May 22, 2017

"Are we able to stay at home and explore the meaning of the things around us, at least until the world has gotten a little more 'normal' again? "

"Pierre Bayard, a professor and psychoanalyst in Paris... may provide us with some additional requisite know-how on how to not lose face and even be comfortable with staying at home. In How to Talk About Places You’ve Never Been: On the Importance of Armchair Travel, he dissects the reports of the likes of Marco Polo, Jules Verne, Karl May, on minute details of geographies they had never visited, to tell the reader they were wrong. He exposes the alternative reality they unfolded, but he doesn’t blame them: 'Ill-equipped to defend itself against wild animals, inclement weather or illness, the human body is clearly not made for leaving its usual habitat and even less so for traveling to lands far removed from those where God intended us to live.' And: 'We know from Freud and the works of other psychiatrists who have studied various travelers’ syndromes that traveling a long way from home is not only liable to provoke psychiatric problems: it can also drive you mad.'"

From "Between Everywhere and Nowhere/A little review of travel literature," by Bernd Brunner, which I'm reading mostly because it has something about Paul Theroux — "one of the grand doyens of travel writing... His passion for the foreign appears to have been lost, if only partly so" — whose novel "The Mosquito Coast" I started reading after seeing it likened to a movie I loved ("Captain Fantastic").

But I got interested in Bayard, and added How to Talk About Places You’ve Never Been: On the Importance of Armchair Travel to my Kindle. Love the title, and I'm fascinated by the critique of travel, since I love to read and feel prodded to travel, and reading is so much faster and simpler than traveling.*

I had the vague feeling that I'd blogged about that book before, but it was another book by Bayard, How to Talk About Books You Haven’t Read, which I blogged about without reading.

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* You know me, I'm not up for a challenge.

18 comments:

Bob said...

How to Talk About Places You’ve Never Been

Melville wrote whole chapters about Nantucket before he had ever been there. Not to mention lengthy descriptions of life in Queequeg's native place, "Kokovoko, an island far away to the West and South. It is not down in any map; true places never are."

Ignorance is Bliss said...

And: 'We know from Freud and the works of other psychiatrists who have studied various travelers’ syndromes that traveling a long way from home is not only liable to provoke psychiatric problems: it can also drive you mad.'"

During the campaign Clinton repeatedly bragged about how many miles she'd traveled as SoS. Could explain a lot...

buwaya said...

I was at a bar once in Irkutsk....

buwaya said...

" the human body is clearly not made for leaving its usual habitat and even less so for traveling to lands far removed from those where God intended us to live"

This is, I don't know, entirely wrong in my world-view.
Its a small sample size, but there is no madness among the most traveled in our lot.
Our lot seems to have specialized in going back and forth to "lands far removed...".
And taken to heart Carlos I's motto "plus ultra".
Maybe we are a self-selected bunch who bred for it, inadvertently.

We are going to such a land next week in fact.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

But talking about places you've never been is just "cultural appropriation." Right?

Sebastian said...

"You know me, I'm not up for a challenge." And with the mental load of managing Meade, who can blame you?

Fernandinande said...

When I was in Paris last week there were no parrots in the palm trees.

urbane legend said...

I've never been there before, and don't intend to go now.

I Have Misplaced My Pants said...

Travel writing is my favorite genre and I look forward to reading Bayard's book.

Paul Theroux is a treasure. My favorite is The Pillars of Hercules but I've read nearly all his books.

buwaya said...

"there were no parrots in the palm trees."

A pity.

buwaya said...

I'm on the other side of Theroux vs Naipaul.

Ann Althouse said...

I like travel audiobooks for falling asleep. It's great subject matter for me, perhaps because my standard dream is a thing called Lost in the City.

mockturtle said...

How self-justifying for someone who hates to travel! ;-)

wildswan said...

My question with travel is how do you get into the landscape - that is, how do you stop looking at scenes and, as it were, burrow under into their meaning. For instance, knowing Civil War history makes battlefields very interesting and much more than scenery. But everywhere is a battlefield, so to speak, only how do you find out about the battle?

Once I was in Manchester, England in a low-end shopping mall which is maximum banal as far as I am concerned when somebody explained to me that the exact area had once been a terrible slum, the one Engels wrote about in The Condition of the Working Class in England. And, furthermore, the people of that slum were many of them Irish who worked in textile mills. During the Civil War, I was told as I stood there, some of these people died of hunger in the houses that formerly stood on the land below my feet because the mills had no work without Southern cotton. But these people, hungry and dying of TB and other mill related lung diseases, refused to riot as the South had expected them to do and thus to force recognition of the Confederacy to get the mills going again because these Irish understood the issue: slavery. I had never heard this story before and it made a huge impression. It was like suddenly finding yourself at Auschwitz - except more personal because I knew that if my Irish family had not got away to the US they might have been there dying on that spot. And one of my relatives died fighting for the Union - perhaps for nothing if it had not been for these utterly unknown Irish in Manchester. There's no marker, nothing. Just a big mall and a small bookstore where this was all explained.

HoodlumDoodlum said...

Oh the places you won't go.

"Far removed from places where His jntended us to live??!" How small-minded. Has this lesson never heard of Inuit? That's ignorant, man, and it's ignorant about groups of distinct peoples, which means it's racist.
Shameful.

wwww said...


"For instance, knowing Civil War history makes battlefields very interesting and much more than scenery."


Yes -- visiting Yorktown brings home how very close the fighting was in the Revolutionary War. Helps one understand the limited accuracy & range of muskets versus rifles. I had read about it, but being there brought it home in a different way.

rcocean said...

Thoreux is great. Every travel book is about all the crap he had to put with getting from A to z. The people were awful, the food terrible, the weather atrocious. He's a magnet for the obnoxious, the weird, and slightly dangerous. Plus, he's a a terrible snob.

I love his books - he's always slagging someone off.

rcocean said...

WWWW - agree about visiting battlefields. Its only when I visited Antietam that I understood how the Confederates could have held off Burnside at "Burnsides Bridge" - the damn thing is tiny! Hell, a 100 riflemen could have killed everyone who tried to cross.