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Room One Thousand

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Nearing Nanjing, 1938


The Beautiful, the Empty, and the Dead

Travel begins, despite any designs of the traveler to the contrary, with self-serving anticipation. The very act of crossing borders, of encountering linguistic foreignness, sets the individual traveler in a position of vulnerability—at the very least, within the realm of the word. One’s semiotic world becomes looser, more slippery, evasive. In this vulnerability, perhaps, it is a matter of course that the traveler resorts to whatever discourse is available to understand the new world in which travel takes place. Paradoxically, the experience of freedom from meaning often pushes the traveler—who may become the travel writer—back toward well-trod routes, time-honored conventions and cliché. Human and non-human objects observed in the land of travel, captured by the old-new words of this reactionary writer, are then entered into their particular textual economy, static prey to traveler’s representation. For the travel writer, there is no such thing as discursive naïvete...

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