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Poetics of Travelling Self: Discursive Formations and Purposiveness of Travel

The heterogenous character of protean form of travel writing—letters, journals, logbooks, diaries, memoir, journalistic pieces, guidebooks, confessional narratives, accounts of seafaring voyages, literary picaresque narratives, scientific explorations, artists’ escapades, ventures of urban flâneurs, self-exiled wanderers, and fiction—resists easy demarcation. Its heterogeneity lies in the revisionary stance brought about in each narrative through the distinguishing figure of the traveller, mode of narration, means of mapping, or redefining of the landscape. Right from antiquity to medieval, modern to postmodern times, travel narratives have showcased relevance despite premature announcements or off-the-mark assessments of their ‘death.’ Witnessing a renaissance in the late twentieth century, travel writings continue to be written in ever increasing numbers in the twenty-first century and engage critical attention across disciplines.

Travel writing fosters self-fashioning through the curation of a persona with experiential outlook who presents the world to her readers. This mode of subjective perception and a detached analytical voice threading along in the narrative melds facts with the imaginary to create literary composition with varied manifestations. A genre that quintessentially encounters the other also gives rise to the discursive formations of the other perceived through the gaze of traveler. The embeddedness of gaze, individual and/or collective, in a certain cultural ideology not only helps in evaluating one’s own context but also works to construct epistemological narratives of what is perceived as foreign, resulting in the intertwining of micro with macro history. Crosscurrents of representing actual or fictional travel narratives, while creating space for cross-cultural fertilization, often involve involuntary expeditions into the unknown. Slave narratives, refugee narratives, exile narratives among others reveal a complex motif of travel caused by forces external to the subject. In these accounts of journey beyond, home is the seminal anchor that provides a threshold for theoretical underpinnings relevant to diaspora, migration, and displacement.

The poetics of the travelling self is a subject of curiosity since the beginning of Homo sapiens’ story right from the time when they dispersed out of Africa. The motifs of journey, be it inner or outer, along with their motivation and purpose have certainly been diverse: exploratory, survival, religious, commercial, exploitative, scientific, or professional. Documented through time and space, these motifs corroborate the descriptive with the affective to profoundly shape the history of the world as we know it. If, at one level, they raise extensive questions related to privileged mobility, dynamics of geopolitical boundaries, and economic structures then at another level, they probe explicit issues of neo-imperialism, along with the perpetuation, reinforcement, and reproduction of prevailing ideologies of Empire. The inviting simplicity and intrinsic complexity of travel literature allows for scrutiny on multiple scales—insightfully teasing out political and historical hegemonies enmeshed with racial, class, gender, and power dynamics. In recent years, disability studies too have made major inroads into this genre. Moreover, in conjunction with new digital media, characterized as mobility turn in Arts as well as Humanities and more generally in Social Sciences, enquiry into travel literature takes precedence and acts as a crucial optic to make sense of new configurations of power, subjectivity, relationality, and the globalized world alike. Critical engagement with travel writing yields a fruitful site for the analysis of social, historical, economic, political, and cultural issues underpinning contemporary state of affairs. In the context of Covid-19 pandemic here, ‘vaccine passport’ emerges as an interesting phenomenon to study vis-à-vis travel writing. Critical engagement with travel writing yields a fruitful site to study issues in the contemporary scenario by way of interdisciplinary analysis involving philosophy, sociology, history, anthropology, literary studies, economics, political science, rhetoric, media and cultural studies, and linguistics among others.

Scholars are invited to explore how travel writings make and remake us and our world through and beyond following themes:

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