Charles Forsdick – Telling, not seeing: blindness and travel writing

Event Date: 21 March 2013
Centre for Creative Collaboration (c4cc)
16 Acton Street
London WC1X 9NG

Part of Royal Holloway’s Trauma, Fiction, History Series, jointly sponsored by the School of Modern Languages, Literatures and Cultures and the Humanities and Arts Research Centre, Royal Holloway, University of London:

Disability and Culture: Whose Tragedy?

As part of Dr Hannah Thompson‘s research on representations of disability, this series of workshops are developing an interdisciplinary and collaborative research project called ‘Disability and Culture’. The first event in this project is a study day to explore how the ‘personal non-tragedy’ approach to disability can encourage us to see disability differently.

Professor Charles Forsdick (University of Liverpool) – Telling, not seeing: blindness and travel writing

The paper is part of a larger project on travel writing and the senses. It draws on recent work in the field of the sensory humanities in order (i) to move beyond the now conventional criticism of the dominance of the gaze in travel literature, and (ii) to analyse the role of additional senses in the genre in the recognition of soundscapes, smellscapes and other reconfigurations of space. Taking as its focus a small corpus of travelogues in French produced by blind and visually impaired travellers since the early nineteenth century, the paper will explore the wider critical implications of exploring this material. Its aim is to highlight a residual discursive normativity in travel literature associated with the experience of the sighted traveller, but it will at the same time suggest the ways in which the travelogues of the blind and visually impaired often reveal sensory dimensions of the travel experience, and provide reflections on alternative modes of engagement with other places and their inhabitants, that are absent from narratives that privilege the visual. Attention will be paid to questions of class and genre, as well as of the historico-technological niche in which the journeys occurs. The French-language corpus will also be supplemented by reference to a number of English-language texts in order to permit comparative reflection on differing national and linguistic traditions. The paper will accordingly constitute a preliminary attempt to outline the wider implications for studies in travel writing more generally of increased critical attention to blindness and/in the travelogue.

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