.  Another is that many social scientists have turned away from a laws-and-instances ideal of explanation toward a cases-and-interpretations one, looking less for the sort of thing that connects planets and pendulums and more for the sort that connects chrysanthemums and swords.  Yet another is that analogies drawn from the humanities are coming to play the kind of role in sociological understanding that analogies drawn from the crafts and technology have long played in physical understanding.  Further, I not only think these things are true, I think they are true together; and it is the culture shift that makes them so that is my subject: the refiguration of social thought.


This genre blurring is more than just a matter of Harry Houdini or Richard Nixon turning up as characters in novels or of midwestern murder sprees described as though a gothic romancer had imagined them.  It is philosophical inquiries looking like literary criticism (think of Stanley Cavell on Beckett or Thoreau, Sartre on Flaubert), scientific discussions looking like belles lettres morceaux (Lewis Thomas, Loren Eiseley), baroque fantasies presented as deadpan empirical observations (Borges, Barthelme), histories that consist of equations and tables or law court testimony (Fogel and Engerman, Le Roi Ladurie), documentaries that read like true confessions (Mailer), parables posing as ethnographies (Castenada), theoretical treatises set out as travelogues (LÚvi-Strauss), ideological arguments cast as historiographical inquiries (Edward Said), epistemological studies constructed like political tracts (Paul Feyerabend), methodological polemics got up as personal memoirs (James Watson).  Nabokov’s Pale Fire, that impossible object made of poetry and fiction, footnotes and images from the clinic, seems very much of the time; one waits only for quantum theory in verse or biography in algebra.


Of course, to a certain extent this sort of thing has always gone on—Lucretius, Mandeville, and Erasmus Darwin all made their theories rhyme.  But the present jumbling of varieties of discourse has grown to the point where it is becoming difficult either to label authors (What is Foucault—historian, philosopher, political theorist?  What Thomas Kuhn—historian, philosopher, sociologist of knowledge?) or to classify works (What is George Steiner’s After Babel—linguistics, criticism, culture history?  What William Gass’s On Being Blue—treatise, causerie, apologetic?).  And thus it is more than a matter of odd sports and occasional curiosities, or of the admitted fact that the innovative is, by definition, hard to categorize.  It is a phenomenon general enough and distinctive enough to suggest that what we are seeing is not just another redrawing of the cultural map—the moving of a few disputed borders, the marking of some more picturesque mountain lakes—but an alteration of the principles of mapping.  Something is happening to the way we think about the way we think [my emphasis].


Clifford Geertz, Local Knowledge: Further Essays in Interpretive Anthropology


Running at night: it was madness.  I was courting death, or at least a kidnapping.  The capital [Baghdad] was a free-for-all; it was a state of nature.  Three was no law anymore, no courts, nothing—there was nothing at all.  They kidnapped children now, they killed them and dumped them in the street.  The kidnapping gangs bought and sold people; it was like its own terrible ecosystem.  One of the kidnapping gangs could have driven up in a car and beat me and gagged me and I could have screamed like a crazy person, but I doubt anyone would have done anything.  Not even the guards.  They weren’t bad people, the guards, but who in Baghdad was going to step in the middle of a kidnapping?  The kidnappers had more power than anyone.   I had been in Iraq too long.  Going on four years.  I’d lived through everything, shootings and bomb blasts and death, and I’d never gotten so much as a scratch.  I guess I was numb.  I guess I felt invincible.  The danger seemed notional to me now, not entirely real, something I wrote about, something that killed other people [the italics are mine].


Dexter Filkins, The Forever War

Some travel writing course ramblings


COURSE DESCRIPTION:  Journalists, conquerors, missionaries, soldiers, runaways, historians, anthropologists, philosophers, poets, and novelists have done it.  This course will take a look at prose written after travel.  It’s a genre as old as the epic but still alive and kicking.  The course will attempt to pin down some definitions of the genre.  Napoleon took several hundred scholars with him when he conquered Egypt, intent on a comprehensive literary, archeological, architectural, and pictorial record of the country—for what purpose: to freeze it in time, to organize (and colonize) its history, or perhaps to differentiate it from France and Europe?  It was a routine of travel writers to take along a handful of unnamed and often unmentioned extras, though rarely as many as Napoleon did.


An Arab proverb says, “Conceal thy tenets, thy wealth, and thy traveling.”  The last is related to the first—by concealing the fact that you have traveled a great deal, you are concealing your wisdom (and your tenets)—play dumb until you know who you’re dealing with.  The wealthy young men of England in the eighteenth century spent several years traveling abroad (in Europe) to finish—or sometimes start—their educations.  At the heart of Islam is the request that all Muslims travel once in their lifetime to Mecca.  We are where we’ve been.  The Arab proverb above comes from a Bedouin culture—a traveling culture.  All Arabs traveled, but some traveled further and more intelligently than others.  Americans are travelers—the German playwright Bertholt Brecht, who lived in Los Angeles during the Second World War, complained (and marveled) that Americans seems to carry their houses on their backs like turtles.  We move constantly, restlessly.


