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Reviewed by:
  • Postcolonial Travel Writing: Critical Explorations
  • Michael H. Fisher (bio)
Justin D. Edwards and Rune Graulund, eds. Postcolonial Travel Writing: Critical Explorations. Houndsmills, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011. 208 pp. ISBN 978-0230241190, £50/$80.00.

This thoughtful, provocative, and theoretically sophisticated collection of essays examines the complex relationships between contemporary travel writing and the genres of biography, history, and fiction. The editors and eight other contributors are trained in literary analysis and/or cultural studies, [End Page 355] which informs their largely shared approach of highlighting their analyses of the authorial voice as informed by the actual biography of each prominent travel writer whom they consider. The volume overall seeks to explore the nature, variety, limits, and potential meanings of travel writing during the last half century and thereby to reframe the concept “postcolonial.” While not all the contributors concur precisely about the nature of travel writing or the positionality of individual authors, the volume’s essays implicitly speak to each other through shared themes.

Following the powerful influences of Edward Said’s Orientalism (New York: Vintage Books, 1978) and Mary Louise Pratt’s Imperial Eyes: Travel Writing and Transculturation (New York: Routledge, 1992; revised 2008), many postcolonial theorists have critiqued travel writers, especially Euro-American male authors, as inexorably complicit in orientalism, colonialism, racism, and sexism. A major project of this volume is to build upon and then transcend these canonical works by Said and Pratt. Paul Smethurst reflects other contributors in criticizing Said for oversimplifying the production of colonial texts and “always [assuming] the irresistible strength of colonialism transforming all in its path” (169). Similarly, Claire Lindsay reexamines Pratt, her critics, and Pratt’s own original sources, as well as distinctly different European writers of the same period, to “advance a more subtle and appropriate method” (18).

The contributors almost all seek to recuperate the “postcolonial” approach. They recognize there have been “an increasing number of studies questioning the validity of ‘the postcolonial’ in a world recognized as global” (54). But the contributors, in diverse ways, regard globalization not as hollowing out or obviating postcoloniality. However, the contributors eschew considering “counter travelers,” non-white people who went from colonies to metropoles during the colonial period. Rather they have selected “reframers” (3) who by their works and lives “subvert” (4) the colonial (and hence the conventional postcolonial) narrative. The contributors thus envision and seek to advance a reconceptualized postcoloniality as informing the lives and works of many travel writers during our current postmodern age when Europeans are settling and assimilating in former colonies, when people from former colonies are settling and assimilating in the former metropoles, and when virtually all boundaries are questioned and blurred. Indeed, Smethurst deploys the term “pastcolonial” (165, italics in original) to represent the intertwining in people’s lives of experiences from before full colonialism to the present.

The contributors to this volume deliberately complicate Said’s and Pratt’s Eurocentric models and recast postcoloniality through their own selection of travel writers and their works. For example, Richard Phillips shows how travel writer James Morris may have started as a typical masculinist, pro-imperialist, [End Page 356] white Englishman in his early travel works but later entered “some equivocal territory” (99) by settling in Wales and changing his gender and identity to Jan Morris. Other contributors have also chosen the works of non-European and/or non-white authors to problematize the models of Said and Pratt, including Bidhan Roy analyzing V. S. Naipaul; Rune Graulund analyzing Pico Iyer; María Lourdes López Ropero analyzing Caryl Phillips; Justin D. Edwards analyzing Denis and Charlotte Williams; and Anne Schroder and Zoran Pećić each analyzing in complementary ways Jamaica Kincaid.

The shared literary criticism and cultural studies methodology of all the contributors also comes through. Travel narratives for them are neither “‘real’ or ‘authentic’ . . . travel is an ongoing activity with no terminal point, no objective way of assessing it in terms of ‘better’ or ‘worse’” (10). Most contributors have selected travel writers who, the contributors say, intentionally create works where “the structure of the text positions it between fact and fiction” (119). Schroder terms the travel writer not “the author” but rather “the...