Friday, 22 September 2017

Traveling In Place by Bernd Stiegler

Traveling in Place: A History of Armchair Travel by Bernd Stiegler
English language translation by Peter Filkins published by University of Chicago Press in October 2013.

One of my WorldReads from Germany

How I got this book:
Received free book download from the publisher

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Armchair travel may seem like an oxymoron. Doesn’t travel require us to leave the house? And yet, anyone who has lost herself for hours in the descriptive pages of a novel or the absorbing images of a film knows the very real feeling of having explored and experienced a different place or time without ever leaving her seat. No passport, no currency, no security screening required—the luxury of armchair travel is accessible to us all. In Traveling in Place, Bernd Stiegler celebrates this convenient, magical means of transport in all its many forms.

Organized into twenty-one “legs”—or short chapters—Traveling in Place begins with a consideration of Xavier de Maistre’s 1794 Voyage autour de ma chambre, an account of the forty-two-day “journey around his room” Maistre undertook as a way to entertain himself while under house arrest. Stiegler is fascinated by the notion of exploring the familiar as though it were completely new and strange. He engages writers as diverse as Roussel, Beckett, Perec, Robbe-Grillet, Cortázar, Kierkegaard, and Borges, all of whom show how the everyday can be brilliantly transformed. Like the best guidebooks, Traveling in Place is more interested in the idea of travel as a state of mind than as a physical activity, and Stiegler reflects on the different ways that traveling at home have manifested themselves in the modern era, from literature and film to the virtual possibilities of the Internet, blogs, and contemporary art.

I enjoyed this odd book even though I had slightly misunderstood its synopsis. I expected a short story collection of micro-scale travel writings. Traveling In Place is actually a scholarly survey of many examples of the genre written over the past two hundred years.

I had not previously thought about my room - or my caravan as it was at the time of reading - in the same way as I appreciate it now. Stiegler has studied dozens of novels, essays and memoirs, mostly by French and German authors, who have chosen to look at the everyday and the mundane through the eyes of a visitor and a tourist. Apparently the original example, 1794's Voyage Around My Room by Xavier de Maistre, is quite famous and extensively quoted.

Traveling In Place is not an easy read, especially as the only one of the quoted writings that I knew of is Jules Verne's Around the World in 80 Days. I admit to being at the limit of my comprehension when we got to early twentieth century experimental film making. However, I am quite taken with the basic premise. The examples of 'flanerie' - exploring one's own familiar environment with new eyes - struck a chord with our current travels around our own country and also reminded me of a character in Bleeding London who resolves to walk every street in the London A to Z. Stiegler's extra reading suggestions at the end of each chapter are a great touch and I am inspired to seek some out. I have already found the Xavier de Maistre in English on Kindle and will be joining his journey around his room very soon.

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Books by Bernd Stiegler / History books / Books from Germany

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