Travel Writers: India, England, and the United States
The philosopher Augustine is reported to have said written that "the world is a book, and those who do not travel read only a page." He was right: travel enlarges the world, and exposes us to how other people think and live. Travel also shows us things about ourselves we might not have known, as we are forced, when abroad, to confront our particular prejudices and limited knowledge about the world. This course examines written narratives (mostly non-fiction) by literary travelers of all sorts, with a special focus on India. It features writing by travelers from India traveling in the west, as well as British and American writers who have journeyed to India for work or pleasure. To what extent is travel writing a 'reliable' source of information about a culture? How is it similar or different from anthropology? Is there a method for producing 'good' travel writing? What is it like to travel as a woman? We will also watch a select number of films that focus on the travel theme.
I'm still working out the actual reading list and syllabus, though I think the course will emphasize writers from the late 19th and early 20th centuries over more contemporary writers. The danger of a "Naipaul and after" course is that everyone is likely to be circmspect and self-conscious. What makes the earlier writers interesting from a pedagogical point of view is that they tend to be less self-conscious about things like racism and cultural preconceptions (or misconceptions).
One does tend to do Naipaul in such a course, and talk about things like exoticization and Orientalism. One might also do something like The Satanic Verses, though the book is almost too much to handle in an introductory course like this. And I'll probably end the course with a brief unit on the recent spate of travel writing oriented to India's high-tech boom (Tom Friedman and so on).
I'm pretty sure I'm going to be ordering the anthology edited by Amitava Kumar called Away: The Indian Writer As An Expatriate. But the rest of it is a bit up in the air.
I'll probably do something in the vein of the "Tagore in America" post I did for Sepia Mutiny this past summer. Other writers who will be in the mix include Dean Mahomet, Mohandas Gandhi, Pandita Ramabai (who wrote interesting letters based on her traveled in the U.S.), Katherine Mayo (author of the infamous Mother India), George Orwell, E.M. Forster, Ved Mehta, and Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. I might also talk about the early Punjabi settlers in California, as well as American missionary work in India.
Any further suggestions? Writers who might be relatively more obscure? Diarists? Journalists? Musicians/artists? I'm especially curious to find South Asian writers who traveled in the west and wrote about it in languages other than English, but really any suggestions or criticisms would be helpful.