James Clifford, the anthropologist, sees travel as a part of all human life and history.  He asks, in Routes, “What would happen if travel … were untethered, seen as a complex and pervasive spectrum of human experience?”  Early twentieth century anthropologists were always on the lookout for untainted, untouched civilizations or cultures, groups of people who had no contact with the West, certainly, or even near neighbors.  In The Predicament of Culture, Clifford describes this idea in detail:


In New Guinea Margaret Mead ... chose not to study groups that were “badly missionized”; and it had been self-evident to Malinowski in the Trobriands that what most deserved scientific attention was the circumscribed “culture” threatened by a host of modern “outside” influences.  The experience of Melanesians becoming Christians for their own reasons—learning to play, and play with, the outsiders’ games—did not seem worth salvaging.


Later in the century anthropologists rejected this idea, and Clifford himself urges us to think of humanity as always traveling.  There is no culture that hasn’t been affected (or infected) by near and surprisingly very distant cultures.  We can trace nearly all of the world’s ancestry back to about a thousand Ethiopians who walked out of Africa 50,000 years ago and then kept walking until every continent was populated.


Edward Said, a permanent exile and restless traveler, tells us (in the last chapter of Culture and Imperialism) to 


Regard experiences as if they were about to disappear: what is it about them that anchors or roots them in reality?  What would you save of them, what would you give up, what would you recover?  To answer such questions you must have the independence and detachment of someone whose homeland is “sweet,” but whose actual condition makes it impossible to recapture that sweetness… Seeing “the entire world as a foreign land” makes possible originality of vision.  Most people are principally aware of one culture, one setting, one home; exiles are aware of at least two, and this plurality of vision gives rise to an awareness of simultaneous dimensions, an awareness that is… contrapuntal.


This course will study travel and food, the uneasy relations between anthropology field writing and travel writing, and the idea at the heart of much travel writing, travel through human and family history.  In Don DeLillo’s novel The Names, a character says, “in modern travel there are no artists—only critics.”  We’ll ask of contemporary travel writing whether this is true—does it only react to its material or does it try to find connections between disparate places and the experiences of those places, as if they were texts?


WRITING ASSIGNMENTS:  You will write one short travel piece (4 to 6 pages), which will be assigned in groups of three or four to be discussed during the second part of the term.   You will also write a final paper, which should be 12 to 15 pages (double spaced, 12-pt times roman type).    We will spend much of the first six weeks discussing what this paper should accomplish.  The final paper may attempt to do something like what Amitav Ghosh has done with In an Antique Land, part travel-writing (revised from workshop piece), part literary essay, and part history—or what Alphonso Lingis has done in Trust, part travel-writing, part philosophy.   The dimensions of the parts are up to you, but each must seriously contribute to the whole.    If you have not traveled enough to have actual travel narratives to write (for the workshop portion of the course), I expect you to write an imaginary travel piece (not of an imaginary place, but travel to places you’ve only read about in this course and elsewhere).




March 22: Ground rules, finger exercises, readings, concepts, and precepts

March 29: Flaubert in Egypt

April 5:  John Muir

April 12:  MFK Fisher (group 1 travel piece emailed by Friday, April 8)

April 19: Julia Child (group 2 travel piece emailed by Friday, April 15)

April 26: Muriel Rukeyser (group 3 travel piece emailed by Friday, April 22)

May 3: James Clifford (see links above with Texts) (group 4 travel piece emailed by Friday, April 29)

May 10: Alphonso Lingis

May 17: Amitav Ghosh

May 24: Elias Canetti

May 31: (no class) final paper due


Group 1: Lynn, Liz, Joanna (piece due April 8)

Group 2: Broc, Christina, Christopher (piece due April 15)

Group 3: Eryn, Yanara, Deborah (piece due April 22)

Group 4: Meghan, Sam, Seth (piece due April 29)

SOME RECOMMENDED TRAVEL BOOKS from the 1850s onward, more or less in order written:


