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Travel Writing, Self and Other: Finding Reciprocal Space

My thesis engages with the complex relationships between self and other as these are constructed in the travel writing of five authors: the early feminist Mary Wollstonecraft’s Letters Written During a Short Residence in Sweden, Norway, and Denmark; the Victorian polymath William Morris’ Icelandic Journals; travel writer and historian Robert Byron’s The Road to Oxiana; and Nobel Prize for Literature recipients V. S. Naipaul’s An Area of Darkness and Orhan Pamuk’s Istanbul: Memories and the City. The texts under consideration appeared respectively in 1796, 1873, 1937, 1964 and 2006: they therefore encompass a range of conceptions of the self and other. My examination of these authors’ works prompts a reconsideration of the Saidian self/Other binary, in search of a less polemical stance towards this socially constructed relationship. In problematising this binary, I adopt feminist and postcolonial perspectives and apply critical textual analysis. I posit, and find, that the self and other are mutually constitutive. I suggest this shift visually and textually by using self-other, rather than the more usual self/Other. I find that these travel writers point to several ways in which the self/Other binary, cemented textually in place by Said’s Orientalism, is not fixed but rather is as unstable and shifting as each individual’s subjectivity. While power and knowledge are clearly contributory factors to that subjectivity, I show that these, too, are not fixed, but are rather shifting concepts variously influencing the shape of the self-other relationship, as are the notions of home which inflect these works. Writing itself clearly serves as a vivifying home of sorts for these writers and, crucially, as a means of remaking or refashioning the self. I employ an interpretative process that compares and contrasts the departing with the returning self, as against the intercultural experiences encountered and the changes attendant on those experiences. I find that the self-other relationship can be more richly apprehended by interpellating a redefined notion of reciprocity, one removed from its usual (Western) signification as part of a straightforward exchange of commodity or service. This redefined notion of reciprocity sees value in difference in the social encounter, where difference is acknowledged but not subsumed. My research contributes to the dynamic nature of travel writing studies by exploring beyond prevailing theoretical co-ordinates. Overall, my findings – and redefining of terms – indicate that seeking out such reciprocal engagements in these authors’ travel writings is a fruitful expansion in the field of travel writing studies.
Type of thesis
Ullal, K. (2017). Travel Writing, Self and Other: Finding Reciprocal Space (Thesis, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)). The University of Waikato, Hamilton, New Zealand. Retrieved from https://hdl.handle.net/10289/11554
The University of Waikato
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