Saturday, May 24, 2014

Week Three: Colonialism, Part 1

There's a problem with the thinking that all travel writers automatically view the world with an imperialist mindset, the assumption being that all others must think, act, and travel like us, and therefore write from this viewpoint as well. (Ironically, this speaks to an imperialist mindset.) Colonialism does not influence all writing about different communities and cultures; for many people, there is simply not the assumption or belief that the "other" is inferior. There is a basic awareness of difference, the result of culture, religion, geography, nature, etc., but this does not lead to the implication that those from different cultures are inferior. Difference is neither automatically better nor worse; it's like questioning whether one type of food is better than another; it's a matter of preference and mood.


That said, in many ways it is easy to see difference before we see similarity, but the assumption that "difference" is seen negatively is also a presumption. Different is merely difference; it is not necessarily better or worse by dint of being different. "Better off" is a relative term, regardless of cultural status. If one person has more money than another person, the first person may be seen as better off; however, if this first person is miserable - doing a job she hates; desperately lonely or in an appalling marriage - this is not necessarily better off than the person who finds meaning in her work and/or is in a happy relationship. 


Somehow, for many people, Europe has apparently come to be seen as the cultural center; at least, it seems that's what many of the previous readings suggest.  I'm bothered by the assumption of Eurocentrism and imperialism in our collective traveling mentality. I don't see how it could be problematic in moving away from this type of writing, which I find interesting but limiting in its appeal. Since this is not my own default method of thinking, how to move away from writing that separates power and inferiority from the writing seems clear: If this is one's mindset, perhaps consider traveling to places that aren't in Europe. Consider that there are non-European empires (the early Chinese empire comes to mind) that had just as far-reaching effects throughout history. I could see how this could be a challenge; I'm finding it difficult (and slightly offensive, given that "imperial" has such negative connotations) to respond to assumptions that my travel writing and mindset is one of an imperialist. 



What about travel writing in or from other parts of the world, travel writing that focuses on Asian countries, or South America, Australia, or Antarctica? There are many reasons to travel, including that it might lead us to think differently, but regardless of where travel takes us - regardless of continent - that the traveler is exposed to something new is, for me, one of the primary reasons to travel.

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