Herman Melville, Typee

Henry Walter Bates, The Naturalist on the River Amazons

Lucie Duff Gordon, Letters from Egypt

Mark Twain, Roughing It

Darwin, Voyage of the Beagle

Robert Louis Stevenson, Travels with a Donkey

Rudyard Kipling, Letters of Travel

Pierre Loti, The Marriage of Loti

Charles Doughty, Travels in Arabia Deserta

Henry Morton Stanley, In Darkest Africa

Lafcadio Hearn, Glimpses of Unfamiliar Japan

John Muir, The Mountains of California

Henry Adams, Mont St. Michel and Chartres

Robert Louis Stevenson, In the South Seas

Mary Kingsley, Travels in West Africa

Henry James, English Hours

Gertrude Bell, The Desert and the Sown

Wilfrid Scawen Blunt, The Secret History of the English Occupation of Egypt

Henry James, The American Scene

Henry James, Italian Hours

Norman Douglas, Siren Land

Gertrude Bell, Amurath to Amurath

Matthew Henson, A Negro Explorer at the North Pole

Edith Wharton, In Morocco

D.H. Lawrence, Sea and Sardinia

T.E. Lawrence, The Seven Pillars of Wisdom

Andre Gide, Voyage to the Congo

Walter Benjamin, Reflections

Evelyn Waugh, Labels: A Mediterranean Journey

Evelyn Waugh, Remote People

Ernest Hemingway, Death in the Afternoon

J.R. Ackerly, Hindoo Holiday

D.H. Lawrence, Etruscan Places

Ford Madox Ford, Provence

George Orwell, Burmese Days

Freya Stark, The Valleys of the Assassins

Robert Byron, The Road to Oxiana

George Orwell, Homage to Catalonia

Norman Lewis, Sand and Sea in Arabia

Graham Greene, The Lawless Roads

Ernest Hemingway, Green Hills of Africa

Beryl Markham, West with the Night

Henry Miller, The Air-Conditioned Nightmare

Henri Michaux, A Barbarian in Asia

Isak Dinesen, Out of Africa

Rebecca West, Black Lamb and Grey Falcon

Patrick Leigh Fermor, The Traveler’s Tree

Claude Levi-Strauss, Tristes Tropiques

Lawrence Durrell, Bitter Lemons of Cyprus

Patrick Leigh Fermor, A Time to Keep Silence

Wilfred Thesiger, Arabian Sands

Peter Matthiessen, The Cloud Forest: A Chronicle of the South American Wilderness

V.S. Naipaul, The Middle Passage

Wilfred Thesiger, The Marsh Arabs

Dervla Murphy, Full Tilt: Ireland to India with a Bicycle

Eric Newby, Slowly Down the Ganges

John Graves, Goodbye to a River

Colin Thurbon, Mirror to Damascus

Joan Didion, Slouching Toward Bethlehem

Vivian Gornick, In Search of Ali Mahmoud

Dervla Murphy, In Ethiopia with a Mule

Paul Fussell, Abroad: British Literary Traveling Between the Wars

Roland Barthes, Empire of Signs

V.S. Naipaul, Among the Believers

Paul Theroux, The Great Railway Bazaar

Bruce Chatwin, In Patagonia

Patrick Leigh Fermor, A Time of Gifts

Peter Matthiessen, The Snow Leopard

Martha Gellhorn, Travels with Myself and Another

Michael Herr, Dispatches

Tobias Schneebaum, Where the Spirits Dwell

Jonathan Raban, Arabia through the Looking Glass

Robyn Davidson, Tracks

Edmund White, States of Desire: Travels in Gay America

Jonathan Raban, Old Glory: An American Voyage

William Least Heat-Moon, Blue Highways

Colin Thurbon, Among the Russians
Ian Frazier, Great Plains

Redmond O’Hanlon, Into the Heart of Borneo

Roy Mottahedeh, The Mantle of the Prophet
Paul Horgan, Great River: the Rio Grande in North American History

Jan Morris, Among the Cities

Bruce Chatwin, The Songlines

Bill Buford, Among the Thugs

Pico Iyer, Video Nights in Kathmandu

Sara Suleri, Meatless Days

Rebecca Solnit, Savage Dreams

W.G. Sebald, The Rings of Saturn

Sara Wheeler, Terra Incognito: Travels in Antarctica

Jon Krakauer, In the Wild

Timothy Mitchell, Colonizing Egypt
Lila Abu-Lughod, Veiled Sentiments
Brian Fawcett, Cambodia: A Book For People Who Find Television Too Slow

Chris Offutt, The Same River Twice

James Clifford, The Predicament of Culture and Routes
Thomas Richards, The Imperial Archive: Knowledge and the Fantasy of Empire

Max Rodenbeck, Cairo: the City Victorious

Orhan Pamuk, Istanbul: Memories and the City

Philip Gourevitch, We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our

Families: Stories from Rwanda


And here are some texts for previous versions of the course:

Frederic Prokosch, The Asiatics
Primo Levi, The Reawakening
Tobias Schneebaum, Where the Spirits Dwell

Eduardo Galeano, Open Veins
Lila Abu-Lughod, Veiled Sentiments
Don DeLillo, The Names
Max Rodenbeck, Cairo, the City Victorious

John Graves, Goodbye to a River

Claude Levi-Strauss, Tristes Tropiques

Isak Dinesen, Out of Africa

Robert Byron, Road to Oxiana

Jan Morris, The World

Roland Barthes, Empire of Signs

Walter Benjamin, Reflections

Michael Ondaatje, Running in the Family


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