Tuesday, July 28, 2015

How Not to Be Elizabeth Gilbert by Jessa Crispin


The secret to [Freya Stark's] success was listening to the people she visited and letting them tell the story.

This shouldn’t be any secret. It should be what every travel writer does. But, as many have observed, the purpose of travel writing has changed as travel itself has changed and become more accessible. Listening is less important when readers no longer rely on written accounts to transport them vicariously to places they would never have the opportunity to see for themselves. Today’s writing is more aspirational. The travel writer sells not only lovely prose and insights into a new land but also the lifestyle of the rootless and adventurous. Yet, when you establish your life and yourself as goals to aspire to, you take yourself out of the world. Every interaction is sculpted for its eventual presentation, and the aim of every presentation is to show how wonderful your life is. Since we seem these days to judge the best life not as one marked by compassion and connection but as a sensual experience of exotic foods, insider knowledge, and Instagram-able landscapes, everything that doesn’t incite the envy of the writer’s followers gets cut out. If your life is an aspiration, you are a beacon, not a human, and you talk rather than listen.

From a really good piece on travel writing and gender, "How Not to Be Elizabeth Gilbert," by Jessa Crispin in The Boston Review.

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