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The Book in the Travel: Paul Theroux's The Old Patagonian Express
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The Book in the Travel:
Paul Theroux's The Old Patagonian Express
Terry Caesar
Clarion University
Terry Caesar

Terry Caesar has published travel pieces on China, Saudi Arabia, and Brazil, and is presently putting together a book-length collection on his travel writing as well as another book on the category of "abroad" in American travel writing from its beginings to the present.


1. For a less epistemological, far more broad, socio-cultural reading of this same problematic as a quite specifically American one, see my "Counting the Cats."

2. The division is given in the following manner: "And I had learned what I had always secretly believed, that the difference between travel writing and fiction is the difference between recording what the eye sees and discovering what the imagination knows. Fiction is pure joy—how sad that I could not reinvent the trip as fiction. It would have had . . . such a pleasing shape if I had artfully distributed light and shadow and played with the grammar of delay" (34-42). Theroux goes on to sketch some examples of how characters and events from previous pages could have been altered. It might be remarked that the ease with which he does this does not inspire confidence that he has in fact refused the "joy" of fiction, since the very enactment of doing it shows how it could be done, inscribes a moment of fictional "discovery" within the very text of "recording" that protests itself free of such moments.

3. Any number of readings of Pym could be additionally cited in order to show how remarkably they gloss Theroux's text. Unlike Pym, no great white figure looms in the mist at the end of The Old Patagonian Express, for example, and yet Irwin's recent comment on this shadow is strongly applicable to the Patagonia of vast nothingness: ". . . Pym's continuing lack of recognition culminates in his not recognizing that the gigantic white figure in the mist at the end of the narrative is his own shadow, a kind of literal nonrecognition that he is seeking his own shadow image" (13). Irwin has earlier grounded Pym's description of the nesting habits of albatrosses and penguins in two texts: Browne's The Garden of Cyrus and A Narrative of Four Voyages by one Benjamin Morrell. His concluding sentence is particularly apt to Theroux's concluding effort to be free of meaning: "In one way or another what man adds to any landscape is meaning, no matter how empty or desolate that landscape may be—an insight enacted again and again in American literature, whether in the form of a figure in the South Polar mist, or a jar in Tennessee, or as in the present case the pattern of birds' nests on Desolation Island" (14).

Works Cited

Caesar, Terry. "'Counting the Cats in Zanzibar': American Travel Abroad in American Travel Writing to 1914." Prospects. An Annual of American Cultural Studies. Ed. Jack Salzman. 13. New York: Columbia University Press, 1988: 95-134.
Fussell, Paul. Aboard. British Literary Traveling Between the Wars. New York: Oxford University Press, 1980.
Irwin, John. "The Quincuncial Network in Poe's Pym." Arizona Quarterly 44.3 (1988): 1-14.
Iyer, Pico. Video Night in Kathmandu. New York: Knopf, 1988.
Pahl, Dennis. "Poe/Script: The Death of the Author in The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym." New Orleans Review. 14.3 (1987): 51-60.
Said, Edward. Beginnings. Intention and Method. New York: Basic Books, 1975.
Theroux, Paul. The Great Railway Bazaar. New York: Ballantine Books, 1975.
———. The Old Patagonian Express. New York: Pocket Books, 1979.

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