Home truths on abroad

William Dalrymple in The Guardian:


Certainly, the sort of attitudes to “abroad” that characterised the writers of the 1930s, and which had a strange afterlife in the curmudgeonly prose of Theroux and his imitators, now appears dated and racist. Indeed, the globalised world has now become so complex that notions of national character and particularity – the essence of so many 20th-century travelogues – is becoming increasingly untenable, and even distasteful. So has the concept of the western observer coolly assessing eastern cultures with the detachment of a Victorian butterfly collector, dispassionately pinning his captives to the pages of his album. In an age when east to west migrations are so much more common than those from west to east, the “funny foreigners” who were once regarded as such amusing material by travel writers are now writing some of the best travel pieces themselves. Even just to take a few of those with roots in India – Vidia Naipaul, Pico Iyer, Amitav Ghosh, Vikram Seth and Pankaj Mishra – is to list many of the most highly regarded writers currently at work.

More here.