Thoughts on travel from Pico Iyer

Travel Writers & Books — By on December 26, 2006 at 7:15 am

There was a wonderful in-depth interview recently on World Hum with the travel writer Pico Iyer.  He is the author of Video Night in Kathmandu, Falling Off the Map, and a number of other titles.  Some excerts from the interview:

How do you think travel writing has evolved over the past 20 or 30 years?

I think it’s evolved a great deal. Partly because even when I was growing up, travel writing was mostly white, nearly always male, often from England, and about going to Africa and Kenya and surveying the strange customs of the natives. And I think now it is more and more about a half-Thai, half-German girl living in Iowa City, going to an Afghanistan full of German aid workers and Japanese businessmen.

And what used to be a very simple discussion between, in some ways, colonizer and colonized, is now a dialogue between a multi-cultural society and a multi-cultural person. All of which has made the texts much more interesting.

I think travel writing is also having to confront a challenge, which is a good challenge, namely the fact that it is not a remarkable thing now to describe Mongolia or Tibet because anyone can access them on the Internet or their TV screens. And so the person who goes there has to do something more and other than just bringing back the sights and sounds. … the travel writer has to extend the form and refresh it, to write a more inward kind of travel.

You are very adept at noticing trends, global trends, not only in cultures and how they’re exchanged, but also in people, and how they travel. Have you noticed anything in terms of after 9/11 versus pre- 9/11 about how that changed?

In the rest of the world, I don’t see much of a change in perceptions of America except perhaps a hardening of that fundamental disjunction … which is that most parts of the world are quite skeptical or hostile towards the American government, but those same people love American culture and love nearly every American individual they meet.

A few years ago I went around to all the countries then covered by the “Trading With the Enemies Act” – Cuba, China, North Korea, and Vietnam – and I found … those people were more keen to meet Americans than anyone else.  And that’s something … that many people in this country who don’t travel, don’t know.

I suppose the only thing I notice is that the gap between America and the rest of the world does seem to be increasing. … The country that most wants to change the world is also the country that least wants to see or learn about the world.

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