Biography 25.4 (2002) 672-674
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Given our fascination with the connections between motion and gender, and our long history of linking technology and progress, Sidonie Smith's examination of the mutual dependency of these human endeavors is timely. Smith'sMoving Lives builds on and expands her earlier work on women's autobiography, textuality, and the body. Here, she reads narratives by women who sought twentieth century versions of the "quest"—making their journeys by foot, animal, rail, air, and car (ships seem to have passed). This organizing principle enables Smith to focus first on the mode of mobility, and explain how that technology affected her subject's performance of gender, subjectivity, and relation to otherness, as well as the modern and anti-modern impulses such travel encompassed.
Smith begins her study by acknowledging scholars who formalized theories of travel and mobility in the early 1990s—Eric Leed, Mary Louise Pratt, and Dennis Porter, among others. Her chapter on the "The Logic of Travel and Technologies of Motion" summarizes much from these authors' assessment of travel and travel writing as masculine, bourgeois, and exoticizing. Smith then shifts to women traveling in various circumstances:
during the early modern period of exploration . . . European women did not actively participate in discovery or in taking possession of other lands . . . some women set out as wives and daughters of chartered families, colonists or missionaries. . . . Impoverished and dependent women became indentured servants . . . incarcerated and condemned women were transported to penal colonies . . . thousands of African women were brutally transported . . . as slaves. (12)
Smith does not explore women's complicity with ideologies of "manifest domesticity" (Kaplan), whereby domesticity contains many of the same stereotypes of the foreign and imperial expansion that were expressed in men's reports from the field of exploration and travel. Rather, Smith is most interested in how travel for white Anglo/American women in the twentieth century was a means to negotiate cultural displacement through "unbecoming subject positions." It became easier for women of all classes to travel; "yet, if bourgeois femininity could be packed up and taken on the road, a woman on the road still signaled femininity displaced from its founding attachment to domesticity and the requisite sessily" (17-18). [End Page 672]
Early on, Smith provides a disclaimer as to why she did not include works by women of color in her study: a text by Erika Lopez came belatedly to her attention, and she explains that women from postcolonial Africa, Asia, and the Caribbean focus more on issues of gendered citizenship and diaspora than on technologies of motion (xv). However, instead of setting up such a dichotomy, she might have examined the intersections between the hybrid and conflicted identity formations and technologies of motion in texts such as Colleen McElroy's motorcycle journey through the Australian outback in A Long Way from St. Louis, or Elaine Lee's explorations in Go Girl: The Black Women's Book of Travel and Adventure.
That being said, Smith's close readings can be rich and insightful. Her analysis of Isabel Eberhardt's wanderings as an Arab man across the Nagreb illustrates the many contradictions of "performative nomadism." Such precision in thinking through the many complex issues at stake is a fine example of the fruit of late twentieth century feminist and cultural studies scholarship. Dressing as an North African holy man, speaking the language, studying the religion and even taking an Arabic name, Eberhardt's masculine identification becomes, as Smith convincingly argues, a disavowal of women and the female body, as represented in Eberhardt's journal: "Traveling away from Europe, Eberhardt heads home to the otherness in herself through the identification with the otherness of the nomad" (34). Yet, there are some puzzling gaps that Smith doesn't quite account for: how does Eberhardt perform and embody gender when she marries a "native" male or takes lovers to become "the subservient other of the colonized other" (40)? And...