A Home in the World: The Cultural Imaginary of Imaginary of Travel
As imagined and idealized in nineteenth-century literature and culture, travel has long expressed a Euro-American romance of individuated freedom and self-autonomy. Modern citizen-subjects were produced through circuits of domestic and international travel as technological developments including the telegraph, trains, steamboats and road improvements helped produce a modern nation. Blurring the boundaries between fact and fiction, self and other, the travelogue or travel narrative was a hybrid genre in which travelers sought to record and make sense of their place in this rapidly changing world. These representations of travel abroad, as some cultural critics argue, often articulated powerful forms of Western imperialism and ethnocentrism as they helped constitute and shape the popular imaginary of the “foreign” and “exotic” for those who remained at home. This seminar will examine the shifting meaning of travel within our collective cultural imaginary in a variety of texts that cut across literary genre, historical period and geopolitics. Whereas Grand Tours of the European continent were once requisite for the cultural gilding of only the cosmopolitan elite, travel and tourism now have become something at once mundane and familiar in a globalizing world. Does travel continue to be an organizing trope for a particularly cosmopolitan worldview? What, furthermore, differentiates travel from tourism? We will draw upon poetry, novels, slave narratives, memoirs, newsprint illustrations, short stories, film and feminist and cultural criticism to explore these processes of identification and subject formation at the heart of Anglophone American travel literature and travel culture in general.