In new series of essays, Foreign Policy magazine declares travel writing dead. The easy culprit to blame is Elizabeth Gilbert's Eat Pray Love, but the truth is that bestselling memoir was only the final "nail in the coffin" for a once-proud genre that has increasingly become "brainless," asserts Graeme Wood (also a contributing editor at The Atlantic). He explains that an ideal travel writer is "a sort of prophet" who has a "way of seeing the world through the eyes of one who has the time and luxury to look at it directly, rather than through the distortions of propagandists and wishful thinkers." That ideal has now been perhaps irreversibly tarnished by an "internet age frivolity" that threatens to combine "the worst of the traveler and the worst of the homebody":
The writer goes overseas but brings back news about a tedious inner crisis, leaving undisturbed any insights about the places visited. Eat, Pray, Love -- to take only the easiest target as an example -- is a whole memoir premised on the notion that even the most decadent, boring, and conventional kinds of travel somehow heal the soul and can turn a suburban ninny into a Herodotus or a Basho.
But why has travel writing devolved into such a "narcissistic" genre? As best as Wood can see, it's simple: "it is easier than ever to travel, and not at all easier to write well." Now that perspectives of "previously arcane hideaways" are now more numerous, and the accounts written quicker than ever, the views have regrettably become "far less exquisite."
If you don't particularly agree, Foreign Policy has posted a contrasting piece: Travel Writing Lives!
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.